Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Side B, with qualifications

I get labels. I understand them, I embrace them. Sometimes people just want to cut to the chase and know what you're all about. Who are you? Where do you stand? What's your deal? I'm straight. I'm an evangelical. I'm Reformed. I'm a homeschooler. Only later on you'll find out that I'm a straight person with a lot of gay friends. I'm an evangelical who is uncomfortable with evangelical culture. I'm a Reformed Christian that most Reformed Christians reject. And I'm a homeschooler with two kids in public school.

Ah, nuances. How they upset one's neatly labelled world.

I'm also "Side B." What does that mean? Well, within the realm of those who call themselves gay Christians there are generally two camps, labelled Side A and Side B. Side A gay Christians believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. Side B gay Christians believe that God calls them to lifelong celibacy.

These terms can be stretched a bit. For instance because I'm involved in the dialogue between the two groups, people often ask me which Side I hold to. Since I'm straight they are not asking about what choice I'm making for my own life, but are inquiring about my theological view. Which do I think is biblical?

Biblical. When I hear people use that term, I know I'm heading for trouble. Since I'm straight the only way I can deal with the Side A/Side B question is to imagine what it would be like if I were gay. What choice would I make? What would I understand the Bible to be telling me? Notice that this is an extremely theoretical question, having to do with me living a life that I've never actually lived, and asking myself what I would do in a situation that I've never actually dealt with. What do I think would be biblical for my own personal life that isn't actually my personal life but only exists in theory?

Yet I do try to give an answer because I don't want to chicken out, get defensive, or press my hands together in a steeple and start philosophizing about how life is full of complex questions. I feel that people deserve an honest response. I look at the Bible, I look at myself, I talk to lots of gays and lesbians and try to imagine myself in their situation. I know I hold to the traditional creation-fall-redemption-consummation view of the Bible. And I know that I'm the type of person that tends to make the hard, conservative choices for myself in my own personal life, whether in the area of marriage, women's roles, or parenting--even though I don't ask other people to make the same choices for themselves. In other words, I know that I fit the profile of someone who would choose gay celibacy.

I think if I were lesbian probably the most difficult situation for me to face would be if I met someone who was also lesbian and Christian, we got along splendidly, we were completely spiritually compatible, there was potential for happiness and spiritual health and excitement about a future for myself and for her--and yet I have this theological hang-up that gay relationships aren't biblical. I imagine I would be sorely tempted to shelve the theological conviction and move forward with the wedding bells. I might even plead with God for leniency on this point; yes, it isn't ideal but look at the spiritual good that has come out of it, that will come out of it, if we got married. And since there are a lot of good Side A arguments out there, it's possible that I might be able to put my conscience shakily to rest about it.

The point is, even when I try to picture my non-existent, best-case-scenario married life with a lesbian partner, I imagine that I would have a far greater struggle of conscience trying to live as Side A than Side B. That's why when people ask me point-blank, cut-and-dried, to put a label on myself, I spit out: "Side B."

This has caused me some problems. I have discovered that labeling myself Side B conveys the idea that I think Side A gay Christians aren't really saved, that all gay Christians should be celibate otherwise they're living in sin, and that my agenda should be to befriend Side A people for the purpose of converting them to Side B. And I have to wonder, what ever happened to respecting the consciences of others? I believe I can manage that as a Side B person. And nothing about what I believe concerning my imaginary choice as an imaginary gay person in an imaginary scenario blinds me from the reality of seeing true Christian faith in the many, many Side A gay Christians I meet all the time.

From what I've experienced I don't think the Side A/Side B divide is nearly as great as the divide between those who do and do not recognize that there are some cases where taking a "biblical" side is more about a personal choice than a cosmic mandate. I side with those who believe in strict moral convictions for themselves but much leniency and charity for others. I wish there were a label for that group.