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.

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6 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.

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