Clearing the Air on “When Celibacy Fails”

Approximately two weeks ago, we published a post on the topic When Celibacy Fails. Here at A Queer Calling, we have made many statements about spiritual direction and celibacy in an attempt to say, “It is not enough to tell a person exploring celibacy ‘Just don’t have sex.’ There is much more guidance and support needed in order to walk alongside that person as he/she cultivates a celibate vocation.” We have written about defining celibacy using four characteristic virtues, providing spiritual direction, providing some concrete advice as to how to cultivate a celibate vocation, and suggesting that focusing spiritual directives towards “Strive first for the kingdom of God” can help churches move beyond the celibacy mandate. There is honestly nothing we wish for more than the opportunity to help people in the Church today explore the possibility that celibate vocations can be a life-giving, life-affirming pathways to holiness.

Therefore, we were exceptionally surprised to see another person in the blogosphere quoting a part of the When Celibacy Fails post in order to suggest that we deliberately paint a bleak picture of living a celibate life. We would have responded to the post sooner; however, this blogger did not engage us by commenting on the original post, contacting us privately, linking the full text of our original post in their blog, or even crediting us for our quotes. Rather, we learned about this post through a series of comical events that culminated in some of our friends recognizing that we were quoted. Regular readers will know that we take responding to comments and concerns seriously as we have made a general rule to participate in comment box discussions on the blog and to answer email in a reasonably prompt fashion.

The blogger who quoted us contrasts his writing with ours saying:

One reason I write is to inspire young people to not focus on the dreary picture most self-proclaimed “gay” Christians seem to paint of their lives and experiences, nor to focus on how difficult this particular cross is, compared to others. Rather, I write with the hope of inspiring them to pursue the great and noble cause of chastity for the sake of their love of God, and love of neighbor, and love of the world. And indeed, love of themselves!

We honestly wonder how this blogger arrived at the conclusion that we paint a dreary picture of our lives and experiences as celibate, LGBT Christians. We’re actually much more accustomed to people telling us that we take so much joy in our celibacy that our story is unrealistic. We do understand that Matilda might not be everyone’s favorite part of a New York City adventure. Not everyone will appreciate our adventures in going to church with a camel. Some people think lentil soup is disgusting and should be anathematized. And we are certainly unique amongst our celibate, LGBT, Christian friends in that Sarah (and Lindsey, by extension) has a pistol-packing grandmother who would thwack someone with her oxygen tank before letting that person harm either of us. We know we’re not exactly the same as many other celibate LGBT Christians, even insofar as we have decided to do life together rather than as singles. But of all of the criticisms we expected to receive of our blog, the idea that someone would conceive of our portrayal of celibacy as bleak never would have occurred to us in a million years.

To say a bit more, we wrote our initial piece on When Celibacy Fails because we do know a significant number of people who have struggled profoundly with embracing a celibate vocation. Some of these people hold in the fight and receive varying degrees of support in their efforts. Others have all but given up on celibacy and denounce it as the most oppressive invention of the Christian tradition. In walking alongside people across the spectrum, we’ve noted that it seems LGBT folk encounter spiritual directors who impose a celibacy mandate — if you ever have gay sex, then you’re certain to go to hell — and end the conversation there.

In writing When Celibacy Fails, we had hoped to open a conversation about the need to provide guidance towards a Christian vocation that aligns with a particular person’s state in life. We find ourselves talking differently to teenagers than we do to retirees and everyone at varying stages in between who sends us a contact email. Because people have so many different experiences and at so many different life stages, it doesn’t make sense to us that we should say, as the other blogger does:

I grant that the Church can do better–but it can do better in all things. It can do better ministering to single mothers, it can do better ministering to those who went through divorce, it can do better feeding the homeless, and it can do better with teenaged kids with same sex attraction, like I was so long ago, feeling lost in Church. (Cue the sad violins, please. Who HASN’T felt lost in the Church at some point in their lives? It seems it’s nearly a necessary part of the journey of faith for everyone to feel lost at some point in their lives.)

This sentiment ignores the problem entirely. Specifically, the problem is helping people discern a celibate vocation especially at times when the road is rocky. Yes, the road is going to be rocky; there’s nothing about following Christ that suggests for an instant that the road is going to be smooth. We think that the lived expression of the Church today does a lot to help people who are married through the rocky places of the marital vocation, acknowledging that some of our readers might be very quick to provide counter-examples as to how they have felt ignored or dismissed when seeking counsel for various marital issues. Stating that celibacy can be challenging, and more challenging to some than others, is not the same as whining, and is not the same as saying that LGBT people face a more pathetic lot in life than all other members of the Church.

As a final point of commentary, we find it interesting that this blogger decided to title his critique of our post: “My Cross Isn’t Greater Than Yours, or, Enough With the Whining!” despite the fact that we have made it abundantly clear in multiple posts that the two of us do not consider celibacy a cross to bear. We can acknowledge that other LGBT Christians may experience celibacy as a cross while maintaining that we experience great joy in our celibate vocation.

We very much regret that this blogger did not choose to open up a real dialogue with us. We further regret that another author has misrepresented the point of our post When Celibacy Fails because this blogger chose neither to link our post nor to credit us as the authors of the quotes he selected. Had we known about either of these pieces sooner, we would have responded in a more timely manner. We do our best here at A Queer Calling to practice hospitality. As a part of that hospitality, we always try to alert an author whenever we are integrating any of his or her material to give credit where credit is due. Equally, we will respond to anyone interested in integrating our material as soon as we become aware of the other person’s efforts.

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4 thoughts on “Clearing the Air on “When Celibacy Fails”

  1. Wow. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be. He must have read the whole piece, since he quotes from different parts of it, but I cannot understand how thought ‘dreary and droopy’ was an accurate representation of your ideas, and that’s leaving the lack of accreditation completely aside. I really can’t understand why he thought this was either a fair strategy, or likely to be an effective one. I’m not particularly sympathetic to his argument, but he could have made it better by quoting from a post made by someone who actually did make the claims he is opposing, or just stating the position without attribution. Anyway, even if his understanding of your piece was correct, the application is irrelevant as you have been clear on numerous occasions that you neither wish to disclose your Christian tradition nor specifically address particular traditions.

    I seem to only get moved to comment out of indignation, which is a shame because I appreciate so much the reflective and soul-bearing writing you post here, I will try to do better in future!

    • Hi Kathleen. We’re willing to engage with anyone who is interested in engaging us. We’re very troubled by the fact that this person chose to pull our quotes out of context and neither link us nor attribute them to us, but because we found his piece we did want to try and engage it, even if he isn’t interested in talking to us…especially because of the nature of the accusations made. If this person were to want a real conversation with us, we would do our best to treat him kindly. Thanks for stopping by today.

  2. Oh, my gosh. I saw that piece and read it (out of sheer masochism), and saw red the whole time–but while I immediately thought of your blog, I didn’t put together that the other blogger was actually quoting you! Sheesh.

    Please keep writing what you’re writing. Not one word I’ve come across has sounded like whining to me. I’m soaking all this up–I need to hear this. Your archives gave me the word “ally” last week–a word I’d heard before, but only just thought to begin applying to myself–and I’m feeling the imperative to know what that means, now, to know what my LGBT friends and relatives need from me. Your words aren’t complaints–they’re ways to connect to souls I love, whom I can’t stand the thought of being separated from.

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