Identities, names and labels – the Living Out challenge

Two weeks ago, Peter Ould posted an open question to Changing Attitude on his blog  – a question which the trustees and myself noticed and talked about. Peter could have emailed us and put the question directly, which would have been relational and open, but he didn’t.

Peter’s question to us is: do we expect invitations to LGB&T Christians to include representatives from Living Out as a portion of the Church of England LGB&T community that should be present in these meetings? Yes or no?

Peter presents his challenge by labeling those who form Living Out as LGB&T Christians, a label which, having looked at the web site and watched the videos, I think none of them would accept. The three leaders all describe themselves as same-sex attracted.

Sam Allberry is Associate Minister of St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, Sean Doherty (married to Gaby) lectures in Christian Ethics at St Mellitus College and Ed Shaw is Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Bristol. Interviewed on the web site with them are Peter Ould, also married, Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford and Mark. Included is an American interview recorded in January 2013 with Rosaria Butterfield, described as a former lesbian professor.

Rosaria is the only woman on the web site. Is this a group of English men who experience themselves as having a different identity within their particular Christian ethos or are there also English women who identify as same-sex attracted?

Those interviewed all believe that, as Mark, says, God has designed sexual intercourse for reproduction and men and women to marry and have sex only in the context of marriage. They believe this because of their commitment to a particular use and interpretation of theology, the Bible, Christian tradition and witness. There are many other strands in the tradition and in the way the Bible is read and interpreted. That’s an obvious truth but it isn’t obvious from watching the seven interviews.

Why have these seven felt a need to develop a web site to present the ideas of Christians who have had or still have strong same-sex feelings and desires but who identity not as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, homosexual or heterosexual but as Same-sex attracted? They want to challenge the labels and identities that are commonly used and the assumptions that go with them.

Combining what is said in the interviews, they say language is complex; gay or same sex attracted are labels; saying I’m gay would sound as if I’m adopting an identity; I choose not to label myself any more, I chose to step outside a box; I don’t regard this as my identity; my fundamental identity is as a Christian. Yet the web site has to use same-sex attracted as a label to distinguish who they are from the label gay. Labels are inevitable as shorthand to describe who we are. Perhaps none are entirely accurate and all to some degree misleading.

There are some more contentious claims, such as the label same-sex attracted is used by more and more people and even more contentious, that everybody suppresses their sexuality every single day. I don’t think the person who said this understands what suppression is and how what he is doing is different.

I’m comfortable with identifying as gay, this group is not. I’m comfortable with my identity in Christ but this is an identity of commitment, not part of my birth identity as a gendered, sexual being. I don’t think our identity in Christ replaces our sexual identity.

Labels and identities are important to the group who have given themselves the label Living Out.

Tom Daley’s video

Labels were discussed in an entirely different context on Wednesday by Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4s World at One, at 38.40 in.   Discussing Tom Daley’s video, she asked whether we are too quick to label people as regards their sexuality. Tom Daley didn’t label himself as gay when he recorded his video and didn’t rule out future relationships with women.

Those interviewed said: language has trapped our thinking, the language of gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, homosexual; sexual orientation tends to be the focus now and it conflates sexual desire with romance and love; a public discussion of the relationship between these things is being opened; they are ideas which would have been alien to people 200 years ago; identity, attraction, are very modern concepts; the world is far more complicated than gay or straight; Stonewall used to emphasise sexual orientation and fixity and bisexuality was sidelined. The phrase comes out is synonymous with comes out as gay – and contributes to bisexual erasure – for those who are attracted to both men and women.

Tom  Daley, they said, talks about a more complex experience rooted in the person he has met and his feelings for him rather than in adopting a label or identity. Tom Daley represents a world that is becoming more fluid and moving away from labels which limit and identities which may be morph into something else.

This seems to be the world most feared by Lisa Nolland of Anglican Mainstream, a world of expanding and un-Biblical sexual identities and activities. It is not the world being advocated by Living Out and by Peter Ould’s An Exercise in Fundamentalism.

A broken world?

Vaughan Roberts uses the word broken and brokenness repeatedly towards the end of his interview. His sexual identity and his identity in Christ are dominated by the experience of brokenness: we live in a broken world; God works through brokenness; I am broken and this is spiritually helpful; I need God, I am a broken person, my admission of same sex attraction reveals that we’re all broken people; I’ve not been condemned for this particular form or brokenness.

Tom Daley’s world is clearly not broken but has found completeness, energy and love in the transformational meeting with his new partner. This is an experience shared by many in Changing Attitude who live in the unconditional, infinite, intimate love of God, not only revealed by Jesus the Christ, but known personally and  lived in, emotionally and experientially. I know what it means to be filled with the fullness of God and to have been engulfed by Grace, that amazing gift which St Paul knew to the core of his being. This is what I understand to be a fundamental of evangelicalism, rather than a biblical fundamentalism.

A world where all are included

The Church of England is a place or space where all are included – or should be included. We Anglican Christians disagree about many, many things, way beyond human sexuality.

Some believe our eternal destiny lies in conformity with Biblical teaching, the Word of God and the rules and laws of the Church.

Some fear they will be excluded from or by the Church if it changes or revises teaching about the place of LGB&T people in the Kingdom of God and the Church.

This is a conundrum, with an underlying existential fear or anxiety about an individual’s beliefs and safety in the world. It can only be resolved by further personal transformation, an adjustment of their anxious interior world to the reality of the world in which we live.

Those of us seeking the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church of England are not seeking to exclude anyone.

At the moment, the Church of England includes people with a wide diversity of theologies, teaching and practice in relation to many issues, not least gender and sexuality. Not all conform with the teaching as officially authorized by General Synod or the House of Bishops.

A minority of Christians wish to construct or label their sexual identity differently from the majority, eschewing lesbian or gay. Some adopt other labels – post-gay or ex-gay or same-sex attracted. Some wish we didn’t have to use labels at all.

There is gracious room for all in Church and Kingdom. We in Changing Attitude are asking that we too are fully included, because at the moment we are not.

Some conservatives feel marginalized or betrayed by any move to include us who freely accept that our desire and love is for someone of the same sex. Our faith is also biblically-based, rooted tradition and doctrine, the interpretation and application of which is always evolving – that’s the nature of God and creation.

The Pilling Report does not offer the Church the road map to the way to include all of us fully, gay, post-gay, ex-gay, healed-gay, same-sex attracted. The facilitated conversations might help us find the road map, but already, conservative groups have announced that they will not take part.


  1. says

    I think the problem with the approach taken by Peter Ould et al, is that they have accepted that sexual identity is a social construction, which I have no problem with. However, they aren’t able to understand that the human authors of the Bible were bounded by the social constructions available to them, which did not include any sort of notion of sexual orientation. Thus, the way that same sex activity is described in the bible simply reflects the authors own social construction. Why should that be considered as superior to ours, when all the evidence suggests that we are in a better position now to make sense of the issue, given our understanding of sexual orientation and its relationship to identity

  2. says

    I’m sorry but using Tom Daley as an example of some sort of post-structuralist nirvana where “labels” are rejected is complete tosh. The kid is young and barely out and already both extremes of the debate – the “everyone is really bisexual” queer theorists and the “no one is gay” ex-gays are already claiming him in their faith based fantasies. Newsflash – most people, gay, straight or bi, are quite happy with their labels and it would be an awfully boring and confusing world without them. Have people abandoned racial labels? Of course not and the myth of a post-racial world is a construct used by racists to perpetuate racism just as the myth of post-gay world is a cover for homophobia.

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