The problem with labels

This world increasingly encourages us to wear labels, whether it’s our gender, sexuality, relationship status, career or something else.  Psychologists would say that we put ourselves in boxes, trying to define who we are.  When you introduce yourself to someone, how do you describe yourself?  This is an eye opener as to where you see your worth or how you view yourself within society.

One label that I have used loosely is that of “ex-gay” or “ex-LGBT”.  I don’t actually like these labels, but they have been an easy way to describe the reality of coming out of the LGBT community after I met with Jesus. Perhaps because that label is a quick way of saying, “I used to identify as gay, but now I don’t”.  I have used it as a tag on Instagram and Facebook posts, but somehow it never felt right.

Today I felt God challenge me on these labels and I will no longer be using them to describe me or the work I do.  I am a saint, a holy one, saved by grace.  I work with other saints, other holy ones, who are also saved by grace.  I am someone who once experienced same sex attraction and every once in a while will still experience an unwelcome thought or temptation.  I am like every other human, subject to the sins of the world, but as a Christian I am given grace and strength to live a holy life.

The problems with describing yourself as ex gay are complex and difficult for many reasons.  One such reason has come to a head recently.  A prominent member of an organisation which champions those saints who have left the LGBT community, has himself returned to that community.  One can imagine the laughter and mockery from those who hold that our sexuality is inborn and can never change.  All they see is someone who denounced his sexuality, now embracing it once more, and they have fuel for their argument that “you can never change”.   But are we ever “ex” anything?

The prefix “ex” is definitive, it states that I was once this, but not anymore.  Yet if you have been used to defining yourself by a behaviour, isn’t it impossible to say that you will never exhibit that behaviour again? By declaring that I am an “ex-kleptomaniac” am I implying that I will never have an urge to steal again? I would suggest not, and this of itself highlights how using the prefix ex can be problematic.
However, if we renounce behaviour and say that we no longer want to identify as someone who behaves in that way and we no longer want to struggle with those behaviours, all of a sudden the problem of labels disappears. We are not taking on an identity of perfection or total change, but are allowing our minds to be transformed.  We are a work in progress, learning to trust that the only thing of any worth is how God defines us.  If we fall, we pick ourselves up. The fall does not define us, it does not make us a failure; we have not failed.  As we step out in faith to seek holiness above worldly relationships, we receive a sense of freedom from labels that once felt so powerful.

All Christians battle the flesh, the apostle Paul told us we would.  But in that battle we find Jesus, ready to walk through any storm with us.  If I defined myself by every battle and thought of my mind, I could easily identify as ex- greedy, ex-selfish, ex anger filled, ex coveter, ex prideful or ex judgmental Christian.  But Paul says, such were some of you, and by that I believe God is reassuring us, we don’t have to allow our thoughts to define us; we are set free.

In labelling ourselves as ex-gay, sadly we are piling pressure on ourselves to live up to that label and be perfect, without any struggle or temptation.  Labelled ex-gay, if we struggle with a thought or temptation, we are more likely to fall, and fall hard.  We feel like a failure because of the unrealistic expectations we have put on ourselves.  It’s much more accurate to describe ourselves as “set free by God” or, as we have named our discipleship groups, “transformed by God’s love”.  In acknowledging that God does set us free from past thoughts, behaviours and sin patterns, we can embrace our new identity without having to refer back to an identity that was deeply flawed and without having to put pressure on ourselves that God never meant for us to carry.  And it is in this humility and honesty that we find holiness and can find freedom from the sins and temptations that once held us captive.
Romans 6:6 - We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.

God doesn’t label us as gay, or ex-gay, he doesn’t look at us in that way, and that illustrates the problem with labels.  They simply don’t reflect the love of God for his children living in a fallen world.





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