“You’re gay…so that means…?” It may seem so obvious to many in our modern culture what the term “gay” connotes that it seems stupid to respond to such a question. Say “farewell” to the adjective which once connoted a state of merriment and elation. In today’s modern world, “gay” means “gay”—a person who is exclusively or primarily sexually, emotionally attracted to persons of their own sex/gender; a male homosexual (a term that has rightfully fallen on hard times because of its antiquated ‘medical’ connotation). It’s also used as all-inclusive term for lesbian women; however, many women prefer “lesbian” just fine. Nevertheless, the term ‘gay’ is embedded within a social-cultural linguistic framework which many people carry a lot of assumptions about those who use it. Specifically, many sincere people within the Black Church carry a lot of negative assumptions about someone who identifies himself as ‘gay.’ To certain church people’s ears, to identify as “gay” is to identify with inordinate desires and perverted lifestyles. For a man to identify as “gay” is to identify with “the world,” therefore, such a man, to borrow Pauline language from the KJV, is a “reprobate.” To be “gay” means to be rampantly promiscuous, without any sense of self-control. To be gay means to be one who is effeminate, lacking any sense of masculinity. To be gay means to be one who engages in acts which are “against nature” (again, from dear Paul). To the extreme, to be gay means to be cast out, beyond redemption, an “abomination” before God. From a less extreme standpoint, to be an “active homosexual” means that one is a sinner who engages in sinful acts, nevertheless, such a person is not far from God’s grace and can receive salvation upon confession of faith, come into the house of God, and cease from engaging in sinful behavior as a one grows in the saving knowledge of Christ.
So what does it mean to be “gay” and “Christian?” Or more pressingly, what does it mean for me to come out as a black gay Christian? A family member posed this question when I disclosed my sexuality to him. My loved one asked me, “so what does it mean that you’re gay?’” For this loved one, a person who was confesses Christ and identifies as “gay” is problematic. It doesn’t make sense for a person who maintains my traditional beliefs and to come out as “gay.” It’s an oxymoron. On another note, to come out as gay means to this person’s ears that I’m open or I have opened myself to the possibility of pursuing a same-sex relationship. My family member worries that I’ve capitulated to theological liberalism, and thus, placed myself on the edge of fallen away from the most holy faith.
I must say that I appreciate my loved one’s concern for my salvation. I consider it an act of love. I wish more liberals took the same posture with conservatives! In any event, what my loved one failed to understand at that time was that we are all born into a limited sociolinguistic framework. I chose to come out as gay, beside the fact that many of my family members and friends weren’t really surprised (!), because the current modern Western conceptions of sexuality, albeit inadequate, provided the linguistic framework for which I could articulate my experience of same-sex desire and its development over time. Being gay also says something more than experiencing desire for another man; it connotes my sense of being within the world—a Western, heterosexual world. Let’s face it, our church cultures, whether liberal or conservative, is heterosexist. Even for one who is both single and a virgin, I cannot go anywhere within my Christian circles and not hear about wedding bells, marriage retreats, and single hookups stylized as singles ministries without feeling excluded. As someone who is a self-identified moderate evangelical, I rarely find spaces within the church to be open about struggling to maintain a sense of holiness and sanity as I navigate through this journey of faith. I appreciate my close friends, family, and seminary friends for their unwavering support. However, as I continue in life I know I will enter into ecclesiastical spaces where many would rather I identify as an “ex-gay” person or someone who kept his mouth shut about his sexuality and who solely finds his identity in Jesus Christ. Although I understand such thinking, it is nonetheless problematic. The problem is that many black heterosexual Christians have no problem lapping up the social capital which their sexualities gain them within society and within the Black Church. In the Black Church heterosexuality is equated with true ‘masculinity’ and true ‘femininity.’ Therefore, sexual minorities are by logical consequence, not truly men and women. More forcefully, to be heterosexual means to be truly human. Theologically, this is idolatrous. Since all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and since all human beings are sinners in need of God’s saving grace, we should not exalt any aspect of our creaturely existence as “standards” for any other person to mimic or follow. As human creatures, we need redemption in every sphere of our lives; the Son of God assumed humanity in order to take human beings, incorporated into his Body, and heal us from our sin.[i] If marriage as covenant, sacrament, and social and legal contract is prescriptively “heterosexual,” then traditionalists have nothing to shout about because over fifty percent of marriages within this country fail for various reasons; we never live fully into any standards or models which are not taken into the life of the Son for redemption. If traditionalists will continue to maintain heterosexuality as paradigmatic for all of humanity, we (and I’m included!) better come up with sound theological arguments which do not produce oppressive pastoral responses and underwrite the social hegemonic power of the state over sexual minorities.
So to answer this question, I identify as “gay” for two reasons. First, as aforementioned it’s the best way to describe my sexuality. If there is another way to describe my sexual orientation, I’ll utilize it. Otherwise, gay is here to stay. It does not determine my morals, my “lifestyle”, my behaviors, and my values. Of course, the LGBTIQ community within the United States does have social values, many similar to those of majority heterosexual community, some values differ. Some LGBTIQ are Christians within congregations across the theological spectrum. Some are partnered; others single, sexually active and celibate. Secondly, I identify as “gay” because I find a sense of solidarity with those on the social margins. No matter how “traditional” my beliefs are,[ii] even if I kept my mouth shut about it (that wouldn’t have helped), I will always be on the margins as a sexual minority. Church folks’ inquiries into my marital status, my developing theological engagement with queer theologies, and my erotic appreciation of male beauty will always place me at the margins of both church and society, despite my love for the hymns of Zion, my commitment to Nicene faith, and my constant journey to conform my life to the authority of God mediated through the Scriptures. I do have one consolation—Jesus makes it His business to go to the margins. For that, I’m thankful.