Mortification, Cross Bearing, and Side B
If, as I have argued, there is distinction between desire to sin and orientation to sin in Reformed confessionalism (in general here, on the Nashville statement and Side B here and here), and if people who are oriented to same-sex attraction are committed to orthodox chastity, then why would anyone care if such a person called themselves a gay Christian? This subject has seen a firestorm of controversy as a result of actions and statements taken in the Anglican Church/REC and PCA. The arguments against using “gay Christian” or “same-sex attracted” Christian boil down to a) confusing language to outsiders, b) the implication that communities are being formed based upon a shared proclivity to sin, c) and the unwise addition of excessive, sin-oriented adjectives to describe the identity of the Christian. The PCA’s move is more stark than the Anglican’s, in that it pursues forbidding the ordination of men who would profess such an identity.
The issue at hand is the nature of the identity being avowed. For example, Amber Noel makes a strong case that “gay Christian” is a helpful pastoral category, not for identifying an embracing of sin, but of a real besetting condition upon the sinner. Others in the PCA have argued that identifying oneself as same-sex attracted is only identifying their sin struggle, and that a double-standard is being imposed on same-sex tempted Christians.
I think there is good reason to avoid using the language of gay Christian, though as the EPC’s ‘Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality’ states, “In some cases, after receiving wisdom from godly counselors, it could be helpful for some Christians to make known publicly their ongoing, largely fruitful struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.” Wisdom and prudence are required. The reason the language of “gay Christian” or the like should be used hesitatingly is because it can communicate an unwillingness to mortify sin. Since we have been baptized in Christ’s death for sin, we are to improve our baptism by mortifying our propensity to sin (i.e. orientation to sin; WLC 167) as the Spirit-regenerated part of our being progressively triumphs over the remaining corruption of sin through the Spirit’s sanctification in our union with Christ.
To call oneself a “gay Christian” can signal to others (and potentially become a feedback loop to yourself) that you are not mortifying sin. That may not be the case, but those who profess a SSA orientation are naive to think that they are not signalling a moral endorsement of that orientation by their profession of being gay. By identifying as same-sex attracted, it can communicate that the individual is not pursuing the death of that orientation to sin, but rather embracing it as a good of who they are (even if they are simultaneously eschewing same-sex activity, including desire). This crops up semi-frequently among some proponents of Side B.
Now, to my knowledge, no one in the PCA holds that position. What the proposed revisions do accomplish, however, is banning anyone from ordination who uses identifiers “such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms”, regardless of motivation, as undermining and contradicting their union with Christ. This absolutizes meaning with a disregard for contextual wisdom. There is no consideration for the way the terminology is employed by those beset by same-sex attraction. There is no spirit of bearing each other’s burdens in love. Instead, we are just left with a hectoring call for same-sex tempted Christians to do a better job of bearing their cross.