Identity Confusion

World magazine has an article this week on the appointment of a celibate gay counselor at Wheaton College.

While the evangelical jury still appears to be out on whether same-sex attraction is in itself sinful, the comments of President Ryken look (at least as reported in World) rather confused.  With regard to same sex attraction, he is quoted as saying that those who use the gay label should “be clear that they do not advocate homosexual practice or find their identity in their sexuality.”

This is problematic in two ways.  First, ‘gay’ is a label which is essentially one of identity.  There is simply no way to avoid that rather obvious fact.  Indeed, to say that those who use the label ‘gay’ should not find their identity in their sexuality is akin to saying that people who declare themselves to be Democrat or Republican may do so as long as they are not making a statement about their political sympathies and allegiances.  If you do not find any part of your identity in your sexuality, then you should not use language which exists solely for the purpose of expressing identity through sexuality.

Second, it is clear that the counselor concerned certainly does find her identity in the fact that she is a somebody who is oriented towards same sex attraction.  She is thus an example of what President Ryken declares to be illegitimate.  One wonders what exactly the thinking on this issue is at Wheaton.  Is sexuality part of identity?  Or is it irrelevant to identity?

None of the above is intended as a criticism of the counselor involved.  These are complicated matters which deserve careful parsing and thoughtful reflection.  The writings of, for example, Eve Tushnet and Denny Burk indicate the depth at which this issue needs to be addressed and the complexity of the problems involved. They cannot be dealt with in the space of a short blog post or a public relations soundbite for the media.  But in the meantime, and given the fact that this issue is going to be one of interest to all Christians and all Christian institutions, the contradiction that seems to exist between confused public rhetoric and actual practice in the above instance is scarcely providing clarity of thought or leadership in this area.

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