sermon

when the church talks about celibacy

I'm going to be really honest. It's gotten increasingly difficult for me to listen to almost any pastor on the issue of homosexuality in regards to faith, which is just another reason that I'm so thankful for people like John Pavlovitz who are willing to go out on a limb on things like this and say things that are encouraging for people like us (see previous post). That's just my shameless plug for this post. But anyway, I say all of that, because I was at church just this past weekend and at the end of a sermon that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality or gay issues at all (it was focused on the interaction between Paul and one of the churches he planted), the pastor decided to start talking about it.

Now, obviously everyone has the right to free speech, but I do think that people should refrain from speaking out about things that they aren't educated about. It always only results in people getting offended and upset. Granted, it's difficult for me to listen to a lot of pastors talk about this without getting a sour taste in my mouth, but that is also due to the fact that I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things about gay people, without realizing what they're saying and what they're implicating.

Basically, my pastor reiterated some things about that story that's been going around about a Navy chaplain who was dismissed from his unit because he was teaching the Biblical definitions of marriage and such (which I think is wrong). He went on to say how perverse the world has become in that it is more frowned upon to call out sexual immorality than it is to actually commit sexual immorality. The first thing that I want to say is that: I totally agree with that. Don't get me wrong. The thing that irks me is that, obviously, the first example he chose to whip out was that of gay people, and he even went on to talk about the issue of celibacy and how a handful of churches around the country have changed their stances on gay marriage, citing that they "finally caved" and that honestly made me very uncomfortable and a little upset for two main reasons.

The first reason is one of the main points that John Pavlovitz brought up in his great article on marriage and LGBT people in general, which I'll put right here, even though I also just reblogged it. Please read it. I couldn't have said a lot of those things better myself. But basically, he talks about how the issue of homosexuality is always the first thing that pastors jump to whenever they start talking about sexual immorality in a modern setting, always, even though divorce among Christians is a much bigger, more widespread problem. The stats he presents are that something like 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, while gay people who solely want to get married only account for maybe 5-10% of the population. The reason that he gives for this is that pastors subconsciously (or consciously) know that talking about divorce and remarriage is going to be a lot more polarizing and alienating to a greater percentage of their congregations that talking about homosexuality and gay marriage.

For me, it's just so frustrating that the church has been so inconsistent with things like divorce and remarriage, which Jesus explicitly discussed, while they continue to condemn gay people for simply wanting to get married, because the Bible is so clear on its stance. If no sin is greater than another, then why aren't people getting more worked up about divorce, especially if it's a problem that affects so many more people in the grand scheme of things? Honestly, I just get so frustrated with the fact that this is how the church is handling things, because it's inconsistent with Scripture, it's an issue of pastors fearing backlash, and it seems to me to be an instance of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe in (something that they claim that we do!).

Now hear me say this: I don't want the church to start cracking down on divorced people. That's not what I want at all. I just want people to be able to gain some perspective. That's all I'm desperately begging the church for. I just want them to see that the way that they're treating LGBT people isn't fair, and it's not loving. I also want them to see that it's not doing them any favors to avoid talking about divorce. That's also an important issue that the church needs to talk about, and it isn't doing it because people are afraid of what others will say. THIS is what I mean when I say I want equality. At the very, absolute least, I want LGBT people to not be considered less or below the rest of the church just because their struggle is different. I don't want to be looked down upon. I don't want to be thought of as needing to change. I want to be accepted for who I am, everything included.

The second reason that it made me upset was the repetition of the same general way that the church continues to talk about celibacy for gay Christians, a manner that just frustrates the living daylights out of me. Most churches would command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives as a way to reconcile their sexuality with what the Bible says and what God has commanded us in His word. Period.

Most churches command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives. Period.

That's it.

That is where that conversation stops about 97% of the time, leaving people with a pretty sad "sorry to break it to ya, but you're gonna be alone until you die." At least, that's what I hear when they talk about it like that, and I'm sure other gay people can attest to that as well. But anyway, for the other 2%, they might reiterate that you aren't supposed to have sex (well, duh, that's the definition of celibacy) or they might remind you to be careful of "acting on it," even if you're not sexually active (*shaking my head* that'll be a topic for another post...). Somewhere within that 2%, they'll probably also tell you that it's possible that God might change you so that you'd be able to get married to someone of the opposite sex (hmm...I don't know about you, but that honestly doesn't sound that appealing to me; I like the way that I am to be completely frank and I don't think I would change it if I could, but again, a topic for another post).

The last remaining 1% is something that I've read about, but never actually heard in a sermon. This 1% (or possibly less than 1%, let's be honest) talks about how to live celibately for the rest of your life. Where does your emotional support come from? How do you not feel lonely? Where does the church factor into that? What do you do when all of your friends get married and you're the last one left? All of those "what ifs" they leave unanswered.

That's my problem. The church tells you what to do in order to be a "good Christian," 'despite' your 'condition' of homosexuality (or at least that how it feels a lot of the time), but they don't tell you anything about how you're supposed to go about doing that. And most of the time there isn't a support system there either, save for "accountability groups" or what have you, which basically amount to groups of people who are supposed to call you out if they see you doing anything that might be morally questionable.

Church culture has placed such a high value on straight marriage that it has become an idol for many Christians.

And honestly, I think that this goes back to a problem with the structure of the church itself. The church claims that we have become so immersed in culture that it has begun to change the way that we think about things that the Bible is very clear on, but I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church whether they want to admit it or not. Our sex-obsessed culture has gotten to the church too, in such a way that it's impossible for them to even consider the idea of a strong, loving, same-sex relationship without sex (a post on this coming later this week), because every relationship must involve sex. Church culture has also placed such a high value on straight marriage that, I daresay, it has become an idol for many Christians (post on this also coming). The church claims that being single is a gift, but it's practice doesn't match its preaching. In all practicality, the church is unable to see the value in singleness, and thus automatically marginalizes and devalues all LGBT people because of the fact that a Biblically based marriage isn't a possibility in their eyes. And that breaks my heart.

The church is unable to see the value in singleness.

If the church is going to be calling LGBT people to celibacy (still a very legitimate calling in my opinion, just one that isn't realistically feasible for a lot of people right now, given the current atmosphere of church/Christian culture), it also needs to provide real support systems for those people and it needs to start changing its attitudes on LGBT people and singleness. People are never going to thrive in celibacy unless Christians start seeing it as a gift again, rather than looking down on people for not having a spouse or significant other. Only once people stop feeling like they're missing something will they be able to fully embrace celibacy, if that's what they have been called to.

This is the great battle that the church has ahead of it, and, honestly, right now, I think that it's losing.

What about you guys? What are your thoughts on celibacy and the church's response?

good intentions

I think that most of us would agree and can relate to situations in which our well-meaning straight friends say something or point us to something, whether it's a book, online sermon, article, or anything else that unintentionally hurts us, sometimes a lot. Something like that happened to me earlier this week, which is what I want to share with you for this post. Now, I typically like to say that I don't get offended very easily, and I still hold to that as I'm writing, but what I experienced earlier this week was something that was a rather unique experience in a really uncomfortable way. I can't remember the last time (if ever), I've ever experienced anything like it before, but I'm sure that perhaps some of you have encountered something like this:

It all started while I was having a meeting with the team that I help lead a Bible study with. We have meetings weekly where we just talk about the highs and lows of the week, decompress, and look at our plan for what Bible study is. At this particular meeting, I was having a rough time, or really just having a rough week in general. I was wrestling with a lot of different things at the time, including still battling with exactly what I currently believe about homosexuality as it pertains to faith and life and things like that, among the other typical daily hassles of life.

As a little bit of a backdrop (and I spoke about this a little in my very first post on this blog), a lot of my perspectives on homosexuality, being a gay Christian, and how that all fits together have been changing in the past few months, and I think that this is a direct result of a lot of prayer, digging into the Word to see what it actually says versus what Christians think it says, and just spending a lot of time with the Lord during the first few weeks of 2015. All of this is actually really exciting, just because I've been feeling the presence of the Lord very strongly and He has been speaking pretty clearly to me in my opinion. Nevertheless, because some of my new views on this topic are not necessarily majority or popular views, I've also spent a lot of time continuing to look in the Word and commune with God, trying to make sure that what I was getting out of my time with Him was actually what I was supposed to be getting out of it, as opposed to just reading too much into what I wanted to hear. I mean, I do want to obey Him and follow Him, no matter what He says, even if that means living celibately my whole life, but I honestly feel like God has been tugging at my heart and telling me to reexamine some of my beliefs that I've held so tightly to for the past several years.

At any rate, the other members of my team asked me what was on my mind, and I told them about the things that I was thinking through and the decisions and things that I needed to make. (And yes, this group of people knows about me, and I'm super thankful that nothing crazy happened, like asking me to step down or anything...something that I feel like tends to happen a lot in Christian leadership circles.) So, one of the girls on my team told me that she had a sermon that was going to send me that she thought the Lord was putting on her heart to share with me. Okay. Cool. That sounds great. I thanked her and let her know I would take a look at it as soon as I had time.

Fast forward to just a day or two ago: I watched this online sermon and just hated it. It was honestly terrible, didn't help at all, and actually had me questioning what I believe even more than before I watched it. Awesome.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm really thankful for this girl on my team and the fact that she was willing to take a step out and share something with me, but it was honestly probably one of the most unhelpful things that anyone has ever shared with me related to this topic. And I still love this girl dearly. I'm sure without a shadow of a doubt that her heart was in the right place when she sent it to me, but I think that there are just some things that our straight brothers and sisters don't necessarily think about or consider when they share things like that with us. Here's why.

The sermon was an hour long and it was basically a pastor "debunking" all these "myths" about homosexuality and basically arguing that the growing acceptance of it in the church and in the world is a sign of the corruption of the world. He laid out all of his arguments about why he believed that homosexuality was still wrong and how he didn't believe that someone could claim to be both a Christian and practice homosexuality, and in all honesty, his arguments were pretty good. He gave a really good analogy about how people tend to rationalize their behavior when the going gets tough, and that really got me thinking. And then he also gave a lot of arguments and supported them with a lot of things that I have already heard, and I'm sure you have already heard.

So why was it such a big deal? It really wasn't. But it did remind me again that sometimes we need to take things like that with a grain of salt. Now, I'm not saying that we should just disregard any teaching on homosexuality just because we disagree with it, but I do think that it means we need to be critical and study the Bible for ourselves so that we can know what we believe for ourselves. Otherwise, it's too easy to have your beliefs and opinions tossed by the waves of the different opinions and perspectives that we hear from various church leaders.

Let me give you a very brief summary of what I believe concerning homosexuality (and I'll write a more in-depth post in the future about this as well) so that I can comment further on some things that I believe our straight brothers and sisters should keep in mind when trying to speak into our lives on this issue. For me, I believe that God does condone same-sex relationships, with a few strings attached so to speak. I've been researching, reading, and studying this topic for a long time now, just because I want to make sure that I have all the information and that I can be consistent with what the Bible says. God has also been speaking to my heart over the past few years about this as well, and this is the conclusion that I have come to. All the Bible really speaks out against is homosexual sex. In my opinion, the Bible says nothing to condemn same-sex relationships.

Now, I'm sure that what I just said is sure to create some tension, but this is sort of my middle ground opinion that I don't think a lot of people have recognized or even thought about before. I believe that gay people can be in loving, committed relationships. I believe that they can even get married. For me, the only thing that the Bible specifically speaks out against is the actual act of homosexual sex, and for me that's okay. I can live with that. The reason for this is that I think the real thing that the LGBT community, specifically the Christian LGBT community, is pushing for when they fight for marriage equality and same-sex relationships is intimacy. I published a post a few weeks ago about a QTalk that I watched. In that QTalk, the speaker, a Christian lesbian woman, said: "We can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy." That phrase encapsulates a lot of what I believe concerning this issue, and for me, it provides a scenario in which I can have a lot of the things that other straight Christians can have, just with some slight alterations. And like I said, I'm completely okay with that, because I agree with her. We can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy.

Thus, my problem with most straight Christians and straight pastors who oppose homosexuality is that they always reduce people like us to a sex act. They always assume that if you're gay or lesbian and you're in a relationship, that you must be having lots and lots of sex, and that's just not true. Straight people are expected to date and be engaged for how many years before they get married and have sex? For some people, it's a long time. But they survive. They don't shrivel up and die because they can't have sex, and I'm sure that no one assumes that just because they are dating or engaged, especially if they are Christians, they are having sex. That's just not how it works for straight people, so why do people make different assumptions just because you tell them that you're gay? That still eludes me.

In the same way, I believe that gay Christians can also have those close, intimate relationships with someone of the same sex without being condemned for it. Honestly, in my mind, it just sounds like a lifetime of dating another person, which is what lots of cheesy Christian marriage counselors would say that marriage is supposed to be like anyway. If you're not going to do the one thing that the Bible actually says that you're not supposed to do, I don't see what you can't have a loving, committed relationship just like all of your straight friends. And before anyone jumps the gun, I want to say that even if you do believe that gay people can get married and have sex under what the Bible says, I don't judge you in any way. To me, it's seriously so irrelevant. In theology, there are three levels of beliefs: dogma, doctrine, and opinion. Dogma is what you need to believe to still be considered a Christian and thus be saved. Doctrine encapsulates the beliefs that tend to separate denominations, but are not required to be saved, and opinion is just that. It's your own personal opinion. For me, I would put this homosexuality debate somewhere in that realm of doctrine and opinion. For me, homosexuality doesn't affect your salvation either way. The only thing that affects your salvation is your relationship with Christ and your belief that He died and rose again to save you from your sins. That's what matters.

Having said all of that, I eventually came to the conclusion that whatever I had just heard from this middle-aged, white, straight pastor who's been married for 35 years (!!!) didn't matter and that I wasn't going to let it affect me in a negative way (I honestly felt terrible about myself after watching it...). I know what God has revealed to me over the past few months, and I've been praying hard and digging into the Word to make sure that's what He wanted me to hear and see, and I still hold to what I just said above, which is a direct result of what God has spoken to me recently.

My last gripe is this: I'm really over these straight, married pastors trying to speak into this situation in my life that they don't have to deal with, especially in the case of pastors like this one, who only spoke out and argued about why homosexuality is wrong without providing any answers or solutions on how to live with a same-sex orientation! I just don't understand how he possibly thought that what he was saying could be helpful to LGBT Christians in any way, shape, or form.

Well, actually I do. It's because his sermon was really directed toward straight people and trying to convince them what to think about this issue, and that's fine, because I want people to see my point of view as well. However, he noted multiple times that he loved LGBT people, and that's just not something that I got out of his message. It seemed really hostile and attacking.

To close this post out, I think that, personally at least, I'm going to be a lot more critical of straight, married pastors speaking about homosexuality from now on than I am of people like Julie Rodgers (who I posted a QTalk about) who have to deal with what they're talking about on a daily basis. It's the thing that irks me the most, straight, married pastors getting so enflamed and heated about a discussion that they probably know very little about, practically. They don't have to experience the things that they're speaking out against. They don't have to deal with the loneliness, or the feeling that the church doesn't accept them, or the longing for someone to love them. It's those kinds of things that I can relate to when an LGBT Christian is the one speaking, even if they voice opinions that I don't agree with. At least I can respect them for speaking out about their beliefs, because they've had to deal with it. They understand what they're asking people to do.

 The most powerful quote I've heard about Christians relating to LGBT people is this: Do we really, fully understand what we're asking them to do?

Anyway, this post got sort of ranty towards the end, but these are the things that I was feeling this week. Let me know your thoughts on these things. I'm open to listening to people and hearing more opinions.