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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13 thoughts on “Learning from other couples

  1. I enjoyed this. You seem to be in a fortunate position to have developed friendships with Christians who are not caught up in the rightness or wrongness of the issue of sexuality. I wouldn’t say this is the case in every community. Do you feel this is a product of your influence on stifling adversarial conversations with others and a kind of minding your own business policy about someone else’s sexuality? Have you had to show patience with others who are more militant about LGBT rights? How do you insulate yourself from that kind of dialogue?

    • Hi Kathy. Great to see you again. We’ve benefited from the community at the Gay Christian Network, which values meaningful conversations about sexuality even though people will disagree on many aspects of sexual ethics. Having the opportunity to discuss these topics in a respectful manner with others is something we greatly appreciate. With our close friends, topics related to sexual activity rarely, if ever, come up in conversation. We do believe it’s best to mind our own business when it comes to sexual morality decisions, but more broadly we respect the way individual people pursue Christian maturity within their specific traditions. When people who are more militant about LGBT rights assume that we want to be on the crusading warpath with or against them, we respect their desire to advocate for LGBT rights and acknowledge how we have benefitted from the work of LGBT advocates, but we try to be clear that we don’t feel the need to join political causes. We don’t consider ourselves activists, and sometimes it can be hurtful when people assume that our celibate vocation means we are standing in the way of their rights to marriage. We aren’t really able to “insulate” ourselves from that kind of dialogue, but we do share more openly about our lives with friends who don’t demand that we devote ourselves to LGBT political causes.

  2. Pingback: What is Biblical obedience? Abraham, Huck Finn, and Adolf Eichmann | Mercy Not Sacrifice

  3. I have a question, and I hope you’ll not think me rude for asking it. Why are you willing to say that you actually learn lots of lessons from people who have a very different sexual ethic from the one you’re living? Not that I think you shouldn’t–I think your approach is good and healthy. It’s much better than that of most of the gay celibates I know. But I’ve wondered why the majority of gay celibates, as you say, are so triumphant, and why your position is such a minority. Can you explain a little more about how you learned that you can actually take lessons from some couples who are sexually active?

    • Hi Candy, thanks for the question. I’m going to answer your question from my specific perspective and Sarah might chime in more later. For me, I realized that being able to ask questions about sexual ethics meant that answers weren’t necessarily cut and dry. Early on in my journey, I benefitted from talking with my married heterosexual friends who were incredibly candid about how the emphasis on purity culture had made it very difficult for them to mature into a healthy understanding of sexual ethics after they married. People enter into a real place of vulnerability when they are asking their real questions about sexual ethics; real questions about sexual ethics require Christ to illumine the way in the answer. Examples of real questions include: How does a person find wholeness after experiencing a miscarriage? What expressions of intimacy shared between people communicate true love and respect? Which medical options allow women to attend to illnesses of their reproductive system while preserving the possibility of children? How can a person journey alongside a survivor of sexual violence? What are the moral hazards of adoption, and how do people navigate the adoptive process? These real questions have no easy answer. Additionally, our Christian friends are people constantly seeking Christ in all areas of their lives. When the light of Christ shines through a person, it’s a lot easier to say, “I have something to learn from him (or her).” For me, my experience with a failed celibate relationship also taught me a lot about my need to learn from others: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/02/18/my-failed-celibate-relationship/ –Lindsey

    • If we had to have a metric that we could only learn from people doing everything right in the eyes of God, we wouldn’t be able to learn from anyone. As we’ve shared before, we don’t see these questions as discreetly divided between right and wrong. (That post can be found at: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/02/24/beyond-right-and-wrong/) It is very possible, even if counter-intuitive at times, to adopt a posture of looking for ways every person shows us something about the image and likeness of God.

  4. Dear Sarah and Lindsey,

    I appreciate your transparency and honesty in speaking on positive examples of non-celibate LGBT couples whom you believe are living decent, God-infused, faithful lives. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but why are these same moving stories you’ve shared not considered by you to be living evidence and testimony to the non-disorderedness of loving, monogamous, non-celibate LGBT pairings? The evidence seems so overwhelming, I struggle to understand how open-minded people in tune with God’s goodness and the magnificent landscape of (Providentially intentional) human diversity could ascribe to God the categorical will that all LGBT persons who find love also remain physically celibate. I fail to understand how such people can seriously consider as a possibility that God automatically and categorically calls all SSA individuals to celibacy, and provides absolutely no licit avenue for sexual expression, either solitary or mutual. Most people who advocate this are quite closed-minded and fundamentalist, ESPECIALLY in the SSA Catholic community in North America. You two clearly no not fit that mold. I am very glad that you don’t but the fact that you don’t automatically and vociferously support non-celibate LGBT unions (provided they’re loving and monogamous) confuses and frustrates me.

    I don’t mean to sound accusatory. Only God knows intimately the interior life of His children, but I deeply feel that those who occupy the positionality you do, while not intending any harm, nevertheless perpetuate harmful structures by assenting to the notion of objective wrongness of non-celibate LGBT relationships. This has nothing to do with your own call to celibacy–I would never question that. I am just amazed and unpleasantly surprised that you are able to sustain a positionality that stops short of affirming, just as I am pleasantly touched by your honesty and loving openness and practice of active listening.

    • Hello! Thanks for reading and for your comment here. We hope you’ll be a regular reader and commenter. We always value good conversation.

      You have asked, “Why are these same moving stories you’ve shared not considered by you to be living evidence and testimony to the non-disorderedness of loving, monogamous, non-celibate LGBT pairings?” As we read your question, we inferred that you might be thinking we would say that certain kinds of couples are disordered or are living in a disordered way. However, we have never directly stated or implied that we regard any kind of relationship as disordered. Nor have we have ever stated a position that “God automatically and categorically calls all SSA individuals to celibacy.” At the same time, we haven’t made any statements against those positions. We are not interested in having a conversation about whether gay sex is a sin. There are plenty of places to discuss that question on the internet, and we have never intended to create an apologetic for a particular ideology concerning sexual ethics.

      The purpose of our blog is neither to affirm nor to condemn any kind of relationship. Rather we want to provide a place to discuss topics related to celibacy, Christianity, the LGBT community, spirituality, celibate partnership, etc. We are puzzled as to why so many people think it’s important to make a direct statement of “I affirm you and your sex life” in order to be kind, welcoming, and embracing of other people. We think it means significantly more when people are good to us than when people say, “Good on you for being celibate.” The latter actually comes across as being remarkably condescending. Given this, it seems odd that people would expect us to say to non-celibates, “I affirm you and your sex life.” If any of the three couples we featured in this post came to visit us, we’d absolutely love to play host and would want to welcome them to our local church on a Sunday morning. We would introduce them as our friends to everyone in attendance that day, including various members of church leadership. We ask, how would making a statement of, “I affirm you and your sex life” make any difference in our actions? From our perspective, that very statement assumes that the person saying it feels entitled to make assumptions regarding that couple’s private life. Personally, we do not spend any time wondering what does or does not go on in our friends’ sex lives. It’s simply none of our business. It seems peculiar to us that others would suggest that in order to view non-celibate LGBT people as equal sharers in human dignity, we also must make a statement about their intimate lives.

      We make a rather concerted effort not to affirm any category of relationship in its entirety. That includes relationships like ours. There are celibate relationships, there are non-celibate relationships. There are healthy relationships, and there are unhealthy relationships. There are even extremely healthy relationships where both parties are actively working to make a change toward even healthier expressions of those relationships. We would never give a blanket affirmation for any sort of relationship. We regard everyone, and all relationships, as a sort of work-in-progress 🙂

      Since we have an extensive archives on the blog, we thought you might be interested in reading some other posts where we address our perspectives on various implicit questions within your comment. We have a post detailing 4 Reasons We Abstain from the “Is Gay Sex a Sin?” Debate. We also offered our perspective on the liberal vs. conservative approach to sexual ethics in our post entitled Beyond Right and Wrong. We reflected on other ways our friends who have more progressive sexual ethics treat us with love in our post Showing Love in the Midst of Difference.

      Please don’t hesitate to comment more in the future!

  5. So let me get this straight…you think God blesses these people like he blesses you? So you’re Side A?

    • The purpose of our blog is not to discuss what God does or does not bless in terms of relationships. Our purpose is to discuss the lived experience of celibacy, particularly within our context as a celibate couple. Part of that lived experience is having many friends who are not celibate, are part of the LGBT community, and are part of various Christian traditions. We see no reason why one should have to live the same way of life we do in order for us to respect that person, show love and kindness, and extend a hand of friendship.

  6. Thanks for your blog. As a gay Christian man in a non-celibate relationship, it is so refreshing to hear from the “other side” with regard to how celibate gay christians should not judge those of us who are in non-celibate relationships. As I read more of your blog posts I will share additional thoughts as I still am concerned about how SOME celibate gay christians are insisting that we ALL be celibate. Your approach to celibacy is VERY non-threatening to those of us who choose to not follow the same path. I look forward to commenting more— Jack 🙂

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