Brent Bailey, a personal friend to many of us who blog here and author for the past several years of a blog about being gay and Christian called Odd Man Out, has just posted for the first time about his celibacy. He frames the post, in part, around a conversation he and I had the first time we met in Chicago:
By the time I met Wes during my second year of graduate school, I had begun to wonder whether my [sexual] orientation was only a temptation to be resisted or whether it might also hold some unexpected potential for grace. Wes and I happened to attend the same academic conference, and I jumped at his invitation to join a few others for lunch. I don’t recall the particular anecdote he told in that makeshift conference hall cafe, but I remember its punchline: “…and I realized that God is not calling me to not love men.” (He would later nuance the sentiment with more specificity: “God is radically pro-same-sex-love, and I know I am called to intimate friendships with other men.”) Of course, I thought to myself that day and in the months and years that followed, of course God isn’t calling me to not love men. What Wes offered as insight struck me, in that moment, as epiphany that illuminated my experiences in friendship. After coming out publicly, I found myself delighting in certain men in a way that was distinctly gay but also chaste, and my delight presented itself as the kind of supportive, unrestrained love that fosters affinity and trust. The same seems to hold today: When I allow myself to participate in the active work of loving men in the particular way I seem wired to love men, I can love them wholeheartedly. It’s sexual but entirely nonsexual; it’s platonic but electrically non-platonic; it’s confusing but profoundly satisfying.
In his own way, with his unique approach and style, Brent is putting his finger on a major theme that a lot of us who blog here at SF have united around: You have to think about your life of chastity as a gay Christian as a life of self-giving love. If you try to understand it only in negative terms—as if the goal were only abstention and refraining and fleeing and turning away—you will end up missing the main thing God is calling you to. You will end up with a white-knuckled version of Christian discipleship rather than one that revolves around Christlike generosity, hospitality, and loyalty to others. Around here at SF, we’re all agreed that gay sex misses the mark of God’s design for human flourishing, but we’re also persuaded that “not having gay sex” shouldn’t be the main goal of anyone’s life.
Shortly after reading Brent’s post, and not by design, I ended up revisiting C. S. Lewis’ great sermon “The Weight of Glory.” I’d never quite noticed the connection between what Lewis says there and what we’re interested in here at SF, but there it is:
If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.
In a nutshell, that “shift”—from pursuing a negative term to orienting your life around a positive one—is what Brent is narrating in his new post. Here’s how he concludes:
A few months ago, I moved across the country, saying goodbye to the small church with whom I had been sharing life. For our last gathering, we reserved time to put into words what we valued and admired about each other after three years together. One friend, whom I love as family, chose his words deliberately: “You handle friendship like a vocation.” The kind of conversations about sexuality I find myself having now move in this direction: about life together with friends, about honesty and confession and forgiveness, about the variety of vocations that might lead to our flourishing in God. If nothing else seems certain to me, it feels possible now in a way it didn’t before that the love of Jesus might be manifested in my life, with all my friends but perhaps especially so in the friendships I’ll share with men. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says in John 15, and I don’t think the act of laying “down one’s life for one’s friends” excludes the friendships that the spark of sexual chemistry kindles.