Within the few days before officially launching A Queer Calling in January 2014, we had many impassioned conversations about our vision for this writing project. We started writing in the first place because after we led a workshop titled “Celibacy Involves Family” at the annual Gay Christian Network Conference, several attendees approached us to inquire more about celibacy, celibate partnership, and ways we see ourselves growing in love for Christ through the joys and challenges of doing life together. These folks, some who have known and supported us for years and others who quickly became new friends, were the inspiration for our blog. Our initial concept, which we have generally maintained, was to post regular reflections on topics relevant to celibates, people interested in celibacy, and the more general conversation about Christianity and the LGBT community. We both have strong personalities and enjoy vigorous discussion, so we haven’t always agreed on how to approach certain topics. But one area where the two of us have always agreed heartily is our commitment to abstain from what many know as the Side A vs. Side B debate. If you don’t know what those terms mean, read this before continuing with our post for today.
As a result of our decision not to participate in discussions of, “Is same-sex sexual activity sinful?” and “Does God bless sexually active same-sex relationships?” we’ve been met with cynicism from people across the moral spectrum on these issues. On a typical day of blogging, we hear from “Side A” folks concerned that we’re trying to lure sexually active LGBT people into celibacy through false pretenses and from “Side B” folks ready to tell us that our contribution to this discussion means nothing unless we decide to start making pronouncements about the sinfulness of gay sex. Those remarks notwithstanding, we remain committed as ever to the original purpose of A Queer Calling, and we sense now more strongly than ever before the need for a space to discuss LGBT celibacy outside the Side A vs. Side B dichotomy.
As we’ve written in other posts such as this one, this one, and this one, both of us came to celibacy because we felt the Holy Spirit pulling us toward celibate vocations. Before meeting each other, we explored monastic life and we both felt deeply convicted that God was calling us to live our vocations within the secular world. Though we belong to a Christian tradition that teaches a conservative sexual ethic and do our best to allow ourselves to be formed in the wisdom of the Church, neither of us decided to pursue celibacy because of a desire to avoid sin. More often than not, telling people this leaves them scratching their heads. We get follow-up questions like, “Does that mean you don’t think same-sex sexual activity is a sin? Isn’t that against the teachings of your church? Why in the world did you choose celibacy if that choice wasn’t motivated by fear of falling into sin?” We’ve also been told by straight Christians within our own faith tradition and other members of the celibate LGBT community that we would find more support for our relationship and our writing project if we would simply make a habit of affirming the rightness of a traditional sexual ethic (and consequently, the wrongness of a progressive sexual ethic). Some have been especially forceful in advising us to point each piece of writing we do back to the central theme of “gay sex is a sin, and celibacy is better,” pointing out that otherwise, conservative Christians might not listen to us as all. They’re probably right about these things. It’s likely we would find more of an audience if we started writing apologetics for our tradition’s teachings instead of reflections on our personal experiences of celibacy and being LGBT in the Church. So why don’t we do that? There are many reasons, but today we’ll open discussion on these four:
1. Christian traditions with teachings on sexual morality generally make those teachings clear. Additionally, other LGBT celibates have already written apologetics for their traditions’ teachings on sexual morality. There’s no gaping hole to be filled here. It’s no secret what conservative denominations teach about gay sex. One need only perform a Google search for “Christianity and LGBT people” to see this. We’ve yet to come across a person who is truly confused about what a given Christian tradition teaches on sexual morality, unless the tradition in question is experiencing a theological change in its previous position. We believe that continually reiterating what our own Christian tradition teaches on these matters (especially because we have chosen not to reveal what our tradition is) would add nothing new or edifying to the discussion of LGBT Christians and our inclusion within the Church. Even before we both converted to our current Christian tradition, we were well aware of its teachings on human sexuality. No one had to tell us. Yet to this day, we experience reminders being shoved down our throats at every turn. We find this not only unhelpful, but also presumptive and alienating. On our blog, we want to foster an atmosphere of radical hospitality. If we feel muzzled and condescended to when other people continuously remind us of their Christian traditions’ already obvious teachings on human sexuality, we have no excuse for doing the same thing to our readers.
2. Limiting discussions of LGBT celibacy to “gay sex is a sin” misses an opportunity for perfect love to cast out fear. When a person focuses solely on avoiding sin, it seems natural that he or she would experience significant worry and fear. A person who focuses on sin as the primary reason for pursuing celibacy might become so terrified of the possibility of committing sin that he or she ceases to delight in many of life’s experiences—every moment of connection with another person is seen as a liability because within in moments it could turn into an occasion of sin. He or she might also begin to focus on people-pleasing: what others perceive as scandalous can reach paramount importance within the person’s life, even if those “scandalous” things are truly innocent and there’s no clear reason why others should point fingers. None of this is purely hypothetical. What we’ve just described has happened to other LGBT people we’ve known, and is very common for some LGBT celibates. Avoidance of sin is an important part of the Christian life, and we would never deny that. We’re not saying that discussions of sin are bad. But when an extreme focus on sin prevents a person from being able to recognize God’s love and exist in healthy relationships with other human beings, it’s a serious problem. A commitment to celibacy does not have to be fear-based, and we believe it’s most sustainable when not rooted in fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Here at A Queer Calling, we desire to create space for discussing how celibacy as a vocation can be an expression of love for God and openness to experiencing God’s love.
3. By focusing on the practical rather than apologetics and doctrines, we can meet people where they are and have conversations about real life. We can also learn from others as they meet us where we are. The way sexuality is often discussed in conservative churches has left innumerable LGBT Christians feeling as though they have no choice but to remain silent or leave the Church altogether. It’s not simply that “people don’t like to hear the truth about how sinful they are,” as has been suggested to us many times. In our experience, conservative churches in general do not make any attempt to meet LGBT parishioners where we’re at in life and provide spiritual direction from there. The sum total of guidance offered by these churches is usually, “If you’re gay, you can’t have sex. It’s a sin. Our denomination can never support same-sex sexual activity.” Some denominations still promote ex-gay ideologies. When an LGBT person chooses to remain in such a Christian tradition and pursue celibacy, he or she will likely experience social and spiritual consequences upon falling short of sexual abstinence. LGBT Christians already face far too many expectations of perfection with minimal room for forgiveness. We believe it would benefit both the LGBT community and the Church as a whole if straight Christians would make a better effort to meet LGBT people where we are and learn about the ways we experience life. This isn’t the same as saying, “We have no doctrine and anything you want to do is okay.” Rather than providing doctrinal reminders ad nauseum, we think a more helpful approach is to ask questions to understand people’s individual needs, challenges, fears, strengths, etc. Therefore, on our blog we also want to meet people where they are, and we hope our readers can do the same for us.
4. Shifting the conversation from “sin” to “vocation” creates space for discussing all vocations. We believe that every person has the capacity to love and glorify God through his or her vocation. We also believe that all of us fall short in our chosen vocations. There is much to be gained from engaging in broader conversation about this issue rather than limiting discussions of LGBT celibacy to, “Gay sex is a sin.” Both marriage and celibate vocations are ultimately about manifesting the kingdom of God. With that in common, all Christians can learn from each other’s successes and failures because we all have the same primary calling: to show others the good news of Christ. If we were to focus the conversation entirely on what is or is not sinful behavior for LGBT people, we would be promoting naval-gazing in the extreme. We would be placing a stumbling block for people who are trying to develop a sustainable manner of celibate living. On our blog, we have chosen to discuss celibacy as a vocation because we see it as intricately connected to other Christian vocations in God’s plan of salvation for humanity. It is our intent and purpose to make room for all interested folks to share/inquire openly about celibacy’s joys, sorrows, blessings, and challenges. We do not see how our entering the “Is gay sex a sin?’ debate would contribute anything to that goal.
Having said all this, we would like to close today’s post by clarifying that we do see the Side A and Side B discussion as important. In the past, the two of us benefited from engaging with arguments on both sides. We do not want to suggest that other LGBT celibates who write about sexual sin would be better served by avoiding this topic altogether. But as for our own writing project, we believe that God has called us to hold a different kind of conversation. The Internet (and the Church) has plenty of room for both.
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.