By Justin Barnard
Is it possible to be a “gay Christian?” The answer depends upon what is meant by this self-designation.
If the blogosphere is any indication, there are an increasing number of Christians who desire to live in faithful accord with biblical teaching on sexual behavior and who self-identify as being gay or lesbian.
These recognize that any sexual activity outside of traditional (i.e., heterosexual) marriage is wrong. They acknowledge that homosexual acts are sinful. So, they seek to live chastely and, in some cases, commit themselves to permanent celibacy.
Still, many of these persist in using the expression “gay (or lesbian) Christian” as a public marker of identity.
Presumably, this is partly descriptive. Linguistically, our culture attaches the term “gay” to someone who experiences emotional, romantic or erotic attraction to members of the same sex.
So, to call oneself a “gay Christian” is to assert, at a minimum, both something about one’s identity as a follower of Christ and something about the interior state of one’s psyche.
All followers of Christ experience the disordering effects of sin in their hearts. Wrestling with our disordered desires is part of the on-going work of sanctification.
So, just as it is possible for someone who repentantly struggles against lust, envy or pride to be a Christian, so also it is possible for someone who repentantly struggles against disordered erotic attraction to be a follower of Christ.
Regardless of the sin in question, one outward sign of inward repentance is a refusal to act out the behaviors that our disordered desires suggest.
Students who regularly sleep around are not genuinely repenting of lust. Colleagues who persistently spread malicious rumors against another are not genuinely repenting of envy.
Similarly, “gay Christians” who continually act on their erotic desires – even where such actions are monogamous – are not genuinely repenting of the corrupting desires at work in their hearts.
But in a case where someone is genuinely repentant, not acting on homoerotic desires, instead aspiring to live a life of chastity or even celibacy, is there anything wrong with using the idiom “gay Christian” as a public, self-identity marker?
My answer is simple: initially, no; but eventually, yes.
For someone who struggles deeply with same-sex attraction, the Gospel ought to constitute the Good News that it in fact is. All sinners need to hear that the Good News of God’s transformative grace in Christ Jesus is free for the receiving.
Thus, the person who thinks, “I’m gay,” simply because he experiences same-sex attraction, should not think he is beyond the reach of God’s great love.
In other words, “being gay” (in this sense) does not initially preclude becoming or being a Christian.
But eventually (i.e., over time), one who is, in fact, being transformed by God’s grace in Jesus Christ cannot continue to retain the self-designation, “gay Christian.”
This is because following Christ eventually results in a fundamentally new identity, one in which all that belongs to our fallen, sinful nature is ultimately stripped away and replaced by our new identity in Christ.
Christians who perpetually refuse to drop the modifier “gay” or “lesbian” in their public self-designation either fail to grasp the transformative nature of union with Christ or willfully refuse what genuine repentance requires.
The former need loving and gracious discipleship; the latter require open rebuke.
Genuine repentance requires every sinner to die to self: to self-will, to self-assertion and to self-identity. Following Christ means receiving a new identity in Him.
Those who persist in thinking of their identity in Christ as being conditioned by their homosexuality and of requiring others to do the same by recognizing them as “gay Christians” are failing to exhibit the genuine repentance that death to self requires.
Given what Paul writes about the connection between idolatry and homosexuality in Romans 1, the present phenomenon of those who insist on being acknowledged as “gay Christians” should come as no surprise.
The real challenge for the Church is whether she will succumb to the rhetorical idolatry of the expression or stand for the light of the Gospel in the midst of our cultural twilight.
Justin Barnard is Associate Dean for the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship and the Associate Professor of Philosophy for the Honors Community.