By Brett Degoldi | M.Div. Candidate ’20
It was my first time attending the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference and I was excited about attending a conference where I would be “included”. More than 1000 gay Christians came together at the Denver Convention Center in January, from all over the U.S. and from what seemed like an endless variety of Christian denominations, Protestant and Catholic (although largely protestant). I expected the Christian Rock band and a lively bunch of progressive Gay Christians, but what I was not expecting was the ideological divide among the attendees.
When I arrived at the registration check-in, I was asked to fill out a voluntary survey. One of the questions was whether I considered myself Side-A or Side-B. I had never heard this terminology before and came to discover that it referred to different sides of a debate about just how inclusive God is of Gay Christians having sex.
Before the conference I had heard of the concept of so-called “ex-gays” (i.e., gay Christians who say they have removed their gay yearnings or been “reoriented”). I had also heard horrendous stories of people trying to reorient gay children and family members with various brutal forms of therapy and physical, medical and social interventions. What I had not heard before was that between gay Christians who are happy with their sexual identity (Side-A gays) and the so-called “ex-gays” there was a third group; the so-called “Side-B gays”.
I would come to discover that Side-B gay Christians identify as gay and believe that God accepts their sexual identity. But they believe God does not accept them acting on their sexual orientation, so they commit to a life of celibacy. I was immediately thinking, does God have different views of some gay Christians over other gay Christians? Is this ethical – for God? – for the conference? Is this the full affirmation of LGBTQI+ people to which God calls us? If God loves people in their sexual orientation, sexual identity, and genders, that love must extend to agency of their sexual bodies. While Side-B ideology is better than “you will burn in hell” it’s still unethical.
It’s still one group of people telling another group of people that the only way to establish relationships amongst consenting adults and a right relationship with God is to deny a fundamental part of themselves. Side-A people define their own relationships. Side-B people, on the other hand, are interested in defining their own relationships, but also prescribing that limited conception to others. This is an unjust position that falls short of the full affirmation of LGBTQI+ people to which God calls us.
This may seem to be about sexual orientation per se, but it’s really one group of people denying other people agency over their own bodies. If God made the body, and we identify with the body in a particular way, why would God make it a sin for some people (and not others) to live into the fullness of their body? These messages do not come from God, but from humans’ sinful desire to put limits around God’s love.
Fortunately, over the years the level of divergence on this issue (and particularly the level of support for the Side-B idea) has decreased. In the 14 years since its inception, the GCN organization has been a very inclusive and broad community. They have attempted to include all groups of LGBTQI+ identified people (and/or their family/friends). However, not all LGBTQI+ would be welcome. For instance, openly racist gays would not be welcome at the conference or represented on the conference program. It simply isn’t healthy for any LGBTQI+ community (or the larger community) to work with people who proclaim that God treats their gender, sex, sexuality, identities, orientations as anything but fully equal, respected and loved by God. Belonging involves more than simply existing, either individually or in a community. To truly belong requires one to be fully accepted as whole and complete, and to fully accept others as whole and complete.
It’s time to put this Side-A, Side-B framing behind us, relegated to the dust bin of history. Happily, GCN has a chosen a new name, The Q Christian Fellowship, that fully includes all LGBTQI+ people, without reservation. It is time for all our people, to embrace this message: our bodies, and our agency over them, are beautiful, holy, and loved by God.