Recently I attended a conference on healthy sexuality. It was very well done and the spirit of the event was super encouraging to say the least. Within the many different topics and conversations was of course the discussion of how a person who is attracted to the same sex should live out their life.
Now this wasn’t a conference where people were demanding that anyone live a certain way and it was all non-confrontational, but the general answer was that from a biblical perspective that person should not be engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. In other words they should live a celibate life.
In response to this, one person said, “So basically we are condemning them to a life of loneliness and isolation.” I’m quite sure that this person was far from the only one in the room thinking that way.
I’m not going to dive too far into the topic of homosexuality today (I have a couple of posts that I can share if I ever decide I want to go viral). But instead, I want to respond to this person’s understanding in a very different way.
I can’t speak for him, but I can deduct that the reason this gentlemen said what he said about celibacy is at least two fold.
First, in evangelical culture, we have completely left out the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy and those who for one reason or another end up unmarried and yet desiring holiness. Literally we have spent about 500 years of protestantism screwing this up. It’s a real problem.
Because we have no place for or theology of celibacy, we then only dust it off for special cases. Because we have no place for a heterosexual to pursue the call or gift of celibacy, we look like idiots suggesting that the homosexual should be “condemned to that”.
This comes from the Church’s nuclear family idol. Marriage and family are seen as THE path to holiness and wholeness. You can’t go around preaching that message for decades and then dust off the other path for a few people. But that is exactly what the evangelical leadership of our generation has attempted to do. Obviously that’s not working out very well. This comes partially from an adaptation of a secular belief into our evangelical culture.
That is the secular belief that sexual fulfillment is a right. Not only do I have the right to sexual fulfillment, but in the secular culture, I have the right to fulfill that sexual desire in just about any way I want (assuming everyone is an adult and “consents”).
Now evangelical culture has not adopted that belief. Instead they have adapted it to their own framework. The evangelical culture says that each person, at least each man, can not possibly contain their sexual desire. It must be fulfilled. The message is that it is controlling you, bigger than you, bigger than your moral agency, bigger than your spiritual maturity. Therefore the only answer available to holiness is marriage. Marriage makes you an adult. Marriage makes you mature. Marriage makes you holy.
Now let me be clear in case you are new to the blog. I’m extremely pro marriage. I think that most people should pursue marriage. But, we cannot assume that in our theological, and practical teaching. In fact, by assuming that we hurt not only those not called to it, or unable to achieve it, but we hurt even those who do get married.
If the way to holiness is marriage then what we are saying is that the person called to celibacy, the person with the gift of celibacy, the person born without desire to get married, the person who can’t get married, or the person who doesn’t desire the opposite sex, cannot be holy on their own. By doing this we are literally agreeing with secular culture that sexual desire must be fulfilled in order for a person to be whole and holy.
This is basically what Justice Kennedy said in the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage. He writes of those wishing to marry, “Their hope is to not be condemned to live in loneliness, . . . ” Sound familiar?
If celibacy is something that someone is “condemned to” then we are all in a lot of trouble.
Was Jesus “condemned” to celibacy? Paul? The early Church Fathers? The Pope? Do we really want to see celibacy as a punishment?
This is what we have helped set up. This is why we can’t afford to answer the culture by adapting it into a Christian Version. Its why our answer to an increased delay in marriage, and people fulfilling sexual desires in ways other than marriage can’t be simply – marriage will set it all right.
Instead we have to rescue the celibacy of the New Testament. We have to rescue the idea of family from a focus on the nuclear family to a focus on the family of God. We have to have a more complete theology (or picture if you will) of how celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom and both paths to holiness and wholeness. If we don’t, then we all lose. It will get worse.
The Church, including and starting with each of us in it, is the only hope of something different. We have to be counter cultural, not just sub-cultural. Read that line again. It might be from the Lord.
We have to lead, not follow, not just respond and react. If the Church (read all of us) don’t step back and consider the whole picture of celibacy and marriage, no one else will.