Whether through nationally televised political conventions, church on Sunday mornings, or Facebook the rest of the week, it seems near impossible not to encounter an opinion about homosexuality everywhere we turn these days. Given the political state of affairs playing out, that is probably not a bad thing. We need to be discussing the issues of homosexuality, and discussing them well, now more than ever. Our generation is caught at a crossroad, and the decisions we make, both as Christ-followers and as citizens of this country, are likely to shape the landscape of policy and ethics for decades, perhaps centuries, to come. As our forefathers once stood at the intersection of issues like slavery, suffrage, free speech, and abortion, so we now stand with homosexuality, not sure where the road forward will lead.
This will not, however, be an article that attempts to persuade you to join one side of the debate or the other. Instead, I intend to make clear that the current nationwide discussion is not just about homosexuality and we cannot continue to pretend that it is. When we refuse or are unable to talk about sexual identity issues outside of homosexuality, we lose the opportunity to minister to those who need the love of Christ and his Church most.
Often as Christians we are guilty of dichotomizing human sexuality into two distinct camps: heterosexuality and homosexuality. And who can blame use for doing so? This makes discussions on the topic nice and clean. It makes categorizing people a cinch. We rationalize that a person is either a heterosexual, the Christian option, or a homosexual, the non-Christian option; they are either obediently following God’s will for their lives or they are sinning. Additionally, creating such a dichotomy simplifies argument, for we know who and what we are arguing against without ever having to define terms (e.g. they do not believe exactly what I believe, therefore they are my opponent).
However, human sexuality cannot be so cleanly divided. We cannot classify every individual on the planet as either A) heterosexual or B) homosexual. To do so is to completely neglect to recognize those who find themselves outside of such categories. As John Piper states in a recent blog post, “There are hundreds of variations of impulses that make up our peculiar sexual identities.”1 We either forget or do not yet realize that there are human beings outside of the “L” and G” of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) spectrum. In solely wanting or being able to talk about sexuality in terms of heterosexuality and homosexuality, we are losing the war before even the first battle has begun.
Those who are not heterosexuals rarely see the issue as black or white as those who are. For the outsiders of heterosexuality, there has always been a world of possibilities on the sexual orientation spectrum between hetero and homo. Many, in fact, are not sure where they as individuals fall. That seems to be a major blind spot in many Christians’ understanding on the matter. We can quickly assume that, because an individual is not a heterosexual, they must be gay.2 But what about those who are unsure of their sexual identity or confused about their gender? What about those who do not know how to react to the “abnormal” sexual urges and temptations they are having? Do all of these people fit into the category of gay? They do not and we ought not try to force them to.
Many in our world today are unsure about their sexual orientation. They sit next to us in our churches and classrooms and they are not gay. All they know is that what they feel, who they are sexually, does not conform to what Christianity presents as “the norm”. They are queer.3 Faced with constant struggle, temptation, and confusion, these sisters and brothers do not necessarily know what to do with the feelings they have, feelings that they are afraid to tell anyone in their churches about. Why? Because they have seen the way that churches often treat people that do share sexual struggles. They have seen friends excommunicated from local bodies of believers for being honest about their feelings, feelings assumed to be gay. They have heard stories of young people being thrown out of their homes for not being who their parents wanted them to be. They are afraid that this is how we will treat them.
When we are ignorant of the fact that sexual orientation is more than just a heterosexual/homosexual issue, we are in danger of turning these sisters’ and brothers’ fears into a reality. When all we focus on—in our churches, in our classrooms, and in our homes—is the sinfulness of homosexuality4 while neglecting to talk about queer issues, we are losing the opportunity to reach and love those who need it most. Queer Christians, and yes, they are in fact Christians, find themselves in a terribly difficult position. Should they continue to live secret lives, hiding their feelings from friends and family in order to remain in Christian fellowship? Or should they be honest and risk losing relationship with those they love?
By only talking about homosexuality and continually neglecting to talk about other non-conforming sexual orientations, we as Christians are losing the opportunity to help our queer sisters and brothers. But not only this, we are also indirectly telling them that, if they are not with us in being faultless heterosexuals, they are against us. Every day that we refuse to talk through queer issues, we push more and more born-again believers into communities other than our own, communities with a “gay agenda”. And who would blame queer Christians for joining up with gay people, people willing to accept and love them just as they are, no matter what issues or struggles they face?
An example of how capable our thoughtlessness is of doing this, of pushing queer Christians out of our camp and into the “other” one, can be found in a friendship I had in high school. Actually, to call this relationship a “friendship” is quite cruel, for I treated David5 worse than I have any other friend I have known. You see, David was a little… strange. He dressed very well for a high school freshman, his clothes often matching and not nearly as ragged and worn as the stuff I wore. Both at church and at school, David’s mannerisms were also a bit different—he did not speak with the profanity or make the sort of crude jokes that I had become accustomed to hearing and even using as the macho-man hockey player I was. Naturally, as cruel high school students, we began to make assumptions about his sexual orientation. Pretty soon, these assumptions became vocal as we began to joke about him behind his back. Eventually, our jokes took on a new boldness as we began to tell them straight to his face, using increasingly harsher and more derogatory words. But David was certainly not gay. In fact, at the time, he was dating one of the prettiest girls in our class.6 Yet, we kept pouring on the insults, saying all sorts of profane things about who he was, telling people that he was only with this girl as a “cover-up”.
Now, I cannot know for sure what David was going through at the time. Was he struggling with some sexual issues? Maybe—many of us do. But what I do know is that, after suffering through two years of a constant barrage of hateful, derogatory speech, David no longer wanted anything to do with our “Christian” community. Instead, he developed new friendships with people who actually cared about him—people willing to love him more than we did. It is with these people that David now stands as a proud gay man, promoting equality and the fair treatment of all human beings.
We must begin to understand that there is much more to the “homosexuality” debate than we often admit. There are countless people, many of them committed Christ-followers, who are struggling with sexual identity issues other than being gay or straight. The battle being fought is one of who will love and accept more: the Christians or gay people? Will we as Christians learn to love and support our church families enough to keep those who are struggling with sexual issues in our community or will we continue to push them away by refusing to talk about non-conforming gender identities outside of homosexuality? How many more people—people like David at our jobs, at our churches, and at our school—will we continue to tell that we want nothing to do with them? Only time will tell.
1. Piper, John. “Same-Sex Attraction and the Inevitability of Change.” Desiring God. 19 Sep 2012. Web. 23 Sep 2012.
2. An aside: most gay people (males and females) that I have spoken with over an extended period of time prefer being called “gay” to being called “homosexual”. This preference seems to be brought on by the derogatory nature that many seem to infer when calling someone a homosexual (i.e. they only use the term in a negative way). The term “homosexual” has become more offensive than the term “gay.”
3. More and more, the term “queer” is becoming a neutral or even positive umbrella term for those holding to minority sexualities. It no longer holds the negative connotation it once did and is generally accepted as appropriate vernacular by those of non-conforming gender identities.
4. And we most often do this without providing a clear definition of what homosexuality even is.
5. A pseudonym.
6. Perhaps some of our cruelty came from the envy we all harbored in our hearts because he, not one of us, was seeing her.