Should Christians Label Themselves by Their Struggles?

By Joe Dallas Published on September 8, 2018

The man approached me right after I finished speaking to the conference on purity, gripping my hand. “I love every point you made,” he enthused, “and I know all about striving for purity. I’m a Boy Lover.”

Totally confused, I asked him to clarify.

“I love boys. I’m attracted to them. But I’m a Christian, so I’m celibate, of course.”

We talked a long time then about whether it’s right to use such positive language to describe negative impulses. I don’t think there’s any good reason for it, and plenty of reasons not to do it.

“Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me”

Homosexuality and pedophilia are of course not the same thing, but still our debate that night mirrored a larger public debate on the way homosexual persons label themselves. It’s a debate that isn’t limited to wrestling matches between Christians and non-Christians. It isn’t even between conservative versus liberal believers. Bible-believing, theological conservatives — people who share an orthodox position on marriage and sexuality — don’t all agree on which terms are right to use to refer to people who struggle to live in obedience to those positions.

Is it wise (much less, biblical) to categorize ourselves by a sinful tendency? When should we acknowledge those tendencies?

Traditionally they’ve been referred to as “Ex-gays.” “People who Struggle with Same-Sex Attractions.” Even “Repentant Homosexuals.” Today, though, a growing number of influential evangelical voices use new terms. Some of these terms were involved in evangelical controversy over the recent Revoice conference.

Five of them seem especially problematic to me: Gay Christian, Mixed Orientation Marriage, Spiritual Friendship, Side B Christian, and Sexual Minority. So in a 3-part series, continued at joedallas.org, I’d like to spell out my concerns about each of them.

I’ll begin today by addressing the Gay Christian label. In my related posts, I discuss Mixed Orientation Marriage, Spiritual Friendship, Side B Christians and Sexual Minority.

Gay Christian?

Usually, the term’s been applied to people who believe homosexuality and Christianity are compatible. It’s been for those who promote a revised view of the Bible and claim God blesses same-sex coupling.

Today, though, it’s also being applied to people who are attracted to the same-sex but refuse, out of obedience to God, to express those attractions. Popular Christian authors like Wesley Hill, Nate Collins, Preston Sprinkle, Gregory Coles and Ron Belgau are among those who express or support this application.

It makes sense to a point. There’s value in being honest about an area of weakness. James tells us to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). Paul declared he kept a close watch on himself to avoid anything that might compromise his calling (1 Corinthians 9:27).

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But is it wise (much less, biblical) to categorize ourselves by a sinful tendency? When should we acknowledge those tendencies? And should the terms we apply to them ever be positive?

As the culture shifts toward condoning behaviors it once condemned, so does its language. Polygamy has been rechristened “polyamory.” A promiscuous male is now “a player” or “a stud.” Sex-change operations (a doubtful label already) have morphed into “gender confirmation surgery.”

We frown on society reframing immorality in positive terms. But when believers do the same, we do more than frown. We fear.

Labels or Fables

To be fair, we should note that some who identify as gay Christians hold an essentially sound position on homosexuality. They accept biblical condemnations of same-sex behavior at face value, so they abstain from it. Obedience is no small matter to them. They should be given due credit for accepting the role self-denial plays in the life of any serious Christian.

We part company, though, over the area of self-identification. When I repented of homosexual behavior in January of 1984, the homosexual attraction was involuntary. It didn’t have an “off” switch. So those attractions would continue to arise. When they did, I needed to resist them.

Scripture calls us to be aware of sin nature. But we can do this without labeling ourselves by impulses we’re overcoming.

Therefore to make a clean break with my previous identity as a gay man, I moved to another county. I found a church and hired a professional counselor. I began investing in daily prayer, Bible study, regular worship with other believers and deep friendships.

Yet I never considered myself a gay Christian despite any lingering homosexual attractions I had. I was aware of the attractions and dealt with them as they arose. But they no longer defined me.

That put me in the same boat as any new creature in Christ. Scripture calls us to be aware of the sin nature (Romans 6-7) and the temptations and responses it generates (Galatians 5:17). It tells us to resist (Romans 6:12) and promises strength to do so (1 Corinthians 10:13). It speaks of the “glory to glory” transformation we experience as God sanctifies us (2 Corinthians 3:18). We can thereby, with integrity, wear the “sinner” badge, as Paul did (1 Timothy 1:15), recognizing that we fall short (James 3:2). In this life, we’ll always be both wrestling with and overcoming sinful impulses.

No Need to Label

We can do all this without labeling ourselves by impulses we’re overcoming. There are a few limited situations where it makes sense to specify the problem. A support group for people wrestling with a life-dominating problem like addiction would be an example. James’s instruction cited earlier to “confess our faults” also comes to mind here. We could hardly obey it if we’re not honest about the faults themselves. So the statement, “I’m Bob, and I’m an alcoholic,” has merit when Bob’s in a meeting focusing on alcoholism. When Bob’s in church, though, he needn’t feel compelled to introduce himself the same way.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. — Proverbs 23:7

We all wrestle with some kind of sinful tendency. We assume that about each other. We don’t need to know others’ actual temptations; we all struggle, and we all know it. It may be a common tendency or an uncommon one. It could be a temptation we all share, or one only a few of us can relate to. The general struggle is universal. The specific type hardly matters.

Calling the Bad the Good

But when it does matter, the way a person acknowledges them matters too. That’s where the term “gay Christian” is problematic.

We all experience cravings for what we know to be wrong. We don’t beat ourselves up over them, but we don’t refer to them with flattering lingo, either. We don’t call them gay, which implies they’re happy, cheerful things. Nor do we consider them morally neutral. They’re neither good nor neutral, but regrettable.

This is why the words of one Christian woman dealing with her own homosexuality are so apt:

I found for myself that moving past gay identity was essential for living stably and contentedly according to my beliefs as a same-sex attracted Christian woman. … Abandoning gay identity doesn’t mean being in denial. It doesn’t mean “naming it and claiming it,” proclaiming that you’re “healed,” that you’re totally straight and happily heterosexual, while you’re still homosexually attracted. What it means is radically altering the role that the fact of your homosexual attractions plays in your thinking about yourself and your life.

Whatever our unique struggles, we could do worse than to take a cue from her, remembering that the way we frame our experience directs our response to it:

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

 

Adapted with permission from JoeDallas.org

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  • Jacob Miller

    Galatians 3:28
    There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither gay nor straight, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    • Andrew Mason

      Don’t think it’s valid to add sin into a verse about differences in Christ being abolished. I’d suggest 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is a more relevant passage.

      9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

      What people were before Christ doesn’t matter. Once in Christ however should they still identify themselves by their sin? No they should not.

      • Keep in mind, jacob is apparently a librarian, which is known for its marxism.

        The only thing he cares about is pushing communism by any means.

        • Trilemma

          Why do you think someone who works in a library must be a communist?

      • Trilemma

        The Greek doesn’t say, “nor men who practice homosexuality.” That is mistranslated. The person who translated that obviously wants the Bible to back up his personal beliefs rather than say what the Greek actually says.

      • Sagittarius56

        That wasn’t in there. You should heed the lesson in revelations about adding or subtracting form the bible.

    • Is there a reason your two gimmicks are:
      1) unitarian blapshemy
      2) promotion of sodomy

      ?

  • John A.

    Great article for Jen Hatmaker to consider.

  • Karen

    Very bad. Too many people playing the victim card.

  • Trilemma

    If someone came into my church and said, “Hi, I’m a gay Christian,” I would probably say, “Nobody cares.” I would then move onto a more spiritually important question such as, “Do you play softball?”

    I think people should avoid labels because people are multifaceted and can’t really be reduced to a single label. In English, adjectives generally precede the noun they modify. I think this tends to make people focus on what’s different rather than what’s common. The result is people thinking of themselves as a color, or a political party, or a religion, or an orientation, or whatever. People are more than any one of those things. A person can be Christian and gay and Democrat and pro-abortion. We all need to see everyone, first and foremost, as a fellow human being.

  • Trilemma

    If someone came into my church and said, “Hi, I’m a gay Christian,” I would probably say, “Nobody cares.” I would then move onto a more spiritually important question such as, “Do you play softball?”

    I think people should avoid labels because people are multifaceted and can’t really be reduced to a single label. In English, adjectives generally precede the noun they modify. I think this tends to make people focus on what’s different rather than what’s common. The result is people thinking of themselves as a color, or a political party, or a religion, or an orientation, or whatever. People are more than any one of those things. A person can be Christian and gay and Democrat and pro-abortion. We all need to see everyone, first and foremost, as a fellow human being.

    • Bryan

      Tri, I liked most of what your wrote above. Thank you!

      • Careful not to join him where he wants to go.

    • So you go from ignoring their sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance to claiming banality is “more spiritually important.” I suppose to a satanist like yourself, it is far more spiritually important that you distract a man from his sins for long enough that he completes damning himself.

      As for your last assertion: abortion is the worst sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, sodomy is the second worst sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, and communism represents the powers & principalities of the devil and therefore represent the third and fourth sins that cries to Heaven for vengeance (blasphemy and denying man his fair wage, respectively). All of the above automatically excommunicate you Latae Sententiae and incur worse punishments in damnation than anything else.

      What do you think all of the above simultaneously gets you?

      Here is a Venerable Fulton Sheen quote to ruminate on:

      A dogma, then, is the necessary consequence of the intolerance of first principles, and that science or that church which has the greatest amount of dogmas is the science or the church that has been doing the most thinking. The Catholic Church, the schoolmaster for twenty centuries, has been doing a tremendous amount of solid, hard thinking and hence has built up dogmas as a man might build a house of brick but grounded on a rock. She has seen the centuries with their passing enthusiasms and momentary loyalties pass before her, making the same mistakes, cultivating the same poses, falling into the same mental snares, so that she has become very patient and kind to the erring pupils, but very intolerant and severe concerning the false. She has been and she will always be intolerant so far as the rights of God are concerned, for heresy, error, untruth, affect not personal matters on which she may yield, but a Divine Right in which there is no yielding. Meek she is to the erring, but violent to the error. The truth is divine; the heretic is human. Due reparation made, she will admit the heretic back into the treasury of her souls, but never the heresy into the treasury of her wisdom. Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong. And in this day and age we need, as Mr. Chesterton tells us, ʺnot a Church that is right when the world is right, but a Church that is right when the world is wrong.ʺ

      • Trilemma

        A person who says they’re a gay Christian is not necessarily guilty of a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance. The author of this article is a gay Christian even though he doesn’t like the label. What about someone who says they’re an alcoholic Christian? It doesn’t mean they still drink alcohol.

        Any Christian who says abortion is okay in the case of rape, incest or health of the mother is pro-abortion. 300 years ago, the Catholic Church was pro-abortion up to the quickening.

        • If they practice sodomy, they are guilty of it.

          Life begins at conception. The murder of any child in the womb incurs a punishment equal to that of cain for killing Abel. The hatred you have incurred from me for saying what you did is not pleasant.

          It would be wise to look for what the Church teaches from the Church itself. It would also be wise to not tell a Catholic what he believes, easpecially when it is in defense of the worst sin of all.

          A satanist like yourself would use any child of any age for a hex.

          • Trilemma

            Has The Church always considered all procured abortions to be murder? Was there a time when abortion before the quickening was not considered murder? Was there ever a time when abortion was okay if it was necessary to save the mother’s life?

          • Life begins at conception, one’s soul is intrinsically linked to their body.

            Under no circumstances is performing a satanic ritual permitted, ESPECIALLY YOU SACRIFICING A CHILD TO THE DEVIL!

            There is a brazen “lack of thought” in your messages. This is up there with your other message where you said God ONLY made Adam and Eve as Male and Female.

        • Kathy

          You know that you and I sometimes agree and many times disagree. You’ve probably already come to this conclusion, that most of the Christ followers on this site would not stoop as low as Nigel does in using rude and abusive tactics to get his point across. He does not represent most of us at all. If I were a Catholic, I would be totally embarrassed by this person speaking for my faith tradition.

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