This is the fifth post in a month-long series on “celibate gay pride,” exploring the glory of God as revealed in the lives of celibate gay Christians. I’d like to publish about 1-2 posts every week over the month of June. But I need your help! The more feedback I get, the more I can make things relevant. As the series progresses, please comment below or share your thoughts via private message. Any interaction will be a HUGE help as I tailor the content. Suggestions and requests are 100 percent welcome!
Also, I’m specifically talking about and for celibate gay Christians in this series. To be clear: this is not an argument for why gay Christians ought to be celibate. I want to clarify this at the outset, because I often receive various criticisms from non-celibate gay people who tell me that my arguments aren’t convincing. But there’s a reason for that. I’m not trying to make arguments for or against any particular sexual ethic in my blog. This blog is simply for LGBT+ Christians who believe in the traditional sexual ethic. It’s not a blog for convincing LGBT+ Christians to accept a sexual ethic they don’t believe in, and I do not believe that all LGBT+ Christians must accept this ethic. However, many LGBT+ Christians nevertheless do live by the traditional sexual ethic. So if you’re interested in learning about celibate gay believers (and/or the larger LGBT+ community that believes in the traditional sexual ethic), then by all means read on.
For more posts in this series:
- Are Celibate Gay Christians Allowed to Have Pride?
- Take It From an Expert: Same-Sex Attraction Is More Than Just Sexual
- Gay Attractions Create the Context for More Than Just Sin
- Gay People Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
- Same-Sex Love is Good and Beautiful
- God’s Unique Blessings in the LGBT+ Experience of Christians
- LGBT+ Christians: When Unlikely People Are God’s Greatest Champions
Unfortunately, far too many gay and lesbian Christians hear from the church that same-sex attractions have no purpose in the Christian life. Denial is their only end. But such thinking obscures the reality that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians actually desire a good worth pursuing. If you accept the historic understanding of Biblical sexuality, then same-sex love is not sexual. Even more, same-sex love is good.
Sadly, too many Christians accept the Freudian conflation of love and sex. The idea of men loving men and women loving women so offends the sexualized ears of many believers that merely suggesting such a thing could be good creates outrage. But as Wesley Hill observed in a recent blog post, “It’s not a sin for men to love men, or women to love women. On the contrary.”
On the contrary indeed. God commands it: “[F]or he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen… whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). God brings people into relationship for the purpose of loving each other, and gay people are included in that purpose.
Love is the Foundation of Christian Community
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is the defining attribute of Christian community and central to the greatest commandments of the Christian life (Mark 12:30-31). God commands his people to love and expects his people to love. Such is the defining mark of Christian community.
So if love itself creates scandal, then church community becomes impossible. But that’s where we find ourselves today. Our sexual suspicion of each other is systematically destroying our ability to see people as anything more than occasions for sin. Married men across the country learn from the pulpit that practices which intentionally limit their ability to develop relationships with women are not only good but necessary. Men and women “can’t be friends.” We must “avoid the appearance of sin.”
But such behavior contradicts the exhortation of scripture to treat and love each other like members of a family. Older men should be our fathers, and younger men our brothers; older women our mothers, and younger women our sisters (1 Tim 5:1-2). Something is terribly wrong when a brother and sister don’t feel safe to be alone together. Or a father with his daughter. But such is the state of our spiritual family in the church.
I’m reminded of Matthew Lee Anderson’s recent article which criticized Denny Burk’s insistence on defining the permissibility of a relationship by it’s “sexual possibility”:
“Presumably the use of ‘sexual’ here references some kind of act ordered toward the arousal of sexual organs. Put that way, though, every relationship we have has that possibility. It would be interesting to know which set of relationships Burk thinks have transcended the realm of sexuality, so that the decisions, desires, and dispositions that would lead toward sexual arousal are no longer a possibility.”
Rest assured, when Christians define the morality of any relationship by the licit or illicit possibility of sexual activity, they destroy the very foundation upon which Christian community is built. Love between anyone is impossible when fear of sin reigns supreme.
Gay People Need Love
Sexual suspicion creates a context of relational impossibility for the gay person. Same-sex friendships fall under automatic suspicion, but so do friendships with the opposite sex! As a gay woman, for example, the vast majority of my relationships with males abruptly end when said males begin romantic relationships (hats off to the cultural condition described above). Moreover (thanks again to the above logic), if I appear to be even remotely close to another woman, the relationship falls under scrutiny. Such a twisted relational atmosphere makes close friendship literally impossible.
When sexual suspicion dominates our interactions, we reduce our relational motivations to the desire for genital expression and nothing more, ignoring the multitude of God-given reasons for pursuing relationship with another person. In reality, the vast majority of reasons for pursuing relationships have nothing to do with sex, just as the vast majority of interpersonal attractions have nothing to do with sex. Community, friendship, understanding, companionship, camaraderie, solidarity, support, accountability — I could keep going but the list would be endless. The desire for relational intimacy reflects a God-given need for all of these things. Things intrinsic to our design as relational creatures.
Human beings are interpersonal, and God made us that way. So when we interpret the relationships of gay people — or anyone — as nothing more than occasions for sin, we not only deny their relational needs, we ultimately deny their humanity.
The Love of Christ Leaves No Room For Fear of Sin
Fear of sin makes a poor foundation for relationship. It erodes trust and casts everything under a lens of suspicion. Instead, in the words of the apostle John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear makes love impossible. But when we love and love well, we have nothing to fear.
When Christians make decisions based upon fear of sin, they deny the Spirit of Christ at work in the saints. In the words of Paul, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Indeed, one of the greatest triumphs of the Gospel is that followers of Christ experience freedom from slavery to sin. The “spirit of fear to fall back into slavery” (Rom. 8:15) no longer reigns in the Christian life. Such Gospel truth liberates the Christian to live with boldness in a world weighed down by sin and shame.
Scripture certainly calls upon Christians to flee from sin and temptation (James 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Cor. 6:18), but a Gospel life is nevertheless not characterized by avoidance of sin but by pursuit of love. In fact, when we consider that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), it soon becomes clear that the best way to flee sin and temptation in our relationships is not by loving less but by loving more and loving better.
Loving Well, Not Less
In a world where gay Christians feel surrounded by those who fear the love that we offer, the Bible shows gay people how to love. A far cry from fearing it! As I’ve mentioned previously, all people experience non-sexual same-sex attraction. Same-sex friendships wouldn’t exist otherwise. Just as I think it’s fair to say that gay Christians experience a much greater intensity of those attractions than straight people, I think it’s also fair to say that gay Christians have the opportunity to love their same-sex friends with a much greater depth than many straight people. And that’s not something to fear.
Far from creating an occasion for sin, same-sex attraction creates an outlet for gay Christians to love their same-sex friends with a profundity that straight Christians don’t often experience but through which all Christians are blessed. Could this be distorted? Like all good things, yes. But to recognize the distortion of a gift is to recognize the existence of a gift in the first place.
Understood rightly, same-sex attraction positions the gay Christian to love. And sin has no place in relationships characterized by God’s love. When we love another person in the love that comes from God, we find ourselves liberated not merely from sexual sin but all relational sin.
Freedom to Love
If the gospel sets us free from “the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Rom. 8:15), then the love of Christ in same-sex relationships breeds holiness, not sin. And not sex. It’s for this love that God made us, and it’s through this love that he shapes us.
So let’s celebrate a gay person’s love. Let’s not define their love by sex and sin. Instead, let’s rejoice in the love of Christ as gay people display it. Let’s recognize the distortion of a gay person’s love just as we would recognize the distortion of a straight person’s love. But let’s not use the distortion of a good thing as reason to discard it.
Ultimately, the scandalization of love threatens the moral fabric of Christian community. Love is good. God made it, and he calls people to pursue it, regardless of orientation. So let’s rejoice that gay people can love.