Celibate Gay Couples Understand Marriage Better Than You

A consistent criticism to vowed friendship and celibate partnership is that these unions “imitate marriage”, which for the traditional Christian, is an institution reserved for one man and one woman. These critics argue that since same-sex relationships resemble heterosexual marriage in significant ways such as sharing a home, finances, or lifelong commitment, they become same-sex marriages in functionality. 

I find this view genuinely puzzling. In attempting to criticize LGBT+ people as unorthodox, conservative Christians reveal their own unorthodox definitions of marriage. 

Historically, the Church has interpreted the Scriptural passages on marriage in order to define it as a one-flesh union of husband and wife ordered toward the procreation of children. According to this view, marriage enables husband and wife to act as co-creators with God to bring forth new life in sexual complementarity, modeling the love between Christ and his Church. 

Conservative Christians in recent years have criticized progressive definitions of marriage that include same-sex relationships. Marriage can’t be defined as two people who love one other, conservatives argue, since friends can also love one another. Friends or siblings can live together, share finances, and commit to one another, but it doesn’t make them married. Celibate LGBT+ Christians typically agree with conservatives on this point if they hold to a traditional sexual ethic. Yet, in a different conversation on celibate partnerships, conservatives seemingly walk it back.

It’s almost like the celibate LGBT+ Christian hears two contradictory conclusions articulated from the same faction of people in two different theological contexts. 

In a debate about gay marriage the conversation might go something like this: 

Progressive: Two people of the same sex who love one another should be able to get married. 

Conservative: Marriage isn’t defined by two people loving one another or living together. If two friends loved one another and lived together, would you consider them married?

But in a separate conversation about celibate partnerships, the dialogue goes like this: 

Partnered LGBT+ person: My best friend and I are committed to living out our vocation to celibacy as a team with shared resources, finances, love, and commitment. 

Conservative: That’s not biblical because it’s two people imitating marriage with shared living and commitment. 

So which is it? It seems like the definition of marriage becomes a moving target. Was Ruth guilty of “imitating marriage” when she told Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”? (Ruth 1:16)

Just because two vocations resemble one another in specific ways, doesn’t mean one is imitating the other. A Christian might observe a prayer and fasting rule, but that doesn’t make them a monk, even though a large part of monasticism includes praying and fasting. Similarly, just because two celibate gay people have love and shared life in common with married couples, it doesn’t make them married. 

Culturally, marriage is boiled down to romance, doing life with your “best friend”, and sharing finances. We shouldn’t be surprised when Christians think celibate partnerships “imitate marriage” based on this revisionist understanding. 

LGBT+ Christians with a traditional sexual ethic are usually more conservative than their theological gatekeepers. When the Church is struggling with the brokenness of heterosexuality in divorce, pornography, and fornication, it’s rather surprising when people are refocusing their rebukes toward gay people striving for chaste companionship, even describing their vocations as sinful. 

I don’t think people who are opposed to celibate partnerships are consciously trying to water down their theology. I do, however, contend that they have internalized cultural assumptions about marriage, and have prioritized these assumptions over historical Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. When someone claims gay people are imitating marriage by entering into a partnership or vowed friendship, what they’re really saying is straight, married people have the monopoly on love, commitment, and shared life. The narrative of Ruth and Naomi, the Eastern Christian tradition of brother-making, and the liturgical friendship rites of the Western church prove this notion false. 

We exhibit an impoverished view of love when we attempt to find sin where there isn’t. It isn’t wrong or contrary to God’s design to prioritize specific human beings of the same sex in our daily lives. 

No, the celibate partnered Christian isn’t imitating marriage; you just misunderstand it. 

My Same-Sex Partnership Isn’t Exclusive

A criticism often thrown at partnered LGBT+ people is that they too-closely resemble the exclusivity designed for marriage. Their argument, if true, would mean celibate partnerships are just another code word for gay marriages, and should therefore be rejected by the Church. But if we tease this argument out, we will find it has some problems. 

Almost every time I hear this objection, it’s from someone who has spent very little time with LGBT+ people who are committed to these types of relationships. In our experience, pastors and lay people who morally object to our partnership have spent zero time with us; they might only see Kyle and me at church together or look at our Facebook photos. Most of our critics do not know any celibate partnerships apart from us. So we find the exclusivity objection surprising, given that they have spent so little time getting to know us. 

Kyle and I have had the privilege of meeting other LGBT+ friends in non-sexual relationships. Far from being exclusive, inward, and sexless marriages, these partnerships are the best examples we know of Christian inclusivity. People who don’t view their relationship through the prism of marriage are enabled to love others more deeply and more intentionally without sexual jealousy. In our experience, people in these relationships are far more likely to engage in platonic physical touch or healthy emotional intimacy with someone else besides their partner. This is so important to combat against loneliness and resentment. 

I’ve seen this manifest itself in specific ways with Kyle. 

This past weekend we participated in the Revoice conference in St. Louis; a conference dedicated to empowering LGBT+ Christians who adhere to a traditional sexual ethic. Almost every waking minute was spent with other people. Some of these people are individuals who Kyle and I love very deeply. We are currently seeking God’s guidance in how we can be more committed and more present in their lives. Since Kyle and I aren’t married, we have the freedom to readily make others a part of our chosen family. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity that Christ is calling us to – to have deep, abiding spiritual kinship with other believers. Christ elevated obedience to him as the basis for kinship, not biological relation. 

Kyle and I know we can’t possibly meet every single need the other has. For example, both of us have Christ as our foundation, but we have different modes of spirituality. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I don’t always have the vocabulary or experience to relate to Kyle’s evangelical tradition. I love the fact that he has friends, family, and mentors that are better suited to guide him in his walk with Christ in certain areas of spirituality. 

For me, I’m a theological nerd who loves liturgy and church history. While Kyle does enjoy learning from me, I have friends who are better suited to spend hours with me nerding out over theological debates. 

We definitely reject the term “exclusivity” as helpful for describing celibate same-sex partnerships. Marriage is exclusive in terms of sexual fidelity, raising children, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. We understand husbands and wives are called to reflect the love of Christ and his Church. This isn’t the kind of exclusivity celibate partnerships imagine when they enter this way of life. In fact, we don’t really relate to the concept at all. 

Some say that if you do something with your partner but don’t do it with others, then that’s exclusivity; it’s wrong because it’s reserved for marriage. I don’t actually see Scriptural support for this idea, which is significant, but it also falls apart practically. If I’m only comfortable sharing an area of my life with one friend, why must I tell it to everyone? If I find a good fit to be someone’s roommate, why must I be open to living with everyone else too? If Christ let John rest his head on his breast, then why not let the eleven other apostles do the same? There’s not a concrete principle to follow to avoid so-called exclusivity. 

When we ask our critics in what concrete ways are we sinning, the answer is far too often ambiguous. It’s only met with vague charges and “nice” spiritual gaslighting. We have literally heard statements such as, “Well, I can’t really explain why, but you know what you’re doing is wrong, right?” No, we don’t. What we hear is that we make them uncomfortable because we’re so queer, and that their feelings are more important than our commitment. 

A friend of mine in one of these relationships has a much better word: Priority. Christians called to the path of celibacy manifest the Kingdom of God through radical hospitality and inclusion. Those of us called to celibacy as a pair build one another up in order to love and serve our neighbor far more extensively. Our partnerships shouldn’t be seen as inward-focused or self-serving. As a team, we can combine prayer, finances, and social support to steward our gifts for the Body of Christ. 

Priority is a necessary, healthy concept. We prioritize people all the time. It would be impossible to commit to every person the same. Even Christ had particular endearment for his friend Lazarus, for whom he wept. You’re going to have traditions with family and friends, but not acquaintances. You are going to call one person over another if you get news of a serious illness. In my own life, I financially support a friend through college, something I wouldn’t do for just anyone; I do that for family. 

Human beings need priority. When I say Kyle is my priority, I do not mean he exclusively meets all of my spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. I do not mean he is the only one I am called to love.; rather, I mean that he is my partner, my best friend, and my advisor. I mean that if he became sick or unemployed, I’d stick my neck out for him in ways I can’t do for everyone. I mean that together, we can encourage and hold one another accountable to invite others to share in the table of Christ’s fellowship. 

That’s priority, and it’s hardly exclusive. 

Celibacy as a Pair

In my previous relationships with women, there was always excitement from friends and acquaintances when my Facebook status changed from “Single” to “In a Relationship”. Last week, my relationship status did the same change, except this time it was “In a Relationship” with a man.

I met another guy, Kyle, in a “Side B” (traditional sexual ethic) LGBT Christian group, became friends, and realized there was mutual attraction. While we were certainly friends, there was mutual attraction and desire to orient our lives toward Christ together. This prompted several people to reach out to us, wondering if we’ve decided to abandon our traditional sexual ethic and eventually settle into a same-sex marriage.

We haven’t. Kyle and I are in the early stages of discerning a celibate partnership.

Since I’ve blogged and spoken rather publicly on my vocation to celibacy, I think it’s a fair question. Here are a few questions I’ve encountered. I hope these answers provide some clarity.

Has your view changed on celibacy or sexual ethics?

No. If you know me pretty well, you’ve probably heard me vocalize support for celibate same-sex partnerships in the last three years. Kyle and I both believe God is calling us to live our celibate vocations as a couple. We both hold to the definition of marriage set forth by our individual Christian traditions (Mine Orthodox; his non-denominational Protestant).

Do you see your relationship as a marriage?

We do not. Neither of us belong to a Christian tradition that blesses same-sex relationships as marriages and we do not see our church memberships changing. Even if both of us believed in a progressive sexual ethic, we wouldn’t see our relationship as a marriage. Sharing life together in love, intimacy, commitment, and trust is not exclusive to marriage.

Aren’t you opening yourself up to sexual temptation and sin?

Every human relationship contains sin, sexual or non-sexual. Of course we will sin against one another in some way, though I’m not sure that it will be sexual. Marriages open up the possibility of divorce and adultery, but it’s not a good reason to avoid marriage all together. Celibate partnerships have their own risks, but with good spiritual direction, boundaries, and communication they can be successful like any other relationship.

Aren’t you setting yourselves up for sadness and resentment trying to get as close to the line (marriage and sex) as possible?

We find this question quite odd. First, it assumes that our relationship is built on sexual attraction to one another, but that’s not why I find Kyle to be an attractive man and vice-versa. I’m attracted to the man that Kyle is, and that includes his passion for celibacy. Second, it assumes that every person needs or wants marriage or sex. Marriage is not the only valid way to live. We aren’t attempting to imitate marriage or a sexual relationship, because that is not the kind of life we feel called to. We are in a relationship precisely because Kyle makes me a better celibate and I make him a better celibate.  Both of us spend very little time fretting over line-drawing. When someone is asking “How much can I get away with before it becomes a sin?” then we know they are asking the wrong question.

You might not be having sex, but you are causing scandal. Using terms like partner, boyfriend, couple, and relationship give people the wrong idea.

It doesn’t bother or surprise me when people initially think Kyle and I are having sex. Most same-sex relationships are sexual. My issue is that this assumption isn’t applied consistently. Data from the National Survey of Family Growth stated that in 2002, 77% of Americans had sex by age 20, and of that percent, 75% had premarital sex. Public health reports in 2007 indicated this trend was only rising. Over 90% of people are heterosexual, so keeping this data in mind, aren’t non-married straight couples “causing scandal” when they publicly announce that they are in an exclusive, committed relationship? Shouldn’t we assume all straight couples are committing sexual sin until proven otherwise? My answer to this question is another question: Why are you thinking about what your Christian brother or sister may or may not be doing with their genitals?

If you two aren’t having sex, then aren’t you just friends? If you two choose to do life together eventually, then aren’t you just super close roommates?

First, we resent the phrase “just friends”. Friendship is a holy, beautiful vocation and is placed on the back-burner far too often in contemporary society. Second, Kyle and I are close friends. But the word “friend” doesn’t describe all the dynamics of our relationship. We are still in the early stages as a couple, but if we continue our relationship long-term, then our lives will look in such a way that goes beyond the common understanding of friendship. We would live together, share finances, write each other into our wills, care for one another if we become sick or unemployed, and call ourselves a chosen family. We are partners in ministry, along with being friends.

Did you come up with the idea of celibate partnerships on your own?

Many people who hear about our relationship have never heard of celibate partnerships before. That is understandable. LGBTQ people are already a minority. LGBTQ Christians, an even smaller demographic. LGBTQ Christians pursuing celibacy? Much smaller. LGBTQ Christians in celibate partnerships? Yeah, I know, it seems like you’re more likely to see a unicorn. But in our case, we both personally know several same-sex celibate couples, who belong to Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions. Some of these couples started out as sexual relationships and others didn’t. We are excited to learn from these couples and receive their feedback.

Are you saying this type of relationship is best for all LGBTQ people?

Absolutely not. Celibate partnerships are not the right vocation for everyone, just as marriage isn’t the right vocation for everyone.

Aren’t you two just stirring the pot? Why do you have to be public about your relationship?

This is probably the most hurtful question. We both think hiding our relationship implies we are doing something wrong. Relationships, romantic or otherwise, should be public because they invite celebration, joy, accountability, transparency, and support. Yes, some people find our relationship unnerving. That doesn’t mean it’s our responsibility to be quiet. Even deeper, both of us desire our relationship to be a Christian testament to holy same-sex love. This is a reality the Church must reckon with, whether She wants to or not. In the coming decades, same-sex couples and their families are going to convert to denominations with traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality. Is the Church really going to say these couples and their children must be broken up in order to live holy lives? Lord, have mercy; I hope not.

I hope this clarifies a lot for many. I’m incredibly excited for both of us as we walk together with Jesus Christ. Please keep us in your prayers; we will do the same for you.

Why Homosexuality is Not My Struggle

In churches that teach a traditional sexual ethic, a common narrative for LGBTQ people is that non-heterosexual sexual orientations are inherently “struggles” akin to other forms of spiritual warfare. In my case, according to this narrative, same-sex attraction is a cross that I must embrace, and it takes the form of constant temptation to have sex with other men. While this language is popular for straight Christians with traditional views on marriage and sexuality, it’s not language that typically resonates with most LGBTQ people, even those of us who accept our church’s teachings prohibiting same-sex sexual activity.

Before I begin to clarify why Struggle Narratives are unhelpful for me and many other sexual minorities, I want to make it clear that there’s plenty of room for gay/same-sex attracted people to use this language for themselves. People have different approaches to their sexualities, and they deserve to be listened to. What I’m saying is that it’s wrong to box people into narratives that don’t fit their experience.

An obvious reason why I reject the Struggle Narrative as a default LGBTQ narrative is that, like everyone else, not every gender or sexual minority constantly thinks about sexual intercourse. We struggle with sins like pride, gluttony, wrath, etc. LGBTQ people are unique individuals, and our sins may or may not include lust.

If someone tells you they are gay, all they have said is which gender they are attracted to. They haven’t told you which people, if any, they are lusting after. It’s like if you were having coffee with your straight friend and she says, “That guy over there is kind of cute!” Does your mind immediately jump to her saying, “I am thinking about having sex with him right now”? If so, I really recommend healthier ways of pondering beauty and attraction.

I avoid discussing my gayness as a “struggle with same-sex attraction” because I would likely be just as unchaste if I were straight. It’s very rare that I meet a straight person who has not looked at pornography. I hardly ever meet opposite-sex couples who abstain from every kind of sexual activity before marriage. I have failed to meet a straight Christian who has not lusted or desired sex before marriage. These types of desires and behaviors are a result of the Fall of Adam, yet we don’t hear anyone frame these sins as part of the “struggle against heterosexuality”.

When traditional churches fail to distinguish between gay orientation and a specific desire for intercourse with the same sex, it leaves gender and sexual minorities with ambiguous shame. Rather than proclaiming a robust, historical sexual ethic in which non-married people are called to manifest God’s Kingdom in their celibacy and possess an inherent capacity to love the same sex intimately, LGBTQ people are hurt wondering why their non-heterosexuality is singled out as a special class of disorder.

We need to remember that Christians are called to be chaste; they’re not called to be heterosexual. If homosexual orientations are disordered because they contain sinful desires, then heterosexual orientations must be disordered as well.

If I were to engage in a type of sex prohibited by Scripture, or lust after another person, this would be sinful because I lack self-control, which is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). It means I have yet to mature in the virtue of chastity. My fallenness is not uniquely due to my gay orientation.

My gay orientation includes plenty of ordered desires such as seeking the companionship of other men, noticing the beauty of other men, a willingness to empathize and serve other sexual minorities, being fulfilled in deep friendship, and yearning for a clear path to access my vocation of celibacy within the context of my Christian tradition. I’m not called to disavow same-sex attraction in my Christian tradition; I’m called to order that attraction into delighting in other men the way God delights.

In my “struggle with homosexuality” there are few obstacles that pop into my head that wouldn’t immediately come to mind for most straight Christians:

  • A struggle to forgive fellow Christians who say disparaging things about LGBTQ people.
  • A struggle to receive empathy and advice in how I can integrate sexuality into my vocation.
  • A struggle to find people willing to listen to my needs as a celibate person without projecting fear or casting judgment.
  • A struggle to find assurances of deep community and friendship in a modern world where people move at the first sight of a better opportunity.
  • A struggle to distinguish a historical sexual ethic from cultural homophobia.

It’s acceptable for people to know life as a sexual minority can be a struggle, but let’s first remember to ask and listen to what those struggles actually are.

Falling in Love with Celibacy

One of the most common misconceptions I hear about celibate LGBTQ Christians is that we live our lives out of fear, sexual repression, or exclusive obedience to a traditional sexual ethic. While many LGBTQ Christians view their celibacy as a sexual mandate, this assumption overlooks genuine stories of people falling in love with their calling. I want to share a little about how I started falling in love with celibacy. This story doesn’t provide all the details of my story or decision-making process. It’s purely meant to be reflective on some fond memories that led me to where I am today.

I remember the first time I heard about celibacy. I was six years old and asked my mother why Catholic priests were not married. She said something to the effect of, “Priests are married to the Church. They don’t marry because, without wives, they can be more available for their parishioners.” Even as a young kid with no theological training, I remember being struck by the commitment to a broader community being equal to the level of commitment for a spouse.

While growing up, I never even imagined myself getting married. Even phrases from my parents like, “One day when you’re married and have kids…” were completely lost on me. In elementary and middle school, I pictured myself owning a three bedroom house: One room for me, one room for my library, and one room for guests. I envisioned a living space where people were welcome into my home at a moment’s notice – for seasons of unemployment, travel, or even fleeing a bad home situation. I yearned for a home where family, friends, and acquaintances could sit at my table for a meal and conversation; a home that was theirs as much as mine. I kept these dreams to myself because I didn’t think anyone would understand.

After growing up with a mostly secular childhood, I found myself drawn to Christianity my junior year of high school. During this process of conversion, I treasured the experience of meeting priests, seminarians, and monastics – each one called to a celibate vocation, permanent or temporary. As I grew deeper in friendship with these people, the word that kept coming up in my mind was “freedom”; Freedom to love and serve neighbor in a truly radical sense. Witnessing this kind of spiritual freedom gave me goosebumps and a feeling of butterflies in my stomach, sort of like a first childhood crush.

I began to wonder if my attraction to celibate people was stemming from a deeper longing to become a priest. I attended discernment retreats, sought spiritual direction, and visited seminaries. I was also touched by visiting monasteries, particularly observing the Benedictine principle of “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ”. Seeing monks and nuns offer guest housing, cook meals, and a place of spiritual retreat was highly reminiscent of my childhood longing for a home of hospitality.

Long story short (and I plan on writing about this at some point), applying for seminary didn’t happen. In 2013, after my first year of college, I began a long-term relationship in order to discern marriage. Obviously, (and this is another long story) this didn’t pan out either, as I began to ponder more deeply God’s calling in my life.

In the beginning of 2015, I stumbled across a blog that would change my entire perspective on LGBTQ vocation and celibacy, called A Queer Calling. The authors, Sarah and Lindsey, write about their experience as a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple. I found myself captivated by their story while immersing myself in reading about their discovery of celibacy. Article after article, I found myself over the course of two years saying, “Me too. That’s how exactly how I feel.”

Their post “Defining Celibacy” was particularly formative. I began to see celibacy not as a mere abstinence from sex, but a deeper calling to vulnerability, shared spiritual life, commitment, and radical hospitality. If you are interested in learning more about celibacy, I highly recommend reading their story. I literally cannot say anything about celibacy more poignant than Lindsey and Sarah. It’s an honor to share my story alongside theirs.

I started seeing that my earlier draw to priesthood wasn’t a calling to the priesthood itself, but an attraction to celibacy. Ending my romantic relationship wasn’t an act of forsaking intimate relationships, but an act of freedom to experience intimacy with more than one person. Embracing celibacy wasn’t a denial of my sexuality, but an empathetic integration of my sexuality for the service of others. The process of solidifying my identity as a queer person was fundamental to understanding how I relate to others.

As I prayed over what Jesus and St. Paul taught on celibacy, I could no longer see celibacy as a strict regulation of my sexuality. I now see celibacy as my unique path to manifest the Kingdom of God. People have asked me, “So does that mean you would be celibate even if you were straight?” I have no way of answering that question, because I believe sexuality is an integral part of who I am. I believe God uses the totality of our being to draw us closer to Himself. However, I can say that my celibacy would remain intact even if I possessed a liberal sexual ethic.

I don’t know what the future holds. This is only my first year of intentionally living life as a celibate person. I’ve had successes and failures so far, not unlike a marriage which has successes and failures in its first year. Perhaps I’ll be called to live out my childhood fantasy as a single person with a three bedroom house. Or it’s possible that I will live in an intentional community with a group of Christians. Maybe I’ll thrive as a pair with a celibate partner or a covenanted friendship. I’m not ruling out God even calling me into a monastic community.

I don’t know how to live in celibacy quite yet, but I know that I’m falling in love with it. And right now, that’s enough.

 

A Bulimic’s Guide to Fasting

When I started investigating Eastern Christianity, I was struck by the emphasis of fasting as a means of spiritual renewal. While Roman Catholics are well-known for abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays, I was surprised by the rigor of fasting in the Byzantine tradition: Abstinence from meat and animal products (eggs, dairy etc.), fish, wine, and oil.

Fasting rules can vary between regions, but they are observed during four penitential seasons of the liturgical year: Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Dormition Fast, and the Apostles Fast. The Fast is also observed most Wednesdays and Fridays of the year to commemorate Jesus’ betrayal and death, along with other important days sprinkled in such as the Beheading of John the Baptist or the Feast of the Holy Cross.

This made a lot of sense to me. I was used to hearing about fasting as a routine cultural practice; something optional or a ritual “we just do”. But the emphasis of fasting in liturgical churches is much different. The Church is known not primarily as an institution, but as our Mother.

Jesus said, “But this kind [of demon] does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21) As our Mother, the Church cares for our souls and gives us guidelines to temper our passions and increase our reliance on divine providence.

The tension within my own spiritual life has been balancing this corporate expectation of fasting with the individual care of my soul. The truth is, I’m recovering from years of intense, long-suffering bulimia. Restricting what I eat at this time is simply too much of a burden in my healing process. Combine this with relentless seasonal depression, and it’s a recipe for Advent disaster.

However, as a person who longs to be in intimate union with the Body of Christ, not participating in the Fast sometimes feels like another form of isolation.

I’m still figuring out what life looks like in both managing an eating disorder and participating in the life of the Church. Right now, I’m resolved to make my “no” to dietary guidelines a “yes” to humility. My current approach has yielded several important truths:

  • I desperately require grace to recover from this awful disease.
  • I need to humble myself to the care of my spiritual director, my priests, my doctor, mental health professionals, and friends.
  • Fasting in itself does not save anyone. Christ is working out my salvation in and through my baptism even without the Fast.
  • Because I suffer from the sin of pride, to not excel at a spiritual practice is actually good for my soul.
  • Not participating in the Fast in this season of life is honoring my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

A deep solace of mine has been turning to the wisdom of the Liturgical calendar. Two weeks before the start of Great Lent, the week of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Church forbids Her children from fasting to remind our souls and bodies that we cannot boast in our observation of the Fast. It is the grace of God that saves. I can take this fast-free week of the year and apply it to my daily life.

As we approach the end of the Nativity Fast, my desire is for those of us with eating disorders to delight in the feast of Christ’s birth as though we fasted in expectation.

“…This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God, or return – for to speak thus is more exact- that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him.”

– St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38, “On the Nativity of Christ”

Why Christians Can Bake the Cake

The Supreme Court recently listened to oral arguments on the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. As someone who has friends on both the Left and the Right, my social media feed blew up: Conservatives accused progressives of anti-Christian bullying; Progressives accused conservatives of bigotry. In my personal experience, I don’t find either caricature accurate, although I’ve certainly witnessed my fair share of homophobia and bullying in political discourse.

Instead of reflecting on the legal question of religious liberty, I wanted to ask a different question: Can a Christian hold to a traditional sexual ethic (that marriage is between one man and one woman; sex is reserved for that union alone), yet also bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? I take the position that they can.

A few caveats: I’m not arguing for the traditional sexual ethic in this post. If you hold to a liberal sexual ethic (Marriage is between two people of any gender), then most of this post will be lost on you. I’m also not taking any legal position on refusal of service in this reflection. One can believe that legally, bakers can refuse service, while also believing that morally, that people should say yes to providing the service.

I don’t claim to know all the answers for each Christian church and individual. I am wrong about plenty of things, and this might be one of them.

It’s possible to take disagreement seriously on matters of theology, morality, and doctrine, while acknowledging Truth when we see it. For example, an acquaintance was recently baptized in a non-denominational church. Her church does not believe in baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism has a real effect on your salvation by absolving sin and conferring grace). Rather, her church holds to a belief that baptism is a public ceremony for the local church that symbolically highlights personal commitment to Christ and the reality that He washes away our sins.

As someone who belongs to a Christian tradition that believes in infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, this makes me very uncomfortable. In my view, baptism is the basis of Christian spiritual life. However, that didn’t stop me from noticing my acquaintance’s personal commitment to Christ and sending her a nice note that said “congratulations”. I’m not signing on to her baptismal theology by signing the congratulatory note.

We can draw a similar parallel for Christians who believe in a traditional sexual ethic. To what aspects of same-sex marriage does the traditional sexual ethic object? It objects to calling a same-sex union “marriage” and it objects to sexual arousal/intercourse between those of the same-sex. The sin is not in two people of the same-sex living together, sharing life together, loving each other, and committing care for one another in sickness and in health. Baking a cake can celebrate the act of commitment between the same-sex just as my congratulatory note celebrated my friend’s commitment to Christ. It does not mean I’m approving of deviation from correct theology in either case.

There are fears from Christians that if they were to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, then it might be perceived as them “supporting a sinful lifestyle”. I’ve discussed why language about LGBT lifestyles is confusing and unclear. Every person and relationship (marital or non-marital) contains sin. Like everyone else, LGBT people have a mix of sin and virtue in their lives. No relationship is 100% wicked or 100% saintly.

If I’m able to overlook the errors in other Christians’ baptismal theology, then conservative Christians can overlook the errors in same-sex couples’ marriage theology. We do this all the time with straight people without thinking twice:

  • We tell married friends congratulations on their anniversaries, even though we acknowledge that they sin privately and publicly against one another.
  • We send cards for our nieces’ and nephews’ First Communions, even if their church’s eucharistic theology is theologically erroneous.
  • We feed an excess of food to people on special occasions, even if we know that some of them in our midst have a gluttony problem.

It’s possible to hold tightly to our theology while embracing the aspects of beauty and goodness where we can find it. Baking a cake for a same-sex couple doesn’t mean you’re endorsing what you assume is going on in their bedroom (Why are you even thinking about that?) or that you support calling their relationship a “marriage”. Just as me telling my friend “Congratulations!” on her baptism wasn’t an endorsement of her church’s view of baptism, neither is baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple an endorsement of their view on marriage.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides, I hope Christians can focus less on what they can legally say “no” to, and find more ways to say “yes” in loving their LGBT neighbor.