Monday, February 2, 2015

Sexuality and the Bible, Part 3: Gay Marriage and Celibacy

Read Part 2: The So-Called Clobber Verses.

In 2012, Exodus International helped the church take a step forward when they apologized to the LGBTQ community and denounced reparative therapy, saying sexual orientation was fixed. The promise of becoming straight through Jesus, prayer, and counseling was false hope. Many of their prominent success stories have since come out and confessed that they called themselves straight because they were abstaining from sex, but they felt no heterosexual attraction or desire. They were still gay inside.

Really, I can't thank Alan Chambers enough. We may still disagree on a lot of things, but it's because of him the Christian community no longer tries to change queers.

The emerging protestant opinion is that if you're attracted to your own gender, you ought to stay celibate. This a far better solution, but it still has problems. Today we'll walk through the pros and cons, along with diverse ways queer Christians live out their beliefs.

Celibacy is a great option for queers who believe being gay is wrong. Becoming straight is impossible for them; falling in love with the "right" gender of person isn't going to happen. Being told they could change resulted in a works-based scramble to have "enough" faith, to be holy enough. The attempt to change something that wouldn't budge left many people inconsolably in a closet of self-loathing, and there are a number of suicides associated with the ex-gay movement.

Celibacy doesn't ask the impossible. It doesn't ask people to try to be something they're not. It also doesn't ask queers to stay in the closet. Good things don't come from lies, and the movement toward celibacy doesn't encourage secrets and pretending.

From OrangeMercury.

Via the celibacy push, fundamentalist churches are beginning to welcome in LGBT Christians. Hopefully we can create a church where nobody looks down on you for your sexual orientation. Where you're not seen as weird or gross, not ostracized, not whispered about.

But celibacy has it's drawbacks. For one, the church is poorly equipped to support singles. Everything in churches revolves around families. Adults meet through the kids' programs, and the ladies' brunches and men's retreats are packed with parents and spouses. Once you get married, your lifestyle changes, your schedule revolves around someone else, and you're no longer as dependent on outside friendships to sustain you emotionally. We tend to forget that singles need more support and social time because they're not going home to anybody.

In many churches, single Christians are fed a subtle message that their life is incomplete without a spouse. Married leaders are held in higher esteem, while singles hear lots of "when you're married," as if it's a given and preferable future.

That needs to change.

I was introduced to a radical response to the loneliness of celibacy when I heard Lindsey and Sarah's story. Lesbians who felt called to celibacy (not because they're gay but because they always felt called), they entered a celibate relationship with one another. They support each other and help negate the problem of loneliness. However, they're careful in stressing not everyone is called to their way of life.

That brings us to another problem: Scripture. Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 are the two passages that talk about celibacy. The latter is Paul's personal take ("I have no command from the Lord, but I give an opinion") on the former:

The disciples said to [Jesus], "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." *

Jesus' words (and the Greek word choice) refer to celibacy both as a gift and a choice. Some "make themselves eunuchs," but "only those to whom it is given." The predominant interpretation of these verses through the centuries (Tertullian, Irenaeus) is that person should be celibate if (a) God placed that calling on their life and (b) they desired to be. Both criteria must be met.

While some, like Augustine and Ambrose, considered celibacy better than marriage, they still wrote that it couldn't be forced; that marriage was good; and that those who denied this doubted the resurrection.

Through most of Christian history, celibacy has been preferable to marriage. This is due to the strong influence of the Greeks. Plato especially lambasted the body as earthy and unholy while the spirit alone is ascendant. You can still see this belief reflected in Christianity when we talk about souls going to heaven.

But Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers are very clear that the resurrection is a physical one. Christians who took the spirit-is-better view eventually rejected the idea that Christ was fully human and were kicked out to become the Gnostics.

1 Timothy 4:3 lists those who tell people to abstain from marriage as false teachers. John Calvin and Martin Luther each agreed, with Calvin even saying that those who tried celibacy without the gift "sin by the very circumstance of disobeying the apostle's command"--Paul's command that if one "burns," it's better to marry.

The original understanding of celibacy doesn't allow us to mandate it for any group of people. In order to affirm celibacy as the necessary state for queers, Christians have to reinterpret the traditional view of Scripture. Many find this discomfiting, as the desire not to change traditional views is why many Christians take a non-affirming stance toward gay marriage in the first place.

My aim isn't to make you confused. My hope is that we'll come to accept one another--all of us. Whether we agree or not, we need to welcome each other into our sacred spaces, listen, talk, work alongside each other, honor one another. We need to agree to disagree and not let that disagreement get in the way of loving one another. I can't help but think of Paul: those who think eating meat offered to idols is sinful need to be respected and tolerated, and those who don't likewise, and they can live alongside each other in freedom.

This is important for affirming queer Christians to remember as well. One of the biggest difficulties celibate queers face is discrimination from fellow queers who say they're repressing themselves sexually and living under false laws. We need to respect the choices some of our number make and support them, even while we support the fight for marriage equality.

By the same token, pro-celibacy Christians can accept gay Christians who believe God has called them to gay marriage. Mandated celibacy has proven very destructive for some queers. Some have struggled for years to pray enough, read their Bible enough, avoid temptation enough, but still cannot remain celibate. The inability to love fully cuts them off from something they were made for. The Christian life is hard, but we are also taught to identify false teaching by the fruit it bears. Reading stories like Sacred-Tension-Stephen's make me ache with the pain they've suffered trying and failing to live up to a gift they don't have.

Celibacy is hard and, depending on how you interpret Scripture not recommended or even possible for all people.

If you want to hear more about the struggle and difficulty of queer celibacy from someone still striving for it, the book Washed and Waiting covers Wesley Hill's thoughts.

In a few days we'll talk about how non-affirming Christians can live alongside queers graciously.

Word count: 1,269.

* Interestingly, the Greek and the NASB are almost a perfect match here, except for a few grammatical differences (Greek has a slightly different word order) and the fact that Greek has one word that means "to make into a eunuch." Otherwise, the two are ostensibly identical. (This is a pretty good reason to use the NASB; it's the closest match to the original wording.)