Homosexuality: Identity and Scripts

I’d like your help.

I’m involved in some discussions about homosexuality in the church, and we’re using Mark Yarhouse’s book, Homosexuality and the Christian as our jumping-off point. There are two ideas he puts forward that I would love some broader feedback on.

First, Yarhouse issues a word of caution about quickly embracing the idea and language of gay identity.

Instead, he suggests we think about a three-tiered understanding (probably more like three points on a spectrum) of a person’s sexual predilections: (1) attraction; (2) orientation; and (3) identity.

The difference between 1 and 2 might be persistence over time or strength / prevalence of a given way of being attracted.

The third, “identity,” is something that has literally only become possible over the past century or so. To claim an identity based on sexuality is a relatively modern invention. People before wouldn’t have said, “I’m straight” or “I’m heterosexual” or “I’m homosexual.” Each is a sociological label that tends to carry with it a set of expectations of not only attractions but also practices.

And, since such an identifying label defines “who we are,” those attractions and practices tend to become normative. Living an integrated, healthy life is largely a matter of knowing who we are and acting in step with that.

Yarhouse suggests that avoiding the language of identity is important for giving people space to process how they will respond to attractions, and whether or not they will be in any sense defined or bound by them. Thus, someone might choose to say, “I am a Christian, and I am a Christian who is attracted to other men.”

This point dovetails nicely, it seems to me, with what Jenell Williams Paris wrote about in The End of Sexual Identity. We might do well to resist the notion that our sexuality defines who we are.

Do you think that such a separation is helpful?

The second place I’d like more discussion is on the idea of “scripts.” First, as we talk about scripts, it is important that we not look at these pejoratively. Each of us has an understanding of what it means to act out a part we have been given.

As a professor, I have a certain sense of what it means to faithfully teach or write or get mired in committee work that I perform based on my understanding of what script comes along with the role I’ve been assigned. Similarly, my understandings of what I do because I am husband or father.

Social setting and experience and myriad other factors come together to provide us with scripts. It’s part of life.

What Yarhouse contends in the book is that there is a powerful and compelling script for acting out the role of homosexuality on offer from the gay community, but that there is no compelling alternative coming from the Christian world–and this is a huge problem that we need to address.

Here is how Yarhouse sees the gay script (p. 49):

  • same-sex attraction signals something natural (even God-given)
  • same-sex attractions are the way you really are
  • these attractions are at the core of who you are as a person
  • same-sex behavior is an extension of that core
  • self-actualization in such behavior is crucial for your fulfillment

In other words, the script communicates quite strongly that sexuality is at the core of our identity, and that living in accordance with, and in expression of, that sexual desire is how we live healthfully.

In contrast, Yarhouse outlines what a traditionalist Christian script might look like for someone experiencing sexual attraction (p. 51):

  • same-sex attraction is but one of many distortions of nature that we all experience as part of life that is not the way it is supposed to be
  • [same-sex] attractions are not the defining element of your identity
  • you can choose to integrate same-sex attraction into a gay identity…
  • … or, you can center your identity around other aspects of your experience
  • the most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one’s identity in Christ

I’m curious what you think.

Have we as Christians, both heterosexual and homosexual, bought in too much to the idea that our sexuality is at the core of our identity as persons? Do we all need to put sex on more of a back burner when it comes to who we truly are?

Also, is there a compelling, alternative Christian script–perhaps one that sits less like Yarhouse’s, as a counter-point to the homosexual script, that we should be promoting for everyone alike or for those who experience homosexual attraction in particular?

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