/ Barry York

Orientation Identity and the Church

In this bravest and newest of worlds, people have taken upon themselves the responsibility to self-identify. Looking inwardly for their truth, they examine their thoughts and passions to determine who they are. If their heart is inclined, or oriented, in a certain direction, then that proclivity becomes who they are.

Just a few short years ago, the big battle in this area was for people to be identified by their sexual orientation. As this article makes clear, this battle was basically won when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. In those days, things were "simpler" as you were either straight, lesbian or gay.

Yet soon after, LG grew into LGBQT, and it was that T for transgender that marked another seismic shift in the culture. For rather than simply being oriented toward the same sex, which at least had your orientation in part focused on yourself in relation to other people, in the transgender movement identity has taken another step inward. For now identity is focused more solely on yourself in relation to your self.

For instance, if a man feels like a woman, then he is now a she and becomes known as a transgender. Yet so radical is this yearning for self-identity these days that if someone uses a feminine pronoun to describe said individual, this can be deemed too restrictive and so other pronouns such as "they" are encouraged. After all, some claim to switch genders back and forth on any given day, or want to be known as agender or gender-free.

Today's identity culture is a bit like traveling south on a highway and enjoying the ride so much you decide to take South as your new surname. That may be fine for a time, but that inevitable left or right turn makes it difficult to know what to do next. Rut Etheridge in his new book aptly deems this modern propensity to determine one's own identity the "ceiling of self". It only takes you so far. For eventually the well named Self dries up, unable to keep up with the thirst for significance.

Now let us come to the church and consider orientation identity. For there is growing pressure to accept this type of thinking within the church. Revoice is one of the latest identity movements that is infiltrating evangelical and Reformed churches. Their stated purpose is "to support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality." (You can see Tim Challies' summary article here about the first Revoice conference in 2018.) Note the adjectives used to modify the word "Christians". This statement shows that promoters and supporters of this movement are adding their own inner orientation to Christian identity.

To see how this orientation frames their whole outlook on life, consider these two examples taken from the thinking of Dr. Wesley Hill, a seminary professor, keynote speaker at Revoice, and author of several books on this subject (quotes were gleaned from this Aquila Report article, which also has many helpful links to appropriate responses).

I also want to explore the way my same-sex attractions are inescapably bound up with my gift for and calling to friendship. My question, at root, is how I can steward and sanctify my homosexual orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace.
In my experience, at least, being gay colors everything about me, even though I am celibate. It’s less a separable piece of my experience, like a shelf in my office, which is indistinguishable from the other shelves, and more like a proverbial drop of ink in a glass of water: not identical with the water, but also not entirely distinct from it either. Being gay is, for me, as much a sensibility as anything else: a heightened sensitivity to and passion for same-sex beauty that helps determine the kind of conversations  I have, which people I’m drawn to spend time with, what novels and poems and films I enjoy, the particular visual art I appreciate, and also, I think, the kind of friendships I pursue and try to strengthen.

Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 78-81.

Undeniably someone in the LGBTQ community who is converted will still have temptations and longings to head back to their old lifestyle, like the Israelites wanting to return to Egypt in the wilderness. However, statements like Dr. Hill's go further than that and contradict the Scriptures.

First, they deny the sinfulness of the homosexual desires themselves, seeking to legitimize them into something worthy. Jesus taught that not just actions but thoughts defile a man.

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man. (Matt. 15:18-20)

If they are deeming the homosexual actions sinful, as many in Revoice claim, then so are the thoughts of these actions. If I were to substitute in for Hill's words other longings in place of the gay-based ones, the ugly truth becomes more evident. For try saying this to your wife:

I also want to explore the way my adulterous attractions are inescapably bound up with my gift for and calling to friendship. My question, at root, is how I can steward and sanctify my adulterous orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace.

Next, modifying our Christian identity with any LGBQT adjective ultimately denies the power of the gospel and Spirit to reorient desires. If you are a professing Christian and "being gay colors everything" about you, then you need more gospel coloring! The believer is to be strengthened by Christ so that truly in his "heart are highways to Zion" (Ps. 84:5) and he desires heavenly things (Col. 3:1-2). In his classic work Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards explains how our orientation or constitution, though not perfected, is fundamentally altered at conversion when he says,

Allowances, indeed, must be made for the natural temper which conversion does not entirely eradicate: those sins which a man by his natural constitution was most inclined to before his conversion, he may be most apt to fall into still. But yet conversion will make a great alteration even with respect to these sins. Though grace, while imperfect, does not root out an evil natural temper, yet it is of great power and efficacy to correct it. The change wrought in conversion is an universal change: grace changes a man with respect to whatever is sinful in him...If a man before his conversion was by his natural constitution prone to lasciviousness or drunkenness or maliciousness, converting grace will make a great alteration in him with respect to these evil dispositions so that however he may be still most in danger of these sins, they shall no longer have dominion over him nor will they any more be properly his character.

Finally, proponents of orientation identification need to remember that they are looking in the wrong direction for their identity. Instead of looking within, they need to break through the ceiling of self and look without to find who they are. Jesus encouraged this when He paradoxically said, "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). The needle of a compass always points true north - unless there is a strong magnet nearby. The magnet of self distorts true direction. Thinking you have found yourself by following the direction of your heart is the way to Lostville. In the gospel, we are to look to Christ as the North Star to rediscover the true image of God and, in so doing, also truly find ourselves.

May the Lord help the church to rediscover and rest in the knowledge that we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

For two short, helpful works on this subject, see The Gospel and Sexual Orientation and The Gospel and Gender Identity.

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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