Why the Brother-Making Rite Isn’t Right for Us

Adelphopoiesis (from the Greek ἀδελφοποίησις), also known as the brother-making rite, is a ritual with historical roots in the Eastern Christian tradition. Medieval Byzantine manuscripts offer evidence that this ceremony was performed in order to unite two people of the same sex as “brothers” in a way that was formally recognized by the Church. Adelphopoiesis did not garner significant scholarly interest until the 1990s when scholars such as John Boswell (Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe) began exploring the idea that this ceremony existed as an early form of blessing for same-sex unions.

Since long before we began this blog, people who have known about our celibacy have been asking us, “If you had the opportunity, would you participate in the brother-making rite or something analogous to it? Would this ceremony be a good way to acknowledge your commitment to each other?” Even though this rite is no longer performed, we get these or related questions at least once a month, so today we’re taking some time to offer a full answer. We do not see the brother-making right as appropriate for our specific circumstances for the following reasons:

We don’t consider each other “siblings.” Though we do acknowledge that all members of the Church are united as brothers and sisters in Christ, we aren’t inclined to think of our relationship as being first and foremost a form of siblinghood. The brother-making rite was used to make the two participants “brothers,” and we are mutually uncomfortable with applying this kind of language to our situation. A large part of understanding our celibate vocation involves seeing it as a mature, adult commitment. Though we don’t know exactly what these terms meant within the context of adelphopoiesis, to us the term “brothers” or “sisters” suggests that two people are under a common authority in the form of an adult parent. This seems inappropriate for our circumstances in that each of us already has a relationship with our own parents who raised us. One might argue that God could be understood as the parental figure in this instance, but it wouldn’t seem fitting for us to participate in a ceremony for the purpose of uniting us as siblings under God as a common parent when we’re already bonded to each other in this way by virtue of our baptisms.

How and in what circumstances this rite has been used historically remains unclear. Adelphopoiesis has not been a regular practice of any Christian tradition for several centuries. Despite Boswell’s argument that the brother-making rite was form of same-sex union similar to marriage, there are a lot of unknowns regarding exactly how it fit into the Church and society in the 9th to 15th centuries. What we do know is that this ceremony involved certain symbols that were also present in Byzantine marriages of the same period and contained references to pairs of saints who shared especially close relationships with one another. We also know that medieval Byzantine marriages involved several stages and the brother-making rite occurred within the context of a single ceremony. However, we don’t have complete answers the following questions: what motivated two people of the same sex to enter into this type of relationship with one another? What was this type of relationship in the first place? What did it look like? How was it understood within Byzantine society? Were there limits on who was or was not permitted to participate in this ceremony? Some sources suggest that the brother-making rite existed to create peace amongst families, and others posit that its purpose was to formalize chaste spiritual brotherhoods for a variety of possible reasons. Regardless, the particulars of its use, purpose, and meaning for the broader Christian community remain ambiguous. As such, we believe it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest adelphopoiesis as a suitable ceremony for honoring our own relationship.

Since Boswell’s work on adelphopoiesis, mentions of this ceremony have become associated with the movement for marriage equality. One need only perform a quick Google search using the search term “brother making rite” to see that discussions of this topic frequently involve the question of whether it was equivalent to marriage. Over the past few years, a number of popular news sources and online LGBT Christian resources have published articles on adelphopoiesis, implying that we can know it was indeed a type of marriage ritual, or we can at least be reasonably certain. Boswell’s work on this topic has been controversial since its publication in 1994, and now his name is associated with almost every mention of the brother-making rite in the modern West. As a result, even mentioning this ritual has become enough to suggest one’s association with the American political left and/or efforts to change the current teachings of some Christian denominations on same-sex marriage. The two of us are firm believers that LGBT couples should be extended the legal protections that enable the partners to be recognized fully as family to one another. However, we have no interest in calling our relationship a marriage, becoming involved with political movements of any kind, or advocating for change in our own Christian tradition’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. Even if adelphopoiesis ceremonies were still being performed today and the other factors we mentioned were not problematic for us, we believe it likely that participating in this ritual would cause more confusion than clarification for others on how we understand our relationship.

Finding ways to honor and celebrate our relationship with friends, family, and community is one of the many challenges we face as a celibate couple within a Christian tradition that teaches a conservative sexual ethic. This specific challenge calls for some creativity along with lots of prayer and support from those who love us. In the future, we would like to take up “ways we celebrate team Lindsey and Sarah” as a topic for exploration here at A Queer Calling. But for now, we hope today’s post has shed a bit more light on why we feel that adelphopoiesis, even if it did still exist, would not be the right choice for us.

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Maturing Towards Celibacy

A reflection by Lindsey

As we’ve shared in many places, we regard both marriage and celibacy as mature vocations. I have made arguments that I think the Church should consider offering pre-celibacy counseling in order to help people discern a sustainable celibate way of life. My own journey into celibacy has been challenging. I’ve mostly found my own way, and I still regard myself as building the plane while I’m flying it.

Maturing towards celibacy has required me to take many deep looks into myself. Moving through many Christian traditions along the way, I’ve been confronted by different questions that demanded answers. I’ve also learned that some traditions asked better questions than others.

How can I align my mind, heart, soul, and body? Along the way, I’ve learned that God in a wondrous act of mercy has given us incredible tools to discern our vocation. My mind, heart, soul, and body seem to have a system of checks and balances that I could employ to test the claims made by various well-meaning Christians. When Christians suggested that my being LGBT could only be the result of demonic possession, I could search my heart and soul to know that I had earnestly committed my life to Christ and his care. As I began to study the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6 in light of Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, my mind told me that even if I were to come to regard myself as a cisgender, heterosexual person, I would still find myself liable for losing the Kingdom of Heaven because of other kinds of sins. My mind saw that it was incredibly difficult for anyone to obliterate all traces of greed, slander, and envy. My journey towards celibacy has involved finding my own story that unites my experience of mind, heart, soul, and body with Christ.

Where do I experience abundant life in the Kingdom of God? This question has been one of the most paradoxical for me. I first started with trying to listen to my Christian tradition tell me where I could most strongly encounter the Kingdom of God: go on missions trips, learn how to pray for other people, commit myself to regular patterns of Scripture study, share my faith with other people, etc. However, despite my best efforts, much of this counsel seemed ill-fitting. As an introverted engineer, I felt like I was constantly being forced to choose between different parts of myself. Journeying towards celibacy challenged me to find abundant life that acknowledged as many aspects of my personality as possible.

How can I find the “Yes” within the celibate vocation? Admittedly, I considered this question hard. Many of the congregations I was involved in saw celibacy as simply abstaining from sex. The people around me also exploring celibate vocations were compelled by an effort to avoid sexual immorality. I had a true watershed moment when a friend provided me with a a chapter of Poverty, Celibacy, and Obedience: A Radical Way of Life. Diarmuid O’Murchu makes a powerful argument that the vow of celibacy must be viewed as a vow for relatedness. O’Murchu’s observation helped me shift my thinking from “avoid sin” to “embrace people.”

How can I find strength to continue when celibacy seems incredibly difficult? I began my journey into my celibate vocation standing alone in my apartment. It seemed fitting that I was alone: I had spent years seeking spiritual direction to discern a celibate vocation, and I didn’t feel like anyone had any valuable counsel for me. As I was reflecting on how many of my friends had already entered their marriages, I decided I could enter into my celibacy. I thought since they had enough life experiences to commit to the marital vocation, I had lived enough life to commit to the celibate vocation. I told God, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I trust that You’ll help me.” I started talking to other people living celibate vocations, asking them to help me learn to pray. Learning to pray was of first importance to me because I felt like only God cared if I managed to find a life-giving form of celibacy. Later, I asked celibate people what their lives looked like on a daily basis. I found my own pattern to celibacy as I emulated aspects of their lives that seemed to mesh well with my circumstances. It seemed that I derived more strength from my vocation as I found a rhythm for my own celibacy.

Throughout all of my explorations of celibacy, I continue to fall back on the same question, “Do I trust God to guide my way?” I’ve been amazed as I’ve asked questions, given myself permission to make mistakes, and acknowledged that I certainly don’t have the answers even as I know my own vocation is tucked behind the image of God located at the core of my being.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Cultivating Emotional Intimacy

When someone you know is going through a hard time, it’s natural to ask that person whether he or she has adequate support. As our regular readers know, the last several months have thrown many challenges our way. We are continuing to stand firm because we’re able to support one another. Many people have asked us what our intimacy looks like, and today we’d like to address a question we’ve received: “How do you cultivate emotional intimacy in a celibate relationship?” In most ways, our response is no different from what we would expect to hear from a healthy, non-celibate couple.

Upon coming into relationship with one another, we fell almost immediately into a natural pattern of cultivating deep emotional intimacy, and we’ve seen that continuing as our relationship has grown. There’s something about our personalities that has allowed each of us to “get” the other, even though we’ve both experienced being profoundly misunderstood by many people in our lives. Sometimes, two people can just click.

Our friendship blossomed because we were willing to be vulnerable with each other. As we’ve shared before, we believe that vulnerability opens the door to intimacy. When we were just beginning getting to know each other, we shared random facts about ourselves and our lives. Lindsey learned that Sarah used to wear mismatched socks to express Sarah’s individuality in elementary school. Sarah learned that as a kid, Lindsey worked to save money so Lindsey could attend Space Camp three times. These micro-stories gave us opportunities to share an incredible number of life experiences and the various emotions associated with these experiences. We each saw bits and pieces of the other’s personality, and came to appreciate some similarities while acknowledging some real differences in our pasts. Our selections were truly random, spanning from the deeply significant to the absolutely trivial. In addition to helping us get to know one another as people, sharing these stories laid a foundation for our coming to trust one another.

Early on in our friendship, we made a commitment to being completely honest with one another. Honesty is one of the highest values for both of us, and we’ve both experienced past relationships in which we or our significant others have had difficulty with being forthright. Because of this, we’ve challenged each other to be radically open about our thoughts, feelings, and mistakes when there’s a problem. Within the first month of our friendship, we had already started to see this pattern emerging between us. Though at first Lindsey considered the topic embarrassing, Lindsey shared openly with Sarah about Lindsey’s writing anxiety and the kind of support needed in order to manage it. Since we’re both writing doctoral dissertations, that type of information has been vital to ensure that we’re accomplishing our goals without sacrificing our emotional needs. Since the time Lindsey first opened up to Sarah about writing anxiety, Sarah has been able to check in with Lindsey about it and provide comfort and encouragement when Lindsey needs it most. Equally humiliating was the first time Sarah told Lindsey about Sarah’s eating disorder history. Because many people assume that these conditions are merely attention-seeking devices for wealthy, white, teenage girls and not legitimate medical conditions that could affect someone Sarah’s age, it has been a struggle for Sarah to be authentic about the need for support. But when Sarah did open up to Lindsey about this for the first time, Lindsey was unimaginably supportive and impressed by Sarah’s commitment to living a recovery-focused lifestyle even during the hard times. Examples like these have built upon our foundation for trust in one another.

Over the first few months that we knew each other, we learned a great deal of information, including the most painful and hidden parts of one another’s lives. A crucial piece of our emotional intimacy has been accepting each other’s emotional pasts for what they are and being able to appreciate that, by virtue of our humanity, we both carry deeply-rooted wounds. Whether it’s related to an issue that occurred during one of our childhoods, ways we’ve experienced hurt within the Church, Sarah’s trauma and the resulting PTSD, negative messages Lindsey received in ex-gay ministry, or something else entirely, we know that there will be space for conversation and respect for that experience’s symbolic meaning when we’re ready to talk about it together. Cultivating empathy for each other’s brokenness–that which we share in common and that which varies individually–has helped both of us to feel safe in being completely genuine with one another, regardless of how ugly that might look sometimes.

While emotional lives are built over the entire lifespan, all people experience their emotions moment by moment. We tend to regard in-the-moment emotional experiences as slightly unpredictable because emotions can vary, especially when people are under a good deal of stress. We have made a practice of affirming one another’s right to feel in the moment, even if the other doesn’t understand exactly why that particular mix of emotion is present at a given time. Our commitment to opting in 100% as we do life together has helped us develop a strong emotional intuition. When Lindsey experiences a panic attack, Sarah can usually tell whether Lindsey would benefit most from reassurance and empathy, some clear direction to start problem-solving processes, or a mixture of approaches. This emotional intelligence goes both ways in our relationship. One day recently, Lindsey just held Sarah as Sarah started crying hysterically after a conflict with Sarah’s nutritionist. Given that Sarah had been in a car accident the day before and Sarah rarely gets upset to the point of tears, Lindsey knew something was up. Nevertheless, Lindsey sat in that space with Sarah until Sarah was ready to share the specifics of what had happened. We’re profoundly grateful God has opened up to us a space of grace to be able to discern what emotional response would best draw us into a deeper relationship with one another, even though we’re still learning.

While some aspects of emotional intimacy have come naturally, other aspects of emotional intimacy are more difficult. We’ve struggled with and will continue to determine the best pathway through the difficulties associated with being open about our spiritual lives and places where our spiritualities differ. On some levels, our spiritualities are incredibly compatible: we both value intellectual honesty, placing life in the Church in its historic contexts, cultivating a prayer life, and being shaped within our specific Christian tradition. On other levels, we’re continually surprised at just how hard it’s been to honor our natural spiritual inclinations when developing our own sense of tradition. Lindsey’s faith journey has been profoundly influenced by mainstays of the Evangelical tradition, as Lindsey’s faith began to blossom in college while Lindsey was participating in Intervarsity and playing on the worship team of a nondenominational congregation. Sarah’s personal spirituality and formation has been tied to more liturgical traditions, as Sarah has naturally grown in faith through partaking of the sacraments and engaging in robust intellectual reflection. Even though our spiritualities may look very similar at first glance, we’ve learned that we value incredibly different facets of the spiritual experiences we share. We have welcomed the opportunity to learn more about each other even though we’re still learning the best way to have these conversations. That said, we should also note that we have high expectations and hopes that we will find our way.

The emotional intimacy that we’ve been able to cultivate within our partnership has also manifested in spillovers into other relationships. We find it easier to be compassionate when others are going through hard times. We can affirm other people’s emotions and create space for whatever feeling happens to be in the room. We’ve learned that matching appropriate responses with how a specific individual experiences emotion can be hard, so we try to respond first with empathy. Cultivating emotional intimacy in all one’s relationships is a lifelong process, and we’re glad to take in whatever wisdom the journey may bring.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Saturday Symposium: Resource Reviews

Happy Saturday, Readers! Christ is risen!

We hope that the first week of the Easter season has been joyous and peace-filled for each of you. And we know that we have a lot of readers who are students, so if you’re heading into exam season, we pray that God gives you strength during this hectic time of year.

It’s time for today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we published our very first resource review. We reviewed God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, and have been contacted by a large number of readers who are interested in engaging more deeply with our comments on this book. We are especially grateful to have been contacted by the author himself, and hope that good things will come from opening conversation. And we want to ask you: what resources on celibacy, LGBT issues, LGBT Christian issues (published or to-be-published) would you like to see us review in the future? Are there any resources that you have found especially helpful for celibate LGBT Christians? We welcome recommendations of books, videos, audio recordings, and all other types of media.

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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Putting the “Tradition” in a Traditional Sexual Ethic

A reflection by Lindsey

I have a personality that adapts well to things being in flux. I embrace the uncertainties associated with not always being aware of where I’m going and rarely being sure of the best path towards any goal. When I was in college, I thought I could have everything all sketched out in terms of my 5-, 10-, and 20-year plans. But every time I started feeling like my plans were coming together, something major happened to upset my apple cart. Eventually, I stopped trying to pile all the apples together and tried instead to carry one piece of fruit at a time. I feel like my spiritual journey mirrors many other aspects of my life, where it is regularly in a state of flux as I explore seemingly uncharted waters.

I didn’t start my spiritual journey particularly attached to any Christian denomination. Along the way, my spirituality has been shaped by a number of Christian traditions: I can trace significant influences upon my faith to the Anabaptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Quaker traditions. I’m a bit of a spiritual mutt.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I mean when talking about a traditional sexual ethic. There are lots of assumptions about what that phrase means. Many Christian traditions band together in defense of sex being reserved for marriage and marriage existing only between one man and one woman. But that’s not what I’m talking about when I refer to a traditional sexual ethic. What I’m talking about is a sexual ethic strongly mapped to a particular spiritual (or moral) tradition.

I’ve journeyed through enough Christian traditions to know that not all are the same. Each Christian tradition has its own set of emphases and guiding questions. And I earnestly believe that all robust Christian traditions offer people a set of tools for thinking about sex, marriage, vocation, and life in Christ. I find myself wishing that more Christians would leverage the full weight of their traditions to discern how those traditions can more openly welcome, embrace, and guide LGBT Christians into the fullness of life in Christ.

However, as much as I might wish for each tradition to look within its own borders to help LGBT Christians find abundant life, I’ve noticed that many Christian traditions have formed various alliances with other Christian traditions in order to shout down dissenters. As a result, it seems that people have allowed key differences among their traditions to evaporate in effort to find some basic commonality on which orthodox believers in all denominations can agree. The net effect is that Christian traditions write doctrinal statements that hint at vague ideals without showing people the connection between where the tradition is going and where the tradition’s theology came from in the first place.

I think within Christian traditions that consider themselves progressive, it’s entirely possible to have a “traditional” sexual ethic that embraces people who enter into same sex marriages simply because of the way those specific traditions frame their theological questions. I’ll never forget hearing Lillian Daniel speak on the heritage of the United Church of Christ during the 2013 Gay Christian Network Conference. Daniel spoke on how the UCC as a Christian tradition sees itself as inescapably using abolitionist arguments to break down the dividing walls between people and work toward social justice. After the talk, as I reflected on how this Christian tradition views itself I wondered, “In this denomination, is a heterosexual marriage principally about repairing the breach in relationships between man and woman? How would one think about the divide between gay people and straight people? Does one need to have a clear dichotomy in order to have a ‘dividing’ wall? What sort of space is afforded for bisexual and genderqueer people who might find themselves in the ‘middle’ of binaries?” If the United Church of Christ was my tradition, I’m rather hopeful that asking these sorts of questions would help me draw closer to the heart of Christ and pull me into a deeper connection with other people in the same tradition. I’m also reasonably confident that people within the UCC tradition can tell that I have only passing familiarity with their tradition because of these questions I asked.

Looking to the Christian traditions I’ve been a part of, I can see many reasons why these traditions do not affirm same-sex relationships as marriages. Some of these traditions seek to discern how God commands us to live as Christians by offering detailed direction on activities one must avoid. A good number of these traditions also explore gender as a very significant component of how we grow to maturity in Christ. How can a girl grow into a woman of God? How can we raise boys to be men after God’s own heart? In the sacramental traditions, offering the correct ‘elements’ in Holy Matrimony mirrors the pattern of offering bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharistic mystery. Many of these traditions teach that both marriage and celibacy reveal something about the Kingdom of God, where all vocations are essential. Yet, each of these traditions grounds its sense of a traditional sexual ethic in a different line of reasoning.

In the midst of all my queries, I’ve spent a lot more time trying to figure out what different Christian traditions say about celibacy. By the time I started asking questions about celibacy, I was in a Christian tradition that didn’t say much other than “Sex is a great gift from God, so God opens up the possibility of heterosexual marriage for almost everyone.” I found myself with little choice but to shop around to see what other Christian traditions offered to people exploring celibacy. I found that many Protestant traditions stress the beauty of the single state, discussing celibacy as the opposite of marriage. I found a rich jumble of resources discussing celibacy within the Roman Catholic tradition. I guess it helps that the Roman Catholic Church has spent hundreds of years exploring the various implications of having different kinds of celibate vocations: clerical, monastic, and friar. Within the Orthodox tradition, I found a focus on practically living out one’s vocation and integrating oneself more deeply within the tradition as a whole through the practice of this vocation.

I think it’s absolutely critical to remind Christians that nearly all Christian traditions have a rich theology of marriage, of celibacy, and of sharing God’s love with the world. A Christian sexual ethic needs to be intricately connected within the broader tradition in order to equip people in that tradition for faithful discipleship.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.