Can radical hospitality have limitations?

A reflection by Sarah

Radical hospitality seems to be a hallmark of celibate communities (e.g. monasteries). Every celibate community we have visited has guest housing. (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we could visit them….. they’re committed to hospitality.) For us, in our home, the practice of radical hospitality means always being willing to host a guest. Whether the guest stays overnight in our apartment, joins us for a meal, or travels with us for a ride home, the guest is a welcome person. When we meet new people, we prayerfully consider how we might be some conduit of blessing for them. So far, God’s been pretty awesome to show up in our limited efforts.

That’s a quote from one of our earliest blog posts in which we made an initial attempt at defining celibacy as a vocation. If you’ve been following our posts for a while now, you’ve probably seen that our understanding of celibacy and its various components has evolved significantly within the past year. I hope that this growth never stops, and I’m grateful to be learning more and more about what God is calling me to as time goes on. I’m especially grateful that God has been showing Lindsey and me new ways that we can extend hospitality to others.

Today, I’m writing not because of anything bold or profound that I’ve discovered, but instead because of confusion and conviction. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about certain people who used to be part of my life but are no longer. More specifically, I’m thinking of family members, former friends, and acquaintances who are not in my life at present because I have chosen to remove them from my life. Several examples come to mind. There’s a family member who misinterpreted something I said on Facebook, unfriended me, and sent a long and dramatic letter in the same envelope as my birthday card to explain her decision. When I confronted her about this, she lashed out and neither of us has spoken to the other since. There’s an ex-girlfriend who slept around with a variety of people in two different cities while we were together, who has made a habit of contacting me once every few months to throw an insult or accusation my way. There’s a man I haven’t seen or heard from in years — my high school boyfriend, who I’m sure has no interest in ever hearing from me again because of the emotional hurt both of us inflicted upon each other when we were younger and far less mature.  There’s the friend from college whom I have avoided intentionally since graduation because of her insistence every time we interacted that I “just don’t have enough faith” that God could make me straight. There’s the girl from my second grade class whom I lashed out at for excluding me from a jump rope game at recess. I have a clear memory of shouting at her, “I’m glad you’re moving to a new school next year! I don’t like you anyway!”

If I truly believe that hospitality is part of the Christian vocation and that radical hospitality is  a basic building block of a celibate Christian way of life, how am I to live that value in interactions with people whose company I enjoy about as much as a root canal? What about people who have been out of my life for varying lengths of time not because they have chosen to be, but because I have chosen to keep them away from me? I’m torn when it comes to these questions. I believe that sometimes, it is morally justifiable to cut people out of one’s life. In certain cases, not doing so results in decreased mental health and causes one to become an open target for manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of emotionally, physically, or spiritually abusive behavior. At other times, the most Christian approach to dealing with a person one considers difficult is to keep trying, pray about it, and watch for signs that the situation might be improving. A couple of the personal situations I listed above are less difficult to discern than others. There’s almost nothing I can do to make amends to my second grade classmate. Her name is an incredibly common one, and it doesn’t seem reasonable that God would be asking me to send an apology message over Facebook to all 3,000 women who have that name. Her name might not even be the same as it was 1991. It seems a bit more reasonable that God might be asking me to get back in touch with Mr. High School Sweetheart to say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But what about the instances in which my anger toward a person is justifiable, and while I bear him or her no ill will I have determined that it is best if we do not interact with each other?

What does it mean to live radical hospitality with respect to someone I recognize as an image of God, but still see as a toxic person? Really, I have no idea. Is it even possible to live radical hospitality while knowing full well that there are people I would never allow into my apartment under any circumstance? Am I just kidding myself when I say that I desire to live a radically hospitable way of life if, deep down, I hope that God never sees fit for my ex-girlfriend to show up on my doorstep with a need for someone to show her hospitality? Should I be praying that God will soften my heart toward these people? But what if hardness of heart isn’t the problem and my lack of hospitality toward certain people is rooted in important concerns about safety? Or does it even matter what the root of my confusion is? How can radical hospitality be radical if it excludes even one person?

As with most dilemmas of this sort, it seems the best place to begin wrestling with these questions is the historic Christian tradition. How have celibates lived radical hospitality throughout the ages? What did it mean to them? Did those saints who lived celibate vocations ever place limitations on their extension of hospitality to others? As I’ve been mining the tradition for answers, I continue coming up confused. St. Brigid of Ireland was one of the most generous human beings I can think of, giving nearly every bit of food she had to the poor and welcoming travelers from everywhere into the monastery she founded. I wonder if there is anyone she would have turned away, or if she did would that decision be an example of her holiness? Or her human fallibility?

The Scriptures also have much to say about hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 reminds us to be hospitable to each other without complaining. Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us not to fail in showing hospitality to unfamiliar people because “by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In Luke 14, Jesus tells one of his many parables to help us understand the kingdom of God, instructing us to show hospitality to the marginalized. Who am I to suggest that certain people should obviously be excluded from the very small banquet table in my own dining room?

I don’t have a conclusion for this post. This is an area of my spirituality where there is a clear need for growth. Maybe there is a fine line between being inhospitable to someone and holding oneself back out of healthy concern for the safety and wellbeing of both parties. Maybe there isn’t a line at all. I welcome any feedback. And as Lent approaches, please pray for me, a sinner.

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.

Celibacy and Foolery — Xenia of Saint Petersburg

Today, we’re making a different sort of addition to our celibate profiles series. The subject of today’s post is a person about whom very little information is available. So that our readers can easily draw from the examples we write on for this series, we try to profile individuals and groups for whom lots of background and resources exist even if they are difficult to find. Nonetheless, we find this saint particularly inspiring and wanted to share some of our thoughts.

Saint Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg, born Xenia Grigoryevna Petrova, was canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988. She lived in the 18th century, but her exact birth and death dates are unknown. Very little is known of her early life. She was married to a court chorister who reposed when she was 26 years old, and rather than remarry or live a life typical of widows, she entered into voluntary poverty and spent the rest of her life roaming the city of St. Petersburg wearing her husband’s clothing. All historical records of her life indicate that she was committed to depending upon God for her every need to the point of rejecting assistance offered by her family. During her life, people came to admire her commitment to prayer and simplicity. Those who knew her saw her as an example of what it means to value closeness with God over material goods. According to her story, she was gifted with the ability to forsee certain events such as death. Very soon after she reposed at the age of 71, visitors to her gravesite began to report that the earth covering her body brought healing for illnesses of all kinds.

Xenia is an example of an ascetic “Holy Fool.” Holy Fools are people who reject certain social norms and show that life can be lived differently. We note that Xenia eschewed traditional counsel after her husband died, choosing to model unwavering reliance on divine providence. For many people, Xenia’s choices were madness. Why would a young widow choose to forgo various kinds of social supports available to her? Holy Fools are people who do outrageous things. Oftentimes, they rely on foolery as a way to hide their holiness from others: who would seek spiritual counsel from a person regarded as insane? We remember certain Holy Fools because, invariably, their holiness has shone through and people did seek their counsel and view them as models of devotion. Throughout the Christian experience, there have been many known Holy Fools. St. Paul wrote that foolishness is often a part of following Christ when he told the Corinthians, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”

Xenia is notable for many reasons. First, her name is often translated to mean “stranger.” The way she lived her life bears witness to how Christians are called to live as strangers in a foreign land. Second, we chose to profile Xenia because she lived a very unusual vocation that included marriage and one of the most peculiar forms of asceticism. What little we know about her marriage aligns with the appropriate social norms of Russia at the time. Yet, Xenia undoubtedly sensed that God was calling her to live differently. She cast aside the social protections afforded to young widows and even broke certain gender norms. Women at Xenia’s time would not have been seen wearing men’s clothing. It was equally unheard of for women to take to wandering the streets voluntarily. People who are inspired by Xenia remember her because of how her life unfolded after her husband reposed rather than before. She is not the only person we’ve featured who entered into a celibate way of life after having been married. It’s easy to write off people like Xenia as “probably mentally ill.” But diversity among celibate vocations both past and present, including the vocation of the ascetic Holy Fool, give us insight into how strange and mysterious Christian living is meant to be in the first place.

Christ calls us to a different way of life where the last is made first, the first is made last, and not everything was are asked to do can be explained rationally. Today, as was probably also true in most past generations, non-celibate people sometimes think of celibates as mentally ill, crazy, or otherwise abnormal for having chosen a different way of life than marriage — or at least a different way of life than non-celibacy more generally. And when we add sexual orientation into the mix while discussing vocation, rationality, and mental health, there is no shortage of people — including other Christians — who are quick to refer to LGBTQ celibates as individuals suffering from psychological disorders. So what is the point of bringing up an example who is, in multiple respects, a stranger — a person about whom we know so little, and much of what we do know is about her unusual behavior? Remembering Xenia helps us to recall that most people live out their vocations quietly and simply, and in the midst of others who hold far greater social status than they do. We would also posit that most people live out their vocations with a degree of oddity, whether that oddity is apparent to the entire world or not. Xenia reminds us that living a vocation is not about doing great things, but is about being obedient and trusting in God’s ability to provide for our needs.

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.

The Problem with “If” Questions

A reflection by Sarah

Lindsey and I are always glad to receive questions from readers. We enjoy answering them to the best of our ability through email or directly on the blog. When we respond to a reader’s inquiry, we try to be as candid as possible even if that means the reader is unhappy because our response takes a different direction than was expected. Occasionally, we’ll hear from some disgruntled person who has asked us, “Do you think all LGBTQ people are called to celibacy?” and isn’t satisfied with our answer: “We can’t tell other people what their vocations are. We encourage people to find trusted spiritual directors within their own Christian traditions to help guide them through the discernment process.” Some people consider that a dishonest answer, but it’s the most authentic way I can possibly think of to respond. I’m no priest and don’t consider myself qualified to advise anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, on whether to pursue a married vocation or a celibate vocation. It is because I’m not a member of the clergy (thank God) that I can respond to that question so easily.

Rarely is it difficult to tell someone, “I’m not the person to ask about this. No, really.” It’s much more challenging to respond when a question is very personal and cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” There’s a certain kind of question that bothers me intensely. It’s the hypothetical, “If x were true, would y change?” Here are some examples that I get frequently both on and off the blog:

  • “If you hadn’t grown up in Eastern Kentucky, would visiting rural areas still give you so much anxiety?”
  • “If you had been raised in a wealthy family, would your political views be different?
  • “If you had not been raised Christian from birth, would you still have become interested in theology?”
  • “If you weren’t a lesbian, would you still sense a call to celibacy?”
  • “If you had not experienced sexual abuse as a preteen and teenager, would you still sense a call to celibacy?”

The first three are fairly innocuous; I can’t see anyone reacting harshly to any response I might offer. The last two…not so much. When most people ask these questions, they are looking for certain responses: Yes, I would still be called to celibacy because it’s a personal choice that has nothing to do with my sexual orientation. No, I wouldn’t because my church’s prohibition on gay marriage is the only reason I’m celibate. Yes, I would still be celibate because I had considered celibacy even before my abuse began. No, I wouldn’t because my abuse made me afraid of sexual intimacy. Most people who ask are looking for one of these “right” answers. My answer is always the wrong one, and it’s the same for all five on the list: I don’t know.

The problem with “if” questions where the asker anticipates a yes or no response is that more often than not, these questions can’t be answered authentically in one word. If I had been raised in a wealthy urban or suburban family with non-Christian parents, I have no idea how different my life would look. Certainly I’d have a different set of childhood and young adult experiences, but there’s no way of predicting exactly how different they would be. Maybe I would have developed a sense of anxiety in cities and a preference for life in the foothills of Appalachia. Maybe I’d be a hardcore Republican or Democrat. Maybe I would have decided to work in the corporate world, or abandon civilization and live in a treehouse just because. Maybe I would have experienced conversion to Christianity as a teenager or adult and had a more difficult time coming out as Christian than coming out as a lesbian. Or maybe not. None of these are part of my story, so I don’t know. That’s as authentic a response as I can give.

The same is true for the last two questions. If I weren’t a lesbian, I’d be a different person. God might be calling me to a different vocation, or to an entirely different set of smaller vocations within a broader construct of marriage or celibacy. I would probably interact with the world much differently. My experiences of beauty, friendship, and connectedness likely would not be the same as they are now. I’m sure that my spiritual needs would be different too. My life would also look incredibly different if I were not a survivor of sexual abuse. I might not be as independent or as compassionate as I am now. The ways I understand trust, safety, honesty, repentance, and so many other facets of life would have been formed through entirely different sets of circumstances. Though this has not always been the case historically, Christian vocations in the modern West are ways of life chosen by adults who are responding to callings. During the time of my abuse, I was an adolescent who did not have the spiritual or emotional maturity to make vocational decisions. My entire vocational discernment process has taken place during my adult life. Though I can tell you confidently that my celibacy is not a fear response or an aversion to sex after surviving the worst few years of my life, there is no way I could possibly know all the particulars of how my identity as a survivor has impacted my experience of vocation. I do not know whether I would have discerned a calling to celibacy if this part of my identity did not exist. I don’t think I can ever know in this lifetime.

About half of you are wincing as you read this. Those words have a tendency to make people uncomfortable, especially in conversations related to sexuality and Christianity. They cause discomfort because we want to have a yes or no answer. If we don’t, people who disagree with us can and will use our uncertainty against us. I don’t know means that a person is wishy-washy, straddling the fence, or afraid of making a firm declaration one way or the other. I don’t know means that a person’s voice doesn’t matter in real conversation, and it will not matter until that person makes up his or her mind. I don’t know is understood as a sort of holding tank that is unsustainable long-term. “Commit to a side in the fight against injustice!” people tell me. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”  Thanks for informing me that you care about my story only because it either confirms or contradicts your biases.

Why is it that I don’t know is an acceptable answer for the first three questions on my list, but not for the last two? I think it’s because we are told that we have to know, and that knowing is the only way to get any affirmation or validation from other people. It’s also because there’s comfort in knowing. If we know “the truth” about people, we can decide whether or not to give them our trust. A few of you want me to state outright that my decision to pursue celibacy is in no way connected to my sexual orientation. You want to know that if you support Lindsey and me in our blogging about celibacy, we’re not going to burn you someday by announcing that our secret mission is to convince all LGBTQ people to be celibate. A few more of you want me to state that my choice of a celibate vocation is influenced by something negative like sexual abuse so you can write me off as just another example of a broken person who has been hurt and now perpetuates the abuse cycle by using a personal story as a weapon against non-celibate LGBTQ people. Neither of these is going to happen, except maybe the writing off part: whether you take me seriously or not is entirely up to you. I spend most of my life in the grey area but have little tolerance for bullshit. When I tell you that I don’t know something, I mean that. I’m not like a politician who claims publicly to have an “evolving” opinion while holding my actual thoughts back from everyone else.

I have much admiration for people who don’t have black and white responses to everything because I struggle with the temptation to answer questions that way. It’s easier, and it ends difficult discussion much more swiftly. But some questions deserve more than “yes” or “no.” Some questions cannot be answered in this lifetime and it’s foolish to pretend that they can be. This is why I believe that conversations about faith and sexuality would be much more productive if we made space for I don’t know and stopped dismissing those three words as the mark of a weak, indecisive person whose voice is unimportant.

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.

The Love Mandate

A reflection by Sarah

Today is the Tuesday after GCN Conference 2015. After a weekend of joyous reunions with friends I haven’t seen since last year, beginnings of new friendships, and an overwhelming sense of safety and comfort despite the fact that Wesboro Baptist showed up, I’m back home. The new semester began this week, and I met my new students today. The first to introduce herself to me was a transgender student who arrived early to explain why the name on my roster would not match the name she would like to be called and to tell me that she might be late to class on occasion: she’s staying with a friend and commuting from two hours away because her parents kicked her out over winter break.

It is the Tuesday after GCN Conference, and I’m sad. Maybe it’s the annual post-conference blues. Maybe it’s that winter break wasn’t long enough and I’m not quite ready to put my professional face back on yet. Maybe it’s that maintaining the energy required for the conversations we have here is challenging. But whatever it is, it seems to be sticking around for the day.

This weekend, I experienced grace beyond measure. It was the first time I’ve attended conference without any interaction that I’d consider negative. I was met where I am rather than chastised for who I am not, I was challenged when I needed to be challenged, and I was loved even when I wasn’t feeling very charitable myself. Vicky Beeching, whom I had never heard of before GCN announced that she would be a conference speaker, turned my world upside down. I couldn’t hear on the day of her keynote and I’m not advanced enough in ASL to have understood the interpreters fully, so today I listened to the talk for a second time. Despite my theological training, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never understood Evangelical Protestantism because that is not my tradition. I didn’t know what a small group was until about two years ago, I’ve struggled to see how praise and worship music could be God-centered rather than human-centered, and the first time I heard the word “Hillsong” I wondered if it was a Broadway musical. In general, I’ve been skeptical of Evangelical traditions and judged them harshly. But as I listened to Vicky telling the story of her early experiences of God and continuing faith development as an adult, I realized that much of it resonated with me. Through her gentle and compassionate words, Vicky helped me to see that there can be much more depth in Evangelical traditions than I had originally thought. I did not get the opportunity to tell her this in person, but she left me with a heap of conviction about my less-than-charitable interactions with Evangelical friends. I’m as grateful for that as I am for her reminder of how much God loves us.

As I reflect, I see that my sadness today is, more than anything, related to love and all the ways we as the Church fail to show it – the ways I fail to show it. It’s easier to be harsh, judgmental, and dismissive than it is to be loving. Justin Lee’s talk on Sunday reminded me of how poorly I manage righteous anger. I would rather become livid about Twitter trolls and dismissive clergy in my Christian tradition than ask myself, “What am I doing to show Christ’s love to others today?” It’s difficult to clean my own side of the street when I can point to the piles of vitriolic garbage across the way, but cleaning up my own act is what I am called to do. It’s what all of us are called to do as Christians.

We’ve written a lot about celibacy mandates and our opposition to them. Invariably, this leaves both progressives and conservatives demanding that we state whether or not gay sex is a sin. I can’t think of a question that is shallower and less meaningful for discerning what fullness of life in Christ means for me as a gay Christian. Why is it that instead of walking alongside the faithful as they ask, “What does it mean to love, and how can I do that?” churches seem more interested in behaving like political movements? Why are we intentionally splitting the Body of Christ even further? Why do we respond to opinions different from our own with, “You are the enemy. You are an oppressor or colluding with the oppressor. Because you aren’t nodding in agreement with every bit of the party line on my side of this issue, you’re dangerous and I can’t learn anything from you”? We can do better. We are called to do better. And we can do so by living into the love mandate.

My Christian tradition teaches that love is the greatest of all virtues. We are meant to love one another because God loved us from the beginning. Absence of love is absence of God, so without love one cannot have spiritual life. When we do everything we can to treat others well and ensure that they are able to thrive, we are living into the kind of love known as agape. But what does that mean exactly? In the abstract sense, it is one aspect of how we help each other progress toward complete union with God. What it means in terms of lived experience is much debated.

If I empty my pockets and give all the contents to the homeless man I have seen every day on my morning commute for the past four years, am I treating him well? Am I doing everything I possibly can to attend to his wellbeing? I use this as an example each semester when we get to our morality unit in introductory theology. Though the majority of my students are Christians, there are about as many perspectives in the classroom as there are names on my roster. Of course you’re doing everything you can to treat him well. You’re giving him all the cash you have on hand. No, you’re doing him a disservice. What if he uses that money for drugs? That would run contrary to promoting his wellbeing. No, you’re both wrong. You haven’t done your Christian duty to this man until you’ve found him a place to stay or at least some way to get help… continuing on and on until every person in the classroom has offered a perspective and defended it using some principle of Christian morality.

The same sort of differences of opinion arise in discussions about how best to love people we believe are doing something that is harmful. What are we called to do in these situations as Christians? Are we to avoid saying anything because doing so might come across as shaming? Are we to preach at them about how wrong they are and how many people they are harming? I’m no wiser than you, but neither of these strikes me as an expression of love.

From where I sit — and I’m no priest, so take this as a lay person’s opinion — the love mandate calls us to see and affirm the image of God in others. It compels us to listen to people who are different from us and learn about what we do not understand. It requires humility, patience, and willingness to walk alongside the people God brings into our lives even if the reason for this is unclear. It means that we need to be in meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters before offering admonishment lest we inadvertently make false assumptions and commit sin ourselves. [Points finger back at self and offers thanks to God for Vicky Beeching.] I believe one of the most important ways we can live into the love mandate is by supporting each other as we discover our vocations, not just to marriage or to celibacy, but also as sons and daughters, parents, teachers, engineers, writers, providers of shelter to homeless LGBTQ teens…

Today is the Tuesday after GCN Conference, and I am doing my best to pour my sadness into prayer. I pray for the coming of a day when every person is known and loved, grey area-dwellers are appreciated for their greyness, and celibacy and marriage mandates are artifacts long overcome by our shared vocation to love.

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.

“Jesus is not a frying pan” and other notable moments from #GCNConf

We’ve literally just returned home after an amazing weekend at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. We’re sure to write some more reflections in the coming week, but we wanted to share some highlights for now.

First of all, all of the keynote speakers were incredible. We’re so glad that they were broadcast on live stream. For a limited time, you can watch them here. Jeff Chu kicked off conference with one of the most poignant, compelling, and thoughtful addresses we’ve ever heard. He has graciously provided a transcript on his blog. He modeled vulnerability, graciousness, and generousness. The love Jeff feels for his mother was palpable in the room as all those gathered listened with rapt attention to Jeff discussing showing love across differences. We’re still processing Jeff’s address ourselves. What we do know is that both Jeff and Tristan would be very welcome in our home; we, too, eat family-style. We’d also be sure to find some sweet tea to put on our table for Vicky Beeching. Vicky opened her story to us with humor, grace, and authenticity. Anyone who thinks that LGBT Christians have a superficial appreciation for their Christian tradition and shy away from earnest theological inquiry would be well-served by sitting down to listen to Vicky’s address. By God’s grace, may we all continue to wonder at a loving God who rejoices in four-year-olds who want to reach up and share a cookie.

Second, there were so many people. We’ve never gone to GCN Conference with the intention of counting chairs, but this was the first conference where “I’ll see you in the General Session” was much easier said than done. When two-thirds of the room stood up after Conference Director Trey Weaver called for first-times, we knew something had happened. As conference veterans, we did whatever we could to make connections with people who really need the GCN community. We connected with so many people who aren’t out to their parents, who don’t know which letter of the LGBTQ-alphabet-soup works for them, and who feel torn by worry that they have to choose between their faith and their sexual orientations. We also met first-timers who are straight allies committed to doing whatever they can do to make the church a safer place to wrestle with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity, who are parents committed to loving their kids who came out to them over the holidays, who are LGBTQ Christians from Open and Affirming traditions trying to understand experiences of other queer Christians, and who are seeking to converse with authors and speakers who have done so much work to help them reconcile their faith and sexual orientations/gender identities. The rich tapestry of humanity was on full display.

Third, there was love. Honestly, we don’t remember the last time we were wrapped in day after day of love. It was something else to walk around and see scores of parents wearing “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs” buttons. People constantly checked in with one another to see how things were going. We saw so many people taking the 5 minutes, 10 minutes, hour, and hours to talk, hug, pray, and cry things out when another person was hurting. People loved without asking permission. It was a beautiful thing. We can’t remember the last time we heard so many earnest questions of “Do you need any help?” People got creative when it came to showing love, including dear friends who helped us out by livetweeting our workshop.

This year, we presented a workshop on Celibacy and the Church. We wanted to support dialogue about celibate vocations in general while helping people living and discerning celibacy access quality pastoral care. We shared about our own journeys into our celibate vocations and identified various dimensions of helpful pastoral care. One way to talk about helpful pastoral care is to talk about distinctly unhelpful approaches. The title of this reflection came as Lindsey was giving some suggestions about how to re-frame a particularly difficult and unhelpful approach: the celibacy mandate. When pastors think the only thing they need to say to an LGBT person is “Gay sex is a sin! Just be celibate,” they have embraced the celibacy mandate.

We regard the celibacy mandate as akin to hitting LGBT people over the head with a frying pan. It’s dangerous, dehumanizing, and destructive. Lindsey has been on the receiving end of many different pastors wielding the celibacy mandate and eventually got better at dodging the frying pan. Eventually, Lindsey realized that the message “Gay sex is a sin! Just be celibate.” is not the Gospel. Lindsey’s pastors who were delivering this message were not preaching Jesus. The frying pan approach excuses pastors of their pastoral responsibilities and cheapens the beauty of celibate vocations. We earnestly believe that LGBT Christians who experience a call to celibacy should be free to cultivate that vocation and have support in doing so. Choosing to follow a calling is choosing freedom in Christ. While Jesus calls us in ways that are challenging and not always immediately apparent, he also journeys alongside of us every step of the way. The Incarnation tells us a lot about how Jesus views the role of pastoral care. And Jesus is not a frying pan.

[For those interested in a more complete summary of our workshop, we’ll be posting one reasonably soon. If you’re interested in seeing our notes from our Celibacy Involves Family workshop from Chicago’s conference, feel free to take a look.]

We left Portland feeling refreshed, renewed, and revitalized. So many people we met took time to hear our stories about the difficult parts of this past year, to pray with us, to encourage us, to cry with us, and to hug us. GCN is truly a family for us. We’re so grateful for everyone at the conference.

It didn’t take much web browsing today to realize that we still have significant work to do such that all LGBTQ Christians know that they are fiercely and wholly loved by God. We know that there are LGBT Christians returning to congregations that post this article (that honestly needs to come with a content warning for extreme homophobia) front and center on their notice boards. Attending GCN Conference gives us the courage to keep sharing our stories, to press on towards Christ, and shine Christ’s light to all. And when we see intolerance and bigotry, we’ll choose to remember the love, the life, and the colors of #GCNConf in Portland while doing what we can to make a difference. When words escape us, we’ll warm up with the heavenly choir singing LA LA LA in rhythm and glorious harmonies.

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