I understand some folks found the last blog a bit heavy. Apologies. This one will be significantly shorter and hopefully much easier.
I ended the last blog saying that I believe scripture cannot, and must not, be used to beat up on LGBTQ+ people. My conclusion has been that there are no passages in the Bible that can be used to exclude people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community from normal church life, nor condemn them for being lesbian, gay, bi-, trans* or whatever.
In addition, although we have been concentrating on theology we have we have also looked at the fields of Christian ethics, biology, psychology, genetics, mathematics/statistics, and philosophy – and none of them show any surprise at the existence of people with varying expressions of gender and sexual orientation. They are all to be logically expected, and it would be a surprise if we didn’t have an LGBT community.
This time, I’m turning my focus to look at the issue of celibacy. In a sense this should be a non-issue, given what has gone before, but this is an important issue, because religious groups, and Christians in particular, have weaponized it by saying: “we all know that being an active homosexual is wrong, so if you want to play a part in the life of this church, you need to be celibate”.
As I’ve said before, this was the line I took with someone close to me probably about 30 years ago, when they told me they were gay, and asked if I thought they could still have a place in a church. My response was so wrong, and sometime about 2015, I had to go back to him and ask him to forgive my attitude, and for any contribution I made to his leaving the church.
At the time, I really didn’t know anything about homosexuality and spoke out of my ignorance. For me, homosexuality was something I had read about, or heard others talk about, but it just didn’t affect me or my world. It was something over there, and I was over here. The homosexuals I had read about in the press, were painted as “predators and perverts”. When I was a child, a neighbour a few doors away was arrested for his “alleged” interest in young boys, and I remember being asked whether he had approached me. Knowing what I know now, I wonder whether that was simply a trumped-up charge to get him for simply being gay, or whether he really was a predator. I’ll never know, but my suspicion is, he wasn’t a predator, whatever the Met Police of the sixties would have argued.
Anyway, the damage was done – I guess in the formation of my own attitudes and in how I reacted to that person asking whether God could still have a place in his life. If only I knew then what I know now! The good thing is that my relationship with that person is now probably deeper and closer than it had been previously.
Getting back to celibacy, the problem for many/most Christians is that being gay, or lesbian is seen as a sexual sin, so if there is no sex, the problem magically goes away! That is very shallow and a complete failure to understand what is going on.
For one thing, taking a vow of celibacy (because that is what is being demanded, though Christians will never talk in terms of “taking a vow”) is, always and only, something done in response to a “call from God”.
To add some context, of the 613 commandments in the Torah, the first command is to “be fruitful and multiply”. It is the very first thing God says to humankind (see Genesis 1: 27-28) – even before “Hi, how’re you doing!” “Be fruitful and multiply” is seen as the established duty for all – to bear children. In addition to which, wealth and children are always seen in Scripture as being signs of God’s blessing. In the Talmud, “…poverty is worse than all the plagues of Egypt.”- Baba Bathra 116a (Babylonian Talmud).
So, being poor or having no children is seen as God having failed to bless you, so, why would you willingly place yourself in that position where God doesn’t bless you? Therefore, a calling to celibacy is regarded as very unusual – the idea of deliberately turning your face against, or sacrificing, the blessing of God on your life. Both Jesus and Paul addressed celibacy, but it is clear from their words that it can only be seen as a special calling or ministry of God. It cannot, and must not, be imposed by one person on another – that is unscriptural and abusive. Jesus says, in Matthew 19: 12 – “… others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” [My emphasis]
The clear implication is that not everyone can, and neither does he expect everyone, to accept it, but a few will – like the apostle Paul. The context here clearly sees his own followers (down through the ages) being represented on both sides of that fence and note: their salvation is NOT being threatened if they can’t accept it. Celibacy is a gift, not a punishment – it certainly is not enforced, as Jesus taught in that last passage – and it must not be seen as an obligation.
It is always and entirely voluntary, so when churches insist on celibacy, they have failed to understand the scriptural teaching.
We have mentioned Jesus’ comments above, so what are we to make of Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 7: 8-9? It reads: 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Once again celibacy is voluntary, and is a ‘calling’. Paul may have been talking to the heterosexual majority here, but he recognises the principal that a committed relationship is far better than being unable to control one’s passions.
What do you see as some of the problems with enforced celibacy? As I have never had to face this head-on, I won’t have all the answers, so perhaps you can let me know what you see as problems. Here are a few to get you started:
- I have no control because someone else is controlling the narrative.
- Because I don’t own the decision, I feel resentment or antipathy, as I have been forced to accept it. That will never end well, as we have seen from religious orders where celibacy is a requirement. How many children have been fathered by supposedly celibate priests? How much abuse has been inflicted by those in religious orders who have not personally been parents.
- Aloneness or loneliness because I have been forced to unwillingly accept singleness.
- Loss of hope, which sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts and suicide itself. Check the statistics yourself.
- The sense of guilt and jealousy for still wanting to experience the giving and receiving of love, but knowing it could lead to something you are not allowed to enjoy, although all those around you are free to do so.
If you have made a personal decision to remain celibate for life, or perhaps just a specific period of years (maybe God has called you to another country, and for the duration of the contract you have vowed to remain celibate/not to get involved with anyone till you return home), the power of all those issues is largely removed, because you are the one in control. You have made the choice and set the parameters.
So how do we respond? I will spend more time on the issue of marriage in chapter 15, but some will insist that the only other way out of the situation of acting on a gay desire, is for them to marry someone who is straight. Does this really happen? Sadly, yes, and there are many examples. Personally I find this equally unbiblical. Why?
- Mixed orientation marriages are very likely to fail because they will come under greater stresses than conventional marriage. Neither partner will receive the love and affection they truly crave. Also, if there is no lasting attraction to the partner, the marriage is likely to be doomed. And it’s probably doomed even if there is an attraction. It’s difficult to get through all the difficult times on commitment alone – one partner, or the other, will crack. I’ll come back to this shortly.
- Little, or no, consideration is given for the straight partner and what they want, or need, or what might be best for them. Over time, this will bring it’s own difficulties.
- There is falsehood at the core of the idea that: once the “marriage” has taken place, everything will now be okay.
- Frequently there may have been an aspect of spiritual abuse that has been a part of the process: “You want to please God don’t you, you know you’ll make him happy if you …?”
- Sometimes it’s the gay person who has thought that “if I marry within the convention society expects, God will help us work it out, because He’ll recognise the sacrifice I/we’ve made.” Unfortunately, this is woolly thinking, as it doesn’t work like that.
In 2 Corinthians 6: 14 Paul teaches we should not marry unbelievers because our faith comes before everything else, and frequently it is hard for Christians to fulfil their spiritual potential when there is little or no encouragement, and sometimes outright discouragement, at home. I believe mixed orientation marriages are potentially even more damaging, emotionally and psychologically.
In the essay I give several examples of couples where one of the partners is gay, and the other straight. In most instances, the marriage eventually failed even though all those involved loved their partners and worked hard in their determination to make the marriage succeed. However, the common thread was that they couldn’t give what their spouse needed to thrive.
I use the examples of Chris Adams (whose story I came across in 2017, but, as I write this, is currently on the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee) and his unnamed former wife; Rev Dr Mel and Lyla White; and Josh and Lolly Weed. Check the links in the chapter for their full stories. Who is that last couple? Josh Weed is a Mormon who’s blog was very helpful, and parallels articles I’ve read from Christians elsewhere.
Josh tells us that from puberty had realised he was gay, but nevertheless married Lolly, his best friend. She went into the marriage fully aware of his orientation, and the story of their deep love for one another can be found here: http://joshweed.com/club-unicorn-come-closet-ten-year-anniversary/ and here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frenchrevolution/2016/02/18/club-unicorn-gay-mormon-married/. However, after being married for 10 years, problems started to arise, and after a bit over 15 years, Josh and Lolly decided to divorce, and the story is told on the web page: http://joshweed.com/turning-unicorn-bat-post-announce-end-marriage/. I quote an extract in the chapter, and I also include it here. It shows a little of the pain they experienced:
“… we were suddenly able to see more clearly the pain that my sexual orientation brought to our marriage. It hurt us both very deeply, and we spent many long nights holding one another and weeping as we thought of the decades to come for us, neither of us experiencing real romantic love. We were determined to work hard to help make sure that nobody else felt pressured to enter into marriages like ours, or had to feel the intense pain our love for each other brought us during those long, dark nights.”
It makes sad reading, and perhaps it is reading all of these stories that has convinced me that mixed orientation marriages do not reflect the heart of God, and don’t glorify Him. From where I stand, it doesn’t matter if one or two succeed, the fact that most fail, ought to highlight that it is a very bad idea, even if both parties to the marriage know what they are getting into at the get-go. It is unlikely they’ll still feel the same in 20/30/40years.
To conclude: we know that mandatory celibacy is not an option, and mixed orientation marriage is not an option, but we also know from the Creation story of Genesis 2, that God observed it was not good that a person be alone. So, where do we go to next? We are running out of options. If we remain non-affirming, in spite of the evidence, I guess we must look at healing, and we will do that next time. The logic is that if we insist God says it’s wrong to be gay, and I am biologically unable to be anything other than gay, then God has a moral obligation to change me to straight. After all, salvation is guaranteed for all who ask Him. Salvation isn’t just available for a small proportion of those who ask, it is available for all, so if I am powerless to change my orientation, God must make it possible for everyone to change, without exception. If they cannot change, the logical conclusion is that God is happy with His creation just as it is.
So next time we will explore the issue of healing and the really hot issue of conversion therapy which is currently being considered by the UK government. Having got this far, with me, I’m sure you can guess my stance on both of those issues! Will there be any surprises? Hmmm…
I always enjoy receiving helpful comments. Do you agree with my stance? How do we differ? What do you think? Have I missed something? Do you have information I haven’t referred to here or in the essay? We all have different backgrounds and different ways of understanding, and different influences. You can use the Contact page or email me on: email@example.com.