Darrow Miller and Friends

Why Not “Gay”?

by Gary Brumbelow

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper recently joined the ranks of those self identifying as what he calls “gay.” His testimony prompts an important question about the interplay of language and culture.

The truth is, language and culture are intimately connected. We cannot speak without reflecting the influence of our culture. Changes in our common vocabulary—subtle or otherwise, intentional or not—reveal changes in our culture. This is true for all people of all faith systems.

DNA Idea Shaper Elizabeth Youmans points out that “words have incredible force. Words determine the course of our lives, our families, and our nations!” The Bible says Death and life are in the power of the tongue … Proverbs 18:21 ESV.

DNA President Scott Allen wrote a pair of posts a few years ago demonstrating this point. He traced the staggering erosion in the formal definition of “marriage” from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the American Language (DNA’s dictionary of choice) to Merriam-Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1984) to the Microsoft Word 2007 embedded dictionary.

Darrow Miller also makes this point in Emancipating the World:

Over the last fifty years in the West, changes of language have preceded culture change. The phrase “quality of life” has replaced “sacredness of life.” The language of psychology has replaced that of theology: “sin” became “sickness.” Authority was taken from pastor and priest and given to psychiatrist. …

Language is manipulated to shape the mindset of a nation. Abortion has morphed from “killing an unborn child” to “a woman’s right to choose”; euthanasia from “killing the infirmed” to “death with dignity”; morals from “sexual immorality” to “lifestyle choices”; marriage from “one man and one woman for life” to “any consenting adults.”

Recently I read an intriguing account of a Christian ministry to the homosexual community (Andrew Marin of Project Love). His testimony included some very helpful insights, as well as a regrettable demand that Christians cede the language: Marin says we must never use the term “homosexual” because it offends.

I understand and affirm the sentiment, especially after a career in cross-cultural missionary work. Any communication with those of a different persuasion or framework demands care and grace. An unloving, self-centered way of speaking unnecessarily offends and is unworthy of the gospel. The gracious Creator whose righteous standards frame the discussion of human sexuality, always acts with love.

Take, for example, the first mention of homosexuality in the scripture. God goes out of his way to demonstrate grace to the Sodomites. He tells Abraham, Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. (Gen 18:20-21 ESV) Human behavior is not somehow cloaked from God; he does not need to “go down” to see all that transpires. Every human act plays out before his face. Yet he takes uncommon lengths—the visit of the angels to Sodom—to demonstrate patience, kindness, and undeserved favor. (This after he magnanimously concedes to Abraham’s bold “negotiation” all the way down to, For the sake of ten [righteous] I will not destroy [Sodom] Gen 18:32 ESV.)

Read Genesis 19:1-29 and see God’s broken heart. The last time I heard it read publicly the preacher/reader was on the verge of tears.

Love and truth are hardly incompatible. We need not yield the latter to demonstrate the former. God is altogether true, and altogether loving. This “speaking the truth in love” seems to be missing from Marin’s call to abandon “homosexual” for “gay.” Culture is shaped by language. When we abandon a biblical term in favor of a vacant label we diminish the place of truth in the marketplace of ideas. The culture suffers. (Could this be an example of the “cleverness of speech” Paul refused to employ lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power, 1Cor 1:17?)

Our loving Father does not garnish the truth about our human brokenness. The original Hebrew term,  קָדֵשׁ (qadesh), is translated “sodomite,” derived, of course, from the behavior of the citizens of Sodom. The word used in the New Testament is the Greek ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites) “one who lies with a male as with a female, sodomite, homosexual.” The biblical terminology is unequivocal and lucid; “gay” is neither. This unadorned truth accompanies God’s compassionate love that is so powerfully demonstrated in the Genesis account of Sodom (whose judgment is ultimately laid on the sin-bearing Savior at Calvary).

Some Christians bring reproach to the name of Christ by their hostile confrontation. This should not be. Neither should we, by our word choice, disguise the offense of sinful behavior toward God. The consequences of this language retreat abound in today’s Western societies. Witness the president of the United States publicly endorsing so-called same-sex “marriage.” When the highest officer in the land embraces such a position we have clearly lost the moral plateau.

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.


  1. Stu (Sisters, Oregon USA)

    July 23, 2012 - 1:25 pm

    Good thoughts. It’s interesting to note, that homosexuals refer to us as heterosexuals, or a more derogatory term, “breeders.” The more radical homosexuals even embrace the term, “queer,” which politically active homosexuals have distanced themselves from because of the perception among non-homosexuals that it indicates the radical nature of their lifestyle. Liberals have tried to get others to brace the nicer sounding, “progressives,” because of the perceived baggage that the term “liberal” carries. All of this is designed to disguise and redefine the conversation and set the tone in terms that seem more acceptable. “Homosexual” and “heterosexual” are the appropriate terms. It is important that we don’t let others alter the language and the perception that goes along with trying to alter reality.

    • admin

      July 23, 2012 - 4:33 pm

      Thanks for reading, Stu, and for your comment.

      Gary Brumbelow

  2. Jon Davis Jr.

    July 23, 2012 - 8:52 pm

    Words surrounding the “homosexuality” debate often bring confusion as to what is even being discussed!

    For example, what exactly is a homosexual? The word is used in two ways, and the discussion takes on pretty different implications depending on which meaning is intended.

    Meaning #1: A person who has sexual attraction towards members of the same gender

    Meaning #2: A person who participates in sexual relations with a member of the same gender

    There is a big difference between struggling with an attraction and desiring help from God vs. committing an immoral sexual act.

    As far as I can tell the Bible condemns the act, and a “homosexual” in the Bible is one who has sexual relations with members of the same gender.

    • admin

      July 24, 2012 - 11:51 am

      Well said, Jon. Thanks for your excellent contribution to the discussion.

      Gary Brumbelow

  3. Ben

    July 31, 2012 - 11:14 pm

    Is the issue not the bringing of the Gospel to a lost world above the teaching of morals to a immoral world? What good does it do if we eventually convince someone to stop their homosexuality but still they do not have Christ. Teaching morals and teaching Christ is not the same thing. There’s an ungodly focus on falling in line with Christian norms at the expense of the Gospel.Once someone is saved can the word wash them from any and ever sin (John 17:17).

    • admin

      August 1, 2012 - 1:36 pm

      Dear benbrand777,

      Thanks for reading and thanks very much for your comment.

      Yes, bringing the gospel to a lost world is central. Yet we all use words every day in other pursuits as well. The article, which made no reference to teaching morals, was in fact directed to Christians, encouraging them not to abandon biblical vocabulary in the public square.

      Gary Brumbelow

  4. Ben

    August 2, 2012 - 3:48 pm

    Thanks Gary, I get your point.

    See how your presumption is that Christianity is defined by the prevalence of Christian values/culture/morals: “When the highest officer in the land embraces such a position we have clearly lost the moral plateau”. This, I believe, is your error. You think of Christian laws, such as a ban on same sex marriage, or Christian terms, such as “homosexuality”, as defining Christianity whereas in fact one might have wonderful ‘Christian laws’ and ‘Christian words’ within the social structure of a society and yet display large scale Godlessness in it, as is the case in the United States and the rest of the West at present.
    I will argue that ‘Christian laws’ (and words used in such contexts) have done more harm than good for the bringing of the Gospel and the discipling of nations because the impression is left that Christianity is all about ‘good moral behaviour’, which, of course, it is not. It is about living a life in faith and obedience to Christ,

    Granted, I do not believe a Bible believing Christian can come to the same conclusion as the president. Nevertheless, ‘Christian laws’ or ‘Christian words’ do not constitute Christianity.

    There’s a debate in Christian circles about which laws (or which terminologies) the country as a whole should or shouldn’t adopt whereas that is by no means the right question to ask. A people’s proficiency in ‘Christianese’ makes no difference whatsoever to its faith and pursuit of the living Christ. In fact, it may rather serve to dumb down the sharp contrast between the real Christian faith and society at large because ‘speaking the right language’ and ‘acting in the right way’ makes way for true faith and obedience. Its all about what it looks like or sounds like a Christian on the outside. Your article supports this idea, I believe.

    Let the people use whatever words they want to use and let us as Christians focus on displaying and preaching the Gospel so that the contrast between what people hear and see in us and what they hear and see in society is sharp and clear, and so that in so doing we may save some.

    • admin

      August 3, 2012 - 8:04 am

      Ben, thanks for your continued engagement here.

      I still believe that it’s important for Christians to choose carefully the words we use as we engage our neighbors around the gospel. I’m not expecting unbelievers to understand this. My concern is that when Christians cede the language by dropping the biblical term “homosexual” and reverting rather to “gay” the consequences are lamentable.

      Gary Brumbelow