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Not Defined by Sexuality: A Brief Reply to John Corvino

March 21st, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

John Corvino:

It’s true that gay people tend to think about their “gay identity” more than straight people think about their “straight identity.” That’s mainly because, in a hetero-normative world, embracing gay identity requires a lot more effort.”

This strikes me as one point where sexuality and race run on parallel tracks.  I haven’t read as much about identity formation within minority communities, but it seems likely that the constant awareness of minority status might cause a person to cling more tightly to the differentiating characteristic.

But Corvino’s rejection of Andrew Marin’s point that Christian’s identity is not in “what we do” misses a crucial point.  Corvino points out rightly that if my wife of five years (God forbid) were to pass on, my life would be very different.  John suggests that my “sense of identity”–a pretty loose phrase–would be altered.  But it’s not clear what that means.  Was my “sense of identity” also altered the day I left my friends in Southern California and moved to St. Louis?  Perhaps.  But it seems the better description is that the change in social arrangements muted some aspects of my character and personality and brought out others.  But I can discern those changes without feeling a rupture in my “sense of identity.”  Because my relationship to my wife simply isn’t me.

What’s more, as a Christian any sense of identity would need to be subordinated to the truth claims of Christianity–namely, that our lives are “hidden in Christ with God” and that we await his return in glory.  The  Gospel destabilizes even our most profound relationships’ attempts to establish the domain in which our “sense of self” is crafted.  And in the absence of this sort of transcendent basis, other competitors–sexual or otherwise–will inevitably fill the gap.

Consider that there are all sorts of “actions, dispositions, and relationships” that are non-sexual in nature “around which we organize our lives.”  People devoted to their careers organize their lives around the sin of pride.  Some people who devote themselves to video games have organized their lives around the sin of sloth.   But I get the sense that we don’t find it implausible that we could critique someone for being a workaholic while still happily staying friends.  Which is to say that the fact that the relationship between our forms of life and our personal identity is a rather messy one doesn’t preclude the possibility of a real distinction between them.

Of course, what’s really needed on this issue isn’t a better understanding the conceptual framework which “love the sinner, hate the sin” points to.  Understanding follows reality, and while John and I might not agree on the form that love or justice takes in a fallen world, it seems friendship is a real possibility.  And the more we have of that, the more the conceptual framework with which Christians approach this question may start to make sense.