Think “gay lifestyle” and you think sex. That’s the lesson my mother taught me. She told me that the “gay lifestlye” is all about sex. I was shocked, because I thought about all the times I defended myself as a gay man because it’s my “lifestyle.” When she told me her definition I thought, ‘my God, what have I been saying to my mother all this time!’ To her, gay lifestyle equaled licentiousness.
Webster’s defines licentiousness as: “disregarding accepted rules and standards; morally unrestrained, especially sexual activity.”
To my mother, and many others, this is the “gay lifestyle.” The lifestyle that we are somehow promoting in the bars and the bath houses is becoming the definition of the entire community. How do we reconcile this definition with the lives we are called to lead as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians? We must redefine that lifestyle.
The lifestyle we must promote is gays and lesbians making good choices. Somewhere along the line since Stonewall we’ve decided that rules that were bad toward our community meant all the rules were bad, so we threw everything out. There are those in the community offended by this, but we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t want to take responsibility for our actions. Everything is free. If it feels good do it. I don’t think that’s the lifestyle that we as gay Christians want to promote. The Christian lifestyle is one of being holy, being righteous, being merciful, loving our neighbor as ourselves, being inclusive. This can be the definition of the “gay lifestyle.”
To take the sexual connotation out of the phrase “gay lifestyle” we must explore what it means to be sexually moral. Sexual morality involves the conscious and deliberate choice of one’s sexual expression in a way that uplifts spiritual guidelines and brings honor and glory to God in personal conduct.
I counseled a 22 year old gay man who has AIDS. During the session he told me he was confused by the gay lifestyle. He told me that he had been taught sex should only be between people who love each other, yet there were plenty of men who wanted to have sex with him. I told him not to be confused because he knows what is right and wrong for himself. I tell each person the same message .. you know what is right and wrong for you. Don’t be afraid to set that boundary, and stand by it. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says “all is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.”
When one goes to the bar or the park, we must ask the question, “is this beneficial?” As a Christian, all is lawful, but is it beneficial? Will it bring honor and glory to God? What one decides is up to them, it’s between them and God. So am I giving a person license to have as much sex as one wants? I certainly won’t judge them, but I’ll ask a lot of questions that will certainly make them uncomfortable.
Confusion about sex and what it means is common in the GLBT community. Most of us were raised by straight people, who expected us to become straight people. When we discovered we were not straight, many of the rules of thumb the heterosexual community applies to sex and relationships ended up being tossed out the window.
When’s the last time you went on a date? Dating is almost non-existent in the GLBT community. So often, we get intimate with people that we don’t know and based on the first sexual encounter we fall in love. Instead, why not date? Go to a movie, get to know each other, kiss goodnight and go home!
Certainly dating is not as fun as instant gratification. When the first Playboy came out you didn’t see every part of the woman, now they’re spread open on the page. There’s no mystery anymore! We’re afraid of mystery. (That may be the problem with people and faith … the mystery of it scares them!) There is a mystery to dating someone and trying to picture them without their clothes. There is a deep mystery that is almost holy in sharing in that intimate way. But, if all bets are off on the first date, what’s left?? Finding out if they leave the cap off the toothpaste or hang the roll of toilet paper wrong??
We must make responsible choices when we engage in sex. It’s hard to quit smoking because we choose to smoke. Nobody held a gun to my head to make me smoke. I didn’t quit because I liked it. Same problem with handling sex in a responsible way. We seek that instant gratificaltion because it feels good and we like to do it. It certainly is permissable, but ultimately it may not beneficial!
MAKING SEX HOLY
We must transform our sexual lives into holy lives. There are some absolutes to follow in the pursuit of holiness: love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. What we do that makes us holy is ultimately what brings honor and glory to God. Doing exactly what makes us feel good because it makes us feel good is not holy because it doesn’t bring honor and glory to God.
Becoming holy must be an individual thing. If you do something because your church has decided that something is bad, then it’s cheap. If you come to the conclusion through your own searching and praying that you will not participate in actions because they are bad, and you avoid them, then that is holy because it brings honor and glory to God. Micah 6:8 says “what does God require of you? To do justice.” Acting justly (doing what we know is right) ensures right action. To love mercy and walk with God, that’s holiness. There are moments when we are far from holy, but we must pattern ourselves after Christ. Perfection is an ideal. We didn’t need Christ if we could meet that ideal. We’ll always fall short.
That’s where the process of salvation comes in. I say process because salvation is more than a one time experience. It is the beginning of sanctification of the believer. It is a process of transformation to a lifestyle that is filled by the effects of the Holy Spirit. It is a changed way of living that reflects Jesus Christ in every way possible which of course includes our sexual conduct.
Think then in sexual situations, will this act you are about to do with this other person bring honor and glory to God? If you say yes, who am I to argue? If you say yes and you are wrong, that’s between you and God.
This transformation in salvation helps us decide right and wrong in all situations, even sexual ones. We know it is wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to us. So we know taking someone’s emotional value and using it to our purpose is wrong. It’s not a matter of knowing right from wrong according to society. We know in the deepest part of our soul what is right and wrong. If we are having sex with as many people as possible, we know why we are doing that and that’s the part we don’t want to face.
THE GAY LIFESTYLE REDEFINED
How can we redefine the “gay lifestyle” in the light of our individual responsibility as GLBT Christians to be holy? Paul gives us guidance in Ephesians 5: 1-18:
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a live of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a person is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything is exposed by the light becomes visible … be very careful, then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
So how do we incorporate Paul’s words into our new defintion of “gay lifestyle?” Let’s look at what is good about the gay lifestyle. Our relationships are a good place to start. They are by choice. Unlike heterosexual marriage our relationships are not a matter of property, or kids, or because we have to. We come together because we love each other. We stay together because we love each other. We’ve learned how to live in relationships without the traditional barriers of “women’s work” and “men’s work.” We’ve had to start from scratch to build relationships with meaning, relationships with the power to withstand society’s disapproval. Gay men can be more expressive and freer in their emotions. We’re free to redefine traditions.
Our community is very inclusive, and we are very in tune with making sure that people are not left out. As GLBT people we know how to celebrate our lives, and if any positive thing has come out of AIDS, it’s that our community taught the world how to die with dignity. These are all good things our community can offer.
We are indeed children of light, and we must live a life of love that Jesus has called us to live.
The call to live that life includes tackling some hard questions. What does it mean to you to have integrity? What does it mean to you to be moral? What does it mean to you to be ethical? What does it mean to you to take responsibility? These are the questions that need to be asked and it can’t be asked at the group level. This is where churches, both gay and mainstream, make the mistake. They talk on a corporate level as if they are God and have the ability to talk to everybody and know everyone’s situation. You must talk on an individual level.
That brings all decisions to a personal moral level. Ultimately, you’re responsible for all your actions. As an individual, you must speak out on the things you see that need to be corrected in our community.
In the AIDS crisis, one of the big signs was Silence=Death. If we don’t talk about it and deal with it, we die .. no one pays attention. I think it’s the same for the community when we’re talking about ethics. It’s not good enough to say ‘I don’t go to the baths or the parks.’ If we don’t do anything about it, our silence means it’s okay. If we don’t raise it as an issue, even from the point of asking ‘what does this say to the world around us,’ then it’s saying it has our approval, when it doesn’t. We know people are not doing safe sex in the parks or in the baths. So, if we don’t talk about it we’re saying it’s okay. Part of our gay Christian lifestyle is to be a witness and address this issue. We haven’t got all the answers but at the same time, we have enough of a sense of right and wrong to raise the question and talk about it. Right now we’re not even talking about it and by our continued silence we invite our destruction.
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.