Recently, on Twitter, and in various conversations, I have been asked if “gay Christian” specifically and if “gay” in general are appropriate biblical categories. Though I have written about this in, Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted, it is a conversation that has really important issues at play. Sexual identity and the words we use are not just descriptors of one’s desires and experiences but are philosophical claims on reality. One is rooted in the social constructionism of Michael Foucault and the other is rooted in the Bible. Words matter and Christians need to use the ones that most align to biblical reality.
Michael Foucault is a primary sage of the sexual chaos around sexual identity that now exists. In his, History of Sexuality, Foucault writes:
Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special know ledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power.
Here, Foucault introduces Social Constructionism into the conversation of sexuality. Sexual identity is not an objective reality but an individual and social construct that is named by individuals, and centers of power. Foucault places sexual restraints into the category of repression by powerful forces of culture and religion. Thus, freedom is the naming of self. For Foucault, we can be whoever we desire to be and ‘truth’ and the ‘common good’ are illusions. This is the world we live in.
When someone says that he is “gay”, this person is embracing a post-modern view of identity. Here I am not speaking of one’s attractions which very well might be real. Instead, I mean by embracing this linguistic reality, one is saying that each person or society has the power to identify the truth of their sexual selves. For the individual this might do little harm, but for the church the cost is immeasurable.
In the biblical account, the only way to understand sexual identity is through the lens of the Imago Dei and the divine blessing that comes from it:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” Genesis 1:27-28
Male and female is a divine edict that flows from the very reality of God. From it comes the creation ordinance: be fruitful and multiply. The Church and Christians does a disservice to those they serve when they mix the categories of Scriptures with post-modern philosophy. From the biblical perspective, categories like gay, straight, trans, bisexual do not exist as categories of identity. They do not point to reality; instead they are the words of a creature taking the place of God. As soon as these are the categories of conversation, you have left the realism of the Bible and entered into the miry chaos of post modernity.
Words have power. By entering and accepting the unbiblical categories of the current, cultural moment, the church has given up the ground of biblical authority. Identity is primum momenti; identity is the primary ground of lordship. If Jesus is your Lord, then you are a man, a woman with a divine calling. He redeems all of us including our sexuality identity.
Herman Bavinck rightly grounds sexual identity in the realism of the Bible,
God is the Creator of the human being, and simultaneously also the Inaugurator of sex and of sexual difference. This difference did not result from sin; it existed from the very beginning, it has its basis in creation, it is a revelation of God’s will and sovereignty, and is therefore wise and good. Therefore, no one may misconstrue or despise this sexual difference, either within one’s own identity or in that of another person. It has been willed by God. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody.
Here, one’s sexual identity is objectively decreed by God. And the psychology of this identity and the family born of it is the foundation of society and the reality every person must reckon with.
There is much that could be said about how we ought to talk about our impulses and inclinations, as well as how singleness plays into the Christian view of reality but words have power. Let us use our words with care.