What Christians Don’t Want to Admit About Celibacy and Homosexuality

In my last post, I discussed the loss of physical touch in American culture and the role it’s played in stripping gay people (and everyone else) of access to non-sexual affection. Today, I want to talk about an even deeper trend. The decline of social capital.

Edit 2/2/2018: I feel the need to clarify that I am a celibate lesbian and fully committed to a traditional sexual ethic as outlined by Scripture. If you haven’t read my About page or previous posts, this could get lost in the conversation. I want to avoid misunderstandings as much as possible, so hopefully this information is clear!

Celibacy is next to impossible for gays, lesbians, and other LGBT+ folks thanks to the decline in social capital.

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to LGBT+ issues, and many Christians will never admit it. It’s like there’s this collective fear that if we let the secret slip, then all the hordes of gay people who were going to live a celibate lifestyle won’t buy it anymore. News flash — most of them don’t buy it already.

So I’m just gonna say it: The social landscape of modern America is making celibacy practically impossible.

There. I said it. Celibacy is next-to-impossible. It’s not like gay people don’t know it already. It’s not like everyone doesn’t know it already. And it’s time we came to terms with it. We’ve got to admit the truth before we can change it.

So I’ll say it again. Celibacy is becoming impossible thanks to our declining social reality. And it’s time we did something about it.

The Modern Social Reality

In the past, a variety of social institutions provided us with robust centers of community. From union membership to PTA involvement to even something as simple as joining a bowling league (as Robert Putnam described in Bowling Alone), associations sprang up out of a deeper sense of togetherness in American community. Everyday life provided a context for meaningful relationships to flourish.

But about 70 years ago, Robert Nisbet observed that alienation and cultural disintegration were the outstanding characteristics of contemporary time (check out his book, Quest for Community). He feared that the erosion of American community charted a course to where only the individual and the all-powerful State would remain.

Just one generation later, his words have never been truer.

You can feel it. When browsing through social media photos of people you haven’t seen in 10 years. When spending the day with colleagues whose knowledge of your personal life is limited to the pictures you keep at your desk. Or when giving a stiff smile to the neighbors who pass you by in the park.

Social involvement has drastically declined as more and more people are doing things alone.

Social Isolation + Sexual Liberation = …

The weakening of social connections took place at the same exact time that people became “sexually liberated.” The result was the perfect storm. As communal ties slowly decayed, people increasingly stockpiled their relational needs into “the one.” A significant other who gets to play jack-of-all-trades in the person’s relational life.

Everybody everywhere is now searching for love and no longer finding it apart from romance. Popular articles have headlines like, “Finding Real Love” or “12 Basic Rules to Find Love.” Click on the links, and you’ll discover they’re not really about “love” at all, unless you narrow down the concept of love until it’s unrecognizable. They’re about finding a romantic partner. That’s what “finding love” has come to mean nowadays. Fewer and fewer people have people anymore. Instead, they’ve got significant others whose relational obligations are becoming ever more exhaustive as community continues to wane.

The reality is that erotic love, classically considered to be the lowest and basest of the loves, is slowly becoming the only kind of love that we think about.

Gay People Want the Same Sort of Things That Straight People Want

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at: we’ve got to realize that gay people are no different than anybody else. If straight people are coping with the loss of community, then so are gay people. If straight people are searching for love in a disintegrating social atmosphere and only finding it only through romance, then so are gay people.

It’s not rocket science, and the LGBT+ community has been more than forthcoming about it. It’s written all over the signs at Pride events, printed on t-shirts, shouted as slogans. “Love is love” – “This is what love looks like” – “Embrace love!” Why do gay people want to get married? For the same reason that anyone wants to get married these days. For love.

Thing is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a gay person searching for love. We all need love. What’s wrong is a lost culture with such bleak social conditions that we stockpile love into marriage. It’s not just wrong for gay people. It’s wrong for everybody. But that’s the reality of 21st century America. 

Responding as a Church

When it comes to LGBT+ issues, the first and most important concern for the church is not that gay people are getting married. It’s that Christians, including LGBT+ believers, are not finding relational satisfaction apart from marriage and/or romance. Love and well-being are no longer communal endeavors, and vibrant relational connectedness is becoming increasingly esoteric.

While I’m a firm advocate for the celibate lifestyle and remain very committed to a traditionally biblical sexual ethic, there’s nevertheless a hard truth that Christians need to face. Biblical celibacy should never require a greater relational sacrifice than giving up sex. But in today’s relational economy, more often than not it does. When you tell a gay person to be celibate, you might as well tell them to be lonely. It’s the truth we’ve got to admit. The truth we need to change.

Shouting, “One man, one woman!” louder and louder isn’t the answer. The answer involves a careful examination of American community, a look into the reasons why denying the right to marry has become synonymous with denying the right to love, and a willingness to fix these problems, at least within the church. 

Making Celibacy a Feasible Lifestyle in Christian Community

In God’s reality — which is the actual reality — celibacy is more than just feasible. It’s actually preferable. But biblical celibacy depends upon biblical community. This means that before discussions of celibacy will ever become fruitful on a larger scale, Christians need to be willing to address our social condition. At the end of the day, we can’t expect celibacy to be attractive to a gay believer if it’s not even remotely attractive to a straight believer. If you yourself don’t want the product you’re selling, then why are you selling it?

I’ve already discussed a number of ways that the church can begin to address this cultural moment (check out my previous posts). Stop idolizing marriage and the nuclear family and instead start actively defending what the Bible teaches: that the body of Christ is just as important as (if not more important than) marriage and biological connections (1 Cor. 7). Start seeing friendship as a profound embodiment of Christ’s love toward us, equal in profundity to the embodiment of his love through marriage (John 13:34; 15:12-15). Teach Christians to redefine their notion of “family,” no longer as a biological reality but as a spiritual one (Matt. 12:46-50). Get comfortable with displaying affection (Acts 20:37).

To be fair, many churches already have a number of systems in place for building community. Things like small groups, potlucks, programs, classes — the structure is there, but the mindsets need to follow. After all, Jesus did say that people will know that we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). Somehow I don’t think he was talking about romance.

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19 thoughts on “What Christians Don’t Want to Admit About Celibacy and Homosexuality

  1. Savannah Reply

    I agree with most of your points here. Nearly all of them except the leading one: that this is an elephant in the room. This is no secret and never has been down here in my circles, and I say “down here” because The South. Here I don’t see it as something Christians don’t want to admit. I see it as something they take for granted even more than non-religious friends do: celibacy equals loneliness and lifelong virgins are super strange hermits that are tolerated and pitied. There is SO much pressure on single folks here, male and female, and I couldn’t know for sure of course, but it seems even more so on females, to find that “one” and start the baby making. Why? “Because I don’t want you to grow up and be lonely.” “I’m worried that you’ll miss out on happiness.” True things said to me when it looked like I was being too independent and not dating…cause I don’t. That is true. Haha! It was all meant for kindness but it only further drives home the point that in the culture here my singleness is something I should fear. Celibacy ISN’T a product folks would buy themselves here. It’s like a plague and marriage is athe cure. Even in our literature stuffed with maiden aunts and the like, celibacy doesn’t seem too respected UNLESS the celibate person is waiting in purity on their true love. Otherwise celibate folks are eccentrics you don’t understand who get the sunny chair on the porch and either annoy people with too much talk or are seen and not heard because what do that have to contribute anyways? How does that factor in my church circles with concerns about the spiritual and social health of LGBT+ people? Unfortunately there aren’t many concerns because people in my circles seem to treat LGBT+ Christians like they do single straight Christians–they don’t exist.

    I know that was a rant and that it was harsh. Fact is though this is how my church culture has made me and several other singles within it feel. And of course my church is full of sincere people and I’m sticking with them. I think every older and younger generation deals with this: misunderstandings because the times are a-changing. It’s just lonelier down here as the South lags behind everyone as usual. Grandparents and great aunts and even mamas are wondering why the grandkids ain’t married and all the single grandkids are wondering why they think it’s so easy to meet people and make friends when community has all but disappeared. I think everyone would do good to read your thoughts. Marriage has def become an idol and the lack of community has made it a last refuge for anyone feeling that lack and for gay Christians as well as singles who go year after year with no dates and for whom marriage sounds like something that happens in stories and to other people this is super unhealthy. God bless us everyone.

    TLDR: I agree but marriage is such an idol in the South that the disdain for celibacy is no secret and no elephant in the room.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I think you make a really good point about celibacy actually! I would say that most Christians I run into these days are totally forthcoming when it comes to thinking that celibacy is impossible, unhealthy, weird, or whatever (unless, like you mentioned, it’s just a passing phase on the road to marriage). I just don’t find that same kind of honesty when the topic of conversation shifts from a straight person being celibate to a gay person being celibate. In my experience, celibacy is next-to impossible up until the moment we start talking about LGBT+ people in the church. Then all of a sudden celibacy is a perfectly suitable life choice. If celibacy is good for gay people, then it ought to be good for straight people too. But if Christians don’t actually believe that celibacy is good for the straight folks in their congregation, then why on earth should it be good for gay people? There’s a double standard there that shouldn’t exist. Either it’s good for people or it’s not. And if it’s not…then we need to start thinking about why not, because the Bible wouldn’t say that celibacy is better than marriage unless it actually was. Which means that there’s a root problem somewhere along the line that needs to change.

      You’ve definitely got a valuable perspective living in the deep South! Christianity has been so culturally entrenched there for so long that it’s much easier to see the repercussions of church culture (good and bad) as it’s been done in the past century. Thank you for the insightful thoughts!

      1. Savannah Reply

        Well by Georgie you’re welcome! Haha! And I understand better now what the “elephant” is. Yes. Since LGBT+ concerns aren’t usually the concerns of people in my church circles I have never had a conversation about gay Christians and celibacy with anyone that I remember down here. But in general if I did they’d probably assume celibacy is a good thing in that specific case and that IS a def double standard.

  2. Royal E Magnell Reply

    Solid points. I’m not sure the when we had a more vibrant social / cultural scene celibacy was valued any more than it is now, but it’d be a bit more palatable. And it’s certainly not valued now.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      True — I think you’ve got to go a longer ways back into history before you start seeing celibacy valued at any real level, and that’s mostly thanks to the Roman Catholic church. Nowadays, one of the things that the Catholic church is most often criticized/ridiculed for is its positions on celibacy. In many cases (unfortunately) this is warranted considering the sexual abuse scandals which are still very fresh in most people’s minds. But I would say that the value placed upon celibacy in Roman Catholicism is certainly not misplaced. Perhaps misapplied and abused at times, but not misplaced.

  3. Lauren Reply

    I think it’s a strong point that, if single straight Christians view lifelong celibacy and singleness as loneliness and misery that they could maybe endure with God’s grace, why do they expect LGBT+ Christians (or even non-Christians) to accept this outcome joyfully? I actually think the answer to this question is that straight Christians who take a strong stance on LGBT+ celibacy are thinking from one these possible foundations: 1) There is no expectation that LGBT+ should feel happy, because they are gay, after all, or 2) LGBT+ people shouldn’t strive to be celibate; they should pray to be straight, and therefore marry and be happy. Of course, there are many Christians who do not have a strong stance on this topic and are very confused as to where their opinions should rest, probably because they have seen the false thinking behind the two, aforementioned mindsets.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      The two mindsets you identified are definitely at the root of many people’s treatment of LGBT+ people in the church. And that’s not meant to disparage anybody. I think there are many people, if not most, who simply haven’t thought through the implications of what they are saying and the presuppositions that fuel them.

  4. Tristan Foster Reply

    Thanks for sharing! I agree. As a gay Mormon, I have to separate doctrine from culture more often than I’d prefer.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Culture can too easily influence our theology. So true!

  5. Jonathan Reply

    You have built a life around rationalizing a sinful life choice. My hands and Gods hands are tied in commenting on an article where the founding presuppositions are rooted in a act that Moses and the apostle Paul said were outlawed, both new and old testament.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      It’s possible you might have misunderstood where I am coming from. It could be easy to miss in the conversation if you’re just reading my blog now! But I am committed to a traditional sexual ethic as outlined by scripture, which means that I’ve chosen to live a celibate lifestyle. I’m assuming that you also would hold to a traditional sexual ethic, which would put us in agreement with each other on that point, unless I’m mistaken!

  6. solidarityblogger Reply

    I have been married twice, divorced twice, and share your frustration about the way even in the church we are suspicious of friendship between the sexes. My second wife could not comprehend that I could be just good friends with another woman I knew through a prayer group and the workplace. She couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that I am far more comfortable with women than with men, in no small part because of bullying and because women tend to be more in touch with feelings than men. Almost all of my close friends have been women, none of these relationships have ever been a threat to my fidelity in marriage, and since my second divorce I have become comfortably celibate for the rest of my life it that is God’s will. I would rather have friendship than all the baggage associated with marriage in our culture. And I can tell my friends “I love you” without it ever meaning more than agape without a trace of eros.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      How frustrating that you’ve experienced that in trying to maintain a marriage but also have meaningful friendships. It’s encouraging that you’ve found a place of contentment and that you see the value of agape over eros. Many blessings as you continue your journey!

  7. Courtney Reply

    I really appreciate your thoughtful words & agree that the Church is a family & should resemble that in every way! my main issue is that (in this article, at least) it feels like the ethics put forth 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 are at odds with each other. I think Christians can easily be for celibacy, community, AND marriage/family. since marriage is rooted in creation & because the marriage relationship mirrors the “profound mystery” of Christ & the Church….it should be esteemed. again, thank you for the needed challenge against the status quo in many churches.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi there! I definitely agree with you that marriage ought to be held in high esteem. My hope isn’t really to tear down marriage but rather to put it in perspective. As wonderful as marriage is, we have to be careful not to prioritize it to such an extent that it becomes an idol. I often find that Christians are taught to put their marriage first above other relationships in the church, but such teaching just isn’t found in the Bible and is actually harmful to fostering Christian community. I heard Ephesians 5 plenty growing up in evangelicalism, but rarely did I ever hear 1 Corinthians 7. It seems to me that we’ve got plenty of appreciation for marriage in Christian culture but very little for celibacy. My hope is to rectify this imbalance. Hope that makes sense!

  8. Hunter Rasmussen Reply

    I am really grateful for this post. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who has heard of Ed Shaw’s “Same-Sex Attraction and the Church,” besides the person who recommended it to me; originally published in the UK with the title, “The Plausibility Problem,” he spends a book making the points you are so articulately making here. I strongly recommend…anyone read his book. I’ve read several books on biblical perspectives on SSA and whatnot, and this still sticks out to me as my favorite and probably the most important.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I actually am familiar with that book! Though I haven’t read it yet. It’s definitely high up on my list.

  9. ricky jones Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with every point. So much so that when I planted a church, we made friendship one of our core principles.

    I would like to ask you this question because I agree with you. Please do not take it anything more than the desire for an honest conversation. If erotic love is the basest level of love, then is the lack of erotic love reason enough to eschew marriage?

    I ask because I regularly meet with and occasionally counsel gay men who are striving to be celibate. In almost every case I come away thinking, these guys would make great husbands, and I know several women who would love to be married to someone like this. When I bring the issue up, they never consider it for long. It seems that the idol of romance has become so dominant, that no one is willing to even consider a marriage without it. Other cultures and generations have had marriages flourish without sex. I don’t see why ours has to be different.

    I’m not saying marriage is the answer to every question. And I am by no means discounting anything you have written. But I want more for my SSA friends than bowling leagues and community groups.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi there!

      You bring up a good point regarding the modern idea that erotic and/or romantic love must be present for a marriage to flourish. For most of human history, this was not the case. Marriages have often been arranged with very little consideration for erotic love at all. But then…marriages were also often arranged with very little consideration for love period! I do agree with you, though, that there is a multitude of other forms of love that, being present, could just as easily create a healthy marriage.

      However, I think it’s a dangerous path to follow to recommend this as the preferable course for gay Christians. There are certainly many gay Christians who live in mixed-orientation-marriages with straight spouses or bisexual spouses, and if that is something that is life-giving for them, it is definitely worth celebrating! However, I don’t think it is something that the majority of gay Christians would find desirable. The inherent definition of marriage requires sexual intercourse. For someone like myself, even the thought of trying to have sex with a man makes me gag…even if it’s a man that might theoretically make a “good husband” for me. While some gay Christians find they are able to live in a mixed orientation marriage and actually enjoy that marriage, I find that I am not one of them, and most gay Christians would probably say the same. In fact, pushing this as a preferable course of action for gay Christians could actually cause irreparable damage. Plenty of gay Christians, under the pressure of wanting to conform and be accepted, have entered mixed-orientation-marriages only to discover that it was unbearable for them. The result is often messy divorces and broken homes. If a mixed-orientation-marriage is something that a gay Christian actually desires, then I’m definitely all for it! But placing it front and center as the preferable option for them is not something I would do. There already exists so much pressure upon a gay Christian’s life to get married to the opposite sex, so much so that it is unlikely that they have not already seriously considered doing it (it might appear to you that they don’t consider it for long, but more than likely they’ve already spent years thinking about it before ever talking to you). Most gay Christians who believe in a traditional sexual ethic are simply needing a viable, life-giving path forward that is just as celebrated and meaningful as marriage while not being marriage itself.

      I think it’s tempting for Christians to go this route because we’ve become so marriage-focused that it is difficult if not impossible for many to imagine God’s best life for someone not including a spouse. We have to remember what scripture actually says on the topic — that in fact, the celibate life is actually better suited for God’s Kingdom (1 Cor. 7). While marriage is certainly honored in the Bible, it is hardly seen as the ideal life that we make it to be today. Instead, it’s actually considered to make one’s life more difficult, filled with more obstacles to pursuing the Kingdom and serving the Lord. On this level, I’d like to gently challenge (as gently as possible considering the limitations of online discourse!) what you said about wanting more for your SSA friends than bowling leagues and community groups. Why say this for your SSA friends but not the inverse for your married friends? Should you not also want more for your married friends than just a wife and kids? I too want more for my gay and lesbian friends than just bowling leagues and community groups, but it makes me sad that most people define “more” as being “marriage.” But marriage is not the “more” that gay people need — nor is it the “more” that straight people need. What we need is Biblical community, which lived out according to Scripture, is so much more than bowling leagues, community groups, and marriage altogether.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I do agree with what you initially said about other forms of love being able to form the basis of a healthy marriage. I think our society could benefit a great deal from this understanding! Too often when erotic love fades, couples think this means their marriage is doomed. Never mind the myriad other ways they might be connected to each other! Erotic love is too fickle of a love to make a realistic foundation for marriage. Sure it’s nice if it’s there, but chances are it won’t always be there. I think our culture’s obsession with erotic and/or romantic love is one of the many reasons why marriages too often fail.

      God bless!

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