Protestant Opposition to Celibacy

Outside discussions about gay and lesbian people, I’ve found that most Protestants tend to have a very low view of celibacy. This manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, single seminary graduates often find that it can be difficult to become a pastor in an evangelical church without being married. Lack of marriage can be viewed with suspicion, as an indication that people are likely to fall to sexual sin. Some even argue that failure to marry is a sinful shirking of adult responsibility.

Solitary Tree

Underlying much of this attitude is the belief that for the vast majority of people, celibacy is either impossible or cannot be fulfilling. For example, many Protestants blame the Catholic sex abuse scandal on the requirement that priests remain unmarried, and this is taken as a cautionary tale against an expectation of celibacy. Many Protestants see celibate living as a needless source of loneliness, and as the sort of thing that can be viewed as a form of punishment. On the other hand, they see marriage as the universal solution to the problems of loneliness and sexual temptation.

This relates to the increasing movement of Protestant communities in the direction of viewing marriage as a legitimate vocation for same-sex couples. It is becoming increasingly well-known that there are people with a stable, enduring pattern of attraction to people of the same sex, without corresponding attractions to people of the opposite sex. There are a number of such people who blog here on Spiritual Friendship (although I’m not actually one of them). For such people, marriage to someone of the opposite sex can bring significant issues and is not always advisable.

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What I Wish I Had Heard

Lonely Leaf

It was a chilly, fall afternoon in late October or early November, I can’t remember. There was a bite in the air, a warning sign of the coming brutal winter. I remember sitting in my car, shaking and nervous. I almost couldn’t breathe I was so scared. I was getting ready to have lunch with a man I had met only a few weeks before. He was the pastor at a church I had started attending, after I had just moved thousands of miles to a new city and new community. I didn’t know anyone yet, really, other than my own family.

I had started attending his church, and enjoyed his sermons. He had seemed quite approachable and caring— a good listener. So, after a couple of weeks, I decided to ask him to grab a bite to eat and ask if we could talk. I had a thousand things I was wrestling with at the time, things that I needed to get off of my chest. He kindly agreed to meet with me and to get to know me a little better.

We went in and ordered and nervously sat down in a booth in a corner. So here we were at this sub shop, two strangers carrying on small talk as I walked in circles around the subject, the main reason why I had asked him to lunch in the first place.

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Why Should A Straight Person Care About Spiritual Friendship?

Editor’s Note: Matthew Loftus, a family physician, will soon leave his current life in Sandtown, Baltimore to move with his wife and children to South Sudan, where he will serve at His House of Hope Hospital. A writer for multiple publications such as,, First Things, and The American Conservative, he is also a regular columnist for Christianity Today. Matthew is a personal friend to some of us who write here at SF, and it’s an honor to have his first “guest post” with us today. — Wesley Hill

The author with his family, some of whom have disordered inclinations towards the natural use of their tongues.

The author with his family, some of whom have disordered inclinations towards the unnatural use of their tongues.

Unlike many other people who write or post on social media about the Church and LGBT relations, I don’t have a lot of gay friends. I have a handful of close friends who are either out publicly or who have confided about their sexuality to me, but I haven’t had to walk through the same difficult journeys that many others have experienced as they tried to support and care for loved ones who wrestled with their faith and sexuality. Even the intense conversations I’ve had with my gay and lesbian friends who introduced me to Wesley Hill’s Washed & Waiting and the rest of the Spiritual Friendship crew have not exactly been epochal for any of us involved.

When Wesley found out about this, he asked me to write about why I was still so interested in Spiritual Friendship. It had never struck me that a big emotional investment was necessary to be sharing and commenting on SF posts, but the question was a great opportunity for me to reflect: why should straight people care about Spiritual Friendship and the questions taken up here?

The most obvious initial draw for me was the role that sexuality has played in broader cultural discourse. Growing up in an era of “worldview training,” I heard over and over again that the battle for a traditional understanding of marriage was crucial and that reckoning with the issues of sexual orientation was necessary if there was any hope of advancing the Christian cultural witness. Few other things fascinated me as a teenager the way that sex, theology, and politics did, naturally inclining me to read everything I could in books like How Should We Then Live? or online sources like various Focus on the Family websites.

As I was coming of age, though, the narrative held by conservative Christian subculture that emphasized half-baked theories about why people choose a certain sexual orientation and the power of “orientation change” was beginning to unravel. The answers that I had used to justify the natural discontent between a traditional view of sexuality and the contemporary notions of love and gender were being exposed as brittle and unsatisfactory, just as I was starting to meet people who were gay and lesbian at college for the first time.

Spiritual Friendship filled the gap and helped me see that faithfulness to Scripture didn’t have to necessarily be shoehorned into a political fight. The instinct for any culture warrior, of course, is to use the emerging narrative of vocational celibacy among gay Christians as another weapon against the social forces we don’t like. While the writing of Spiritual Friendship is more resistant to this sort of weaponization than any “ex-gay” testimonies were, it is a real temptation to treat LGBT people as puppets to be directed. Still, there is a real public struggle to discern the meaning of marriage and its role, and the voices of Spiritual Friendship deserve an even greater place.

Conservative Christians who believe in a traditional sexual ethics should flip the script and let gay Christians do the directing for a while. Most have endured enough unjustified external ostracism and internal spiritual struggle to be worth listening to. If we are going to keep fighting for the values of marriage and family in our culture (and we should!), we should take our cues from the people who have defended these values at great personal loss and even mudslinging from their own Christian allies.

The cultural conversation about guarding and transmitting traditional values goes beyond gay marriage, though, which is the next reason why I find Spiritual Friendship so worthwhile. As the eponymous book on Spiritual Friendship rightly observes, the hollowing out of friendship and the idolatry of marriage has profound consequences for the straight and married just as it does for the gay and single. A variety of cultural and technological factors are pushing all of us toward atomization and disconnectedness and an atomized nuclear family will fall to Satan one way or the other almost as quickly as an atomized individual person will.

To this end, the conversations at Spiritual Friendship are engaging how and why we should build up lasting, meaningful friendships. Physical distance, cultural norms, and the natural rhythms of life (e.g. childbirth) shape our relationships with other believers and our neighbors in ways that we don’t always recognize, therefore, we always need to be identifying the forces that hold back or erode our love for one another and then push back with creativity and vigor.

Lastly, I keep reading because we all share the same struggles. Neither marriage nor friendship will fully salve our loneliness, quiet our lusts, or give us all of the intimacy we long for. The burdens that my sexual minority brothers and sisters face are qualitatively and quantitatively more difficult than mine, for sure, but their faith and hope are still instructive to me. Reading Washed and Waiting was undoubtedly a catalyst in my own sanctification and thinking through the public value of sexual sacrifice in marriage has helped me strengthen my convictions for the fight.

Just as most Christians who draw inspiration and hope from reading great missionary biographies and blogs (the sort that don’t skimp on the tribulations) don’t have the unique call to go overseas, so we can learn from the vocation and challenge of celibate gay and lesbian Christians. I believe that their trials are a gift to the body of Christ, so we should receive their words (and their personal friendship!) with gratitude. Pornography, fornication, adultery, and sexual abuse destroy many traditional Christian marriages– perhaps we would see more fruit if we paid closer attention to how people with much harder battles put sin to death.

The work of Spiritual Friendship is relevant to the personal, communal, and public concerns of Christians, regardless of sexual orientation. Even non-Christians curious about the value of friendships in our increasingly transient and disconnected society or the meaning of marriage and sexuality in our increasingly jaded and commercialized erotic milieu would probably find the writing here more engaging than a meme with an out-of-context Bible verse slapped over a picture of a smiling white family. Those of us who are in traditional marriages ignore those supporting us from outside at our own peril.

Matthew Loftus is a family physician who lives in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore and is preparing to teach and practice Family Medicine in South Sudan. Follow him @matthew_loftus or read more about his family and work at

The Gift of Singleness

Caravaggio - The Calling of St. Matthew

Caravaggio: The Calling of St. Matthew

I recently preached a sermon on “The Gift of Singleness,” based on Matthew 19:10-12. The main point of that text—and therefore the sermon—was that for those called to it, singleness should be received as a gift from God. I organized the sermon into three points to help unpack and support that thesis:

  1. “The Gift is Given (vv. 10-11)”
  2. “Circumstances are Seen (vs. 12)”
  3. “Singleness is Savored (vs. 12)”

So that is where we are going.

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The Synod on the Family and the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons

As many of our readers know, the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family has been meeting in Rome for the last several weeks. The pastoral care of homosexual persons was among the most contentious issues at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last year, and got a lot of attention in the lead-up to this year’s Synod. There was thus a great deal of anticipation—and even outright anxiety—regarding the final result.

Dome of St. Peter's

The final report has now been released (in Italian).  There was only one paragraph dealing with the pastoral care of homosexual persons. Here is an unofficial English translation of that paragraph (courtesy of Aleteia):

76. The Church conforms her attitude to the Lord Jesus who in a limitless love offered himself for every person without exception (MV, 12). Regarding families who live the experience of having within their family persons with homosexual tendencies, the Church repeats that every person, independently of his sexual tendency, is to be respected in his dignity and welcomed with respect, careful to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, 4). May special attention be reserved also for the accompaniment of families in which persons with homosexual tendencies live. Regarding proposals to equate unions between homosexual persons with marriage, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (ibid.). The synod holds that it is entirely unacceptable that local churches suffer pressure on this matter and that international organizations make financial help to poor countries conditioned on the introduction of laws that institute “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

Over the last couple of days, several people have reached out to me to express frustration with how little the Synod said on the topic of homosexuality. Others were frustrated that the final report focused primarily on the pastoral care of families of homosexual persons, rather than addressing the pastoral needs of homosexual persons themselves. This is an understandable concern, especially in light of the amount of focus on homosexuality in the reaction to last year’s Synod, and in discussions leading up to the Synod this Fall. However, it’s worth emphasizing that this was the Synod on the Family, not a synod on sexuality more generally.

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Coming Out Orthodox, Revisited*

Holy Cross Chapel

Copyright 2012, Gregg Webb

I don’t know what to do about homosexuality. What I do know, however, is that what I have written here is my understanding of what God and Christ would have us do, according to the scriptures, sacraments, and saints of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps I am wrong in my understanding of Christianity and Orthodoxy. Perhaps Orthodoxy is wrong in its understanding of God, Christ, and humanity. Millions of people, heterosexual and homosexual, certainly think so. Whatever the truth, and whatever God’s will for us creatures, I live with the constant awareness that I will answer for what I have written here. I will answer before God. And, in a sense even more terrifying, I will answer before Sharon Underwood and her son, and my friend, and all who try to make sense of life in this world, and to do what is good and right for everyone.

I ask all people’s friendship and forgiveness.

–Fr. Thomas Hopko, from the original forward to Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections recently published in Ancient Faith Publishing’s updated edition of his book.

As I think about what an Eastern Orthodox discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage should look like, this forward by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko comes to mind. Fr. Thomas speaks with both humility and with confidence in his words, but more importantly he speaks knowing that he is talking about an issue that impacts real men and women who are trying to live their lives as best they know how. Recently the Eastern Orthodox Church has had a surge in official statements on gay marriage as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the US Supreme Court.

While all of these statements were theologically accurate, most seem to be written with only a passing nod to pastoral care for the sexual minorities within their communities. Rather than engaging in the difficult conversation of what effective pastoral care for sexual minorities within the Orthodox Church could look like, I feel that they took the easy road and restated the same, already published, views again. The last thing I want is for the theology and tradition of the Church to change regarding the issue of same-sex erotic relationships, but the time has come to look at how the Church practically ministers to its LGBT members.

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Are Evangelicals More Revisionist on Marriage than We Think?

Wedding Rings

Over at the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax asks whether Evangelicals are more revisionist on marriage than we think?

Catholics, of course, have our own problems; if we have not altered our teaching on sexual ethics, few in the pews take it seriously. And so there is substantial pressure on the Synod Fathers from within the Church to alter teaching on remarriage after divorce, as well as pressure to alter the teaching on same-sex unions. In highlighting Evangelical discussions of inconsistency in sexual ethics, I’m not trying to cast stones at other Christians, but simply drawing attention to an important discussion of the need for greater consistency in discussions of marriage.

After discussing several ways that Evangelicals have adopted the view of marriage held the surrounding culture, Wax concludes:

When we share the same undergirding ideas about marriage as the culture, the Christian’s “no” to same-sex marriage looks arbitrary and motivated by animus toward our LGBT neighbors rather than being a part of a comprehensive vision of marriage that counteracts our culture in multiple ways.

We are not called merely to reject wrong views of marriage; we are called to build a marriage culture where the glorious vision of complementarity, permanence, and life-giving union of a man and woman, for the good of their society, can flourish. Rebuilding a marriage culture must be more than lamenting the current state of the world at multiple conferences a year. It must include the strengthening of all our marriages within the body of Christ: from the truck driver, to the police officer, to the teacher, and the stay-at-home mom.

Success is not having church members say gay marriage “is wrong.” Success is when the Christian vision of marriage is so beautiful that revisionist definitions of marriage “make no sense.”

For more on these themes, see my Ethika Politika article on The Abolition of Marriage, and this discussion of a First Things article, What Is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?

And, of course, be sure to check out Trevin Wax’s full article at the Gospel Coalition.

Reflections on the Feast of St. Francis

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, whom I chose as my confirmation saint when I was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.


G. K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis was one of many books that helped introduce me to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. But Francis himself stuck with me in a special way.

I was particularly drawn by the powerful combination of joy and asceticism in his personality.

Asceticism was not new to me. I had grown up Southern Baptist, and joined the Presbyterian Church in America in college. I had been profoundly moved by Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. I had also been committed to celibacy since my late teens. So though I have learned more of asceticism and the cross since becoming Catholic, I already knew about the cost and sacrifice involved in responding to Christ’s call to come and follow.

What I did not realize, until I encountered St. Francis, was the deeper “Yes!” that made sense of and gave life in the midst of the many things I had to say “no” to in order to remain faithful to Christ. Continue reading

Always Consider the Person

World Meeting of Families Transcript

This is a transcript of my presentation with my mother, Beverley Belgau, at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, in conjunction with Pope Francis’s first pastoral visit to the United States. The World Meeting of Families is a global Catholic event, like World Youth Day. The first World Meeting of Families was called together by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994 to celebrate the International Year of the Family. It has grown into the largest gathering of families in the world, and this year’s meeting in Philadelphia beat all previous attendance records.

This was also the first time in the history of the World Meeting that an openly gay—and celibate—Catholic was invited to speak about his experiences in the Church and in his family. 

Because of a room scheduling snafu, we started late (the room was filled to overflowing and hundreds of people were reportedly turned away). To make up, we cut some material on the fly. This reflects the original transcript, not the presentation as delivered. Because this talk highlights a lot of points we have made at Spiritual Friendship over the years, I’ve included links to other posts, if you want to learn more. 

After the formal presentation, we answered audience questions for over two hours; even then, we only left because the Convention Center staff said we had to leave; there were still dozens of people in the room listening, and people in line waiting to ask questions. This speaks to just how important it is for the Church to take more time to talk about how families and parishes can respond to their lesbian and gay members with Christ-like love.

Given the length of the presentation, I have added numbered paragraphs to help locate material within the text.  
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Prayers for World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis Visit

Ron and Beverley Belgau

This Thursday, my mother, Beverley, and I will give a talk at the World Meeting  of Families in Philadelphia“Always Consider the Person”: Homosexuality in the Family.

What are some ways that Catholic families can respond to a family member’s disclosure that they are same sex attracted, or the announcement that they are gay or lesbian? Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic who embraces and Church teaching, and his mother, Beverley Belgau, will share their own stories as a way of highlighting some of the challenges faced by same sex attracted Catholics and their families. They will also talk about how Catholics should respond with both grace and truth to gay or lesbian friends or family members who struggle with or reject Catholic teaching on chastity.

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