I get questions from young people asking what I think about gay people, same sex attraction, homosexuality. Mainly, these inquiring minds want to know if I think the Bible is clear about what we do with people who don’t fit the category of heterosexuality.
And here we find our first problem with the term “homosexual.” For starters it’s unclear. For a philosopher this is major problem.
“Homosexual” now refers to anyone who doesn’t fit into our heterosexual shopping bag. As Janel Paris explains in The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are, homosexual is a category of negation. We toss anyone we can’t bag as “straight” right into it. “Homosexual” includes lesbians and gays, but in Christian subculture ‘homosexual’ takes on many more meanings: The woman who’s had same-sex relationships in college but now lives celibate, the man who fantasizes about homo-erotic sex but who is married with three children. The bisexual teen, the college student who wants to struggle against SSA (same-sex attraction), the intersexed man who has finally decided he can’t stop living as a male anymore. Now you can get an idea why the LGBT (or as Paris found, this longest of terms, LGBTQQPA (H), BDSM representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, pansexual, asexual, heterosexual, bondage, domination/discipline, submission, sadomasochism) community has so many letters in their name. There is a wide spectrum of people they’re trying to represent.
In relief, heterosexual ends up sounding super clear: all those sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex.
Homosexuality sounds confusing, multi-faceted and aberrant. The term started out that way. While sodomy (same sex acts between men) was easily associated with a behavior and therefore easily repented from, homosexuality began to be associated with an identity, a “degenerative disease, a form of insanity, a congenital condition or an acquired condition” as recently as 100 years ago (Paris). Now “homosexual” is more commonly used by Christians than those within the LGBT etc community. But it’s a term that will continue to bother me.
The biggest, baddest problem with labels of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” is not that categories keep us from loving those in our lives (though they often do). The problem isn’t that we should shirk the task of knowing our gender’s boundaries and becoming appropriately, fully human within them. I have some definite ideas (What’s wrong with S&M?) about what it means to be a woman and what is good to do and not do with my reproductive organs. I believe some thing in sex hurt us (Sex, Food and Fifty Shades of Gray). In my study so far, I believe homo-erotic behavior is not the best way to use our genitals (read a dialog I shared with my lesbian Christian friend: What if I’m Christian and Gay?). But I have friends who I love, who I know love Jesus who disagree with me and express their views with steadiness and their own Biblical research.
The problem with labels like heterosexuality and homosexuality is that they improperly define a human by her desires.
And last time I checked my desires are too capricious and just plain silly to be the basis for my identity.
We all know the incredible childishness of our fantasy lives and our hearts. Married men and women know how attractive a crush or lustful affair can be for about five minutes, and then we remember who we married.
I have experienced a steady attraction for men in my life. But entertain a possible world scenario with me (philosophers love possible worlds). What if I were to change and find myself attracted to women?
While the world system might say I’m bisexual, I would beg followers of Jesus to take a moment to step back.
Since when did the God of Israel categorize his people by their desires? I believe our desires (even sexual desires) are not essential to who we are as humans, and therefore not a steady basis for something as important as our sexuality.
Point two, I’m wary of categories that sound clearer than life has made them out to be. Take, for instance, the many people who do not squarely fit into the heterosexual category. I meet these men and women at Christian colleges and speaking events and I want to argue their case, to beg that you consider that if categories marginalize those who love Jesus more confused, and less at home among us, perhaps we ought to come up with better categories. For those marginalized who are reading, I do recommend you start by reading “What if I’m Christian and Gay?“
There is not a verse in Scripture that defines God’s people by their sexual desires. Homosexual or heterosexual identity is not a concept from the Bible. There are verses about what men and women can do with their sexual organs, but sexual identity? If you can find it in there, let me know.
So what terms do we use to talk about our sexual desires? How about we start by using the terms others choose for themselves and then when they ask us about the Bible, let’s not say more than the Bible actually says.