I wanted to re-post this entry here on my new blog site to make sure people had a chance to comment on it and to include it in Justin’s attempts at getting us to think about and engage in more effective and productive discussions on being gay and Christian. You can learn more about the charge here: http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/sanity I felt like this previous entry of mine would be a decent contribution to the discussion…I hope it is.
Anyway, back to my post…
Is it possible to be truly Christian and gay?
This was part of my question when I conducted my research project for my dissertation. I did an exploratory study with sexual minorities who were Christians. My main goal was to examine the different identity outcomes of folks who have same-sex attractions and had at least claimed Christianity at some point in time in their lives. I had predetermined identity outcomes I was looking for, and then I allowed the data to tell me if indeed those outcomes were there and add outcomes I did not suspect, or subtract those I suspected but were not really in the data. What I found was that my participants did select into one of my eight predetermined identities. In addition, there was an identity outcome evident in the data that I did not assume would be there at first. So all toll, I ended up having participants indicate to me that they fit into one of nine identity combination outcomes. Those outcomes were as follows:
Identify as Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual (LGB)—Reject Christianity;
Identify as LGB—Nominal or Covert Christian;
Identify as a LGB Christian;
Nominal or Covert LGB—Overt Christian Identity;
Only Identify as Christian—No Sexual Identification;
No Longer Identify as LGB—Only Christian;
No Longer Identify as LGB—Identify as Straight Christian;
Never Identify as LGB—Only Straight Identity/Nominal Christian;
Never Identify as LGB—Only Christian Identity.
Now you might be thinking: “These are all very similar, there are just semantic differences.” Or: “It looks like you are just splitting hairs.” And, you are right. But that is what psychology research does. We split hairs in order to better understand various phenomena. And I was trying to better understand how sexual minorities who have at some point in their lives claimed a Christian identity come to reconcile these two identity aspects into a congruent whole; so, I split hairs.
What I found was quite interesting. Nearly 62% of my research participants (i.e., 109 out of 177) claimed to have one of the three LGB—Christian combinations. They were either LGB-identified and nominally Christian, overtly both, or nominally LGB and outwardly Christian. The vast majority of which overtly claimed both identities.
So just from that fact alone you would think I should be able to answer my underlying question, can you be truly Christian and gay. But I wanted to know more about these individuals that overtly claimed both Christian and LGB identities, because where I came from, this was not possible. I grew up believing that you could not truly be a Christian and also claim a lesbian, gay or bisexual identity—which can be very difficult when you find yourself with same-sex attractions and you don’t know what that means for you and your faith. Anyway, back to the study.
After intensive qualitative analyses of the LGB Christian group—that means an in-depth reading of everyone’s responses to all the open-ended questions we asked, and we asked a LOT of open-ended questions—we found that there were three different ways that people who claim to be lesbian or gay Christians could act in terms of sexual behaviors.
The first way that LGB Christians can behaviorally manifest their identities is by holding to a sexual ethic that allows them to have sexual partners without the confines of a covenanted relationship. That means these folks might get into physical relationships with one person at a time, as in serial monogamy, or have sexual relations with whoever is their current love interest(s).
A second manner of sexual expression that I found in the LGB Christian group was that individuals would remain celibate or chaste until they found the same-sex person with whom they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. These LGB Christians were interested in having a covenanted relationship (like a registered domestic partnership, or better, a marriage) with a same-sex spouse. But their sexual ethic was more closely aligned with a more traditional or conservative stance on sexuality in general.
The third way that LGB Christians can act in terms of their sexual relationships is to not have sexual relations with anyone unless they choose to marry an opposite-sex partner. Some people might think that these individuals are not being true to themselves and denying an aspect of how God made them. That’s not how they saw it though. They saw it as acting in accordance with their conservative sexual ethic that says that sexual relationships are to be expressed and celebrated in a covenanted, opposite-sex marriage. At the same time, these people held tightly to their LGB identities, indicating that they truly felt that their sexual attractions are primarily not heterosexual and their social and political views were more closely aligned with other LGB-identified persons.
Now, you might be thinking that maybe some of these people are not truly Christian or are not truly lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Here’s the kicker: from all the measures of religious identity and sexual identity that these participants completed, there is no doubt in my mind that they are fully achieved in both identities. Additionally, all of these individuals indicated that they have had persistent and consistent attractions to the same-sex since adolescence, and have had a religious or “born-again” experience in which they committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
So what this tells me is that there is really such a thing as a lesbian, gay or bisexual Christian—a true Christian who also openly identifies as LGB. Some of you might be like, “Duh! I could have told you that!” Others of you might not be so convinced.
This is the sticky part: When it comes to the traditionally conservative Christian church mindset, there is still a cringing when one merely hears the word gay, let alone have it attached to the word Christian. One of the things I hope to do is to educate the church and the LGB community that when it comes to the interaction of sexual identity and religious identity there is a lot more gray area than we like to admit. Things are not always black and white or as comfortable as we would like them to be. That is just not how this world works. There are many shades of gray and multitudes of tropical colors in life.
As Christians, we are called to respond out of love, grace, forgiveness, and in peace. Jesus was a friend to the marginalized. The church has not historically been a good friend to the marginalized sexual minorities in our midst. Let’s change that and start trying to understand exactly what it means when someone tells you that he or she is both gay, or lesbian, and a Christian. As you can see from above, that could mean at least three very different things. So, before you cringe, explore the shades of gray and tropical colors that make up that person’s identity.