Of Celibacy, Sex, and Silver Bullets

A reflection by Sarah

One of the arguments I hear most frequently against the idea of a celibate partnership is that in order to be healthy and “normal,” any committed, intimate relationship between consenting adults must involve a sexual union. I’ve heard it suggested that celibate partnerships like the one Lindsey and I share are, by their very nature, unsustainable because they involve denial of sexual expression. It’s understandable that most people would have this perception of celibate partnership, and I’ll be the first to admit that the way of life I’ve chosen is unconventional. Still, I find myself amazed at the frequency with which some non-celibate people will propose sex as the silver bullet solution for many difficulties that arise within celibate relationships. The past few months have been especially tough for Lindsey and me, bringing financial stress, a job search, two car accidents, one car breakdown, a street robbery, and the burglary of our home. In the midst of the chaos, I’ve been both surprised and disturbed by how often people in our lives have approached us lovingly-yet-seriously to ask, “Wouldn’t things be so much better if you just let yourselves have sex? Have you ever considered that might make your relationship stronger during this difficult time?” The most extreme example of this came yesterday in the form of a comment, positing that God is actually punishing us for being celibate and talking about celibacy, and said punishment might cease if only we would become sexually active. Not kidding here.

We spend a fair bit of time here discussing lessons we’ve learned from past celibate and sexually active relationships. Lindsey once shared the story of a failed celibate relationship in order to discuss the process of discerning a celibate vocation and developing the spiritual maturity and common vision that maintaining a celibate partnership requires. Today, I’m going to share with you the story of one of my own past relationships to illustrate that sexual activity does not automatically render a relationship normal, healthy, or good. Unlike the one described in Lindsey’s post, this relationship was not celibate and I had never envisioned that it could be. It was the most sexually charged relationship I’ve ever experienced — so much that this aspect of the relationship dominated.

For the purpose of this post, I will refer to my former girlfriend as Leah. At the time Leah and I began dating, I had already spent a few years considering the possibility of celibacy. But during this particular season of life, I saw celibacy as unrealistic and unsustainable despite my feeling a strong pull toward it from God. Due to my own fear of being ridiculed and considered peculiar, Leah and I never discussed celibacy or the possibility of exploring a celibate relationship. From the very beginning, Leah had made clear that sexual expression was one of her most significant needs. I conceded that if I was at all interested in pursuing a relationship with Leah long-term, I would have to honor that need. It never occurred to me that doing so would likely involve overlooking my own needs. We experienced a powerful attraction to each other based on some common interests and the positive energy we felt while in one another’s presence, so I came to believe that even discussing celibacy with Leah would be unreasonable and selfish.

I had told Leah upfront that although I had been in other sexual relationships before, I wasn’t comfortable with jumping into bed immediately. I asked if she would be willing to give me some time, and offered assurance that I would let her know when I felt ready for having sex. For the first three weeks, all was well. But then she began to tell me that she couldn’t understand why waiting for sex was so important to me. “This isn’t normal,” she would say. “Sexual intimacy is what makes a relationship worth pursuing. Without that, it’s dead.” I found myself feeling pressured into exploring sexual activity with Leah simply in an attempt to keep the relationship from falling apart. But within a few days after I had finally given in, I noticed a troubling change in the chemistry between us.

Almost immediately after our first time together, I felt a massive shift in our relationship dynamic. The decision to have sex with Leah was an opening of Pandora’s Box: every conversation we had became focused on sex and sexuality. Every time we had any sort of physical interaction, it became an occasion for sexual comments or actually dropping everything in the moment and taking a few minutes to engage in sex. This troubled me, and I brought the concern to Leah, who responded, “Would you rather we were experiencing lesbian bed death?” She expressed her belief that sex was the most vital of all dimensions of a romantic relationship, and that as long as sex was still occurring and was enjoyable to her, all our other needs would fall into place. It seemed that Leah understood only two possibilities for our relationship: a pattern of interactions that would always lead to the bedroom, or a pattern of interactions that would involve minimal physical contact in any way and would ultimately become impossible to continue. I considered the possibility that she might be right. Maybe sex was the most important aspect of a relationship and I just hadn’t caught up to speed on that yet.

Though I never felt comfortable emotionally or morally with what was happening in our sex life, I remained in relationship with Leah for quite a long while. As time went on, Leah’s expectations for my sexual performance increased to a level I could not possibly reach. She became critical of my body and my unwillingness to perform certain types of sexual activities. Doing something in bed that did not give her sufficient pleasure (or worse, ended up being unpleasant for her) carried significant consequences. Leah began to withdraw all affection from me after I had made “mistakes” while trying to give her what she wanted. At times when I would assert my own needs and wants, Leah would counter with a statement of her right to express her sexuality in any and every way that made her feel happy. This included attempts to convince me that my own physical boundaries were unreasonable. The relationship began to lose its meaning for me because everything was completely focused on our sexual experiences.

As this pattern continued, I noticed that Leah was losing interest in having any kind of intimacy with me that was not sexual. She began rejecting hugs and offers to cuddle on the couch. Any real conversations we were having ceased, and simply spending time together became a chore. Near the end of our relationship, even the sex stopped happening. Leah claimed that she didn’t feel close to me because I wasn’t giving her enough “good” sex, so she had lost interest in sharing any kind of intimacy with me. Though I attempted to raise these issues with Leah and was fully ready to accept responsibility for my part in them, Leah was unwilling to discuss any of this in a meaningful way. She placed all blame for the crumbling of our sex life and relationship as a whole on me for not giving her enough space and for having too high a need for non-sexual types of intimacy.

I tell this story not to condemn Leah or to suggest that this is normative pattern of all sexually active gay relationships. If you find yourself identifying with anything I mentioned above, please consider seeking help. I’m also not saying this to suggest that I am incapable of embracing my sexuality. Though I am now committed to lifelong celibacy in the context of my partnership with Lindsey, I’ve been involved in other sexually active relationships that were quite emotionally healthy. As I reflect on my past relationship with Leah, I can see that I learned many valuable lessons from its circumstances; but perhaps the most important is that sexual activity is not the magical ingredient to guarantee a relationship will be “normal” and “healthy.”

All too often, people who do not understand celibacy frame “sex within a committed relationship” as a panacea for struggles associated with celibacy. My own life experience tells me that this way of thinking is dangerous. And I’d argue it can be just as harmful as suggesting that celibacy mandates are the silver bullet for addressing all LGBT issues in the Church. In the end, Leah and I were incompatible on a number of levels, including our very different views on sexual ethics. I believe there is nothing that could have saved our relationship, and even without these serious issues with intimacy, eventually we would have seen that we were not a good match for each other. Nonetheless, I wonder if things might have ended differently had sexual activity not become the perceived cure-all for every problem that came between us.

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.

A Review of God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

* We have made a few adjustments to this review since we first published it. Please see our updates below.

As the conversation about LGBT issues in the Church has continued to develop, more and more queer Christian books have begun to line the shelves in bookstores around the world. Here at A Queer Calling, we are interested in discovering what these resources have to say to celibate LGBT Christians or those who are considering celibacy. Because of this interest, we have decided to post occasional resource reviews on the blog.

We’re going to start with God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, which was released on 22 April 2014. This much-anticipated book has generated considerable buzz, and you can find many additional reviews on other sites. Because our review will focus on a specific topic within the book, we would like to link you to a couple of reviews that address the book as a whole. For those seeking a review that speaks positively of God and the Gay Christian, citing only a few quibbles, we’d recommend the review hosted at Queering the Church. For those interested in a critical perspective by a reviewer who disagrees strongly with Vines’ argument, we’d recommend Gabriel Blanchard’s review at Mudblood Catholic. Please feel free to share links to other reviews you’ve found helpful in the comments.

Before we start our own review, we would like to reiterate that the purpose of our blog is to engage in conversation about cultivating meaningful, mature, Christ-filled ways of life as celibate LGBT Christians, drawing particularly on our own experiences as a celibate couple. Therefore, our review of Vines’ work will not focus on what he has to say about the question, “Does God bless sexually active same-sex relationships?” Instead, we will frame our review around a different set of questions: What does this book have to say to LGBT Christians who are living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibate vocations? How does this book contribute to conversation about celibacy as a way of life that LGBT Christians might choose?

Vines’ strongest contribution to addressing these questions is in arguing that vocations should not be mandated. He articulates clearly and forcefully the grave harm that celibacy mandates can do to Christians exploring their sexual orientations and discerning what it means to live a Christian sexual ethic. This aspect of his work is exceedingly important for those interested in moving forward in the conversation about sexual orientation and Christianity. Few Christian traditions show awareness of how their teachings on marriage and sexuality impact the lives of gay Christians on a practical and pastoral level, and this reality needs to be challenged. We agree with Vines’ view that focusing on doctrines and dogmas without providing any pragmatic support for living those teachings has failed countless LGBT Christians. Related to this issue, we’ve shared some of our own thoughts about celibacy mandates, providing spiritual direction, and actively cultivating celibate vocations. Our agreement with Vines about the harmfulness of celibacy mandates has one caveat: we believe Christian traditions that teach a traditional sexual ethic have the resources and capability to do so without presenting celibacy as a mandate, whereas Vines seems to believe that because celibacy mandates are harmful, no Christian tradition should teach a traditional (or as he calls it, “non-affirming”) sexual ethic at all.

For the LGBT Christian who is already committed to a celibate vocation or is considering celibacy as a way of life for whatever reason, the utility of God and the Gay Christian ends here. We do not wish to downplay the powerful manner in which Vines gives voice to Christians harmed by mandatory celibacy. Those stories are real and deserve validation. However, outside of this aspect, Vines’ book contributes nothing of value to those who have chosen or might choose celibacy. In several places, Vines even mischaracterizes and disparages the celibate vocation while simultaneously claiming to honor and appreciate it. Consider his argument on page 18 that assumes celibacy is about denying one’s sexuality and asserts celibate gay Christians struggle mightily to cultivate any meaningful relationships:

For gay Christians to be celibate in an attempt to expunge even their desires for romantic love requires them to live in permanent fear of sexual intimacy and love. That is a wholly different kind of self-denial than the chastening of lustful desires the church expects of all believers. It requires gay Christians to build walls around their emotional lives so high that many find it increasingly difficult to form meaningful human connection of all kinds.

We think Vines’ discussion of celibacy fails for three central reasons:

Vines makes no effort to talk to anyone who has chosen celibacy as a vocation and is living that vocation in a sustainable manner. One thing we noticed immediately is very few real voices, outside of Vines’ voice, are included throughout the book. We both noticed that Vines gives space to gay Christians who have tried to adhere to the demands of mandated celibacy but were ultimately crushed by despair, loneliness, and depression. While it is true that many Christian traditions ignore these stories and this is a problem, it is also true that there are gay Christians who embrace celibacy as a sustainable way of life and share their stories in a number of different venues. As Lindsey reviewed the footnotes, Lindsey noted that Vines included only one reference to anything authored by a celibate LGBT Christian. In endnote 16 of Chapter 2, Vines cites Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality as a “helpful book for understanding same-sex orientation,” but does not interact with Hill’s experiences in the book’s main text. Since Hill’s work was assigned reading for participants in Vines’ Summer 2013 Reformation Project Conference, we are puzzled as to why he did not try to incorporate Hill’s extensive discussion of how celibates could overcome the pain of loneliness. Vines’ decision not to interact with this work specifically is even more puzzling because including Hill’s discussion of his own difficulties in living celibacy might even have strengthened Vines’ argument. (See Update #2 at the end of this review)

Had Vines talked with LGBT Christians who have freely chosen a celibate vocation, Vines might have developed a more complete view of how LGBT people interact with celibacy. Instead, Vines implies that celibacy, which he understands to mean “sexual abstinence,” requires that LGBT people view their sexualities as broken, fallen, and constant sources of temptation:

The traditional interpretation of Scripture, as currently applied, calls all Christians to abstinence before marriage. But it goes much further when applied to gay Christians, denying them the very possibility of marriage. According to non-affirming Christians, gay people’s sexuality is completely broken, so mandatory, lifelong celibacy is their only real option (pg 43).

This particular view of celibacy is convenient for Vines’ argument, and he has shared publicly on an episode of GCN Radio that loving interaction with a person who holds a traditional sexual ethic involves developing a substantive relationship with that individual, respecting him/her as a person while seeing his/her views as less valid, and encouraging him/her to repent of these views:

I think you need to engage in substantive, meaningful relationships with people, actually care about people. Don’t just talk about this. And be there for people, really learn from people, respect them as individuals and as Christians. But when we are discussing this issue, don’t pretend like their views are valid in the same way. They are valid in the sense that their motives I can very frequently respect, and I know that they’re coming from a good place, but the views are inherently wrong and in that sense inherently sinful, and so we need to encourage people to move away from them, to repent. –GCN Radio interview, 10 July, 2013

We don’t find Vines’ portrayal of celibacy to be very useful for LGBT Christians living celibate lives or interested in exploring the possibility that they might have a celibate vocation: Vines’ portrayal of celibacy seems to be an outgrowth of his personal convictions that an individual with a traditional sexual ethic must repent. (See Update #3 at the end of this review)

Further, Vines titles an entire chapter of the book “The Gift of Celibacy,” yet gives minimal space to discussing the titular idea of that chapter. The message of Chapter 3 is not that celibacy is a gift, as the title suggests, but rather that celibacy cannot be a mandate. Vines opens the chapter by saying he will discuss how Christian celibacy is grounded in “the goodness of creation, the fact of the incarnation, and our future hope of resurrection” (pg 44). However, in all of Vines’ discussions on these three foundations, he says little about what celibacy means for Christian theology, and instead focuses on the rarity of celibacy as a gift and why we must create additional space for marriage.

Vines implies that celibate gay Christians, especially those in denominations teaching a traditional sexual ethic, are celibate only because of mandates. According to Vines, “…non-affirming beliefs about homosexuality undermine the meaning of Christian celibacy” (pg 57). In other words, only a progressive sexual ethic would give appropriate honor to the tradition of Christian celibacy. Another of his central claims is that in determining how to interpret the Bible in light of new information we now have about human sexuality, “We can embrace gay relationships and maintain a traditional view of celibacy, or we can change our understanding of celibacy and keep a traditional view of gay relationships. But we cannot do both” (pg 44). In Vines’ view, a traditional sexual ethic necessarily involves celibacy being mandated rather than presented as a possible vocation for gay Christians to discover.

Following Vines’ logic, it is impossible for gay Christians to have chosen celibacy freely without belonging to Christian traditions that sanctify same-sex marriage. In order to assert that it is unreasonable to expect all gay people to live celibate lives, Vines provides evidence of those who have crumbled under the demands of mandated celibacy. It appears Vines is suggesting that gay people who consider celibacy do so only because their Christian traditions maintain marriage as between a man and a woman, and he does not posit any other possible causal mechanism for why a particular LGBT Christian might be interested in exploring celibacy. He fails to consider the plethora of factors, such as personal reading of scripture, life circumstances, spirituality, financial situation, sense of call from God, etc. that may shape a person’s vocational choice.

The subtitle of the book “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” reveals a significant bias in Vines’ argument. From our reading, it seems likely that in order to determine a celibate gay Christian’s level of choice in vocation, Vines would first look to see whether that person belongs to a tradition that blesses same-sex marriages. If the tradition does not bless same-sex marriages, then all gay Christians in that tradition must find themselves forced into celibacy as the default according to this line of reasoning. To be clear, our main purpose in highlighting this bias in Vines’ book is to point out the false cause fallacy in this part of his argument. It seems to us that Vines would view our choosing celibacy as a valid vocational choice if and only if we belonged to a Christian tradition that blesses same-sex marriages. Since we do not belong to such a tradition, a logical conclusion one could draw from Vines’ argument is that we did not actually choose a celibate vocation, but were forced into this way of life.

Vines portrays gay celibacy exclusively as rejection of sexuality rather than integration of sexuality. Throughout Vines’ discussion of the traditional sexual ethic, he asserts constantly that this ethic forces gay people to view their sexualities in a negative light. As Vines writes, “For straight Christians, abstinence outside marriage affirms the goodness both of marriage and of sex within marriage. But for gay Christians, mandatory celibacy affirms something different: the sinfulness of every possible expression of their sexuality” (pg 17). We think Vines rightly highlights problems with this view of sexuality. Viewing one’s sexuality as exclusively a source of temptation can (and does) lead to an almost-Gnostic disregard for the body, irrespective of a person’s sexual orientation. But in the aforementioned quote, Vines suggests that a view held by some celibate gay Christians is held by all celibate gay Christians. We find this particular fallacy of composition troubling because we view integrating one’s sexuality as an essential component of a sustainable celibate vocation, and we both have personal experience with said integration. Vines does not address the reality that many gay celibates, particularly those who experience celibacy as joyous and life-giving, accept themselves as sexual beings and have healthy relationships with their bodies.

Regarding rejection versus integration of one’s sexuality within the context of a celibate vocation, we wonder how Vines would address this issue in historical examples where people, for whatever reason, came into celibate ways of life without actually choosing celibacy. When including evidence from the vast historical tradition of Christian celibacy, Vines appears to ignore aspects of this history that could potentially challenge his line of reasoning. He asserts, time and time again, that celibacy must be freely chosen in order to be a valid vocation:

With the exception of some Christians now called Gnostics, whose views were quickly rejected as heretical, Christians from the earliest centuries of the church to the modern era have affirmed that celibacy is a gift that can’t be forced (pg 54-55).

This statement is demonstrably false. We find ourselves wondering how Vines would make sense of, for example, medieval families who gave their young sons and daughters to God by handing them over to monasteries as children. Vines presumes that never in the history of Christianity has the celibate vocation been anything but a free choice, except in the case of modern gay Christians. In light of this, we’re also curious about his conceptualization of the history of marriage. Additionally, we wonder how Vines would respond to the suggestion that marriage does not guarantee integration rather than rejection of one’s sexuality.

In closing, we acknowledge that Matthew Vines wrote this book hoping to stimulate conversation in the Church, and it has already been accomplishing that goal. God and the Gay Christian does make a significant contribution for people interested in discussing the question, “Does the Bible support same-sex sexual relationships?” Vines makes his argument sincerely and after devoting significant time to studying the Bible, and it is clear that misrepresenting others is not his intention. Vines’ book will be valuable for LGBT Christians who have been harmed by celibacy mandates and can identify with the stories included. But while this book claims to offer an affirming position for gay people in the Church, we perceive that Vines affirms only the lived experiences of gay Christians who are in sexually-active relationships, desire/are open to sexually-active relationships, or have been harmed by mandated celibacy to the point that the idea of a celibate vocation is no longer on the table. God and the Gay Christian completely overlooks the experience of the gay person who has made a voluntary commitment to the celibate vocation and is at peace with that decision.

UPDATE #1, 4/24/2014: Matthew Vines contacted us via Twitter to inform us that there are some differences between advance review copies of God and the Gay Christian and the copies that hit the shelves on 04/22/2014. Our review was based upon an advance review copy, which we had the opportunity to read when shown by a friend. Matthew graciously informed us that he does indeed reference Wesley Hill in the final printed version of the book. We are glad to hear this, and will be reading the final version of the book as soon as we can get our hands on a copy. At that time, we’ll make any necessary adjustments to our review in order to ensure that we’ve represented Matthew’s argument correctly. Thanks, Matthew, for pointing this out to us.

UPDATE #2, 4/24/2014: We have now accessed a copy of the final printed version of God and the Gay Christian. We stand corrected on the point that Matthew Vines does not reference anything written by a celibate LGBT Christian. We have amended the review to reflect that he does reference Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting. However, our original point remains unchanged as Matthew Vines does not critically engage Hill’s work.

UPDATE #3, 4/24/2014: Matthew Vines contacted us publicly on Twitter regarding our reference to his interview of 10 July 2013 on GCN Radio. He expressed concern that we had misrepresented his position. We value intellectual honesty, and it is never our intention to misrepresent anyone. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, we decided to adjust our original sentence referencing this interview and include a quotation from the interview itself to add more context. For even further context, we have transcribed approximately two and a half minutes of the interview and have included our full transcription of this relevant portion below. If that still does not provide sufficient context, we urge you to listen to the full episode which we have linked within the text of our review.

Here is our transcript, which goes from approximately minute 12:30 to minute 14:53:

“…from a religious standpoint, I’m not going to say that I think it’s okay to think that same-sex relationships are wrong when that viewpoint is destructive, incredibly destructive, to the lives and the value of gay people. So yeah, I mean, that’s why I think what it means to love someone in this conversation is to have that conversation. Respect who they are respect where they are, and respect their motives, but that doesn’t always mean respecting their beliefs because not all beliefs are equal. And if you believe in objective truth, as I do, then you can’t have two positions that are of equal moral value. So what it means to love someone who is Side B, one aspect of that is not affirming them in that belief and in telling them that what Christian love and sacrifice means is willing to submit yourself to God and also being willing sometimes to take the hit to your ego and your pride that necessarily comes when you admit that you have been wrong, and maybe you’ve been wrong about something that you’ve been very public in advocating. That hurts, and it’s not easy, but Christianity was never supposed to be easy. Christian discipleship is not easy. So part of what it means to be loving people who are Side B is, and again, it’s not enough to go and talk at people. We’ve had this experience the other way around, where people think that because they believe in objective truth, because they think their position is right, therefore they can just go and what they need to do to love people is just hold up signs. No. There’s a lot more than that. I think you need to engage in substantive, meaningful relationships with people, actually care about people. Don’t just talk about this. And be there for people, really learn from people, respect them as individuals and as Christians. But when we are discussing this issue, don’t pretend like their views are valid in the same way. They are valid in the sense that their motives I can very frequently respect, and I know that they’re coming from a good place, but the views are inherently wrong and in that sense inherently sinful, and so we need to encourage people to move away from them, to repent.”

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.

LGBT Media Visibility and the Traditional Sexual Ethic

Today, LGBT people are more visible in the media than ever before. Many would argue that the LGBT community still does not have enough media visibility. Oppositely, many other people would argue that LGBT issues have too much visibility in the media. Still, some don’t think that it’s important for LGBT people and characters shown on television, in magazines, in movies, etc. to be associated in any noticeable way with their LGBT statuses. Those found in the latter two groups tend to be people who hold to a traditional sexual ethic–often people who mean well, but aren’t sure of how best to approach LGBT issues. However, one could make a strong argument that many of the people campaigning to reduce LGBT visibility in the media are not simply conservative Christians who value traditional teachings on sexuality, but instead are those who hold an anti-gay perspective. Either way, in the eyes of these crusaders, any LGBT media visibility flies in the face of a traditional sexual ethic.

Let’s start by backing up just a bit: we’re sure that nearly all of you, our readers, could identify some instance of the media showcasing sexuality outside the boundaries of a traditional sexual ethic. Some of your examples might even showcase LGBT people and concerns. However, a significant portion of media that feature LGBT people does not say anything about sexual morality. For example, Honey Maid released a 30-second commercial in March 2014 called “This is Wholesome.” The commercial features some different families: a biracial family, a family headed by a single dad who loves his tattoos and drumset, and a family of two gay men and a baby.

In the commercial, the gay couple is featured for 5 seconds. There are zero references to sex. There is nothing sexual that the two men are doing. The men don’t actually show affection to each other; they are showing affection to their baby. There’s nothing to indicate, one way or another, that these characters are having sex. There’s nothing to suggest that the characters are legally married. The words “Dad” and “Husband” don’t appear in the commercial at all.

Yet, many people were incensed that Honey Maid would dare to produce such a commercial. Organizations like One Million Moms were quick to argue that this commercial promotes sexual perversion. We wonder how it’s possible to see LGBT people on television and immediately associate this media visibility with an “attempt to normalize sin.” This same organization accused Disney of “pushing an agenda” when it included a lesbian couple on an episode of Good Luck Charlie. When we watched that particular clip, we did not see any references to sexuality, but found other aspects of the scene that should have been very distressing to people who value marriage, love, and respect.

We can appreciate that some straight people with a traditional sexual ethic feel their beliefs are under attack from many corners of society. However, we’d encourage our readers with a traditional sexual ethic to consider the following observations before holding LGBT media visibility as uniquely problematic.

Media can tell the stories of real people. We’ve noticed that people who are against LGBT media visibility tend not to be aware of any LGBT people in their circles of friends. The idea that your kid might have a friend at school with two moms or two dads is not some hair-brained notion from Hollywood, San Francisco, New York, or DC. It’s the lived experience of real people from all across America and in other countries as well. Additionally, celibate LGBT people are also just as real as non-celibate LGBT people. Some celibate LGBT people even have partners. (And if you’re finding our blog for the first time, take this as evidence that celibate, LGBT, Christian couples do exist.) If a person asserts that LGBT people should not be visible in the media because LGBT people practice a “sinful sexual lifestyle,” then that person is reducing the identities of LGBT people to “sex” while simultaneously denying that LGBT people have just as much diversity in their sexual ethics as straight people do.

Media can give invisible people and groups a sense of belonging and worth. One of the most powerful things about books, television, and movies is how they can resonate with a person’s sense of identity. Most LGBT people, at some point in their lives, experience profound alienation — feeling different, unwanted, shut out from society, and worthless. In these moments, LGBT people can struggle to see themselves as God’s beloved creations. The presence of a visible LGBT person in the media can ease the route of self-acceptance and promote emotional health. For example, Lindsey grew up absolutely enthralled by the space program. Because Sally Ride’s launch date occurred two days after Lindsey’s birthday, Lindsey always felt an affinity towards Sally Ride. However, Sally Ride was not a visible member of the LGBT community until after her death in 2012. Lindsey started asking questions about sexuality and gender identity just as Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell had come out, but neither Ellen nor Rosie were people Lindsey especially looked up to. If Ride had been visible as an LGBT person at the time Lindsey started exploring sexuality and gender identity, then Lindsey is reasonably confident that the coming out journey would have been much easier.

Media rarely showcases a traditional sexual ethic, even where straight people are concerned. We hope that this point is relatively straightforward, but we wanted to call attention to the LGBT-straight duality. It’s become increasingly common to see more and more heterosexual sexual activity in the media. Yet, even though people with a traditional sexual ethic are bothered by these developments, one doesn’t see nearly the level of outrage regarding a heterosexual sexual encounter as the ire that manifests when LGBT people are simply visible in the media without any kind of reference to sex. Sarah has been told by multiple acquaintances that they would rather see a heterosexual extramarital affair scene on shows like Grey’s Anatomy than any character on any program identified as an LGBT person. Some have even gone so far as to say that “Adultery is just wrong. But being gay is both wrong and disgusting.”

From our perspective, this last comment is the most telling about how some people view LGBT visibility in the media. We wish straight friends and acquaintances would see that by offering such remarks, they make us feel unwelcome not only in public, but in their own living rooms. Saying that LGBT people should not be visible in the media is not much different from saying that we shouldn’t get to exist at all. We wish these people would afford us space to tell them what celibacy and our self-descriptions as LGBT mean to us. And we wish these people would see us, first and foremost, as human beings.

We’d love to hear from our readers about your reactions to our observations as well as your perceptions of the positive and negative impacts of increasing LGBT media visibility.

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.

The Other Clobber Passages

When LGBT Christians and their allies speak of biblical interpretation, they often focus their attention on the 6 passages of Scripture thought to address whether same-sex sexual activity is permissible. Because so many conservative Christians quote these 6 passages aggressively in efforts to condemn same-sex sexual activity, queer writers discuss them as the “clobber passages.” As LGBT Christians ourselves, we have been on the receiving end of much Bible-thumping and are grateful for the efforts to challenge Christians to consider these verses more holistically. However, as much as progressive writers call for the importance of placing certain passages of Scripture in context, it also seems that other verses get a free pass to assail celibate ways of life. In this post, we want to discuss these other clobber passages. We’d like to use this post to identify the verses in question, briefly describe the main arguments made about them in LGBT-friendly circles, and discuss why we find these arguments harmful. It is not our intention to offer a full exegesis in this post.

Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Inevitably, one of the first verses we hear referenced is Galatians 3:28. People with a progressive sexual ethic/view of gender often argue that St. Paul says gender is a wholly irrelevant construct that is to be done away with in Christ. After all, the first division was between Jew and Gentile, which Paul wrote to abolish. The second division was between slave and free, which the abolitionists worked to abolish. And the last division is the division between male and female, which some hold that modern Christians are working to abolish.

This argument is difficult for us because we’ve come to see some real value in recognizing that the Church is comprised of people from every tongue, language, and nation. Our differences are not obliterated by Christ. Rather, peoples formerly at odds with one another are now capable of being built into one body where each part can complement every other part. Additionally, our own journeys with our sexual orientations and gender identities have led us to regard gender as a profound mystery not easily understood or categorized. We know many people who have been adversely affected by the suggestion that gender is wholly irrelevant because these people perceive a real need to align better their bodies, self-awareness of their gender, and social acknowledgement of their gender.

We take Galatians 3:28 to say that the Gospel does not vary according to ethnic, class, and gender lines. Christ is the same, the good news that Christ has come to earth remains the same for all, and that everyone is welcome to share in Christ’s life without any exception. When you extrapolate this summary to the rest of Galatians as a whole, it seems that almost everything Paul discusses has a one-to-one relationship with our summary. The Gentiles did not become Jewish; the Gentiles were incorporated into the Body of Christ as Gentiles. The children of Hagar were just as welcome in the Body of Christ as the children of Sarah. Joining the Body of Christ did not deny one’s heritage.

Genesis 2:18 “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'”

We hear this verse cited frequently as a way to declare all forms of celibacy (and singleness) as being contrary to God’s will. People will rightly observe that this verse contains the first “not good” in all of creation. God made Adam a partner to be Adam’s helper so Adam would not need to be alone. Among those with a progressive sexual ethic, the marital relationship is an essential relationship for everyone (or almost everyone) so people do not need to be alone.

We naturally have strong objection to any suggestion that because we’re celibate, we’re somehow “alone.” We constantly share our lives with one another and with other people around us. “Alone” is the very last word we would use to describe ourselves.

Even as single people, we did not experience singleness as a crushing burden of isolation. We looked for opportunities to build surprisingly meaningful friendships that have stood the test of time. These friendships transcended age and geographic boundaries. Additionally, we have been blessed to be a part of various thriving communities (even if some of these communities were disjointed from one another).

We take Genesis 2:18 to mean that people need to be in relationships with other people. People find the fullness of their humanity when they relate to other people. We’re designed for interdependence, for community, and for communion with God and with each other.

1 Corinthians 7:6-7 “This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.”

Recognizing that it’s a bit challenging to figure out what Paul is talking about here from the bit we’ve quoted, we’re going to back up a bit. Paul is discussing managing temptations towards sexual immorality. We know many LGBT Christians who quote regularly a later verse that says, “For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Sometimes, these folks look at us askew because they assume that we must be completely divorced from any semblance of a healthy relationship with our own sexualities.

This particular passage is used to make an argument for celibacy as a spiritual gift. Many people regard the gift of celibacy as an exceedingly rare gift. After all, how many people can honestly manage spiritual feats that rival Paul’s greatness? Lindsey has attended many churches that have done various spiritual gifts inventories and remembers people boasting about how they scored a 0 (or whatever the lowest possible test value was on that particular inventory) for “the gift of celibacy.” In these church contexts, celibates were little more than freaks of nature, so it’s exceptionally unlikely that a person would know anyone who possesses the gift of celibacy. The idea that two people would be called to celibacy and then magically find each other in a way that permits them to do life together is akin to finding not 1, but 2, needles in thousands of haystacks.

We’ve also noted that people most likely to quote 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 at us do so in a way to say it’s next to impossible to be celibate, so any perceived “call to celibacy” must be a linguistic device to legitimatize self-hate. One who views celibacy in this way sees celibacy as oppression, oppression, oppression, and a good deal of repression as well. Celibacy does little more than to squish a person. Adding concerns about sexual orientation and gender identity into the mix, many LGBT Christians with a progressive sexual ethic encourage those exploring celibacy to discern any underlying internalized homophobia, assuming that the person feeling “called” to celibacy must be denying any sense of sexual desire.

While we do appreciate that reconciling one’s faith, sexuality, and gender identity can be exceptionally difficult for some people, we resist the carte blanche assertion that all celibates are freaks or remarkably internally oppressed. Such an assertion denies us our ability to tell our own stories. It also prevents us from sharing our definitions for celibacy and explaining how celibacy can be a pathway of integrating one’s sexuality.

When we read 1 Corinthians 7:6-7, we see Paul describing both celibacy and marriage as gifts. There is some distinction between the gifts, but only God is the giver.

As we have explored the question, “What is an appropriate sexual ethic for us as LGBT Christians?” we have had many people throwing Bible verses at us with an attempt to pound us into submission. Both conservatives and liberals are just as as prone to trying to educate us about their interpretations of the Scriptures in ways that can be condescending. But we’re aware that in most cases, this condescension isn’t intentional. We always welcome your comments. We’re particularly interested in learning whether any of our celibate readers have had additional passages quoted to them in an attempt to invalidate their vocations.

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Saturday Symposium: Easter Traditions

A very blessed Saturday to all of our readers. We rejoice that all Christians share a common date for Easter this year, and we pray you experience the joy of the Resurrection this weekend.

This year, we felt like the joy of Easter entered a bit early. Lindsey has formally accepted a job offer. While we still have a bit of time before the start date, we’re prayerful and hopeful that God will provide for us in the early summer.

And now 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’d like to ask you how you observe Easter. What are your Easter traditions? How have your Easter traditions changed over time? What has remained constant in your Easter celebration? Do you have any particular things you do before, during, and after the joyous day of Easter?

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

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.