Learning from other couples

Today we will be addressing a question that we have gotten from several readers: “How do you feel about other LGBT couples who say they are not called to celibacy?” We think this question is important because we live at a time where many Christian traditions have gone “on the record” about the need for LGBT people to live celibate lives.

Many people who have asked us this question indicate that they have met celibate, LGBT Christians who are very triumphant in their celibacy and avoid interacting with any other LGBT people who are not living celibate lives, or who anticipate becoming sexually active at some point in life. We would like to be clear: we reject the idea that celibate LGBT Christians should be triumphant in their celibacy. Celibate, LGBT Christians would do well to remember that all vocations are fragile and that radical hospitality lies at the heart of a celibate vocation. Lindsey has experienced the negative aftermath of triumphantly asserting one’s ability to draw “right” boundaries to establish “proper” conduct. From our observations, many of the most triumphant celibate, LGBT Christians seem to glorify their ability to stay on the right side of “the line” used to define sexual acts. We believe that such people confuse sexual abstinence with the idea of celibacy as a vocation.

People enter celibate vocations by making choices. Vocational choices are influenced by a number of important factors that include, but are not limited to, one’s Christian tradition, one’s sense of an appropriate career pathway, one’s network of relational possibilities, and one’s economic circumstances. We believe it is manifestly inappropriate to assert that these factors are identical for all LGBT Christians. The purpose of one’s vocation is to provide a pathway to holiness where one can learn to love and grow in Christ-likeness.

We have been blessed to know many LGBT Christian couples. The majority of these couples would assert that they do not feel called to celibacy. Furthermore, a significant faction of these couples come from Christian traditions that have some sort of provision for the blessing of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. We have observed that triumphalism gets in the way of building relationships with people whose approaches to sexual ethics differ from one’s own approach. We refuse to take the path of triumphalism and demand that these couples devote themselves to learning from us. We don’t see ourselves as having all (or perhaps any) of the right answers to complex ethical questions.

When we think about faith-filled same-sex couples who do not feel they are called to celibacy, a few of our friends come to mind. We have sincerely appreciated the opportunity to get to know them more and feel privileged that they have shared their life together as a couple with us. As an LGBT Christian couple ourselves, we relate easily to many of their life experiences. As friends, we rarely discuss sexual matters. Honestly, we do not give two figs to know the intimate details of our friends’ relationships. Such details are rarely relevant and can only be shared in friendships characterized by mutual respect and regard. Even in the closest of friendships, many people just aren’t that interested in talking about their sex lives. We’ve been so encouraged by meeting other LGBT Christian couples at different life stages, and we are profoundly grateful for the ability to call these people friends. We thank God for connecting us with these couples, and we’re grateful for all of the things they have taught us over the years. We’d like to share with you, our readers, some of the things we’ve learned from some of our LGBT friends who do not feel called to celibacy.

A commitment to staying present when things are incredibly challenging

Charlie is Lindsey’s brother from another mother. Charlie is an exceptionally gifted listener, always willing to pray through some of the most difficult parts of life’s journey. Whenever Lindsey or Charlie needs support, the two of them have an almost instant response to reach out to one another. You could say that this inspired Charlie to discuss with Lindsey various aspects of his relationship with Isaac when things were really difficult.

At first, both Charlie’s family and Isaac’s family had a hard time accepting their relationship. That’s saying things a bit too kindly… Isaac wound up moving into Charlie’s apartment much earlier than expected because Isaac was kicked out of the house when his family found out he was gay. Charlie worried about the potential consequences of his boyfriend living with him, but came to the conclusion that his couch was a better home than Isaac’s car. As their relationship moved towards greater commitment, Charlie’s family had a hard time navigating questions around whether they would support Charlie’s wedding. Charlie and Lindsey spent hours on the phone. Lindsey had a huge lightbulb moment upon realizing that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Charlie’s Christian parents had certainly grown in their understanding of sexual morality over the course of their relationship. All of a sudden, sexual morality became a dynamic reality rather than well-packaged gift that must always be preserved at all costs.

For us, Charlie and Isaac have always been an example of a couple overwhelmingly committed to Christ. They constantly discern whether anything in their relationship needs to shift in order to show the love of Christ more fully to the other, and inspire us to do the same.

A generous hospitality that welcomes everyone to a safe place

When we’re getting ready to hang out with James and Bryan, we know that we should remember to bring the board games. All sorts of conversation can flow over Ticket to Ride or Catchphrase. James and Bryan are incredibly friendly people who have a knack at making other people feel welcome.

James and Bryan are intellectually honest, gracious, and committed to hospitality. As a couple, they’ve weathered the challenges of living in a long-distance relationship yet have appeared to have come out on the other side looking as fabulous as ever. The time we spent a few states apart at the beginning of our own relationship was just a few months, so we can only imagine the difficulties of maintaining a long-distance relationship for several years. We’re always drawn to couples who have made such relationships work. With James’ and Bryan’s obvious commitment to generous conversation, we’re not terribly surprised that their relationship grew and thrived. We admire how James and Bryan have searched their respective Christian traditions to discern their life together.

We have been impressed time and time again with James’ and Bryan’s generosity. Bryan once shared a syllabus with Sarah when they realized they taught courses with overlapping topics. They care a lot about creating safe places for LGBT Christians to discuss issues around faith, sexuality, and gender identity. Getting to know James and Bryan helps us to see a concrete example of radical hospitality lived out before us.

A patient endurance when asking difficult theological questions

Lindsey has known David for several years. David has offered one model as to how LGBT Christians could reconcile faith, sexuality, and gender identity within our Christian tradition. A high school teacher by day, David is surprisingly willing to dialog with any number of people asking hard questions about faith, sexuality, and gender identity in his free time. David and Glenn have been together for decades, providing a living witness that long-term LGBT relationships are possible.

Because David is a member of our own Christian tradition, he’s been able to encourage us as we find our way. He reminds us of how to have discussions on LGBT topics within our tradition. His patience, particularly with Lindsey, has helped us develop a gracious approach even when official statements seem to do little more than frame the celibacy mandate in a very polemical manner. David and Glenn recently hosted Lindsey when Lindsey visited their city. Although we occasionally have come to differing conclusions about how to navigate aspects of our shared Christian tradition, we have been able to develop a deep respect for the faithfulness of all involved. Learning from David and Glenn often means being challenged to think outside our own sets of assumptions, and we are always glad to engage with their perspectives.

To sum up, we make a conscious choice to reject celibate triumphalism. We find the suggestion that we have nothing to learn from people in other kinds of partnerships absolutely absurd. We’re so grateful that God has given us an incredible network of friends who want to share their lives with us. And we look forward to the opportunity to walk alongside even more people as we continue our journey.

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