“What do celibate gay Christians long for in this life? In the Eschaton?”

We had originally planned a different post for today, but yesterday we received a very thoughtful question that we wanted to address right away because of its timeliness:

“In thinking about Advent, what would you say that you and other gay Christians pray and long for with regard to your sexuality? What are you looking for in the eschaton? In this life?”

That’s a heavy question with a complicated answer, and the two of us spent a few hours yesterday discussing it. As with most questions of this sort, there is a variety of possible answers. How a celibate gay Christian would respond depends largely upon his/her reasons for choosing celibacy and whether he/she sees his/her sexuality as something to be excised or something to be integrated.

We know folks who would say, “In this life I hope to remain faithful to the scriptures and the teachings of my Christian tradition, and in the Eschaton I hope that I’ll finally have freedom from same-sex attraction.” People who hold this perspective tend to see being gay (or same-sex attracted, whichever type of language they prefer) as a painful cross to bear. Some face continual struggles with promiscuity or pornography. Some celibate gay Christians have experienced their sexual orientations exclusively in ways that cause distress. But this certainly isn’t everyone, and we would guess that it is not the majority. We know people who hope that everyone will be heterosexual in the Eschaton. We also know people who hope that they’ll come to understand sexuality as a gift in the way that married people have experienced it. Additionally, we know people who hope that all humans will become nonsexual beings in the Eschaton.

As for the two of us, these are our prayers and longings for this life with regard to our sexuality:

That God will continue to help us use our sexuality and vocation in ways that glorify him and bring forth his Kingdom. Traditionally, Christianity has considered celibacy to be a higher calling. That does not mean we are more virtuous or righteous than married people. It means that in certain ways, more is expected of us. This is not something to be prideful about: it’s intimidating and often frightening. We can only make feeble attempts at living into what God calls us to do and be, but we hope that with God’s help we will continue to improve.

That churches will see value in celibacy and support people in creating a positive vision of celibate vocations. Celibates have always been the minority in Christianity, and celibacy has been a countercultural way of life in nearly every Christian historical context. Living celibacy is often an attempt to meet a high spiritual expectation while existing in a culture that sees celibate people as freaks, and this is especially true for celibates who live in the world rather than monasteries or some form of religious life. In Orthodoxy, there are almost no discussions at this point about non-monastic celibacy. In Catholicism, there is a recognition that lay celibates in the world have a vocation, but there is almost no guidance about what this means or how one should live it out other than “don’t have sex.” In most Protestant denominations, celibacy has been dismissed as unfavorable at best, abnormal at worst. And there are many people in all three branches of Christianity who have made an idol of marriage. We hope to see these problems addressed, and we desire to be part of the solution.

That the language policing in both conservative and liberal churches will stop. Gay people who are intentionally celibate are often met with hostility simply because we use LGBT language. We know heterosexual Christians who behave as though celibacy means nothing if one also identifies as gay. Sometimes we think these folks would rather see us excise LGBT language from our vocabularies than see us grow into our vocations positively, and that is absolutely depressing. What’s even more depressing is that some seem to view preaching the message of celibacy as more important than preaching the Gospel. This has often been our experience of conservative churches, but liberal churches can also have unhelpful ways of language policing. If a celibate person in one of these contexts chooses to use the language of “same-sex attraction” rather than “LGBT,” more often than not it will be assumed that he or she is engaging in self-hatred and is perhaps delusional. We know heterosexual Christians and non-celibate LGBT Christians who refuse to discuss celibacy in any positive way and behave as though preaching the message of “it’s okay to identify as gay” is more important than preaching the Gospel. One of our greatest hopes for this lifetime is that people who are not gay and celibate (or insert whichever word you choose) will spend more time listening, less time language policing, and a lot less time presuming that they understand the gay celibate experience better than we do.

We also have these prayers and longings for the Eschaton:

That we will see our vocations perfected and experience the angelic life of celibacy more fully. We do not know much about how the ideal celibate life should manifest. We sense little glimpses and write about these ideas (which are only prayerfully considered guesses) on the blog at times, but it would be impossible for us to offer a comprehensive vision of what lay celibacy should or could be at its fullest. In the Eschaton, we hope to see completely what we have seen only faint glimmers of in this lifetime.

That we will understand fully how God redeems culture, language, ethnic heritage, class, ability, gender, and sexuality. All we know about the Eschaton is that we will be ourselves, but glorified. It’s impossible to know in this lifetime what “glorified” actually means. To what extent will all of us be the same, and to what extent will we maintain the differences that once formed our identities at incarnate beings? It doesn’t seem right to us to declare that because we’ll all be unified in the Eschaton, we’ll necessarily be the same in every possible way. To our way of thinking, it’s impossible to know whether redemption of ethnic heritage means that people who were Russian, Greek, Nigerian, etc. in earthly life will be stripped of all ethnic and cultural differences. Or an example that has hit home for us within the past year: will d/Deaf people become hearing people in the Eschaton, or do hearing people assume this will happen simply because they see hearing as a state superior to deafness? Right now we have more questions than answers about the Eschaton, and those questions include sexuality and gender identity. We do not think it is possible to know that in the Eschaton, all people will be nonsexual, or heterosexual, or whatever sexual orientation they experienced in their incarnate bodies. But we do hope that everything beautiful and God-honoring about all layers of our identities will carry over into our glorified state.

Whether you are a celibate gay Christian or not, what do you pray and long for in this life and in the Eschaton? This could make for a wonderful discussion in the comments.

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6 thoughts on ““What do celibate gay Christians long for in this life? In the Eschaton?”

  1. I had to look up “eschaton” but still don’t quite understand. It seems like it refers to some kind of grand conflict beyond time but before eternity (which of course is both beyond time and beyond comprehension). So I wondered why you chose to address the second part of the question posed in the title.

    Is it that personhood and sexual identity are so intertwined that it is impossible to see the world, or imagine heaven for that matter, through non-sexual, non-gender-biased eyes? In my understanding, gender/sex are meaningful only with regard to human relationships as we experience them. Thus I don’t think a straight person sees a sunset or prays for repentance any differently than a LGBTQ person does. If that is true, and if human relationships are not central to the “vision of God” (a phrase from my childhood religious instruction, a way of talking about the inexpressible), I’m not sure that sexual orientation would mean anything after death. On the other hand, we are told that our bodies will rise and return, and that includes sexual organs–so I can see that if identity is connected with or contradicted by physical appearance, the concept of resurrection might become problematic.

    On the other hand celibacy seems to me to be a pragmatic choice, a path, that is available equally to male or female, straight or gay, single or coupled, community or hermit–a path that could lead to a greater union with God for those individuals who feel so called, but not “greater’ than other paths whether chosen or merely accepted.

    I am not trying to split hairs or parse words for its own sake. I profit greatly from your reflections. But the thing about the eschaton got me thinking. Probably I should go back to just living, and praying of course (which I do for you as a form of gratitude and an encouragement to keep on writing).

    • Hi Albert, the Eschaton can be challenging to understand. We have only seen the glimpses of the end through a very dim lens. At the end, we know that we will be raised in glorified bodies and that there will be people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. If family, linguistic, and national ties are at least visible at the end, then we think it’s an open question about how and if class, ability, gender, and sexuality will be present as well. Many things written about celibate vocations through history talk about how celibates experience a foretaste of the angelic life now. We’re curious what it means to experience the angelic life fully. Anything we can write about life in the Eschaton is written speculatively, knowing that even our most complete human understandings will fall short of what God intends to reveal to us at that time.

  2. What an awesome question. I had never heard the word “eschaton”, though I guessed what it might mean based on the word “eschatology”. Do you mind defining it for us? The rest of my post assumes you used it to mean “heaven”, that glorious day when “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

    In a very general sense, I believe that everyone, gay and straight, is longing for the same thing: communion and intimacy. In this life, we long for things like marriage, sex, pornography, conversation, community, same-sex partnership – all more or less distorted pictures of what true communion looks like, which is impossible on this earth. We are all wholly isolated within ourselves at all times because of the separation sin has caused between us, God, and others. As Ogden Nash puts it:

    “Caught in a mesh of living veins,
    In cell of padded bone,
    He loneliest is when he pretends
    That he is not alone.

    We’d free the incarcerate race of man
    That such a doom endures
    Could only you unlock my skull,
    Or I creep into yours. ”

    (Please read the whole thing!)

    Nothing on earth can really satisfy that longing. Marriage comes close. Intimate friendship comes close. But they’re merely shadows of the real thing, which we will finally experience when we see the Beloved face to face. When we’re fully free from sin, we will be able to fully know him (and our brothers and sisters) and have perfect union. Sex and marriage won’t be abolished; they’ll be irrelevent. “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Cor 13:10) Why would we desire sex with either gender when we have the fullness that sex was pointing us towards? Why would we want the shadow when we have the substance?

    Disclaimer: Every time I said “is”, “will”, or “won’t”, I was speaking as one who recognizes that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). We know that there is no marriage in heaven because of Luke 20:34-36. “And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.'” But beyond that it’s just speculation!

    • Hi Ivy, you’re right about the Eschaton. The Eschaton is after the end of time when we shall see God fully.

      We really appreciate your comment. Thanks for sharing the poem. Because you’ve asked, “Why would we desire sex with either gender when we have the fullness that sex was pointing us towards? Why would we want the shadow when we have the substance?” we wanted to clarify that we don’t experience being LGBT (or straight for that matter) as being predominantly about desiring sex. We are more inclined to see sexuality (in all of its forms) as being rooted in organically good desires for connection, interdependence, mutually supportive relationships, embodied experiences, and a sense of belonging to “humanity” as opposed to being an autonomous individual.

      We appreciate having you as a reader!

      • Thanks for your response! I think that’s what I was trying to say (obviously not very clearly): sex points us towards something deeper, which is union and communion with God and others. Since we will have the fullness of the picture in heaven, we won’t need sex anymore. I desire union and communion primarily with women and sex is a part of that desire. But in heaven that sex-specific bit of my orientation (not the whole by any means) will be subsumed by what’s more important and what it points to, the connection and belonging. And to clarify fully, I believe that goes for gay, straight, and every color of the rainbow.

        Does that make sense at all? I think we’re agreeing but correct me if I’m wrong! And thank you for every single post you both make. I always think deeply even when I don’t have time to comment.

        • Hi Ivy, thanks for your comment. We agree that everyone will experienced a glorified form of sexuality where we can’t know exactly how that will manifest until we get there.

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