TGC recently published a fascinating interview with Becket Cook, a former Hollywood set designer in the fashion industry who was living an openly gay life. Cook left all that behind when he met Jesus — or, rather, Jesus met him — and now he is in Christian ministry as a recent graduate of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. This summer he published the story of his conversion, A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption.
As with every Christian (cf. Rom 6:11; Gal 2:20; 1 Cor 6:9–11; 2 Cor 5:17), the issue of identity stands at the center of Cook’s testimony. When asked in the TGC interview about “gay Christianity” and whether he thought it was possible to reconcile following Jesus and having a “gay identity,” Cook answered emphatically:
"They are irreconcilable. It’s strange to me to see these attempts. I had such a clean break from it, and it was entirely God’s grace upon me to see that it was necessary. Would you call yourself a greedy Christian? Would you call yourself a tax-collector Christian? It seems strange to identify yourself with sin. It’s a square circle. Defining yourself as a “gay Christian,” even if you are celibate and not active in a homosexual relationship, is wildly misleading. And it’s almost like you’re stewing in your old sin, hanging onto your old self in a weird way. It’s not helpful to have that moniker over you and to continually identify as such. Why would you identify with your old self that has been crucified with Christ? So I flee from that term as far as I can. It’s not who I am at all. If people ask me how I identify, I’m just like, “I don’t identify by my sexuality. I’m a follower of Christ who has a lot of struggles, including same-sex attraction.”
These attempts at reconciling gay identity and following Jesus which Cook refers to are being made by those who call themselves Side B “gay Christians.” While they confess the incompatibility of homosexual sexual desire and so-called “gay marriage” with historic, orthodox Christianity, they still identity as “gay.”
One of the reasons Side B “gay Christians” give as to why they continue to identify as “gay” or as “gay Christians” is because the word “gay” uniquely describes their experiences in this world, their particular struggles with temptation and sin, as well as their outlook on the world that grows out of these realities. Since these experiences are unique in the lives of same-sex attracted Christians, how else can they relate their testimony of God’s grace in their lives? They believe the Bible is true and right when it forbids same-sex sexual relationships. But shouldn’t they identity in a way that is true to their particular struggles?
I can sympathize with this line of reasoning, and I know how powerful it can be when believers share the work God has done and continues to do in their lives, particularly where they have struggled, where they continue to struggle, and how God’s grace is sustaining them even in the midst of these struggles.
In other words, I can imagine a possible world where the words “gay” and “Christian” may find themselves in proximity to one another in a believer’s testimony. But when such a testimony is shared, I think something that is not always clear among Side B “gay Christians” needs to be made crystal clear, as Cook does above. The modifier “gay,” is it describing the old man or the new man?
Paul teaches in a number of places that there are two “I’s” or “selves” in the believer this side of glory. For instance, in Ephesians 4:17–24 Paul writes about the “old self” and the “new self”:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
While those who do not know God have hard hearts that are marked by sensuality, greed, and every kind of impurity, this is the opposite of what marks those who are in Christ.
But notice what Paul does in verse 22 above. He says that the old self of the believer must be associated in the mind and life of the Christian with their former manner of life that had more to do with the ungodly Gentiles than Christ. In place of the old self, the new self must be actively put on, actively associated with and owned as an identity that is, as Paul says, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
In other words, hostility toward the old self and hospitality toward the new self should characterize the Christian. Why? Because the old self is no longer the true self, the authentic self. The old self has been crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6) and therefore we are called to mortify it and its desires (Col 3:5–10). The new self is who we are.
Which brings us to the concern for how Side B uses “gay Christian.” When they use and embrace this identity, what — or who — do they map the modifier “gay” onto? For this person, is the old self “gay,” or the new self “gay”? Unless this question is answered unequivocally with the former, I believe Side B “gay Christianity” will continue to be suspect and inconsistent not only with the teaching about mortification of the old self and sin in the New Testament, but also with God’s purposes in creation and redemption. If Side B uses “gay” to describe an aspect of the new self in Christ, as many in the movement have insinuated, then we are no longer dealing with how the orthodox have everywhere and always spoken about temptation and indwelling sin.
I am thankful for Becket Cook’s clarity on Christian identity. It is a faithful application of Scripture to who we are in Christ as redeemed sinners. I hope many more will follow his lead.