The real difference between “gay” and “same sex attracted”

I made the mistake this week of reading some of the critics of the Revoice conference out of curiosity. In case you don’t know what Revoice is; it is a gather of sexual minority Christians who hold to the biblical view that sex is intended for marriage and marriage for one man and one woman for life. The attendees and speakers at this conference, by the way, by choosing to remain celibate or by choosing some other form of living in accord with the biblical standard, have all paid a higher and longer price for their stand that sex is to be used within the biblical framework than most of their critics. Let’s not forget that many of the critics who enjoy marriage and family are in the position of criticizing faithfully believing and faithful living Christians for doing little more than ask for inclusion, friendship and hope from the Church.

Reading these critics was a depressing experience, not least because very few, while criticizing those seeking help from the church, had anything to offer themselves. Doing a search of their blogs and sites turned up little to no encouragement for anyone who is same sex attracted and living for God. They seemed far more interested in pissing and moaning than actually accomplishing anything approaching ministry.

Be that as it may, the primary difference between supporters of Revoice and critics is one of language. The Revoice conference tends to use LGBT language such as “gay,” “transgender” or “sexual minority;” while the critics insist that, if attractions must be referred to at all, language such as “experiencing same sex attraction” should be the choice of all Christians. To use language such as “sexual minority,” according to these critics, is to fail to put your identity in Christ, whatever that means. To be blunt, I rather doubt that most of those who insist that our identity should be in Christ have ever fully thought out what that should look like or how we get there. Overall, it seems to me, its use, at least by straight Christians, actually functions to simply end conversation and avoid issues of how the Church has failed to deliver Gospel or demonstrate compassion. Instead of admitting fault for delivering Gospel-less Law, one can simply say “the problem is yours, not mine, you should be putting your identity in Christ.” This puts the same sex attracted person in the position where he will feel as if he is betraying Christ if he continues to talk at all about his difficulty in navigating a church culture in which he is receiving little or no gospel. He is faced with either “denying Christ” or shutting up. Most will shut up – end of conversation and end of discomfort for the straight Christian who can go merrily on his way knowing he has “minister” to a lost or erring sheep.

In reality, if you do a lot of reading of books and blogs by same sex attracted Christians, you may notice a pattern emerging. Those who use “same sex attracted” tend to be those who came into conservative Christianity from the outside or who left for the gay community and more liberal churches, usually at a fairly young age, and then came back. For example, Rosaria Butterfield and the early writings of Eve Tushnet and Melinda Selmys in the first years after they converted/returned to Catholicism. Those who use LGBT language, on the other hand, tend to have remained in the Church and remained faithful to Church teaching most of their lives. Wesley Hill or Ron Belgau, for instance.

To be blunt, the use of “same sex attracted” vs “gay” has very little to do with where the individual has placed their identity and a lot more to do with what reception they have received from Christians. Certainly, something Christians are doing is convincing those of us who remained in the Church, consistently accepting the biblical view of marriage and trying to adhere faithfully to God’s restrictions on sexuality, that we are unlovable, unwanted and unforgiven in a way that those who left the Church or came to Christ later in life do not seem to experience, at least as strongly.

What causes this? I don’t know. I do think a large part of it is gospel-less law, obviously. Perhaps those of us who remained in the Church during our formative years heard a lot more of that at the time our identities and sense of self were forming. Perhaps we were more likely to hear nasty and snide comments about people like ourselves from other Christians. No one knew we were same sex attracted so few were as likely to watch their tongues around us as they would be around someone who had returned or come to Christ as an adult and were know to be a sexual minority. And maybe when we did hear those kinds of comments they carried more weight because we loved and respected those who made them. Maybe those who left for a time or who came to the Church as adults had the opportunity, while among other LGBT people, to learn what it means to be wanted and accepted. They learned what it feels like to be loved. And maybe they were able to translate that knowledge into an understanding of Christ’s love. Maybe those of us who stayed received a message that to be loved means to be a disappointment – a disappointment to parents, to fellow Christians – so that when we were told that Christ loves us all that conveyed was that Christ is disappointed with us.

Whatever the cause, it does seem to be generally true that, by and large, if a person uses LGBT language to describe themselves, there is a large chance that they have been faithful to Christ and yet have felt rejected by His people while a person who uses language like “same sex attracted” has probably had a more positive experience from Christians. I is really less about how we identify ourselves than how our fellow Christians identify us.

So if these critics of LGBT language were really concerned about people, instead of whining and whimpering about labels, they would be asking, “what is it we are doing that is convincing kids of 12, 11 or even 9 years old that they are unlovable to God and unloved by His people and how can we change that?