Part 1 – The Barna Group’s Research on GLBT Spirituality

The Barna Group recently put out a research study regarding the “Spiritual Profile” of the GLBT community. Since its release I have been asked quite a few questions (by media and by general audiences) about my thoughts regarding their study. Until now I haven’t made any statements because I think this study does not provide anything close to the “Surprising Insights” they claim (more on this later). Also, in my opinion their usage of “Spiritual Profile” is misleading because they don’t have any amount of depth or generalizability to their study. They just overview some surface-level questions of religiosity to a group of 280(ish) people, which is a number not suitable to generalize to an entire population of people. With that said, many self-proclaiming evangelicals know nothing of the results that Barna released, so in that sense it is worthwhile to bring some thoughts to the forefront.

Last week, for the first time, I responded to some media folks who had questions about my take. The following are their questions, and the word-for-word answers I gave them via email. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what they asked, and how I responded!

For clarification, they asked 15 Questions in total. However, seven of the questions were asking the same thing, just re-worded. I responded to those seven question with combo answers to what I wrote below. When the article is published, I’ll let you all know. Here is Part 1 – four out of eight questions.

Q1. Can you summarize your experience in this particular area (Spirituality of homosexuals or Spirituality of heterosexuals and how the two compare)? What have you studied/learned/advocate? (In regard to heterosexuality and homosexuality?)

A: One thing has been very clear to me over the last nine years being immersed in the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community—they are searching for the exact same things we are in regards to trying to figure out life and faith, and how those things relate to our existence here on earth. There is a lot of self-inflicted (and church inflicted) spiritual/religious repression within GLBT people; and as with everyone else, the more something is repressed the more it longs to feel freedom.

Q2. What about after reviewing the Barna Group study? Does anything here standout to you? Any surprises? Etc.

A: Nothing really surprised me about Barna’s findings because from my perspective, their intent was to not dig too deeply. Their questions were a general scope of religiosity, and thus, their findings highlighted an already known difference between most GLBT and straight people. Their “surprising insights” are based off of the assumption that the GLBT community does not have, or has never had a high religiosity. Unfortunately, that baseline assumption tells a lot about Christian’s general perceptions of GLBT people and their overall lack of involvement and engagement in this topic.

Q3. How is the homosexual lifestyle impacting American culture? Do you think it is different today than it has been in the past?

A: Even the staunchest critic of the GLBT community has to give credit where credit is due: Gays and lesbians can mobilize quicker, and louder than any other group of people. That’s how movement’s happen. The goal of every movement is to influence and impact culture, and gays and lesbians have done a great job of fulfilling their movement’s vision.

Q4. How do you believe one’s sexual orientation plays into their faith? Do you believe it should have a major impact/influence?

A: I think for many people identity is rooted in the wrong place. My experience has shown me that until Christians start to refocus their wholistic identity in Christ and His countercultural ways, why should the GLBT community, on their own, shift their identity away from their sexual behavior? The point of the Gospel is to reconcile God to human, and human to human. We have the God to human part down; it’s the human to human part we haven’t quite figured out yet—especially with GLBT people. Faith journeys are not meant to be walked alone. And if we’re not willing to be intentionally committed to gays and lesbians no matter what the outcome, why should we expect them to just buy into our belief system?

Part 2, questions 5-8 are coming tomorrow.

Much love.

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  • I love your response to question 4, Andrew. Nicely said. Interested to read the rest.

  • Brad your words are so loud and clear, even more so b/c you live and work (work towards universal HIV-testing) in Washington, DC where the "movement", or shall I call it a potential "machine", hosues itself. Your deliniation is something we all (from both communities) MUST start speaking about, and let it never leave our tongues. The cultural perceptions of: 1. Who we are, 2. What we believe, 3. How I should treat you based on #1 and #2, will never change unless we start deconstructing the understanding of the various shades of a movement (e.g. machine vs. underground/individual). Thanks for speaking such truth, and let us all live the latter of your examples in our everyday lives!

    The more I'm involved in a percieved movement (bridge building), the more I'm quickly learning that smaller (staff, institutional, etc) is better. Your words remind me of something I just read in the Bible – God's ideal of success is a faithful comittment.

  • John Contabile

    I would agree with you, Andrew, that the Barna research you referenced is indeed lacking depth if they only polled about 300 people. I, for one, have never been too impressed with their results, but maybe that's because I find it hard to believe that something so complex can be wrapped in a pretty box.

    Regarding the four questions they asked, I found them very general in nature, while your answers ramped them up a bit and brought some substance that perhaps they didn't expect.

    I loved your reponse to question number four, "…until Christians start to refocus their wholistic identity in Christ and His countercultural ways, why should the GLBT community, on their own, shift their identity away from their sexual behavior?" This is a deeply profound truth – the kind of thing that polls can't get ahold of because it is so countercultural. And that's just it…the church has its own culture that is above and beyond that of the personable faith that Christ calls us to. So, while I can't really speak from experience regarding the GLBT community, I can surely do so regarding the trends I have seen, experienced and lived out among the church. Bottom line, a change of heart is needed in order to "refocus their wholistic identity in Christ and His countercultural ways" and this runs counter to the culture that is being fed to many of the sheep of the church.

  • Nice. I gotta say, though, that there is a huge gulf between the people who are glbt, and the “movement”. In fact, I think the “movement” is becoming too institutional and entrenched to still be a movement – too much staff, overhead, and dependent on a constant enemy for fundraising. Pride parades, for example, are now a spectacle, not a part of… Read More the movement. The movement would be a glbt picnic in Wheaton, as an example. I also think that, while the glbt community can be vociferous, it/we need to step up on the responsibility end, ie around HIV. It is the gay community that is most resistant to community-wide HIV-testing, for example.

  • Barb

    Not sure what all the hoopla is about. Not many gays are church-goers, but they are spiritual (consider the many writers, artists, musicians). Does this surprise you considering the posture of the right-wing Christian churches? The Church has denied gays a “place” so gays find another “place” in the world to express their God-given gifts and talents.

  • Jack Harris

    *First let me say I appreciate your ability to see past this study. The fact that they utilize the word “gay lifestyle” should speak volumes about where they are with GLBT Folks.

    “I have to admit I left wantin to hear more about your answer to one of the questions:
    A: I think for many people identity is rooted in the wrong place. My experience has shown me that until Christians start to refocus their wholistic identity in Christ and His countercultural ways, why should the GLBT community, on their own, shift their identity away from their sexual behavior? I WASNT REALLY SURE WHAT YOU MEANT BY THAT LAST SENTENCE. I DON’T WANT TO PUT WORDS IN YOUR MOUTH SO I WILL LET YOU RESPOND. 🙂 I WILL WAIT TO RESPOND FIRST BEFORE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU MEANT BY THAT.


    PS I read the book and I promise to give my feedback later..just a busy time of year for me with work. There were some things I agreed with and actually a lot that I didn’t (big surprise right?). BUT the fact that you are willing to be open engage the GLBT community is a lot more than I can say for many “Christians”.

    I think you probably already know that I am a gay man in a committed relationship with another man who is very involved in a gay affirming church. So there is no need to re-hash what I believe but rather to continue to be in conversation…even though there are days when I really don’t understand folks on the other side of “the bridge”. I just trust that God wants us to at least be in dialogue even though we may never agree. 🙂

  • Barb – No surprise! But as Jack pointed out, there is a growing movement of gay Christians who are actively pursuing church.

    Jack – “So there is no need to re-hash what I believe but rather to continue to be in conversation…even though there are days when I really don’t understand folks on the other side of “the bridge”. I just trust that God wants us to at least be in dialogue even though we may never agree.”

    There is no better starting point for either of us than that! And before I start w/my answer I want to let you know how much I admire your thoughts. They are peaceful, constructive and with-held of blatant rants. I respect that greatly, and it shows me your character! Thanks. I look forward to dialoging. Here’s my response:

    What I meant by that last sentence is best summed up on p. 43-44 of my book, under the heading of What Has Our Response Been? In essence, what those 2 pages communicate is that I believe straight Christians have done more to equate sexual behavior with (sexual) identity among gays and lesbians, way more than the GLBT community has ever done themselves! My response to the question asked of me was a call to straight Christians to stop feeling the need to concentrate on sexual behavior as an identity for GLBT people, and start refocusing on what the Lord has counterculturally asked us to do by living in relation to, and relationship with gays and lesbians – without knowing the outcome! My broader thesis that I extrapolated on in the book was, “straight Christians are slapping the hand that we’re feeding the gay community (re: sexual behavior = identity).” That needs to stop. My response was a reminder for the need to shift our (straight Christian’s) paradigms in order for bridge building to occur.

    As you said, you’re a gay Christian, and like many of my gay Christian friends, they yearn for those within evangelicalism to see gay Christian’s identity rooted in Christ first, not a behavior – just as I am sure that’s how you see your own identity. But once again, gay Christians do not account for the “majority” (51%) of the broader GLBT community, with which my answer was speaking about. So broadly speaking, there is much growth to happen with wholistic GLBT identity rooted in Christ vs. a sexual behavior (not to say there is not as much or more w/in the mainstream straight world as well).

    I hope this clears things up a little.

  • Maureen

    I’m looking forward to the day when we see people before sexuality. People seeking God, needing God, in relationships, etc. If Christians could see GLBT people as individuals not a group that they ‘belong to’ and vice versa there would be greater chance for meaningful dialogue. This ‘study’ is frustrating because the terms ‘faith’ and ‘spirituality’ can be loaded or vague terms depending upon your experience with them.

  • Ben

    There is a way we hope God sees us and we hope others see us. We hope to be seen by any of “them” as individuals (“them” = whichever marginalized “they” we can speak of), without the baggage any others in our own group brings. I don’t believe that anyone wants to be the “poster boy” for anything. People are longing to be seen for who they uniquely are. We want people to get to know what makes us individually uniquely and be taken at that. If I’m white and in the ghetto, I don’t want to be boxed in by white stereotypes that others may have. I don’t agree with and can’t stand by many Americans thoughts and ideals even though I identify as an American. We’re all different and we need to be taken for who we are. I appreciate what you say Andrew, because it means we view people for who they are and not WHAT we think they are.

  • adam

    Can’t wait for the rest. Good work, my friend.

  • Andy,

    Can we get back to this whole question of identity = behavior, please? I recently started reading your book b/c a very good friend of mine overall felt your book was negative towards "building bridges". When I read some of his critiques, I thought that I was reading about a different Andy than the one I knew from the online blogging world, so I decided to read it myself.

    I have to admit that after reading it, I can understand quite a few of his critiques, and especially on this point about behavior = identity. Can you please tell me what you're basing this opinion on (that the LGBT community roots their identity in sexual behavior)? In the book, you give the distinct impression that not only is this a common, widespread belief among the GLBT community, but that the community tends to base the ENTIRETY of their identity in sexual behavior. I'm really gonna need you to qualify that!


  • Jack Harris

    Hey Andrew,

    "These are busy days for me so mentally I am a little slow on the uptake. Sorry about that 🙂 When you say this…

    "So broadly speaking, there is much growth to happen with wholistic GLBT identity rooted in Christ vs. a sexual behavior (not to say there is not as much or more w/in the mainstream straight world as well)."

    MY question is this…

    Who has to do the growing here..GLBT folks or Straight Evangelical Christians? You are correct in saying that I do not define my person based solely on my sexual you know GLBT folks do NOT like to be defined like that. There are certain "cultural" characteristics about gays and lesbians that define us at GLBT other than just the sexual part. All you have to do is go to a Pride Parade to understand that(Of course I realize you probably know this).

    There are several sub cultures of the gay community such as the Bear Community..I define myself as a Bear. But there are others in many ways those communities are like small families within the larger gay community. As you probably already know this, we don't get together as "Bears" and talk about and have sex all the time. There are strong brotherly ties, we talk about family and friends and loved ones..and often times God comes up as well. 🙂

    I say all of that to point out that there are elements of being gay that do not revolve around sex. I think some straight christians, want to throw out the fact that we are gay altogether and want to just see us as the person. While, I think that is a step forward in understanding and supporting GLBT folks, one cannot just simply amputate or surgically remove the fact that they are gay. Straight Christians need to be able to hear about relationships that GLBT folks are in, that we might not ALL like Madonna(although many of us do) 🙂 Or be prepared to comfort GLBT folks when someone breaks up with us or celebrate with us when we get married to your partner. One does not get to pick and choose what part of the GLBT person they get love. Does that make sense?

    Wow I really rambled..hope I made sense. 🙂 I should give you a little bit of my background, I am licensed counselor and work in a university setting. So I do lots of support for GLBT folks and Allies. In addition to advising GLBT groups on campus I also serve on a few regional and nationalt GLBT Student Services Boards. So this stuff is on my mind a lot….lol

    PS we are friends on facebook..Jack Harris so if you ever want to hit me up there instead of here thats cool. Have a great day!!!

  • Someone asked what I mean by the “movement”. Perhaps the clearest example from a glbt standpoint would be HRC. What started as a true movement organization becomes more about an institutional survival. Consider that the majority of communications from HRC these days are about giving them money. They also are often turned to as spokespeople for the glbt community as if we are one community. Their dilemma is that the majority of their funding comes from people who may be behind the times, culturally. As Andrew knows, keeping donors happy becomes more important than completing one’s mission – this is when the “movement” organization starts to become an institution, and then a racket. Newsletters that scream with headlines of the enemy is out to get us (as a recent one about the “Right” is gearing up for attacks), but the real story that the majority of Republicans have moved beyond this is hidden deep within – this is an example of going for the donor buck rather than celebrating cultural movement. I’ve seen the same in AIDS work, where we continue to fund programs especially for testing as if it’s 1995, and AIDS organizations tout their successes as organizational growth.

    I could go on (and often do). and are two places that I carry on about this.

  • Read it. Doesn't clarify an answer to my questions at all. Still eagerly awaiting your response!


  • Before I respond anymore to this post, I would ask that you read Part 2 (questions 5-8), posted today. It might provide more clarity to some of the issues. I look forward to continuing this conversation, and the next posts’ as well. Much love.

  • DJ, your words of my book being “negative towards building bridges” is out of this world! Believe me, the same person who wrote that book is writing this blog – both of which have been able to bring bridge building between the GLBT and Christian communities to the forefront of many areas within culture, and have many people/organizations/universities/churches from both ends affected because of it. That statement couldn’t be more false! But I totally understand why you’re passionate about this subject, and I appreciate your critiques (hence the point of this blog and what it means to live in the tension), not only for myself, but for the others who continue to read them.

    I think what you might be overlooking is that the scope of the book is written specifically to conservative, evangelical, straight Christian audiences who are generally very opposed to, and fighting against the GLBT community. To many of them you (as a gay man, and especially as a gay Christian) are nothing more than an ‘agenda driven person of opposition.’ That needs to change, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Within that mindset, I am trying to help people like myself, a former Bible-banging homophobe, to live and learn in the unique experiences I have had over the last 9 years in the middle of Boystown – and all my friends and acquaintances that I have had over those years. Those are the same people that shifted my paradigm, and in theory then, would also help shift the paradigm of others like me.

    The overall scope of the book is to elevate the conversation in moving it forward to a more peaceful, productive and empathetic place that is not “agenda driven” but rather Kingdom driven through relationships without knowing the ending. This book was not written to “help” or “assist” or “move” gay Christians like it is my goal with the conservative, evangelical Church. What resonates with them, in their language through their filtration system, is nothing like yours.

    Back to your question: I am looking broadly at the secular GLBT world I live in here in Boystown, and many other communities like it around the country. As I said in the book, I have had many GLBT people tell me over the years, “If you take away the distinction of my sexual behavior, you take away all that I am as a person.” I would ask that you re-read pages 38 and 43-47, as it gives my broader explanation of why I even included this in my book: Stop saying things that Christians think are “helpful” but are actually hurtful.

    Moving further, there are lots of GLBT people who don’t believe in Christ and would make broad associations to their identity in their sexual behavior instead of Christ. It’s the law of large numbers vs. individual experience. I have had the opportunity to speak around the country to GLBT groups, just the same as evangelical groups. With that, I have been able to observe and listen to trends around the country. This is one trend that I fully believe is true!

    Doesn’t mean it’s true for you, your friends, or any gay Christians! But that then doesn’t mean it’s not a true statement.

    As Brad brought up in an earlier comment, I wonder if you were to ask HRC (Human Rights Campaign) what their identity is based in, I don’t think they would ever say Christ (except if you talk to their Faith and Religion branch). This construct I am talking about is truth across the scope of the GLBT community. And it’s something that I need to continue to work towards deconstructing mindsets with in my own community (so they stop focusing on sexual behavior, start focusing on belief, and stop purporting behavior even further to their gay family, friends, co-workers, congregants, etc), just as you need to do the same in your community as well! Just because it is as it is now, doesn’t mean it has to be from here on out! That’s what bridge building is all about, because it can’t be built from one side.

    JACK: No problem at all! I love having these conversations here because they are a public example of what it is to live in the tension of faith, sexuality and culture. And since you’re a counselor working in university settings, you know EXACTLY what that is all about! Feel free to ramble away! 🙂 Lord knows I can ramble with the best of them. As to what you asked:

    I was referring to much wholistic growth both within the GLBT community, and the Christian community as well. Neither are really that on-point regarding each other, myself included. And from my perspective, that is what makes faith (Heb 11:1) so scary and exciting all wrapped up in one. You actually bring up one of the conversations that we had rolling on my old blog site, how are we able to speak about people, trends and individual experiences without generalizing too much—something I need to learn to do better, but just haven’t found a better alternative than “GLBT community”. I clearly recognize that there are many, many shades that encompass a “community”—whether that community is GLBT or Christian or whatever—much of which in any of them do not revolve around sex at all. I think you said something profound, that especially Christians need to hear: “Straight Christians need to be able to hear about relationships that GLBT folks are in, that we might not ALL like Madonna (although many of us do) Or be prepared to comfort GLBT folks when someone breaks up with us or celebrate with us when we get married to your partner. One does not get to pick and choose what part of the GLBT person they get love.” So true! That is what a “wholistic love” love is all about, something that within my evangelical community is a misnomer, or even an oxymoron. Their general belief is “love the sinner hate the sin.” However, I’m trying to communicate that Jesus never said that! Jesus said, “Love the sinner and hate the sin in your own life…and until you’re able to deal with your own sin, far be it to deal with someone else’s.” Although such a statement might seem elementary to you, it’s “heretic” land in my world surrounding the GLBT topic. We each need to meet each other where we’re at, and I’m trying to move the conversation from the fighting point to the conversation partner.

    Anyway, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts about speaking to culturally significant “communities” while still validating each sub-community’s dignity and worth.

    Thanks! (and sorry everyone this is sooo long).

  • Jonathan

    Andy, I think I see what you’re saying about identity and behavior, and why we, as gay Christians, are missing it.

    Am I right in understanding that when you say identity=behavior, you are mindfully NOT talking about the gay Christian “minority” who staunchly maintain that their behavior does not constitute their identity (though, like everyone in the world, it is a part of it)? Rather, you’re talking about the “majority” of gay culture which, to a much greater degree (though perhaps not absolutely), does equate the two. And, if I read you correctly, your point in bringing this up is to show how the church has facilitated the equation by constantly treating gays as if they are nothing more than their sexual behavior.

    If I could paraphrase you, might you say something like, “The ‘majority’ of gays (but not all) equate their behavior with their identity, and the church is complicit in the creation of this very thing which they condemn”?

    The step forward, then, would be to say, “The best way to get gays to stop equating their behavior with their identity is to stop treating them as if their behavior is the only significant part of their identity.”

    Let me know if I’m misunderstanding you!


  • Andy,

    I’m not overlooking who your audience is at all! As a matter of fact, I argued that my friends had to view the book from that lens indeed. And I’ve read the aforementioned pages SEVERAL times, b/c those pages served as the sticking point for our conversation.

    At some point, I’d love for you to read our exchange (on my friend’s blog), b/c I essentially argued much of what you clarified above FOR you, but I began to feel uncomfortable trying to guess at what you were saying, and wanted you to speak to those points directly.

    So, thank you for clarifying. I appreciate it!

    But I’d be remiss if I didn’t underscore a point that I’ve shared with you before: I think it would be prudent for you to be more cautious of your wording and your labels. If you recall, we had a similar dialogue about your post that “the gay community” was up in arms about Obama’s dealings with gay issues. I tried to tell you that the mouths of the gay community (i.e., activists) weren’t necessarily in step with the majority of the community – and posted some evidence for that not long after. When you use sloppy labels like that without qualifying your words very well, it can really get someone’s ire up! And unnecessarily so, given that wasn’t your heart to begin with.

    In Chapter 2, while I largely understand where you’re coming from, and know exactly what audience you’re speaking to, I can easily see how your words, intent, and heart could be understood in the light that my friends did. And I think that being very, very careful about words and labels CAN indeed impede you from building the bridges you desire. I think if you had worded it as Jonathan did above, it would really have helped a lot of your readers out. However, I realize the book is already published, and there’s no more editing now! And I also realize that no matter how careful you are with your words, someone is going to manage to misinterpret you. It’s just the way of things.

    Sooo . . . I’ll step off my soapbox now. I hope I’m not being too harsh or anything . . . it’s just that I believe in what you’re doing, and I want to build those bridges just as much as you do! But sometimes I don’t think you see how your words (or lack of clarifying words, rather) really hurts some people.

    Thanks again for the dialogue!


  • IT – From all I can gather you and I are saying the exact same thing. If the Christians don’t change their perceptions and actions toward GLBT folks away from sexual behavior, how can we expect GLBT folks not to be forced into these socially constructed boxes. One other thing I need to make clear:


    We are all children of God, unique in how He created each and every one of us as we are. What I have been talking about are the unfortunate perceptions of many straight Christians, and the words I have been told by many GLBT people over the years.

    My ultimate focus is identity in Christ. Period.

    I’m not asking anyone to “change” to conform to any social construct sexually or otherwise—not my concern, shouldn’t be anyone else’s. Period. I also encourage people to vote and live as they see fit. Yet even in a disagreement, there needs to be peace. “Be about peace and love, even if you are the only one standing up to do so. Psalm 120:6-7” That’s where I plant myself.

    Joe – You have summarized (1) and (A) clearly, not (2) and (B). The correction with (2) and (B) are that the sexual behavior is secondary, nothing more than a POTENTIAL subsidiary of gay identity (because the definition of gay identity is rooted in a sexual attraction to people of the same sex—if not, right or wrong, there would be no label as “gay”. And in regards to (1) – all attraction, gay or straight, is indeed a potential sexual behavior to act upon).

    I wholeheartedly agree with IT—this is a structural issue that has wrongly trapped people in its current system of social, political and theological thought and action. That needs to shift if there is to be any movement towards building a bridge. That’s what I’m trying to do. Not easy. Not fun. Not quick. Not always clear. Not always agreed upon. But as God doesn’t only work when we know what the outcome is going to be, so there I live.

    To me, elevating the conversation is changing the conversation. The second half of this conversation is not elevating anything because for the last however many comments we’re going in circles. I know definitions are important, and so are their placement in a person’s life. But my only concern is belief, not behavior. The only reason I brought this up in my book is because my main audience needs much movement in this area away from behavior and on to belief. That is where I’ll always be! And that is where my main thesis of Chapters 1-3 lie within: Behavior to Belief. Here is where I’m going to leave this:

    “Over the years I have had many gay people tell me that if someone where to take away their sexual behavior, they would be taking away all they are as people. Same-sex sexual behavior IS the source of the inherent disconnect between conservative Christianity and gays and lesbians. But we [conservative Christians] have never tried to thoroughly dig in and peacefully dialogue with pragmatic understanding about same-sex sexual behavior for the simple reason that it IS the cause of our inherent disconnect (once again from a conservative Christian perspective.)” p. 37

    That is the core of the issue that I’m bringing up—STOP looking at GLBT people as a sexual behavior and START involving yourself in understanding what that behavior means, or doesn’t mean to them! Only then will imputed generational mindsets change! And as I said to DJ a little bit ago:

    The understanding of what I have been told over the years by a number of GLBT people doesn’t mean it’s true for you, your friends, or any gay Christians! But that still doesn’t mean it’s not a true statement—agree or disagree. Regardless, it needs to structurally change from both communities truths and perceptions about each other, and their truths and perceptions about themselves.

  • Andy,

    I get the distinct impression from you tone that my attention to this particular matter is somewhat of an annoyance to you. I do apologize if you've construed my words to you as being "the usual critique with no practical application." The main point I'm trying to make is that it would be helpful for so many of us who want to get on board with your message, if you would get in the habit of qualifying some of your terms better. I'm not sure how much more practical I can get. As Jonathan (my fiancee, I might mention!) did so beautifully articulate, instead of saying "gay people believe X", it might be better to say:

    "The 'majority' of gays (but not all) . . . "

    Secondly, I'm sowewhat surprised that this very important point to you is interpreted as "rearing it's ugly head." Again, from the language you use, it seems that this particular dialogue is more of an annoyance to you than anything else. If I'm misunderstanding your words, please let me know! But if I'm correct, I find it unfortunate that you would consider an opportunity to clarify your message as an ugly head rearing itself.

    On the contrary, I find this dialogue to be rather helpful. Indeed, we can't really build a bridge if we can't trust one another. And we can't trust one another if we aren't speaking the same language. So *I* don't see this is any ugly head rearing, *I* see it as constructive dialogue for the PURPOSE of understanding one another, our agreements, and our potential disagreements.

    As for relaying the message to my friend, you already did. JOE is my friend that I was speaking to before . . . so I'm glad you're talking to one another, rather than me having to be a communicative conduit 🙂

    Lastly, I want to totally affirm some points of major agreement, so that it doesn't sound like I'm being a prick!

    I get you. I really do. I do know that given the type of work you're doing, no matter what you say, you're going to offend SOMEONE. And I also agree with you (and have stated to Joe as well) that your experiences with gay people cannot be contested. I know you are no liar. So if you say that a majority of people in the gay community have communicated to you that behavior = identity, then it's probably true. Joe is right to pursue whether you're misinterpreting their words or not, but given that you are interpreting those words correctly, it does no good for any of us to insist that behavior does NOT = identity! We all seem to agree on that point!

    Though, I must admit that I'm a bit baffled by your example about your single friend. You say that his "potential" behavior is the root of his identity. Is it your opinion that he should not identify himself as gay? By the same token, should I not identify myself as African-American? I'm not sure I completely follow that point. Perhaps it will be settled in your upcoming post about labels.

    Ciao for now,


  • Joe

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for discussing your “gay identity is sexual behavior” assertion.  I gotta say, though, I still don’t understand it.  It just plain doesn’t make sense to me!  By that equation, is it your understanding that I’m not gay when I’m not making love to my husband?  I identify as gay all the time, but sex behavior is the vast minority of my life. 

    Could you please provide further explanation?  You say this statement comes from numerous conversations with LGBT folks.  Did anyone say something like this verbatim or this is what you have summarized/paraphrased/worded yourself?  It simply doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t think I know any LGBT people–gay Christians and non-Christians alike–who would say something similar.

    For example, my friend D has zero sexual behavior in his life, yet he

    still considers himself gay.  He’s single and looking for a guy to date and settled down with, but he’s not sexually active. 

    I *do* know LGBT folks (myself included) who would say that sexual behavior is a key part of gay *relationships*, although I don’t think I know of anyone who would say sexual behavior is all or close to all of what gay relationships are. 

    My understanding is that gay identity is a recognition of

    *attraction*–emotional, romantic, and sexual–not of *behavior* (and certainly not of sexual behaviors alone).  Behaviors, specifically sexual behaviors, are a feature of relationships.

    Would you mind elucidating further?  Thanks,


  • Joe

    Oh dear, now I'm confused again. I'm having difficulty understanding why you criticize the church for equating gay identity with sexual behavior while you maintain that gay identity is sexual behavior.

    Especially confused about what you have said about your celibate gay Christian friend. I thought you were saying that his potential for gay behavior is the same as gay behavior, and that's why you felt his identity could be honestly described under the "gay identity is sexual behavior" umbrella.

    Sigh. I'm sorry this is so frustrating, Andrew. I'm not meaning to annoy you. I'm just not understanding you.

  • Joe

    Just re-reading your most recent post, Andrew. You said that I got (B) incorrect… but didn't you say exactly (B) in your post above? It is also verbatim the subtitle of the second chapter of your book.

    Comparing (B) with your exclamation in all caps, maybe I'm beginning to understand. When you say (B), are you saying a statement you believe to be true or believe to be false?

  • First off, Jonathan, your summary was beautifully articulated. Thank you so much for that great overview, and I will be referring to it from here on out!!!

    DJ – Because there are a vocal few who continue to bring up “sloppy labels” I will be addressing this in an upcoming post to put it out there so everyone has an ability to read, and comment on their own thoughts. As of right now, Jonathan’s summary is the best anyone has ever given me: it wasn’t just the usual critique with no solution, it was actually a practical application. Let’s see where that upcoming post goes … I hope we can all come to a productive consensus so this conversation will not have to continue rearing its ugly head.

    As for my words sometimes hurting people: I totally get what you’re saying and don’t take your words as too harsh (mostly b/c we’ve had great conversations over the past year through the blog, so I know what you’re all about!). The one, most annoying, terrible thing I would change in a half-a-second if I could, is that no matter what I write, say or try to communicate there will always be people who are very hurt in one way or another; from both communities. I have literally never experienced a more lose-lose situation in anyway! Though it is par for the course in this unique bridge building work. Doesn’t mean I like it, in fact, I can’t stand it. But it’s a truth I am struggling to realize. That statement kills me because I am such a heartfelt guy—I HATE to see people hurt. Period. Especially if it somehow has to do with me. But it’s just one of those unfortunate things that happen, because I cannot please everyone every time with everything. I just ask that with your friend, he looks to the broader scope of what I’m saying and what I’m trying to do. Please apologize for me, as I did not mean to offend him, I am just trying to communicate the best I am able with the knowledge I have gained through the last decade of experiences (hence the reason why this blog, and my friends/acquaintances in the gay community are soooo important.)

    Joe – There is a difference between a cultural expression of GLBT behavior (how the attractions define an identity with or without acting upon them) vs. the actual behavior in and of itself. My words are an umbrella that encompass both. This is best summed up by what I explained to Jack in my first response to him. And yes, I have had numbers and numbers of GLBT people over the years (and even continue to do so today) who repeatedly say that exact phrase to me verbatim – that’s where I first even heard about such a thing.

    As for your friend D, at the end of my book I had a great friend of mine who is a gay Christian (currently celibate) write his experience. Although he is celibate (and not actively pursuing a partner right now), he still refers to himself as a gay Christian. The self-identified label of gay Christian is based on his attraction, regardless of his behavior, lack-there-of, or change in sexual behavioral status: he’ll still always see himself as a gay Christian. Therefore, regardless of the behavior, the ROOT of the (potential) behavior (in this case through the attraction b/c there is no behavior) is still the defining characteristic of his self-labeling. Hence, sexual behavior = sexual identity regardless of the level of behavior (celibate to active). That brings us then, to the further question about what is identity rooted in? If indeed the construct is true, the answer is what Jonathan so clearly articulated earlier!

    I hope this helps!

    Much love.

  • IT

    Another voice here on the “identity as sexual behavior” sentence, which I for one find quite offensive.

    I no more define my identity by my sexual behavior than you do. I don’t live in a gayborhood (most of us don’t), my wife and I “pass” easily as straight and are really no different than any other middle aged suburban professional couple. We mow the lawn, volunteer for the PTA equivalent, and even go to church.

    However, we are forced to live with that identity because we are not treated the same way. Trust me, no one would be happier than I to eliminate GLBT as a defining label.

    But as long as I’m denied basic rights, as long as my marriage is imperiled, my children disadvantaged, and my future endangered by the simple fact that I love another woman, I feel I’ve had the identity forced upon me. It’s not me who can’t get over it. It’s the other side.

    Many of our community feel the same way: we’re forced to be GLBT first, rather than someone who happens to be GLBT the same way some happen to be left-handed or red-headed.

    In the wake of PropH8 in California, the people who marched weren’t the young GLBT activists from the neighborhoods like WeHo and the Castro. They were the solid, middle aged, “respectable” people, many professionally closeted, who finally realized that it wasn’t possible to just get along any more and escape the label. The other side stuck it on us as the most important aspect of our lives and reduced our existence to a sex act.

    how offensive is that?

    So we are left with little choice but to it as an act of defiance and turn it into something of which we can be proud, rather than ashamed. Stop defining us that way, and we’ll be more than happy to stop defining ourselves that way.

  • Joe

    Andrew, thanks for your response. It *really* helps clarify where our disagreement is. If you don’t mind, I’d just like to summarize/paraphrase what I think I heard you say and verify that I got it correct.

    If I heard you correctly, you said:

    (1) attraction is the same as potential sexual behavior


    (2) potential sexual behavior is the same as sexual behavior.

    I disagree strongly with both (1) and (2)–I don’t think they make sense! However, if I entertain them as true for a moment, I can see how you could equate

    (A) gay identity is acknowledgement that someone is attracted to people of the same gender (i.e. gay attraction)

    which is a statement I completely agree with, with

    (B) gay identity is sexual behavior.

    which is a statement I strongly disagree with. Can you please give me feedback on whether I have represented your thoughts with statements (1) and (2) above?

    Also, could you clarify whether the phrase you have heard innumerable times from LGBT people is (A) or (B)? I can imagine virtually any LGBT person you could ask would tell you (A), but I just have a hard time trying to wrap my head around why *any* LGBT person would say (B). However, I can understand how, if you believe (1) and (2), that you could hear (A) and think people said (B).

    Really appreciate this conversation. It’s helping me understand where you’re coming from and identify where our disconnect is.


  • Topher

    Though coming in late, I’ve just read the conversation in a sitting and the distinct impression grew within me that (1) we’re all sincerely attempting to communicate about this issue to each other and (2) we’re still miscommunicating despite this sincerity. Alas!

    I wish to concur with Darren when he says he “find[s] this dialogue to be rather helpful.” This is a big issue to many people, so if we can hammer this out in a comments section, we should all come away the better for it — better able to discuss this issue with Christians and with LGBT people. I think that, considering the sincerity expressed by all commenters on this post, it would be most helpful to continue the conversation, rather than prematurely ending it.

    Andrew, I discern some of the same vibes picked up by Darren and Joe about your possible “annoyance” with how this thread has progressed; maybe this is natural, caused by the feeling that people have not rightly understood that which you wish to communicate? But it is this same loss in communication that might provide a teachable moment for everyone involved! Perhaps this post can fit into your blog motto, “I’m trying to learn how to live and love.” This could be a perfect opportunity to learn how to best communicate what you believe and wrote about in Chapter 2, which from an LGBT person’s perspective might express more love.

    I feel the most cogent comment in this whole thread is the one written by Jonathan, subsequently pointed out by Andrew as best communicating what he is thinking. We might quibble about what the majority/minority of LGBT people think, but the point seems to be there are two different mindsets, one of which Andrew appears to have encountered much more and is fighting against — both in the LGBT people he has met and in the broader evangelical community.

    Joe, I feel you may have missed some of what Andrew has expressed. If (and this is a big if) I have understood what Andrew wishes to communicate, it is:
    (1) the LGBT people he has met equate gay behavior with gay identity,
    (2) the evangelical movement equates gay behavior with gay identity, and
    (3) both of these groups are wrong to equate gay behavior with gay identity.

    So, when you say that Andrew “maintain[s] that gay identity is sexual behavior”, I think Andrew is only maintaining that other people believe gay identity is sexual behavior, while he does not believe that. Perhaps you have heard him repeating what other people say, and believed those were Andrew’s words instead.

    Here’s to praying for continuing clarification and learning about this subject,

  • IT

    No, we’re not saying the same thing. You equated “identity as sexual behavior” sentence, and I said that I for one find that quite offensive. I then explained why people may hold on to the label gay, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a “sexual behavior”, I think that wasn’t clear. You have no idea what my sexual behavior is.

    My identity isn’t what I do in bed. Yes, part of my identity is being gay, like part of my identity is being female. That has nothing to do with behavior, however.

    I get the feeling you hang out with the “high gays” of the gayborhood. Newsflash: many of us, probably most of us, are actually NOT identifying as “professionally gay” in that way. That part of the community is more likely to be young, single, and male and often defiantly hypersexual.

    I say this as a university professor surrounded by hyper-sexed young male (straight) college students.

    Maybe you need to get out more, there are plenty….PLENTY!…. of gay folks who are perfectly typical of all the straight people. We’re the ones who actually want to get married. You probably wouldn’t pick us out of a line up. And, newsflash, a lot of us already go to church.

    in any case, thanks for taking it seriously, please just know that saying I am defined by a sexual behavior per se is incredibly offensive.

  • IT

    I read it more as Andrew saying that he thinks that GLBT people themselves think gay identity is sexual behavior. While some might, I don't think this is generally true, and implying it is, is offensive to me…. Which is why I wondered if he's only hanging around a subset of the gay community. I don't like being stereotyped any more than most Christians do!

    In any case if I misunderstood, I apologize!

    Nalai thank you for your post. I find that very moving. The fact of my orientation I view as a minor part of who I am, like the fact of having grey eyes. It's a fact, but not very interesting. Thank you for coming that far….

    I am one of the 18,000 same-sex couples legally married in California during the Interregnum last summer. My marriage is strong, years in the making prior to its "legalization". and not at all defined by what we do in the bedroom. Our emotional and spiritual union, our intellectual respect, the romance, all that is no different than any other faithfully, deeply loving couple. Sex is only a part of it, and far from the most important part. If we lost that part of it, we'd still have a marriage far stronger than most.

    And incidentally my wife defines very strongly as a Christian in the Catholic tradition.

    May I point you all at a couple of reflections I've written on this. First, on the the experience of our wedding, and second, on what it means to maintain a marriage in the face of opposition.

  • 1. Topher – thank you for your succinct summary. I greatly appreciate your 30,000 foot overview of this discussion!

    2. Darren – I have nothing but love for you. As you said, these are wonderful “communicative conduits”. Not easy. Sometimes not fun (who am I kidding, many times not FUN). But necessary, and God-ordained conversations that are tangibly making a difference! And technically, that is fun.

    Also, when I’m talking about identity in the context of this blog/my book, I’m specifically referring to how sexuality plays into a wholistic identity (i.e. sexuality is a piece of what makes up a 100% wholistic identity). I’m not trying to talk about the other parts that make up a wholistic identity like race, ethnicity, interests, etc.

    The reason my friend sees a potential behavior as the root of his identity is because he refers to himself as a gay Christian, even though the world he lives in (choosing to be intentionally celibate in order to align with a traditional interpretation of Scripture), and the people who live in his world would look at him and say, “You’re not a gay Christian because you’re celibate. Gay Christians are …. (listing off their general perceptions and agendas that a gay Christian is an oxymoron).” So therefore, for him to still self-identify as a gay Christian, even amidst these circumstances, in his mind points to the potential behavior (same-sex attraction) being a key part to formulating his identity as a gay Christian.

    Joe – Chapter 2 is not universal to all GLBT people, and I make that clear in the chapter by using words such as “many” “most” “people I know”.

    Chapter 2 is not me imposing my thoughts and constructs onto GLBT people – Chapter 2 is a report from what GLBT people have told me over the years (and IT, I have a very WIDE group of GLBT people I’m directly or indirectly involved with from all over the country throughout the whole spectrum that consists of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people: gay Christians, secular folks, academics, business persons, pastors, homeless, youth, designers, athletes, etc and others that consist of every sub-category you could imagine)!

    This is not something I just created out of the blue and will forever stick by. This is not mal-intended, this is a report from what I have been told over and over! As I’ve said in two other comments, just because it’s not your story, or the story of your friends or whoever, doesn’t mean it’s not true!

    I don’t know anything about being gay, never have I claimed to. Never will I claim to! I only know myself and my experiences, which is why, as a few others said, my life slogan is that I’m just trying to learn how to live and love in real time in a bunch of uncomfortable places!

    I feel that my time to talk is over in this conversation, because I must not be productive. So, as I do best, I want to just listen and learn about something that you know much more about than me. Let me learn from you then. I hope this discussion continues and I hope to garner much knowledge so I can then go back to my community and help them better understand GLBT people in real time as well. That’s the point of being a bridge. Here is my public apology/acknowledgment/whatever, I am here to learn, so teach me so I can be accurate, and represent you accurately to a group of people who will listen to me because I’m straight, white and evangelical, and who won’t listen to you because many of them never want to have these conversations. I look forward to gaining insight through all of your experiences and expertise in your lives. Thank you for so boldly speaking up to move this conversation forward.

    Nalai – Your words reach the core of my soul. That is the point of what the book, this blog and my work is all about. Thank you for telling your story and stepping out to comment. Joe, IT, others—people like Nalai are now open to dialoguing with you because of what I’m trying to do. And as cheesy as this might sound, that’s one more person who isn’t fighting against you, it’s one more person who is trying to live and learn with you. That is progress in my book! None of this is meant to be a ‘me vs. you’ or an ‘us vs. them’. This is an ‘us’ period.

  • Hey Andy,

    Thanks for responding . . . and listening! I truly appreciate the humility you exhibited in your last response.

    Also, I guess I should have clarified my question about being African-American a little better. I know that your focus is on the sexual aspects of ones holistic identity. What I was getting at there, is that it seems that you think your celibate friend errs in some way by identifying himself as gay. It seems that what you're saying is that one's identity should not have anything to do with anything but Christ.

    If that's where you're coming from, then I think our big pictures are somewhat different. I think we both agree that there are perhaps a lot of gay people who base a very large part of their identity in their sexual attractions/behaviors, and a lot of Christians who have helped create this unhealthy habit by *only* seeing gay people in terms of their sexual behavior.

    But it seems (at least from my understanding of things) that your stance is that one should ONLY root their identity in Christ, and nothing else. So, just as it is unhealthy for someone to base ANY part of their identity in their sexuality, it would be equally unhealthy for someone to base any part of their identity in their ethnicity, gender, etc. Such a view – in my opinion – is both unbiblical and just as unhealthy as rooting one's identity PRIMARILY in sexual (or any other) behavior.

    What we see of the God in the Bible, is a God that cares a lot about people creating identity. I think some might say that God likely creates a hierarchy of importance regarding the basis for identity, but he seems to order a multi-faceted identity nonetheless.

    For instance, God doesn't just tell the Israelites to "be the people of Yahweh". No, he goes on to establish a distinct cultural heritage – and wants those people to take pride in being "the children of God", but also in being "the children of Israel" (an ethnic identity), and further goes on to establish particular identity roles such that Levites (tribal identity) are the priests (occupational identity), and so forth. God seems to only be disappointed when these identities are overemphasized, and thus detract from the paramount identity as "children of God."

    So, I'd say that it's probably healthy for your gay celibate friend to identify as gay (so long as he is not making "gay" his paramount or most significant portion of identity). But by identifying as gay, he is merely acknowledging something about his attractions, and uses the term "gay" to describe those attractions. That is SO much healthier than someone who has homosexual attractions pretending as if their identity is straight, or pretending as if it's not important at all to assume a sexual identity and thus only identifies as "Christian". I just don't find that Jesus would be on board with that at all, for so many reasons! Not the least of which would be that Jesus really wanted to establish a cultural identity based on love, not on a religion. Thus, if we are to only identify ourselves in only one way, we should all probably just say that we are Lovers.

    I'm a gay Lover . . . or rather, a Lover who happens to be gay 🙂

  • IT,

    I don’t think Andy is saying that you are defined by your sexual behavior. In fact, he has stated the exact opposite! I (like Topher) think that Andy is saying that the gay people HE HAS MET believe that behavior = identity, but this is not something that Andy himself believes.


    The 3 things that Topher points out above are the 3 things that I hear you saying. Are those statements correct? Does that accurately sum up your point regarding identity when it comes to bridge building?

  • Nalai

    Okay I am really late into this discussion and I have to make a few distinctions about my life and wish that in this forum we are all able to be open and honest. I am a Christian raised in a large very conservative church. I relate well to Andrew’s story in regards to internally probably being a homophobic person, but outwardly trying (or at least my interpretation) of being Christ like to all. My first confession I am sorry to the GLBT community as I have always and am trying to change this label defined you by your sexual behavior. In my terrible and naive mind that is truly all that I could imagine and understand. I guess if you did not have that desire why would you be different from me…As I write this I am shaking as it is probably such a horrid realization that my friends, family members, co-workers, etc. who are gay never truly had a face, story, or experience to me because all I could resonate with was the sexual aspect of who they were. As I have read Andrew’s book, this blog, and seen him speak once before I want to say each of those people I mentioned above I have begun a journey of truly understanding and wanting to know who they are as perfect children of God. They no longer only have one dimension. So if I can understand what all are saying and my perspective from a straight Christian who has lots to learn. I appreciate Andrew’s boldness to say that as a Christian we have been labeling the Gay community by only one aspect and that is their sexual behavior. Maybe we did this so you remained different and we didn’t have to understand the person behind the community just the item which made you different from me. I don’t know I am still learning and changing. A community is defined by the aspects that make them different from other communities, for all of time the Gay community has been defined by there attraction to a samesex partner I think Andrew is saying that for all of time we have defined the Gay community with this label so therefore they have found identity within that label in creating the Gay community. I hope that I may have the freedom to continue to comment here and that as I am on my own journey to understand…I try and build my bridge from my side so we can try and meet in the middle. Thank you Andrew for being so bold, so sensitive, and so willing to be hurt by both communities as we all try to live and love

  • Joe

    Wait wait wait wait wait. Hold the phone.

    Andrew, can you verify that what Topher said is accurate, I.e. That you yourself do NOT believe the statement “gay identity is sexual behavior” (statement B) is true? If Topher’s right, then I have completely misunderstood you.

    I had thought that, as statement B is verbatim the subtitle of chapter 2 of your book, that is was something you believed and wanted to teach the evangelical church to believe as well.

  • IT

    Andrew, thank you.

    The question seems to be, what does it mean to identify as “gay”?

    Does that perforce mean identifying with a behavior? I think what we are saying is, it does not, at least, not to many of us. It simply means orientation. So of course, one can be a gay celibate, without acting upon one’s sexuality.

    What we’d like to get to, is a world in which being a gay Christian celibate really means “a Christian celibate who happens to be gay”, just as we’d like to get to a world in which instead of being a woman astronaut, someone can be “an astronaut who happens to be a woman”.

    Thanks for letting me drop in.

  • Joe


    thanks for hanging in there with us long enough to get to this point.  And please don’t think you’ve been counter-productive!  Quite to the contrary, this conversation has been uber-helpful for me.  In fact, it has cleared up my principal confusion with your book (as well as one of your comments in the blog posting above).

    As I now understand your perspective, you do NOT believe that all in the LGBT community define their identity as sexual behavior.  You believe that some do–in fact, many of the LGBT people you have spoken with over the years have verbatim told you gay identity is sexual behavior.  However, my understanding is that you recognize there is diversity within the LGBT community in how we define our identity–that many LGBT folks in fact do NOT define their identities as sexual behavior.  And, in fact, you yourself do not believe gay identitiy is defined as sexual behavior.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for clarifying this. 

    Prior to this conversation, I thought you held a much different view.  I had read your book cover-to-cover, including the introduction and appendix.  Moreover, I had gone back and re-read the beginning of Chapter 2, precisely due to my surprise that–by the end of the book–I thought you were trying to teach the evangelical church that LGBT identity is sexual behavior.

    Thank you very much for clarifying your conviction.

    You wrote in your comment above that you feel you have made your actual views abundantly clear in your previous writing.  I humbly submit that you may not have been as clear as you have thought.  Over the weekend, I went back and re-read Chapter 2 *again*, newly armed with my understanding of what you believe.  I also went back and re-read your post above.

    I gotta say that I still find the conviction you have articulated in this conversation is not clear in what you have written in Chapter 2 and in the post above.  However, I think *all* of the confusion can be cleared up with relatively simple clarifying edits.

    Please make sure you never say the phrase “gay identity is sexual behavior” (or similar phrases) without saying “some LGBT people believe” or “many LGBT people believe” in the same breath.  Alternatively, you could balance such a phrase by saying “some LGBT people disagree” or “many LGBT people disagree”.

    I think the principle confusion with Chapter 2 of your book–and the appearance of the phrase in your blog post above–is the appearance of the phrase with no accompanying qualifiers such as “some” or “many” or “some disagree” or “many disagree”. 

    For example, the subtitle of Chapter 2 of your book is, verbatim, “gay identity is sexual behavior” with no qualification.  I had thought that this was a bullet point you were intending to teach to the church, and that the statements in chapter that said you had been told as much by many of your gay friends were your “evidence” to back up this bullet point.  Does this make sense?  I found no evidence in the Chapter of opposing LGBT definitions of identiy–just this one.  My fear is that your audience would walk away from the chapter thinging “gee, I guess all gay people define themselves by sexual behavior.”  What if, instead of what is presently the subtitle of chapter 2, you had written “Many LGBT people believe gay identity is sexual behavior”? 

    Elsewhere in the chapter (I believe it is the third page) there is another statement about the LGBT community and identity that appears high and dry without qualification.  I wish I had my copy of the book with me right now to transcribe it for you.  It is another example of a spot where qualifications would have been helpful to accurately describe the community and clarify what you mean to teach the church.

    Also, in your blog post above, you wrote (in your answer to Q4) “My experience has shown me that until Christians start to refocus their wholistic identity in Christ and His countercultural ways, why should the LGBT community, on their own, shift their identity away from their sexual behavior?”  See what just happened?  There was that statement again–gay identity is sexual behavior–that just passed by without qualification.  As written, it seems you have in passing stated that the entire LGBT community believes their identity is sexual behavior.  The simple presence of a qualifying statment would have gone a long way in communicating that not all in the LGBT community define themselves as such.

    The great news is that I think this whole confusion can be solved by relatively simple editing.  And–this could be cool–the editing job presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between the Marin Foundation and LGBT folks.

    As is probably apparent from the emotional responses from a half dozen LGBT folks on this blog post, some of us are *very* sensitive to statements that seem at face value to reduce our lives and identities to sexual behavior.  My guess is that we–LGBT people with diverse opinions on identity–might be an excellent resource for you as editors of any future editions of your book (or new books) or the written materials you produce for your speaking/teaching engagements.  I can think of any number of LGBT folks (myself included!) who would be happy to do just that. 

    I want to be understood by the church, and I feel most literature *about* LGBT people that is circulating in the church presents a charicature of who I am.  I’d be happy to assist in highlighting where your writing may come across as inaccurately portraying LGBT people.  Where it does, we could discuss it and how statements might be reframed to accurately capture the LGBT community as a whole.

    And my sense is that I’m far from the only person who’d be willing to provide this assistance.  We’d love to help educate the church about who we really are!

  • Thank you Joe, Darren and IT – the exact three people I was hoping to hear clarification from! From what I’m putting together in all of your statements is that the ultimate baseline place of understanding is that gay is not “gay” as the defining characteristic: thus, providing space for all different shades of person/sexuality to live together. Cognitively I understand that to be true, and this discussion has made me clearly start to understand the power of “most” “many” “some” “not all” etc as qualifying statements to bring perceived generalizations down. I also re-read chapter 2 and I can totally see where you’re coming from. The only thing I would say is that each chapter was not meant to stand alone—they are a collective that work upon each other to issue in the broader picture of bridge building—the overall thrust of the book being how to tear down the traditional stereotypes within the culture war that have led us to this disconnected place from a straight, conservative Christian perspective. And overall, I feel as though my book soundly ushered in a new paradigm to many folks who only were working off a one-track mind regarding this topic (see the many people like Nalai). Though, I can still see exactly where you’re coming from.

    But with that said, rest assured that the definitive language I have previously used will never come out of my mouth, or out of my writing again. Qualifiers are key! This discussion has brought forth a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully my readers as well. Everyday I pray that I walk in the ways of a humble learner, and this discussion is another reminder that if we all can continue to do so, our (my) heart, soul and mind will continually be open to such riveting discussions, conclusions and change for the better. 🙂

    Also, here are two further points of clarification that I didn’t want to remain unanswered: Darren, when I talked about a wholistic identity rooted in Christ, I was not talking about ‘wholistic’ as a 100% identity all in Christ, with no room for anything else. I was talking about ‘wholistic’ as a spectrum of 100%, and in that 100% spectrum Christ is the center (majority) of one’s identity, with room for all of the other pieces that encompass a wholistic identity. Joe, I had 4 gay people read my book before the final version got sent to the publisher. Here is the breakdown: 1 secular lesbian, 1 lesbian Christian, 1 gay Christian and 1 gay celibate Christian. I took their feedback very seriously, and implemented quite a bit of it throughout the whole of the book. I have privately said to every GLBT person I know, I want to represent you, your life, story, etc as best as I can to a group of people who have only been given one perspective about you. I feel I did that as best as I could have to that point—with some very impactful stories and changes that have happened because of it. But now, what I previously perceived as my best has just moved forward thanks to you all. And I can’t wait for this to continue here, and (with your help) in my other works! Much love.

  • Joe

    Awesome! Thanks so much for engaging with us on this topic, Andrew 🙂


    p.s. What did you mean by “gay” when you said “ultimate baseline place of understanding is that gay is not “gay” as the defining characteristic”?

  • Andy,

    Once again, I applaud you for your humility. I am happy that – though this conversation has been tough – it sounds like we’ve all come to understand each others’ points of view.

    And thanks for qualifying the holistic identity aspect! I see what you mean.

    Lastly, I really want you to know that I in no way assumed you were anything but deferent with these stories. I would have been shocked if you HADN’T had any gay people review the book before publishing. Thank you once again for holding our stories sacred, and listening, and even modifying your language!


  • Audrey

    There are many misconceptions about the lesbian and gay community out in the world. We have long written off conservative churches for a variety of reasons. However, many former lesbian and gay members of malestream churches simply founded their own lesbian and gay denominations. I’ve been involved with the lesbian and gay Christian movement for over 25 years now, and also consider myself a very strong Christian feminist as well. Yes, lesbians fight two giant battles, the first is the battle against malecentric religion and the second of course is against the homophobes. Lesbians and gay men are as different as apples and oranges. And even our communities are often quite separate.

    I encourage all sincere allies to lesbians and gays to get to know the lesbian and gay led churches, and they are everywhere. MCC churches are the best to begin with, and the oldest lesbian and gay founded denomination. We’ve been at this a very long time. Read the great gay and lesbian Christian authors like Malcolm Boyd, Carter Heyward, Nancy Wilson, Mary Hunt, Virginia Mollenkott, Chris Glaser, Kittredege Cherry,
    Troy Perry (his life story is very inspiring), and there must be dozens of gay and lesbian Christian websites all over the place by now. For those of you who are straight, READ and study. Remember, we deal with you everyday, and your sexism and homophobia are as bad as the racists of the south in the 1950s to us. So get to work. Your fundamentalist churches have done so much damage to our community, that we often have to refer to Jesus on the cross, “Forgive them god for they know not what they do.” We don’t have forgiveness in us for the most part because your crimes are legion. You don’t have the stomach for the lesbian critique of straight male christians, so I’ll spare you for now. Just read the women, and don’t call god a man!!

    There is a strong movement within the lesbian and gay world that is spiritual, but doesn’t respect Christianity, for a variety of obvious and complex reasons. Right now, I see a gay male bias to this website, so I want to correct this gender imbalance as a radical lesbian feminist and a feminist Christian. MCC, by the way, has the highest percentage of women ministers of any denomination, so I suggest you post their stories on this website.

    Straight men may have access to gay male controlled spaces, but the lesbian community is completely and utterly different.

    Andrew, read Troy Perry’s books, and get to know the history of the lesbian and gay Christian movement worldwide. We are everywhere, and we have largely left your churches when we come out of the closet. Coming out is one of these formost spiritual experiences of every lesbian and gay person, and like Moses, we left Egypt long ago. Recall if you will that they counted cattle NOT women in Moses’ time.

    Keep up the good work, because I think the under 30 group really has more exposure to the lesbian and gay Christian movement than the tired old dinosaurs like Falwell (dead thank god), Robertson, and right wing Christianity everywhere. Usually people change when their own kids come out, or when a child commits suicide because of fundamentalist rejection.
    Or in Andrew’s case when his friends came out to him. It’s kind of hard to be a homophobe when three of your friends are gay and lesbian.

    I continue to fight the battle against male dominance, and male centric language in churches everywhere. I never attend a service where god is referred to as “he” for example. Lesbian Christians are not going to put up with this! Just so you know, and don’t goof up with straight male sexism compounding the ingrained homophobia you were taught in the culture.

    Remember, the last great ism is sexism, and when you put women front and center, this changes everything within a malecentric patriarchal world.
    Lesbian Christian feminists have been very strong fighters in this epic battle, and we changed the language of the church as a result of our work.

    But the most basic thing is this: lesbians are fighting a war against male dominance and sexism. Men who are sexist will be suspect, and this is almost impossible for you not to be.

  • Audrey

    I’ve often wondered at the conservative obsession with gay male sexuality in particular. Since it is largely the straight conservative men who go on and on about this on talk radio, and on FOX NEWS, and on the reported sermons from the 700 Club, it just is odd to me. Christian conservative men seem to reduce GLBT to what we do in bed all the time. It is really weird to hear this all the time from them. What’s really up with this.

    So, let me do a little reversal, so that straight conservative men can see their behavior through a christian lesbian feminist perspective, hold onto your horses because here we go:

    As lesbians, if we were to do a reversal, we’d focus on the sexual behavior of straight men… how they are obsessed and addicted to internet porn, how they cheat on their wives, how they rape women, beat women and use that as porn. We’d talk about how men oppress women, and demand that women perform disgusting sex acts. We’d talk about the abuse and murder of prostitutes, and how major “family values” political men cheat on their wives and brag about it in the California legislature before open mics.
    (Just today’s news BTW 9-9-09)

    If lesbians put the spotlight on straight male sexuality, we’d have a lot of really mean things to say. We’d call you monsters, rapists, sexual aggressors. We’d rail about how men make cities unsafe for women to be in at night. We’d talk about how all men objectify women, stare at their bodies, and produce TV that sexually degrades women. Wow, I am on a roll.
    By comparison, lesbians are such angels, and surely we’ll be in the queendom of heaven first 🙂 I can hear the harps playing in the distance 🙂
    To godly straight men, all of the above seems absurd, mean and unfair. I think it is useful to always use reversal to see truths that may be hidden from majorities, kind of the blinders straight men have in dealing with “non-white straight male” peoples everywhere.

  • Here I am almost 2 years later and here is a follow-up to this discussion. I still stand by my changed position, from what I originally wrote in chapter two of my book, that was hashed out in the comments, but I thought I should add a more thorough description of how I’ve gotten to where I’m at today:

    It is sometimes difficult for people in the LGBT community to grasp the truth that what I wrote in that section came directly from what many of my LGBT friends and people I know in Boystown told me over the years. Since I wrote that chapter three years ago my thoughts have changed. I wish I would have added more qualifiers before and after I wrote that section; however, today, the reason my thoughts have changed are also directly related to my LGBT friends and people I know in Boystown and around the country describing their connection between their identity and sexual behavior in a different manner than they did even a few years earlier. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not gay. I’ve never had a same-sex attraction and far be it for me to sit from the outside and comment on matters that I have no personal experience with. What I write and speak about comes from the large LGBT community I have close relationships with – from all shades of the spectrum from the far left to the far right. Regarding LGBT identity, sexuality, thoughts and opinions, I very carefully make sure that when I’m in conservative evangelical circles I am doing or saying nothing more than an honest relaying of thoughts, stories and experiences from people in the LGBT community, and what they think important enough for me to communicate to conservatives about. Let’s be honest, if a gay Christian man in a committed relationship and I stood on the same platform and said the exact same words in the exact same manner with the exact same cadence, who would a conservative evangelical audience listen to? Because they would listen to me doesn’t make the situation or the institution right, it just makes it that I must humbly listen and learn more intently to the LGBT community and be responsible to put forth a message that is accurate and representative of as much of the community as I can communicate. One of my main checks and balances is that my inner circle consists of a number of LGBT people (Christian, non-Christian, partnered and single) who hold me accountable. But just as culture shifts, so do words, concepts, politics, perceptions, experiences and cultural norms. My role as a bridge builder is to try to keep up with the ever-moving and evolving times of the differing worldviews, experiences and filters of each community and the disconnect that follows those variations. Sometimes it proves right, sometimes it proves wrong. But the faithfulness to the fidelity of relationship never changes. Much love.