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.

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.

44 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. Meg Reply

      As a long time married, straight woman I’ve always had very strong boundaries in place regarding friendships with the opposite sex. I think mainly because trust was a difficult thing for me to grasp being raised with abuse so in order to feel secure those are the walls I put up and expected the same from my spouse. It wasn’t until my daughter who recently came out as bisexual asked me the question, “Well who am I suppose to be friends with then?”, that my paradigm shifted.

      The issues you bring up regarding our society is also why I think my thinking as a Christian has shifted to being ok with monogamous homosexual relationships. There doesn’t seem to be any place for close, affectionate, non sexual relationships in our current culture. It is hard enough finding a place to fit as a straight single. The feeling of alienation must be profound for LGBT as the very narrow definition of allowed connection within our churches leaves a lot to be desired. Babies die without human touch and connection, yet we expect those who have chosen the life of celebacy to forgo intimacy because it’s seen only through the lens of sexual desire. I do see hope that there will be a shift away from this thinking in talking with my young adult children and their friends. I sometimes think also that the rise we see in open and poly relationships makes perfect sense in a culture that only allows or puts on pedestal eros love as the only true path to intimacy.

      As I maneuver this world with a gay daughter and a son who is dating a bisexual young lady, I’m grateful you are writing about these topics as I want to learn and grow. Thank you!

  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.

    2. Sharon Correll Reply

      I see two fundamental problems: (a) Christians view marriage as the source of all love and happiness, and (b) they don’t value their relationship with Christ enough for it to be clear to them that some loneliness and sacrifice are worth a life of peace and fellowship with God. So they aren’t capable of saying with authority that a celibate Christian life is a good thing.

      While I agree with the author that the church should be a place where singles find a sense of home, much more than it often it, I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that that more than a minority will not experience at least some sense of loss and struggle. The fact is that MOST people experience grief and suffering in important areas of their lives, but for some reason the struggle of loneliness is perceived as worse than others.

  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!

  10. Brittany Reply

    All of this is so impossibly true and I couldn’t agree more! For all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation, if you’re not married, you ought to be waiting and praying for the day you are and if that day never comes, you either did something wrong or something’s wrong WITH you. And I just don’t think that’s the way it should be. Our culture has made marriage and family the pinnacle of life and while they can be very fulfilling, there’s absolutely a lot more to aspire to in life. There’s got to be more than that. I’ve always wondered, in a world where getting married and having children is not only the norm, but expected, where does that leave gay people? Thank you so much for addressing all this! It’s a topic that’s not discussed nearly enough.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      It definitely deserves more discussion!

  11. Sean Timothy Maguire Reply

    I appreciate your attention to this important topic.

    Have you read the book “The Gospel Comes With a Housekey” which talks about Biblical Hospitality? I think it is very closely connected to Biblical community.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I haven’t read this yet, but I’m definitely interested!

  12. Tammy Reply

    It is nice to read something that resonates both intellectually and spiritually. This has been such an intense struggle as I broke up with my long time partner (whom really was the one person in my life I’ve felt most connected to) because I just could not reconcile and it wasn’t fair to me or her or to God even though it was and had always been very a part of my orientation. It’s been a living nightmare since really. Sometimes one stops feeling even human at the core of need and desire. What’s funny is, it’s the emotional affection and authentic conversation, the trust, I miss the most. I also realized that spiritually we would never connect. I need Christ in my life and I made a choice. I would love to hang out with people who understood it at the depth of its reality over the noise but there are far and few that wants to deal with it authentically. Sure, everyone has an opinion, a conviction, a stance – but so do people who suffer through these everyday struggles. And what is even sadder is that the celibate, gay christian community can be such force of inspiration, encouragement and strength for one another if we’d only let it be. What would millions have done without AA? And that is not even in the spectrum of human sexuality! Why do so many fear these bonds even when grace is at the center of it? It isolates, marginalizes and hurts the potential healing that can take place amongst us.

    Loved the article, the articulation that is so desperately needed today.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I can’t imagine how difficult making some of those choices in your life must have been. I pray that you can find depth of relationship and emotional connection with a person in a way that also coincides with your faith and allows you to connect spiritually. You are so right, we as a community can be such a force for good in each other’s lives. Praying that he can strengthen our community and help us to grow together in his grace!

  13. James Matamoros Reply

    Really great points. I have definitely felt the lack of community and disdain for singles throughout my life. I agree it is very unhealthy.

    I like Orthodoxy’s views on celibacy and community. I converted from Protestant to Orthodox about a year ago, and one thing that really drew me to it was it’s strong sense of community-you’ve got a spiritual family youre accountable to, you eat together, confess to your priest, and have godparents and even the saints in heaven who are praying for you. Plus, they always revered celibacy. I feel like part of the problem is in the Protestant reformation, the rejection of Catholic ideals went too far. Of course, I can’t say the solution is to convert, but I do like the church I go to now. It would be great if more churches were so loving.

    I enjoyed this article though and thought you might too.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I very much agree. While much was gained in the Protestant Reformation, much was also lost that we are now struggling to recover. Thank you for the article recommendation!

  14. Liz Reply

    I’m finding your website to be such a thoughtful place, which I really appreciate – thank you for creating space for real dialogue and for this article which raises really important points, lots of which I’m trying to grapple with in my personal life and find challenging. (For context, I’m writing from the UK but I think there’s overlap in Christian culture).

    I definitely agree that the idol of the nuclear family is harmful, and would say that’s true of its impact on those who are married and parents, as well – not just those outside the paradigm. As you mention in other articles, we find our fulfilment in Christ and in keeping in step with the Spirit without reference or comparison to what he’s asking of others (Gal 5:25-26). I know that for me keeping in step with the Spirit includes my calling into heterosexual marriage and motherhood, with all of the opportunities and obstacles to Kingdom-living that this brings. But it’s not limited to that – it also includes work, creativity, authentic friendship, and it redefines all of those things to make them worship. I feel like the sacrifices I make to love my family have to be those that are acceptable to God; sacrifices to be obedient to God’s calling over all aspects of my life. Idolising family life really limits the fullness of life that we have in Jesus and burdens a small number of interactions with impossible expectations.

    However, one of the things I struggle with in trying to engage in a range of loving, life-giving relationships and activities is energy. As an introvert, I really need time alone – with my thoughts, with God. These are the places that shape me and help be become my best self, and I fight for them because I see that template in the way Jesus frequently withdrew. (Busyness is another idol I think we need to be conscious of in our culture – being addicted to the status of being stressed and in-demand, the sense of worth/self-importance that we can find ourselves deriving from it.) I love real connection with others, but am learning that I only have so much capacity – and that’s fine, that’s my humanity. So, I do prioritise my family, but not because they’re my family per se, but because I’m trying to be faithful to the things God has called me to. I also prioritise other things and other people as I discern them to be where God wants me. But none of us can (or should try to) be all things to all people, which is why the body is so important because inclusive love needs to be a collective effort.

    I also think ease and convenience are other addictions of our time that we need to consciously grapple with, and rediscover the beauty of struggle. I’ve had some really negative experiences as I’ve attempted to deepen my relationships – e.g. an abusive and frightening voicemail left on my wedding anniversary by someone with a complicated background who we opened our home to but who felt slighted by our behaviour on one occasion. I’ve had friendships implode, or just crumble away. I’ve been heartbroken, and I’ve broken other people’s hearts too. But I think we have to learn to glory in sharing in the sufferings of Christ (which surely includes being misunderstood and rejected) and trust that he can forgive us for our shortcomings, heal us, reinvigorate our efforts and make us wiser and more loving with each attempt. We have to trust that He is building His church (Matt 16:18), and He knows all of the many ways to put the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6).

    On a practical note, I wonder whether we need to examine our relationship to money and material possessions? The more I explore it, the more it seems to me that being engaged in co-operatives of all kinds would bind us to each other in meaningful ways (i.e. meeting each other’s practical needs through sharing and shared endeavour), allowing for more natural contexts of emotional intimacy and known-ness. Maybe it could even shift some of the earning pressure that means so many of us work such long hours, with barely any leftover time and energy the other aspects of our lives. I’m definitely at the beginning of trying to understand the implications of that and put that shift into practice in my life, but if anyone wants to talk to some people further along the road with this, there are members of Woodlands Church in Bristol UK who have lived together in community houses for years: https://woodlandschurch.net – There’s nothing specific about it on the website, but I’m sure you could get in touch for more information.

    Anyway, sorry for the huge comment – the article really struck a chord!

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi Liz! I found myself resonating with so much of what you said. Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection. I’ve been learning more about intentional communities in the past year, and I think there is so much potential for people to be blessed by living life that way. In so many ways, we’ve lost the ability to live in community with one another, and reclaiming that will take intentional effort. One thought that comes to mind when it comes to the difficulty of raising a family in modern culture is the reality that one of the reasons for this difficulty is our lack of community. I can’t help but wonder if we had a more robust understanding of friendship, raising a family wouldn’t be such a struggle because we’d have our friends living life alongside us to help us bear the burden (as opposed to getting coffee with us to help us talk about the burden).

      Again, I love your thoughts and so appreciate you taking the time to share. Thank you!

      – Bridget

  15. Nick the Geek Reply

    I’m going to go ahead and avoid addressing much of what you said. As a straight, white male it’s not something I can really begin to understand enough to address.

    However, there is one thing here I want to talk about, “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).”

    Based on my opening I worry you might consider how I’m going to attack this. I’m not.

    I applaud you for bringing this up. So many in the church in America do make idols of the traditional marriage and nuclear family to their detriment and the loss of community in the church.

    I’m married and have 4 children and have been or nearly 20 years.

    But I know a lot of “singles” and see how the church is primed to marry them off.

    Just yesterday my pastor was making a point in his sermon that really rang true for me. He commented that so many say, “Family first,” but that is against what God said. Only God can be first. Jesus really put it to a head when he called someone to follow him and said, “Let the dead bury the dead” to the excuse that the man needed to bury his family first. In another instance Jesus’ family shows up and he tells the disciples, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers.” Then he established that his family are those who do his will and the will of the Father.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Thanks for this! Love the example from scripture that you point out. Jesus established a new kind of family when he inaugurated his kingdom here on earth. It’s our job to live into this family. Great thoughts!

  16. Jeff Huston Reply

    You’re on point about everything here. Very well said and observed.

    I’m straight but a lifelong single (I’d rather not be, but hey, that’s how things shake out for some). As others have pointed out, so much of what you say resonates for straight Christian singles, too, even if it’s not as compounded for them as it is for a gay Christian.

    Things changed for me entirely when I became an Eastern Orthodox Christian over four years ago. Suddenly, me not being married wasn’t strange in the least anymore, or something to be pitied.

    There’s a lot of reasons for why that is within the Orthodox culture that I’ve experienced, and one of the most prominent ones is monasticism. The fact that monastics are a part of Orthodox culture, are so revered and esteemed and part of the fabric of the Church, bleeds into the entire culture — including to non-monastic celibates, how they live, and how they’re perceived. I have little doubt that Protestant West’s entire rejection of monasticism is very much at the heart of their dysfunctional relationship with celibacy (even regardless of what kind of cultural or social decline we may find ourselves in, although those things are certainly making matters worse right now).

    Esteeming the ever-virginity of the Theotokos (Mary) is also a key to a healthy, reverent, and biblical perspective on celibacy and singleness (for both straight and gays).


  17. Chad Reply

    This is brilliant and thoughtful and something I hope to share with other straight believers. In my experience, far too many seem to view everything as a theological matter without really caring much about the consequences of their beliefs on people different than themselves. After spending most of my adult years believing same sex acts to be innately sinful, I flipped my views about five years ago to side A. I had felt there was something wrong about how the Church dealt with LGBT issues in spite of wanting to hold to traditional beliefs, and a lot of that is connected to what you write about here about love beyond romance. Just the other day, leaving the church on Christmas Eve, was another reminder of this, as I went away with not just my wife but also my in-laws and my daughter; I wouldn’t have their love if it weren’t first for my wife’s love. Thinking about this five years ago and still today, it does seem to me that the Church often does a poor job providing community for the very people it expects to remain single. (This is to say nothing of churches that think merely identifying as gay or lesbian is itself sinful and still believe in conversation therapy.) While I was and remain convinced enough for my own conscience that God can approve of same-sex romance, the feeling that the Church had dropped the ball in providing for the human needs of gay and lesbian Christians was a big motivator for me in causing me to reexamine my beliefs in the first place. I can’t speak to the experiences of LGBT believers and all the moral and practical issues they face, but I think straight Christians with a traditional sexual ethic have themselves to blame for the changing sexual ethics after failing to give not just LGBT Christians but also young straight, cis-gender Christians reasonable and compassionate answers about what this all means for LGBT persons. I do believe that has been a huge factor in making otherwise traditionally-minded believers change their minds.

  18. […] meditationsofatravelingnun.com/christians-admit-gay-celibacy equipyourcommunity.org/blog/2019/1/15/s... https://www.onderwegonline.nl/14038-versterken-celibaat-en-agape-elkaar
  19. Grace Reply

    This is a really interesting article…I stumbled across it by accident. I’m not married. I’d like to be but so far it hasn’t happened. Church (and finding one) is a strange experience. If you’re not married, after a certain age, the narrative seems to be that you ‘must be waiting’ and so therefore are happy to be either fixed up with any single male (no matter how wildly inappropriate) or to ‘get practice’ babysitting other people’s children. There’s an assumption I’ve got loads of time and spare cash (none of which is true) and don’t get me started on the ‘side hug’….the hug that everyone gives to avoid the teeniest part of their front making contact with yours. ? I’m not angry or upset about it…I get that it’s come from a good place, but the idea that a person is either married or ‘looking’ isn’t helpful, especially to people who are choosing a celibate path. Personally, I’d just like to be treated for who I am, not my marital status. I don’t see it as relevant. I don’t see myself even as ‘single. I’m just not married. That doesn’t have a bearing on who I am as a person.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Love this…YES, our marital status doesn’t need to having bearing on who we are as a person.

  20. RebeccaNazzer Reply

    Agreed. Though I’m straight, I’m also celibate. My marriage ended due to my husband’s unrepentant infidelities. I don’t want to bring another man into my young children’s lives, and I believe both Jesus and Paul’s words that I will be better off remaining single. I struggle with loneliness everyday. I’ve been very intentional about finding community, but it is difficult. To give credit where credit it due, the community I do have comes from the body of Christ – I’ve had to go to multiple churches/groups to find some here, some there – that’s OK it’s all one body. Still, I feel the isolation everyday. Married people feel it too, but to a lesser extent – until the marriage is ripped apart by porn, adultery, or abuse by one spouse, and the other spouse has no one to support them. Those outside the church feel it too – no more neighborhoods. It’s endemic.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Endemic is a good word to describe the problems we face when it comes to experiencing loneliness when you’re single. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, and I pray that you and your children can find meaningful and lasting community.

  21. […] What Christians Don’t Want to Admit About Celibacy and Homosexuality […]... timothyarcher.com/kitchen/links-to-go-september-9-2019
  22. […] I have learned more about marriage from celibate and gay Christians like Wesley Hill, Eve Tushnet, B... https://tomakedisciples.wordpress.com/2019/11/12/there-is-no-such-thing-as-singleness-in-the-church
  23. Rachel Nichols Reply

    Celibacy I can handle. But the loneliness is overwhelming.

    I can be physically alone at home where I work.

    But I really feel lonely at church. I can only socialize with other women. All married with kids and sometimes grand kids. All they do is brag about their families.

    Men discuss interesting things like politics, theology, religious literature. But women only talk about families and housekeeping. My housekeeping is based on minimalism–so even that’s not a good topic.

    I once offered details from my life and my own mom reprimanded me later. “No one wants to hear about it, Rachel Quit being so self centered. No wonder you have no friends.”

    Christian women can be so cruel. Mean Girls go to church.

    Men say stuff that hurts but they do it from good natured stupidity. When women do, it’s because they are trying to humiliate you or say it because they don’t care if you hurt.

    At 46 I’ve embraced a life of celibacy since chasing men in hopes of finally marrying hasn’t worked. Too old for children and my carnal desire is nearly gone. Still a virgin.

    And not one word of praise or encouragement from anyone inside the church. A secular friend praised me for waiting. But the only ‘hope’ churches offer is “You’ll find someone someday before you die like my great aunt did. Married in her seventies. First time.” Then they go back to doing whatever family centered activity and leave you out.

    I don’t want to marry now. The man would probably be so much older his body would disgust me and I couldn’t be a true wife to him. Plus I hate dating and refuse to go out with potential rapists/stalkers I have to go online to meet. Even if they’re not creepy they want to know how soon we can have sex usually. I have to explain my love for the Lord and even the men I met on Christian sites have pressured me for sex.

    No one at church has ever asked to set me up. Probably because they shun bachelors worse than old maids.

    Now I worry that they may set me up with what many matrons have described as a suitable match. Some sickly, senile widower nearly twice my age in a wheelchair.

    Lest I sound uncharitable let me explain. I would gladly show Christ’s love by serving as the poor man’s nurse. But I’m sure Jesus and the Apostle Paul would support my opting out of some Abishag arrangement.

    I no longer want nor pray for marriage since I understand the Biblical reasons are procreation and preserving chastity. And I wouldn’t be a good spouse at this stage of my life.

    My big unmet needs are companionship/friendship and a mission. Maybe God will answer those prayers although He said “no” to my request for a family.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I so empathize with your struggles with loneliness. Our culture is set up in such a way that if you don’t follow a very specific, narrow path for how to live your life, then gaining access to companionship feels next to impossible. So much needs to be changed, and I pray that God’s people will slowly wake up to the need for other ways to share love and intimacy outside of the bounds of the nuclear family.

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