Solidarity Doesn’t Equal Condescension

A couple of the commenters on my last post have pointed out that this line from Chris Roberts—“Classic, orthodox celibates are the adopted aunts and uncles of a generous, hospitable household”—could be taken as implying a one-sided notion of celibacy, whereby straight people condescend to bestow pity on gay people. Here’s one commenter: “Why are you assuming that a generous, hospitable household would be populated by heterosexuals?” And here’s another, much more pointed one: “In other words, take the short stick that is your lot in life gay person, and enjoy the charity of the straight people you idolize.” I see how Chris’ words could be misconstrued along these lines, but I want to respond by sharing two anecdotes.

The first is from last weekend, when I spoke with Chris face to face about these matters. Over breakfast one morning, I made a comment to this effect: “It always encourages me when I meet straight people who care so deeply about the flourishing of gay people in the church, especially when there’s no obvious reason why they would have to care.” I was thinking of people like—well, people like Chris. People who aren’t gay themselves, who don’t have any gay family members, and who could easily choose to “pass” on making this “their issue.” They wouldn’t have to be burdened with it if they didn’t want to. And yet they do care. They go out of their way to seek solidarity with people like me. They look for opportunities to express and deepen the unity between us.

Later in the day, though, Chris circled back to that breakfast conversation and gently tried to correct or qualify the gratitude I’d expressed. Here’s what he said (in so many words): “I don’t view my concern for gay and lesbian Christians as somehow removed from my experience. I don’t think I’m making some special sacrifice to care about something that doesn’t involve me. Rather, I think I need your pursuit of chastity to remind me of my own need for chastity. And your faithfulness is reinforced and bound up with mine.” There is “solidarity amongst the many ways of patiently cultivating chastity.”

The other anecdote I’d like to share is also a conversation. A couple of years ago, when I was just beginning to outline the book project I’m working on now, a friend said to me, “I hope you’ll include some reflections about how your life as a celibate gay Christian can teach us straight people in the church about how to be more open and more accountable regarding our own pursuit of chastity. We straights have the luxury of rarely having to talk about our sexual desires openly, but you gay Christians don’t often have the same luxury. When you come out to your fellow believers, you’re often asked directly about your chastity. You’re held to a higher standard, in many ways. And maybe one of the gifts you will give to all the rest of us, as you continue to talk openly about your various journeys, is the push we need to be similarly self-disclosing ourselves.”

I agree that it would be problematic for straight Christians to assume some kind of stance of patronizing magnanimity towards us gay folks. But conversations like the ones I just recounted lead me to think that many of my fellow believers who are straight don’t like that idea any more than I do, and they’re working hard to undermine it.

2 thoughts on “Solidarity Doesn’t Equal Condescension

  1. Many thanks for this Wes. My own experience of relationships with straight Christians is one of absolute equality. Sometimes it almost seems that they need and therefore foster companionship with me more than I need it from them. I often hear cited from my dearest straight friends that they sorely need and desire my companionship for their own well-being. It’s almost like my own experience of walking through life as a gay Christian expands and enriches their own walk and experience. I know that I am cherished and valued and needed by these friends.

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