This is Day 1 of 7 of my Devotional Series on Celibacy written a year ago. While much of my thought process has changed since then, it is important to share where I sincerely was in my journey with God and my vocation.
23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. Matthew 22: 23-33 (NIV)
I’m someone who doesn’t live a conventional lifestyle. I grew up mostly secular, came to faith when I was 17, and didn’t realize I was gay until I was 18. I came out to my close friends two days later and learned nearly all of them were queer too. Now I’m 24, openly gay, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and have an amazing partner named Kyle. Did I mention that Kyle and I are remaining celibate the rest of our lives together?
This is the part of my story that can start to make other LGBT+ believers uncomfortable. Hearing the word “celibacy” can trigger negative memories or even abusive experiences in the Church. Celibacy defined by many churches boils down to “Don’t have sex, and if you do, then God finds you utterly displeasing.” I want to offer a different framework for gay celibacy.
I remember an Episcopal priest privately messaging me on Facebook saying “If you and your partner are celibate, then why do you even mention it? That should be private. Your story reeks of moral superiority.” In light of his past experience with spiritual abuse, his frustration was understandable, but I believe his definition of celibacy to be incomplete. To those called to celibacy, hiding our vocation is equivalent to telling a couple to hide their marriage.
Is celibacy defined by mere abstinence from sex? No. That’s like defining marriage as the mere engagement in sex. We miss out on exploring the dynamic, life-creating nature of celibacy if we only define it by what someone is or is not doing with their genitals. On their blog “A Queer Calling”, my friends Lindsey and Sarah define the four core values of celibacy as commitment, vulnerability, shared spiritual life, and radical hospitality. This isn’t an all-inclusive list since there is overlap with other vocations. It’s like if you try to define marriage by your commitment to your spouse; you’re going to have commitment in common with non-married folks who are committed to their friends, family members, and partners.
Celibacy can be lived out in singleness, monasticism, committed friendship, celibate couplehood, queer platonic partnership, intentional community, and a myriad of other forms of deep, meaningful connection with other human beings. The four values aren’t exhaustive, but they are characteristic of the rich history of celibacy in all of its forms.
Jesus offers us a life-giving vision of the celibate life in the passage above to the Sadducees. In making a statement that marriage will not exist in Heaven, he indirectly says a lot about celibacy. Celibacy in the Christian tradition is understood as a path that renounces marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Celibacy, like marriage, is one path to manifest the Kingdom in our own lives. It’s a path that St. Paul embarked on to be “all things to all people” in the universal Church.
Marriage, Jesus says, won’t exist in the New Creation, which means friendship will. While husband and wife will not be spouses in Heaven, they will remain friends. Jesus during his time on earth stresses friendship as the highest form of love: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” If Heaven is where we experience the fullness of love, then it’s where we will experience the fullness of friendship. This means celibates are living as a foretaste of what is yet to come since they aren’t engaged in the sexual relationships that will eventually pass away.
I am called to a celibate partnership with my best friend, Kyle. We believe that as a team, we can enable one another to advance God’s Kingdom on earth. I want to dispel the myth that celibacy necessitates a lack of companionship. I’m hoping this devotional series will be a blessing to you no matter your theological perspective or vocation. All of us come to celibacy in differing ways, so please do not take my experiences as prescriptive or normative of all celibate people. Let’s reflect on how God is using his celibate queer children to prophetically lead and teach the rest of the Body.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are our example of what it means to be truly human. You offer us your life of love and intimacy which is not contingent on sexual love or marriage. Help us follow your example of celibacy in our own lives. Correct us in our pride. Give us eyes of faith to see the eschatological reality of celibacy in the Church. Amen.