Saturday Symposium: Describing LGBT Christian Sexual Ethics

Good morning, folks. Once again, hoping everyone’s weekend is off to a great start. If you’re one of our American readers, Happy 4th of July weekend. We’ve finally caught up on blog comments and are slowly responding to emails. As usual, thanks for your patience and for some very thoughtful comments this week.

We’re eager to hear your responses to today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: Because we don’t use the terms Side A and Side B here on the blog to describe our own sexual ethics, we’ve been wondering why some people place so much importance on these terms and others do not. As we were interacting with readers yesterday on Twitter, we decided to start a conversation about this.

We posed the question:

Almost immediately, we heard from folks who recognize that the terms have utility and are helpful for some people. For example:  

But others focused on how these terms can frame important conversations as a debate rather than a dialogue:

In the past, we’ve found these terms useful for exploring sexual ethics further. Even today, we still use them as shorthand in certain instances of conversation with friends. But if you’ve been reading our blog even for a short time, you’ve probably figured out that we believe there are other ways to discuss sexual ethics, and depending upon the conversation, trying a new approach to discussing LGBT issues in the Church might be necessary. Today, we are asking the same question we asked on Twitter yesterday: Are “Side A” and “Side B” the most accurate descriptors for all LGBT Christian sexual ethics? To put a bit more flesh on that question, if you were having coffee with someone who wanted a primer on this topic, would you feel it essential to first explain Side A and Side B, or would you take a different approach?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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8 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Describing LGBT Christian Sexual Ethics

  1. I’m often tempted by the Side A/B shorthand and sometimes fall into it, but these discussions require nuance that cannot be achieved by dividing everyone into two simplistically defined camps. So I do my best to use descriptive language and avoid slipping into lazy jargon, because, well, it’s complicated, kind of like fifty shades of gay (sorry, if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a bad pun).

    How I’d begin would depend on what kind of primer the person wanted. If they wanted an overview of the spectrum of beliefs held by LGBTQ Christians, we’d have to include those who believe monogamous same-sex relationships are ok (which includes people who believe in waiting for marriage and people who don’t).

    Then there are people who believe that they’re called to celibacy, but that contains several spectra: people who are open to celibate partnerships and people who aren’t (some vehemently so, like the rather uncharitable blogger who was talking about you all “behind your backs” a few weeks ago). Within the celibate group, there’s another overlapping spectrum of people who integrate their sexuality into their life, and another group who view it as a hindrance and spend their lives fighting against their feelings of same-sex attraction.

    This last group segues into the group, clearly outside of the two-sided continuum, who believe that not only are feelings of same-sex attraction intrinsically bad, the feelings must be changed through therapy so the person ostensibly becomes straight. This leaves out the people who believe that LGBTQ people choose their orientation, because I’m under the impression that we’re just talking about views that queer Christians hold. 😉

    So while I suspect this constitutes preaching to the choir, if anyone wasn’t convinced that Side A / Side B terminology is inadequate, this is why.

  2. I am not a fan of the Side A/B terminology. Not only are these terms poorly defined and both over and under-inclusive at various points, perhaps just as importantly, these terms immediately connote group-mentality and division. I hold my theological beliefs about sexuality not in order to align with a certain group but rather for internal cognitive, emotional, and spiritual reasons. If I approach someone with a different theological position as someone on a different “side”, I’m starting the dialogue with at least 1 strike if not 2 against building a bridge.

    • One of the big reasons we abstain from using any “Side” terminology here is that we’re not interested in fueling continued divisions.

  3. It would never occur to me to use the Side A/B terminology, for a variety of reasons. First, it is not the language of ethics itself and so, as someone trained in that area, it just doesn’t occur to me. Second, for its lack of nuance, as well-described by LJ above.

    More important for me however, is that ethics is not about rules, but about human flourishing. Ethical decisions are rooted in what contributes to or detracts from this flourishing. I prefer to discuss if a particular relationship and its sexual practices will or will not contribute to the growth of the fruits of the Spirit.

    • Maria, thanks for broadening the conversation to include concerns about human flourishing. Language like “Side A” and “Side B” tends to indicate that a binary expresses something meaningful about LGBT sexual ethics.

  4. I come from a part of the country where just about every church has a rainbow decal on the sign outside. The particular church that I grew up in taught me a lot of lessons about tolerance, acceptance, and giving to those who were less fortunate, but it wasn’t particularly vocal on questions about what adults did in their bedrooms. That lack of focus on sexual morality was the norm, as far as Christianity was concerned, in my early experience. Of course I did learn that there were other parts of the country where the churches were obsessed with abortion, gays, and birth control, (always presented in that way, as a false focus on unimportant matters) but for me that always felt very far away, and almost incomprehensible. When I met individuals from those sorts of traditions, we tended to avoid culture war issues out of politeness.

    Now that I’ve grown up and moved out of my liberal home state, the way these things were talked about seems very shallow. I feel I rushed too quickly to find the common ground I had with people of more traditional beliefs, and papered over anything they said that made me feel uncomfortable as either coming from ignorance or being the fault of some shadowy cabal of political leaders who had led them astray. Pretty condescending, right?

    Since then, I’ve come to value true, undeniable, unbreachable differences because there’s a certain honesty to them. I think common ground is more valuable if you don’t try to get to it too quickly. Understanding Side A and Side B positions (both of which are vastly more conservative than the moral norm where I was raised) seem important from a standpoint of not wanting to paper over or deny differences in the haste to get to a comfortable place of shallow agreement.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s very easy to “paper over” some of the places people disagree on various culture war issues. Building relationships with people helps us understand where they are coming from, even if it means resisting the urge to simplify.

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