Do the terms celibate Christian, Side B, Side A, affirming, or gender fluid mean anything to you? Perhaps if you love music, Side B means the backside of a record :) But if these terms are just buzzwords or ideas that seem vague, you are not alone. These are not common words in the church. But keep reading. I am going to tell you how these words have changed the conversation in my marriage.
I’ve written earlier about my husband (Shawn) and I along with our housemate, Kristen, and a friend, Zeke, attending the #Revoice18 Conference in St. Louis this summer. If you are familiar with websites that occupy themselves with the issues of celibate gay Christians, you have read about this conference already. The average straight church attender doesn’t read much about these issues, and since that is my target audience, I have a few more thoughts to add.
Revoice was a gathering of Christians, most of whom experience attraction to the same sex, and many who would refer to themselves as celibate and gay. You can read more about it here. It is a conference and atmosphere created to explore a greater flourishing (I love this word!) of these individuals in the church. You may be wondering why they don’t feel like they are flourishing in most churches right now? That’s a good question to ask yourself. We will get there!
For a straight person I am fairly well read on the topic of “all things gay.” This was how my former pastor described my reading tendencies, which I described in my last post in explaining how the Lord has drawn me into this conversation. So while attending the conference, I was surprised to have some completely new topics and ideas occupy my attention and continue to prod my thinking in these subsequent months. I am going to share one of these today.
Thanks to Shawn’s critical thinking skills, I have been reminded of this first topic again and again: Side B Christians. He has repeated over and over since being in St. Louis that:
…the average Christian does not have a remote paradigm for a ‘Side B’ Christian.
These are Christians who, for whatever reason, find themselves attracted to the same sex and continue to uphold the historic sexual ethic of the church that reserves sex for inside a male/female marriage. Surely these are individuals that the church as a whole wants to flourish, and yet they had to create their own space for this type of support. It makes sense as we process that we have no paradigm for this.
Let me explain a bit more.
Shawn would say that Christians typically think of LGBTQ+ people in 2 buckets:
(1) unbelieving LGBTQ+ community or
(2) church attenders that would identify as LGBTQ+ and believes that God allows for same sex relationships & marriage.
We would call both of these groups of people ‘affirming’ of gay relationships. The second category, those people within the church identifying as LGBTQ+, would be referred to as Side A Christians.
Shawn would say that in most evangelical Christians’ minds, a person is either Side A or an unbeliever. They talk and act as if it is inconceivable that there are Christians who would describe their experience as gay but continue to uphold the historical ethic of the church.
One week after returning from St. Louis, I listened to Shawn explain this to a pastor and a couple of his friends over dinner at the camp that I work at. I left to get salad and came back to find several people listening intently to Shawn as he explained that there were faithful Christians who were adhering to a biblical sexual ethic that also were same sex attracted (or gay).
This group of people just stared at him as he, rather passionately, explained why the church needed to really ‘see’ these brothers & sisters and seek to make following Christ not only possible but pleasing for them as they pursued lifelong celibacy. He explained how he had been moved by stories he’d heard at the conference, and he talked about the incredible experience of worshiping alongside these believers, especially our friends Kristen & Zeke.
Shawn is pretty even tempered and mild mannered. But this topic had gotten him riled up and to me, his wife of 30+ years, that was cool. He is often more articulate than I am on a given topic so I settled in to listen, and since then I’ve listened to him explain this to multiple groups of people.
I realized that because we have lived with Kristen so long and walked through these years with her working out what faithful sexual stewardship looked like for her, it hadn’t occurred to me that other people didn’t have this opportunity. A Side B christian was my normal paradigm. I had made the error of assuming people had my similar experience. Psychologists call this the False Consensus Bias. Sounds official, eh?
Side B: Christians who experience attraction to their same gender but uphold a historical Christian sexual ethic that says marriage is designed by God to be male/female. And that if a person is not in a male/female marriage they should remain celibate.
Side A: Christians who experience attraction to their same gender and believe that God allows for same gender marriages & relationships that are loving and consensual. Think of the “A” as standing for affirming of gay marriage (in a simplistic sense).
Both Christians, both with Biblical reasons why they believe what they believe.
As a straight, 50 something, evangelical christian, most of the people in church with me do not genuinely see that a Side B Christian exists. We have one box and it says that anyone who calls themselves ‘gay’ is OK with same gender marriages. While that may be what the majority of gay Christians believe, it is not what all of them believe.
You may be asking, so what? Why does this matter?
It matters a lot. A huge part of the functioning of the body is to grow each other up into mature believers not tossed back and forth by thoughts, ideas, and doctrines. If you are a believer that experiences same gender attraction but rejects gay marriage and pursues celibacy, you need a body of people around you that makes this possible long term. As a body, we need you as an example of sexual stewardship that should mark all of our lives.
We all, in fact, need each other. But sometimes we forget that as we go about life at home with our spouses, children and friends. As a single person in the body, the need is even more visible. If I believe scripture to be true (and I do happen to believe that), then I also believe that when one part of the body suffers, I suffer as well and you suffer as well. We need to recognize, applaud, support, and come around Side B Christians, but first we need to really process that they exist!
Once we acknowledge that there are faithful Side B believers in most of our church bodies, then we can pray about how the Lord would have us respond. How can we, the body, respond in genuine ways that support and encourage our brothers and sisters? Change starts with us all learning a couple things. You’ve made a start already by getting to this last paragraph.
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Up next: In the next two blogs, I hope to share a bit more about Zeke & Kristen and how their faith has challenged mine!