Posture Shift emphasizes the importance of choosing our words carefully. Lead Them Home Creatives Director, Meg Baatz, shares wise insights regarding the different terminology we use regarding differing beliefs on faith and sexuality.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it and indulge it will eat its fruit and bear the consequences of their words.” – Proverbs 18:21
Language is powerful. The writer of Proverbs 18 knew this well, claiming that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (v. 21). As stewards of “the tongue,” each of us is entrusted by God with the charge to speak with love, respect, excellence, and reverence for the one who spoke us into being.
While language is a tool to express thoughts, it can also actually shape thoughts. In subtle ways, how we talk affects how we think and how we act. Today, we want to look specifically at the language we use to define our beliefs on sexuality.
Elements of Bias
From 30,000 feet, people generally divide Christian views on sexuality into two categories.
Wait… stop there.
Even as you read that sentence, two categories likely came into your head, along with the language you use to label these categories. Let’s realize right now that our thoughts and language have already been shaped by the conversations going on around us.
Now that we’re somewhat aware of this bias, let’s consider 4 different categories of bias into which our current language around faith and sexuality normally fall.
Defining a belief by what it does NOT permit rather than what it DOES value (ex: NON-affirming, NON-biblical)
This language focuses on what a belief is against. In reality, a person usually holds to a belief because they’re on board with what it’s for. It doesn’t leave much room for respect.
Both terms have a negative, in-group/out-group, “us vs. them” connotation.
The presentation of each belief as equally valid, even when their claims contradict one another (ex: Side A, Side B)
The merit of this language is its pursuit of respect across the belief spectrum. But it misses the reality that, like it or not, there is an inherent superiority in holding to any certain belief instead of another.
We believe something because we believe it is right (or at least on the right track) — and more so than another belief. Most often, neither “side” actually believes the other is just another equal side. Sometimes, one side believes the other is not only wrong, but also unsafe, hurtful, destructive, dishonoring to God, or even deadly
The presentation of one belief as superior over the other (ex: affirming, traditional, reformed, biblical, orthodox, progressive)
I may very much want to affirm the value of an LGBT+ friend, but that friend would not consider me “gay-affirming.” Conversely, I may very much value the Bible, but many might think my belief is not “biblical.”
This language is what feels comfortable to us when we’re among others who share a similar belief — but the bias is obvious. This language has limited power to aid in communicating with those who don’t share our belief. Building common ground often requires sacrificing our own comfort; otherwise, we may just end up talking over one another.
Language that presents beliefs as falling under only two (or maybe three) categories, despite great variety in attitude, sensitivity, and relational approach (ex: non-affirming, affirming, unclear; Side A, Side B, Third Way)
Let’s say I’m in my late teens and attracted to the same gender. I’m feeling unseen, forsaken, rejected, and powerless to the point of feeling suicidal. What I need to know most from my church isn’t whether its pastor will officiate a gay marriage, but whether its leaders will unanimously cherish, accept, value, include, and care for me. What type of label would accurately identify a church that has a best-practice LGBT+ care model in place? I’m not convinced our current distinctions do the trick.
Let’s say I’m in my late teens and attracted to the same gender….What I need to know most from my church isn’t whether its pastor will officiate a gay marriage, but whether its leaders will unanimously cherish, accept, value, include, and care for me.
While this language attempts to bring clarity on LGBT+ care, it actually tends to produce inaccurate suppositions. Judging by a generalized belief label alone, it may come as a surprise to me what types of churches would meet — or neglect — my holistic needs. Clarity means nothing without accuracy.
This language writes off the reality that many churches, even those “across the aisle” from me, really are stepping up to repent of past mistakes and care for LGBT+ people with increasing, holistic excellence.
Understand that we don’t present these above categories of language bias to support or refute a certain terminology, but rather to show that all terminology includes bias.
Same Fallen Language, Same Calling, Same Gracious God
In this era between the Tower of Babel and Heaven, our language is fallen. That said, we can’t just stop talking. There are LGBT+/SSA people whose experiences need to be heard and spoken into within the Christian community. Who will give them a voice? Who will speak restorative words into their lives and faith identity? What language will we adopt and model for the dozens, hundreds, or thousands in our spheres of influence?
In our communication, we must aim for understanding, respect, substance, value, clarity, AND persuasion toward God’s purposes.
Just as God calls us to steward our fallen bodies, minds, and hearts for His pure purposes, we must also steward our fallen language. In our communication, we must aim for understanding, respect, substance, value, clarity, AND persuasion toward God’s purposes. Oh, how we need God’s grace to even approach good communication!
Posture Shift Churches?
Our team recently had a discussion on belief terminology. One team member considered, “What if a faith community striving to live out a generous orthodoxy among LGBT+ people was called a ‘Posture Shift church?’”
Right now, the language we use to talk about faith and sexuality is all over the board. Will certain terms dominate the conversation? Will new terms arise? Who will lead out?
Our hope for Christian leaders, parents, and all who care is this: May we be prayerful, thoughtful, and creative in the way we speak and act.
And may our words and our actions reflect a God who is always speaking truth in love over us — and who is simultaneously moving Heaven and Earth to demonstrate his love to us right where we are.
Josh has an M.A. in Biblical Literature, and his greatest passion is help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
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