We live in a culture addicted to identity labels. We seek to summarize everything essential about an individual in a word, phrase, or 140 characters. With every label and category there comes another level of segregated identity, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of sexual identity.
One can look at the gay community and see the level of identity fragmentation represented in the use of acronyms such as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Ally). The sexual identity label has become a method of reducing individuals to a micro narrative of sexual orientation. In man’s created need to transcend himself, this self-referencing label creates a personal crisis of identity and purpose.
This sexual identity crisis has breached the church where labels such as “gay Christian” and “gay celibate Christian” are becoming more commonly used and accepted. Some Christians with same-sex attractions now say the evolution of common vernacular makes it acceptable to adopt these terms as accurately describing their experience. But are such labels compatible with our identity in Christ? Do they draw us closer to Christ? Here are six points for us to consider.
(1) Identity Distortion/Reductionism
Understanding our identity in Christ is essential for Christian living. When we were born again, we received a new identity, and we are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). We will share in Christ’s inheritance, and as we grow in the revelation of our new identity, we will increasingly be enabled to live according to God’s will. If our identity is “in Christ,” can we add to this identity without implying that Christ is somehow deficient?
With every additional label—whether it is occupation, gifts, interests, or sexual orientation—-we detract from the complete work of Christ in our lives and splinter our identity into fragments. We become defined by our actions and our desires, which plays into the pragmatic mindset of “I am what I do.” Rather than looking in a mirror that is complete and unbroken where we can see a perfect image, we are content with piecing together a distorted mirror of our own making. In Christ we have an identity far greater than the sound-bite descriptions commonly found on dating services.
(2) Sexual Segregation
An identity based upon same-sex attractions can potentially create a segregated church community. Those dealing with same-sex attraction can be tempted to obsessive introspection and self-pity. The sexual identity label can create an “I’m Special” category that encourages narcissism. But everyone in the church struggles with various challenges and problems. No one’s struggle is unique. We must not let such differences isolate us from the strength found in a sharing community.
(3) Absolute Anchor
While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.
(4) The Authenticity Trap
Many in this younger generation with same-sex attraction feel they must adopt the “gay” label in order to be authentic. Considering the word authentic means “not false” or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features,” one must consider if taking on this label is defining a person by identity or by experience. Many mistake disclosure for authenticity. They are trapped by a cultural philosophy of “I feel therefore I am.” True authenticity can only be achieved by conforming to the image of Christ rather than idol of our desires.
(5) The Power of a Name
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21). Scripture is replete with examples of the importance God places on a name. Often, God would change someone’s name to signify a new beginning in life. God didn’t always give someone a name that exemplified who they presently were, but rather a name that reflected who he knew they would be one day by his grace. The labels and identities we adopt contribute to the perception of who we are and empower us to behold who we will become. That is why any name outside of Christ will always fall dreadfully short of God’s intent for us.
(6) Culturally Dictated Confusion
Some would argue that language is always evolving and the use of a “gay celibate Christian” identity would be acceptable based upon dictates of today’s culture. While it is true that definitions are subject to change, this reasoning doesn’t translate in the realm of gay sexual identity. The term “gay” can have vast socio-political and cultural connotations, and it raises such question as whether the person holds to a traditional orthodoxy on the issue of homosexuality. Are they choosing abstinence to remain chaste as a single person with same-sex attractions, or are they waiting until they can enter into a same-sex marriage? The use of this label to conveniently communicate one’s experience actually promotes confusion and misunderstanding.
It is not experience that determines who we are but rather our identity in Christ that enables us to be continually transformed in his image. As we disciple those with same-sex attractions, we must contend for a gospel-centric identity. To assume any other name is to look upon ourselves in a broken mirror. Only when we see ourselves in the reflection of Christ’s image will we find our true identity.