I really wanted my next post to have at least something to do with Shanghai. Honest, I did. If you’ve read the About the Blog page, you know that I’m a little self conscious about the fact that Adventure in Shanghai only occasionally lives up to its name. But what can I say? I join an online discussion, and ideas are exchanged, presuppositions challenged, and before you know it, a post is practically writing itself in my mind.
The conversation was about homosexuality, celibacy, marriage, and the different approaches we as Christians who hold to the traditional sex ethic can take toward this issue. I’ll go ahead and be clear that I don’t put much stock at all into “ex-gay ministries.” As far as I can see, that ship has already sailed, hit an iceberg, and plunged to the bottom of the ocean. I know the term “ex-gay” is a broad one and encompasses groups who promote reparative therapy as well as those who rely more strictly on the healing power of prayer. But they all share the premise that homosexuality is rooted in wounds caused by traumatic life events or circumstances, and whether by throwing a football or praying with a small group, one can see some level of orientation change by dealing with those wounds. And it’s this presumption, based on questionable psychology, that I just find untenable. So while I do appreciate the perspective of the person in the conversation who advocated ex-gay ministry, and I look forward to further communication with her and hearing her story, I can’t say that I relate all that much.
I, for one, am happy that the one-size-fits-all ex-gay narrative is no longer the only option out there. The conversation on this has become much more robust over the years, and there’s a lot more talk now about celibacy, with the understood possibility that a mixed-orientation marriage may be in one’s future. For me, obviously, this isn’t just hypothetical, as it played itself out exactly that way in my life. But I was struck by the comments of one man who experiences exclusively same-sex attractions, who dreads the thought of lifelong celibacy.
“If I were to just remain celibate it wouldn’t work because my biggest issue is ‘crushes’. I have majority guy friends so I’ve fallen in love like five times and it feels like I’m in a constant ‘break up’. It really messed me up and if I just remained celibate and single that would just keep happening whether I act on it or not. I mean 60 more years of falling in and out of love just isn’t possible for anyone. I would have to quit talking to everyone just to protect myself.
That’s what people who advocate celibacy don’t understand. It’s not about sex. If I never had sex the rest of my life, I really wouldn’t care. If I had to spend my life falling in and out of love and never be emotionaly filled this way I would go crazy. Literally crazy. Like psychotic crazy. People don’t get that at all.”
That’s just heartbreaking. And I don’t want to quickly follow up with some know-it-all answer; I want to stay here for a minute and take in the real pain, frustration, and fear that are wrapped up in a comment like this. I want everyone to. Because I get it. I remember years ago, whenever my friends would start talking about girls they were interested in, I would get this knot in my stomach. I should have shared in their excitement, but all I could think was “Great! One by one, everyone’s going to find someone, get married, and move on with their lives, and I’ll be left alone without someone with whom to share my own.” It seemed so unfair to me that my straight Christian friends got to feel excited whenever they met somebody they were attracted to and with whom they had a certain chemistry. They got to talk about it with their friends, and they got to imagine and wonder if this person was their future spouse. But if I met someone and had that same chemistry and attraction, I wouldn’t get to feel excited; I’d get to feel alarmed. If I talked with my friends about it, it wouldn’t be with butterflies or anticipation for what might be, but it would be in the context of asking for prayer for God to keep me pure, and to help me lay down that desire.
So when my new friend here writes that those who advocate celibacy just “don’t get that at all,” I’m afraid he’s wrong. Those who are walking that out, and those who have walked it out for a time, get it all too well. But perhaps he’s right to some degree. I suppose the ones who don’t get it are those who callously remind gay Christians of the bible’s prohibition on homosexual relationships and leave it at that, while they themselves have never had to realistically face the prospect of lifelong celibacy. But with more voices out there, willing to speak up and be honest and transparent with their fears, angst, etc., I think the church can grow in empathy and understanding. And the church can play the role that it’s supposed to in bearing the burdens of its members.
But this is a conversation that doesn’t just affect celibate gay Christians. I know many straight singles who, if they’d had their own way, would have been married years ago. To be sure, the particulars of their situation are a little different from their gay counterparts; whatever hurdles they may face, at least they actually have an attraction to the opposite sex to start with. But that doesn’t diminish the difficulties that can arise within single life. Yet most of the single people I know seem to be doing it pretty well. They seem to be flourishing in their own right, and I think their thoughts would really add to this discussion.
Ultimately, whether you are single, celibate, or married, the gate is narrow, and the road is hard that leads to eternal life. And we, the church, all need to be in this thing together helping each other along the journey. And I pray that through more dialogue and interaction, we can get a little better at it.