I do not want to be the “gay Christian” anymore

A reflection by Lindsey

There are times when certain kinds of conversations seem inescapable. In the aftermath of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the ERLC conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage, I find myself caught in a fire fight. Like many fights in the culture war, it concerns an entirely small territory. There’s a 3-letter word that gets in the way of other people’s ability to see my humanity. I don’t know anywhere I can go to possibly escape the fight. Even trying to hide out at home doesn’t shield me from people’s callousness.

I remember my first interaction with the word gay. I was 14 years old, and Kevin Kline had a starring role in the movie In and Out. Please take a couple of minutes to watch the trailer.

I remember having an uncomfortable sinking feeling in my stomach. One day, I’d have to deal with someone else making a public declaration of “Lindsey’s gay.” And then I’d be caught in an awkward limbo, feeling unable to deny the accusations and too afraid to confirm them as true. The word gay is an oddly expansive cultural signifier. When other people call you gay when you’ve not said that you actually are, they are usually suggesting that you flaunt gender norms so strongly that you’d rather couple with a person of your same sex. When other people call you gay, they are considering you a particular kind of person rather than suggesting you have a fondness for specific sex acts. Playground bullies have all sorts of vulgar language to use when it comes to sex acts that they employ liberally.

Fast forward 17 years later and I’m still feeling caught in that limbo. We have people who proudly proclaim, “I love Jesus too much to call myself a gay Christian.

But, what happens when other people in the church foist a label upon you to justify their mistreatment? What happens when people cite simple matters of hair style, clothing choice, preferred forms of sentence structure, subconscious ways of holding one’s body, and most common vocal ranges used when singing in order to declare that you’ve never given your life to Jesus, that you don’t care about the ways of Christian morality, and that you certainly have never been a part of Christ’s Church?

I long for the day when I can simply go to church, say my prayers, search my heart with the safety of knowing that I am God’s child, determine how to participate best in the sacramental life of the Church with the help of a trusted confessor, and enjoy in fellowship with all those gathered. I long for the day when people assume that I’m doing my absolute best to unite myself fully to Christ seeking support from the teachings of my Christian tradition. I long for the day when I am truly treated “just like everyone else.”

The people who tell me that I just need to find my identity in Christ fail to realize that Christ is at the very core of my identity. They also fail to realize that He alone has kept me alive even during the seasons of their most aggressive, hostile, and repeated attacks of telling me that there’s no way I exist. When I was a teenager trying to sort through why everyone else treated me as though I was impossibly different, I hadn’t had one moment of sexual experience. I was just being myself without concern for the fact that, as Lindsey, I’m quirky. As I’ve grown older, I’m stuck with a hard reality that when I look at the lives of my married friends, their relational lives are distinct from mine and there’s nothing I can do about that. The only people who seem to understand this difference are those who can appreciate that not everyone is called to heterosexual marriage, and not everyone has a pattern of relating that consistently points to the marital vocation.

A lot has changed since I was 14 years old. I can’t imagine how my life would have looked differently if I would have known that Sally Ride was gay. I’d be hard-pressed to identify a more significant childhood hero. I admired Sally Ride even more than I admired Neil Armstrong, and that’s saying something. This week, Tim Cook has decided to speak clearly about the simple fact that he’s gay. What he says here really resonates with me:

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.

I have to wonder if conservative Christians who tell me not to identify as gay are trying to ensure that I build that rhinoceros skin. I can’t help but wonder if people say “Don’t identify as gay” in an effort to really say, “There’s no way these hateful and hurtful comments would get to you…. unless of course, you are, you know…. living immorally.”

It’s much easier to assert that gay people are 100% opposed to Christ than it is to appreciate that “gay” and “LGBT” are used frequently as broad umbrella terms to communicate something of a shared social experience. In reporting on the experience of celibate gay Christians, Vanessa Vitello Urquhart wrote, “Make no mistake—celibate or not, these people are a part of the LGBTQ community. They share the same fears we do, experience the same stigma, and have felt the same tension, between hiding and safety on one side and openness and self-acceptance on the other, that defines the LGBTQ experience in 21st-century America.”

If you as a conservative Christian want to end my need to find value in the descriptor “Gay Christian,” please tell the Church to stop persecuting those of us who do not fit cleanly into heteronormative molds, and stop making excuses for people who behave uncharitably toward us. When you tell me that the only place I should discuss my sexual orientation and gender identity is in confession, you’re actually reinforcing the norms of the judgmental world I know as a gay person. You’re telling me that I need to hide something even though I’ve come to seek Christ, the person who knows me more intimately than I know myself. I’d welcome it so much if I could walk into a church, pursue Christ with you, and share how he is guiding and directing me to leave my unique mark on this world that has not yet fully been redeemed.

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10 thoughts on “I do not want to be the “gay Christian” anymore

  1. Hi Lindsey,

    There was a video some years ago called ‘Contemporvant’ that was a self deprecating critique of culture of worship that doesn’t go very deep. When I first saw the video, the scene about the presenter with the tattoo struck me as especially true – that personal history & struggles are often shown as pointing to Christ, but only as a thing of the past, not as an ongoing tension in all of our lives.* And God help someone who might have a struggle that is sexual in nature and want to receive support & affirmation in living out their commitment to Christ.

    I’m very grateful for your witness, both in sharing who you are and offering your own suffering, especially as a point of reflection for others. I pray for consolations for you and conversion of those who are mistreating you.

    Fr. Maurer

    *No judgment intended about tattoos here.

    • Hello Fr. Maurer, I remember seeing the Contemporvant video and simultaneously laughing and cringing. There’s a tension in the “One and done” spirituality that allows people to be wholly new and the reality that the risen Christ still bore the marks of how He redeemed the world.

      One of the things that I’ve noticed is that many people paint LGBT people as always struggling with something sexual. While I can respect that feature of other people’s stories, it’s never been part of my story. My story has always involved me navigating the unique parts of me that make me me, whether in the positive sense of being an intellectually gifted person or in the negative sense of negotiating how other people treat me after deciding that I’m gay. Incidentally, the vast majority of people who assume that I’m dealing crazy sexual struggles are Christians who have said very little to me.

      Thank you for your prayers.

  2. Thanks for a great post!

    As a heterosexual supporter of gay rights over many years I have occasionally also experienced this discrimination, especially over the debate about legalising homosexual acts.

    I believe that the gifts Tim Cook described are those the draft Catholic Synod document reffered to. It’s a shame some bishops wanted to tone it down, but Pope Francis wouldn’t go along with them and insisted the originally wording remain in the document with the vote (a majority but not two thirds).

    Persecution is tough, a cross to bear, a solidarity with and a participation in the suffering of Christ. But it often bears good fruits of compassion, tolerance, solidarity, patience, empathy, and love.

    God bless

    • Thanks Chris. I’m prone to agree with you that Tim Cook’s articulation about the gifts he’s received from being gay are what the Synod was trying to recognize. There’s benefit in learning to navigate the world in a way that is outside of the “majority” experience. I put the majority in quotes because I think everyone has some degree of feeling other. Sometimes our differences can lead to significantly different treatment.

  3. As a person that knows you well, having Sally Ride as a hero was a very spiritual moment considering when you were born and the correlation of her space travels.

  4. You don’t want to be a gay Christian anymore. Do you think you can change your sexuality not to be a gay Christian anymore? You said you didn’t believe in ex-gay.

    • I used the phrase “gay Christian” in the title to indicate the broad meaning of the phrase. My experience is that many Christians will construct views of a mythical “gay Christian” and thrust this view upon me strictly on the basis of my physical appearance. Without exception, these Christians describe gay Christians and gay people more broadly in anything but kind lights.

      I will always continue to be the same person I’ve always been. I will continue to have the same broad patterns of vocation and relating that I’ve always had. My sexuality won’t change. I’d love for the cruelty enacted by straight Christians to stop.

  5. I really support what you’re saying, Sarah.

    It seems to me that a major cause of pain in this conversation is a failure on both sides to distinguish between (1) people and their sexual orientations, and (2) beliefs and practices. On the conservative side, when people hear the word “gay” they tend to think of (2) and their defenses go up because of their beliefs about sexual morality. On the progressive side, it is natural to think of gay people in terms of (1) and thus they interpret conservative defensiveness as hatred directed at people. The problem is that neither side thinks clearly about what they do and don’t mean when they use the word.

    Might it be a worthy project to liberate the word “gay” from (2), focusing it rather on (1)? Such an effort would require greater care in our speech from both conservatives and progressives (including Tim Cook, who ventures into marriage politics in his otherwise excellent statement). If such an effort were to be successful, I think it would allow you the space to express what you want to express without your listeners assuming that you mean things that you don’t mean.

    This may or may not be a good idea, and in any case it’s tough for you In the meantime, and I’m sorry about that.

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