What is bisexuality?
Bisexuality is defined by many as a sexual orientation defined by romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction toward both people of their own gender and people of genders different from their own. People who identify as bisexual have a wide range of experiences related to this attraction. Because bisexuality is an orientation, it encompasses feelings and identity, not just sexual behavior. A person’s sexual orientation does not change based on the gender of the person they are dating; a bisexual woman dating another woman, for example, does not “become” gay or lesbian, but is still bisexual.
Many people who are attracted to both sexes or genders choose to use words other than bisexual to describe themselves, including but not limited to pansexual, queer, omnisexual, and fluid. All of these terms have in common an attraction to multiple genders. Respecting and listening to a person’s self-definition around their own sexual orientation is an important step in helping people feel welcome and safe.
Believe Out Loud, “Real Questions For Real Bisexuals!” (2017)
Eliel Cruz, Self, “I’m a Bisexual Guy and No, It’s Not a Phase” (2017)
Michael McLeish, Minus18, “Bisexual vs Pansexual” (2015)
Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities (2014)
What does it mean to be bisexual and Christian?
Being bisexual and Christian means that a person is, like people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, a beloved child of God.
It can be confusing to be bisexual in Christian communities if a community has not moved their language and thinking beyond gay/lesbian and straight. References to “gay marriage,” for example, may seem to be welcoming, but it erases the experience of bisexual people. In addition, different faith communities have different knowledge and available educational resources around bisexuality. If a faith community or person of faith seems surprised or confused by someone who is bisexual and Christian, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn about bisexuality and the ways in which bisexual people are an integral part of the body of Christ. The experience of being bisexual and Christian varies widely, and each bisexual Christian will define this orientation and identity differently.
Angélique Gravely, Believe Out Loud, “5 Messages of Hope for Bisexual Christians” (2014)
United Church of Christ, bi-sex’ u-al Discussion Guide
Does being bisexual mean you can’t be monogamous?
A common misconception is that bisexuals, as a group, are not capable of monogamy. Rev. Janet Edwards writes about her coming out as a bisexual woman in her mid-forties. She tells the story of another minister who assumed that because she was coming out as bisexual, she was also coming out as non-monogamous. Edwards said this was a disruptive moment for her—she realized others interpreted her bisexuality as a statement about her sexual practice, whereas in reality, it was a statement about her identity.
A study referenced by the Religious Institute’s resource on bisexuality did a ten-year study of women who identified as bisexual, and found that 89% of the women were in monogamous, long-term relationships. People who identify as bisexual are just as likely as non-bisexuals to be monogamous. It is important to remember that bisexuality is about identity, not a prescribed set of sexual behaviors.
Rev. Janet Edwards, Christian Century, “Bisexual in the Church” (2014)
What are some biblical resources that I can use to think about being bisexual and Christian?
An important step in reading the Bible and thinking through biblical resources is the naming of one’s hermeneutic, or the interpretive lens through which one is reading the Bible. No one comes to Scripture with a completely blank slate—we have all been shaped by our experience, education, and other factors. Acknowledging that can be a first step in reading the Bible responsibly.
One way of digging into a text is by following the tenets of historical criticism, which looks at biblical texts in their historical context and their development within that context. Historical criticism attempts to understand a text in light of what its author might have originally intended by looking at where a text came from, what its literary patterns are, and how it has been edited and changed throughout history.
Another helpful lens, particularly for people who are reading the Bible and are curious about LGBTQ issues, is queer biblical criticism. Rooted in the concepts of queer theory, queer biblical criticism seeks to interpret biblical texts in a way that disrupts our traditional understanding of biblical texts and sees them from new, less rigid perspectives.
One text that is particularly relevant to bisexual Christians and those seeking to understand bisexuality through a faith lens is Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Many people in LGBTQ-affirming faith contexts would add “neither straight or queer” to this litany, implying that we are larger than our differences in sexual identity and orientation.
This text can also be interpreted as an abolition of binaries in general, affirming the non-binary romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction with which bisexual people often identify. It has also been interpreted by many Christians as an affirmation of those who identify as trans. The text can be read as a challenge to the strict binary categories that society often holds around sexual orientation and gender identity.
Patrick Cheng, Galatians
Robert E. Goss and Mona West, editors,
Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible
Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache, editors,
The Queer Bible Commentary
What can churches do to be more welcoming to those who identify as bisexual?
There are many things that church leaders, congregants, and friends in faith communities can do to make churches more welcoming to those who identify as bisexual. Some suggestions include:
* Create and uplift a world beyond the binary. The gospels are full of stories of Jesus rejecting prescribed rules and ways of thinking. As you interpret texts as a faith community, experiment with ways that you can name things as non-binary and move beyond either/or thinking. Promoting a culture that is comfortable with seeing things in complex, non-binary ways creates a safe space for those who identify with a non-binary sexual orientation.
* Be sensitive about the terminology you use. Phrases like “gay and lesbian folks,” “homosexuals,” and “gay marriage,” when used in reference to all LGBTQ people, can contribute to bi-erasure and bi-invisibility. While preferred terminology in queer communities can vary, the acronym LGBTQ is generally more inclusive than the aforementioned terms, and “same-sex marriage” or “same-gender marriage” is preferable.
* Educate yourself, and listen to the experiences of others. Use LGBTQ-positive resources to educate yourself about bisexuality, and then once you do, be open to listening to individuals’ experiences around their own sexual orientation. Educating yourself doesn’t give you all the answers, but it does give you some context for what it might mean to be bisexual, so that you can create a space of understanding and openness in a congregation.
* Care and advocate for bisexual people. Education about bisexuality includes education around what issues, statistically, affect many people who identify as bisexual. As a pastoral or lay caregiver, be sure that your referral list includes LGBTQ-friendly resources, and work to develop an understanding of the complicated feelings involved in coming out in any way. A 2013 Pew Research study found that only about 25% of people who identify as bisexual are out to the most important people in their lives. Acknowledging this reality and preparing yourself to care for people who come out as bisexual is important in creating safe congregations for all LGBTQ people.
* Include intentional celebrations of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation in your worship. Include litanies, sermons, music, and other elements that uplift non-binary, inclusive, and expansive ways of affirming all sexual identities and orientations in worship. This might be as simple as a litany that celebrates the worth and dignity of all people, or a hymn that has been written specifically to affirm LGBTQ voices.
Religious Institute, LGBTQ Worship Resources