This is Day 2 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.
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” John 11:1-11 (NIV)
On the day before Palm Sunday, the Orthodox Church commemorates the raising of Lazarus from the dead as a prefiguring of the universal resurrection each of us will experience in Christ. The hagiographic texts give Lazarus the title “Friend of Jesus”, a title which puzzled me the first time I heard it. Aren’t we all friends of Christ? But if we look deeper, Jesus is demonstrating a core value of celibacy: commitment.
Commitment is an odd subject in contemporary straight, conservative Christian discourse on LGBT+ people. When celibate queer people commit to other queer people in partnerships or spiritual friendships, it is often viewed with suspicion or a near occasion of sin. Many conservatives are critical of same-sex friendship, especially celibate partnerships between gay people, because “exclusivity” is supposedly only for marital relationships.
Yet conservatives downplay the importance of commitment within the celibate vocation when they voice these criticisms. Monks need to commit to their brother monks first before they can commit to serve and minister to the world. Celibate partners commit to one another so they can be stronger together in following God’s will for their lives. Jesus traveled to weep for his friend Lazarus specifically, even if he loved every other person who died in Bethany earlier that week. Even though Jesus was committed to raising every person from the dead in the universal resurrection, he chose his friend first.
Commitment is the birthplace of virtue. How can I hope to be patient with the world if I cannot even be patient with Kyle? How can I forgive my enemies when I am still learning to forgive my partner? How can I repent of my sins to fellow Christians when I haven’t properly learned to repent to my chosen family? Commitment isn’t exclusion; it’s intentional life-sharing that makes broader inclusion possible.
The way the Church and contemporary society have explained friendship goes something like this: If you want committed love, you must get married or have a sexual relationship. You might have friendships, but those can never be as passionate, intimate, and life-giving as marriage.
I obviously rebel against this narrative.
Jesus is God, and God is Love. During his ministry on earth, he called Lazarus “friend”. Jesus wept for his friend’s death. To say humans need marriage in order to participate in the fullness of love is to say Jesus isn’t Love or that Jesus isn’t human. Jesus loves all, yet was able to love Lazarus in a particular way. I love Kyle in this particular way too; this is commitment.
A common question Kyle and I receive is “Aren’t you two just trying to imitate marriage?” I think this question is a symptom of society’s much larger problem of idolizing marriage. Friendship has become an afterthought to sexual relationships.
LGBT+ Christians are some of the most gifted people when it comes to commitment. When so many of them have received rejection from their biological families, they have been able to find spiritual family within their queer communities. We need friendships that are no less committed than marriages in order for our celibacies to flourish. By God’s grace, let us focus on intentionality in our relationships so that we can expand the bounds of love and kinship.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for having fashioned Lazarus in your image as a beloved friend. Create in our hearts a flame to burn brightly the tenderness, commitment, and delight for our own friends. Help us embrace our queer siblings as chosen family. Give us a spirit of intentionality in the friendships and partnerships to which you are calling us. We ask this of you, friend of sinners, and we glorify you with your eternal Father and all-holy, good, and life-creating spirit, now and forever. Amen.