Here’s something that may interest some of you.
On Saturday I spoke at a conference on singleness at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and the videos are all online if you want to watch them. My session starts (I’ve been told, I think!) around the 40-minute mark in the video labeled “Morning Sessions,” and I was also on a panel with the other speakers in the afternoon.
It was a real joy to finally have the chance to visit Redeemer. I’ve been listening to Tim Keller’s preaching since I was in high school, so it was a huge honor to meet him and Kathy and Brent Bounds the other amazing conference organizers. If any of you are reading this, thank you again for the warm hospitality and the stimulating conversation!
I’ve been asked multiple times in the past month why I am still side-B, why I am still pursuing celibacy as a gay 23 year-old in these United States of America. What is interesting to me is how, with each inquiring friend, it was implied that we weren’t discussing theology or the interpretation of certain notorious texts. The “why” was really more of a “how.”
It’s a refreshing change.
One of the more frustrating things about the current conversation is how it so easily gets sucked into the myopic quicksand of “what the Bible says.” Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the authority of scripture and the importance of right interpretation, and I probably wouldn’t be celibate if I didn’t think the Bible taught it, but there is a dangerous attitude of “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” running rampant in many churches.
The idea that the conversation straight up ends with interpretation is, honestly, lethal to true religion, strangling the imagination out of faith and poisoning the endlessly complex “how then shall we live” of the Christian life. I think the rate at which gay Christians are abandoning celibacy is a pretty good indicator of that fact; though not always the case, the majority of people I know who have made the switch do so notbecause they’ve been convinced by “affirming” theology but because celibacy and an abundant life seem mutually exclusive, which, I need to add, is a kind of theological reason in its own right.
A friend sent me an email this week with the text of a homily from several years ago by Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, on friendship between men and women. The text is from Luke 10, on Jesus’ relationship with Mary and Martha. After noting the usual exegesis—that the passage is about the active and contemplative lives—Fr. Cantalamessa goes in a different direction:
I think, however, that the more evident theme is that of friendship. “Jesus loved Martha, together with her sister and Lazarus,” we read in John’s Gospel (11:5).
When they bring him the news of Lazarus’ death he says to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going to wake him up” (John11:11).
Faced with the sorrow of the two sisters he also breaks down and weeps, so much so that those who are present exclaim: “See how much he loved him!” (John 11:13).
It is wonderful and consoling to know that Jesus knew and cultivated that sentiment that is so beautiful and precious for us men—friendship…
In this final post of my series on sin and sexual minorities, I will examine an additional major principle that is useful in determining what sins we should prioritize addressing, and I will conclude with a few related thoughts. This principle comes from Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV):
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Up until now in this series, I have focused on sins against sexual minority people. As I alluded to in the introduction, I will now turn to some initial reflections on how to work this into a holistic understanding of sin with respect to sexual minorities. I am writing from the perspective shared with the other writers of this blog, that “God created human beings male and female, and that all sexual intimacy outside of a faithful, lifelong marital union of a man and woman is contrary to His plan.” The purpose of this series has not been to argue that this does not matter, but rather that we should not consider only this matter when looking at the topic of sin and sexual minorities, because all other areas of Christian morality also matter greatly.
For the final two posts in this series, I will discuss two important principles that we should always keep in mind while addressing the sexual sins that some sexual minority people commit. I do not presume to have complete pastoral solutions even if I had the space to write them out, but I think the principles I will point out here are both scriptural and fruitful.
Scripture clearly teaches that sin comes from the heart. For example, in Matthew 15:18-20, Jesus teaches that the sins that defile a person come from inside a person’s heart, rather than from outside. In order to truly address our own sins, including the sins described in the previous two posts, we must address the condition of our hearts. The gospel is not really about behavior modification, but about inner transformation. Therefore, in this post, I will discuss some of the attitudes of the heart that contribute to sins against sexual minority people. Despite the fact that I’m not straight, these sins in particular are ones that I have often had to address in my own life, and that I have not completely overcome. However, I believe it will be edifying to bring them to light.
A very common sin, and one that Jesus addressed repeatedly during his earthly ministry, is that of self-righteousness. I think that a lot of straight Christians see themselves as fundamentally better people than most sexual minority people. This is not a truly Christian attitude, because we are all sinners who rely on God for salvation and sanctification. We have done nothing to earn a better place in God’s eyes through our own actions.
In the previous post of this series, I discussed overt sins of word and deed, where the nature of the sin is doing something that we should not do. In this post, I will discuss one major sin of omission, where the nature of the sin is not doing something even though we are commanded to do it. I personally find that sins of omission can be a greater struggle. It’s far too easy to just not get around to doing the sorts of good I am commanded to do, or to allow myself to be controlled by fear of man. However, failing to do what God has commanded is still sinful.
Although the sins I discussed in the last post relate to sexual minorities of all faith convictions, the particular issue I discuss in this post relates specifically to celibate gay Christians. In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (ESV). As we have discussed previously here and here, celibacy for gay Christians is often involuntary in the sense that it results from obedience based on conviction, rather than from an otherwise felt gifting or calling. This type of celibacy can be a difficult burden for people, so if we are really bearing one another’s burdens, we should certainly be bearing that one somehow.
Yesterday’s post on Sexual Ethics and the Trinity was mostly very well received (for which I am grateful). But I did get some criticisms, which I’d like to try to respond to. (I suppose it’s inevitable, when you try to push the conversation in a very different direction, that some readers will not understand where you are going.)
Social and religious context
Why did I write this in the first place? What problem was I trying to address?
In the last 40 years, western culture has gone through a profound shift in its understanding of marriage, human sexuality, and procreation.
This shift has also affected Christians in various ways. In the Catholic Church, contraception, remarriage after divorce, and same-sex unions remain contrary to Church teaching, but this teaching does not receive anything like universal assent in the pews. In other Christian communions, there have been divisive debates about a variety of issues in sexual ethics, with varying levels of official acceptance of changing attitudes toward sexual ethics.
God reveals Himself primarily as Father. What does that mean for our understanding of marriage?
Even in Christian culture, marriage is often seen primarily as a romantic and erotic union between a man and a woman. Thus, it has become more and more common, when we want to speak theologically about marriage, to talk about the image of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church.
Moreover, the widespread availability of contraceptives has made children seem a somewhat secondary, and voluntary, addition to marriage. Christians are not as inclined to reflect deeply on the connection between marriage and children as earlier Christian generations did.
In his excellent posts from Monday (Celibacy Is Not the Gospel and Celibacy in Light of the Resurrection), Wes attempted to respond to the following concern: “If we’re going to ask gay Christians to give up gay sex, that self-denial must be demonstrably good for us.” I liked what he had to say in response, but I think there is something more fundamental that ought to be said.
In “Christian Apologetics” (collected in God in the Dock), C. S. Lewis stresses the importance of focusing first of all on the claim that Christianity is true:
One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because you think it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True—or False’ into stuff about a good society, or morals, or the incomes of Bishops, or the Spanish Inquisition, or France, or Poland — or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine … [t]heir belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.