05.21.14

the trauma of identity: the difference between the gay and Christian experiences

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:37 pm by Administrator

if you think about it, the experiences of gay people and Christian converts in our society have some remarkable similarities. both groups experience a quickening of identity that is rooted in shame. both groups come to see themselves as alienated from mainstream culture and society as a result of intrinsic identity. and both groups experience their identity not only as a personal characteristic but also as a cause. all three of these identity elements are interrelated, and the thing that unites them is the experience of trauma. “coming out of the closet”, for both gays and Christians, is a kind of trauma that radically changes identity and one’s mode of participation with the surrounding world.

here’s the strange thing though. the trauma of growing up gay is qualitatively different from the trauma of becoming Christian, despite these intense similarities. there are lots of obvious reasons for this difference. one could argue that Christianity, though it posits itself as countercultural, is very mainstream, unlike gay life. one could also argue that Christianity is still experienced very much as an orientation of choice, while homosexuality is intrinsic and determined. but i’d like to propose that the most important difference between the two kinds of trauma is rooted in the nature of the moral dilemma. the Christian can externalize his shame; and in fact he is empowered through his paradigm to identify with an aspect of himself that is decidedly not sinful. the homosexual in this society is encouraged not only by mainstream society but also by the LGBTQ community to identify more deeply with the source of his shame, and to separately validate or dismiss the shame attached to that source. in other words, “transcending” the shameful identity is intrinsic to the Christian experience in a way that is impossible for the gay man.

why is transcending the shame of sexual identity impossible for the gay man? ironically, it is because of prevailing moral viewpoints like that of the Christian. as long as homosexuality is labeled as sinful, and as long as it is perceived as morally wrong by the mainstream, the gay man in America will continue to experience sexual identity as a distinctly painful and enduring psychological trauma. and to me, this raises the question beneath all the other questions we ask about the legality and social acceptability of gay behaviors: can anyone justifiably declare homosexuality to be sinful or wrong?

though any true follower of Christ is perfectly entitled to call out the sin in the lives of others, generally speaking he doesn’t exercise his spiritual authority in this manner. this is not because he chooses to be “tolerant” of sin. rather, it’s because he understands that the true foundation of covenantal relationship with God does not reside in the moral perfecting of a person but rather in the reconciling between persons through grace. it’s for this reason that the Pauline epistles do not encourage the church to purge or perfect society at large; rather Paul emphasizes the value of moral goodness within the broader value of inclusion. his was a decidedly utilitarian morality, centered on the ultimate goal of incorporating the Gentiles into the covenant people.

Christians often mistakenly believe that calling something sinful or wrong is an obligation to God. after all, does He not define Himself through holiness—a moral righteousness in the face of all evil? while this is an appropriate way to perceive God through the lens of His first covenant with the Israelites, it is certainly not congruous with the thrust of the new covenant. very little is accomplished by the open indictment of society’s sins, apart from the ministry of reconciliation. and God does not delight Himself in the judgment of man; this was in fact the very reason that He offered His revelation through the person of Christ—one who even at the point of His death upon the cross refused to condemn His torturers.

it is wrong for the follower of Christ to declare homosexuality to be sinful and wrong. it is wrong not because homosexuality is not sinful; it is wrong because God intends for the discourse between His church and the world to be centered on transcendence of sin through Christ, rather than on moral justification of the self through the Law. this is not to say that morality becomes irrelevant to us; but rather morality must be a value understood within God’s great values. He does not wish us to primarily represent Him as one who is preoccupied with right versus wrong. rather, He commands and demands that we represent Him as one who wishes to free us from the trauma of sin, through a redeeming newness of identity in Christ.

the gay experience can be a transcendent one, in the same way that the heterosexual experience (no less fraught with sin) is permitted to be transcendent. we just have to change the way that we talk about what is good and what is not good. that shouldn’t be hard for a people who’ve been delivered from sin and the shame attached to it. but it is hard, perhaps inexcusably so, and i think it’s time for us to question why

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