The sermon I wish had been preached at #ERLC2014

A reflection by Lindsey

I have been a participant in the gay Christian conversation for 14 years. Sometimes, it’s a conversation. Sometimes, it’s a debate. And most of the time, it’s a lot of pontificating. I’ve been in environments where people have been actively seeking orientation change and healing from sexual brokenness. I’ve eaten many a meal with LGBT Christians waiting eagerly for the day when they would meet their same-sex spouses. And, hopefully unsurprisingly, I love talking with other people about celibacy and how LGBT people can show Christ to the world through living celibacy. Certain voices are well-known, and you can almost guarantee what a particular speaker will say. Yesterday, Albert Mohler addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission 2014 Conference on The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. When I saw on Twitter that Mohler had opened up his Bible to Romans 1, something in me went off and I tweeted:

For an LGBT Evangelical Christian, these conversations are absolutely predictable. As a former Evangelical, I’m well aware of this. Yet, as I threw around the list of the Scriptures in my head… Romans 1, Genesis 3, Matthew 19, Genesis 1… some different thoughts took root in my heart. In following the same order of the Scriptures, I arrived at a very different place than “Don’t be gay.” Although I no longer consider myself an Evangelical with a capital E, I know far too many LGBT Christians screaming out to the Evangelical Church. This post is an offering to friends within Evangelical traditions and anyone else who finds it helpful. It’s deliberately written to have a preacher’s tone, and I hope you can imagine it being delivered by a sort of unknown, robust voice that carries some authority. Like any message delivered at a conference, it’s bound to miss the mark in a number of ways. In many ways, I’m trying to preach to my 22 year old self who desperately needed assurance that God had not abandoned me and had a plan for me in the part of the church I recognized.

Without further ado, I offer to you the sermon I wish had been preached at ERLC2014.

Hello, my name is Lindsey. I’d love a chance to get to know you more. I’ve been doing my best to follow Jesus in the company of friends since 1996. My faith journey began in high school and underwent significant growth in college. I met virtually all of my college friends through Intervarsity: I loved learning more about encountering Christ through intelligently reading the Scriptures and seeking to apply them to my life. I learned that following Christ is costly but that Christ alone offers the only form of life that could possibly be worth my everything. Now that I’ve introduced myself, let’s pray before we dive into God’s word.

Heavenly Father, you know each and every one of us. You created us, called us to be your own as sons and daughters in your eternal kingdom. You delight in us. You have fashioned us according to your image and likeness. Give us the confidence that we are, first and foremost, your children. Father, with the confidence that we are loved deeply and completely by you, we ask you: Search our hearts and know us. Try us and know our thoughts. See if there be any grievous ways in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen.

We’re gathered here to talk about the Gospel, homosexuality, and the future of marriage. We come from many places, but we’re here because we’re deeply concerned about how we live faithful lives in Christ. I speak to you today with a firm conviction that each and every one of us here present longs for an authentic relationship with Christ. With that in mind, I’d like to acknowledge publicly the gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians I know who have decided to attend this conference, as I know you braced yourselves for great hostility. I don’t know any transgender Christians in attendance tonight. If you are here, I’d love to meet you. I cannot fathom the depths of your courage. Tonight, I feel compelled to walk down a well-trodden road through the Scriptures. I do hope you’ll hold out for what I have to say because I hope to use incredibly painfully familiar passages to mark out a road far less travelled. For the sake of our LGBT brothers and sisters, I’m going to let you know that I’ll walk through Romans 1, Genesis 3, Matthew 19, and Genesis 1. I hope you’ll take a deep breath, and I invite you to trust me even though I’ve given you scant reason to hope that I’ll say something different from what you’ve already heard. God has set this message on my heart. And l implore your forgiveness for any ways I fall short.

Let us turn to Romans 1, beginning with verse 19:

What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Church, if we are going to have an honest conversation about the Gospel, homosexuality and the future of marriage, then we need to be frank: we have made an idol out of marriage. To be absolutely clear, God has imprinted His loving design on marriage. However, marriage is not the Gospel, especially when we consider how we present the Gospel to LGBTQ people both inside and outside the Church. How has it come to pass that Christians are better known for standing in a fried chicken line than we are for feeding the hungry? How has it come to pass that Christians are better known for resisting anti-bullying legislation in schools than we are for treating absolutely each and every person with the love of God? How has it come to pass that Christian parents are better known for kicking their LGBTQ children out on the streets than they are known for binding up the broken-hearted? How is it that 91% of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 who are outside of the church describe the church as anti-gay? These are our kids. And we are failing them. We are failing to show them the Gospel of Christ. We are failing to provide a broken world with hope of restoration and fullness, a promise that we Christians can only be fulfilled by uniting our lives wholly and completely to Christ.

We can find an important piece to this puzzle if we look at Genesis 3. Now, there’s a lot that can be said about Genesis 3 if we are talking about a broken world. Given our topic tonight, I’d like to zoom in on verse 16:

To the woman he [God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

Now, let me first say something absolutely clear to the women gathered in the audience. This verse is not about you. This verse is not about your failings. This verse is not about your specific individual sins. This verse has been all too often wretched from its context and has been abused, completely and wholly and utterly abused by men seeking to demean women. We cannot have an honest conversation about the future of marriage if we deny the historic injustices of misogyny: and our churches have been anything but innocent when it comes to perpetuating the abuse of women.

At this point in Genesis 3, God delivers His judgment on the serpent, the woman, and the man. Some people will describe this passage as God cursing Creation. Yet we know that God, in infinite mercy and majesty, disciplines us as a father cares for his children. We also know that God wants all things to work together for our good and that He gives us good gifts. So here, in Genesis 3, we see that God has given the woman desire for her husband. The mysteries of attraction and marriage are both a blessing and a curse. No wonder it’s so easy for us to fail so miserably in areas of sexual morality!

Turning to Matthew 19, we read:

He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The important thing to note here is that Jesus is talking about divorce. Jesus ups the ante even further when he says, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Friends, brothers and sisters, if we’ve read the Gospels, we know that when Jesus says, “And I say to you” he is looking us right in the eye and telling us that we so easily miss the boat completely on the core issue. Marriage is a commitment that matters to Christ. It is profoundly important. Marriage reflects the world that God created, and marriage is good. Nonetheless, Christ knows that our fallenness we experience marriage as both a blessing and a curse, and he recognizes that sexual immorality has the power to destroy a marriage. That’s why we need to pray for those who are married in our midst: sin can enter in and destroy a covenantal bond. And that’s why we need the Cross because only on the Cross can Christ give Himself completely, fully, and freely to the church. Only through the Cross can Christ destroy the many forces of death that seek only to destroy God’s covenantal bond to His people.

The disciples know that Christ’s teaching on marriage is a challenging teaching. Let’s continue in Matthew 19:

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

And friends, here is where we really experience how we have made an idol of marriage in our society. We have made marriage an idol when we jettison its complement–celibacy. What is even worse is that we thrust this rejected way of life on gay and lesbian people expecting them to figure it out with no support when Protestants, by and large, have neglected the celibate vocation for hundreds of years. Could it be that God has whipped up such fury in the church about homosexuality so we can finally start to have honest conversations about the goodness of celibacy? Church, we need to be honest: do we even know what Christ was talking about when he said “there are eunuchs”? For my part, I have to wonder if there were people running around shouting at those on the margins of society, saying “Don’t call yourself a eunuch!” This passage from Christ is eerily reminiscent of how we talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our cultural context. Moreover, we must be especially mindful that there are some people who do not feel like they can elect into a heterosexual marriage owing to any range of factors. How are we support these people who feel like celibacy is their only realistic option?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question, as I do not have the mind of God. Try as I might, I’m a sinner, I’m a fallible human being, and I know that the way of Christ is hard to find. I know that there is great promise in celibate vocations if for no other reasons than Christ was celibate, Paul was celibate, and so many heroes of faith in the modern world like Mother Teresa have been celibate. May God guide the journey, and may we have confidence to undertake this journey in faith.

And, I promised, I’d finish with Genesis 1.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God created us in God’s own image. As we go out into the world, whether we are married or unmarried, LGBT or straight, weak or strong, let us remember that we are created in God’s image. May God grant us the strength to be image-bearers so that we reflect Christ in all we do and say.

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13 thoughts on “The sermon I wish had been preached at #ERLC2014

  1. Thank you, Lindsey, for pointing out the “eunuch” references. I had forgotten about them. You are right in reminding us. Here’s an experience of mine that changed my view of that because I was among the 3rd type for about five years–in a RC religious order.

    We were regularly warned to avoid what they called “particular friendships.” At the same time we were counseled to be wary of the inclination to isolate ourselves and travel through life alone within this group of like-minded men. The summary phrase used to guide relationships was “numquam solo, rare duo, semper tries.” That worked well for about a year, maybe two. Gradually I felt the need to communicate more deeply with persons who seemed to share my interests, personality type, deeper values even with regard to the experience and expression of faith.

    But I became afraid of the feelings that accompanied these attractions. They reminded me of certain feelings I had experienced with girl friends–not directly sexual, but somehow similar and evidentially natural (because at the time I didn’t even know that SSA was an issue other than the very exceptional and popularly ridiculed “fruits” that were known by stereotypes in movies or among adolescent boys.) In simple terms, I was drawn to a few individuals, very few, and I looked forward to occasional opportunities to talk with them extensively and alone–but soon enough I forced myself to stifle those inclinations.

    Within a year I started feeling terribly lonely. I became sickl, lost weight, and gradually descended into a strange surreal word where I became both paranoid and incapable of concentrating on anything other than my loneliness. Eventually I was sent to a rural mission and told to spend my time working on the ranch part and driving a school bus. Within six months I had gained all my weight back and looked and felt “normal” again, even to the point of admiring the mysterious beauty of some young women I saw during that time in my private version of “the old west” – rounding up cattle on horseback, fixing fences, mucking out barns.

    I understood then that God’s plan for me did not include celibacy. Had anyone suggested that I could meet those women an eventually develop an intimate relationship that did not include sex, and at the same time remain in the role of religious teacher which originally appealed to me, I would have said, no way. My old feelings had returned full blown.

    This is a long way of saying that it is so hard for me to think of celebate relationships, even though I deeply respect yours with Sarah. It is hard for me now, many years later, to think of celibacy at all, even though my understanding of sexual relationships has evolved to the point that genital sex is not a major interest, not a spontaneous urge or need.. But genital sex is such a narrow way of understanding attractions, whether to the opposite sex or to the same (as I began to experience it in those early youthful days in my chosen religious order).

    You love Sarah, and she you. You have made a life together that is everything that a successful marriage could be. Why bother to characterize it as celibate, since there must be an element of sexual attraction between you–sexual in the beautiful and mysterious way that opposites are drawn to and completed by each other. Otherwise it seems like . . . I don’t want to say business arrangement because that leaves out the religious part. I don’t know if we as a community, especialy as a Christian community,have developed a vocabulary for taking it in, taking it to heart.

    I understand that some church people dismiss or actively reject you. But as you pointed out, Jesus didn’t and certainty God doesn’t either. I understand also the need for belonging and praying in a traditional Christian community.you have a source of suffering that few persons could bear. I hope you are strong enough to continue in your project here (providing a forum for helpful discussion) and to deepen your partnership by allowing it to grow and change (it will change–that’s one thing you can count on in any relationship) in a natural as well as sacred way.

    I pray for that, and for mutual understanding in public communities, mutual acceptance, genuine welcoming.

    • Thanks Albert for your comment. It’s unfortunate to me that so many Christians will caution against celibate people building relationships with one another. In my mind, it’s a symptom a culture that references all relationships against the norms of heterosexual marriage.

      My own experience has suggested that pursuing any form of forbidden intimacy can create all sorts of challenges for people. I remember working at a camp that had strong policies that male counselors should not walk alone with female counselors when campers were present. This particular policy created many more headaches than it was worth. Counselors who found themselves on the wrong side of this policy were almost always debating whether they liked each other in “that” way.

      I sincerely appreciate the vulnerability of your comment. There’s some truth that virtually every teenager is dealing with some aspect of feeling really different and trying to make sense of odd feelings. I fear that constantly highlighting the experience of same-sex attraction as an instance of sin serves only to pressure adolescents further. It’s difficult for me to make perfect sense of the liminal space between childhood relationships and adult relationships. However, I do wish that people had freedom to know that they could find their Christian vocations regardless of how they experience attractions.

      You’ve said, “You love Sarah, and she you. You have made a life together that is everything that a successful marriage could be. Why bother to characterize it as celibate, since there must be an element of sexual attraction between you–sexual in the beautiful and mysterious way that opposites are drawn to and completed by each other. Otherwise it seems like . . . I don’t want to say business arrangement because that leaves out the religious part. I don’t know if we as a community, especialy as a Christian community,have developed a vocabulary for taking it in, taking it to heart.”

      Here, I personally need to push back just a bit. My love for Sarah is inescapably tied up in the celibate vocation we share together. We’re building our life together founded on our core values of being vulnerable, practicing hospitality, sharing our spiritual life, and committing to this way of life together. It’s also difficult to describe the attraction we experience. Both of us feel more loved and more known by another human person than we have ever felt before, but it’s really hard for me to describe this feeling as sexual.

      We do join our prayers with yours. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thank you for your response to ERLC2014. I have been following the hashtag on twitter. I too pray for increased understanding and acceptance (and embracing!) of celibacy as a vocation amongst Protestants. I am an Anglican (in the Church of England) which does have religious orders, including the single consecrated life (equivalent to consecrated virgins in the RCC, but it is open to those who are not virgins, eg divorced or widowed people). Even in the Anglican church, celibacy is still not very well understood, and not encouraged. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is keen on promoting religious communities but I would like to see more discussion on celibacy outside of that. I am a celibate bisexual woman, but celibate for reasons other than believing that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is forbidden. Celibacy simply suits me – I do not want children and don’t see myself marrying. Celibacy just seems like a good way for me to live my life as a Christian, and in my opinion this would be the case if I was straight. This situation seems (sadly IMO) not too common, outside of religious communities at least.

    Thank you both for your witness and your grace in dealing with difficult conversations!

    • Thank you. It meant a lot to me to be able to write this particular reflection. I’d love it if you would feel comfortable sharing it with other people.

  3. Thank you for these thoughts. I think one of the deep hypocrisies of Christians who call for LGBT celibacy is the lack of such a vocation (and the resources to live it out faithfully) for heterosexual persons. I look forward to reading more.

    • Hi Drew, we’d definitely agree that there’s a distinct shortage of resources for living out a celibate vocation. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve devoted so many posts to the celibate vocation. We regard our first “Defining Celibacy” post as a starting list of topics to include in a pre-celibacy course. That link is http://aqueercalling.com/2014/01/18/defining-celibacy/ We hope to see you in the comments again!

  4. Thank you so much for this. I listened to a few of the sessions, but your voice adds a perspective not included. I want to know more; I am intrigued.

    • Thanks Carolyn, we’ve spent a lot of time on the blog discussing various aspects of celibacy. Feel free to click around and engage us in the comments!

  5. Pingback: Gay Christian Network post the second: “How Dare You” – Emmy Rettino Kegler

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