“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.” ― Albert Camus, The Fall link
There are so many things that I want to write about. Since Deb will be out of pocket for the next week, I will be writing the posts. Do not be surprised if I write a few extra posts next week. I am in the mood.
Years ago, when my little daughter was suffering from brain tumor, I felt overwhelmed with the difficulties of managing my other children while coping with my own feelings of overwhelming pain for my daughter and fear for her future. My husband had to maintain his job so that we had the insurance to help pay for the medical bills. I felt quite lonely even though I had wonderful friends who supported me, helping with my other children and making meals for us. How does one explain the pain and fears to others who are not experiencing it?
I was directed to a group that dealt with the difficulties of having a child with a serious brain tumor. I found great comfort in the group as we discussed our issues. Children's Hospital in Dallas provided professionals to help us work through all sorts of things. It was so comforting to be with a group of people who got it even if I didn't say a word.
I grew to understand the importance of the support such groups offer. We formed friendships and held each other up through the inevitable pain and sorrows that arose.
That is why I was excited when I learned about the development of Spiritual Friendship amongst celibate gays. Before I go any further, I would ask that we keep this discussion centered around those gay Christians who have decided that they believe they should remain celibate. This is important to this post because I want to show that even when individuals make decisions that should be acceptable to conservative Christians, they still get criticized.
Wesley Hill is the celibate gay author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Here is how it is described at Amazon.
"Gay," "Christian," and “celibate” don't often appear in the same sentence. Yet many who sit next to us in the pew at church fit that description, says author Wesley Hill. As a celibate gay Christian, Hill gives us a glimpse of what it looks like to wrestle firsthand with God's "No" to same-sex relationships.
What does it mean for gay Christians to live faithful to God while struggling with the challenge of their homosexuality? What is God's will for believers who experience same-sex desires? Those who choose celibacy are often left to deal with loneliness and the hunger for relationships. How can gay Christians experience God's favor and blessing in the midst of a struggle that for many brings a crippling sense of shame and guilt?
Weaving together reflections from his own life and the lives of other Christians, such as Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hill offers a fresh perspective on these questions. He advocates neither unqualified "healing" for those who struggle, nor their accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.
"I hope this book may encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ," Hill writes. "In so doing, they may find, as I have, by grace, that being known is spiritually healthier than remaining behind closed doors, that the light is better than the darkness.
The failure of reparative therapy is now accepted by some conservative Christian leaders and by most secular professionals.
I believe that, in most instances, reparative therapy is ineffective. Interestingly, so does Russell Moore who is the president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, good friend of Al Mohler (who disagrees), Neo-Calvinist, and a known conservative. Here is what he had to say to a group of journalists:
“The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told journalists. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”
If reparative therapy is ineffective, then, for many gay Christians, celibacy is the only alternative. So, let's assume the following paradigm for the sake of this post. A gay man has committed himself to the celibate Christian lifestyle. What now?
Spiritual Friendship: "Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness."
How then does a permanently single gay person live? Wesley Hill and a group of other celibate LGBT and their friends have developed the idea of Spiritual Friendship. Here is how they describe it link.
Reading Aelred of Rievaulx’s little treatise On Spiritual Friendship as an undergraduate was a life-changing experience for me. Aelred, a 12th-century Cistercian abbot, insists that we need to test our beliefs about friendship with Scripture. The treatise is a series of dialogues in which three monks join Aelred to examine their ideas about friendship in light of their Christian faith.
One of Aelred’s insights made a big impact on me. He points out that friendship is based on shared goals, and distinguishes between different kinds of friendship: carnal friendship, based on shared pursuit of pleasure; worldly friendship, based on mutual advantage; and spiritual friendship, grounded in shared discipleship.
The dialogues helped me to see that although Christian discipleship is costly, it need not be lonely. Our culture has become very fixated on sex, but sex and romance are not the same as love. Nor is Christian love the same as the kind of casual friendship that is common in our culture (Facebook informs me that I currently have 554 “friends”).
Aelred insists that, contrary to the transitory nature of so many contemporary friendships, a friend in Christ “loves always” (Proverbs 17:17). He and the other monks discuss how to select and cultivate lasting and Christ-centered friendships.
Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I just to be left out in the cold?
Aelred helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance. Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.
As I read through this thoughtful website, I thought back to my conversation with Justin Lee. During our time together, he raised the issue of the difficulties with a celibate lifestyle. He discussed loneliness, the need for supportive and loving friends, and wondered if friendships could form in which they resemble a mini-family- celebrating holidays together and going on vacations with one another.
So, naturally, I thought spiritual friendship was an awesome idea whose time had come. I couldn't imagine anyone being against it. I was startled to find out that even celibacy isn't good enough for some Christians.
Gay Christians choosing celibacy emerge from the shadows.
The Washington Post looked at the growing phenomena of gay, celibate Christians. It pointed at the controversy surrounding this movement.
The reaction among church leaders themselves has been mixed, with some praising the celibacy movement as a valid way to be both gay and Christian. But others have returned to the central question of how far Christianity can go in embracing homosexuality — even if people abstain from sex.
Interestingly, men like Al Mohler still seem to push reparative therapy.
But echoing the ambivalence of some conservative Christians, Mohler said he believes that sexual orientation can change “by the power of the Gospel.” He said he is not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer.
For those of you who wish to read more on celibacy and gays, here is a TWW post written by our good friend Brad Sargent who has adopted this lifestyle due to his convictions.
Denny Burk wrote A friendly response to Wesley Hill’s “thought-experiment.” He quotes Wesley Hill as saying the following:
But we live in a constantly changing world, and many modern Westerners—especially, but not only, younger people—recognize that “being gay” today is a cultural identity. It’s a community designation (“gay community”); it names a way of being in the world (“gay culture”); it involves a continuous narrative (“when I came out… my gay friends…”); and it can exist even before or without lust and behavior (think of how many teenagers you know came out before their first kiss). It isn’t identical to “lust” or even “desire.”
I want to suggest—and I do so tentatively, as a sort of thought experiment—that when people like Julie (and I) say that their “being gay” can be the time or the place where they experience redemptive grace, they’re speaking very much within a contemporary framework of thinking about homosexuality. They’re recognizing that not all aspects of this new social construct—”being gay”—are reducible to what the Bible names as lust or what pre-modern Christians (and modern ones) recognized as sin.
Wesley says that “being gay” is not “reducible” to same-sex sexual attraction. In a limited sense, I would agree with that. I do not dispute that gay people report heightened emotional connections with the same sex that are non-sexual in nature. So maybe we would agree not to say that sexual desire is the only element that gay people experience as a part of their SSA. Nevertheless, sexual desire does seem to be the defining element.
As I mentioned in a recent post, the defining element of same-sex attraction is desire for a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. If same-sex sexual desire is removed from the equation, then we are no longer talking about SSA—at least not in the sense that modern people mean the term. When modern people talk about SSA, they intend a kind of attraction that includes sexual possibility between persons of the same-sex. They do not mean to label as gay every person capable of emotional bonds with a person of the same-sex. No, it is the same-sex sexual desire that is the constitutive element.
In that sense (and I think Wesley might agree with this sentence?), same-sex sexual attraction is not a means to better, more holy same-sex friendships. It is an impediment to them. When one feels himself desiring a sexual relationship with a person of the same-sex, the only appropriate response is repentance from sin (2 Tim. 2:22). It is not right or helpful to think of that sinful attraction as the foundation for building holy same-sex friendships.
In other words, celibate Christians are sinful when they experience SSA. Also, Mohler seems to imply if they still have the feelings they are not responding appropriately to the Gospel.™ Wesley, on the other hand, believes that SSA can be the basis for building holy, same-sex friendships. I think back to that brain tumor support group. We came together due to our shared situation-our children had brain tumors. It was that pain that gave us a particular bond.
It looks like certain leaders in the Christian community are presenting a "no win" situation. Al Mohler seems to think that the gospel™ will make SSA go *poof.* Burk says the feelings are sinful. The sacrifice of celibacy is not enough for some leaders. It seems relevant to point out that these leaders do not struggle with SSA.
Ron Belgau at Spiritual Friendship answers Burk in Some Clarifications Regarding Sexual Orientation and Spiritual Friendship.
…A lot of people in our culture are trying to make sense of their feelings—including but not limited to sexual desires—for the same sex. And there are a lot of scripts out there for how to do that. In our discussions of Christ-centered friendship, marriage, and celibacy, we have tried to offer different scripts which are more congruent with the historic Christian faith. Our stories begin with experiences not unlike what other gay and bisexual people are going through, but lead toward the truths about human love and human sexuality revealed in the Bible and safeguarded by the people of God for thousands of years.
I hope that what ultimately guides the conversation at Spiritual Friendship is not sexual desire, or sexual orientation: it is Christ-centered friendship. One of the things that is striking to me about the stories that married couples have shared is how much the success of their marriage is grounded on an attraction that grew out of friendship.
…And in our fragmented, couple-centric society (and churches), it’s easy to fear that celibacy will equal loneliness. The original reason Wes and I created Spiritual Friendship was to explore how recovering a Christian understanding of friendship could provide a helpful framework for ministry to gay/bisexual/lesbian Christians.
At the same time, we recognize that both marriage and friendship are arduous goods. In addition to talking about the value of friendship, we have tried to speak honestly about all the ways friendship can involve significant disappointment and struggle. And we have tried to present a similarly honest picture of the joys and struggles of marriage.
Here is my concern. It appears that some conservative Christians are putting terrible burdens on those with SSA. No matter how hard they try to be celibate, they are still sinning simply by virtue of having SSA. Move this into the arena of the celibate, single heterosexual and you end up with a person who has sexual feelings and cannot express those feeling due to their singleness. Those very feelings are a sin if we apply Burk's view on sexuality. The only person who has a correct feeling of sexual desire is the person who is married and only feels a sexual desire when he/she is thinking of his/her spouse. I am sure that Burk and Mohler never, ever struggle in this area…
I think back to Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted yet he did not sin. It is not the temptation that is the problem. It is our response to the temptation. The Pharisees put tremendous burdens on the people and Jesus called them snakes. Jesus is with us in our temptations and is quick to forgive us when we sin. If some conservative Christians continue placing unnecessary burdens on the backs of Christians struggling with SSA, they will look no different than the Pharisees who seemed to be the only ones who thought they, themselves, were holy.
TWW applauds the efforts of those involved with Spiritual Friendship and shall be linking to their website.
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 22:17-23:44 Mark 9:30-10:12 Psalm 44:1-8 Proverbs 10:19