Frequently Asked Questions
I’ll admit I do things a bit differently than the average person—straight, gay, or otherwise. It’s natural for people to have a lot of questions, and I love getting to answer and open up new ways of seeing the world for people. Below are some of the most common questions I receive. Take a look and see if you find what you’re looking for. Otherwise, please feel free to set up a consultation through my contact page.
What do you believe about marriage?
I follow a traditional reading of Scripture on questions related to sex and marriage. This means that I believe the Bible teaches that marriage is a lifelong union between opposite sexes for the purpose of procreation.
For a lot of LGBTQ people, this raises red flags. Traditional teaching is often attached to homophobic and transphobic ideology, and it can seem like a contradiction to pair traditional teaching with a theology that is healthy. As a result, I want to be clear that I don’t hold my own Christian walk in judgment against Christians who follow a different interpretation of Scripture compared to mine. I believe that most questions related to marriage are matters of conscience, and I believe that Christians have the liberty to live according to their own convictions without sitting in judgment over those who differ.
In addition, it might surprise you to learn that there’s actually a significant number of LGBTQ people who follow a traditional reading of Scripture—I’m not a special snowflake. These Christians aren’t ex-gay and they’re not repressed. They’ve made peace with their sexuality as well as with their theological convictions and are now just interested in finding healthy ways to live out their faith. However, because traditional teaching has been attached to homophobic and transphobic systems for so long, it’s often difficult for LGBTQ people who follow traditional teaching to come out safely in their churches, let alone develop a relationship to the Bible that is life-giving.
My hope for this blog is that it can be a space for LGBTQ people and queer allies to encounter traditional teaching in life-giving ways instead of toxic. If you’re interested in that discussion, please subscribe and keep up with my writing. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @travelingnun or check out my book Heavy Burdens.
Why are you celibate?
A lot of gay Christians I know arrived at celibacy as a result of Christians forcing them to be celibate under the threat of losing their salvation and church family. This narrative is tragically common. It is an unhealthy product of spiritually abusive environments and often results in mental anguish and even suicidal ideation. However, this is not my story. I discovered celibacy as a result of encountering the queer community and the multitude of different ways that LGBTQ people make family and find meaning outside of sex and marriage. In this context, celibacy came to me as a welcome relief from the debates over sexual ethics—a way to move forward without my happiness depending upon what I believe about sex and marriage.
For a long time, I genuinely believed that I couldn’t be happy unless I found someone to marry. This belief was paralyzing. Between the possibility of same-sex marriage, on the one hand, and opposite-sex marriage on the other, it felt like there was no way forward without rending myself in two. Celibacy, for me, was a way to opt out of this false dichotomy by opting in to alternative pathways for doing life, community, and family.
Why do you follow traditional sexual ethics? Isn't this inherently repressive?
I follow traditional teaching because I genuinely believe it’s what the Bible teaches. While I respect and admire the faith of Christians who follow different interpretations of the Bible, I myself am convicted by a traditional perspective. At the end of the day, I have to follow my own conscience when it comes to my understanding of Scripture and, within that, find ways to live a full and flourishing life.
I know many Christians—gay as well as straight—whose experience of traditional teaching is overwhelmingly toxic. Many eventually find their way to more progressive interpretations of Scripture; many others leave the faith; and still others keep holding onto traditional teaching even as they find themselves isolated and alone in their church communities.
In my own life, I experienced tremendous internal shame over my sexuality for many years, believing that same-sex attraction was a sign of God’s judgment and that I was destined to burn in hell as a result. This was a direct result of homophobic and heterosexist mindsets masquerading as “traditional teaching” in my Christian context. There was nothing biblical about it.
While this experience was undoubtedly traumatizing for me, as it is for many others, I don’t believe that traditional teaching is by definition repressive for LGBTQ people. Instead, I believe that sinful cultural systems attached themselves to the historic understanding of Scripture, and over time, these fallen belief systems have turned what was once a liberating ethic into a spiritual prison.
I believe that reclaiming traditional teaching as a liberating theology is essential for LGBTQ people to flourish in the church. As long as LGBTQ people have freedom of conscience, there will be many of us who remain convinced of traditional teaching and, as a result, need healthy ways to live out these beliefs—ways that are life-giving instead of toxic.
How can you be celibate and not self-hating?
For many LGBTQ people, celibacy represents the repressive dynamics of toxic theological systems, where celibacy is forced upon gay people and space to ask questions, think for yourself, and make your own decisions is unacceptable. In these contexts, celibacy is anything but liberating and often fosters spiritual abuse.
However, I don’t believe that celibacy is inherently repressive in and of itself. The problem, rather, is the ways in which many Christians approach it, particularly for LGBTQ people. For me, unlike the stories of many, discovering celibacy was a liberating experience because it offered me an alternative pathway for building family and community that didn’t depend upon sex and marriage. It didn’t come to me as a mandate but rather as a welcome choice that was uniquely queer, in that it subverts heterosexual idols surrounding marriage and family, but also Christian, in that it foreshadows the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
On this blog, I want to help people access celibacy in healthier ways. I believe it’s crucial that Christians deconstruct the reasons why celibacy is such a negative experience for so many people, especially LGBTQ, and ultimately find better ways to practice it that don’t result in shame and abuse. Until celibacy is a product of spiritual freedom in a person’s life instead of bondage, Christian community as a whole will suffer, with LGBTQ people experiencing the worst of it.
Do gay people need to be celibate in order to be Christian?
No, gay people do not need to be celibate in order to be Christian. I have many friends who are Christians who take the Bible seriously and yet come to a different interpretation than I do when it comes to sexual ethics. This does not make them less of a Christian or less of a good Christian. It simply reflects the complexity of interpreting God’s Word and applying it to our lives. Not every Christian is going to come to the same conclusion when it comes to secondary theological debates, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the primary doctrines that make us Christians in the first place are spelled out clearly in the ancient creeds of the Christian faith. While we may disagree over matters of conscience when it comes to sexual ethics, we are still unified by One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.
Can gay people get married to the same sex and still be Christian?
Yes, gay people can get married to the same sex and still be Christian. As I stated in response to the previous question, I have many friends who take the Bible seriously and yet come to a different understanding of marriage than I do. These friends are no better or worse than me in following Jesus. In the same way that I respect the faith of my straight Christian friends who practice sexual ethics in ways that don’t necessarily reflect my own beliefs, I similarly respect the faith of my gay friends who practice sexual ethics differently than I do. How a Christian defines and understands marriage does not ultimately determine their eternal destination nor does it make them a “bad” Christian for coming to one conclusion or another.
Does this mean you think I'm living in sin for marrying my same-sex partner?
The short answer is no, I don’t think you are living in sin. But a lot of people can’t see how this could possibly be compatible with traditional beliefs. So here’s the longer answer:
The Bible says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1). This note of caution is repeated throughout Scripture. In James 4:12, the Bible says, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Similarly, the Bible says in Romans 14:10-13, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… each of us will give an account of himself to God” (emphasis mine).
Each of us will give an account of their own life, not others. This means it’s not my job to sit in judgment over you and, either thinking it or saying it, accuse you of sin. Instead, my job is to live my own life with a free conscience before God. If you also live your life with a free conscience, who am I to judge? As Christians, we are both clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:30). This is what matters. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:3-4). You may have different convictions than I do about the same theological question, but the Lord makes the both of us stand. This is what it means to be covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Why do you call yourself a lesbian?
I call myself a lesbian because it’s the best word I’ve found to describe my experience as a relational being. The word “lesbian” (as well as “gay”) carries with it a meaning that extends beyond sexual attraction to include the complexity of what it means to inhabit the world in a uniquely non-heterosexual way. It contrasts against language like “homosexual” and “same-sex attracted” in that it’s not inherently defined by sex but rather by one’s holistic relational experience, which may or may not include sexual attraction. I have gay and lesbian friends who are asexual, for example, and yet still describe themselves as gay and lesbian. This speaks to the ways in which LGBTQ language attempts to better capture the humanity of a person’s lived experience—which looks different for every person—instead of fixating upon one thing (like sex) and defining people by it.
In general, queer language is constantly evolving because LGBTQ people are constantly searching for better ways to express their lived experience. The word “queer,” for example, was universally considered a slur only a few decades ago, and yet today LGBTQ people have reclaimed it as a source of pride. This process of reclaiming words and developing new and better language is an important part of pushing back against Freudian pathology and stigma.
Isn't it a contradiction to say that you are gay and Christian?
Many Christians mistakenly believe that being gay is opposed to Christianity as a matter of definition. In my own experience, I legitimately believed for many years that gay people were subject to God’s judgment by default. However, far from being an accurate portrayal of what it means to be gay, this narrative perpetuates stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against gay people, branding them as inherently sinful and anti-Christian regardless of how they choose to live. This ultimately promotes an environment where gay people—and LGBTQ people more broadly—find themselves permanently relegated to a pariah status within the church.
I believe that correcting this narrative is crucial. Promoting a church culture that is healthy and life-giving for LGBTQ people simply cannot happen when LGBTQ people are stigmatized as being “anti-Christian” from the get-go. The misguided belief that there is “no such thing as a gay Christian” is particularly harmful, communicating to gay people that they are somehow beyond the reach of God’s grace. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it denies a core tenet of the Christian faith—that God’s grace is a free gift to all. Until the church becomes a place where LGBTQ Christians are seen as being equal in standing to cisgender heterosexual Christians—made in the image of God with the same potential to rise as well as fall—Christian communities will continue to perpetuate prejudice that subverts the truth of the Gospel message.
Aren't you identifying with sin by calling yourself a lesbian?
Many Christians mistakenly believe that being gay is inherently sinful. To them, the gay experience is defined in its essence by sexual perversion, and to speak positively about it is to celebrate sin. This perspective is an unfortunate remnant of Freudian psychopathology, wherein psychologists and medical professionals pathologized gay people as “sexually perverted” in an effort to make them heterosexual. The ex-gay movement adopted this perspective, defining the gay experience as inherent sinful (or “perverse”) and therefore needing a “cure” in the form of conversion therapy. Such thinking leads countless LGBTQ people to mental anguish and despair, causing them to believe that they will never be acceptable to God until they stop being queer altogether, a goal that is simply unattainable for most LGBTQ people.
Once again, I believe that correcting this narrative is crucial. The LGBTQ experience is no more defined by sin and shame than the cisgender heterosexual experience. Both contain unique temptations but also unique avenues of grace. Neither is better or worse than the other because of their differences. Rather, both are part of the diverse array of human experiences that characterize creation. Cisgender heterosexual people may sin in a variety of ways that never tempt LGBTQ people. But just as cisgender heterosexual people aren’t defined by their unique sins, so too are LGBTQ people not defined by their own unique sins. Both groups are made in the image of God, and both groups are defined by God’s grace.
Why don't you call yourself "same-sex-attracted"?
The biggest reason I don’t call myself “same-sex-attracted” is due to its problematic association with the ex-gay movement. This phrase is a direct descendent of the term “homosexual” which was itself coined by 19th century sexologists who laid the groundwork for pathologizing and stigmatizing gays and lesbians. The term “same-sex-attracted” further centralizes the word “sex” as a focal point of the gay experience and often encourages Christians to obsess over gay people’s sexual attraction instead of seeing them as holistic persons made in the image of God. You can read more about my additional thoughts on the term “same-sex-attracted” by reading my series on the topic: Gay or Same-Sex-Attracted?
Should gay people pray for God to change their attractions?
The idea that gay people need to pray for God to change their sexual attractions is rooted in the ex-gay movement. Ex-gay theology teaches that gay people are inherently sinful for being gay in a way that straight people are not inherently sinful for being straight. As a result, gay people are expected to “pray the gay away,” meaning they must achieve some kind of asexual aromantic existence or else become straight. Not only is this type of expectation not found in the Bible, but studies show that forcing people to change their orientation does tremendous psychological damage and doesn’t even work.
Ex-gay theology ultimately elevates cisgender heterosexuality as an ideal that all people must pursue in order to be holy. In reality, however, every person’s experience of gender and sexuality is fallen—straight people no less than gay—and every person’s experience of gender and sexuality also contains unique avenues of grace—gay people no less than straight. Scripture calls upon Christians to steward our gender and sexuality for God’s glory and our own good. This doesn’t mean we all need to have the same experience. Rather, we must seek God’s wisdom in discerning how to live. LGBTQ Christians may walk different paths in stewarding their gender and sexuality compared to cisgender heterosexual people, but these paths are no less ordained by God than the paths of cisgender heterosexual Christians. Just because a person’s journey is queer does not make it sinful any more than a journey being straight makes it holy.
Is it a sin to experience same-sex attraction?
A number of Christians argue that same-sex attraction itself is a sin. The argument goes something like this: Gay sex is a sin. Desiring to commit a sinful act is a sin. Therefore, same-sex attraction is a sin.
However, this argument has a number of weaknesses. Most notably, it conflates “same-sex attraction” with the “desire to commit a sinful act” as though the two are synonymous. But they are not. In fact, attraction is an incredibly complex human experience that cannot be reduced to any single thing. It’s certainly not reducible to sexual attraction alone, and even sexual attraction is not reducible to the desire for sex alone. Consider the butterflies in your stomach when someone you “like” says hello to you. You’d be offended if I suggested that all you wanted to do in that moment was jump into their pants. In fact, you’d be offended if I suggested that this was on your mind at all.
Attraction is a complex phenomenon and is better defined by what draws us to some people instead of others as opposed to being defined by sex. This means that sex is sometimes part of the “attraction equation,” but a lot of times it’s not. A lot of times it’s just butterflies in your stomach. Other times, it’s your heart racing. Still others, it’s merely that you happen to feel safe and “home” with a particular person and you can’t explain why.
All of this and more encompasses what it means to experience attraction and impacts everything about how we inhabit the world as relational beings. It’s not a sin to experience same-sex attraction. It’s simply a different experience than opposite-sex attraction. God calls straight people to steward their attractions just as God calls gay people to steward their attractions. Sometimes straight people will steward things poorly and fall into sin just as gay people can steward things poorly and also fall into sin. But neither experience is inherently sinful. Both are fallen, yes. But both also offer unique opportunities to walk in faithfulness to God.
Is homosexuality a result of the Fall?
Many Christians believe that homosexuality is a “result of the Fall” in the sense that same-sex attraction would not exist if sin had not corrupted the human race. In this sense, they believe that homosexuality is a mark of sin in the sense that it reflects the brokenness of the world much like pain and suffering. In a perfect world, they say, homosexuality would not exist.
I don’t particularly find this line of discussion useful for a couple of reasons. First and most importantly, in a perfect world, if we apply the above logic consistently, heterosexuality wouldn’t exist either. After all, generalized attraction to the opposite sex is strongly correlated to the vast majority of sexual sin that exists in the world today, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. Assuming a traditional approach to Scripture, Nate Collins observes in his book All But Invisible that if we really want to start talking about the kind of sexuality that would exist in a “perfect” world, we’d need to talk about a type of uni-hetero-monogamous sexuality—wherein you experience absolutely NO sexual attraction to anyone except your spouse and only your spouse—that is completely alien to the vast majority of Christians today, gay or straight.
I also don’t find this discussion particularly useful because it doesn’t actually change anything. Just because something is a “result of the Fall” doesn’t make it necessarily a bad thing. Most of us, if not all, wouldn’t exist apart from the Fall as most of us have rapists and harlots and serial adulterers up and down our family tree. Jesus himself had a harlot (Rahab), a murderer and rapist (David), a serial adulterer/womanizer (Solomon), and two evil kings (Ahaz and Joash) in his lineage. Unlike Jesus who is perfect, however, we are fallen. Nevertheless, the fact that we are birthed not only into sin but also through sin doesn’t make us less precious in God’s sight, nor does it make us less made in God’s image.
If homosexuality is a “result of the fall,” then so is everything else in the world today, including heterosexuality. Nothing escapes brokenness except Jesus, and this is the reason we need a Savior—straight people no less than gay.
How do you interpret Romans 1:27?
Romans 1:24-27 says the following:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
This passage is part of an infamous group called the “clobber passages,” a name referring to the ways in which many Christians use Scripture to “clobber” gay people. I myself follow a traditional reading of this passage, which means that I believe it prohibits same-sex sexual activity (to check out a more progressive take on this passage, click here). However, I find it interesting that most people focus almost exclusively upon homosexuality when talking about this passage. While a traditional reading of Romans 1:27 does include a prohibition of same-sex intercourse, this is not necessarily the main takeaway. In fact, if we accept the interpretation of most Christians historically, this passage represents a prohibition upon the sex lives of the vast majority of conservative Christians today.
The reason is that most Christians—as much as 99 percent—practice contraceptive sex, and contraceptive sex is “unnatural.” Romans 1:24-27 speaks specifically against “unnatural relations,” which is not just limited to gay sex. In fact, for most of Christian history, Christians believed that “unnatural relations” referred to all sexual activity that was non-procreative. Most acts of sodomy were equally heterosexual or homosexual (such us oral sex, anal sex, and mutual masturbation), and Martin Luther called contraception a “Sodomitic sin.”
Indeed, Romans 1:24-27 did not come to be exclusively associated with homosexuality until after the popularization of Freudian psychology in the 20th century. Before then, this passage was considered a prohibition against all sexual relations that subverted the procreative capacity of sexual intercourse. While we focus almost exclusively on homosexuality in this passage, most Christians historically focused on the problem of subverting procreation. Choosing to pursue sex for its own sake, divorced from God’s design in procreation, was considered a product of unrestrained lust however it emerged.
This is important because many Christians call upon a traditional reading of this passage to condemn gay people without ever considering that a traditional reading likely condemns their own lifestyle as well. My point is not to suggest that 99 percent of sexually active Christians are living in sin. Rather, my point is to remind readers that “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt. 7:2). With this in mind, if we ourselves want grace in the application of Scripture in our own lives, we need to be willing to give it to other people too. Even though I follow a traditional reading of this passage in my own faith journey, most people don’t. Ironically it’s typically straight Christians, not gay Christians, who apply a more modern, progressive interpretation of this passage to their own life. In the same way that I give straight Christians grace in choosing to practice contraception despite traditional teaching, I also need to give gay Christians grace, recognizing that the process of interpreting and applying Scripture is difficult for everyone, gay people no more than straight.
Does this response generate more questions than answers? I talk at greater length about this topic in my book, Heavy Burdens: 7 Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church (Brazos Press, Fall 2021).
How do you interpret 1 Corinthians 6:9-10?
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says the following:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The phrase “men who practice homosexuality” is the ESV’s translation of two Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai. The ESV includes a footnote that says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” However, this is a gross misrepresentation of the complexities at play in this passage.
To begin with, ancient Greek and Roman culture did not understand the concept of “consent” when it came to sexual intercourse. Sexual activity was a performance of conquest in which a male displayed his dominance over others. In this context, “consensual” sex was not a part of the equation, so to say that malakoi and arsenokoitai refer to “consensual” sex between partners disregards the ways in which sexuality was understood in the context of ancient Rome.
In addition, the concept of “homosexuality” is a modern category popularized by Freudian psychology. This word did not exist in ancient Rome, and neither malakoi nor arsenokoitai reflect the meaning of homosexuality. To say that “men who practice homosexuality” is a good translation of these two ancient words is anachronistic. Ancient Rome did not understand sexuality through the categories of “sexual orientation” but rather as an expression of power and dominance. To force words like “homosexuality” into the ancient text is therefore a gross mishandling of the Word of God.
Ultimately, I do not believe this passage, nor the previous passage (Romans 1:27), are sufficient in and of themselves to build a strong enough case against same-sex marriage. While I follow a traditional reading of Scripture, I believe a better case for traditional sexual ethics is made using the holistic narrative of God’s Word instead of relying upon a few proof-texts. When we build a holistic vision—using the full weight of the biblical narrative—of the historic Christian teaching on sexual ethics, then the proof-texts make sense within that framework. Putting the proof-texts first in an effort to make a point about sex and marriage is ultimately putting the cart before the horse.
Didn’t find what you were looking for?
Check out my book:
Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church
***Foreword INDIES 2021 Finalist for Religion***
Religious faith reduces the risk of suicide for virtually every American demographic except one: LGBTQ people. It’s past time that Christians confronted the ongoing and devastating effects of this legacy.
Rivera calls to mind Jesus’s woe to religious leaders: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:4). Heavy Burdens provides an honest account of seven ways LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the church, helping Christians grapple with hard realities and empowering churches across the theological spectrum to navigate better paths forward.
Breaking down the issues both historically and socially, Heavy Burdens (Brazos Press, 2021) provides an honest account of the ways in which LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the church, helping Christians grapple with hard realities and empowering churches to navigate a better path forward.
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Meditations of a Traveling Nun
Orthodox Theology for the Liberated Christian
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