In Other Words: LGBTQ Language and the Church

Side B Christians and Sexual Minorities
Part 3 of a 3-Part Series


“… but My servants will be called by another name.” Isaiah 65:15

When Simon Peter first met Jesus, the Lord proposed a seismic shift in the way the fisherman saw himself:

“And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.” (John 1:42)

To refer to a man as “son of …” was to emphasize his humanity and lineage. Jesus did just that, then contrasted who Simon was with what He would make him into – a Rock, a stable and foundational figure in the
early church.

God bestowing a new identity onto a woman or man was hardly a new thing, even then. Centuries earlier fatherless Abram had been re-named Abraham, Father of Nations (Genesis 17:5) while barren and aged Sarai became Sarah, Princess and Mother of Nations (Genesis 17:15) and heel-catching Jacob was christened Israel, Governed of God. (Genesis 32:28)

Clearly names matter, whether proper names or labels we adopt for ourselves. They represent our self-view which, for the Christian, should spring from His view. While my perspective is of some value, what matters most is not how I see myself, but how I am seen, since what the Potter has to say about the Clay carries more weight than the clay’s self-analysis. So whatever label the clay takes should reflect both the perspective and priorities of the Potter.

That, in turn, is derived from the document the Potter inspired for the clay’s guidance, meaning the words I use to self-identify should line up with what the Bible has to say about me.

“What sayest thou of thyself?” (John 1:22)

That’s the crux of the debate among believers over what vocabulary we should use when addressing homosexuality. Both sides are made up of self-identified Christians recognizing the authority of scripture, and both sides are asking and arguing what scripture has to say about self-definition.

The argument arises over a new set of terms growing in popularity in reference to people who are (a) sexually attracted to the same sex, (b) abstaining from homosexual behavior out of obedience to God, and (c) looking for ways to identify themselves and their experiences.

The recent Revoice Conference highlighted how prominent these terms are becoming, and how much tension is rising between those using them and those objecting to them.

Sources critical of the Revoice event can be found here , and here , and sources supportive of it can be found here and here . In response to all of this, I’ve written in earlier posts about the term Gay Christian here  and about the terms Mixed Orientation Marriage and Spiritual Friendships here . Today I’d like to look at two other phrases gaining traction: Side B Christians and Sexual Minorities.

Flipping to Side B

Those my age will remember 45 records, those vinyl mini-frisbees featuring whichever hit song we wanted to buy, with a Side B recording by the same artists on the flip side. Side B was seldom if ever listened to; it was basically the back end of the act.

But now there’s a very different take on the phrase. When it comes to its usage on this topic, the online magazine Slate cites the origin of the term Side B to a now defunct website called Bridges Across the Divide, which once provided an open forum for people of different perspectives to discuss sexuality and faith. On the Bridges site, Side A Christians referred to people who identified as openly gay, openly Christian, and openly affirming of homosexual relationships. Side B folks identified themselves as the first two – openly gay and Christian – but not the third, in that they still felt the Bible condemned all forms of homosexual sex.

The site closed but the label stuck, and to this day, you’ll often hear “Side A” and “Side B” in conversations about those who affirm or resist their own same-sex desires.

No Small Matter …

Whatever objections we may have to the phrase (and I do have some) let’s first recognize and respect the way Side B Christians are living their lives.

During a time when mass celebration is thrown over people “coming out” and embracing their sexual proclivities, these women and men are choosing faithfulness over satisfaction – not just the satisfaction of casual one-night stands, but also, in many cases, the fulfillment of homosexual relationships that are committed, long standing, and deeply bonded.

We can and should argue that such relationships are clearly outside of what our Creator intended, so they can never be a legitimate option for a Christian. But that doesn’t minimize the enormity of saying “no” to them once and for all, especially if they’re the only form of partnering or passion that a person has ever known, or the only form a person can ever envision. Saying “no” to them means saying “yes” to what the cross demands, a “yes” that’s required, for sure. (Luke 9:23) But let’s respect its ramifications, whether or not we fully relate to them.

… But That’s My Point!

If saying “no” to homosexuality is a big deal, then homosexuality itself, being a sexual sin prohibited explicitly five times in the Bible, must also be a big deal. (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; I Corinthians 6:9-10; I Timothy 1:9-10) On issues so significant, there’s neither a Side A nor a Side B. There’s only the right side and the wrong side, the black or the white.

Suppose we applied the Side A/Side B template onto another common but abhorrent sin, like racism.

Imagine a population of people who are internally inclined to feel superior over another race. Some of them act on those inclinations, speaking racial slurs and practicing discrimination. They are Side A Racists. Side B Racists, on the other hand, recognize that racism is sinful, and that they must say no to their racist inclinations.

OK, sure, we’d be glad they were resisting such evil impulses. But wouldn’t we also be appalled to see them categorize themselves as Side B Racists? Wouldn’t we encourage them to reject such a label, and simply admit that they are Christians who at times have sinful tendencies, racist leanings being one of them, and so they mortify all such inclinations?

Likewise, we’d howl our protest if they conceptualized the racist population as one they still identify with, minimizing the differences between internal and external racists with terms like Side A and Side B.

While the sin of homosexual behavior and the unnaturalness of homosexual desires are hardly the same as racial prejudice, the principle is similar.

Sexual sin is openly condemned in 22 out of the 27 books of the New Testament. The first case of church discipline involved fornication among believers (I Corinthians 5) and Paul cited the misuse of our sexuality as a perversion invoking unique and severe consequences. (I Corinthians 6:18) Immorality is one of the six sins scripture lists as deal breakers when it comes to fellowship (I Corinthians 5:11) and the Ephesians were told that fornication should not even be named among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)

Clearly, then, a Biblical view of human sexuality recognizes both its sacredness and the seriousness of its abuse. Any system of terminology diminishing that seriousness should be avoided.

A Sexual Minority

You’re certain to hear this term, if not now, then soon.

More often than not it’s applied to homosexual people, but it also references others whose sexual desires or gender expressions are outside the mainstream. To a point, it’s an understandable idea, because even though we all have sinned and do sin, the kind of sins we commit, or sinful tendencies we experience, vary.

Some tendencies are universal, like selfishness, or dishonesty, or bitterness. But some temptations are experienced only by some, homosexuality being one of them.

Universal or unique, all sin comes from the same root of fallen human nature. Still, “minority” is not an inaccurate way to define tendencies experienced by the few rather than the many.

But is it an appropriate term for people as well as tendencies? I would argue for the Negative, because “Minority”, both as a word and a concept, too easily invokes other concepts like Special Handling, Special Status, or
Special Needs.

Some would say “Good! Special handling is called for when dealing with homosexually-inclined people within the church.” I’d say otherwise.

Been There, Experienced That

I’ve often mentioned, in this blog and elsewhere, that I repented of homosexuality back in early 1984. Here are a few items I haven’t mentioned.

The first Sunday I came back to a Bible-believing church, after a six year backslide, the pastor opened his sermon by asserting that homosexuals molest children. He knew that, he said, because when he was a youth, a number of adult homosexuals had approached him, infuriating him to the point of beating them up.

Upon hearing that he beat them up, the congregation applauded loudly.

“And,” he continued, “if they ever touch my grandchildren I’ll beat them
up again!”

More applause, louder and sustained. With a sick feeling, I realized I was worshipping alongside people who, had they known I’d just left the gay community, would assume I was a child molester.

Years later when I began speaking on the subject, a pastor informed me on live radio that he would be very uncomfortable having “my kind” join his church, although he knew I’d repented of the sin more than a decade earlier.

At another church I belonged to for years, the pastor, who knew my wife and I pretty well, refused my request to open in prayer, or even attend, a conference my ministry was hosting on how to minister to homosexual people, because he “simply didn’t understand the subject well enough.”

Around that time, I also assisted a number of pastors in my county who asked for my help in defeating a pro-gay ordinance we all felt was unnecessary and unfair. I agreed to help them, asking that they in return please announce and support the conference I mentioned earlier. All of them committed, but when the conference time came, none showed or even bothered responding to my calls. They were glad to have my help in defeating the gay lobby, but they weren’t too keen on ministering to people who’d repented of that sin.

In one of the funniest bizarre episodes of my media experience, I remember being a guest on one of the most prominent Christian television programs on air in the mid-1990’s. The host reminded me, numerous times before we began, that they’d never had “someone like me” (a former practicing homosexual) on their show before, and everyone, from management on down, was awfully nervous about how their viewers would respond to me.

Yet many years earlier that same show had interviewed two former members of the Charles Manson family who had come to Christ in prison, where they were serving life sentences for the murders of nine people, including the beautiful 8-month pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

So yes, I understand the experience of feeling like odd man out, a Special Case among the other rank and file sinners.

Welcomed with a Yawn

Sometimes I would have preferred a warmer welcome. So many others with my background could say the same, and then some. I’ve known Christians who were denied positions in their churches, viewed with open suspicion, or suspected of randomly lusting after fellow believers, only because they’d had the integrity to admit that homosexuality was a sin they renounced.

I’m grateful to have had, despite the blips I mentioned earlier, a generally good reception –  a welcome accompanied by a yawn in lieu of a “Ooh, that’s weird!”  The yawn meant, “Oh, you struggle? Welcome to the club.”

Most believers embraced me as part of the Body, not so unusual or needy, just another guy trying to live a sanctified life in a very unsanctified world, and experiencing many unsanctified yearnings. Classifying same-sex strugglers as a minority underscores, I believe, differences that are not in the final analysis so very great.

After all, when it comes to what we are called by God (and should thereby be calling ourselves) we’re referred to in scripture as Saints, (Colossians 1:2) New Creatures, (II Corinthians 5:17) Children of God (I John 3:1) and More than Conquerors. (Romans 8:37)

Those are but a few of the names He calls us, yet nowhere in the Bible will we see saints classified by any particular temptation or desire. Our titles are far more positive and victorious than that. All saints have that in common.

Our experience, though, is not always described in such glowing terms. It’s cited as a progressive, often difficult, joyous pilgrimage including, among other things, personal setbacks, failures, and struggles between our passions and our calling. (See, for example, Romans 6-7; Galatians 5:17; and I John 1:8) Those are but a few of the descriptive phrases we can also own. Saints also have that in common, and anyone who denies the reality of temptations and struggles, sexual or otherwise, is being something less
than honest.

Our labels say who we are; our descriptive phrases say what we experience. The two are linked, but not identical and certainly not contradictory. A Biblical approach to self-identification will recognize that, and I cannot see that approach including labels based on unwanted, ungodly sexual desires.

Lessons from La Mancha

In my favorite musical “The Man of La Mancha”, the eccentric Don Quixote encounters the prostitute Aldonza and insists she is a lady, a maiden, the feminine ideal. He refuses to call her by her given name, instead bestowing the more lady-like “Dulcinea” upon her,

She thinks he’s nuts, and spends most of the story ruminating over his vision of her versus her own highly-limited take on herself. In the end, her transcendence comes when she dares to believe that what Don Quixote saw in her was more real and accurate than what she saw in herself.

We could all do worse than to follow her lead. Certainly, no Christian should practice a magical-thinking Name It and Claim It approach, pretending to be more than we are, or to be absent whatever specific temptations we may experience. I celebrate the believer who says, “I’m first and foremost a child of God who happens to have same-sex temptations.” I’m in serious disagreement with the believer who says, “Because I experience same-sex temptations, I am therefore a Gay Christian.”

My disagreement stems from a growing conviction that names matter, probably more than we appreciate. They influence not only how we view ourselves, but our options as well.  That, I’m convinced, is a primary reason so many of us have objected to the new vocabulary proposed by Revoice and others. It has, in the end, a tone of something less than what has been eternally declared about us in Christ.

On that note, I concur with what Dr. Albert Mohler has said about all of this:

“We should take the organizers of Revoice at their word and hear what they are saying. We should lament the brokenness and understand the many failings of the Christian church toward those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. But we dare not add yet another failure to those failures. We cannot see Revoice as anything other than a house built upon the sand. Revoice is not the voice of faithful Christianity.”



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