Why not say you're gay?
By Jonathan Berry
It’s a great question. I am, after all, exclusively attracted to those of the same-sex and always have been from as young as I can remember. I had my first same-sex ‘crush’ at the age of 8, my first mild same-sex experience aged 10 and I was involved in a committed same-sex relationship for seven years, between the ages of 17 and 24. Despite efforts over the years, including going out with a couple of girls when I was at school, and a really close relationship with an amazing girl in my late twenties, I can in all honesty say that I’ve never once felt any physical or sexual attraction to someone of the opposite sex. So I must be gay, right?
...aged 17 I did identify myself, inwardly at least, as being gay
Well, at aged 17 I did identify myself, inwardly at least, as being gay. Calling myself gay was a reluctant acceptance that, through no choice of my own, my attraction to those of the same-sex wasn’t a passing phase. I didn’t like many of the associations that went with the gay label though, nor many of the assumptions that a lot of people back in the 80s would make about gay people, e.g., that you must be promiscuous, flamboyant, proud, at risk of becoming HIV+, etc.
When I was 24, everything changed for me. After a period of becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a number of aspects of my life, I walked into a church one Sunday morning ‘looking for God.’ Within a week I came to faith in Jesus Christ and committed myself to following him and putting God’s Word in the Bible at the heart of my life. I was deeply convicted that as an outworking of this new commitment I needed to get out of the same-sex relationship that I’d been in since I was 17 years old. That wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I felt strongly compelled that this relationship wasn’t compatible with my new Christian life.
Since then I’ve had to deal with the dilemma of how to describe myself when I’ve faced the inevitable questions about my sexuality or why I’m not married. If pushed I’ll usually say that I’m a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. For a whole host of reasons, though, I don’t ever describe myself as a gay Christian. If I didn’t like the label ‘gay’ when I was in a same-sex relationship, I suppose it’s no surprise that I like it even less now! I have no problem whatsoever in accepting that many of my gay friends are quite content with using that label, but personally, ‘gay’ is simply not who I am anymore.
...personally, 'gay' is simply not who I am anymore
As a Christian I choose to think differently. The Bible knows nothing of the concept of “sexual orientation” – so no-one is ever referred to in the Bible as being gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual. God’s word speaks only of sexual practices, i.e., those which are pleasing to God (sex within marriage, which is between one man and one woman) and those which are not (all other sex, whatever the context). I now have a new identity, one which is based not on who I’m sexually attracted to, but rooted in my most important relationship of all, that is my relationship with Jesus Christ. I identify with his teachings, his sufferings, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his promise of future glory for those who trust in him for forgiveness, and who seek to follow him as Lord.
“If anyone is in Christ,” writes the Apostle Paul to Christians in Corinth, where some had been converted to faith in Christ from a background of same-sex practice, “he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For me, part of the “old” that “has gone” is this idea of identifying myself and describing myself according to my sexual attractions. If I were to hold on to that label “gay”, as if it’s somehow intrinsic to who I am now, then by denying myself a same-sex relationship it would feel as if I’d be denying who I really am (an accusation some of my gay friends already level at me). If my true identity is in Christ, however, then denying myself a same-sex relationship seems like a much more positive outworking of my commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to put him first in my life.
...my true identity is in Christ
Focussing on my identity as being in Christ also serves as an important reminder to me as to the many great things that are mine as a believer. So, for example, in Christ I have, “redemption” (Romans 3:24), “eternal life” (Romans 6:23), “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), “the grace of God” (1 Corinthians 1:4), “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3), “righteousness from God” (Philippians 3:9), and, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Quite a list, all given to me freely as a direct consequence of me being in relationship with Jesus Christ!
We’re often warned of the dangers of identity theft in an increasingly digital age. As a Christian I feel passionately that I don’t want to allow myself to be robbed of the enjoyment of these great blessings, by falsely embracing any other identity. In his letter to Christians in Rome, Paul urges his readers not to “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). For me, a really important aspect of that mind-renewal process involves ditching any unbiblical labels and securing my true identity as being in Christ.