I just want to start off this post by saying that I've been wanting to write this specific post for a long time. What I'm about to write here is something that I truly believe God has personally taught me, and the reason that I waited to write it is because I wanted to make sure that I was right with Him and knew exactly what I wanted to say, because this is something that's (possibly) so simple and yet shook my whole world and turned it upside down. It's that important to me (and most likely for many of you).
Basically what I want to do in this post is articulate what exactly I believe celibacy means for gay Christians. I've already expressed my frustration with the way that the church chooses to handle and talk about celibacy in another article which I'll link to here, but in this post I want to talk about what celibacy actually looks like, in a realistic and practical way, because I believe that the church and most Christians do not have a correct understanding of what celibacy is and what it requires, something that profoundly affects daily life for gay Christians and the way that they interact with the church. Finally, I also think that having a correct definition of celibacy can be very freeing for gay Christians who feel "stuck." This should be just radical enough to shake things up a bit.
To start off, I want to address the fact that many churches and pastors across the country will appeal to the fact that Christians have been "eroded by culture" in their acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in this country. However, (and I touched on this a little bit in the post linked to above), I think that what they don't see is that they have been swayed and influenced by western culture too, a culture in which everything is hyper and oversexualized. For most Americans, it is impossible to conceive of a serious relationship without any sexual activity, and this mindset has crept into the church and Christian culture as well. Why else did the church go through an entire purity-centric phase? Why else would courting be a thing in conservative Christian circles? It's because whether the church is willing to admit it or not, it too has been immersed in the oversexualized culture of the west, and that is part of the problem. Sex has become such a central part of our culture that it is simply assumed that it is going to be a part of serious relationships at some point or another. And that's where the problems start.
It has become impossible to imagine a serious relationship with the absence of sex, a mindset that has also crept into Christian culture.
Gay people are attracted to people of the same sex. Gay people enter into relationships with people of the same sex. Christians and the church assume that these people are having sex (rightly so sometimes). Said Christians and the church start whipping out clobber passages condemning homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9, etc...). Gay people get horribly offended at their intolerance. Radically conservative Christians call gay people horrible names and tell them they're going to burn in hell. The general consensus is seen as Christians hating gay people. Lack of love. Lack of grace. Lack of Christ-likeness. Culture war.
The only slightly more Christ-like response has pastors and churches demanding that gay people remain celibate for the rest of their lives without really supporting them or helping them figure out how to do that. It's not a pretty picture either way. The point is that we're not loving people and those same people are getting turned away from the church and from Jesus and that's not what what we're trying to do.
So how do we fix it?
I think the first step in even starting to address this problem is understanding what exactly gay people are hearing when pastors and churches demand that they be celibate for the rest of their lives (and let me tell you, it's not the most encouraging thing in the world when you're already struggling with something that a lot of society doesn't accept and you barely understand yourself).
I think that I speak for most gay Christians (and if I don't, someone please correct me) when I say that "celibate" is not one of our favorite words, or at least it's not something that we're about to jump into with 100% enthusiasm. After all, its connotations include deprivation, asceticism, and "the lesser of two evils." I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like the most attractive combination of things.
The reason for that is that what gay Christians are really hearing is this:
You aren't allowed to have a special relationship with anyone.
You're going to be alone forever, and you have to accept it because that's what the Bible says.
You aren't allowed to have sex.
This is the choice that you are left with because of who you are.
You don't get to have what everyone else gets to have; too bad that you didn't choose to be this way.
Singleness sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do to be a good Christian.
This is your punishment for being the way that you are.
The list could go on and on. Those are just some of the things that I've personally thought when I've heard the word "celibate," and I'm sure I'm not alone there. How many of those things sound like things that you would voluntarily sign up for? How many of those things would sound loving being preached from a pulpit in that form? How many of those things would you like to be told or feel?
That's what I thought. It sounds terrible, doesn't it? Depressing. Soul crushing.
In reality, only one of the statements above is true. To find out which one, let's take a look at the dictionary definition of celibacy: abstention from sexual relations. That's it. That's all it says. And you know what, sex is also the only thing that all those clobber passages talk about too, and that is so freeing. Why?
Because we can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy, as explained in this video if you care to watch it. Now, Julie Rodgers in that video would probably disagree with me, but in my opinion, the Bible only speaks out about homosexual sex while it says nothing at all about same-sex relationships. That's good news!
The Bible only speaks out about homosexual sex, while it says nothing at all about same-sex relationships.
Thus, for me, all that celibacy means is refraining from sex, not all of the other baggage that comes with the term that many Christians use in churches right now. Who says that you can't have a close, loving relationship without sex? In my opinion, that is a much more manageable call than to simply refrain from having a close, unique relationship at all, and I think that it's a lot more comforting too. It gives us the possibility of something!
And it says this:
Yes, you can have a relationship.
Yes, you'll have someone to love you a little more than everyone else.
Yes, you'll have someone to go through life with.
This is the gift that God has given us.
You won't get exactly what everyone else gets to have, but you'll get the next best thing.
Singleness sucks, and God isn't going to force you into it.
This is the way that you are; own it in your own way.
Yes, it's not going to be exactly the same as what straight people have, and it's going to look a great deal different, but I think that's the compromise and the taking up of our crosses that we'll have to do, and that's okay with me. I would much rather have a person and give up sex than not have a person at all. (I'll talk more about some logistical/practical things related to this type of same-sex relationship in my next post.) And I think that a close, committed, loving same-sex relationship without sex can be just as emotionally and spiritually fulfilling as a straight relationship with sex. Yes, it'll take some adjustment to get out of that western culture mindset, but it's honestly so freeing and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and for me, it helped me see God's goodness again, especially in a situation where most of us would see anything but that.
So let me give you some encouragement from the lives of Jonathan and David. A lot of people will claim that there are some homosexual undertones or whatever in their relationship, but I believe that it is just an example of how fulfilling a close, loving, celibate, same-sex relationship can be and this was life changing for me.
In 1 Samuel 18:1-3 it says this:
And after David had finished talking with Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, becoming one in spirit, and he loved David as himself...and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.
And in 2 Samuel 1:26 David laments the death of Jonathan with these words:
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, surpassing that of all women.
Right there, David says straight up what I believe to be true (and he had like a bajillion wives so...), that his relationship with Jonathan was more fulfilling to him than a straight relationship, and I think that's because the love becomes even more pure when you take away the physical aspect of it. You can't get "caught up in the moment" when there's no physicality. You can't "love" someone just because the sex is good. When that's gone, all that's left is the pure, selfless love that is supposed to be at the heart of every relationship, gay or straight, which reminds of this article. Also, I really like the way that some translations say that David and Jonathan "became of one spirit," because it creates such an amazing parallel between how God said that Adam and Eve "became of one flesh." Seriously, how beautiful is that picture? Because I think it's amazing.
It's really a beautiful parallel when it says that David and Jonathan "became of one spirit," in contrast with how Adam and Eve "became of one flesh.
That is the kind of same-sex relationship that I believe in, a celibate one and one that can be just as emotionally and spiritually satisfying while also standing within the guidelines that the Bible has established. It's the kind of relationship that I'm longing and hoping for myself. And I know it sounds like a shortchanged version of what everyone else gets to have, but just think about it a little bit. Yeah, it'll be different. But I also think that it'll be so worth it.
That's my take on celibacy. How's that for a revamped definition?
What about you guys? What do you have to say about this? What sounds good and what sounds troublesome for you guys?
Oh! Oh! I almost forgot. There's a brand new button at the bottom of every page where you can subscribe to follow this blog via email, so you'll get an email every time I put up a new post. I'd love to be able to interact with more of you, especially for those of you who are reading my stuff through other sources. I just wanted to put that out there as well! Thanks guys!