Part 3: Language in the Culture War—Affirming

Bull Horn

Here is the Intro to this series on Language in the Culture War.

Here is Part 2.


The word ‘affirming’ has become one of those ugly, politically charged words that bring on a new (and incorrect) cultural understanding of the word’s original intent in definition and usage.

The culture war definition of Affirming: Similar to reconciliation, in that all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are born with a same-sex attraction, acting out on those attractions is not a sin, and living in a same-sex committed monogamous relationship is a happy, healthy, God-ordained way of life. And whoever does not agree with any of these statements in homophobic or out of touch with reality.

In essence ‘affirming’ means to completely agree with another’s definition of what is correct and acceptable. In the case of the culture war it would be what is considered, from a GLBT perspective, as a ‘pro-gay theological belief system.’ For more details in that belief system see Love is an Orientation, Chapter 4 or read this.

But that is not what affirming means, nor hits on its intent either!

My bridge building definition of Affirming: Validating one’s experiences that have led them to their current psychological, emotional, spiritual and social states as legitimate to them.

My understanding is that affirming was never meant to be a whole-hearted leap to believe what the ‘other side’ (in either direction) deems as the solely acceptable personal, theological and historical baseline worldview of a social construct (though in this case Affirming is being used specifically by the GLBT community). Rather, its original intent was meant to be an affirmation in one’s experiences, thoughts and perceptions.

But there is an extreme invalidation pandemic running rapid throughout this culture war.

Many people/organizations within both communities don’t want to know anything about what it means to validate (actually, the correct cultural (not culture war) definition in this case would be ‘affirm’) the other, because that is seen as ‘giving in’ (capitulating seems to be a favorite word of many) to the other’s “ludicrous demands and evil agenda.” This is ridiculous; and quite confusing at times. Thus, we are now able to see why there is such a need to have a clear, and culturally accurate definition of these politically divisive and exorbitantly sensitive words; because this current culture war is leading hot-button vocabulary in the wrong direction.

The uniqueness of this word in the culture war is such that my bridge building definition of ‘affirming’ is actually the culture war definition of ‘validation.’ I speak extensively of the difference between validation and affirmation, and for an expansion of these thoughts, see some past posts here.

Much love.

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  • Audrey

    There are a lot of popular “churchy” words out there. Affirming or affirmation is just too wishy washy for me. I think it might come down to the fact that some humans are simply more intellectually complex than others, and that some groups of humans are not that wedded to excluding people based on who they are.

    If I church put a welcome mat out for me, hey, I’d go in and check it out. If there was no welcome mat, I wouldn’t go it. Pretty simple. If it was a lovely historic church, everyone should go in to appreciate it. We can fight it out over this definition or that. Incidently, the gay and lesbian Mormons call their group “Affirmation” the Catholic gays and lesbians call their organization “Dignity” and the Episcopalians call their association “Integrity.” Back in the day when I was learning about this stuff, I was struck by the power and simplicity of each group’s chosen WORD. It might have been symbolic of what each gay and lesbian wanted out of her particular faith tradition. (Her in this case includes men by the way 🙂

  • Angela

    A problem I have run into quite a few times is people who believe that if I do not constantly tell my gay friends they are “going to hell” and I happily hang out with them and their partner, I am “affirming” them. So many parents push their poor kids away because people tell them if they allow their children to come home while they are still “living that lifestyle” or bring a partner home for the holidays, that they are affirming it and going against God.

  • Great post, Andrew. Man, you did it again. Smacked me right upside the head in a way no one else can. It hurts so good! Not so much with what you said here (good as it was), but through my rereading of Chapter 4 of your book, which you wisely referred everyone to.

    God has given you a call that resonates with something deep within my spirit. Recalling how desperately I wanted to be understood in my younger days that were marked by many complex emotions and confusion about my own identity, I have empathy for my fellow Christians who walk on the gay side, as well as for those who walk on the ex-gay side. In “LIAO’s” Chapter 4, you are speaking mainly to those who cannot grasp what it is like to be either of those entities because they make up the vast majority of the Church needing to get it.

    I had to confront JD’s assessment (you end-noted it in the book) that it is a virtual impossibility for straight and gay Christians to co-exist within the Church, presumably because the one group is seen as negating doctrine in its theological and historical/cultural interpretations of the Bible. I tend to think he is referring to those whom many are obliged to brand as heretics (like the first gay pastor you met with?) rather than those who are earnestly seeking God and are willing to acknowledge their brokenness on some level.

    Some evangelicals have chosen to close themselves off to the possibility of reconciliation with “the others” while some gay Christians have walked too far into the darkness of apostasy. How many are “in the middle”? And how many of those can entertain co-existence as fellow strugglers in some way?

    It makes me angry when I contemplate the extent to which we have been “had” by the framers of the culture war. On the one hand, I know we are entitled to our concerns over being swept away by a rising tide of secularism and apostasy. On the other, I know we cannot turn our backs on our own, pretending they are invisible or “shooting” them because they are wounded or ugly or sterile, in our view.

    That is the conundrum we must solve. We must learn to speak the truth in love and so teach others. We also must realistically realize that the outer fringes on either side of the divide are not likely to ever come with us.

  • Heidi

    well put! we must learn to affirm one another, whether we endorse each others viewpoints or not! affirmation does not equal endorsement. affirmation equals love.

  • Courtney J White

    Debbie, I have loved your posts from start to finish!!! Well said..period…God has allowed the sentiment/passion of my heart to resonate through your words!!!

  • Bless you, Courtney. Thanks for your thought-provoking contributions.

  • Wow…I love your bridge-building definition of the word “affirming”. That approach is one that every Christian really should take!