(With thanks to social scientist Daniel Chen for corrections)
“I want to keep quiet,” said an old college fellowship friend to me, “but I can’t. What you’re doing is wrong.” The message – a response to our engagement announcement – came with a barrage of clobber passages: judgment in a cloak of compassion.
During this time of searching for peace between my faith, sexuality, and non-affirming Christian community, these were my least favorite disagreements – not those I had with non-affirming straight Christians but those I had with non-affirming LGBTQ Christians like this friend.
Sides of What?
Side A and Side B are signifiers that illustrate two schools of thought regarding LGBTQ personhood and the lives of queer Christians. Side A refers to “open and affirming” Christians, and Side B refers to Christians who might say they are “open but not affirming” or even “affirming to an extent.” The Gay Christian Network describes the sides in the following way:
“We refer to the side that believes same-sex relationships are blessed by God as Side A. Those who believe all gay Christians are called to lifelong celibacy are on what we call Side B.”
Side A and Side B are terms embedded into the evangelical conversation about LGBTQ affirmation. (An additional “Side X” insists despite all evidence to the contrary that an LGBTQ person can be “converted” – “ex-gay.”)
We have heard some Christians claim that Side A and Side B are two halves of the affirming camp, believing that both groups “affirm” that LGBTQ identity is not in itself sinful. Side B, however, insists that acting in agreement with one’s LGBTQ identity is sinful: taking someone of the same gender out on a date, using different gender pronouns than the ones your parents assigned you, falling in love, etc.
Side A and Side B reflect vastly different affirmations of life and faith, require different theological underpinnings, and have different consequences in living out who God is perceived to be. Sides A and B indeed stem from vastly different understandings of personhood – the collision of body and spirit that is human life.
While Side A affirms the whole LGBTQ person, Side B affirms only the LGBTQ person who is willing to divorce body from spirit so as to keep the latter above reproach from a non-affirming worldview. Neither Zora nor I sanction Side B theology. Side B, we believe, is not the “other side” of an affirming Christian theology. It is a non-affirming theology.
Much of modern evangelical thought descends from a supposed schism between body and spirit – between action and identity. (Some refer to this as the bipartite person. Others venture to divide further into the tripartite person: body, spirit, and soul. But this is beyond the scope of this post.)
In this worldview, what the body does and desires are somehow separated from the sanctity of spirit. This compartmentalization works to benefit those in the flock and disadvantage those outside of the flock. The schism creates a dichotomy by which it is advisable to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” The same dichotomy makes it possible to excuse Christians who exclude, commit acts of violence, worship wealth, cheat the poor, and otherwise defy a God who is Love. (And the same dichotomy permits numerous other evils, including the view that women are objects of sexual temptation and the ability to see slave-owning as a benevolent Christian act.)
Therefore, because the body and the spirit are distinct entities, actions committed by the body do not necessarily reflect upon the nature of the spirit.
Side B depends on this schism. Some non-affirming queer Christians refer to themselves as “same-sex attracted” rather than LGBTQ+/queer, further emphasizing the schism. (FYI: “same-sex attracted” is a term primarily used in conservative Christian-ese; most non-Christian queer folks are baffled by the term.)
Side B rests on the notion that LGBTQ people’s identities and actions can be separated – that the body and the spirit can be separated. And yet a body without a spirit is a corpse, and a spirit without a body is just that. Side B rests upon shoddy science (a lack of understanding about sexual identity), unkind theology, or perhaps a mixture of the two.
E’er the Two Shall Meet?
Zora and I have been asked more than once if there is space for meaningful Side A – Side B friendships. With Side B LGBTQ individuals, I’m capable of an amicable relationship – of wiling away time in a pleasant enough way. With Side B straight individuals, this is admittedly harder, since a matter of critical importance to me – my humanity – is at most a theological curiosity to them.
But with Side B LGBTQ individuals, I have no expectations that we can lean on one another, grow together, or feed one another. There are rooms – not closets but vast banquet halls – of my heart that I’m unable to share. And I suspect that there are rooms of Side B hearts in which I’m not welcome, either. How do we, one certain that the other is sinful and one certain that the other is trapped, hold one another in earnesty while we are in such earnest disagreement?
Perhaps some can – LGBTQ Christians with far more loving patience than I have. Maybe I can too, but I won’t.
For while my heart yearns to say that there may be equal merit in each argument, and while it softens even as I write and I wrestle, I come above the clouds of bickering thunder and remember that non-affirming theology is reckless, toxic, dangerous, deadly.
I remember that this is not a world starved for conversation or dialogue or debate or agreements to disagree. Rather, this is a world hungry for equity and liberation. In it, a God that is Justice sows proof of her preference for the poor and the downtrodden.
In it, I believe that God answers to the marginalized who long for affirmation: I created you – one body-spirit amalgam that is unlike any other – and I affirm you. All of you.
To our Side B LGBTQ readers: I believe that God offers you the same affirmation and wants desperately for you to claim it. To our Side B straight readers: I thank you for reading, and I hope that Beloving will seed opportunities for you to understand and celebrate the unification of body and spirit.
And to our uncertain readers, and to our Side A readers immersed in Side B communities or non-affirming trauma: let’s keep walking together.
Photographs from pinimg.com and thelonggoodbye.wordpress.com