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.
A common criticism of the traditional doctrine on sexual ethics comes from Matthew 23:4, where Jesus complains of the scribes and Pharisees that “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (ESV). The allegation is that this is what Christians who hold to the traditional doctrine of sexual ethics are doing to gay people. This criticism is often quite accurate, and yet I believe that the prohibition on sexual gay relationships is indeed from God and not from man. There’s a tension here that we need to wrestle with. Ultimately, what sticks out to me in this passage is that what Jesus complains about is not just that the scribes and Pharisees are imposing a significant burden, but that they are not willing to help with the burden. In other words, I see this passage applied to celibacy for gay Christians as a poignant emphasis of the need to bear one another’s burdens rather than simply preaching and trying to make ourselves look good as the scribes and Pharisees were doing.
It is clear to me that we have often failed to bear the burdens of celibate gay Christians. For example, Stephen Long has written some very honest and personal accounts of his failure to find joy in celibacy, such as “The Cost of Mandatory Gay Celibacy.” What often strikes me about stories like his is that his faith community seems to more or less have expected him to find peace with celibacy on his own, even though he had no special gifting that made it any easier for him than for anyone else. What was his community doing to help bear his burdens that ended up doing so much damage to his spiritual and emotional health? I don’t know the answer to this question, although it’s possible Stephen has addressed it at some point.
In “What Does Genesis 2:18 Really Teach?” I mentioned some similar stories of people who were alone in the sense that Genesis 2:18 teaches to be “not good.” As I mentioned in that post, that too is a way that their Christian brothers and sisters apparently failed to bear their burdens in a meaningful capacity. We need to do more thinking about how we can tangibly bear the burdens of celibate gay Christians. I believe that tangibly acting as family for single people is part of the answer. Furthermore, as Karen brought up in a comment on my post, and as was further discussed in the comments on “Some Tools of Chaste Living: Friendship,” we need to cultivate meaningful kinship and stable living situations where celibate people can remain part of a family even without being married and starting their own family. I don’t think we have all the answers yet, but we need to get more straight Christians involved in figuring out how to really live up to what God has commanded of us so that celibate gay Christians can find joy in the midst of their circumstances.
Other posts in this series:
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Why I Criticize Christians
- Part 3: Sins of Word and Deed
- Part 5: Sins of the Heart
- Part 6: How Doctrine Matters
- Part 7: Of Logs and Specks
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.
I’m finding this series so helpful, Jeremy – thank you.
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Thank you Jeremy for your thoughts on this specific concern facing many celibate, gay Christians. Who takes the time to understand and develop themselves, open themselves to risk, disclosure, rejection and then try to get past what others expect of them or from them? For a lot of people (not just celibate LGBT Christians), spiritual (church) connections with others are too weak and shallow. Speaking as a sexual minority Christian, being desperately alone with only my thoughts, insecurities, and social/emotional hang-ups (detachments, defensiveness, etc.) literally stings.
Other people’s assumptions and expectations of us (well-intentioned or not) can be dismissive and frustrating. In most cases, they don’t “know” us. They jump to conclusions and put us in a box or category. It’s an extremely ugly feeling. It’s as if you have no options. However, I’ve gotten past some of the dark places and episodes in my life and I’ve come to realize I can’t allow others (or myself) to keep me stuck and paralyzed. When God prunes (John 15:1 – 4) and disciplines (Hebrews 12:1 – 13), it is often painful and always purposeful.
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