Using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, the present study demonstrated the complexity of the identity integration process between homosexual and religious identities as pertaining to a select group of gay and lesbian Christians attending a specific gay- positive church. The issues of identity integration and involvement . . . presented here illustrated that not only is the Christian religion an important part of these individual's lives, but that many of these gay men and lesbians go [to] great lengths to live openly as both a homosexual and a Christian.1

Node your homework, and present it to your professor via E2!

The above is the conclusion to a published study I was assigned to read as part of my LGBT200 class at the University of Maryland, College Park. The details of the study are very academic, but the concept the paper examines is one I have something to say about.

As a philosophy student, I see most matters as being more complex than they are portrayed by mass media. Often, I even find they are more complex than they are portrayed in brainy academia. I often find myself agreeing with people's ultimate position on a matter but wildly disagreeing with them about their reasoning. Or dissenting not only against the majority but also against fellow dissenters. I think it's important to understand exactly why one holds his position.

All of this is to explain that the matter of reconciling one's identity as 'gay' with one's religious identity, (in the case of this study, Christian), depends enormously on precisely what one means when he says "Christian," or "gay". Most of the seemingly reason-based arguments about this matter come from enormous equivocation surrounding the use of these terms.

When one says that he is 'gay', he could mean, variously, that:

  • He experiences same-sex attraction, and identifies as a member of some gay community
  • He experiences same-sex attraction and yet does NOT participate in any gay community
  • He experiences same-sex attraction and has occasional same-sex experiences and participates in a community of others who also do
  • He experiences same-sex attraction, and has routine same-sex experiences with a live-in partner, and yet does not adopt any gay culture for himself
  • He experiences same sex attraction but is not sexually active, and either does or does not participate in gay community

  • And so on.

The point here is that "gay" means a lot of different things to different people, and this leads to severe miscommunication. Statements like, "homosexuality is wrong" are practically meaningless in light of the variety of meanings contained in the word "homosexuality" not to mention the implied meanings that are to follow from such a statement. That is, does the speaker of the phrase, "homosexuality is wrong," mean to say that:

  • Homosexual behavior is morally objectionable
  • Homosexual thoughts are morally objectionable
  • Homosexual feelings (which precede homosexual thoughts), are morally objectionable
  • Persons who engage in homosexual conduct are morally objectionable as people.
  • Persons who experience same-sex attraction, even if they decline to engage in homosexual conduct, are morally objectionable, perhaps even disgusting, as people, merely because they have experienced such attraction.

That last one -- about people who experience same-sex attraction being morally objectionable as people, or disgusting -- is rarely voiced, but it seems to be just beneath the surface of much "anti-gay"2 rhetoric.

Furthermore, the term "Christian" is similarly ambiguous. The difference with this term, though, is that many self-identified Christians believe that they own the meaning of the term, and therefore, as 'true Christians', are able to decide the criteria for its correct usage. Let's be clear on this, then: It may or may not be true that God, insofar as He has any opinion concerning contemporary English, has some very specific definition of the word "Christian" which would doubtlessly supersede mine (and yours); but the fact remains that we English-speakers do not have any access to God's dictionary. We mean a LOT of different things when we say the word "Christian". If God has specific criteria for salvation -- a position I will not dispute here -- these criteria are not embodied in any one word. Words' meanings are determined by the speakers of such words, and "Christian" is a contemporary English word with multiple contemporary English meanings.

This is where the most vociferous disagreement takes hold. Since many of those who identify as "Christian"2 believe that being "a Christian" requires that certain behavioral rules are followed, the term is, from their perspective, reserved for those who follow such rules. Other people who identify as Christian decry such rules, saying that "being good" isn't the point, and that instead, the point is whether one has been "saved" or not -- whether one has embraced Jesus Christ as his "personal Lord and Savior." But this definition also fails to include all self-identified Christians. Many Christians identify as such because their parents were Christian. Or because they go to a Christian church a few times a year. Or because they believe that the Christian Bible is divinely-revealed.

The less-seriously-religious "Christians" and the more-religious Christians have a big disagreement on their hands about what makes a Christian a Christian -- about what requirements one must meet to use the term legitimately. That is an argument I will leave to them. There can never be a human authority to settle that matter, because it is a matter of semantic preference.

The point is this: Since "gay" means a hundred things, and "Christian" means a thousand things, there is nothing necessarily inconsistent about identifying as "Christian" and "gay" at the same time. It just all depends on one's defintions of those two terms.

1. Rodriguez, Eric M., M.A. and Suzanne C. Ouellette, PhD. "Gay and Lesbian Christians: Homosexual and Religious Identity Integration in the Members and Participants of a Gay-Positive Church." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Publication date or issue number unavailable. p. 346.

2. I feel compelled to use quotes for such terms because there does not appear to be any consistency in just what the terms "gay", "anti-gay," or "Christian" mean.

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