Gay and the Gay Christian

Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.

The word “gay” can refer to:

  1. A pattern of male sexual attraction for other men.
  2. An identity rooted in such a pattern of attraction.
  3. More broadly, a variety of identities and practices that depart from the norm of male-female conjugal union. In this sense, it is the opposite of “straight” and a synonym of “queer.”

This word is a euphemism that contributes to the perception that homosexual practices are relatively harmless. It diverts attention away from the most important characteristic of homosexuality (the structural incongruity involved in homosexual practices) and towards less important issues of fashion, and mannerism. The euphemistic quality of the term is heightened by the fact that its older meaning has to do with being light-hearted.

One further effect of using this euphemism is to draw our attention away from people’s actions and towards their character or identity. In this way, the term contributes to the habit of thinking about homosexuality as an innate aspect of someone’s character or identity. In reality, homosexuality is a chosen pattern of action, a chosen identity, or an unwanted temptation that nevertheless arises from a person’s sinful will.

Christians who use this term should be watchful not to indulge the unbiblical notions that 1) homosexual practices are not serious sins, or 2) that these practices arise from a person’s true identity. Normally, it would be better to use the more specific and objective term “homosexual.” This would be closer to the biblical terminology — a man who “lies with a male as with a woman” (Leviticus 18:22).

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When “gay” is appended to the name “Christian,” things are even more complicated. The very phrase “gay Christian” inevitably carries an air of novelty and provocation, since the two have historically been understood to be mutually incompatible, even antithetical.

The terms are put together in one of two ways. The first, called “side A gay Christianity,” revises traditional Christian teaching to affirm homosexual practices. One of the primary arguments for such a revision is that the biblical writers (including Jesus) did not know all that we know today about homosexuality. First, they only knew of homosexual practices that involved other sins like exploitation and promiscuity. It never occurred to them that homosexual unions might be loving and committed, and they would have approved them in this case. Second, in a pre-scientific era, they did not know about sexual orientation. If they had, they would have continued to forbid sexual behaviors “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26), and explained that this meant that everyone should act in keeping with their orientation.

These arguments are totally unpersuasive. In the Bible, the main problem with homosexual practices is not their connection to other sins like promiscuity; the problem is that they constitute a rebellious departure from God’s design of male and female bodies for a one-flesh union in marriage. Furthermore, there is good historical evidence that non-exploitative and committed homosexual relationships were known in the ancient world, and thus certainly to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Since he knew about these, it is significant that he never carves out an exception for them amid his many condemnations of homosexual practices.

As for orientation, two comments are in order. First, some in the ancient world (a character in Plato’s Symposium, for instance) did speculate that certain people had an innately homosexual quality. Again, such discussions would have been familiar to Paul, so it is significant that he does not mention that some homosexual practices are “in accord with nature.” Modern genetic science, in other words, was not required to generate this supposition. Second, modern scientific evidence is far from conclusive on this point. Genetic data does not predict someone’s sexual behaviors in any strong way; what is commonly called “orientation” is more like a description of a person’s patterns of sexual behavior, that is then correlated with various genetic features.

The other way to put the two identities together is called “side B gay Christianity.” Proponents of this view agree with the traditional view that Scripture forbids homosexual practice. At the same time, though, they maintain that someone who refuses or repents of homosexual practices may retain a homosexual identity. This does not mean merely that we should expect former patterns of sin and temptation to linger after conversion. “Side B” gay Christians continue to describe themselves as gay, to dress and act in ways that are typically “gay,” and to view themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community. They assume that they are bound for a life of celibacy, rather than seeking a transformation of their sexual desires in order to be qualified for marriage. Some advocate a practice of “spiritual friendship,” in which two homosexuals of the same sex form an enduring and comprehensive friendship: making joint decisions, living in the same house, even referring to each other as their “other half.” Apart from sex, this is almost a marriage.

Except for the issue of affirming actual homosexual practices, the two “sides” of gay Christianity appear remarkably similar. Both regard themselves as part of the wider LGBTQ+ community. Both affirm homosexual identity as consistent with discipleship to Christ. Both call the Church to include homosexuals in their membership and leadership, for the sake of including “sexual minorities.” Both de-emphasize the natural family as the primary location for covenant nurture, companionship, and mutual assistance. Both virtually affirm homosexual marriages—whether they include sex (side A) or not (side B).

There is no coherent way to combine the identities “gay” and “Christian.” Homosexual practices are sins, and those who refuse to repent of these sins cannot be Christ’s disciples. The desires that incline towards these practices are also sinful (Matthew 5:28) and those who experience such desires must not entertain or affirm them, but rather resist them and put them to death (Romans 8:13). From these two points, it follows that adopting a homosexual identity is also a sin, since such an identity entails at least a tacit approval of homosexual desires (Side B), if not also of homosexual practices (Side A). For a person to describe himself as “gay,” he must believe that homosexual desires or practices are somehow natural for him. For a person to describe himself as “Christian,” he must sincerely believe that God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). When God calls us to sexual purity, he calls us to fulfill the natural purpose for which humanity was created: conformity to his commandments for the sake of communion with him.

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.

Related Links

"Homophobia" by Calvin Goligher

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

"Identifying Our Identity" by Jared Nelson

Revoiced Spirituality by Jonathan Master

Biblical Personhood & Gender Confusion, with Derek Thomas, Richard Phillips, and Rosaria Butterfield.