A case of mistaken identity?

Published in The Church of England Newspaper – 17th November 2013

“Don’t sayBe-yourself you’re gay – say you experience same-sex attraction.”

That was the advice I heard being given by a lecturer at an evangelical theological college in the UK.  He was advising students on how to respond pastorally to a homosexual enquirer at the churches they would be ministering in.

The phrase is not new of course.  If you put ‘same-sex attraction’ into any internet search engine, you will find a host of websites promising change for people who experience or ‘suffer from’ same-sex attraction.

Behind it is a theology of identity which is opposed to people identifying themselves as gay or lesbian, and which argues that adopting such an identity is at best a mistake, and at worst idolatry.

The theological rationale behind this is as follows.   Sexuality should not be the defining factor in determining our identity.    Our true identity comes from recognising that we are created male and female in the image of God – not from our sexual feelings – and from our identity in Christ as new creations in His kingdom.   Therefore to say that you are gay (or lesbian or bisexual or transgender) is to be tricked by modern societal values into identifying yourself in some other way – by allowing your sexuality to be the defining factor in your humanity.   This not only leads to an inner confusion in understanding who you are, but it also leads you away from your God given identity. 

So don’t say you are gay – don’t own that identity – rather say you experience (or suffer from) same-sex attraction.

But this understanding of Christian identity is deeply flawed.  Christians who identify themselves as gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender are not setting up this identity in opposition to their core identity as created by God and born again as a child of God.  Their sexuality does not supersede or usurp their identity as created by God – instead it enhances their sense of God-given identity.

In other areas of life, this is quite normal.  No-one would ever dream of saying to a black Christian, “Don’t say you’re black – say you experience dark skin.”  It would be unthinkable, insulting and offensive.  It would rightly be seen as some kind of perverse racism.

Yet if we follow the same logic, this would be entirely appropriate.  If our identity comes from our creation as male and female and our new creation in Christ, and nothing else; if to own any other identity is to be tricked by modern values and will detract from our God given identity; then surely, it would be entirely right to say to black people, “Don’t say you’re black – say you experience dark skin”.

Of course this is rubbish.  If you are black, then being black is a part of your God given identity.  Owning that identity rather than denying it, enriches cultural diversity as part of human identity.  It is not in competition with our identity as someone created by God, but rather a part of it and adds another dimension to our understanding of the fullness of what it means to be created in the image of God.

The same is true of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. The vast majority see their sexuality or gender identity as part of their God given identity.  It is not in competition to their identity as created by God, but rather an enriching part of it.

What is more, I have seen at first hand the dangers of telling someone to divorce their sexuality from their faith and identity.   A close friend of mine at the same theological college was told by his bishop to set aside his sexuality if he wanted to be ordained.  For him, trying to be obedient to this instruction led to deep inner turmoil and, within a few years, to his premature and painful death.

Christian wholeness comes only when we embrace our God-given identity in all its fullness – anything less than this makes us less than the people God created us to be.

Rev Benny Hazlehurst

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  1. Excellent as always, Benny. Moving and very-well argued. With regard to your blog post, what is so “appalling” about showing people love and acceptance?

  2. On reading the above article.
    The thought arose.
    Do Hetersexuals have to say
    I am not hetersexual but experience opposite sexual attraction.

    It’s all nonsence. A good article.

  3. If there was actual evidence that sexual orientation was genetically determined, or that it remained stable through life, then I think your parallel with ‘being black’ might hold water.

    But of course there isn’t; there is no recorded example of people’s skin colour spontaneously changing!

    By simply asserting the parallel here I don’t think you are offering any actual argument…

    • I think that Andre Marin is very good on whether the genetic argument (for or against) has any relevance to this debate.

      Genetics are unlikely to ever prove or disprove sexual orientation. That makes no difference to the people who fall in love with someone of the same sex but who are then encouraged to fight against it as if it were of little consequence.

    • There are many things for which the genetic code has yet to be discovered. It is, after all, a relatively new science. It is accepted, however, in the scientific community that there is a heritable component to sexuality. Identity is different to the genetic or even heritability argument. Identity is personal and is a conception and expression of individuality or group affiliations from within the fields of psychology and sociology; genetics is a biological science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms. You are more than just your genes and you are more complex than what you or others view as your individuality.
      Benny’s comparison was brilliant in it rightly puts the argument into the Civil Rights category – which highlights the prejudice and bigotry which some try to hide and excuse by a misinterpretation and misuse of biblical texts. Just as aspects of the Church argued in favour of slavery using biblical texts, aspects of the Church today hide behind biblical texts to justify their prejudice and bigotry. They don’t want to be identified as prejudiced and bigoted because they know that being such is not “Christ Like”.

  4. As Christians our identity is in Christ, this is our fundamental and most important identity. We are supposed to die to ourselves and be alive in Christ. This means putting to death the misdeeds of the body and to live a new life in Christ so that we can fulfil the command to firstly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, from which position we will then be able to love our neighbour as ourself (see Romans 8:1-17).
    As humans there are lots of things we can ‘be’. We use all sorts names and labels to describe the roles we do, the jobs we have, the qualities we posses. A person can be a builder, farmer, banker, a man, a woman, mother, father, child, teenager, black, white, asian, etc. For many people in the world, their primary identity is wrapped up in one or more of these things. But as Christians our primary identity is in Christ. As Paul says in Philippians 3:7 “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”. If I make my primary identity in one of these other things, then it can be nothing other than idolatry. So if I’m black, I am a person who happens to have black skin – my identity as a child of God in Christ has to come first. The same applies for the homosexual person and any other person. If my work role takes the place of my central identity, then that is a problem and I need to re-align.
    Obviously, those who do not know Christ do not have him to centre their identity on, so that place is taken by all these other things. But all the other things fail to deliver all that we need. So let us proclaim the good news of Christ to all and let us not accept inferior substitutes for Christ in our own lives, then, in Him, we shall all be one.

  5. I suffer with same – sex – attraction but my boyfriend, he’s definitely gay.

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