For gay Christians, there are a lot of forces that can keep us from feeling that we have a rightful place at the table of the Lord. While I have always felt allowed to partake of the life of the community, there were times when I was certain it was only if I kept wearing my mask. My straight mask. The one that hid my story. And now that it’s been a few months since I’ve shared my story broadly, I wanted to reflect on what it is like to be in this position. To be a gay Christian who is choosing to live a celibate vocation.
It sometimes feels, in this conversation about what it means to be both gay and Christian, the space for stories like mine is being squeezed out from both sides.
And speaking of “sides” it may be helpful to define some terms as they are commonly used in this conversation. These terms have been around for quite a while, and have been brought into more widespread use through the Gay Christian Network and many bloggers and authors. If you’re already familiar, you can skip this aside. (rimshot!)
In this whole conversation typically people who hold a belief that says that God affirms committed gay sexual relationships are referred to as “Side A.” Side A is becoming much more apparent in American and European churches. Many more people will become familiar with this perspective from the book written by Matthew Vines, “God and the Gay Christian.” Side A Christians have been more commonly associated with mainline Protestantism or a more liberal view of Scripture. The trends lately are that more and more Evangelicals are re-examining their theology and becoming more affirming of gay marriage for Christians.
Those who believe gay Christians can reconcile their faith and sexuality through adhering to the more traditional sexual ethic are referred to as “Side B”. Side B gay Christians have typically accepted that their orientation is not likely to change, yet believe that sexual intimacy with someone of the same gender is outside of God’s will. Thus, they choose celibacy or maybe an opposite-sex marriage. For Side B gay Christians, openness and honesty are highly valued. Relational needs are to be met through healthy relationships and positive expressions of same-sex love. Community is another shared value among this group.
A view that LGB Christians should totally denounce their orientation and pray for/pursue a heterosexual marriage no matter what. Many in the conservative Christian world are familiar with the legacy of Exodus International and reparative therapy that spawned the phenomenon of “ex-gays”. That’s where the term “Side X” comes from. The danger in Side X comes when stories of “change” are held up by certain Christians as some sort of mold that we must follow in order to be “in line” with Jesus. They would question our walk if we happened to still identify with the adjective “gay” to describe our experience and orientation. Side X tends to commonly say that orientation is changeable and that we should not acknowledge our attractions or find any positive attributes from them.
In this conversation, Side B is positioned in a sort of middle ground or “no-mans-land” between the two polar opposites. We’re not afraid to be honest about our orientation, and what it means for our lives. But we’re also holding to the historical and traditional teachings of the Church for the last 2000 years.
When the “Culture War” heats up because some guy in camouflage with a sweet beard made some ignorant statements in a rocknroll magazine… or a global relief organization lost childhood sponsorships because they were (briefly) willing to hire married gay people, that’s when we most acutely feel what it’s like to be squeezed from both sides.
These “battles” in the Culture War get a lot of press. A lot of blogs written about them. A lot of Tweets. A lot of impassioned Facebook posts.
But in everyday life as a celibate LGBT Christian, it feels like the fighting never really stops. It feels like we’re being squeezed out from all sides, even weeks after the dust has settled from the last kerfuffle.
Whenever a gay-affirming Christian pities the plight of the celibate, we are pushed from one side.
Pity takes several forms. Regularly, I’ve been told these things, and have watched my friends get told the same:
“By choosing celibacy, you’ve been brainwashed.”
“Stop repressing your sexuality.”
“You’re hurting the LGBT cause by telling your story.”
“Stop lying. You’re not happy. There’s no way you’re content in your choice.”
“You need to repent of your conservative beliefs. They’re harmful to you and others.”
And from the other side, I hear the following:
“Naming your orientation means you’ve internalized it.”
“You wouldn’t identify as a thieving Christian or an alcoholic Christian, so you really shouldn’t call yourself a gay Christian.”
“Once I let go, and surrendered it all to Jesus, the same-sex attractions really started to diminish.”
“You probably shouldn’t talk about this.”
“Stop being so negative all the time. We’re supposed to have joy in Jesus.”
“You are never going to be happy if you don’t get married.”
When these things are said, we are pushed from the other side. Our already tiny space is shrunk down even smaller. How are we to have a place at the table and fit into the church when even other gay Christians can say things like that?
And how does this impact the broader culture of the Church?
For straight bystanders and onlookers, it is not always easy to take a nuanced view of the whole conversation. Unless a straight Christian has direct experience with a close friend or family member who is gay, or they happen to have read many stories of gay Christians, it is not very likely that they understand the differences present here. For the average Christian, they see this is a two-sided conversation.
The pro-gay, affirming camp, and the ex-gay, pro-Jesus camp.
For most conservative Christians, they would love to buy into the Side X script that says gay folks turn “normal” when you just add Jesus. “Pray the gay away” is a widespread concept, and it is the simplest one for straight Christians to grasp onto when they have had limited real world experience with an LGBT person.
The flip side of this is that all of the gay folks that aren’t “ex-gay” can then be seen as the enemy. It’s “the gays” who are dismissing Scripture or destroying family values. When viewing the world through this lens, it becomes easy to view all gay people as “militantly pro-gay” or “gay rights advocates”.
It becomes clear then, how, all of a sudden, there is no room in their script for a Side B gay Christian. We have to fit the mold of either Side A or Side X. From straight Christians we can hear things like:
“Why would you identify as gay? Aren’t gay people the ones that are splitting ABC or XYZ denomination?”
“Every gay Christian I have read about is twisting Scripture to line up with their own desires.”
“If you’re not actively living the lifestyle, I don’t get why you would even call yourself gay.”
“You’re not gay gay.”
“My friend’s cousin used to be gay. There’s hope for you, too!”
“Hey, my natural orientation is to have sex with every beautiful women I see. We all have to deny ourselves. But I still don’t call myself a ‘lustful Christian.'”
“Homosexuality is a sin. It’s pretty cut and dry in the Bible.”
“You can’t be both a Christian and gay.”
“Sure, it’s not a sin to be tempted, but it seems like you’re proud of your temptations.”
“Are you still talking about this gay thing?”
As I’ve said earlier, it is difficult for us celibate gay Christians to thrive without healthy connections to the church community.
So, how do we create space for this middle ground to be widened and explored? How do we ever find the space to stop pushing back on the two sides that are squeezing us out? How could we ever possibly be able to take a rest and sit down when it feels like standing still is the same as losing ground?
We tell our stories.
We educate our friends. Our families. Our pastors. Our priests.
Not everyone is called to stand up on a stage and tell a few hundred people all at once, but I am a firm believer that our strongest tool is our stories. If our stories aren’t being told by us, then someone else is telling our stories for us.
Tell a friend. Lovingly correct the bad assumptions you hear people making. Define your terms for others. Don’t let them define them for you. Seek community. Be vulnerable. Let the joys and sorrows of your life both be seen. This plight of ours is not a death sentence for intimacy.
So, tell your story. To someone. And then maybe someone else.
And all of a sudden, the Church will be better equipped to see the space for us where we fit into this diverse Body of Christ.
And the healthy church will protect this diversity. Maybe they’ll even scoot over to make us a little more space at the Lord’s table.
To give us some breathing room.
Isn’t that what we all want, anyways? A chance to breathe in the midst of the culture war?