This has started coming up more and more among my connections: people claiming to be Gay Christians, but who are, in fact, celibate. As one who’s been through conversion therapy in its heyday back in the 80s, married to my ex-wife in the 90s, and tried celibacy after our divorce, this concerns me enormously. I think I’ve tried every way imaginable to deny who I am: and that denial kept leading me back to a single stark truth. God loves me for who I am, and made me who I am. That includes my affection and my love for the same gender. Trying to deny that is a denial of God. It was only when I learned to accept myself, and to stop rebelling against God and the love I have inside myself for other men, that I fully discovered who God wants me to be… and discovered how God wants us as a church to interface with our culture.
If you’ve read my writing, you’ll know that I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. The standard “clobber verses” all have responses, that I’ve written about: Leviticus, Genesis (marriage), Genesis (Sodom), 1 Corinthians 6 (the lists) and that dreaded keystone, Romans 1. I know most people who believe homosexuality is a sin won’t be convinced by my arguments: your mind is set and homosexuality is unnatural to you, and therefore you think it must be something that God did not intend. But in fact God made us sexual beings. And as soon as we remove the requirement that sexuality is intrinsically linked to procreation, sexuality with the same sex becomes viable. My interpretations of the Bible are not intended to convince anyone who is already established in their traditional interpretation. Anti-gay leaders have been in the church for generations. They have built a completely consistent theology of sexual denial that works for them. All I intend to show is that there is a consistent alternative. With a single, but significant difference. Allowing people to express who they love is in keeping with Matthew 22:36-40, the greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. Encouraging your neighbour to hate a basic attribute of who he or she is, is not loving and is legalistic.
Logically, the difficulty is that homosexuality becomes the only sin that does not cause harm to another person: and is, in fact, loving itself. In the past there were thought to be some ills that were intrinsic to homosexuality: but the more we explored those with an open mind, they more they fell away. HIV and AIDS were thought to be a gay curse from God in the 80s; until they spread to to straight people. Still some claim that the depression and substance abuse common in the gay community is intrinsic to it: but in fact it’s only a legacy of what happens when gay people are oppressed. This psychological oppression continues under a new name with the gay Christian celibate movement. It is unfortunate that not only is the church not a “safe space”, but that the church often leads the charge in discrimination.
Beyond all those, the root problem is that the gay Christian celibate movement is also legalistic. It is reliance on pleasing God in order to gain “earn” a place in God’s kingdom. As mentioned above, homosexuality doesn’t hurt anyone: but it does give us something to sacrifice to God. A sacrifice we don’t need to do any more. The book of Galatians 5 tells that we are not only free from the laws and petty rules that people use to define religions, but that to rely on such laws is itself a sin. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:4-5) Being who we were intended to be is not a matter of obeying external rules. It’s a matter of internal faith.
The movement toward gay Christian celibacy is essentially the next generation of the now defunct and disproved “conversion therapy”. Been there, done that. Yes, I’ve spent my time in counselling to try to “fix” my sexuality. People have often asked me what it was like. Mostly it was just repeated review of the above “clobber verses” and their application. It was exploration into what were believed back then to be the evils of homosexuality. It was constant guilt that if I ever acted on my affections toward other men, I was disobeying God. At the time my only “actions” were those of friendship toward men I was attracted to, but even those were seen as sinful because they opened up temptation. I never “did” anything back then that would even remotely cross the line, but every moment outside my room on my male dorm floor was a moment of guilt. And I am not talking about the showers. In the lounge, at mealtimes, in classes: I felt guilty for loving the men I would share time with.
Another of the reasons I disagree with the celibate approach to homosexuality is that it is not Biblical in the extreme. And this goes beyond the command to love your neighbour as yourself. They put significant weight on Paul’s encouraging of singleness in 1 Cor 7:8 – “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.” Sounds great: except for the verses on either side of that one. This is why we don’t take individual verses out of context.
Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
So for one thing, Paul does wish that we could all be single: I’ll totally admit that. But he expects that of everyone: he does not subdivide the church. And he refers to his capacity to live alone as a gift. It is often called the “gift of singleness”, and some consider it among the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12. But do all gay people have that gift? I doubt it. I certainly do not. Some do, perhaps, and they might do well in a celibate context. But to assume that all gay Christians to adhere to their standards is an expectation that even Paul does not have. What does he say? “…for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” This would seem to be applicable to people of all sexualities.
It’s one thing if gay Christian celibates were being celibate because they felt they were called to that lifestyle for themselves. But they do not. They believe that all gay people are called to celibacy: because any same-sex sexual experience is wrong. This in spite of one of God’s first provisions for humankind. When God first created Adam, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God did not say, “I will make a woman for him” or “It is not good that the straight man should be alone”; God referred to all men (ultimately all people) and said that “a helper suitable” would be made for him. Suitable… corresponding to. Someone who “fits”. I tried that with my ex-wife. If there was, anywhere on this earth, a woman “suitable” for me, it would be my ex-wife. We lasted ten years. But we still didn’t work. During and after the divorce I considered myself essentially single for a time. It didn’t work. In Paul’s words, I burned with passion. I chose the only alternative I knew. Even before it was legal in my locality, my husband and I were married before God.
That marriage has lasted longer than my marriage to my wife. Both were and are blessed by God. And I am better able to discover myself and to walk with God having broken through the chains of legalism.
I was, at first, double-minded about copying this post. However, I think it does have something important to say to/about any intrinsically gay person who thinks the only way they can have a Christian Ministry is to live as a single, celibate person. I know from my own experience that this is a very special and difficult calling – for only a very special few people who truly feel called to the celibate life style of a priest, a dedicated Celibate, or in a Religious Community.
I appreciate those souls whose intention is to fulfil a genuine call to celibacy; they often have a wonderful ministry of ‘befriending’ those in the Church whose life also demands total sexual abstinence and a state of celibacy. However, it is not for everone. Nor is the celibate state a more superior way of life, It is simply one way of fulfilling what Jesus calls being ‘a eunuch’ – for ‘the sake of the Gospel’ (Matthew 19:12)
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand