“Chaste, Gay Couples” and the Church

I’ve noticed curiosity recently about the idea of “chaste, gay couples”—couples who accept the Church’s historic teaching on sexuality, yet live together in an exclusive, committed partnership.

Celibate, LGBT, Christian couple Lindsey and Sarah have been blogging for just over a year now at A Queer Calling—an excellent resource that is popular with many people I know (including myself). Eve Tushnet devotes space to talking about “vowed friendships” in her new book Gay and Catholic (I think Tushnet is talking about something slightly different from couplehood—but this point has been lost on some of her critics). And, late last year, the Anchoress hosted a discussion at Patheos entitled, “Homosexuality, Celibacy and Partnership: An Awkward Question,” in which Ben Conroy asks:

If we accept some of the distinctions these writers [at Spiritual Friendship] have made—that to be gay is not reducible to what the catechism calls “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”, that being gay can be a call to particular, unique kinds of virtue, that the modern, Western notion of sexual and romantic partnership has appropriated kinds of love that historically were also found in non-sexual relationships—doesn’t that open up a space for the idea of a committed, lifelong, celibate partnership between two gay people as being a valid vocation, a holy thing, a place where virtue and love might flourish? [emphasis in original]

Two Friends

I can’t possibly hope to answer that question fully now, so what I offer here are two pointers for further conversation about this issue. One is positive, the other cautionary, since I’ve noticed two common reactions to the idea of chaste couplehood—firstly, censorious condemnations from right-wing Christians, but also, over-enthusiasm from some young gay Christians.

First, the idea of a chaste, gay couple isn’t—as some of its proponents claim—an exciting new idea (or—as its detractors claim—a disturbing new departure from orthodoxy). Chaste gay couples were tolerated for years at the conservative Courage Apostolate. They may not have called themselves “gay” or a “couple,” but that is what they were—two same-sex attracted people committed to doing life together in a manner that goes beyond ordinary friendship. Usually these were sexually active couples who jointly converted to Catholicism, gave up sex, and stayed together in chaste partnership (as in this testimony of a Courage member). This is different from two gay Christians who are already committed to chastity entering such a partnership—but the difference is in the origin of the relationship, not in the morality of such a relationship in and of itself.

Such relationships have been commended by the Church as a means to help people “live chastely in the world.” In the US Catholic bishops’ document, Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality (1973), we read the following advice to a confessor confronted with the case of an adult penitent who claims that “the sole relationship in which he can find fulfillment is a homosexual one”:

A homosexual can have an abiding relationship with another homosexual without genital sexual expression. Indeed, the deeper need of any human is for friendship rather than genital sexual expression … If a homosexual person has progressed under the direction of a confessor, but in the effort to develop a stable relationship with a given person has occasionally fallen into a sin of impurity, he should be absolved and instructed to take measures to avoid the elements which lead to sin without breaking off a friendship which has helped him grow as a person. If the relationship, however, has reached a stage where the homosexual person is not able to avoid overt actions, he should be admonished to break off the relationship. (p. 10-11)

Both the context, and the specific advice concerning impurity, make it clear that the “stable relationship” Principles is talking about is more or less the same thing people are referring to when they use the phrase, “chaste, gay couple.” Principles argues, further, that the formation of such a chaste relationship is one of the “greatest difficulties” a gay Christian might face. Again, it is obvious that the kind of friendship being discussed is a highly particular one, since homosexuals do not as a rule have the “greatest difficulties” forming ordinary friendships or in refraining from sex with their friends.

The standard reaction of conservatives is to claim that, because same-sex attraction is itself disordered regardless of whether it finds expression in sexual activity, a relationship built on same-sex attraction is therefore disordered even when the partners are not sexually active.

This blithely assumes what cannot be assumed—that the relationships of chaste gay couples are all “built” on sexual attraction. No doubt many couples in this situation are attracted to each other, but I know couples who have told me that they are not—that if they were looking for a sexual partner, they wouldn’t necessarily choose the one they have. It makes a lot of sense—if the kind of relationship you’re looking to build is a non-sexual one, sexual attractiveness is likely to be much lower down your list of desired qualities in a significant other.

Even in cases where strong sexual attraction exists between two people of the same sex, there is a world of difference between saying, “these two people, who have a relationship, are sexually attracted to one another,” and, “these two people have a relationship which itself is rooted in their sexual attraction to one another.” Leaving aside the question of whether there is such a thing as rightly-ordered eros toward a person of the same-sex, the fact is human relationships are not flat, one-dimensional things “built” on only one kind of love, and it is a mistake to simply conflate “same-sex attraction” with same-sex sexual attraction, as if the only reason two gay people could ever be interested in sharing their life together is in order to have sex.

Second, I’d like to offer a note of caution about the danger of seeing chaste gay relationships as the solution to the problem of gay loneliness.

I’ve been reluctant to write about this question before—even though it is frequently asked—because it seems to me that the classical idea of same-sex friendship, and not any kind of romantic couplehood, is the type of affection most severely devalued in our culture. Couplehood in general is perhaps already esteemed too much, and it is friendship which is most badly in need of being recovered and defended today. With some irony, it is chaste friendship that has become, in our day, “the love that dare not speak its name.”

Most young gay Christians have grown up bombarded with cultural messages telling them they can only be happy if they have romance in their lives. When they turn to the Church for guidance, instead of offering a healthy corrective, they tend only to hear the same messages amplified and theologized.

Conservatives—in their haste to defend the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage—often reify the marital state in a way that Jesus (an itinerant celibate) never did. Many of the Church’s deepest theological mysteries are mangled by being forced through the prism of “spousal” theology, and under the pounding of the conservatives’ ham-fists, teachings like the “theology of the body”—a series of addresses by John Paul II that contains many beautiful reflections on human sexuality—are squished into a gnostic, “God is Sex”-style theology that is seductively attractive to a generation growing up with a “Sex is God”-style cultural philosophy.

Some chaste, gay couples I’m aware of see their relationships through the prism of friendship (such as the “vowed friendships” Tushnet chronicles in Gay and Catholic), and not as a “marriage without sex.” Nevertheless, it is not surprising that some young gay Christians—constantly exposed by conservatives to the claim that matrimony is the Supreme Good and the royal road to flourishing and sanctity—end up strongly desiring a gay relationship that approximates the good of marriage as closely as possible. For conservatives to then condemn these young people for having a few naïve ideas about romance is like a fisherman condemning his catch for taking the bait.

Let me be clear—as I’ve said above—that I don’t think chaste gay couplehood is morally problematic. To answer Conroy’s question, yes, this state of life can be “a valid vocation, a holy thing, a place where virtue and love might flourish.” But it does become problematic when the idea of the “chaste couple” is seen as a universal solution—a magic bullet that will solve the problem of gay loneliness. The risk is that over-emphasising chaste couplehood as a solution to loneliness becomes a way of telling gay Christians, “go away and find a partner so we don’t have to deal with you, so we can pretend that the pain of your loneliness is not a burden we need to bear as a community.”

There are many people in this world—gay, straight, and otherwise—for whom being one half of a couple is not a possible solution to loneliness. What about the elderly widow? What about the severely handicapped young man who needs 24-hour-a-day care and who will never marry? The radical inclusivity that we are called to if we wish to follow Jesus not only extends to such people, but has a preferential option for them.

Ultimately we will be judged not by our success at shoehorning everyone into modern models of couplehood, but by our success at fostering forms of community that go out to the peripheries and bring in those who are most marginalized, including those who do not and cannot enjoy the security marriage or couplehood brings.

The image of the Kingdom Jesus gives us is not an image of couples respectably making their way toward heaven, like the animals neatly marching into Noah’s Ark two-by-two. Instead, the image of the Kingdom we get from reading the gospels is of a ragtag band of misfits, outcasts, and ragamuffins—the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, the drunkards, the whores, the sex addicts, the tax collectors, the queers, and the downright weird—leaning on one another as they zigzag their way toward the Promised Land. Likewise, when reading about the early Church, we see a sprawling network of friends bound together with a familial affection fostered through a shared focus on the joy of the gospel, and not the polite church of modern twenty-first century suburbia—a group of disconnected couples who happen to worship in the same place on Sunday morning.

Let’s say “yes” to the possibility of chaste, gay couplehood as a vocation for some people. But let’s also not forget that unless this “yes” is contextualized within openness to more radically inclusive forms of community, there is a danger that we are taking the easy and bourgeois path rather than the hard road to the Kingdom.

aarontaylor50Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society.

19 thoughts on ““Chaste, Gay Couples” and the Church

  1. How about dropping all labels and definitions and pursuing friendships for what they are? Spend more time with the particular friend you want to want to hang out with more; share a home with the friend who also wants live with you; and “‘don’t give a damn’ if others think something else is going on?

  2. I guess I’m confused. What is “chaste gay coupling” about? What is the purpose of it or why is it called what it is? Is it just two people living together in the same apt or house who just happen to be gay? Or is it because they are gay that they decide to live together (in chastity)? If the former, then why not just simply call it a friends sharing an apartment/house if there is no special distinctions because they are gay? If it’s the latter, where a particular vow is made because of the attraction, then I don’t see how the argument that,

    “because same-sex attraction is itself disordered regardless of whether it finds expression in sexual activity, a relationship built on same-sex attraction is therefore disordered even when the partners are not sexually active”

    is wrong based on its line of reasoning.

  3. Dear Mr. Taylor,
    I have several questions about the ‘gay couple’ friendships suggested on this site and this recent article. I’d like to ask these questions so that I might understand what we as pastors are supposed to be offering/recommending to LGBTQ who seek to honor the LORD by upholding traditional Christian teaching on sexuality.

    One thing that I need clarity on is the many references I’ve come across on SF blog citing friendships between same-sex individuals as having homosexual undertones. For example you say

    “They may not have called themselves “gay” or a “couple,” but that is what they were—two same-sex attracted people committed to doing life together in a manner that goes beyond ordinary friendship.”

    Please, as some one who’s new to walking alongside my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, could you clarify for me how you all arrive at such conclusions that such close relationships between same-sex individuals were indeed gay? Is there some biographical document that clearly states this in these cases or are these surmises read into the account of their relationships?

    Second, please could you help me understand why the term ‘practice’ is used to describe these discrete examples of friendship and thereby elevating them to a cultural ‘way of life’ that existed and was accepted before our time? Are there historical documents that could help me as a pastor ascertain this?

    Third, is the idea/quest of Christian gay celibate friendship one of how to maintain an intimate relationship with the same-sex person one is attracted to without physical consummation? If so, how might I as a pastor justify such a position for a same-sex attracted couple, but not for a heterosexual couple who are wrongly attracted to each other, e.g., in the case of adultery or even regular dating heterosexual couples?

    These three questions cloud my understanding of the ‘same-sex’ friendships espoused and spoken for here. Especially as it is easy to see that from the beginning of time, there have always been non-sexual, deeply affectionate friendships among people who are not same-sex attracted. And although heterosexual Christian couples (just like same-sex attracted couples) are equally not always driven by the desire to have sex, boundaries are nevertheless established because of the sexual undertones that belie every case of attraction. Could you help me understand, are same-sex attracted couples somehow able to completely turn off that prevalent sexual undertone of every case of attraction?

    I would be very grateful for any light you might shed on these my questions, as I would like to understand how same-sex attracted coupling is/might be different from heterosexual coupling.
    Thank you.

    • John Henry Newman said:

      “Besides, it is obviously impossible to love all men in any strict and true sense. What is meant by loving all men, is, to feel well-disposed to all men, to be ready to assist them, and to act towards those who come in our way, as if we loved them. We cannot love those about whom we know nothing; except indeed we view them in Christ, as the objects of His Atonement, that is, rather in faith than in love. And love, besides, is a habit, and cannot be attained without actual practice, which on so large a scale is impossible. We see then how absurd it is, when writers (as is the manner of some who slight the Gospel) talk magnificently about loving the whole human race with a comprehensive affection, of being the friends of all mankind, and the like. Such vaunting professions, what do they come to? that such men have certain benevolent feelings towards the world,—feelings and nothing more;—nothing more than unstable feelings, the mere offspring of an indulged imagination, which exist only when their minds are wrought upon, and are sure to fail them in the hour of need. This is not to love men, it is but to talk about love.—The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence.”

      “I have hitherto considered the cultivation of domestic affections as the source of more extended Christian love. Did time permit, I might now go on to show, besides, that they involve a real and difficult exercise of it. Nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits (which is the direct opposite and negation of charity), than independence in our worldly circumstances. Men who have no tie on them, who have no calls on their daily sympathy and tenderness, who have no one’s comfort to consult, who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety and the restless humours which are so congenial to the minds of most men, are very unfavourably situated for obtaining that heavenly gift, which is described in our Liturgy, as being ‘the very bond of peace and of all virtues.’ On the other hand, I cannot fancy any state of life more favourable for the exercise of high Christian principle, and the matured and refined Christian spirit (that is, where the parties really seek to do their duty), than that of persons who differ in tastes and general character, being obliged by circumstances to live together, and mutually to accommodate to each other their respective wishes and pursuits.—And this is one among the many providential benefits (to those who will receive them) arising out of the Holy Estate of Matrimony; which not only calls out the tenderest and gentlest feelings of our nature, but, where persons do their duty, must be in various ways more or less a state of self-denial.”

      I note here how he does not limit this effect to matrimony but says merely it is one place it can especially be found. He rather seamlessly transitions then to:

      “Or, again, I might go on to consider the private charities, which have been my subject, not only as the sources and as the discipline of Christian love, but further, as the perfection of it; which they are in some cases. The Ancients thought so much of friendship, that they made it a virtue. In a Christian view, it is not quite this; but it is often accidentally a special test of our virtue. For consider:—let us say that this man, and that, not bound by any very necessary tie, find their greatest pleasure in living together; say that this continues for years, and that they love each other’s society the more, the longer they enjoy it.”

      Not just “one pleasure among others” but “their greatest pleasure.”

      “Now observe what is implied in this. Young people, indeed, readily love each other, for they are cheerful and innocent; more easily yield to each other, and are full of hope;—types, as Christ says, of His true converts. But this happiness does not last; their tastes change. Again, grown persons go on for years as friends; but these do not live together; and, if any accident throws them into familiarity for a while, they find it difficult to restrain their tempers and keep on terms, and discover that they are best friends at a distance. But what is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course of years, but the participation in something that is Unchangeable and essentially Good, and what is this but religion? Religious tastes alone are unalterable. The Saints of God continue in one way, while the fashions of the world change; and a faithful indestructible friendship may thus be a test of the parties, so loving each other, having the love of God seated deep in their hearts. Not an infallible test certainly; for they may have dispositions remarkably the same, or some engrossing object of this world, literary or other; they may be removed from the temptation to change, or they may have a natural sobriety of temper, which remains contented wherever it finds itself. However, under certain circumstances, it is a lively token of the presence of divine grace in them; and it is always a sort of symbol of it, for there is at first sight something of the nature of virtue in the very notion of constancy, dislike of change being not only the characteristic of a virtuous mind, but in some sense a virtue itself.”

      What is Newman describing here by constancy other than a *committed* relationship?

      I think what so many of the “don’t label it, just be friends” crowd overlook in dismissing “exclusivity” is the importance of *taking priority* in someone’s life in a stable way you can count on and are committed to showing in return. The reason a buddy system is set up on trips is because it is possible to be responsible for one person above all. You introduce a third or fourth and conflicts arise over priority.

      People also seem upset over the idea that people are drawn together by attraction or love…but surely people aren’t drawn together by revulsion or hate (or even bland neutrality).

      Not every such partnership is “limerent” or infatuated, of course. Neither are many marriages. But if they are, I’m still not sure what the problem is. That one loves too strongly? That one loves (among perfectly valid appreciations) the “wrong things about” the other person? Unless you’re loving their vices or sins, it’s unclear how it could be wrong to appreciate or be drawn to something on account of some objectively good trait…

      • “…and that, not bound by any very necessary tie, find their greatest pleasure in living together; say that this continues for years, and that they love each other’s society the more, the longer they enjoy it.”

        “…in dismissing “exclusivity” is the importance of *taking priority* in someone’s life in a stable way you can count on and are committed to showing in return.

        Thanks, mradkenal, for this reference. It is very helpful.

        I have no difficulty in seeing and appreciating the value of exclusive commitment/devotion to persons in relationships or exclusive relationships. What I need help with is how do we as Christians and particularly as pastors, justify directing that *exclusivity* to ‘being *with*’ the one we’re attracted to in a same-sex attracted relationship and still say it’s absent of eros? Doesn’t that already negate Norman’s recommendation for the highest form of friendship to be that which is between people who are “not bound by any very necessary tie?” The necessary ‘tie’ (that which connects/binds) here being their ‘attraction’ to one another.

        Newman’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to be advocating turning a same-sex attracted relationship into an ‘exclusive friendship,’ for then the very fact that one already feels benevolently towards the other would negate his clear theory of altruism.

        “I have hitherto considered the cultivation of domestic affections as the source of more extended Christian love.”

        Rather, I believe Newman is talking about the agape love of Christ which *should be* cultivated with other Christians, not because ‘we are attracted to them, or have any affinity with them, but because we are attracted to and have an affinity with Christ.’

        “But what is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course of years, but the participation in something that is Unchangeable and essentially Good, and what is this but religion? Religious tastes alone are unalterable. The Saints of God continue in one way, while the fashions of the world change;…”

        This is the highest form of love or friendship, to be tied to someone for no other reason than that he/she belongs to Christ.

        So according to your reference, Newman is rightly advocating the formation of solid Christian friendships that are centered around Christ. *Christ, is the attraction* that he advocates should pull people together, not our attractions to one another,

        “…and a faithful indestructible friendship may thus be a test of the parties, so loving each other, *having the love of God seated deep in their hearts.*…the presence of divine grace in them;” (emphasis mine).

        Newman’s text seems to be making reasonable arguments *for* forming *Christian community and relationships,* and particularly the kind one would find in an abbot or monastery. His rhetoric is advocating the value of committed friendships ‘for the sake of Christ’ with people who share a common bond of affection for Christ and as a result of their common vocation – devotion to a life of service to God and others. And while I think one can sometimes justify approximating information from one context to fit another, I don’t think advocacy for same-sex attracted coupling/friendship is the bane of Newman’s argument here,

        “Nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits (which is the direct opposite and negation of charity), than independence in our worldly circumstances. Men who have no tie on them, who have no calls on their daily sympathy and tenderness, who have no one’s comfort to consult, who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety and the restless humours which are so congenial to the minds of most men, are very unfavourably situated for obtaining that heavenly gift,…On the other hand, I cannot fancy any state of life more favourable for the exercise of high Christian principle, and the matured and refined Christian spirit (that is, where the parties really seek to do their duty), than that of persons who differ in tastes and general character, *being obliged by circumstances to live together, and mutually to accommodate to each other their respective wishes and pursuits*” (emphasis, mine).

        The ‘circumstances’ in his argument being that of a community of religious orders.

        Furthermore, Newman’s statement that,

        “And this is *one among the many* providential benefits(to those who will receive them) arising out of the Holy Estate of Matrimony;” (emphasis mine),

        is not saying that matrimony is ‘one way’ of obtaining this kind of devotion/commitment, but rather that *this commitment/devotion* to another is already ‘*one of* the gifts/benefits of matrimony.

      • In other words, his reference to the holy state of matrimony is a reference to describe the kind of devotion Christian friendships formed in/out of the context of loving and serving the LORD should have.

        This is neither a strange nor new request/requirement, as Scripture already teaches us so, and we would find that out if we were all committed to loving each other the way Scripture calls us to. We would find that a love that binds us to one another for the sake of Christ alone, has no other comparable descriptive equivalent than the devotion expected of married people. I say ‘expected’ because not every marriage displays this. However, this is what every marriage should display – unconditional devotion/commitment to one’s partner.

        When I first answered the call to church planting, it was to work with persons that couldn’t be any more different than me. We had nothing at all in common. It was so very trying and difficult for me, and when I would cry to the LORD, the one phrase that was repeated to me over and over was ‘treat them as though you were married to them.’ And although I was neither married nor in a dating relationship at the time, it was something I could understand, because I understood through Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church, what God expected to see in a marriage (outside of sex). Thus empowered with this understanding of what it meant to love and be committed to another in a holy union, I found the courage to love and serve these people and successfully completed my assignment with them.

        I have since learned that one should not always look at marriage, nor form a model of marriage based on the changing world around us, but rather look at and form from the model of Christ’s union with His Church. And *that* being the *only* thing bigger than any of us, our desires, needs, etc., has the awesome power to align (the devotions of) our hearts with His.

      • mradeknal,
        ““Not just “one pleasure among others” but “their greatest pleasure.””

        John Newman,
        “…find their greatest pleasure…
        in living together;
        say that this continues for years,
        and that they love each other’s society the more,
        the longer they enjoy it.”

        The “greatest pleasure” Newman speaks about here cannot be taken out of context of ‘what’ fostered the love between ‘these’ friends in his discourse – the love of that/Him which is greater than either of them or anything else – the love of/for Christ.

        From Newman’s text, it would appear this greatest pleasure was found as each person ‘submitted’ to loving the other (perhaps his roommate with whom he’s forced to share dwelling space in the monastery) as Christ loves us.

        I’d like to be honest and admit that I am nervous when I hear ‘vocation’ here being used/described as loving the one one is attracted to in as in a same-sex relationship, but without physical consummation.

        I confess I am nervous, because as a Christian, I understand the broader Christian vocation of loving each other (those in and outside the Body) to what is being advocated here. I understand this vocation to love as a positive response to love those (as Newman stated) with whom we have nothing in common, but the Spirit of Christ. I would think that is what the advocacy for spiritual friendship would be. A love that’s beyond or greater than us and which is situated in Christ, rather than in the one we’re attracted to. This is the only in which (I think) Christians are called to respond to the call to love.

        I agree the call to ‘also be loved,’ is true and which is why I think texts like Newman’s and the others like his could help us prioritize and develop that agape love for one another, but it would not be because it was born out of same-sex attraction, but rather because we are responding to the call that is greater than the call of our own hearts and desires. In the example of my experience above, I learned to love the persons of the community I was ‘called’ to serve, but sadly, I was not loved in return. I believe it would have been different if we had approached the formation of the church community on some of Newman’s guidelines, for then, I would have escaped remaining the outsider who nevertheless loved her community. Now, if I had found and formed a bond with a same-sex person who was equally committed to loving that community as I’d been taught, we might have developed the kind of friendship that Newman’s here espousing. We might have easily moved in to live together and formed the kind of devotion Newman’s here espousing,

        “There have been men before now, who have supposed Christian love was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals; so that we ought to love all men equally. And many there are, who, without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the love of many is something superior to the love of one or two; and neglect the charities of private life, while busy in the schemes of an expansive benevolence, or of effecting a general union and conciliation among Christians.”

        As a matter of fact – and although I am very heterosexual – for the very reason of such Christ-centered relationship,’ I have twice embarked on such ‘moving in together’ with same-sex believers. Once when I was single and serving in my first church planting community and once after while in my current church planting community. These moves never worked out, because there was no mutual understanding of shared commitment and willingness to *love the other for the sake of Christ* as one might encounter if one were in a structured community such as an abbess or monastery. And although we were individually committed to serve the LORD and others, the predominating presence of and commitment to personal/individual pursuits outside of a shared, goal-oriented ad devoted community such as an abbess robbed us of being compelled to love the other for the ‘sake of Christ ‘ Rather, we each had choices to either stay or leave. This is where I think the ancient texts that are shared on this blog site (such as Newman’s) could really help develop the idea of ‘spiritual friendship’ in the Church.

        In my opinion, this is what I think he means by his statement that,

        “The Ancients thought so much of friendship, that they made it a virtue. In a Christian view, it is not quite this; but it is often accidentally a special test of our virtue.”

        The Christian community has let go of this important and necessary commitment to bond-forming/communal-friendships simply for the ‘sake of Christ.’ We are more driven by our likes and dislikes, preferences for kinds of person as opposed to another and even within that affinity there’s no commitment. But Newman’s text advocates that our circumstances of being thrown together for the sake of love and service to Christ, should have enough clout to compel us to ‘submit’ to love ‘and form community’ with the one into whose company our love and work for Christ has thrown us,

        “Now I shall here maintain, in opposition to such notions of Christian love, and with our Saviour’s pattern before me, that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to {53} cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us”

        Again,
        “…the love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.”

        “The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”

        Newman’s sermon from which your excerpts (and mine) are taken are a call to develop love for Christ and others by developing love of/for ‘immediate’ neighbor. No doubt he experienced the value of such an approach (which 1 Jn.4:20 promulgates) in the context of communal living as found in religious orders. Which is why I would argue that such a deep friendship as he here described, was and is a recognition of some of the ways in which God both *develops* and rewards our commitment and submission to Him and one another. Probably heterosexual himself, in loving God and his immediate neighbor, he probably found a love that was deeper than the love of a woman, i.e., the holiest union between two human beings. But there’s certainly no context for concluding he found this love because he was in or as the result of a same-sex attracted relationship. Rather, taken in context, it was the training ground to love others as Christ loves us,

        “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” [1 John iv. 7, 12, 16.] Now did he begin with some vast effort at loving on a large scale? Nay, he had the unspeakable privilege of being the friend of Christ. Thus he was taught to love others; first his affection was concentrated, then it was expanded. Next he had the solemn and comfortable charge of tending our Lord’s Mother, the Blessed Virgin, after His departure. Do we not here discern the secret sources of his especial love of the brethren? Could he, who first was favoured with his Saviour’s affection, then trusted with a son’s office towards His Mother, could he be other than a memorial and pattern (as far as man can be), of love, deep, contemplative, fervent, unruffled, unbounded?”

        So this is what I understand the vocation to love and be loved means – love your immediate neighbor for the sake of Christ- and it is a vocation that if lived out would release us to experiencing the highest form of love and friendship, that which is birthed in and bathe by “the presence of divine grace in them.” This is what I found to be missing in my church planting context and ‘moving in together’ experiences – the lack of understanding of why our love and service for God should extend to the one(s) with whom we directly love and serve Him.

        Such love between people who would not ordinarily like or be drawn to each other but out of obedience to and for Christ’s sake, is a miracle that keeps us worshiping at Christ’s feet and leads to a continuous celebration of sublime love between and for God’s people that allows such people to,

        “find their greatest pleasure in living together;…, and that they love each other’s society the more, the longer they enjoy it.”

      • Thanks for your extended response!

        I don’t have much to say other than that I think the issue lies in your notion of “altruism” which I think is ironically the vision of altruism Newman is trying to dispel.

        When you say, “the very fact that one already feels benevolently towards the other would negate his clear theory of altruism” I think this must be where the disconnect is, because I read Newman’s whole sermon as dispelling the notion that natural affection is somehow mutually exclusive with charity/agape, as if we must go out and find the most disagreeable stranger whom we have no tie to whatsoever to practice altruism.

        No, Newman is saying “charity starts at home,” between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between friends. I don’t think he’s anywhere imagining that the existence of natural benevolence somehow invalidates supernatural benevolence.

        His whole point is that liking or loving someone doesn’t make concord necessarily less difficult (many tumultuous relationships and marriages will tell you that the coin of strong feelings has two sides) and certainly doesn’t make the effort at commitment and constancy less meritorious.

        Christ’s love sometimes compels strange bedfellows who would have no reason to speak if it weren’t for Him. But more often it simply crowns or baptizes the bond of natural bedfellows. The Church does not exclude arranged marriages, but it doesn’t insist on them either. Natural affection and attraction and benevolence and comraderie is perfectly compatible with charity is all Newman is saying.

      • Mradeknal, I apologize for my lengthy response. I tend to be frustratingly detailed-oriented. However, right now, I just want to make sure I have not offended you, because that was not my intent. Rather, I approached this from the premise that the issues discussed here have great potential to influence how the whole Church responds to the issue of same-sex attraction. I stand in awe and worship of God to encounter the stand of many on this site who have received grace to abide by traditional Christian teaching. I am also drawn into and concerned for the pain that they experience as a result of their faithfulness. While personally aware that any allegiance to faithful Christian teaching has its own costs, I am also aware that it has great gains also. So as the discussion progresses on ‘what is God making available’ for these faithfuls, it is important for the rest of the Church to be aware of the conversation, because in the long run, the Church will have the responsibility of coming alongside and affirming these brothers and sisters as well as those who will join them in the future.

        My response to your post was therefore based on properly ascertaining the legitimacy of the claims of what God is providing, again, not for the purpose of hindering, but for the purpose of validation. These issues are matters of faith which are bigger than any one of us and which will therefore be subjected to much scrutiny for acceptance by the Church.

        It is my hope and prayer that as you all allow us, non-same-sex attracted members of Christ’s Body, participate in this conversation, we will all (not just same-sex attracted peoples) come to bear and share in the burden and be afflicted together so that you all might be strengthened even more (1 Cor. 12:24-26). So please, I beg you not to view my query(ies) in negative light.

        You and I are now agreed that Newman’s premise was about learning to love by first learning to love our immediate neighbor. However, your initial response seemed to be citing Newman in response to my question/search for faithful Christian teaching that supports the path proposed/suggested by Mr. Taylor’s post, and I did not find Newman to be so. Please forgive me if my posts suggested anything other than attempting to properly understand Newman in light of the above.
        Thank you.
        Remain blessed!

  4. [Ignore the avatar to the left; this is Ron posting a comment for Eve, who is having technical difficulties.]

    Thanks for this! I think it’s worth noting that some lgbt people sharing life together are strongly influenced by monasticism (so they’re a “monastery of two”) or use metaphors of siblinghood (they’re “sisters in Christ”). Those models help them understand how to live out their vocation, and also, imo, make it easier for them to avoid falling into the cultural default in which all important relationships between adults are viewed through the lens of romance.

    • Though I’d then in turn be inclined to ask “what’s particularly un-romantic about monasticism”? Surely it is supposed to have all the same commitment and passion.

      Methinks we’ve forgotten what “romance” really means, originally. It means “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized.”

      We’ve culturally come to associate that state of mind, and thus the word, with the love between spouses or potential spouses or semi-stable sex partners…but that’s only one of the things the concept actually applies to, and it is an impoverishment that we have come to so narrowly apply it to such a limited set of scripts.

      That we think of lovers (which literally just means love-ers) as only encompassing newlyweds before the honeymoon infatuation wears off, young people courting (however naive, or serious, or devil-may-care they may be), or adulterers in the flames of forbidden adventures…is an offense against love.

      One hears the word “disinterested” thrown around so much in these conversations. It seems like often people think it means “uninteresting.” As if strong feelings of affection or of being captivated by beauty or charm (physical or personality) are to be limited to a spouse, most especially if they are specifically masculine or feminine beauty or charm. Well, I say humbug to that. What a cramped moral imagination of love and intimacy that is.

    • I like this idea of brotherhood and sisterhood much better than same sex couplehood. And why not be open minded and invite another brother or sister into the relationship. You could call it a celibate ménage-a-trois.

  5. “The image of the Kingdom Jesus gives us is not an image of couples respectably making their way toward heaven, like the animals neatly marching into Noah’s Ark two-by-two. Instead, the image of the Kingdom we get from reading the gospels is of a ragtag band of misfits, outcasts, and ragamuffins—the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, the drunkards, the whores, the sex addicts, the tax collectors, the queers, and the downright weird—leaning on one another as they zigzag their way toward the Promised Land.”

    I hope you don’t mind that I’ve written this quote down and emailed it to my best friend and I’m going to save it forever. This so perfectly puts into words how I feel – marriage is a good and beautiful display of God’s character, but it’s also temporary, ending at death. I can’t wait for the day when the marrieds with a house and 2.7 kids, and the homeless, disabled, gay, and outcast all worship the Savior with eyes on Him alone. Thanks for writing this post!

  6. Pingback: “Brian, What Makes You Tick?” | Spiritual Friendship

  7. Interesting article and I sympathise with much that was said. Many years ago I would have cautioned this type of coupling strongly for the reasons you suggest but now my views have softened.

    Our society has made such coupling almost a necessity by the way it devalues friendship and over-values romance – as you rightly point out. Most churches I have been to are cold and lonely places for single people and until this is rectified, right-wing Christians have no business condemning this kind of “coupling”.

  8. Pingback: The Pastoral Promise of “Vowed” Friendships | Spiritual Friendship

  9. Pingback: Is Spiritual Friendship Code for Gay Unions? | Spiritual Friendship

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