Day 7: Celibacy as Romance

This is Day 7 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.

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Cor 13:11-14 (NIV)

In New Testament times, and even today in many non-Western cultures, it was customary for people to kiss one another as a form of greeting. This gesture is seen in my country as “romantic” and therefore, it’s uncommon between people who aren’t pursuing marital or sexual relationships. Celibate gay Christians walk a difficult line within conservative spaces on the topics of physical affection and romance.  Are gay Christians able to have romantic friendships and relationships within their celibate vocations?

Romance is a socially constructed category that was developed relatively recently to describe particular kinds of loving relationships. I have yet to see an argument from Scripture or Holy Tradition that prohibits romance between two people of the same sex, even within the most traditional, historical versions of Christian sexual ethics.

At what point do forms of tenderness, compassion, closeness, and mutual delight become “romantic”? I think we do ourselves a disservice if we connect every form of romance to sexual intimacy. In my own partnership, the attraction I experience to Kyle can’t be reduced to genital desire. I crave to be in union with him in heart and mind. I want to steward my affection in a way that helps us delight in one another the way Christ delights in us. When I hear conservatives balk at the idea of celibate romance, it seems that they believe Paul’s “holy kiss” just wasn’t meant for us.

Same-sex romance isn’t exclusive to living a life of chastity. I see romance when Kyle and I walk in the park holding hands or when he places his hand on my knee as I’m being comforted. I feel excitement when he takes me out to a new place for dinner. I sometimes give him a peck on the cheek and say that I love him. You might call these acts of “romance”, but they are, most importantly, ways in which we sustain one another amidst the challenges of celibate couplehood.

I wonder if we’ve associated celibacy with isolation for far too long which makes this idea seem radical. The reality is that most of us have basic needs: to be held, to be loved, and to be desired. Rather than eschewing these things entirely because temptation might occur, we need to reorient our desires to be ones of holy affection for our friends and partners. We can say no to using our friends for sexual objectification and say yes to loving them.

An Episcopal priest named Fr. Mac Stewart says it best:

“Perhaps there is room for a kind of romance with our beloved friends: doing for one another the little deeds of affection that we often associate with a lover wooing his or her espoused, things like writing letters that affirm the beloved’s virtues and beauty, attending carefully to the things that delight their soul. . . That we have a hard time imagining romance outside of relations of closeness that are consummated in sexual intercourse may simply be a mark of how far we have fallen from our created glory. Was not the whole created order supposed to be the scene of one cosmic romance?”

Fostering romance within my partnership enables me to think imaginatively about the tenderness I am called to give others. Kyle isn’t the only man who can receive my “holy kiss”. Our celibate vocation can serve as a reminder of this great cosmic romance Jesus calls every person into.

Holy Spirit, you are the fountain of life. Instill in us the belief that every human being is created for tenderness, belonging, and love. Enable us to engage in chaste expressions of emotional, spiritual, and physical affection. Reorient our minds to love our bodies. We ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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