I’m going to be really honest. It’s gotten increasingly difficult for me to listen to almost any pastor on the issue of homosexuality in regards to faith, which is just another reason that I’m so thankful for people like John Pavlovitz who are willing to go out on a limb on things like this and say things that are encouraging for people like us (see previous post). That’s just my shameless plug for this post. But anyway, I say all of that, because I was at church just this past weekend and at the end of a sermon that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality or gay issues at all (it was focused on the interaction between Paul and one of the churches he planted), the pastor decided to start talking about it.
Now, obviously everyone has the right to free speech, but I do think that people should refrain from speaking out about things that they aren’t educated about. It always only results in people getting offended and upset. Granted, it’s difficult for me to listen to a lot of pastors talk about this without getting a sour taste in my mouth, but that is also due to the fact that I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things about gay people, without realizing what they’re saying and what they’re implicating.
Basically, my pastor reiterated some things about that story that’s been going around about a Navy chaplain who was dismissed from his unit because he was teaching the Biblical definitions of marriage and such (which I think is wrong). He went on to say how perverse the world has become in that it is more frowned upon to call out sexual immorality than it is to actually commit sexual immorality. The first thing that I want to say is that: I totally agree with that. Don’t get me wrong. The thing that irks me is that, obviously, the first example he chose to whip out was that of gay people, and he even went on to talk about the issue of celibacy and how a handful of churches around the country have changed their stances on gay marriage, citing that they “finally caved” and that honestly made me very uncomfortable and a little upset for two main reasons.
The first reason is one of the main points that John Pavlovitz brought up in his great article on marriage and LGBT people in general, which I’ll put right here, even though I also just reblogged it. Please read it. I couldn’t have said a lot of those things better myself. But basically, he talks about how the issue of homosexuality is always the first thing that pastors jump to whenever they start talking about sexual immorality in a modern setting, always, even though divorce among Christians is a much bigger, more widespread problem. The stats he presents are that something like 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, while gay people who solely want to get married only account for maybe 5-10% of the population. The reason that he gives for this is that pastors subconsciously (or consciously) know that talking about divorce and remarriage is going to be a lot more polarizing and alienating to a greater percentage of their congregations that talking about homosexuality and gay marriage.
For me, it’s just so frustrating that the church has been so inconsistent with things like divorce and remarriage, which Jesus explicitly discussed, while they continue to condemn gay people for simply wanting to get married, because the Bible is so clear on its stance. If no sin is greater than another, then why aren’t people getting more worked up about divorce, especially if it’s a problem that affects so many more people in the grand scheme of things? Honestly, I just get so frustrated with the fact that this is how the church is handling things, because it’s inconsistent with Scripture, it’s an issue of pastors fearing backlash, and it seems to me to be an instance of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe in (something that they claim that we do!).
Now hear me say this: I don’t want the church to start cracking down on divorced people. That’s not what I want at all. I just want people to be able to gain some perspective. That’s all I’m desperately begging the church for. I just want them to see that the way that they’re treating LGBT people isn’t fair, and it’s not loving. I also want them to see that it’s not doing them any favors to avoid talking about divorce. That’s also an important issue that the church needs to talk about, and it isn’t doing it because people are afraid of what others will say. THIS is what I mean when I say I want equality. At the very, absolute least, I want LGBT people to not be considered less or below the rest of the church just because their struggle is different. I don’t want to be looked down upon. I don’t want to be thought of as needing to change. I want to be accepted for who I am, everything included.
The second reason that it made me upset was the repetition of the same general way that the church continues to talk about celibacy for gay Christians, a manner that just frustrates the living daylights out of me. Most churches would command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives as a way to reconcile their sexuality with what the Bible says and what God has commanded us in His word. Period.
Most churches command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives. Period.
That is where that conversation stops about 97% of the time, leaving people with a pretty sad “sorry to break it to ya, but you’re gonna be alone until you die.” At least, that’s what I hear when they talk about it like that, and I’m sure other gay people can attest to that as well. But anyway, for the other 2%, they might reiterate that you aren’t supposed to have sex (well, duh, that’s the definition of celibacy) or they might remind you to be careful of “acting on it,” even if you’re not sexually active (*shaking my head* that’ll be a topic for another post…). Somewhere within that 2%, they’ll probably also tell you that it’s possible that God might change you so that you’d be able to get married to someone of the opposite sex (hmm…I don’t know about you, but that honestly doesn’t sound that appealing to me; I like the way that I am to be completely frank and I don’t think I would change it if I could, but again, a topic for another post).
The last remaining 1% is something that I’ve read about, but never actually heard in a sermon. This 1% (or possibly less than 1%, let’s be honest) talks about how to live celibately for the rest of your life. Where does your emotional support come from? How do you not feel lonely? Where does the church factor into that? What do you do when all of your friends get married and you’re the last one left? All of those “what ifs” they leave unanswered.
That’s my problem. The church tells you what to do in order to be a “good Christian,” ‘despite’ your ‘condition’ of homosexuality (or at least that how it feels a lot of the time), but they don’t tell you anything about how you’re supposed to go about doing that. And most of the time there isn’t a support system there either, save for “accountability groups” or what have you, which basically amount to groups of people who are supposed to call you out if they see you doing anything that might be morally questionable.
Church culture has placed such a high value on straight marriage that it has become an idol for many Christians.
And honestly, I think that this goes back to a problem with the structure of the church itself. The church claims that we have become so immersed in culture that it has begun to change the way that we think about things that the Bible is very clear on, but I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church whether they want to admit it or not. Our sex-obsessed culture has gotten to the church too, in such a way that it’s impossible for them to even consider the idea of a strong, loving, same-sex relationship without sex (a post on this coming later this week), because every relationship must involve sex. Church culture has also placed such a high value on straight marriage that, I daresay, it has become an idol for many Christians (post on this also coming). The church claims that being single is a gift, but it’s practice doesn’t match its preaching. In all practicality, the church is unable to see the value in singleness, and thus automatically marginalizes and devalues all LGBT people because of the fact that a Biblically based marriage isn’t a possibility in their eyes. And that breaks my heart.
The church is unable to see the value in singleness.
If the church is going to be calling LGBT people to celibacy (still a very legitimate calling in my opinion, just one that isn’t realistically feasible for a lot of people right now, given the current atmosphere of church/Christian culture), it also needs to provide real support systems for those people and it needs to start changing its attitudes on LGBT people and singleness. People are never going to thrive in celibacy unless Christians start seeing it as a gift again, rather than looking down on people for not having a spouse or significant other. Only once people stop feeling like they’re missing something will they be able to fully embrace celibacy, if that’s what they have been called to.
This is the great battle that the church has ahead of it, and, honestly, right now, I think that it’s losing.
What about you guys? What are your thoughts on celibacy and the church’s response?
8 thoughts on “when the church talks about celibacy”
I’m so glad we’ve met in the blogsophere. You have expressed my very own thoughts and it resonates with my experience. I particularly liked your statement about support systems because the church provides none at all. And yes, accountability partners to me sound more like “the purity police” and is not a loving or compassionate way to respond. It dehumanizes people.
I also appreciated the comment that the church does not value singleness. I have heard preachers say many times – in a discussion on gay issues – that “singleness is a great blessing” or “a gift” or even “superior to marriage” (I don’t agree with that last one at all). But I can’t help noticing that these same preachers never chose this path for themselves. They all chose to get married and have families and the same is true of most Christians. I’m not saying they are wrong to do this but it does show how their preaching does not reflect reality.
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Thanks for your kind words.
It means a lot to me, just because I’ve felt that same way, like no one else shares my views on these things, so thank you.
And I definitely agree. It’s so hard and frustrating when they try to tell us how to live when they haven’t had to experience it for themselves. Obviously, they’ve been called to preaching if they’re there, but I think that it could be so much more effective if they actually went out of their comfort zones and engaged LGBT people so they understand how difficult celibacy actually is and what exactly they’re asking us to do.
But yes, yes, and yes. I agree with everything you just said! They’re not wrong to say that, because it IS biblical. It’s just so hard to hear from people who have what they’re saying we can’t have.
Sorry – in the last comment it should read “blogosphere”.
Being gay is not just about sex, it is about love and I believe you can be gay, experience love and yet avoid intercourse. My straight friends have reminded me that sex constitutes less than 5% of their married relationship and there are so many other factors like loving, supporting and caring for each other which are much bigger things.
By telling us that they expect us to remain single, they don’t think about a lot of other things. Do they regularly arrange visits to people who live on their own to check on their health and wellbeing? It says in Ecclesiastes that two are better than one (and in the context of friendship). “Woe to him that is alone when he falls” – imagine if someone living on their own falls down the stairs or gets a severe flu which confines him to bed? What if they need a shoulder to cry on? Usually a partner is there to help in these instances but if the church deprives people of this, they are putting them in a very hazardous position.
I am writing some more articles on issues of “celibate companionship” which is complicated but at least more compassionate than telling people to “just stay single” to cover these issues.
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I completely agree!! This is something that I’m writing a few posts on this week, but I agree to the uttermost on that issue of celibate companionship. I’ve been talking with some of my other gay friends for the past couple months and that’s something that we’ve touched on numerous times and something that I don’t think the church considers to be a valid possibility, because they consider it to be “acting on it.”
But I think it’s so important to be able to have a companion/partner/person to do life with. Thank you so much for your words and interaction on this. I really appreciate it and I’m so glad that you’re on the same page! More people need to think critically about these things.
Celibacy has to be paired with deep and meaningful relationships or people won’t be able to thrive. Also, the possibility of loving, committed, celibate partnerships is something that hardly anyone in the church is talking about, but could certainly be one possible way of life for gay or lesbian Christians seeking to live out a traditional sexual ethic. It would be wonderful to hear churches start actually caring for their single/celibate members and giving them advice beyond “just don’t have sex”.