Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Last week, I finished reading Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Versus Christians Debate by Justin Lee.  

I'm torn about Torn. I had hoped to like it more because it came highly recommended to me.  But I found myself to be deeply disturbed by it--especially the author's treatment of Scripture and the way he framed the whole discussion--the way he told the story.  [For a very thoughtful, gracefilled, yet critical review of Torn see Christopher Yuan's review on The Gospel Coalition website.]

I expect that in coming weeks I'll write more about my thoughts about Torn. Today, I want to say something that I found both helpful and frustrating--Lee's explanation of the word "gay."

What was so helpful to me was that (for whatever reasons, including my, at times, sheltered life) I didn't know the regular, everyday use of the word gay in our present culture is "someone who is attracted to the same sex."  I had thought that "gay" meant actively pursuing homosexual identity and sexual behavior, even flamboyantly.

I know that words are important, so it was very helpful to me to find out how others use this word.  I want to make sure that I use words correctly, especially for something as emotionally charged as this. Along with that, I was surprised to find out that the word "homosexual" is generally not appreciated by those who experience same-sex attraction. It has become a scare-word, when used of a class of people. I'm glad to know that, as I had thought I was speaking compassionately by using "homosexual" and not "gay."  (That's why this series is now called "Hope for Holy Sexuality" instead of "Hope for Homosexuals.")

At the same time, I am frustrated by "gay." I think the word tells a story that I can't get behind. It's a story of "orientation" and fixed identity. It's a word with a long and checkered history. I'm still not sure when someone uses it what exactly they mean by it and what others hear when it's said.

So, I won't be using it.  Justin Lee has taught me not to make too many assumptions about what someone else means when they use it, but I won't use it myself.

Wesley Hill is another person who uses the word "gay" to describe himself. He calls himself a celibate gay Christian. Greg Strand has a helpful post explaining why Wesley uses that terminology (in his own words) and respectfully registering his (Greg's) own reservations about that terminology. I think it's a helpful dialogue to be having.

I'm learning. Words are important, but they are not everything. We need to not be "the word police" and expect everyone to talk like we do. We need to extend grace to each other. At the same time, whenever we can use words in ways that genuinely help to communicate, we should.


Hi Matt — I appreciate this post. I know the very mention of this name will seem controversial, but Rob Bell makes a good point about language in his new book saying that there are essentially two different kinds of language. There is technical language — the kind used by brain surgeons, auto mechanics, and botanists — and there is poetic language — the things we say when what we are trying to communicate cannot be reduced to mere words. 

It seems to me that when it comes to something as complex as a persons soul —not to mention the relationship between that soul and God — the idea that we could have one set of words that  technically describes reality in a way that everybody understands and agrees on is unrealistic. 

Often the best we can do is to choose our words lovingly and compassionately and to hold onto them lightly. We can know Truth, but have to recognize that the every word we use to communicate it falls short. Truth is carried in the Word of daily/momentary/active Grace and Peace in Christ, with language merely being a tool in service of this end. 

Much grace is certainly needed!