I spent a good chunk of my day reading reactions on Twitter to the live stream of the event, mostly from the affirming, progressive folks. Their reaction to the conference was not good, to put it mildly. Some of the negative reaction was just as expected. After all, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the SBC still considers gay marriage outside the bounds of scripture, and that progressives disagree. However, some of the negative reaction to what was being said was legitimate, in my estimation.
Let me be clear. I rejoice that this summit is happening, and that conservative Christians are engaging in this conversation. But we aren't doing it perfectly. Here is one of the main issues where I see us conservative Christians being really silly: We need to quit freaking out about the term "gay".
Some of the speakers at the conference refused to use the term, and went to great lengths to use the terms "homosexual" and "same-sex attracted" in places where "gay" would have felt much more natural to the majority of common folk.
Seriously, the term "gay" doesn't mean what you think it means. If you asked 10 people on the street, "What does the word 'gay' mean?" 9 of them would say, "It means you are attracted to the same-sex." Thats it! It doesn't mean that you are engaged in sexual activity. It doesn't mean that you are claiming "gay" as your primary identity of who you are as a person. In my judgement, I see no problem with holding it out as a legitimate option for Christians to use in describing their sexuality.
The main issue that I always see underlying the term gay is that it is perceived to be a primary identity marker. But the thing is that even if someone simply refers to themselves as "experiencing same-sex attraction", THEY CAN STILL FIND THEIR IDENTITY IN THAT. By avoiding the term "gay", we are not automatically avoiding identity problems. What we ARE doing is unduly alienating ourselves from the conversation happening in the progressive and secular corners of our culture. We are making a mountain out of a molehill with the term gay, and it isn't helping. We should stop it.
In fact, often times I think that we as conservatives are the main people that are giving sexuality the potential to define our personhood. For example, one of the quotes from the summit was, "Sexuality doesn't have to be the defining characteristic of any of us." In response, Jeff Chu, an affirming gay Christian author, tweeted, "IT ISN'T. YOU ARE MAKING IT SO." Similarly, Brandon Ambrosino, an affirming gay journalist, wrote in one of his articles, "When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation...my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon." These are openly affirming gay men who are saying that their sexuality is NOT their main identity. In fact, most of the gay guys I know would take issue with anyone reducing them to their orientation. Now, I am not saying that no one sees their sexuality as their main identity marker. Surely some do. But I AM saying that the label "gay" is certainly not a good indicator as to where a persons identity lies.
Furthermore, the term "experiencing same-sex attraction" is really no clearer than the term "gay". If you say "I experience SSA" to someone in our culture, they would likely respond, "So...you're gay?" You are still going to have to explain what you mean. Given the moral state of our society, they will likely still assume that you are sexually active, and that you affirm same-sex marriage...you just talk about it kind of weirdly.
The real issues are below the words. Where ARE you finding your identity? How ARE you expressing your sexual feelings? The term "gay" tells you nothing about those questions. Instead, we actually need to ask those questions and have those conversations, regardless of a chosen label. I just really wish we could move on from this debate about terminology into the heart issues happening in real people who are struggling with their sexuality.