Culture War

Does the Culture War Have Room for Openly Gay Evangelicals?

Sex, faith, and paradox in a changing America


Sex and faith keep evolving, sometimes in ways that may surprise you. Molly Worthen reports that many evangelical Christians

Every heart beats true.

have absorbed secular thinkers' ideas about the fluidity of sexual expression. This is, in part, a counterintuitive legacy of traditional ex-gay ministries. When groups like Exodus promised that sexual desire could change, they pioneered queer theory in the evangelical world. Participants often acknowledged their struggles with "relapse," and their testimonies "point to the instability and changeability of their own identities rather than serve as a testament to heterosexuality," the ethnographer Tanya Erzen wrote in her study of ex-gay ministries, "Straight to Jesus."

In that context, rather than embracing an "ex-gay" identity, many gay evangelicals attempt a life of celibacy instead. "In an era when the right worships the nuclear family and the left celebrates sexual authenticity," Worthen writes, that doesn't give them an obvious political home. Noting that the "idealized image of the heterosexual nuclear family has become the chief conservative rallying point of the culture wars," Worthen asks:

But does liberals' emphasis on gay marriage effectively send the same message? "If you end up accepting the progressive position, you then have a future: Gay people, you're supposed to get married, have romance, have children, and that's how you get security and stave off loneliness," said Eve Tushnet, a celibate Catholic lesbian writer who has a growing following among evangelicals. "But if you don't change your sexual ethic, then the challenge to your cultural mind-set is very deep because you're no longer able to offer gay people the forms of adult love that our culture recognizes." If the ex-gay ministries ironically introduced evangelicals to more fluid ideas of sexuality, the liberal campaign for gay marriage has reinforced the grip of traditional "family values."

And with that double paradox, I suggest you read the whole thing.

Being neither gay nor Christian myself, I have no stake in this beyond my belief that everyone involved should be free to work out their own approaches to these questions, and my hope that as many as possible end up with answers that allow them to be happy. But there's a broader political lesson here beyond any particular ideas about sex and God: Our simple model of a two-sided "culture war" just can't capture the dynamic diversity of the culture we actually live in. Contrary to cliché, we aren't two Americas. We're a big muddy mess of countless overlapping Americas, any of which might take something as significant as spirituality or sexuality in an unexpected direction.

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  1. Eve Tushnet, a celibate Catholic lesbian writer who has a growing following among evangelicals.

    So you mean a nun?

    1. Nuns are Brides of Christ. She’s probably a Bride of Mary.

  2. Does the Libertarian movement leave room for openly socialist libertarians?

    I would hope not. Same thing here. Why the hell does a movement have to embrace people who have beliefs counter to theirs?

    1. Why the hell does a movement have to embrace people who have beliefs counter to theirs?

      I don’t usually think of the Culture War as a movement.

      1. It is in one sense of the word.

        1. I laughed. Very droll, SF.

      2. Man, is Jesse trying to be the worst? Does he expect people to RTFA or something?

        1. The point of the article is the question of whether evangelicals should admit gays into their numbers.

          1. The point of the article is the question of whether evangelicals should admit gays into their numbers.

            No, it wasn’t.

          2. No.

            Serious question, John: were you molested by a gay man when you were young? There’s something reflexive going on and I don’t want to start making wrong assumptions about the root cause. So to speak.

            1. No Old man. Why would you think that? If you want to know the truth, I am very much a sexual libertine as a personal matter. I am the last person who has an issue with gays. My views on personal morality have nothing whatsoever to do with my views on public policy.

              I don’t think that way. Whether I like or don’t like a group rarely affect my views on politics or government. Trust me I would rather spend an evening in a gay bar than in an evangelical church. But that fact doesn’t mean I won’t defend evangelicals publicly and loudly when doing so is right.

              I always laugh my ass off when the half wits on here think I am some kind of SOCON. I really do. It basically is them saying everything I have ever said on the subject went right over their heads.

              1. Why would you think that?

                Your reflexive reaction to any sentence with the word “gay” in it.

                1. It is not reflexive. You just think it is because you are projecting your reflexive desire to social signal and praise any sentence with the word gay in it. At least 90% of what people say on here about gay issues is nothing but social signaling. And I don’t social signal because I don’t give a fuck. I really don’t. And that inevitably confuses people who do.

                  1. It’s also confusing why you’d post a full quarter of the comments on a thread about an issue that you really don’t give a fuck about.

                  2. I don’t give a fuck. I really don’t

                    I am not talking about the desire. I am talking about thinking there is nothing wrong with it.

                    But hey, you don’t give a fuck, right? You’re up to, what, about 5000 words today explaining about how many fucks you don’t give?

                    Show me on the doll where the gay man touched you.

                    1. I didn’t say I did not care about these issues. I said I don’t care about social signaling. And I don’t.

                      There is not a single group on here I haven’t disagreed with at some point.

                      You can disagree with my positions but I don’t see how anyone who is not just butt hurt because I won’t kiss their ass could think I do anything but say what I mean.

                  3. And I don’t social signal


                    1. So says the worst poser on here.

                    2. C’mon, John. You’re on a roll. Tell some more self-serving lies. They are hilarious.

            2. Whether or not John is some kind of “socon” or not is beside the point. It’s not what makes him remarkable. It’s his pure brutishness, however he happens to direct it at the moment. Sometimes it’s shockingly helpful. Other times it’s just shocking. The specific policies or philosophies underlying a given expression do not bring out the response he gets. Rather, it’s his manful delivery, which, I admit, often shocks, disgusts, and excites me.

      3. But the evangelicals are or at least claim to be. And why should they have to admit open gays anymore than Libertarians should have to claim open socialists?

        1. Where in this article is there any mention of evangelical churches admitting openly gay members? Did you read the article?

        2. Jesus, John, actually read the headline.

          1. There’s no time to read the headline when he has all these feelz to express.

            1. You kind of live by that mantra Riven.

              1. You’re right, John. Is that what you wanted to hear? Can you rest in peace now?

        3. Apart from the fact that there’s nothing to suggest that this article advocates forcing evangelicals to accept openly gay people (the impression I got from the article was that there is a third side to the issue that is seldom acknowledged between the dichotomy of “gay sex is awesome” and “acknowledging same sex attraction is bad”).

          There ARE evangelicals who DO want to accept openly gay people. For example, the gay, celibate evangelical crowd. Obviously those evangelical groups don’t think the two are contrary. So it seems like a non-issue, since no one person really gets to decide who can and can’t identify as an “evangelical” just as no religious group in America can dictate who can and can’t identify with a certain group (see the Baha’i Faith’s failed lawsuit attempt to regulate who could and could not use the term “Baha’i” to describe themselves).

          1. IT is really an easy issue. Gay sex is a sin like any other sin.

            1. Oh, I’d argue, even from a theological perspective, that “Gay sex is a sin like any other sin” isn’t true.

              See, most “sins” you can find the harm in it. Heck, go look at the ten commandments. Once you get past the ones about God (and remember, the God of the old testament is a self-admitted Jealous God), we get murder, adultery, stealing and lying. Pretty clear-cut harm. Then we get coveting which stands out for it’s lack of objective harm.

              And that’s a pattern you find repeated. Most “sins” have an objective harm to them. The ones like coveting or “lie with a man” are outliers. And they’re never justified in the text. So even if you think it’s a sin, it’s not really “like any other sin”. It’s a pretty weird one.

              1. FWIW, I remember reading somewhere (or being taught this in a Catholic school, or maybe in a college theology class) that what’s translated as “coveting” doesn’t mean just “Boy, I’d really like to have something that someone else has” but is more like actively planning to take it if you ever get the chance.

                I think the explanation was that for ancient Hebrews (or in the Hebrew language??), “desire and action are closely linked” — or something like that.

            2. “Gay sex is a sin like any other sin.”

              We must disagree. Rape is considerably worser. Fraud is much worser. In fact, in the scheme of sins, it’s pretty fucking weak. There’s the fact that some folks get really, really fucking hung up about it, folks who carelessly give a pass on theft and adultery (so long as it’s heterosexual), but that just highlights the strangeness.

              And the idea that attraction is “bad” seems inherently harmful. Such a judgment is a misuse of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s fucked. Ultimately, attraction is morally irrelevant, but must be admitted as, ultimately, a manifestation of good. There’s no way round it, working from first principles. If you want to go and pick and chuse slabs of bible meat and serve them up out of context, salted to taste, in bad translation, you can coherently argue anything. I think there’s a case for saying that careless skimming of the bible by people who can’t hang on to an everpresent awareness that all men are liars and of the undomitable pridefulness of men is a much more dangerous occasion of sin than same-sex attractedness.

              Like Br George said, you got to get right yourself, then you can tell others to get right.

    2. I don’t think evangelicals would consider being gay a belief — more of a particular susceptibility to a subset of the temptations of sexual immorality.

      1. Being openly gay is most certainly a belief. I am not talking about the desire. I am talking about thinking there is nothing wrong with it.

        1. Do you have the same issues with people who are openly straight? Would it make you feel more comfortable if everyone acted as open asexuals? Is it the physical intimacy between two people that makes you uncomfortable or…?

        2. “I am talking about thinking there is nothing wrong with it.”

          I don’t think you read the article, nor do you seem to comprehend what “Gay Evangelicals” are. If you READ THE ARTICLE, you will discover that they are people with same-sex attraction who believe in openly acknowledging same sex attraction but still believe same-sex sex acts are immoral, and thus choose celibacy.

          MOST Christians believe there is NOTHING wrong with acknowledging that you experience temptation (like EVERY other human being) as long as you don’t act on it. The specific people this article is talking about believe that homosexual acts are sinful, acknowledge that they experience the temptation to engage in them, and openly reject the temptation to indulge in what they believe to be a sin. They don’t “[think] there is nothing wrong with it”, in fact, they think the EXACT OPPOSITE.

          1. TL;DR: “Openly gay” means to these gay evangelicals something totally different from what it means to you.

          2. “MOST Christians believe there is NOTHING wrong with acknowledging that you experience temptation […] as long as you don’t act on it.”
            Eh, I’ll agree that many Christians *claim* to believe that.

            But I wasn’t treated any better as a virgin then I am as a sodomite. It’s almost like that “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing doesn’t actually get reflected in behavior.

            1. Um… because most Christians are full of shit and just use a few bible verses to justify their bigotry. Otherwise they’d apply biblical doctrine consistently. John et al probably regularly work on the Sabbath, wear clothing made of two or more fibers, and eat shellfish.
              And I’ll bet John doesn’t even properly burn his offerings to the Lord, nor wipe the blood of his sacrificial lamb on the proper side of his altar.

              1. Says the guy that doesn’t understand Christian doctrine.

                1. Please explain to me how selectively picking and choosing rules from the OT when it suits your narrative = Christian doctrine.

          3. I guess I made the mistake of thinking the article could not possibly making such a mundane and obvious point. How is that not obvious?

            1. How is that not obvious?

              You yourself would seem to be a perfect illustration of how it’s not obvious, since the moment you saw “gays” and “evangelicals” together in a headline you started flipping out about how Christians have the prerogative to exclude gays.

              1. You yourself would seem to be a perfect illustration of how it’s not obvious, since the moment you saw “gays” and “evangelicals” together in a headline you started flipping out about how Christians have the prerogative to exclude gays.

                At any rate, the “point” of the piece that I linked to is to look at the ways gay evangelicals negotiate these issues, not to note that the issues exist. I added the point that the conventional model of the culture war doesn’t have much room for people like the ones in the article; John does seem intent on proving the point.

        3. But the class of people we are talking about here don’t necessarily believe that homosexual activity is acceptable, which is why they are opting for celibacy. “Gay” in this context is an identifier for desire, not behavior.

      2. The classic evangelical take on gay people is this:

        You can’t control your desires, and we don’t judge people based on their desires. You can control your actions, and gay sex is an action which is sinful.

        Hence, love the sinner, hate the sin.

    3. If Christians want to keep up the “love the sinner, hate the sin” pretense, then yeah, they should “leave room”.

  3. Why not? Gays won the war. Conservatives will find some other minority to rally around (illegals?)…and in time years that minority will win too.

  4. I also don’t have a dog in this fight. And I also agree with Jesse that individuals need to work this stuff out for themselves.

    But, I personally don’t get choosing to be celibate. Of all the things about Judeo-Christian morality that I don’t like, it is the sexual dos and don’ts. As long as those involved are consenting adults, I just really don’t see why it should create such guilt. But hey, whatever floats your boat (or doesn’t as the case may be)……

    1. But, I personally don’t get choosing to be celibate.

      To people like this, marriage and celibacy are the only choices. Everything else is wicked and sinful.

  5. I don’t think so. Being a war, there really can only be a couple of sides.

    It does give me the idea for some kind of intersectionality board game loosely based on Risk. I’m thinking these guys would be Siam.

  6. Well seeing as the left can’t even handle Milo Yiannopoulos, I’m going to go with a giant no.

  7. I tell you if I knew then what I know now, I sure as fuck would have just gone for the life of celibacy bit. But it’s the prevailing culture of the time, not the gospel or this bullshit gayness claptrap. For fuck’s sake, heterosexual violations of religious laws are much more commonplace and generally much more destructive than a bit of homosex here and there. There’s a purpose behind this inordinate fixation on homosexual transactions. There’s got to be. But I don’t know what it is.

    1. It’s this.

    2. “I tell you if I knew then what I know now, I sure as fuck would have just gone for the life of celibacy bit.”

      See below.

  8. I’m skipping the linked New York Times article and just alerting people to Eve Tushnet’s book Gay and Catholic: Accepting my Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (Ave Maria Press, 2014).

    According to the excerpts in Amazon, the book comes well-recommended.

    Robert P. George likes it.

    Simcha Fisher, Author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, likes it.

    And Tushnet writes for First Things *and* Commonweal.

    So, while I doubt you’ll find a bunch of Dan Savage crap in there, you may find some thoughtful reflections.

    I didn’t

    1. I forget what it was I didn’t, so never mind.

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