Identity is a loaded topic.
Mature Christians realize that everyone has sin in their lives that separates them from God. Educated Christians with developed theology might go one step further to conclude that the sinful actions we all take are merely symptoms of our inherent sinful nature- our conscious and subconscious decision to become our own gods and choose our own selfish will over God’s perfect will. Part of this understanding is the realization that no Christian is in a position to judge anyone else for any reason, but of course we all still do.
Somehow, many Christians have taken it upon themselves to make a judgement call that distinguishes homosexual sin from every other sin (this is not to say that all homosexual activity is inherently sinful, but I’m trying to write in terms that can relate to a specific audience). As I’ve researched the root of this distinction and the ability to put homosexual sin its own category that is apparently too much for God to work in and through, I’ve noticed that it comes down to identity. (And by work in and through, I don’t mean the idea that God can or can’t “heal” someone of homosexuality- he could if He wanted because He’s omnipotent, but chooses not to because He created everyone the way they are; I mean to suggest that God can work in and through a gay person in ministry exactly the same as He can work in and through a straight person in ministry). Many Christians would argue that “choosing” to be gay is choosing to create your own identity outside of God’s divine creation purpose. Apparently that sin is different from the root of sin mentioned earlier, with which every living person struggles on a daily basis. After all, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, right?
I want to address the topic of identity as it relates to The Church and Christians.
Every culture has its own unique identity comprised of various factors- art, clothing, speech, customs, values, beliefs, etc. A people group’s identity is both influenced by, and influences, the individuals within it. One of the most important lessons I’m learning in my journey is that there is no “they”- not every individual in a people group fulfills the stereotypes and expectations or shares the same ideals, beliefs of lifestyle.
The Church has an identity and a culture of its own. When I came out, many Christians fulfilled the predictable stereotypes associated with The Church’s identity, and some were mortified to be inaccurately represented by those who did. Unfortunately, part of The Church’s identity includes a strong opposition toward the topic of homosexuality. The opposition has been passed down through generations over centuries, as culture and identity always are. When any part of an individual’s, organization’s or institution’s identity is threatened, they react strongly to protect what they feel is core to who they are.
The fight to avoid assimilation is fueled by the threat of losing identity. It has been repeated time and time again throughout history between many different people groups. An example most would easily identify is the genocide that Jews faced during the Holocaust. The genocide proved that a people group would rather face extermination than be forced to assimilate into an opposing culture, giving up it’s core beliefs, values, identity and culture. This is not meant to suggest that the Jews chose any part of the Holocaust, but to emphasize the idea that their identity and culture was so precious that that they never denounced or denied it. In fact, it may say more about the Nazis, whose identity revolved around around exterminating the Jews, who they viewed as a threat to their own culture and identity.
In The Bible, the Pharisees always get a bad wrap. They are seen as religious leaders that were so wrapped up in their cultural identity that they refused to recognize that their God was literally walking among them, healing them, teaching them, and revealing Himself to them in new ways. But if you look beyond the surface level, it’s easier to understand why they did what they did. Jesus threatened their identity, their culture, their power, their beliefs, everything they had devoted their lives to for generations and centuries. The more their identity slipped, the harder they pushed back, ultimately having Jesus crucified for the imminent threat he posed to their identity.
The Apostle Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament, was also persecuted at the hands of the religious leaders. They went to great lengths to have Paul imprisoned for preaching the Good News of Jesus and gathering followers that saw past the religion of the Pharisees and sought relationship with Jesus. In fact, the evidence they presented to authorities was ultimately proved invalid- they compromised their own religious convictions by lying and bearing false witness because they felt silencing someone they viewed as a threat was more godly than obeying one of Ten Commandments they held so dearly. Again, the root of their strong opposition was the threat that The Gospel posed to their identity and culture. They refused to assimilate into the culture of their land and instead retreated deeper and deeper into themselves, creating communities that became more and more exclusive to avoid including anyone that might threaten their identity the way Jesus and the early Christians did.
If we fast forward a couple thousand years and travel a couple thousand miles, the culture and identity of the American Evangelical Church may look much different from that of the Pharisees, but the struggle they face is the same. The Church is fighting to avoid assimilation. It’s fighting to maintain its identity at all costs. While the American population increases, the population of the Evangelical Church decreases as it retreats deeper into exclusivity to avoid compromising on aspects of its identity that it believes defines relationship with God. It makes sense- no individual, organization or institution wants to lose its identity. Many take the stance that being exterminated is better than willfully assimilating into a culture that holds beliefs and values that can’t coexist with their own. It’s unfortunate, because The Church doesn’t have to make opposition to homosexuality such an integral part of their identity.
If The Church would apply their theology regarding sin and judgement to the topic of homosexuality, it wouldn’t have to be such a disqualifying factor for their identity or for anyone else’s. Modern day Christians and the modern day Evangelical Church pride themselves on not being “religious” in the way the Pharisees were. But the Pharisees believed their religious identity is what God got them into heaven, and they didn’t see where they got it wrong- that’s kind of the point. Many Christians miss the point.
If the point is ambiguous, I’ll try to sum it up: If Christians truly accept their identity as flawed individuals with an inherently sinful nature that prevents them being perfect, they will accept that they have no place judging anyone else for any reason. And it’s not enough to say we love and accept gay people; loving and accepting someone means you see them as God sees them, and God sees them no differently than He sees you. If you’re not disqualified from loving and serving God, seeking a partner for marriage, or serving in God’s ministry, then why would someone else who’s sincerely seeking to love and obey God be disqualified from those important aspects of life? When The Church’s identity becomes more concerned with prohibiting and limiting whole people groups, or even individuals, from seeking God than drawing people toward Him, their identity has become their god.
It doesn’t take much exposure to the gay community to see identity from a different perspective. Gay people in general recognize that their identity is threatened by anyone who tries to limit who they can be, what they can do or who they can love. It makes sense- who is The Church, or anyone else, to tell anyone who they can and cannot be? The difference is that gay people recognize that they are fighting to protect their identity and avoid assimilation to popular, accepted culture. The Church misses the point, and hurts many in the process.
Since writing this post, I’ve received some pretty strong hate mail accusing me of bashing The Church. That’s not my intention and will never be. I love The Church. I would never suggest that anyone leave or avoid The Church. I try to make sure everything I write points people toward Jesus, The Church and The Bible. Just because I disagree with some ways The Church addresses certain issues does not mean I’m bashing it. The same is true for myself- I realize that just because some people disagree with the way I see things does not mean they’re bashing me personally. It’s ok to disagree and have varying opinions- that’s part of life, and there’s no way everyone will see eye to eye on every issue. Again, it’s important to continually seek ways to love, accept and understand each other throughout our individual journeys.