“I love you, but…” doesn’t cut it

Discussing our celibacy publicly has its advantages and its disadvantages. We love any chance to talk about what celibacy in our context as a celibate partnership. However, we’re disheartened when our discussions of celibacy get overshadowed by people demanding that we state whether we think certain sexual acts can be permitted in Christian traditions. As we see it, many churches have obsessed over sexual morality to the point where church is the last place people feel as though they will be loved if something goes wrong in their sex lives.

Let’s be honest: communicating love through sexual expression is challenging for most sexually active people at one time or another (or maybe all the time) for different reasons. If you’re a sexually active person who believes that continuous consent is important, it’s natural to wonder whether your sexual partner has been able to communicate consent throughout the entire experience. If a married couple is having more sex than usual in a deliberate effort to conceive a baby, they might be concerned that “baby-making” is more important than communicating love. If you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, experiencing sex as a communication of love might be difficult. There’s an endless stream of scenarios that complicate decisions regarding sexual expression. It’s unfortunate that so few people feel like they can discuss their ethical dilemmas related to sexual morality for fear that Christians will be quick to condemn.

Today we write with a simple intention: we want you to know that we will love you no matter what ethical dilemmas you face regarding your sex life. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing all of the “right” things. We’re all too aware of efforts to dress up sexual legalism in the guise of “Christian” consensus. We don’t devote any time to wondering if any of our friends are doing the “wrong” things, sexually or otherwise. We think oftentimes, “It’s complicated” can be the most accurate Facebook relationship status. We consider it a distinct honor and privilege when friends decide they trust us enough to share something with us about how they understand sex.

We often hear criticisms that celibate LGBT Christians are judgmental not only of non-celibate LGBT people but also of anyone who engages in behaviors outside of a traditional sexual ethic. It’s probably true that celibate LGBT Christians could do a lot more to express unconditional love. Unfortunately, the loudest voices calling for traditional Christian sexual ethics attempt to discourage celibate LGBT Christians from saying anything remotely positive about non-celibate LGBT people. Some voices exalt celibate LGBT Christians as the examples to follow and speak in strong opposition to the idea that non-celibates have anything valuable to say. This approach prioritizes demanding celibacy over showing love. At times, we wonder whether certain participants in this conversation care more about preventing gay sex than preaching the Gospel in the first place.

So here’s where we cut to the chase: our love for you is not dependent on what you do (or don’t do) with your genitals. It’s also not dependent on what kinds of relationships you engage in or with whom.

To us, this seems like basic Christian hospitality. We wonder why this is so hard for so many people. Why is it that Christians are so afraid to show love without including an obligatory morality lesson? Why is there such fear that showing love signals approval for something one considers morally objectionable? Why is it that saying “I love you no matter what” can get a person branded a moral relativist? In our opinion, I love you should never be followed by but… Christ’s love does not come with conditions. Christ’s love is absolutely unconditional. He loves the wicked as much as he loves the righteous. It’s not our place to start imposing qualifications on Christ’s unconditional love. We’re tired of being pulled into conversations where we’re asked to justify our treatment of non-celibate LGBT Christians because, “It can’t possibly be the same as how you treat other celibates.” We simply do not and will not ever consider whether a person is sexually active before welcoming him or her as our friend. We’re committed to loving people with no strings attached, and that means no strings. Whether you’re L, G, B, T, Q, straight, or otherwise, we want you to know that when you visit our home, we’re not going to interrogate you about what you do or don’t do with your genitals. We won’t waste a single moment even wondering about it. Those questions truly are none of our business. They are between you, God, and your spiritual director. If you’re a Christian, we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and is encouraging you to continue moving towards Jesus.

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11 thoughts on ““I love you, but…” doesn’t cut it

  1. Thank you for stating what, I think, should be obvious. If we only loved those who did everything according to OUR moral standards, let alone Jesus’, there wouldn’t be anyone we loved, including ourselves. Perhaps that is why some people are so harsh toward others. They simply don’t love themselves or accept that Jesus loves them just as they are.

    • There’s probably some truth to that: people who have trouble loving and accepting themselves often have trouble with the idea that Christ loves others just as they are. It’s so troubling that a statement like this is taken as approval of any and every behavior, sexual or non-sexual. It’s also troubling that even discussing celibacy as LGBT people is taken as disapproval of everyone who is not celibate in every aspect of his/her life.

  2. I love it (this post), but . . . Your words remind me of too many mistakes I keep making. On the other hand, that’s better than making them without being reminded-so thank you. I get a lot of blessings from reading here.

    • Hi Albert. All of us are prone to making this kind of mistake, whether it’s related to sexual morality or other issues. With regard to topics outside of sexual morality, we also find ourselves challenged to love unconditionally. For example, Sarah — who is adamantly opposed to the coal industry — sometimes struggles to show unconditional love toward people who perpetuate the conditions that Sarah opposes. From time to time, we all need to be reminded of Christ’s unconditional love. The two of us are no exception.

  3. Yes, I agree, hopefully the hands off `I love you but…` message will be replaced with the hands on I welcome you message. Gosh, don’t we all crave the presence of people who will give us loving eye contact, a kind hand and a generous measure of their time spent in authentic conversation. In those people we find confidants, teachers and friends.

  4. I think I understand what you’re saying and I agree. However, I wonder if there is a “Puritanical parenting” mode subconsciously going on here (at least as far as the US is concerned). You stated that you don’t think “but” should ever follow an “I love you.” And yet, that is precisely what parents have to do with their children on a regular basis… constantly reminding them that they love their children no matter what, *but* they don’t like and will not accept certain behaviors. (For example: “I love you, but it is NOTokay to sit on your little brother’s head.” or “I love you, but you may not disobey the rules of the house and break curfew. You are grounded for a week.”) Jesus, himself, essentially, confirms this with, “Go and sin no more.”

    I wonder if a side effective of Puritanism (which I’m afraid even infects aspects of Catholicism as well as other Protestant branches) is the desire to “parent” others in a similar manner in the hopes of “winning souls” for God . In this instance making sure everyone is “doing the right thing” *IS* loving them.

    Does that make sense? Just a ponderance.

    • One thing we’d like to point out here: we don’t see “I love you” as a replacement for correction when it’s needed. We think these are actually too different conversations. If we’re in an emotionally, spiritually intimate relationship with another person and a conversation about morality arises, it’s in everyone’s best interest if all involved are open and honest about their convictions even if there is disagreement. With children, it’s important to offer correction lovingly. There are also ways of offering loving correction to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and receiving loving correction from them when necessary. We think part of the trouble is that when correction is needed, many people feel obligated to throw in, “I love you” to reassure the person that the correction does not negate their love for him/her. There are good intentions behind that most of the time, yet it communicates that love for the person is conditional. We believe that in general, it’s better for “I love you” conversations to be clearly separated from “I need to offer loving correction” conversations. Though things rarely play out the ideal way, ideally a person who is offering loving correction would do so in a manner that is unquestionably motivated by love such that it’s not even necessary to say, “I love you” at that time. Though neither of us is a parent, both of us would hesitate to use, “I love you, but…” with the children in our lives and would probably be concerned if we heard their parents saying this. Sometimes kids do need reassurance that their parents loved them after correction (and especially after punishment). However, we’re wondering if there are better ways to communicate that correction doesn’t negate love.

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