THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
In a recent article at one of our FM schools’ newspaper a student stated ““My identity has never been addressed…” This student is described by the author of the article: “When [student] first came to [the FM university] they’d still been in the closet. It wasn’t until around February 2017 that [student] began to identify as nonbinary, use they/them pronouns and, eventually, paint their nails and wear makeup as well.” The article goes on to quote the assertion of a student that the “[the school] ‘respects homosexuals’ but does not affirm ‘queer love’ on the same level that it affirms heterosexual love….” “I don’t know how long we as a campus are going to be able to do this,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to choose.”
To use the same language as this student, this is a binary solution that requires a Christian to either be for or against a person who chooses to make their identity in their gender or sexual attraction. This is not a true solution. The culture has decided that loving someone in Christ is not acceptable. The culture has decided that love must be conditional and that the person being loved determines on what condition Christians are and can love and respect them. That perspective does not from Christ or from Scripture. Christ calls us to love all. No exception. That is our Christian Identity.
This identity in Christ as being one of Holy Love, Unconditional Love, is core to Christian faith. Christians do not form our identity around gender, or sexual attraction, or race, or political affiliation or denominational membership or any lesser distinction. Christians are Christ’s people loving all, respecting all, seeking justice for all as we follow and obey Christ’s teachings. It is not culture that states what is true and holy, but God’s word. Interpreting Scripture within the community of Free Methodist people who follow Wesley’s theology, our identity requires us to stay true to the Word of God as we humbly and faithfully understand it.
We live in a culture that is increasingly deciding that it is our gender or our sexual preference that ultimately defines us. Thus this student of a Christian university who is hearing the Word of God preached weekly in chapel calling him to have his identity in Christ does not recognize this and can honestly state: “My identity has never been addressed…”
On this Conversations website the SCOD addresses this in several articles that could be helpful in this discussion. In this post we provide three:
First and foremost, as a Christian, my identity is rooted in Christ: in His birth, life, teachings, actions, death, resurrection, ascension, and promises. As a child of the Most High King, I recognize that there are certain attributes in this world that contribute to how I can be described. These attributes can be descriptive, such as the reddish brown hair on my head, the tattoos on my arms, my style of clothing, the job I work, the games I play, the food I eat, or essentially, the things I do. There are other descriptions that comprise how one can ‘identify’ me according to certain terminology: male, pastor, white, skinny, etc. Some would even go as far to identify me through the emotions I feel, or the desires and attractions I have for people or things.
For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has defined sexual orientation as:
an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction. It also includes a person’s self-identification and sense of who they are based on those attractions, as well as their community of supports. It is important to note that sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, such as biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (norms that define feminine and masculine behavior). What is most important in this definition is that sexual orientation is not simply a trait, but should be defined in terms of relationships with others.3
According to the APA, it is clear that there is an identity based upon sexual attraction and desire. It is also clear that within this definition, identity is relinquished to emotions and attractions. Both sets of moods or feelings, which can be shifted at any time due to circumstances, influence, or support, are the basis for identification and belonging.
However, in the revelation of God’s love for the world and in the acceptance of His great love through the sacrificing atonement of Christ Jesus of Nazareth, when one receives the invitation of love, one is also saying ‘yes’ to the journey of relationship with God. In this relationship, one acknowledges Christ as both Lord and Savior, receives His love through receiving the grace of God that forgives the penalty of sin, and is adopted into the family of God as a child, and therefore an heir (Rom. 8:15-17, Gal. 4:1-7). In this movement into eternal life,one is identified not based upon what they have done, what job they work, or what house they live in, but rather by the work that Christ has done, is doing, and will do.
With this stated, we recognize a new identity that has been found in Christ alone, an identity that matches the creational intentions of God: to love us. Our calling, identity, purpose, destiny, etc. is wrapped up in being loved by God, loving God in return, loving neighbor and self, and making disciples as Christ commanded us to. Nowhere in the Biblical narrative are Christians identified as sexual desires, but rather they are written to as the Beloved, Children, etc. In this manner, it is primarily difficult to assert an identification of a person based upon a sexual preference. This is not only an argument against a homosexual, lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual identity, but also against a heterosexual identity. As Christians, our identity is in Christ, for we are not sexual desires.
PERVASIVE, PERSISTENT and POWERFUL
When Ryan identified himself as having a homosexual orientation at the age of twelve, he was not expressing a temporary or superficial experience.24 Although his mother was surprised due to his lack of secondary effeminate characteristics (“He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails and all boy.”), there was no doubt for Ryan. The primary aspect of this was his homosexual identity. Using the self-identifying “I am” language that God employs for his own identity,25 Ryan states: “I am gay.” This caused Linda pause. She knew intuitively what pastors experience regularly, that this was an invitation to have a deeper conversation about his self identity. As Christians we are defined by our relationship with the Triune God: “I am a child of God created in His image, and I am saved by Jesus Christ and I am sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”26 When Ryan chose to place his identity in his sexuality, “I am gay”, Linda appropriately turned him toward God: “You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay; it is that you are a child of God.” But although having Ryan place his identity in Christ was Linda’s desire, as it would be ours as pastors, this is not something she or any pastor can or could proclaim for Ryan. Only Ryan could claim that identity. This is true of every person. No one can proclaim the identity for someone else. But the conversation this opens in which Ryan can express his self-understanding is invaluable both for Linda and her pastor. We receive the language of self-identity as a helpful marker in the journey toward wholeness.
The importance of this self-identity foundation is seen directly when pastors use the common explanation that we “love the person, hate the sin.” For a person whose identity is in Christ this makes perfect sense. Yes, we sin, but our true self is defined by God and everything about us is oriented around God as He helps us overcome our sin. But for a person whose identity is in being gay, then it is a rejection of them as a self to reject the sexual orientation.27 The spiritual goal for any person is that they will self-identify as being a person whose identity is a child of God, whose hope is in Christ and whose behavior is being transformed into Christ-likeness through the Holy Spirit.28….
To surrender to God is an act that for many can became focused not on the God of Scripture but upon the god of their sexual desires. Every individual must surrender their sexuality to God. ,For those who define themselves by their sexuality this often becomes the focus of their struggle with God. Feeling as though he will lose himself, he does not find the person he can be in Christ because of his continuing focus on his sexuality as his identity (Matt. 16:24-26).42 can marginalize an individual. Provide the context where the personal narrative of all individuals can provide an incarnation of God’s love within true community. Help all involved to reject fear and to have….
It is here that our faith in God gives an ability that is not found anywhere else. We do not know, from experience or science, a complete understanding of why there is greater dysphoria (depression, suicide, guilt, shame, despair) when a person has same-sex, bisexual or gender identity. But we do know the Comforter who not only comes alongside the person but can guide such persons into all truth and healing.60 To decide either that we must compel the congregation to be accepting of what many believe to be a sin, or insist that an individual change an orientation that they believe to be central to their identity is not helpful. In both ways, we are acting out of fear rather than faith in the Lord of the church and the Sanctifier of our souls.61 To allow God to give the congregation love for every person and the individual to respond to God in His convicting and sanctifying power is to trust that God is at work in His church and we Free Methodists will not be distracted by the “battle over same-sex orientation” any more than we were not distracted by the “battle for the Bible.”…
The deeper questions of how a person defines their identity, as seen in this work, provides opportunity for discussions that get to the deepest aspects of our mental, physical, social and spiritual lives. Praying together about the “I am” types of descriptions can help a person better understand who they are and who they long to be. The privilege of being “adopted” into the family of God as His beloved children is a wonderful reality in God’s saving work.
It may come as a surprise in our age of personal gratification that Jesus never married and never had sex – with a woman or a man….And yet he was the truest, fullest human being who has ever lived. Indeed, precisely because he never sinned, he was truly, fully human. From the Bible’s perspective, sin mars and stains humanity. But Jesus never felt that stain. Does that mean that everyone who wants to share the true humanity of Jesus must be single and celibate? No. It does, however, shift the terms of our modern thinking about sexuality. It dislodges our assumption that having sex is necessary to be truly, fully alive….Moberly asks, “Are we willing to find our identity in Christ and our appropriate lifestyle in faithfulness to him, rather than in the fashions of contemporary gay movements?…Your struggle isn’t a mindless, unobserved string of random disappointments….And Faithfulness is never a gamble. It will be worth it. The joy then will be worth the struggle now. In the end, I think that is how I am learning to live faithfully as a homosexual Christian.