A Church of Pure Imagination

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.

I think what this is revealing about conservative American churches, and perhaps churches in general, is that they are deeply mired in a failure of imagination.

When churches neglect to preach and model the good of singleness and celibacy, when they glut themselves on the opium of romance or oversell marriage to the detriment of both married and single people, they aren’t just straying from the truth of the Bible – they are corroding and constricting the imaginations of those in the congregation. What the men and women and children sitting in the pews can or cannot imagine as possible or good is greatly affected by what the church speaks of as possible or good.

At its redemptive best, this imaginative proclamation allows aching and isolated people to believe that there is a God who loves and desires them and that they can know his transformative grace and be welcomed into a community of hospitality and passion. But, tragically, that proclamation is often drowned in a flood of toxic sentiment, leaving many unsure of their worth and unable to form healthy relationships with other people or even God. The callousness I have seen some church-goers display in response to this pain is incomprehensible.

So I am no longer surprised when a friend of mine “switches sides,” and I am beyond tired of the way some Christians demonize them as simply weak or selfish or histrionic.* Do I find my friends’ reasons for switching entirely satisfactory? Rarely. But I also don’t find most churches’ reasons for not switching satisfactory, either. Unless a community is seriously modeling a commitment to hospitality and grace for all stages of life, its sexual ethic, no matter how “orthodox” it may sound, will never seem viable or good in any meaningful way. This imaginative failure is also a moral failure, with churches leaving their gay members with little to no ability to actually live – or god forbidthrive – within the rich tradition of church teaching.

So when I am asked why I’m side-B, my first thought has little to do with how I interpret Romans 1. Instead, I think about how I was surrounded by a loving group of friends who gave me the space and freedom to process through the initial fear and confusion of realizing I wasn’t just “temporarily-not-straight;”

I think about how I was blessed with mentors and counselors who were constantly feeding me and challenging me and supporting me and blowing my mind with the truth of the gospel, who called out the lies that had been choking me for most of my life;

I think about the months I spent working in a drug rehab center in South Africa or an orphanage in Guatemala and how unbearably full and alive I felt, how enmeshed I became in those vibrant communities that taught me so much about hospitality and service.

I think about how all these experiences enabled me to imagine a future of abundant life as a celibate person.

For most of my college career I was haunted by a singular image that I thought would define the entirety of my existence: When I closed my eyes I saw, I felt, myself closing the door to a cold and dark apartment, entirely empty, devoid of anyone who would witness my life and show me that I was known and loved. The frozen silence of it all was terrifying.

That I thought this was my inescapable future after a lifetime of sermons and biblical education is unequivocally depressing. That this vision is hardly unique to me is even more so.

But then two years ago, while coming out to some of my closest friends as we prepared for graduation and all that lay beyond, that image of despair was finally replaced. As I finished up my story one of my friends looked at me and said, “You know, Matt, as you were talking I just had this picture in my head of you surrounded by laughing children, and you were so happy. Maybe that means something.”

That was a gift of imagination, my brothers and sisters joining with me to envision a better future, an abundant future, one that has empowered me to live more joyfully and passionately in the present.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. The number of stories where loneliness and isolation remain the dominant themes, where the message of the church is bound up with shame and hopelessness, is staggering. More truthfully, it is infuriating.

So I’m praying that churches would rediscover their blessed ecclesial witness. I’m praying that, in my own journey, I can do justice to the vision of abundant life the gospel and my community have helped me believe is possible. I’m praying that we would really listen to the numerous testimonies of pain, that we would repent, that we would learn to love better, and that together – because we can only do this together – we would become the kind of people that Jesus imagined we could be when he lived and died and rose again for all.**

Matt

Matt JonesMatt Jones is a student at Fuller Seminary who blogs over at A Joyful Stammering and can be followed on Twitter: @AJoyfulStammer.

* If you have come to find your capacity to feel hope and joy oppressive, take a peek at the comments section of any number of Christian publications about homosexuality and let the sweet, sweet darkness sweep over you.

** I am not saying that if everyone had my experiences they would have come to the same conclusions I did, nor am I saying that my anecdotal evidence can be applied even close to uniformly for every LGB Christian. But this imaginative chasm between “celibate” and “happy” is incredibly prevalent – evident in the number of times people say to me, “You’re celibate? But… you seem so happy…”

71 thoughts on “A Church of Pure Imagination

    • First time reading your blog, and I appreciate your reflections.

      I am looking forward to a life of celibacy, as well, but for different reasons.

      Married for ten years to another believer, I repeatedly stomped on her instead of loving and cherishing her. My anger, my sexual impurity, my abuse of alcohol, all came to a head last 4th of July, when my secret, hidden life was painfully brought to the forefront in the lives of my family and church when I spent an overnight in the county jail for an OWI. I could hide this no longer. God in His grace had decided that He would intervene on my behalf, and touch some of the things most precious to me. Well, He got my attention. And I have started the long and painful recovery process, from sexual addiction and alcohol abuse. My family and church are still in shellshock, but even in this self-induced tragedy God’s fingerprints of grace are everywhere.

      But looking forward, I have to deal with a divorce filing and an angry, unforgiving wife who is moving on without me. No attempts on my part towards reconciliation and repentance can bring about a change in her heart, only God and time can do that. But the strong urging of my elders and closest mentors has been that I should be seeking reconciliation with her even after the legal bonds have been broken, indefinitely living a celibate life as a sacrifice of praise, and as a mark of not abandoning the wife of my youth.

      This doesn’t immediately bring about thoughts of joy and victory for me. But in reading and meditating on your post, I had a taste of this. A taste of how God in His wisdom may be able to do more with the both of us–with changed hearts–in the lives of our five children, than He could have otherwise done in a dead and broken marriage, of husband and wife despising each other. That somehow God’s plan for joy and hope in our lives runs so much deeper than anything we could manipulate, manage, or imagine. And that – and this is my hope – that God’s grace and mercy can be demonstrated more in the uncovering of our broken, twisted humanity, and that in our reaching out to God in this tragedy we would teach our children to do the same when (not if) they face their own life tragedies.

  1. How can we graciously interact with the argument that we can not be truly loving and be OK with immorality which we feel is clearly condemned in scripture? To be honest, I too lean toward this view, and struggle with how to relate with my “Side A” brothers…

    And I don’t think this is anything new – the church has often struggled with the question: with whom can I have Christian fellowship with, and still disagree on important issues? And when is is appropriate to say “if someone believes ________, let him be eternally condemned”?

    • Hey man,

      For me a huge part of learning to interact with grace or whatever has simply been continuing to maintain my friendships with side-A people. If I sat down and tried to parse out exactly how the whole thing works it might seem daunting, but I’ve found that friendship just kind of does its thing and makes it work! A mutual appreciation for the other person as they are and a desire to keep that person in one’s life can go a long way.

      I’ve written three posts kind of specifically about this on GaySubtlety (Walls, In Sanity, and In Weakness) if you haven’t read those.

      It also helped me to realize there were beliefs I held that already put me at massive disagreement with people I shared the communion table with. For instance, I think an ethic and commitment to nonviolence and reconciliation is inseparably close to the heart of the gospel. In fact, for me, I think it is more obvious than the argument for celibacy. And yet I’m friends with some people in combat roles in the military.

      It doesn’t erase the tension or disagreement that exists in the conversation around sexuality, but it forced me to realize my integrity demanded I at least be consistent in the way I interact with people with whom I disagree.

      It is unique to each relationship, but I’ve found myself blessed by a continued willingness to dig in rather than pull back, as a general rule.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Matt. I’m finding in my own life as I’m embracing my vocation to minister to LGBTs, educate heterosexual Christian friends, and deepen my friendships and relationship with God, the more meaning and contentment I’m discovering in celibacy. You’re so right that the church needs to expand it’s imagination of what it looks like to live out life as a Christian. There’s not a one-size-fits-all narrative prescribed for all of us. I certainly hope not anyway…

  3. Matt,
    It is not surprising you are 23 it shows. I have single straight friends who like you have that group of friends and say see I don’t need a relationship. See where those people are in 10-20 years. It is very rare to find those groups. People as they get older get into relationships, have kids, get busy with their careers. And you find that community is no longer there. That is when people are grateful to be in a relationship and sharing their life with someone special.
    You seem to miss why many Side B cross sides. They go to conferences like GCN and see side A people in loving committed relationships. They realize their are good gay Christians who are madly in love with each other and they want that. They aren’t wearing rose colored glasses. They see that community fades but a loyal partner is there. I know for a fact because I am celebrating my 26th anniversary tonight with my partner.

    • Hi Tim! Thanks for the comment.

      First, congrats on your anniversary! 26 years is no small feat. My parents are nearing 30 and it is certainly a lot of work!

      I understand that all you know about me is from this article, but I can’t help but feel you read my words with a tone or a background that simply isn’t true for me or my writing.

      If you think that I am unaware that there are “good gay Christians who are madly in love with each other,” or that I exist in some bizarre side-B, rose-colored bubble, then you are wrong.

      I am also very conscious of my youth and the incredible amount of things I have yet to learn or experience. I am deeply humbled by that reality, sometimes even crippled by it.

      And you say that I will find that, in time, my community will no longer be there for me. Perhaps it is the folly of my youth that I believe the church can, and *must*, not let that be so. The reason I write and speak up is in defiance of the American church’s failure to be the community of fellowship it was always supposed to be. And what is more, I currently have a number middle-aged single friends who have been phenomenal inspirations to me of people thriving in singleness even without that oft abused phrase – the “gift” of singleness.

      I don’t expect you to agree with me, or even find me something other than dangerous and misled, but I hope that this brief response and my other posts at least help you understand where I am coming from a bit better.

      • But that is why the church encourages relationships. They know that people ultimately thrive in a relationship. You cannot even fathom that because you have decided to deny yourself that. But I will tell you being in a romantic relationship is magical. My husband and I have a special bond and deep love for each other. It has little to do with the physical and if we could never have sex again are bond would still be the same.

      • I’m sorry, but saying that I can’t fathom how awesome a relationship would be is, for me, kind of hilarious.

        I’ve grown up in 21st century America surrounded by a romance obsessed culture, believing the idea that a relationship would complete me, that I won’t have really lived until I’ve fallen in love and had someone fall in love with me, that having that one other person would make ALL the difference. I have had countless dreams and daydreams about how incredible it would feel to have a boyfriend or husband. In fact, I’ve told numerous people that I bet it’d feel even better than I imagine. Also, I have numerous side-B friends who *have* been in relationships, sometimes sexually active ones, before deciding to be celibate.

        So I’m trying to decide if I’m offended or not.

        …nah, too much effort.

        If you have to believe that the only way people could decide to be celibate is if they are some bloodless, lustless, dreamless, puritanical Jesus-robots rather than men and women who have lived, loved, ached, dreamt, wrestled, despaired, hoped, and yet who still keep coming back to the belief that God is offering them something beautiful and life-giving and *good*, and trusting him and their communities with their lives, then I suspect you have misunderstood us entirely and failed to see us as the humans we are.

        Again, I have no problem with you vehemently disagreeing with me, but at least disagree with *me* and not some flimsy cardboard cutout of your own design.

        Also, it’s basic Christian belief that singleness and marriage are equally good and equally profound.

        Thanks again for commenting. I’ve read many of your remarks over on Julie’s blog and, especially in the earlier posts, appreciated your willingness to ask hard questions and provide alternate perspectives.

        Peace.

      • Beautiful response brother! I have difficulty relating to side A people. I applaud you and others here at SF for being willing to take up this dialogue. As a Catholic I feel that the matter for me is settled. I work at a Catholic institution and am always surprised by the number of side a gays there. I’m in my twenties also and get ridiculed for my traditional beliefs at a Catholic institution! It can be really frustrating because I try that dialogue but it honestly seems like side a and side b are from different planets. I have to be careful not to get anti because the blatant campiness and disregard for church teaching can be too much for me. Anyways, thank you for what you do. Maybe someday I can strike the right balance in relating to side a people.

      • The Church provides lifelong community for celibates in the form of religious orders. Become a monk and you’ll have all the support you need.

        I’m not entirely sure how you think the Church could provide you with a community if you choose to stay in the world. The world is something the Church has little control over. And worldly communities are rife with change.

        If you’re looking for some kind of intentional community to support you through life yet aren’t willing to avail yourself of the only mechanism the Church has ever had to make that happen (monasticism), then quite frankly, I think you’re heading for rough times.

        I’m willing to lay bets that in 10 years time you’ll either be married or a monk. What other alternatives are there? (And by that I mean real alternatives with proven track records rather than castles in Spain as described by the vivid and idealistic imagination of a 23 year old…)

    • The community fades for celibate heterosexuals, too. It is not good for man to live alone. And, as much as US evangelicals want to say “oh, we’ll be there for you… we love community, etc.” the reality is they get busy with their kids’ soccer games, family vacations, couple’s dinners, and you are excluded if you are single beyond 35.

      • Mary,
        Very much my point. But heterosexuals are still allowed to date have romantic relationships so at least there is hope. For the gay people they say no way. Too bad if everyone drifts away you are doomed to not being able to even have the chance to share your life with someone else. It is extremely cruel.

    • I’m really happy you and your partner are celebrating 26 years together…But I know for a FACT too that one does not need to be married to live in community and be a whole and complete human being.

      • Lesley,
        One doesn’t but a romantic relationship is like no other. And I am not even talking about sex. As I have said if my husband and I could no longer have sex our relationship would still be as strong as special. That romantic relationship is what the church is trying to deny gay people and that is a shame.

      • Not exactly, Tim. I don’t know if you know this, but plenty of “Side Bers” have had (and many more imagine) Side B partnership of some sort (ie, one person you can count on, be intimate with in a special way, even live with; rather than a group, where collective action problems usually result).

        Most, I think, at least discretely, want the church to welcome same-sex couples qua couples (sexually abstinent or not; that should be no ones business and benefit of the doubt should be given) and maybe even recognize them somehow, even if the teachings about sex acts remain unchanged, under the understanding that a human relationship or love is not invalidated by the sin it might sometimes contain, that relationships (even domestic or “romantic” or practically exclusive) cannot be reduced to or defined by or essentialized as sex.

        Indeed, that’s sort of what the title of the blog is hinting at if I understand it correctly.

  4. Inspirational post Matt. Thank you !

    If I may be permitted, I would be honoured to contribute to the conversation here, simply from my own experience.

    I’m 53 (I’ve got 30 years on ya Matt.), gay, celibate (Side-B, and no, I don’t have the “gift” of celibacy), out & open to my friends and Church Fellowship and by the Grace of God, I honestly thrive and flourish !!

    Am I in a partcularly fortunate circumstance ? I don’t really think so. What I do know however is that from my experience, the Church (myself included) really can step up to the mark and be a life-giving community, if it is inspired to do so.

    Peace,

    Kev.

    • That’s awesome Kev! God bless your church community! What I struggle with understanding is what an out side b Christian life looks like. Does one still have active gay friends? Would you visit a gay bar or establishment? How does being out as a celibate gay Christian look like? All this seems so strange to me. My approach as a pretty traditional Catholic has been to tone down gayness and just be one of the guys, which in fact I am. My only issue is that I can be guilty of leading girls on. I’ve (mostly)stopped that.I like the thrill. I have gay friends at work who think I’m uptight but I don’t feel comfortable as a Catholic, especially one working in ministry, going to a drag show or a gay bar. They seem to find no issue with that. I’m not out to them but I feel I don’t have to. I tend to get a little campy around them. Anyways, I’m curious to know what the rest of my life could look like.

      • Gidday Jose !!!

        Hey there Mate !!!

        Thank you so much for your questions !!

        You asked “what an out Side-B Christian life looks like?” That’s a very good question. I can only answer from what I know from my own day-to-day experience. For a start, in my Church and amongst my friends, I’m no different from any other friend or parishioner. My “gay condition” is not an issue. We all have our cross to bear.

        I’m not a feature. I’m a fellow traveller.

        But, they know my difference…….and they seek my best.

        Yes I know something. I know how wonderful I feel when on a Sunday morning a kind hand comes to rest on my neck and a kindly face looks into my eyes and seriously asks me how I am doing and what I need right now ?

        I know how I feel when I’m walking along a beach and my straight friend rests his hand gently on my shoulder while on the other side, his 10 year old son takes hold of my other hand and holds it tightly as we walk along.

        I know how I feel as I lay on a couch in their home as my straight married friends quizz me about my well-being.

        I know how I feel when my Pastor and his wife hold me tenderly and remind me that being single is a SPIRITUAL GIFT and hold me still.

        I know how I feel when the youth pastor takes me out to dinner and asks me to please help him to understand what being gay and Christian looks like in real life.

        My only one gay friend that I had, Andrew, tried to become straight. He married, had kids and then later took his own life. He was an honest soul. I guess he could not live the lie any longer. I had lost track of him during our struggle. I wish we had stayed close friends. Perhaps I could have made a difference. I failed him. I cry bitter tears for him still.

        Honestly, just like Justin Lee experienced, I so would not feel comfortable in a gay bar. It would be an alien environment for me.

        When I’m out having fun with the straight guys, I am one of the guys. They know me intimately, and they thrive on my company. They remind me about this continually.

        Gay people who do not know God scorn, attack and chastise me. Let them scorn !! I care not !! However, I would like to learn to love them well !!!!

        Jose, your life in the hand of Christ is a life of beauty.

        In respect,

        Kev.

      • Kevin,
        I am sorry about you friend Andrew but it makes my point about why I think Side B is so dangerous. We see death after death after death of those told they need to conform and can’t. The landscape is riddled with people who should not be dead because a nature portion of them is told bt people it is evil. It is why I really fight against Side B ideas pushed on teens.

      • Tone down gayness? What does that even me? That somehow being gay you act a certain way? That is ridiculous. People who are gay are just being who they are. I have gay friends who are very flamboyant. I have gay friends like my husband who doesn’t have a flamboyant bone in his body. That doesn’t mean he toned down the gay. He is who he is.
        Again Jose from your attitude you are going to be one who suffers from loneliness because you are so uptight about being gay. To tone down sounds like self loathing of who you are. People can’t love if you don’t like yourself.

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  6. Wow. Challenging post. Thanks for sharing. As I read, one movie line came to mind. It’s from the film “Stigmata.” There’s this young catholic priest who is working with a woman who has started to experience the wounds of Christ in her flesh. This woman is not particularly religious, and she’s disturbed by the whole thing. At one point, she asks the priest if it was hard to be celibate. He said “I just think of it as exchanging one set of complications for another.”

  7. Why is the question concerning your choice to follow chastity any different than any other 23 year old Christian who is choosing to follow Biblical teaching on sexual morality? I think one of the great temptations that I see the good folks here at Spiritual Friendship do is emphasizing the uniqueness of the call of chastity for those of us with same sex attraction, which I find so very, very strange. As a 43 year old celibate man, with plenty of single friends who are also living celibate lives, with no amount of same sex attraction, I see very little difference between us. One can look for all the ways “it’s just different for us than them,” or one can look for the ways “it’s essentially the same for us–we just have different temptations towards unchastity.”

    I find inspiration in all of the saints who’ve gone before me and see their battles for chastity in the same light as mine. Why can’t St. Augustine be nearly all I need to know about living a celibate life? In current times, I look to priests and nuns, and see solidarity with them, rather than thinking about “how” I’m going to live celibately differently than they, or how anyone else in the history of the Church has lived rich celibate lives. I’d rather focus on how the Church can enrich all single people, regardless of their particular sexual desires, than how the Church needs to focus on me, because I happen to be attracted to men. I don’t see a great divide between me and all of my other single friends who happen to be attracted to the opposite sex, and I think the healthiest path is to focus on the commonality we all share as men and women, than focusing on our differences. I just don’t buy the strange focus here on, “well, it’s just so different for them than it is for us.”

    I think this is a strained argument:

    “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 not because 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.”

    The primary reason the people I have known who have left the Church isn’t because they find the call of chastity “uninspiring.” This applies as well to all of the folks at Gay Christian Network I’ve encountered—I don’t buy that any of them chose to follow the so-called “Side A” position because they found chastity as having been presented with a failure of imagination! They find it silly to pursue. They like the idea, well, of having sex with whom they want–sort of like how both King David and King Solomon and Samson left behind the teachings of God. It’s the “lusts of the flesh” that lure most folks away, not because “that celibate life sounds just awful, so I’m going to give up on it.” I just don’t see how anyone can honestly argue that the reason the Church sees folks abandoning the call of chastity is because the Church hasn’t made it appealing enough. It comes back to G, K. Chesterton: replace “chastity” for “Christianity” and you pretty much sum up the situation we find ourselves in today: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    There seems to be a naivete about human nature in the thinking that suggests that “if we just make chastity seem more appealing and fulfilling, and if we can just spark their imagination as to why chastity is good, then people won’t be leaving the Church over the whole sex issue.” Chastity isn’t naturally appealing, (otherwise it wouldn’t be an example of heroic virtue to maintain it) and no amount of advertising and good PR really will make it so. Chastity tends to either be followed through obedience, trusting that God’s plans lead to happiness, and then found to be fulfilling, or else unchastity has been found wanting, thus leading back to the truth that chastity is actually positive. It’s like that other great quote of Chesterton: “About sex especially men are born unbalanced we might almost say men are born mad.”

    It seems to me, and always has been so, that convincing folks that chastity is the path to peace and fulfillment will never make sense, or be effective, unless one begins with the truth of the dignity of man, and the design behind sexuality, and catechizing children especially on this, from very young ages. J. Budziszewski’s “On The Meaning of Sex” I think is an excellent primer–if we don’t understand what sex is for in the first place, then the call of chastity and celibacy seems like arbitrary moralism of a God who commands us, “just because.” Once mankind can see the good and beauty of sex, then unchastity makes no sense, and we can finally say, “ah, I get it!” As to creating a vision of “what does a rich single life look like,” well, there are a thousand ways in which to live that out, and the way you might imagine it, or I might imagine it, may have no pull whatsoever to convince anyone of the joys to be found in chastity. Living that life will only make sense if one first starts from the design of sexuality, which is the only context in which celibacy makes any sense whatsoever. Otherwise, it does just boil down to “well, I do this because the Church says so.”

    • Really Daniel you cannot see the difference. The straight Christian can still date, still have romantic relationships without sex. Can a gay Christian? Of course not. And the straight person still has the hope that their celibacy is not permanent. But again you don’t seem to understand the cruelty in that double standard.

      • For a divorced Catholic who is unable to get an annulment, this difference is not significant. He/she must live lifelong celibacy unless his/her spouse dies first, not something one is free pay for.

      • That’s an odd question, Tim.

        Let’s put it this way: theoretically, anything a gay Catholic isn’t supposed to do, a divorced Catholic isn’t supposed to either.

        Some theologians will disagree about what is appropriate for a divorced person who was denied annulment, and it depends what you mean by “dating”…but whatever that divorced person is allowed, gay people are too.

        There is certainly no principle that “divorced people can still ‘date’ but gays can’t”

    • Daniel,

      You write: “I think one of the great temptations that I see the good folks here at Spiritual Friendship do is emphasizing the uniqueness of the call of chastity for those of us with same sex attraction, which I find so very, very strange.”

      You are not the only one who sees something very, very strange here.

      When you first started sharing your insights with us in the comments on Spiritual Friendship, you always commented under a pseudonym. I have a lot of single straight friends who are living celibate lives, as well. It is my experience that they usually do not feel the need to resort to pseudonyms when they talk about being celibate. On the other hand, it is my experience that many, many same-sex attracted celibates do chose to remain anonymous when they write about their same-sex attracted celibacy. Since you used to write anonymously, perhaps you could say a word or two about this odd coincidence.

      You write a blog called “Letters to Christopher: On the subject of same-sex attraction.” Our blog is “Spiritual Friendship: Musings on God, Sexuality, Relationships.”

      Whose title suggests more of an emphasis on same-sex attraction? If there is so little difference, why isn’t your blog equally focused on the experiences of celibate men and women who are straight?

      You belong to Courage. The first two sentences on the Courage website read:

      Are you or a loved one experiencing homosexual attractions and looking for answers?

      Courage, an apostolate of the Catholic Church, ministers to persons with same-sex attractions and their loved ones.

      Do you find this very, very strange? Why have an apostolate dedicated to promoting chastity for men and women with same-sex attraction if there were nothing unique about their situation?

      Here’s how Courage describes its own history:

      Persons with homosexual desires have always been with us; however, until recent times, there has been little, if any, formal outreach from the Church in the way of support groups or information for such persons. Most were left to work out their path on their own. As a result, they found themselves listening to and accepting the secular society’s perspective and opting to act on their same-sex desires.

      His Eminence, the late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York, was aware of, and troubled by this situation. He knew that the individual dealing with same-sex attractions truly needed to experience the freedom of interior chastity and in that freedom find the steps necessary to living a fully Christian life in communion with God and others. He was concerned that many would not find this path and would be constantly trying to get their needs met in ways that ultimately do not satisfy the desires of the heart.

      In response to this concern, he decided to form a spiritual support system which would assist men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love. Knowing of Fr. John Harvey’s extensive ministry experience in this field, he invited him to come to his Archdiocese. With the help of the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., and others, Fr. Harvey began the Courage Apostolate with its first meeting in September, 1980 at the Shrine of Mother Seton in South Ferry.

      Do you find Cardinal Cooke’s belief that same-sex attracted persons faced unique challenges very, very strange? Did you share this concern with Fr. Harvey? Have you shared it with Fr. Check? Or with the readers of First Things whom you felt the need to warn about Spiritual Friendship?

      Spiritual Friendship has multiple straight writers who have contributed to our blog, including Tom Sundaram, who has written about his own experiences as a celibate. We thought those experiences would be valuable to our readers. Your new blog says, of its writers, “We are men and women who live with same-sex attraction.” Do you find this focus very, very strange?

      I could say more; but I hope this suffices to express at least a little about how very, very strange your criticism of us seems to me.

      • I would say in answer to you is simply this, from the 1986 Letter On The Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person:

        “From this multi-faceted approach there are numerous advantages to be gained, not the least of which is the realization that a homosexual person, as every human being, deeply needs to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously . . . Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well.”

        Those of us who think as I do choose to emphasize my commonality with the same needs of “every human being” and that along with everyone else living on the face of the earth, I have personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. (And those gifts obviously come from being made in the image and likeness of God, and come from no other source).

        The solidarity with all other men and women who have walked before me, as men and women with challenges, seems far more healthy an approach than the ghettoization of myself into a category of human person manufactured 150 years ago.

        You quote Courage–one aspect of its pastoral outreach is to embrace the fullness of Catholic anthropology, to adhere to the 1975 document on sexual ethics, and later to fulfill the calling of the 1986 Letter, emphasizing that our sexual identity is firmly based in our maleness and femaleness, and to help us to see ourselves not as defined in anyway by our sexual attractions–you know this as well as anyone. This is where the “truth” part of Terrence Cooke’s desire “to form a spiritual support system which would assist men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love.”

        As to our new blog, it features men and women, with particular challenges. We won’t ever have straight or gay authors. Just men and women, who write about their particular personal problems, challenges to growth, as well as the joys of living in adherence to the teachings of chastity…most of them have had challenges to growth related to their attractions to the same sex, but not all who will write for us will. (It’s a bit early to evaluate a blog, after just a week or so online).

        There are two paths available: to choose to view one’s life and situation in solidarity with all of mankind,and find common ground, or to focus on “how different we are.” It’s the latter part that I find so very, very strange, and have never understood the fixation here on the differences between every other man and woman who walks the face of the planet. I believe the best pastoral path that the Church can propose is the importance of shedding the sexual identities that the world has imposed on man, seeing myself with a man with challenges perhaps unique to me, but similar to the challenges any man might face. I find This leads to the great prayer of St. Francis of Assissi: may I seek to console, rather than to be consoled, and seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

      • Daniel,

        You write:

        There are two paths available: to choose to view one’s life and situation in solidarity with all of mankind, and find common ground, or to focus on “how different we are.”

        Which of those approaches have you taken in your interactions with writers at Spiritual Friendship?

    • Hi Dan, thanks for your comment.

      You wrote a lot, so I’ll try to provide a satisfactory answer. No promises.

      I think your post is a combination of things I very much agree with and things I agree with in a qualified way. For instance, I don’t think my experience of celibacy is *theologically* different from a straight celibate person’s, and in many – most – practical ways it is remarkably similar. So I’m with you on that.

      At the same time, I am often frustrated by the lack of discussion about the *social* differences between straight and gay celibate people. This is often most evident when people say I shouldn’t use the word “gay” because “isn’t my identity in Christ?” Theologically I agree, but my identification as “gay” is primarily social – a semiotic marker that provides a possible range of information about my life and experiences. So theologically I see race and sexuality as being very different, whereas in this era I think there are many social parallels (though they aren’t equatable, obviously). Anyway, that’s a tangent. I simply wanted to emphasize that while my celibacy is theologically equatable (I think) to a straight person’s, the way I experience that celibacy, due to the controversial and rhetorically fraught way homosexuality is discussed in the public sphere, should be recognized as tangibly different so we can best model hospitality and grace.

      While I have some friends who ditched celibacy just because they wanted a boyfriend, I have others who did, in fact, arrive at their decision after many intense bouts of pain and doubt and questioning and fear. I’ve fielded those phone calls and talks many times. What is more, there is an increasingly palatable presentation of side-A theology that is mighty attractive to those who have been burned by conservative churches. Some simply think it is a more faithful hermeneutical move.

      Perhaps you didn’t read my final addendum, but I basically say that becoming a more vibrant and supportive community and repenting of our harmful rhetoric won’t magically make people not switch; everyone has their own reasons and it isn’t ultimately something the church can make someone decide. Still, the church’s failure has been a HUGE impetus or factor for most of my friends who have switched. You say they just want sex – a rather ungracious thing to say about my friends – but even if that were true why does sex seem so compelling and necessary for life in our church communities? I’m simply trying to get behind some of the main disconnects I’m seeing between orthodox church teaching and the way celibacy is perceived by gay Christians.

      Will becoming a hospitable community that is more supportive of single/celibate members and less obsessed with romance and marriage solve all the problems surrounding the discussion of sexuality? Hardly. But it will certainly push us to be more like Christ, more like the church we were meant to be, and I think that will have a very real positive impact in the lives of many gay people who are having a hard time believing there is abundant life to be had in celibacy. In fact, it will just be good for everyone.

      We could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. I hope that is somewhat helpful in clarifying why I wrote what I wrote. I’ve received a considerable amount of positive feedback from gay Christians on “both” sides, which makes me think that perhaps I wasn’t so off in my perception.

      Peace.

      • I think the argument that “your identity is Christ” as opposed to “gay” is a bad argument. A better argument would be to analogize sexual identity with sexual identity. If anyone knows my writing, I would say to you instead, “isn’t your identity as a man, created with a sexual complementarity with women?”

        About your friends–what I would say about them, is what I would say about me. Sure, homosexuality can’t be distilled to sexual desire. The reason I have had relationships with men was more than sex. Far more, in fact. The sex was a small part of it. But I don’t see how anyone can honestly argue that the “Great Debate” is about being close intimates, watching movies together, or taking long trips in the car to the beach. It’s about sex, because that’s where the commands of Christ come in. No one who’s left the Church to pursue a gay relationship felt the inner turmoil and angst over anything more than the sexual morality of the Church–that’s why everyone thinks the Church is so backwards.

        I do think that you make excellent points about creating a Church that is more supportive of celibate members, and this is where I can come alongside the folks at Spiritual Friendship.

      • Dan, where have gay Side Bers who use the word “Gay” ever denied that maleness and femaleness are complementary? That male and female bodies are made for each other, that they function as a unit reproductively (and hence, in an inevitable sense, socially/familialy), and that they are defined only in terms of each other (ie, that “sex” is a category that only makes sense in a relative/oppositional duality?)

        Do you imagine that embracing “gay” identity somehow necessarily involves an “objectified” relationship to the concept of sex/gender or that the male and female, the masculine and feminine, don’t still loom large symbolically in defining and creating the narratives around sex that gay people invoke to understand their experiences?

        If so, you’d be manifestly wrong. If gay people didn’t understand maleness and femaleness as complementary, if sex (as in gender) were not intrinsically relevant to sex (as in intercourse)…if it were just constructed as some accidental like hair color or race…then we’d all be bisexuals or, at the very least, our attractions to the same sex would be discussed in terms of mere “preference” rather than “orientation”

        It is actually the “same sex attraction” construction which would seem to deny the phenomenological primacy of sex in (“this sort of”) attraction, as if your “problem” were merely that you were attracted to “people, like anyone else, but most of whom happen to be (unworkably) the same-sex.”

        THAT is a denial of man’s intrinsically “sexed” nature and the essentially relational nature of sex, NOT the orientation construct.

      • Lots of crazy great comments.

        Just wanted to say if I saw you I would give you a hug for your boldness.

        Stay strong.

    • I want to agree 100% but the homosexual experience is quite different. Pretending it’s not can be quite harmful. My closest friends are straight men. One of them tends to be very rigid and black and white about things. He once said that being a gay celibate was no different than a straight single person following church teaching. I quickly said the obvious. A straight Christian can flirt, date, and someday marry. They have a real choice. It really is not the same. I wish it was but it isn’t. If I continue believing in church teaching then really it’s a closed case. I don’t have the choices straight Christian have. I agree that once you have a Christian understanding of sex and marriage it all clicks. This is why I choose celibacy because once I have come to understand church teaching it makes perfect sense. Also I’ve felt the vocation to priesthood for a long and that to me is more important. Having said that, celibacy is not an easy thing, and for a gay man that wants to follow Christ it’s something he must do not a true choice made after discerning other options. totally not the same.

      • By emphasizing my commonality with other men and women, I don’t pretend the differences exist. They know I’m attracted to the same sex, while they’re attracted to the opposite sex. There’s no pretending there. But with my friends who are my age and single, the experiences overall of the single life are essentially the same. They have sexual temptation–so do I. They sometimes feel lonely–so do I. Why is it healthy to focus on the differences between us, when we have solidarity as men and women trying to live out our single lives?

        But what choices do my single friends have who are opposite sex attracted? And would I want to trade places with them?

        I have no question that God calls me to a single life–they live in a perpetual question as to whether or not they will “ever meet the one.” It is far easier for me to live peacefully, because God’s will is quite clear to me. I approach the single life with an attitude, “Ok, let’s go! Time to create a happy and joyful life.” They live in a perpetual state of, “when will the right guy/gal come along.”

        I think this is a very healthy perspective, though it has taken me quite a long time to arrive at, but it has brought me great peace to know that the single life is what God has ordained for me…and trusting that God’s plans are always the one’s that lead to fulfillment, I choose to trust Him…and challenge my friends who are still hoping to marry to live each day as it comes, and trust that their single state is exactly where God wants them now.

        Peace comes from a change of perspective, and the perspective that makes us peaceful is to abandon all things to Divine Providence. As for me, the path to peace for anyone living with same sex attraction is to say to God, “OK, let’s do this thing.” And then go help the lonely single folks who may get married to have a better life, rather than focusing on my needs.

    • Because your erotic inclinations, the church calls potentially holy and able, should the occasion arise, to constitute a sacrament, an image of God’s love for humankind. According to the same teaching, gay people are to see their inclination as urging them to evil, an altogether different kettle of fish.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Daniel. I am 42 years old and a single, heterosexual, celibate woman. I don’t feel that I’m living a second-class life (although some churches do seem to hold that view) and I know from experience that abundant life is possible. I would go a little further to say that pursuing celibacy is not much different than pursuing faithfulness in marriage. They are both characterized by the same grace, the same putting another before yourself, the same self-control/self-denial, the same wanting to be in God’s will. For this reason, I feel a strong affinity with my married friends as we all seek to be faithful to our God. It also saddens me that many, including Christians, have taken sexuality, meant to be a beautiful gift, and elevated it to the place of idol: all-important and all-consuming.

  8. “I think this is a very healthy perspective, though it has taken me quite a long time to arrive at, but it has brought me great peace to know that the single life is what God has ordained for me…”

    So fatalism is healthy, is it?

    So a starving man should feel great peace to know that death by malnutrition is what God ordained for him…

    And an abused wife should feel great peace when her husband is beating her to a pulp to know that being a punching bag is what God ordained for her…

    If your situation causes you to suffer intolerable pain, accepting it as “God’s will” is fatalistic nonsense. If you take that attitude to its logical conclusion then you should never seek to change your life or do anything to avoid any unpleasant situation.

    For example, never seek treatment for any disease or medical condition. Got toothache? It’s God’s will for you so suck it up, plaster a beatific smile on your face and above all, sneer at your friends if they run to the dentist when their teeth start to hurt. Living with the intolerable pain of toothache is what God ordains for those who suffer from it, so just trust him and you’ll find that a life spent in constant agony will be so fulfilling…

    • I agree Stephen there are times when being celibate is intolerable and unkind. I think it gets to the point of no return because of the very reasons you pointed out- when we have been told to suck it up, just grin and bear it, your just not being patient- even further than that, being told our love for someone is simply lust… or we try to hide it and ignore it but it does not go away. In many cases we are isolated and left to our own devices not knowing how to deal with the strength of the emotions we are feeling. So when it gets to that point where it affects the the color of the day and the taste of food and the inability to sleep and feeling aggrieved in the heart; it won’t mean you and I are going to make the same choices about how to ‘fix’ our current situation. But, I believe God’s grace abounds in every decision we make as Christians- usually that petition pays off in endurance but not always – sometimes we are given room to breathe in between times and days- sometimes we change direction for a while- so as brothers and sisters we can still stand with each other through it until we all come out the other side. God bless you on your journey.

      • Kathy,
        I would go a step further. It shows a cruel and unloving god who rather see his people suffer as some demented test to see if they truly love him. And when people can’t handle it many take their lives. The God’s will argument does nothing to convince any one of a loving god. Instead it is like a father who beats his kids into submission unless they show unwavering devotion to him.

      • I know Tim, suffering is not an exact indication of God’s will or measurement of ones failure and success. It’s much more complex than that. What has been missing in my life and for many Christians has been admitting we are suffering and then having someone share in our burden. This is a result of hiding our same sex attractions because of fear or shame. I understand completely what someone goes through when they do share and are met with stony faces and unmoved hearts; when our experience is discounted or minimized it only adds to the burden which can lead to desperate thoughts. It’s one thing to say to someone look towards Jesus and send them on their way and another thing to walk through the fire with them.

      • Sorry Kathy but there is no fire to walk through. More and more churches are recognizing there is nothing wrong with loving committed same sex couples. The only ones who don’t are conservative churches who believe like yourself that you have cursed with feelings for those of the same sex. Many Christians realize their God would not be so cruel to give people feelings for members of the same sex and say sorry no one in your life for you. I value my Christian friends who have a much different view of a loving God who would not be so cruel.

      • Tim it makes sense what you are saying and I appreciate your opinion, my hope is that all of us be able to find a safe space to live out our beliefs and those who choose follow the path of celibacey have the ability to flourish as well, that it not be imposed one way or another. It’s not so much that I worry outwardly about what everyone else is doing or believing but that I follow what is spoken into my heart . So I am learning how to express that in my personal walk and looking for those who share my experience, as support along the way, which is why am glad I found Julies’ blog and Spiritual Friendship. As well this is only one aspect to my life in Christ.

  9. The Christian life is full of suffering. Jesus never lied about that.Honestly by the tone of some of the comments here one would think that celibacy is a deadly condition. Christ dying for our sins was cruel, me dying to self is faithfulness and obedience to the one that gave his life that I may live. When it comes down to it it’s all about wanting to have sex with whoever I want. Christianity is not about what I want. God isn’t here to validate me. My will must align with his not the other way around. It’s not the gospel of Jose Maria, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. I let him guide me. It’s not easy, but he sends me the graces I need to carry on. Whether I accept those graces or not is up to me, but they’re there. They can be there for anyone.

    • See this is where you lose me. You keep saying that god gives you the graces. So does he do the same thing for the 30000 children who starve to death every day. Again this is where I have trouble with your beliefs. You believe in a god who demands undying loyalty. Who makes you gay and says just joking you can’t ever have a relationship. You sound like a battered wife who makes excuses. He really loves me. He just hits me because I was wrong. As long as I do better he won’t hit me.

      • Tim, I’d describe myself as a Christian and yet agree with what you wrote. As for those who say their hope is that all of us be able to find a safe space to live out our beliefs and have the ability to flourish as well, how flourishing will your life in the Catholic church be if you are not celibate?

      • Sin entered the world through our disobedience. A lot of people have issues with faith because of the “problem of suffering”. There is evil in the world. Unfortunately, we need to live with that. Children don’t die in Africa because of being abandoned by God. They die because of the very human sins of corruption and the terrible problems in their regions.

        And on the issue of battered wife, et. al. You keep talking as if our purpose in life was to get hitched, make meals together, and live happily ever after. That’s part of the problem in modern society. The only intimate relationship many people know is the spousal one so they think that they can’t possibly have a fulfilling life outside of being married or coupled up.

        I had a partner for five years, someone I still consider a friend and love deeply, so I know that part of life. You’re not talking to some kid without any experience. At one point in our relationship we asked ourselves the question “are we doing God’s will?”. We were happy with our lives but in our conscience we knew there was more to it than whether it “felt good” or if we were happy.

        I don’t need to make excuses for God. He never promised me that life would be easy or that I could get whatever I want.

        “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt. 7:13-14

      • Tim

        God gave mankind dominion over the earth. Sin and suffering did not enter the world through God. We are stewards not only of our own lives but the lives of those around us. I don’t take comfort in the idea that “ God never promised us we wouldn’t suffer” I take comfort in the promise that Jesus hears our prayers and we can can make a difference by alleviating the suffering of those around us. God also promises He will end suffering and punish those responsible for it. The innocent who suffer now will be comforted, that is a promise that helps me cope with present suffering… the hope of Christ’s return.

        As far as flourishing I have no idea what that means I have never felt like I flourished before and I love the word and the idea and I want to know what it is and how to live it outwardly despite the world around me and my situation.

  10. Tim,

    As a gay man in a 20 year relationship I need to jump in and say your kind of being hard on the posters here. They have chosen this path and you have chosen yours…I wish the Church would embrace both paths (celibate, gay celibate, committed gay relationships) but it has not and its useless for either side to try and dismiss the other. I feel in my heart that God is okay with my relationship, the posters here feel in their hearts there path leads them to celibacy. I agree that a few posters seem to be having some internal struggles with being gay and their masculinity (i.e. “tone down the gay,” …being “one of the guys,” ) but its up to older guys to support them (their straight mentors probably wont, they don’t know any better) and let them know not all people who are gay…(or with SSA if you will for this board) are feminine (Im an out gay guy, haven’t seen the inside of a gay bar in probably more then a decade, hate drag, play rugby, unfortunately can drink my poor straight friends under the table and am indeed one of the guys..) but it is okay if you are a flaming queen too !! That is what we have all fought for, choices and being able to be honest and live our lives.

    I have to also shed some light on the relationship thing. As the saying goes, it ain’t all fun and games. Yes they can be wonderful, I have a great one and I am happy or I wouldn’t be here. But they are also hard, and there can be some rough, very unhappy times in all relationships. A relationship does not make your life suddenly sunshine and roses, its not a 60s TV show or a cartoon, its life, messy, fun, sad, happy, aggravating and comforting (hopefully the good outweighs the bad or its time to get the hell out.) Just like our friends on this board who are struggling in their happy, sad, aggravating comforting celibate relationships and life. I was happy when I was single, and I could be happy single again..(of course I was not celibate then but lets not delve into my misspent youth, probably would have done me good to try this celibacy thing on a time or two..) that makes my relationship a winner, I KNOW I’m not in it to stave off being lonely. Not everyone needs to or should be in a relationship.

    Anyway, as usual I am too long winded but lets be nice to each other, especially the younger people trying to find their way and follow their faith. By slamming their choses its the same as all those people on Catholic boards and elsewhere slamming ours, and acting if we are Satan’s Field Scouts.

    • Let me clarify my earlier “tone down the gay” comment. What I meant by that is that I try to be myself without the accretions that sometimes one picks up from the scene. I’m not inclined to most of the stereotypical gay things but when I used to go to clubs that kind of rubbed off on me. I can be a little effeminate sometimes and that I don’t tone down. I am myself. I sing cheesy 80’s songs and my friends tease me for that but I just tease them back about their boring 90’s alternative rock. So, I don’t repress myself, I only try to let go of those things that really aren’t me. Trying to fit in is a normal part of life. We all do it.

      But I apologize if my comment came across as judgy or mean-spirited. I have some stereotypical gay friends and I’m cool with that. I just no longer feel the need to act like that anymore. Neither do I feel the need to be super macho. I can honestly say that I am myself a lot more now than ever before. Sometimes macho and sometimes femmy. Always me.

  11. Matt your article is amazing. It says all. I hope one day I’ll have the opportunity to come out in my church in Romania.
    God bless you for sharing his light and truth!! 🙂

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  18. Hi Matt,

    A little context is helpful before I say anything. I attended a college in Pennsylvania in the late 1970’s & 80’s. It was a very liberal campus in a small campus town. Before I came to Christ, the community that I lived among were openly expressing their SSA relationships, teachers with students, etc…

    My Wifes “Christian” roommate migrated to Lesbianism in her final year.

    My best mate wrestled with his SSA and finally married his childhood sweetheart. They are still Truly, Madly Deeply in love with each other.

    I have noticed a comment that you made:

    “If you think that I am unaware that there are “good gay Christians who are madly in love with each other,” or that I exist in some bizarre side-B, rose-colored bubble, then you are wrong.”

    I think we might disagree on the definition of love that you are referring to. I would say the eros aspect might be fully engaged in those relationships but not the agape. Even though, you say they are Christians, scripture I believe says they are not Christians.

    One cannot “Agape” another in a way that places their eternal destiny in jeopardy. While they are both consenting adults, what they have is not mature, flourishing, sacrificial, edifying, denying ones desire for the sake of the other Christian love.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on what I have written.

    I really enjoyed this article and insights and found it challenging and pointed a way forward to many people and churches.

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  20. For over a week now I’ve been reading through the vast blogs and articles written by Matt and Julie and am overwhelmed with the emotional roller-coaster I’ve been on. Where do I start to vent my frustrations and concerns? Perhaps the answer is to simply jump in at the most important issue (God) and wade through the remaining. First, however, let me state that I’ve been celibate for nine years.
    1. I have yet to read one piece that speaks on our needs being met by the God (Philippians 4:19). When I first became celibate I went through a mire of stages; he martyr to friends and family who raised their glasses to me in honor of my sacrifice;

  21. Whoops! I got hit accidentally and pushed enter. Forgive me.

    1) The Martyr – Friends and family raised their glasses to me in honor of my self-sacrifice; 2) The Silent Angry Woman – I turned to silent, inward rage (I couldn’t let those who knew I’d martyred myself for God know I was struggling) that God would demand such a sacrifice in my life when others around me seemed so incredibly happy; 3) The Impressionist – I got to the end of angry and fell into depression, but Lord knows I was celibate with a smile on my face – in public anyway! There were times I could hardly get out of bed I was so saddened, but I was tired of talking about the struggle, the sacrifice, the let down by what I felt was caused by God. I probably would have thought about taking my life had I not been a believer. It led me to a short phase of trying to bargain with God. “Okay, let’s make a deal….I’ll live with someone and you fix the situation internally (make me feel at peace) and externally (that the world/church will accept it as such)…or “How about I move to Tahiti and start over..yeah, but I’d be taking ME with ME. Darn,” and “If You fix this I’ll be perfect, uh, well, hummmm….let’s drop that idea…”; 4) Acceptance and Humility – Look, I know what the Bible says because I study it in Hebrew and Greek several hours a day. I know I’m supposed to true to God first and foremost in mind, body, soul and spirit. I know He’s called me to be celibate (whether I like it or not), just as He called me to obedience in other areas of my life as well (although this has certainly been the most difficult for me to walk in).

    Let me point something out before I go on. I realized something about the “cycle” I was going through as a former therapist (I write for a living now); it’s the cycle of loss/death. It’s a cycle rarely, if never addressed in the gay community for those who have chosen celibacy and it’s as real as the nose on my face. I believe that many people who have chosen celibacy begin to go through the stages of loss and get so overwhelmed that they run back into the arms of sin (yes, I believe homosexuality is a sin. I’m not saying I like the word or what it implies, but I believe the Bible to say that it is), or it’s so difficult and they have no one to help them walk through the stages that they honestly feel like they have only two other choices; go back to the lifestyle or die (if not physically, than certainly in every other way).

    After fighting against the goads for several years through the stages I outlined, I came to a place beyond faith (which, according to the Greek definition is a combination of trust + belief that requires action), to a place where I was not only trusting and believing in God, but RESTING IN HIM. The visual for me was that my head was resting on His chest and He was holding me; His banner of love was over me and I was so close to Him that I could hear His heart beating in union with mine for the first time in my life. I could hear Him whispering to me the truth He promises in His Word to meet all my needs, to be the One I’ve spent my entire life looking for and MORE, to be all that I’ve spent my life looking for in a mate – AND HE HAS. Has there been hours, days, weeks that I’ve had to fight my flesh, the world, and the enemy of my soul to keep my eyes on the Prize and my feet on the Rock? Absolutely! Have I been tempted beyond what I could bear? Absolutely, but it’s MADE ME REALIZE I NEED A SAVIOR over and over again. HAVE I FAILED MISERABLY IN MY MIND which is the same, according to Jesus as physically failing (Matthew 5:28)? Oh, yeah, and I’ve confessed and repented (some times it took me longer to get to repentance than others), and turned away my self-defeating behavior and pulled it off the throne of my heart and placed Him back on the throne where He belongs. Most days I do really well (I’m hard pressed to say perfect in any area of my life), but there are other days I fall short (and still others we won’t talk about! LOL!). It’s part of the deal on this side of eternity and the struggle constantly reminds me why I need Jesus. I’ve learned that I don’t have to fear failing or be scared of being celibate, that just like other areas of my life God is trying to protect me (usually from more than I know), like any good Father who loves His child.

    Look, no one knows the battle of sexual sin/celibacy (call it what you will), like those of us that grapple with it. I’ve got friends who can’t walk into a bar or be around an alcoholic drink without going through withdrawal symptoms that are not unlike what I’ve experienced. Me? I can have a beer and move on; I’m not emotionally attached to alcohol. I DON’T UNDERSTAND MY FRIENDS WHO GRAPPLE WITH ALCOHOL, but it’s not mine to understand. I love them. I support them. I’m here for them, but I don’t understand them regarding that area of their lives. My vice is different. It’s difficult, no, it’s really impossible to understand what we go through if you’ve not experienced it. I think we need to stop expecting the church to understand us – it can’t be done by those who have not experienced it. Before you tell me that alcohol is not the same category as lust or sexual sin, tell that to the alcoholic and you’ll get an ear-full. Both are fulfilling a god-given need that we are fulfilling externally. Let me explain.

    Research shows us that sex produces some of the same hormonal releases that we experience when we engage in other “release” activities – no matter the choice. Is sex different? Well, heck yes! In the biblical context it’s supposed to be divine. I’ve never had an alcoholic drink that was as good as the worst sex I’ve had – not matter how much liquor was in it! And, I’ve never experienced sex in the biblical context. I loved sex, but for years I couldn’t even imagine it (let alone have it) without guilt, shame, and condemnation! That’s NOT DIVINE. And no matter how great sex is it still boils down to be an internal need we’re meeting externally. Believe it or not, we can get those internal need met by God without the physical need by others. It’s not ideal or fun, but it can be done. It was NEVER God’s plan that we get ALL of our needs met in one person apart from Him. I have a great circle of close friendships, but even they don’t meet all my needs individually or together. God uses different people to meet different needs and when we meet someone who can fill more than a couple I think we’ve hit the jackpot! Does this mean I have to go without my physical needs being met? Yes, but over the years it’s gotten easier, and remains so as I choose not to make it the platform or main focus of my life. God has not called me to be the poster child of celibacy, although that’s fine if He’s called others to that platform. For me, focusing on what I don’t have makes me yearn for it all the more, much like anything else I’m trying to overcome in life. The Apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” I love his example of buffeting our bodies like athletes into submission as it’s not unlike when I go to the gym and wrestle with the weights or the treadmill and I’m in that moment where I’m pushing my body so hard that I just don’t think I can go one more second and I keep pushing despite HOW I FEEL, and trust that I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. That’s the key: IN CHRIST who strengthens me. I can’t do it in my strength and power; I CAN’T. I’ve learned that the hard way. The truth is I led a very destructive life for23 years before I became a Christian and while I overcame many areas of my “former life” rather easily, there were others that required more work, more dependence on God, more dying to self and more of Him and less of me. Celibacy is at the top of the list and it has not killed me, but drawn me closer to God – closer than I could have ever imagined. By clinging to Him in the darkest hours of my life I’ve walked through to the other side not only in victory, but with a relationship with God I would have never sought for apart from that struggle, and that why Jesus died for us anyway isn’t it? So we could have an intimate relationship with God? I’ve learned that the level of intimacy I have with others can only be as honest, vulnerable, transparent, and as intimate as that which I have with my Father FIRST AND FOREMOST. If I can’t be close to my Creator who knows EVERYTHING about me and doesn’t reject or throw me to the curb; if I can trust Him, then I can learn to trust others, their intentions, their love, and their views – for better or for worse. Maybe it’s not always about others understanding me, but my learning to understand them, you think?

    Okay, okay, I’ll shut up now because believe me, you don’t want to get me started on couple cohabitation or Matthew Vines book…geez!

  22. Pingback: Label Makers | Spiritual Friendship

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