This week’s class was amazing! As I’ve told my students throughout this course, I want us to blend rigorous study with personal stories; the word of God and the flesh of people. Homosexuality is not just an issue to be studied, but a people to love.
This is why I invited Matt Jones to come speak to our class last Tuesday night. Matt is a graduate of Wheaton College and a student at Fuller Seminary. He worships Jesus. He loves people. He has a huge heart for the poor and marginalized. And Matt is a Side B gay Christian committed to a life of celibacy. “Side B” simply means that he doesn’t believe it’s within God’s will to act upon his same sex attraction (if he was “Side A,” he would).
So I invited Matt to come tell us his story. What was it like to experience same sex attraction at age 11? How did your parents respond when you came out? How did you feel growing up in a conservative Christian environment where gay jokes were as frequent as Bible drills, and anti-Homosexual sermons dehumanize “them” even though “you” are sitting right there in the third pew from the front?
As you can imagine, Matt’s life had its struggles. But it was in college when everything came crashing down. He finally came to grips with his sexuality and publicly admitted that he was exclusively attracted to guys. That’s when the depression hit the hardest. Trying to figure out life, school, and your place in the church as a gay man is a lot for a 19 year old to bear. Matt’s theological convictions remained conservative and he wasn’t convinced that it would be within God’s will to pursue a homosexual relationship. So when Matt thought about the future, he imagined sitting all alone in a cold, dark, lonely apartment building. “Is this what you created me for, Jesus?”
When Matt graduated, he landed an internship position at his church back home. However, he felt that it was only right to tell his pastor that he was only attracted to guys and that he would probably never marry a woman. His pastor was surprisingly gracious and understanding, even though he hadn’t encountered anyone in his church with this “issue” in more than 20 years. (Which makes me wonder: who was ministering to the same-sex attracted people in the church all these years? If not their pastor, was it Oprah? Ellen? Pastors: we’ve got to create safe space to walk with those who experience same sex attraction in our churches; “they” are “us” whether you know it or not.) His pastor said he had to tell the rest of their staff about Matt’s sexuality, “but don’t worry, they’ll be totally cool.”
But the meeting was less than cool.
“But what about the kids! We can’t let you around our kids”
(Matt: “I’m not a pedophile, and just because I’m attracted to men doesn’t make me incapable of ministering to youth.”)
“We can’t approve of someone with your…lifestyle.”
(Matt: lifestyle? I’m celibate. I’ve never had the faintest sexual encounter. I’ve never even been to first base.)
Matt left that meeting feeling dehumanized. As he sat in his car he wanted to scream. But it was at that moment that he decided to love. “I will not let the pain people cause me to determine my unconditional love for them.” Matt decided to engage in a lifestyle—a lifestyle of cruciform love. And Matt also stayed at the church. He knew that the pastors were godly men. Perhaps they could learn more about homosexuality, but they love Jesus and His word. Matt believed and still believes that he can learn from them.
Grace. Humility. Unconditional forgiveness. There’s more of Jesus in Matt than most Christians I’ve met. He’s traveled around the globe to serve the poor. He’s played with orphans in Guatemala and talked to former drug addicts in South Africa about Jesus. Matt has given himself to a life of love and service, to manifest Jesus to other beautiful people made in God’s image. And no longer does Matt view his future through the dim mist of loneliness; he now considers his celibacy as an opportunity to spread the fragrance of Christ in a dark and broken world.
“Most single people are told that their singleness is a giant ‘no.’ No sex. No marriage. No relationship. Only loneliness. But my celibacy—as much as it’s a daily struggle—is not just a ‘no’ but filled with many ‘yeses’.” Yes to people, love, and community.
Community. That’s a crucial ingredient in Matt’s recipe for joy. Matt’s lifelong celibacy would be unbearable if the church doesn’t reciprocate Matt’s undying love. It’s not up to Matt (and other singles) to muscle up and create joy in a room by himself, or to fill all his free time with service to others. It’s up to us, the church, to make sure we don’t treat singles as second-class citizens in the kingdom, or as incomplete until they find their mate. Singleness is not a stage to get through, but a gift to be stewarded—even if for a time. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we’re not sending the message that it’s a stage to get through. We need to drown the Matts among us in affection, value, and love.
People can live without sex, but we can’t live without love and relationship, and Matt’s life is filled with both. He no longer imagines that cold, dark, lonely apartment as his lot in life; he imagines, rather, being tackled and tickled by a pile of orphans who have been given life through the love and laughter of man in love with Jesus.
On behalf of our class, thank you Matt for sharing your heart with us!
Matt is a contributor to the Spiritual Friendship blog, which is an excellent resource. Check it out!