We must say both that this world is “not the way it’s supposed to be” and that Christ’s “power is made perfect in”--in, not outside of—“weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
That's the last sentence from this great post from Wesley Hill that I re-discovered this last week. He talks about the need to be "bilingual" in how we address the complicated issues of life. There is a lot of great stuff to think about here...read it!
So today, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention met for a leadership summit on the gospel and sexuality. It was intended to train pastors on how to speak into issues concerning sexuality in informed and helpful ways.
I spent a good chunk of my day reading reactions on Twitter to the live stream of the event, mostly from the affirming, progressive folks. Their reaction to the conference was not good, to put it mildly. Some of the negative reaction was just as expected. After all, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the SBC still considers gay marriage outside the bounds of scripture, and that progressives disagree. However, some of the negative reaction to what was being said was legitimate, in my estimation.
Let me be clear. I rejoice that this summit is happening, and that conservative Christians are engaging in this conversation. But we aren't doing it perfectly. Here is one of the main issues where I see us conservative Christians being really silly: We need to quit freaking out about the term "gay".
Some of the speakers at the conference refused to use the term, and went to great lengths to use the terms "homosexual" and "same-sex attracted" in places where "gay" would have felt much more natural to the majority of common folk.
Seriously, the term "gay" doesn't mean what you think it means. If you asked 10 people on the street, "What does the word 'gay' mean?" 9 of them would say, "It means you are attracted to the same-sex." Thats it! It doesn't mean that you are engaged in sexual activity. It doesn't mean that you are claiming "gay" as your primary identity of who you are as a person. In my judgement, I see no problem with holding it out as a legitimate option for Christians to use in describing their sexuality.
The main issue that I always see underlying the term gay is that it is perceived to be a primary identity marker. But the thing is that even if someone simply refers to themselves as "experiencing same-sex attraction", THEY CAN STILL FIND THEIR IDENTITY IN THAT. By avoiding the term "gay", we are not automatically avoiding identity problems. What we ARE doing is unduly alienating ourselves from the conversation happening in the progressive and secular corners of our culture. We are making a mountain out of a molehill with the term gay, and it isn't helping. We should stop it.
In fact, often times I think that we as conservatives are the main people that are giving sexuality the potential to define our personhood. For example, one of the quotes from the summit was, "Sexuality doesn't have to be the defining characteristic of any of us." In response, Jeff Chu, an affirming gay Christian author, tweeted, "IT ISN'T. YOU ARE MAKING IT SO." Similarly, Brandon Ambrosino, an affirming gay journalist, wrote in one of his articles, "When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation...my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon." These are openly affirming gay men who are saying that their sexuality is NOT their main identity. In fact, most of the gay guys I know would take issue with anyone reducing them to their orientation. Now, I am not saying that no one sees their sexuality as their main identity marker. Surely some do. But I AM saying that the label "gay" is certainly not a good indicator as to where a persons identity lies.
Furthermore, the term "experiencing same-sex attraction" is really no clearer than the term "gay". If you say "I experience SSA" to someone in our culture, they would likely respond, "So...you're gay?" You are still going to have to explain what you mean. Given the moral state of our society, they will likely still assume that you are sexually active, and that you affirm same-sex marriage...you just talk about it kind of weirdly.
The real issues are below the words. Where ARE you finding your identity? How ARE you expressing your sexual feelings? The term "gay" tells you nothing about those questions. Instead, we actually need to ask those questions and have those conversations, regardless of a chosen label. I just really wish we could move on from this debate about terminology into the heart issues happening in real people who are struggling with their sexuality.
I honestly feel like this whole World Vision thing has been a fiasco. I haven't commented on it yet, but I guess I will, reluctantly...because I am sure everyone is just DYING to read one more blog post on this whole cluster-cuss.
For those of you who just landed from the most recent shuttle from Mars, the Christian relief organization World Vision recently announced that they would no longer ban gay couples in same-sex marriages from working for their organization. Less than 48 hours later, they retracted that statement and reaffirmed their original position.
Enter the bloggers, the angry mobs, the ad hominem attacks, the straw men being erected in the theological cornfields of the perceived enemy. My friends, the blogosphere was not a pretty place last week. I don't have time to go into all of my frustrations about how this situation was handled by certain people on BOTH sides of the theological debate. But I'll talk about a few.
I am speaking to my brothers in the conservative theological camp in this post. To my regular readers, It isn't a surprise that I affirm the traditional, side B sexual ethic. Therefore, I do not have a problem with theological conservatives speaking the truth of what they believe the Bible teaches. In fact, if they are loving, speaking is required. I seriously cannot imagine a legitimate form of love that doesn't warn someone headed toward the edge of a cliff. However, in my view, there are at least three ways that this "speaking the truth" can - and in some cases has - gone horribly awry.
Number one, if the truth is turned into a hammer meant to bludgeon the perceived enemy to death, then I have a problem. The command to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) is not optional. If there is no love, then don't speak. One of the ways that I see this happening, perhaps unintentionally, within this specific debate is when the conversation is reduced into a simple argument to be won, failing to take into account the lives of real people created in the image of God. How easy is it to ignore the emotions, desires, and experiences of gay people when we form our carefully crafted arguments? This does not mean that we should water down the truth in order to "not offend". Jesus was obviously not concerned about offending (Luke 12:51). I'm simply saying that the tone with which we communicate matters. We can say the same truth in a way that oozes love and compassion, or in a way that throws real people under the theologically correct bus.
Number two, if speaking the truth is where our love ends, then I have a problem. If our love terminates in truth telling, then our love is woefully incomplete. It is easy to speak. Actions are the proof in the love pudding. We are called to love our enemies perfectly (Matt. 5:43-48) and this includes more than telling them that they are sinning (Luke 6:27-28; Rom. 12:20). So do the actions line up with the words? How many outspoken conservative bloggers have gay friends that they have befriended and regularly serve? Perhaps many of them do. In my view, it is within those types of relationships that truth is best spoken (see Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's testimony). It's easy to sling truth across the interweb and call it love. It's difficult to love someone into the Kingdom.
Number three, when people use terms like "false teacher" and "wolf in sheep's clothing" immediately, at the first sign of sin, then I have a problem. Richard Strearns was called these very things THE SAME DAY that World Vision made their announcement. Then, less than 48 hours later, they changed their minds and repented, and Stearns was called "humble" and "courageous" by these same people. So can we just slow down the accusatory train here? Calling someone a wolf is an incredibly serious thing to do which, in my view, should only be done after a call to repentance has been issued and repeatedly ignored. Stearns did not ignore the call, thus proving (at least outwardly) the label of "wolf" to be false and premature. The only thing that would have been lost if a week or a month had been allowed to pass before labeling Strearns a heretic would have been a false accusation.
Brothers and sisters, let not our zeal for truth make our love defective. Same-sex marriage and homosexuality are not abstract theological issues. These are people that we are talking about. As Jonathan Akin recently tweeted, "May we Christians be more tolerant than the tolerance crowd - truly loving & being kind to those who disagree with us."
As a Christian celibate gay man, I have many battlefronts on which I fight temptation. One of the most consistent for me is the temptation to despair in my life circumstances. As long as my attractions remain unchanged, I am committed to celibacy, which means that I may never have a lifelong companion, children, grandchildren; I may never have a family of my own.
I am often tempted to view my celibacy only in terms of lack, defined by the absence of sexual expression and a nuclear family. I've posted this quote before, but notice again how Wes Hill frames the issue:
“Notice the dichotomy: single and lonely, or partnered and able to experience love. But what if those aren’t our only choices? What if that’s a false dichotomy?… What if choosing sexual abstinence doesn’t automatically equate to choosing isolation and repression?”
The New York Times recently published an online piece focusing on ways in which the American family is changing. Tucked toward the bottom of the article, below blended families, same-sex marriages, and cohabitating couples, is a fascinating section that profiles what researchers are calling “voluntary kin.” These are people who simply chose to be related, often involving families inviting single people to become full-fledged family members.
The article states, “Anthropologists have traditionally used the term ‘fictive kin’ to separate such relationships from ‘true’ kinship based on blood or law, but many researchers have recently pushed back against that distinction, arguing that self-constructed families are no less real or meaningful than conventional ones.”
My heart rejoices to hear of such categories being constructed in our modern society. After all, if non-Christians are embracing these types of voluntary relational ties, how much more should the family of Christ!
The idea of familial bonds between believers is all over the New Testament. Jesus promises that those who forsake biological family for his sake will receive a multitude of spiritual kin in this life (Mark 10:29-30). Paul calls Timothy his true child in the faith (1 Tim. 1:2), and often speaks of the spiritual reality that Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 12:10).
My sincere hope is that we as the church would think of ways to reflect this spiritual kinship in our voluntary kinship here on earth. I can testify personally to the life-giving nature of these types of bonds. In addition to my family-by-blood, I have been welcomed as a full member by two other families. My membership is not merely ceremonial. I have lived with them for seasons. I go on vacation with them, and attend their family gatherings. The friendships that I share with my voluntary siblings are deep and committed, and I am “Uncle Nick” to their children. Just recently, I attended my voluntary little brother’s basketball awards ceremony and helped plan and prepare for my voluntary sister’s engagement party. In short, I have been blessed with voluntary kin that, for me, makes celibacy easier.
These relationships are ultimately about Jesus. These relationships help me to look toward Christ to ultimately fulfill my relational longings through his people, the church. When we act in these ways, we magnify Christ. He is the one that binds us together in unity and familial love (Eph. 4:15-16). When we love each other as kin, we testify to the fact that Jesus has joined us in ways that run deeper than blood. In Christ, our unity transcends demographic differences.
Yet sadly, as I look at the church at large, I find that my experience is the exception, not the norm. What might happen if the family of God began to dream of creative and life giving ways to live out our spiritual kinship? For starters, married couples and families might consider investing in a single person or two, inviting them into homes and blessing them with familial love. And single folks might ponder reaching out to a family or married couple, thinking of ways to build a deep relationship through sacrificial service.
Gerard Manley Hopkins says it poetically:
“Christ plays in ten thousand places,
We are the church. We are brothers and sisters. We are family.
The inherent nature of this blog in general can be a bit dangerous. What I mean is that one of the main reasons that I write here at Hope Invisible is to ask hard questions in order to make people think in ways that they may have never thought before. And so I write about how simply saying "Homosexuality Is Sin" just isn't good enough, how I think that there can be good things that come from my sexual orientation, why I chose to use the word "gay" in identifying my sexual orientation, or why I don't believe that experiencing SSA is a sin in itself. If all people hear from me are these "hard questions" then they may be left wondering, "Wait, where does Nick actually stand on these issues?"
For this reason, I think that it is a good idea for me to occasionally write a post that clearly identifies what I believe in regard to sexuality. So, here is a list* of affirmations that I whole heartedly agree with**:
I believe that God created man and woman in His image.
I believe that there are real differences between man and woman, and that these complimentary differences are important.
I believe that biblical marriage can only be defined as between one man and one woman.
I believe that biblical marriage as defined above is the only appropriate context for sexual relations.
I believe that any sexual activity - including homosexual activity - outside of a one man, one woman marriage is sin.
I believe that sexual sin also includes entertaining lustful thoughts in the mind, whether hetero or homosexual in orientation.
I believe that the only faithful way of life for a Christian who experiences a persistent, exclusive homosexual orientation is a commitment to celibacy for as long as the Lord sees fit to leave his or her attractions unchanged, or a biblical marriage as described above.
I believe that every Christian will experience progressive sanctification in this life, culminating in sinless perfection upon meeting Christ in death or his second coming.
I believe that the single, celibate life is NOT a sentence to a lonely, second rate existence, but rather an invitation to make much of Christ in loving Christian community and close-knit familial bonds within the church.
I believe that the church should be a place where all sinners feel loved and welcomed to ask the hard questions of life and faith.
*Many affirmations like this include biblical references in defense of the positions affirmed. I have made the decision not to include those in this particular list. I did this in order to avoid being accused of "proof texting" and statements like, "You can't use that passage to defend that position!" It should be implicit that the reason I affirm these things is because of how I read the bible. I simply want the affirmations to speak for themselves. All of these positions are expanded on and supported elsewhere on this blog.
**While these are the things that I have identified as most important, this list is not intended to be exhaustive.
Sometimes I feel like I can't really say anything about my experience as a Christian celibate gay man without totally overanalyzing what other people might think. Like, the last thing that I want to do is make anyone assume that I don't affirm traditional sexual ethics. BUT, I also don't want people to assume that I am myopic in my view of the complexities of same-sex desires, and that I don't see anything positive coming from my sexual orientation. So, the temptation is to say nothing. That is much safer, right?
Is it? Here is a wonderful excerpt from Eve that got me thinking about "Sins Of Omission" in regard to (not) speaking about homosexuality and Christianity:
So much of the “conservative” Christian world seems terrified of anything which might be misinterpreted as saying gay sex is OK. The fear is always, always that we might say something wrong, and not ever that our silence might itself cause despair, scandal, and loss of faith. My favorite variation of this approach is, “Well, I know what you’re saying, but other people might misunderstand.” I am pretty sure that ordinary people in the pews are already interpreting–and, I hope, misinterpreting–the huge echoey nothing they hear from their churches about gay or same-sex attracted Christians’ futures.
When is saying nothing more harmful than saying something wrong and then repenting? That is a hard question to answer, but if I have learned anything from being public about my sexuality it is that someone is ALWAYS going to misunderstand. Like seriously, I have read responses and rebuttals to my blog posts that left me thinking, "Um, did you even read what I wrote? I don't think you could further misrepresent my position than you just did." But you know what? Thats fine. Or at least, I am fine with that. People will misunderstand. People will falsely represent - either willfully or accidentally. Whatever. Water under the bridge. For me, I am willing to risk all of that for the possible help that someone might receive by reading someone who is going through a similar situation and is saying more than nothing.
In saying that, I am not pretending that what I have to say is particularly interesting, insightful, or even 100% accurate. Trust me, there are a hundred people you should listen to before me. What I am saying is that for all of us - you included - there are situations where stewarding your particular circumstances and stories requires speaking up about them with the goal of loving your neighbor. Yes, you might get something wrong. You aren't Jesus! That doesn't mean you should never say anything. Yes, people will most likely misunderstand what you are saying. They aren't Jesus! That doesn't mean you shouldn't say anything.
And really, what is the fear of being misunderstood or having to repent but the fear of man? If God has given me something that would be helpful to share, I should really be fearing him if I don't share it.
Eve says all of this better and more succinctly that I do, so really, read her post that I linked to above. But just think about the fact that sometimes saying nothing is saying something really wrong.
So one of my wonderful seminary cohort friends asked me a great question the other day. He wanted to know how my experience as a Christian celibate gay man compares to the experience of a Christian celibate straight man. I really appreciate the thought that went into this question because it acknowledges that different people may have similar experiences, but "similar" doesn't mean "same".
I think there is a real tendency to flatten experiences. Many people might be tempted to do what Eve describes here in this excerpt:
A lot of the "don't identify as gay" stuff seems to me to be an attempt to gloss over real differences in experience, to pretend that homosexuality makes no important difference in one's life path as a Christian in contemporary society. That seems to me to be an effort to understand gay difference and gay experience as banal. ("I'm not married, so I have to be chaste too! Our situations are just the same. So why are you acting like you're different and special?" No. Our situations may have important lessons for one another. Your situation may be harder than mine in various ways, e.g. I don't sit up nights wondering why I haven't found a nice girl to marry me. But solidarity requires acknowledgment of difference, not suppression of it.)
That last line gets me every time: "Solidarity requires acknowledgement of difference, not suppression of it." YES! So with that in mind, here are a couple ways that I see my experience as a Christians celibate gay man as being different than a straight single man.
Number one, no matter how homely a particular straight guy might be, there is still always the possibility that a particular girl might find his particular brand of homeliness her exact cup of tea, and they could fall in love. I do not have any hope whatsoever of finding the right guy for me...at least if I want to remain faithful to what I believe scripture teaches. So, unless the Lord changes my attractions, my state of celibacy seems much more sure and permanent that "average Joe straight-guy."
This leads to a second way that my experience is different. For a straight guy, when they feel a physical attraction to a girl, they are allowed pursue that attraction toward the end goal of marriage. Now, they might get rejected time and time again, but the fact remains that they can always try to pursue the girl, and if done in a biblical way, that pursuit pleases the Lord. For me as a gay guy, every single physical attraction that I feel must be fought. In regard to romantic feelings, my default mental setting must always be set on "kill!" instead of "cultivate". I have written before on how I don't believe that the WHOLE attraction needs to be fought, but the physical/sexual aspects do.
Now, I do acknowledge that the Lord could change my attractions, or at least bring a particular girl into my life that I become attracted to. However, even in that there is an important difference. For me, at this moment, I have no idea what it is like to be legitimately attracted to a woman. I've tricked myself into it before, but it hasn't ever really been real. So that means that for me to have a legit romantic relationship, I need to have an experience that I have never had before...i.e. be attracted to a woman. That isn't true for straight guys. They have experienced PLENTY of attractions that could potentially lead to a God-glorifying relationship.
I'll mention one more way that I feel the difference (there are more, but no time). For me as a gay guy, close friendships with other guys can be more difficult in at least two ways.
Number one, I might find myself physically attracted to a particular friend, and so I need to make sure that I am acting toward him in all purity. However, I don't typically find this to be all that difficult to navigate. In fact, I usually find that even with my friends that I am most physically attracted to, the more I get to know him, the less physically drawn to him I become.
The second way is how I perceive my male friendships to be most difficult. Here is a hypothetical situation. Lets say that something particularly hard has just happened in my life. I feel spent and close to despair. I go to my friends house to hang out, and when I see him all I really want is to let him know how I am feeling, and for him to give me a hug. No sexual feelings, no desire for anything inappropriate, simply the physical touch of another human. However, I know that said friend knows that I am gay. So...if I ask for a hug, will he feel uncomfortable? Will he worry that he is causing me to stumble? Does he even really want to hug me, or does he think it is really kind of gross? And so I don't hug him.
That is simply one hypothetical situation. There are a hundred more that I encounter daily where the thought crosses my mind, "Did he read something into that touch? What was he thinking? Oh no, I went in for the bro hug and it seemed like he was just going for the hand shake...did he not want to hug me?" It's kind of tough to explain...I hope it makes at least a little sense on how this is tough to navigate and NOT the same experience as a straight guy.
Those differences that I just highlighted to not nullify the ways in which my experience is similar to a Christian celibate straight guy. After all, the words "Christian" and "celibate" are in both of our labels. However, the words "straight" and "gay" do bring with them many differences, and we aren't helping anyone when we just ignore them.
Yes, I am still writing the series on labels. You know that song that goes, "Tiiiiime, is on my side"? Yeah, total liars!
Okay, so today we get to the part of the label "Christian Celibate Gay Man" in which I talk about the word "gay". Once again, if you want to read all the posts that led up to this, click the category to the right "On Labels". Also, a disclaimer: This is going to end up being a long post, and for that I apologize. I would do it in two parts, but I am honestly not sure when I will have the time to write the second part, so I will just do it all here and let you read it at your convenience.
So why, O why, would I ever chose to use the word gay in reference to myself? Let me start to answer that question by responding to some common objections that I hear to using the word gay, and then I will talk about why I chose to use it in positive terms.
1. The most common objection that I hear to using the word is that gay can often have the connotation of a certain lifestyle. Therefore, by identifying myself as gay, I am associating myself with a lifestyle choice that is sinful; namely, sexual activity outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage.
My response to that is that the word gay does not mean any such thing. I think Wesley Hill says it really well here: "'Gay' in current parlance doesn't necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one's sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation." I really think that this is how the majority of people in our culture think about the term. If you asked someone on the street, "What does the word 'gay' mean?", nine times out of ten I believe that the answer would be, "Someone who is attracted to the same sex," and that would be it. There would be no assumption of sexual activity based on the label.
In fact, I think the ambiguity comes not with the term, but with how the greater culture views sexual mores in general. In our modern culture, it seems to be assumed that everyone is sexually active, whether gay or straight. So it isn't that the word gay carries connotations of being sexually active, but that sexual activity is assumed regardless of orientation. Therefore, if a single person identified as "straight" or "gay", I think that the greater culture would assume that person to be sexually active, because that is "normal".
Therefore, "gay" does not say whether I am choosing to express my attraction in a sinful way. Rather, it simply asserts the attraction itself.
2. The second objection I hear often in regard to the term gay is that I am using it as an identity marker, and that I should never find my identity in anything but Christ, and ESPECIALLY something sinful such as homosexuality.
This objection is based on two different assumptions. The first assumption is that by using an identity marker such as "I am gay", that I am necessarily finding my identity in said marker. The second assumption is that homosexuality is sinful in itself. Let me examine these assumptions in order.
First, the issue of finding my identity in something other than Christ. I have addressed this assumption in more detail here, but let me try and summarize. By saying "I am" something, I am NOT saying that I am finding my primary defining identity in that thing. If I did, it would be impossible to talk about my daily life. I wouldn't be able to say, "I am a man", or "I am a student", or "I am an extrovert". When I say those things, no one thinks that I am "finding my identity" in them. Rather, they are descriptors that are describing one SMALL part of who I am as a whole. This, by the way, is what I start my label with the word Christian. That IS where I find my identity, and it affects every other part of who I am, however small a part it might be.
Second, the assumption that homosexuality is a sin, and therefore I shouldn't associate with it at all. To that assumption, I would say, "Well what do you mean, 'Is homosexuality a sin?" For example, as I have also argued elsewhere, if someone asked me the question, "Is homosexuality a sin?", I would say "Well let me ask you a question: Is heterosexuality before marriage a sin?" You see? It isn't clear; we must define our terms. If you are talking about same-sex activity or even lust, then yes it is a sin. But if you are simply referring to being attracted to the same-sex, then no I don't think it is a sin. And since I just argued that the term "gay" does not include sexual activity, then I have no problem identifying my specific temptation in this manner.
Okay, so those are the two most common objections I hear in regard to identifying my sexuality as "gay". I'm sure there are others, so if I have not answered your specific objection, please feel free to leave it in the comments section (in a respectful manner) and I will either try to answer it there, or write a future post on it.
Now that the objections are out of the way, let me briefly share two reasons that I choose to use the descriptor "gay".
The first reason I have talked about already here, but in brief, I don't think that the term "person who experiences same-sex attraction" gets to the depth of what is really going on with my sexuality. That term makes it sound like the only time I am same-sex attracted is when I experience a specific attraction...but that isn't true. For example, right at this moment, even though I am not experiencing a specific attraction, I am still exclusively same-sex attracted. I walk around with it 24/7 regardless of what I am feeling at the moment. More than a specific experience, my experience makes up a relatively small part of who I am. Saying "I am gay" in regards to my sexuality does more justice in my mind to the totality of what is going on.
The second reason that I choose to refer to myself as gay - and this is far less important - is that there is a certain sense in which I do want to identify with the gay community as a whole. Now don't freak out! All I mean is that other gay people understand what it is like to be gay in ways that straight people cannot. In using the term, I feel a certain solidarity with other people who share a common experience. They get me, and there is a certain comfort in identifying with people who understand what it is like to be you on a certain level. This does NOT mean that I am affirming their lifestyle , whatever that may be. (Like I already said, "gay" does not automatically mean sexually active lifestyle, and there is a sense in which I as a Christian Celibate Gay Man am a part of the broader gay community...because I'm gay!) Rather, all it means is that we share something in common - we are all attracted to the same sex...we're all gay. And it is nice to identify with people who know what its like, at least on some level.
There is a lot more that I could say, so if you have further questions, leave them respectfully in the comments section and I will try and deal with them. Thanks, everyone! This concludes the formal series on labels, though I am sure that I will write much more on the subject in the future.
I talk a lot about hope here. I am a generally positive person. But that doesn't mean that this journey isn't hard. So this is me being vulnerable. Here is an excerpt from Julie Rogers talking about community:
We’re imagining and recovering ways of sharing life that involve all those things that lead to flourishing: every day moments of laughter, hospitality, vulnerability, service, coffee in the mornings and beer in the evenings with the family we’ve chosen for the long haul. It’s exciting and it offers a realistic biblical hope because it’s precisely the vision Scripture paints for the Church. I’ll seek it out, hope for it, and strive to live into it until the day I die (by the grace of God).
You should really read the whole post, but I just wanted to underscore that as much as I talk about friendship and hospitality and community and hope, Julie's fears are my fears.
That is why I am so glad that she ends her post the way she does.
But on nights like the recent one, where I stood in my empty apartment with the hood pulled over my head, I’m reminded of the vulnerability of hope. My hope is in God: that He’ll give me the strength to be faithful in what can often seem a daunting endeavor, and that He’ll be faithful to provide me with what I need. And my hope is in the church: that others will share my heart to see Christians being family to one another in long-haul, every day intimacy kinds of ways.
We are slowly (sorry for how slow it is going...) making our way through the label that I have landed on when I talk about my sexuality, which is "Christian celibate gay man." If you want to read the previous posts that have led up to this point, click on the category to the right entitled "On Labels", and they will all be there. Like magic. Interweb hocus-pocus, if you will.
Today, the topic of discussion is why I choose to include the word "celibate" into the label. After all, doesn't saying that I am Christian already express the same thing? Why add another word that makes the label even longer?
The fact is, there are lots of people who claim the label of Christian while believing that God blesses same-sex sexual unions. So no, simply saying that I am a Christian does not communicate how I choose to express my sexuality. (Click here to see for yourself how big this particular debate is.) I need another word to be explicit. So what am I trying to be explicit about with the word "celibate?"
In my view, I hope that the word celibate can communicate two things. It already communicates the first thing, and I hope that one day, when people hear the word celibate they will also think about the second thing. Here are those two things, in order.
Number one, I think the word celibate already communicates a sense of not being okay with what I am desiring. I have written elsewhere that I believe that same-sex desires, unless fought against, lead into willful sinning. This is because I believe that the Bible is clear that God created man and woman for each other (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:21-25), and that the marriage union between a husband and a wife (not husband and husband, or wife and wife) is a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32). This basic understanding of the complimentarily of the sexes from creation is why Paul can condemn homosexual practice (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9) so forcefully. It isn't simply a cultural issue, or something related to temple prostitutes or whatever. Man is for woman, and woman is for man.
At the same time, due to the fall I also experience exclusive attractions to other males. Not woman...like, at all. So what do I do with those attractions? I fight them! I submit myself to what I believe the Bible teaches, and say no to my desires for sexual intimacy with other guys. For me, this means being celibate. I don't want sex with women physically, and I can't have sex with men morally. So no sex.
However, as Eve Tushnet has so wisely stated, "You can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No." This leads to the second thing that I hope the term celibate will come to mean someday.
In being celibate, I am not only saying no to my physical desires but I am also saying yes to expressing my desires in appropriate ways in Christian community. Perfect example: Just today I read this quote from Wesley Hill:
Notice the dichotomy: single and lonely, or partnered and able to experience love. But what if those aren’t our only choices? What if that’s a false dichotomy? What if, instead, celibacy could be seen as an occasion for love? What if choosing sexual abstinence doesn’t automatically equate to choosing isolation and repression? What if joining a parish community as a single person could be seen as a choice for close-knit familial bonds?"
I am not only saying no. I am not submitting to a life with no intimacy and no companionship and no love (as if marriage is the only place where those things can happen). Instead, I am saying that I am looking to Christ to ultimately fulfill those things through his people, the church. Wes is right...celibacy is an occasion for love, or at least it should be. It should be an invitation into close friendships that are sacrificial and committed, and Christian community that puts others first.
Obviously this isn't easy, and I wish I had more and better examples for how to make this work practically. But it has been true experientially for me. Close Christian community and kinship bonds have been the tangible love of Jesus that he has used to make celibacy possible for me. I hope and pray that this is true to greater and fuller degrees for everyone pursuing celibacy.
So, summary. The word "celibate" communicates (I hope) that I am NOT expressing my desires in sinful homosexual acts, but that I AM expressing my desires in healthy ways within Christian community.
Alright, the next post is the big one...why I chose to use the word "gay".
My name is Nick. I am the Pastor for Worship at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, MN. I love Jesus, music, the outdoors, Pad Thai, and the movie Stand By Me. I'm trying to live the tensions of life well.