I’ve written before about how often gay or same-sex attracted people are treated as if the central spiritual and moral issues of our lives are all sexual. For some reason this story strikes me as the most poignant example. But we’re subjected to so many demands that we repeat, “I’m chaste! I’m celibate!” in order to earn an uncertain welcome in the church.
Some straight Christians seem to view everything we bring to our churches solely through the lens of our sexuality. I just heard a couple heartbreaking stories from friends who were told that the abuse they had suffered, or their struggles with addiction, were the result of their homosexuality. I’ve had friends whose pastors assessed friendships and other relationships solely on the basis of whether they helped the friend remain chaste—as if chastity were the only virtue, and friendship was a sort of chastity accountability partnership. Basically, gay people are sometimes treated as if all our experiences are unusually sexually-charged, and all our relationships are either a) focused solely on chastity, or b) near occasions of sin.
This sexualization harms us (and our churches) in a lot of ways.
It makes gay or same-sex attracted people afraid of intimacy, because every close relationship with someone of the same sex could be a temptation to sexual sin. It leads us to doubt God’s love for us, because we’re set apart from other Christians, treated as eternal outsiders no matter how much we strive to prove ourselves. (It can make our relationship with God and with the church become all about proving ourselves, or proving our chastity, rather than helping us trust that God and church are there for us when we fail.) It can lead us to ignore other sins and temptations we experience, such as temptations to despair or to self-righteousness.
It reduces us to our sexuality, which is dehumanizing.
And what I find sort of grimly ironic is that the assumption that gay people’s spiritual and moral problems center around chastity makes chastity harder.
I think there are two main ways that this happens. First of all, if your attention is constantly being drawn to the ways in which a relationship may become sexually-charged, guess what? You are more likely to associate that relationship with sex. When you’re constantly scrutinizing your emotions and reactions for any hint of sexual attraction (don’t think of a sexy elephant!), your response to every sensual stimulus becomes as if inflamed. Everything is heightened, frightening, thrilling in a terrifying kind of way.
I don’t know if everyone reacts this way. But I think it’s relatively common. One reason I really like the practice that, whenever I notice that I’m attracted to a woman, I (try to remember to) thank God for her beauty, is that it makes attraction less inflamed, less overwhelming. I get to rest in gratitude, instead of enduring the unresting scrutiny of my emotions. I recall that God loves me and I can trust Him. This mindset is quiet and calm, not intent on attainment of perfection through personal effort. It’s a mindset which I think is relatively conducive to chastity.
The other reason that the sexualization of gay or same-sex attracted Christians makes it harder for us to be chaste is that it causes us to choose loneliness and fear instead of relationship with others. When people are stressed, anxious, and alone, one obvious coping mechanism is lust. When we flee other people because they might tempt us, we often learn that we brought more than enough temptation in our own heads.
A final note: Ron saw an earlier draft of this post and said that it could be part of a series: “What you’re doing pastorally is probably self-defeating”! We could certainly add more examples, e.g. “Making marriage the only intelligible adult Christian vocation is bad for marriage”….