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.



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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. From what little I know of Marin, it seems one of his main points is “friendship and conversation first”.

    The right speaks so often of the “Gay Agenda”, and while I do believe there is a substance behind that label, it’s also often true that any time someone who is gay is approached by a Christian, especially an Evangelical, they sense an agenda at work, too.

    We may think our agenda is biblically warranted, nonetheless, inasmuch as it is an agenda, it is likely to evoke a defensiveness which displaces at least in part the possibility of even a “φιλία” sort of friendship, much less any sense of the αγάπη’ which, as Christians, we long for our non-Christian friends to share.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson March 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm


      Yes, that is definitely one of his main points.

      And I agree that the “agenda” impression goes both ways. This can be a huge detriment, unfortunately, to reasonable agreement on issues.



  2. I think you’re right that, given the Gospel, the self is not constituted by what we might call horizontal relations (e.g. race, gender, class, orientation), but is wholly constituted by vertical relations (e.g. being a created thing made in the Creator’s image). But, I think that means that a meaningful distinction between one’s forms of life and one’s personal identity is only possible when people accept the truth of the Gospel.

    This is why conversation between Christians and the GLBTQ community is so difficult. They talk past each because they have different frameworks through which the self is understood. The Christian has the framework of the Gospel which gives them a vertical conception of self, and the GLBTQ person has a secular framework which gives them a horizontal conception of self. So, tired expressions like “hate the sin but love the sinner” are only meaningful in the context of the Gospel because, for those who do not accept the truth of the Gospel, hating the sin is hating the sinner if a person thinks their self is constituted by homosexual activities.

    So, my worry is that this seeming incommensurability of the Gospel with secular frameworks not only prevents the possibility of real conversation, but it also prevents the possibility of real friendship. You seem optimistic. But, it seems to me that the relationship between Christians and the GLBTQ community will always be agonistic.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson March 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm


      “But, I think that means that a meaningful distinction between one’s forms of life and one’s personal identity is only possible when people accept the truth of the Gospel.”

      Yes, I fear this might be true. In fact, I almost said something almost exactly like it, but held off to think through it a little more.

      One thing that gives me optimism for friendship is empirical data. I think John and I will be friends, and I have other friends who know my positions and yet we are on very good terms. That makes me think that despite ideological divides, there is genuine room for friendship.



  3. PDVE, you speak as if being gay or bisexual is mutually exclusive from being a Christian. There are millions of gay and bisexual Christians on the planet to testify otherwise.


  4. Javier,
    I didn’t say that being gay or bisexual is mutually exclusive with being a Christian. I did say, however, that thinking one’s identity is constituted by homosexual practices is at odds with Christian thinking about identity (esp. if homosexuality is considered to be a sin).

    I guess I was speaking more broadly and abstractly. In practice it is a trivial fact that Christians are friends with homosexuals. I am just wondering whether such congeniality would still qualify as ‘friendship’ once we get all technical about what qualifies as friendship as opposed to, say, being an acquaintance or a colleague.

    In particular, i’m thinking about robust theological notions of friendship. For example, here is Augustine from De Doctrina:

    For the divinely established rule of law says ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ but God ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’, so that you may devote all your thoughts and all your life and all your understanding to the one from whom you actually receive what you devote to him. And when it says ‘all your heart, all your soul, all your mind’, it leaves no part of our live free from this obligation, no part free as it were to back out and enjoy some other thing; any other object of love that enters the mind should be swept towards that same destination as that to which the whole flood of our love is directed. So a person who loves his neighbor properly should, in concert with him, aim to love God with all his heart, all his soul, and all his mind. In this way, loving him as he would himself, he relates his love of himself and his neighbor entirely to the love of God, which allows not the slightest trickle to flow away from it and thereby diminish it.

    If Augustine is right, and if neighborly friendship also requires a kind of reciprocity (i.e. both persons relate to one another in the appropriate way), then it seems seems difficult to have friendship (in this sense) with someone who doesn’t accept the veracity of the Gospel.

    Nevertheless, my theological point might not be quite relevant given the practical point I think you’re primarily making.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson March 23, 2011 at 10:46 am


      Yeah, I agree that theologically rich notions of friendship will be tougher to work out. I wasn’t trying to separate the practical/theological from each other, but rather to suggest that our theological reflection needs to be a reflection *within* something, namely within the context of maintaining real relationships with those who have same-sex attractions.

      Additionally, the problems of friendship aren’t limited to just non-Christians with same-sex attraction. They may be felt most keenly there right now, but it seems they apply with non-Christians generally.



  5. On the topic of friendship, I recommend:

    Stanley Hauerwas, “Gay Friendship: A Thought Experiment in Catholic Moral Theology” in The Hauerwas Reader.


  6. Thanks for very topical recommendation.

    I couldn’t find it in The Hauerwas Reader. I did, however, find it in the Theology and Sexuality anthology available here.


  7. Context: gay man, 51, emerging from decades of relatively orthodox Christianity into agnosticism.

    I’ll agree that there is probably no one thing that entirely defines most of us. However, I sure get tired of straight Christian people with families exhorting homosexuals not to be defined by their sexuality and suggesting that God will provide all they need. Nearly every Christian blogger of every stripe that I’ve stumbled across begins his or her bio by introducing themselves as husband/wife, parent, etc. and then going on to describe their ministry – their sexuality and their work. It makes sense, actually. The bond with your partner and the relationships that ripple out from that (family) more often than not ARE those things that provide meaning and purpose. And work can also provide a measure of those things. I chafe at the admonitions of Christians who are fueled by these things telling me how God will fill in those gaps for me. I wager that they imagine that they themselves are being sustained (and defined) by their relationship with God when, in large part, they are being fueled by the connections that are originate in sexual relationships and their roles at work and home.


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