Celibate Gay Christians

Preston Sprinkle —  October 28, 2013 — 16 Comments
This entry is part 14 of 20 in the seriesHomosexuality in the Bible

If you are one of the 5-7% of Christians who have same sex attraction (SSA), and you believe it’s wrong to act on that attraction and pursue a gay or lesbian relationship, what do you do?

This has been one of the most painful, confusing, and heart-wrenching questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few months. And as a heterosexual who has never had

www.evantherock.com

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SSA, it’s easy for me to brush aside the question since I don’t personally struggle with it. In other words, it’s easy for me to be selfish, inconsiderate, prideful, and unloving by failing to bear the burden of those who are wrestling with the theological and personal implications of SSA.

Since my study on homosexuality is focused on people, and not just some “issue,” I’ve talked with several gay Christians who have chosen a life of celibacy, not because they have the gift of singleness but because they believe it’s wrong (or aren’t convinced that it’s right) to act on their desires. Think about that. If you’re single, heterosexual, and you have a desire to get married, how would you feel if you were told that it was wrong for you ever to get married and enjoy the intimacy of marriage, and that you must live the rest of your life without a spouse?

I had the opportunity to interview Andrew. Andrew is a Christian, he’s single, he would love to be married, but he’s only attracted to guys. Andrew loves Jesus and his word, and he believes that it’s wrong to act on his sexual orientation.

 

Andrew, thanks for being willing to share your story with us. Tell us in your own words why you are considering a celibate life?

Thanks, Preston, for asking me to participate in this discussion. I grew up in a loving, conservative evangelical family, and came to faith in Christ at a young age. For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a deep-rooted attraction to other males. This was a startling discovery, and for years I lived in shame and isolation and hoped and prayed the desires would fade. Now in my mid-twenties, I realize that my sexuality has not changed.

I believe the Bible affirms that marriage consists of a union between a man and a woman, and that all sexual expression outside this context is sinful. So in order to remain faithful to the Lord in my particular situation, I may need to live without sexual intimacy for the foreseeable future. This is certainly not an easy path. In fact, it sometimes feels very much like death. But Jesus calls each of us to take up our crosses (whatever they may be) and follow him to find eternal life.

 

Now, some would say that there are other options for you. You could go through “reparative therapy” and change your orientation. Others would say you could still marry a woman and try to make it work. What are your thoughts on these two options?

Reparative therapy is mostly rejected by mainstream society (and starting to lose favor within the church). This framework assumes that a homosexual orientation is simply the result of psychological trauma which occurred in childhood. In reality, the roots of homosexuality are much more complex, and the number of persons who actually achieve complete orientation change is negligible. This is not to say that certain levels of “sexual healing” are impossible; we serve a sovereign God who does whatever he pleases! But by offering unrealistic expectations we set people up for disillusionment.

If I were to marry a woman, I would want to enter that relationship only for the right reasons and with complete transparency. I know of couples in healthy “mixed-orientation marriages.” Yet I’ve also heard stories of women who feel betrayed because their husbands do not desire them physically. Some people with SSA have the ability to feel some attractions toward the opposite sex, but this is not the case for everyone.

 

Andrew, here’s the million dollar question: if you continue to pursue a celibate life, how would you love to see the church come around you and walk with you in your journey?

Yes, that’s a great question! We can start by breaking the culture of silence and isolation in our local churches. And this begins in the pulpit. If 5-7% of people in the pews have SSA, then a pastor’s duty is to gently shepherd those who are struggling. The church also has an obligation to help all the straight Christians in the congregation to faithfully walk beside their gay and lesbian friends and family members.

Secondly, gay Christians may be called to live without sex, but no one can survive without healthy friendships and emotional intimacy. The church should be the one place where nobody is left alone. Much more could be said on the topic of spiritual friendship; others have made some practical suggestions on how to nurture such relationships.

 

Related to the previous question, can you give us some positive examples of how you have seen heterosexual Christians come alongside celibate gay Christians in a helpful way? And do you have a few bad examples to help us not make the same mistakes?

Matt Jenson gave an excellent Biola chapel address on how believers can walk alongside those dealing with homosexuality. And Wesley Hill, a celibate gay Christian, has written of his cherished memories of regularly being invited to Sunday dinner at his pastor’s home. This particular minister and his family made it a priority to welcome all types of people into their daily lives, especially those who might be prone to loneliness, like single persons.

Unfortunately, in the church of my childhood, the pastor would often rail against the “gay agenda” and focus only on political issues. Meanwhile, I suffered silently and was afraid to speak with anyone about my struggles.

 

Thanks so much, Andrew! What other words of wisdom can you leave us with?

For a closer look at living faithfully as a celibate gay Christian, I would recommend Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting. Ron Belgau and Wes Hill have also founded a blog called Spiritual Friendship, which explores many of these same themes.

And thank you, Preston, for blogging this series, which I’ve found very helpful!

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Julie

    Andrew,
    If “marriage consists of a union between a man and a woman” (and I do agree), and that ALL sexual expression outside THIS context is sinful, why did God bless sexual expression outside THIS “one man and one woman” context in 2 Samuel 12:7-8 when God blessed David with his master’s many wives? It seems that this blessing of many wives given to David by God demonstrates that less than God’s “one man and one woman” ideal is not only allowed but also considered a blessing, at least with this case with David. Thus, I don’t feel we can/should use the “one man and one woman” card to say that gay marriage is wrong because it is outside of the “one man and one woman” context. Do you see what I mean?

    Preston,
    I brought the following idea up in earlier blogs. So far in this study, it seems that it can be argued that Scripture prohibits the act of sodomy, at most. So, why can’t gay men and gay women pursue marriage/partnership without the act of
    sodomy in their relationship?

    Preston, wherever you personally land on this issue, I’m genuinely thankful for your kind and loving approach.

    • Avery

      I tend to see polygamy as a concession that God made in the OT to the Israelites, like divorce and the Israelites asking for a human king (1 Samuel 8:1-22). Sure, God didn’t exactly “bless” divorce, but God gave his blessings to human kings (the anointing). In that 1 Samuel passage, though, He told the prophet that such request was a rejection of His leadership (verse 7, “for it is me they are rejecting,” NLT). Rejecting the God of the universe, that’s a big deal, actually, but God chose to be patient, I believe. In addition, I see Eden as the ideal state that God intended. If God was 100% okay with polygamy from the get go, why not create Adam and Eve and Mary and Sally and Alice, so on and so forth?

      My point is not to equate appointing a leader’s nation to having many wives, but to me they’re “substandard” moral behaviors that God more so put up with rather than promoted as virtues.

  • Lucas Nash

    This is very encouraging!!! As one who identifies with basically everything that Andrew said, it is encouraging to hear this perspective of SSA and how people are wrestling through it. I feel that many people don’t consider this as an option, because it feels like a cop out, and are counseled into trying to be attracted to women or into reparative therapy. For me, this would cause disappointment, and frustration again and again. However, through reading “Washed and Waiting” a shift took place in my mind, and instead of pursuing to be “straight” I should be pursuing Jesus in faithfulness and purity. It really lifted so much burden, and began a healing process in my life. Preston, I really appreciate you bringing these perspectives to light seasoned with grace and humility, knowing that these are not just issues but real people.

    • Preston

      Thanks for dropping in and giving your helpful feedback! Glad to see that Andrew’s testimony was encouraging.

    • Andrew

      Thanks for commenting, Lucas! As the interviewee above, I can definitely relate to feeling a burden lift when I realized that sanctification does not necessarily equal orientation change. Reading Wes’s book was a sort of paradigm shift, unlike many other books which focus on gay people becoming straight.

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    Hi Preston –

    As you know, I believe Andrew’s religion-induced suffering is both needless and unjust.

    With that said, I would add that now is a critical time to support Andrew and help mitigate his suffering. He’s young. It’s likely that many of the friends of his youth are now seriously pursuing romantic relationships with the intention of starting families. For some gay Christians, that can be an excruciating thing to experience – being happy for one’s friends but losing the friendship’s closeness to other priorities, while also being constantly reminded of the life the church demands one to sacrifice without even the hope of experiencing romantic intimacy.

    It sure seems like a heavy, cumbersome load to me.

    • Preston

      Hey David, great to hear from you again! I know we disagree on several issues, so I appreciate you weighing in and offering your feedback.

      Without getting into the overarching question–is acting on SSA a sin?–I’m still not convinced that “the hope of experiencing romantic intimacy” should be viewed as such a high priority. (Many heterosexuals who are married to someone whom they would LOVE to be unmarried to are in a similar position, right?) We may come from different theological perspectives on various issues, but I would say that suffering–as tragic and painful as it is–is part and parcel with the Christian life. And our hope for relief should be fixed on the other side of resurrection, not in a temporal good in the old creation.

      But, of course, if gay marriage, etc., is not a sin, then Andrew’s suffering and loneliness is unnecessary, which is your main point, right?

      Always great to read your challenging thoughts, David!

      • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

        Hi Preston –

        I should have selected my words more carefully; I’m afraid you missed my meaning. By “romantic intimacy” I really meant “a covenant relationship in which one experiences the fullness of an emotionally intimate relationship that is expressed and deepened by physical intimacy.”

        I agree that physical intimacy is not an end unto itself. However, I do believe that there are unique blessings that flow from selfless, physically intimate relationships that not only contribute to the well being of the couple, but also to the community in which they make their covenant.

        I think your analogy is problematic. There is an essential difference between an unhappily married Christian and a gay Christian pursuing celibacy. The former has freely chosen to enter into a covenant; the latter is not given a choice – there is only one way for him to live (with integrity) in accord with the traditionalist doctrine.

        • Preston

          Thanks for the clarification, David.

          • Preston

            Oh, and David, I actually anticipated your pushback in the last paragraph, which is why I deliberately said “similar” and not “same.” The similarity being living in a state of unhappiness and loneliness with no likely hope of release, except to hope in God’s resurrection which is a breath away. Not an exact parallel, though I didn’t claim it was. Still, there is a good deal of overlap.

            Point being, faithfulness often requires to embrace God in suffering and loneliness, not necessitate that God relieves you from it.

            But again, it always comes back to the fundamental question about whether same sex relations are sanctioned or prohibited. Where we land on that will determine the rest of our argument.

            And David, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thanks for always being so cordial and irenic in our blog! I can imagine that reading it may get irritating or painful–we certainly don’t intend it to be! And we love it that you drop in and challenge our thinking.

      • Peter

        Hi,

        Sorry the links in my original posts were not showing. Was I making some violations of the blog. Thanks.

  • Eva

    God bless you Andrew, my brother in Christ. I think it’s really important for churches to discuss how to be normal around folks who have SSA regardless if they are Christians or not. Treat them like you would anyone else. But for my brother and sister in Christ who has SSA I will go the extra mile to love them in their singleness and struggle.

    I am sure it hurts when a pastor talks about the very real gay agenda to a person who has SSA. I think pastors have to deal with it by always, always prefacing that topic by emphatically embracing our brothers and sisters who have SSA at the same time.

    The political issues matter. In California it is now the law that K through 12 grade school children must learn about LGBT? issues in every course including math. Boys who just feel feminine can now, as of two months ago, enter the girls bathroom or locker room. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if we could talk about these political issues without having our brothers and sisters who have SSA feel any less loved?

    Brett Kunkle and Alan Shlemon (Biola) from Stand to Read do a excellent job of explaining to the church how to fully embrace our brothers and sisters who have SSA. I can’t say enough about them.

    • Preston

      Great points, Eva. Yes, we certainly need to be so careful when we talk about homosexuality, so that we don’t broad-brush a huge group of people who don’t have some “agenda” but are trying to follow Christ in the midst of great loneliness and isolation.

    • Andrew

      Thanks, Eva, for posting this. Yes, political issues are important, but thank you for going the extra mile to support brothers and sisters who are struggling.

  • Tyler M. Tully

    Thanks for posting on this Preston. I have a good friend, who has been happily married for almost 40 years, and has same sex attraction. He identifies as being gay, not because of an act, but because of his preference and orientation. Too many times in the Christian town square, we define “others” by what they do–that is to say, through an act, and this is certainly true for how Christians have defined homosexuals. However, as you can tell, not only does this leave little room for the reality of human sexuality, but it also causes those of us who are “straight” to address some very real inconsistencies in this line of thinking. For instance, Jesus makes it clear that acting out is not always the predicate for “sin,” for if I lust after a woman, I’ve already committed adultery. The problem here is that normative Christian thinking has already demonized homosexuals using their homosexual performativity as the basis for their alienation. But Christians like my friend, or the one you interviewed here for this article, sort of turn that line of thinking on its head. The LGBTQ Christians in our churches are much more than the acts they perform, just as you and I are also.