In my last post, I encouraged everyone to define their terms when discussing matters of sexual orientation and identity.
Therefore, I offer this definition of Christian sexual-identity terms I use on this blog, which I initially defined here.
- Side A – God does not condemn homosexual genital contact within a faithful, committed, monogamous relationship (same-sex “marriage”)
- Side B – God has defined marriage as the lifelong covenant between one man and one woman and any genital contact outside of marriage is sin. Therefore, he calls gay believers to the vocation of celibacy or to a monogamous marriage with a member of the opposite sex (often called a mixed-orientation marriage) as how they are to live out their sexuality.
- Side C – Unsure of one’s views.
- Side O – “O” for other. Also called “Third Way,” Side-O advocates generally promote living peaceably with the tension between Sides by recognizing that, while one may be closest to God’s truth, matters of sexuality aren’t important enough to cause division.
- Side X – “X” for ex-gay. Being oriented toward or sexually attracted to members of your own gender is a spiritual sickness and must be repented of and “cured.” Side Xers, then, usually espouse sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
- Side Y – Although SOCE are generally ineffective and may be harmful, the Christian who finds himself oriented toward his own sex must renounce any identification with that orientation, meaning that sexually he will remain celibate and in every other area of life he will strive toward heterosexual norms.
The sides can be represented graphically in a manner such as this, with the three C options representing territory between the four better-defined points on the spectrum. You’ll note that “Side O” is not represented on this figure because a Side-O adherent could personally fall into any of these categories; what distinguishes their position from the others is that they just don’t think the issue of sexuality is important enough to cause division—it’s really a side founded on not taking a side.
Which is which?
If you’re trying to figure out where you stand as a same-sex-attracted Christian, I’ve devised this chart. Ask yourself the series of questions in the left-hand column. Which of the four right-hand columns aligns most closely with your personal answers?
|Issue||Side A||Side B||Side Y||Side X|
|1. May I marry and then have sexual intercourse with a member of my own gender?||Yes||No||No||No|
|2. May I identify as “gay”?||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|3. Should I publicly “come out of the closet”?||Yes||Yes||Maybe||No|
|4. May I covenant with another member of my own gender in a celibate life partnership?||No (it’s unnecessary—just get married)||Yes||No||No|
|5. May I marry and then have sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex?||If you did, you probably wouldn’t identify as “Side A” but rather as bisexual||Yes, but it’s unlikely you will||Yes, it’s possible||Yes, it’s encouraged|
|6. Should I pursue sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)?||No||No||They’re an option but not necessary||Yes, they’re encouraged|
This interview with Rosaria Butterfield, who would probably fall into the Side Y category, further elucidates the four “sides.”
Side B vs. Side Y
Due to Side A’s reliance on either a tortured biblical hermeneutic or the elevation of personal experiences/temptations/desires over the teachings of Scripture, many Christians, including me, cannot accept it.
Due to the many failings of the “ex-gay” movement, many Christians—even of the rather traditional sort—no longer consider Side X a responsible position for which to advocate. As I’ve shared previously, my own experience with reparative therapy hurt me deeply, although I’ll acknowledge that much of my disappointment probably came from false expectations that were my own and not my therapist’s.
That leaves us with Sides B and Y. The debate over the definition of marriage cannot be reduced to a second- or third-level issue; it is of primary importance for the faith and life of both the individual believer and the Church. Therefore, the border between Sides A and B seems rather rigid to me—one who crosses that line has abandoned what can reasonably be considered orthodox Christianity. But the borders between Sides B, Y, and even X are more porous. Wesley Hill offers this helpful clarification:
One [Side-Y] person told me recently that if gay sex is sinful, then surely everything else about being gay is equally problematic. Surely it’s not enough, this person told me, for you to give up having gay sex; you should also, if you’re consistent, feel the pressure of trying to tweeze out every last part of you that’s gay and repent of it and renounce it too. Surely, if you’re consistent, he said, you can’t say No to the behavior and then think the orientation is redeemable. . . .
[However,] what we, in modernity, have chosen to call a “homosexual orientation” (or “being gay”) includes much of what Scripture and the Christian tradition commend as Christian virtues. When we contemporary [Side-B] folks start talking about a sexual orientation as what causes us to form deep bonds of closeness with other members of our same sex, for example, quite apart from any genital sexual expression of that closeness, we are using an overarching category—“being gay” or “having same-sex attraction”—that Scripture and the tradition has other language for. Scripture commends friendship or spiritual siblinghood (think Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and Lazarus, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul and Timothy) as a way of speaking about especially close same-sex bonds. . . . Scripture would use other language, other categories, for describing what I’m doing in forming chaste same-sex friendships, and it wouldn’t describe it in negative categories. On the contrary, Scripture celebrates same-sex love. Although it is keenly aware of a difference between what Aelred of Rievaulx would call carnal friendship and spiritual friendship, Scripture never says that we need to die to same-sex love.
Gabriel Blanchard, who invented the “Side Y” label, commented in a Facebook discussion that “I’ve wondered at times about the real usefulness of the term; I coined it because I wanted to do justice to people who weren’t comfortable with LGBT language, &c., but who weren’t advocating ex-gay treatments (since I consider ex-gay treatments both stupid and nasty, I’m reluctant to claim somebody supports them, without serious cause to do so). At times I’ve felt silly coming up with a whole additional moniker for it.” He provided an alternative set of parameters to mine above and gave me permission to represent them graphically:
The similarities and differences between the four sides may be easier to recognize when represented like so:
Which am I?
On the graphic above, I currently land somewhere in the nebulous realm between Side B and Side Y that I labeled C². As I’ve written previously, I have a real peace that somewhere in this C² zone I’ve sketched out lies, on balance, God’s truth as revealed in Scripture—and that is of utmost importance to me. [UPDATE, 13 August 2018: However sympathetic I am to Side-Y arguments, I find myself increasingly gravitating towards the positions of Side-B thinkers. Their winsome voices compel me to continue to challenge the presuppositions I bring to this discussion.] In the coming months and years, I seek to “flesh out” what it means to live in between Sides B and Y and how I might seek faithfully to answer the six questions on the above table.
Updated 13 January 2018: For the sake of transparency about where I stand in regards to the issues I referenced above, I went ahead and answered the six questions I listed: “How Do I Answer My Own Questions?”
Updated 26 January 2018: I now include “Side O” in the list of options, along with Gabriel Blanchard’s critique (footnote 2). Additionally, I’ve come to understand better the Side-Y position on questions 3 and 4 in the table above, so have amended those responses for accuracy.
Updated 2 February 2018: After stumbling across an excellent “primer” on the differences between Side A and Side B theology, I now link to it in footnote 1.
Updated 3 February 2018: Noted that Side B options may include a mixed-orientation marriage instead of celibacy only.
Updated 10 August 2018: Added the “Gabriel Blanchard On the Topic” section.
1. For a more thorough examination of the differences between Side A and Side B, see ComingOut4Christians: “Side A/Side B Theology Primer.” ↩
2. Is this a tenable position? Gabriel Blanchard offers his opinion here, which I agree with on the whole. In short, “I have to say that I think the compromise proposed . . . is—how shall I put it?—stupid. . . . If the traditional stance on homosexuality is right, then allowing for two opinions on the subject is kind of like allowing for two opinions on whether polygamy is okay: no, it doesn’t determine whether God loves you or not, but we kind of need a higher bar for what is acceptable than that. . . . The ‘third way’ suggestion is not an idea, but a refusal to have an idea; it is a declaration that this issue, in which the happiness and holiness of millions of human beings hangs in the balance, is insignificant enough to dismiss without giving it a real answer.” ↩
3. Someday I will review Nate Collins’s rethinking of the language of sexual orientation as aesthetic orientation and its implications on the moral standing of one’s attractions. For now, take “oriented” as you will. ↩
4. Because I want to be fair and represent all views accurately, my definition of the Side X position received some significant pushback that you should read. ↩
5. I abhor words like “progressive” and “conservative” with all their political baggage, but deemed them helpful enough on this graphic to make it worth it. ↩
6. This does not mean I don’t have sympathy for those living in the “C1” zone; I just pray they will settle on Side B when they land. ↩
7. Now I just need to figure out what to label such a middle ground. Side Z? Gosh, this gets confusing quickly! ↩