I’m a Gay Christian Man with a Celibate Partner: A Response to Sam Allberry

An Uncommon and Relatable Testimony

An article by Sean Doherty from Living Out, a ministry for same-sex attracted Christians, was written as a response to an email from a same-sex couple seeking counsel on how to raise their child and live a celibate life together after converting to Christianity. Sean makes an important observation in this rare case:

And it makes excellent sense for two friends to live together and share their lives in this way. It would be very natural for friends who were living together to share the parenting of any children who are there too. Of course, the couple will need to think and pray carefully about whether the history of a shared sexual relationship will be too much of a temptation if they continue to live together. But that is a matter for discernment, not a matter of right and wrong.

My story is quite different from this couple. Their relationship began sexually active and transitioned into a celibate way of life; my relationship began celibate and remains that way. Still, there is a lot of inspiration I can take from their testimony.

As you can imagine, there were some who were not pleased with this piece.
Sam Allberry, the founder of Living Out, published an article this morning titled “Can SSA Christians Have Non-Sexual Romantic Relationships?” as a clarification to his ministry’s initial piece. Allberry’s thesis is that romance is not an appropriate quality for same-sex attracted Christians to possess within their friendships.

As someone in a committed partnership that could be understood as “romantic”, it’s crucial that I evaluate Allberry’s arguments in a charitable fashion.

Introduction and Common Ground

Allberry starts by introducing the reader to the current discourse of two people of the same sex in a non-sexual relationship:

When it comes to same-sex relationships and the church, I’ve heard more and more people propose some sort of committed, same-sex, non-sexual romantic friendships for those who want to uphold the Christian sexual ethic.

I have been interested in the conversation on celibate partnerships for several years, and I can’t say I have seen many advocate for romanticism as a defining characteristic for non-sexual relationships. The closest idea was a reflection I wrote almost a year ago and it was, if anything, asking for an exercise of caution when using the word “romantic” in our critiques of celibate partnerships. If Allberry means advocacy for celibate partnerships has increased in general, then perhaps. But celibate partnerships are not necessarily understood as romantic in nature.

This, they say, avoids the supposed loneliness of singleness while upholding biblical standards of sexual behavior.

I agree with Allberry that partnerships or committed friendships cannot solve loneliness. Plenty of married people experience loneliness even though they are happily in love with their spouses. I experience loneliness too, even though I have a committed partner and plenty of close friends. No one, to my knowledge, is advocating for celibate partnerships as a cure for loneliness. There are some of us who believe partnerships are vocations that can offer unique support for some in meeting their needs and circumstances.

Intimacy in Friendship and Marriage

Allberry goes on to describe how the supposed confusion of marriage and friendship has developed within this conversation:

On this view, there is a sort of relational continuum, with regular friendship at one end and marriage at the other. Marriage is the most intense expression of relational intimacy, and friendship is a less intense expression. By this reckoning, there’s a point somewhere along the spectrum where two friends can enjoy romantic intimacy without transgressing into the sort of sexual intimacy reserved for marriage.

I agree with Allberry that marriage and friendship aren’t on a relational continuum where marriage is the most intimate area of the spectrum. In fact, I am saying the opposite. No amount of relational intimacy will make my relationship a marriage.

Some friendships can be more intimate than some marriages, but that doesn’t mean those friendships are always increasing in degrees of eroticism. Scripture describes David and Jonathan’s souls as being “knit together” (1 Samuel 18:1) which seems to be the closest kind of intimacy possible, but I see no reason to believe they were in a sexual relationship. People in celibate partnerships are simply saying that married people aren’t the only ones who can experience deep longing and emotional attachment to people they love.

Exclusivity

He continues that a romantic element within a same-sex friendship is imitating the essence of marital union:

“Marriage isn’t just close friendship with added sex. Nor is close friendship marriage without sex. Marriage by definition and necessity must be exclusive. It is covenantal. If it isn’t exclusive, its very essence is violated. This isn’t the case with friendship. Friendship doesn’t require exclusivity. My friendship with even my closest friend isn’t threatened by the growth of a similar friendship with someone else. It’s not a zero-sum game.

I agree with Allberry that marriage isn’t merely close friendship with added sex. Nor is close friendship a marriage minus sex. But it is unclear how he is teasing out the difference. He says that marriage should be exclusive, but not friendship. I have mentioned before that I do not consider my partnership as defined by exclusivity. We base our relationship on priority.

I made this clear in my previous reflection on exclusivity:

Priority is a necessary, healthy concept. We prioritize people all the time. It would be impossible to commit to every person the same way. 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, 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.

Allberry mentions his friend inviting another person on a hiking trip to Scotland as an example of friendship’s characteristic inclusivity. He quotes C.S. Lewis that friendship is the “least jealous of loves”. I agree that our friendships should seek to include others and shouldn’t be jealous. Yet, I don’t see how this addresses the practical reality of prioritization and the witness of covenantal friendship within Scripture.

Exclusivity is a very odd term to bring up in the context of relationship because it doesn’t seem to be used by anyone actually participating in a celibate same-sex partnership (If you don’t believe me, look at the available blogs on the subject). Exclusivity makes a lot of sense when discussing sexual fidelity within marriage, but it’s confusing when brought into this discussion. I don’t see how it follows that because I have made commitments to one person in regard to finances, lodging, mutual support, and priority, I can’t make commitments with people in other areas of my life. Folks like myself in these kinds of relationships need to know what is sinful about prioritizing particular people for particular purposes, and Allberry fails to do that here.

Covenants

Perhaps Allberry’s concern isn’t with the degree of priority, but the covenantal nature of partnerships and spiritual friendships. It’s not clear from his writing here, but his view might be that marriage is the only licit covenant two human beings can make with one another. But this proves too much. Scripturally, we have a clear example of Jonathan “ma[king] a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:3). Ruth also makes a promise to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

The covenantal argument fails to account for the Church history of adelphopoiesis (the brother-making rite) which was practiced between people of the same sex, while being completely understood as a non-marital relationship. I am not saying these unions were romantic relationships between two gay men; I am saying it’s possible to have covenants that look “exclusive” in their vows to God and one another without being misunderstood as marriages.

Romance

Allberry describes three relational aspects that are restricted to marriage: exclusive, covenantal, and romantic. This last concept, romance, is the most unclear.

The moment [friendship] becomes romantic, we’re confusing two different categories of relationship, attempting to pursue friendship in a framework designed ultimately for something covenantal. The result (marriage without benefits?) becomes an unstable compound—something that will struggle to remain non-physical, or else won’t remain romantic and exclusive. Something will likely give.

I agree with Allberry that if you are in a celibate same-sex partnership while experiencing constant longing for the relationship to turn into something “more”, then you are going to have problems down the road. Resentment will start building if you have physical and emotional longings for the relationship to have an essence that it currently “lacks” (e.g. sex , marriage, etc.). If you don’t see your partnership as a vocation manifesting the Kingdom of God through radical hospitality, service, and community, but merely as a loophole to go on dates, then I don’t think it is going to serve you or your partner well in happiness or faithfulness.

There are legitimate concerns which Allberry brings up, such as physical boundaries. I’m thankful he is concerned and willing to bring it to the forefront. However, just because some romantic relationships have unhealthy relational dynamics, it doesn’t follow that romance is to blame. It’s important for him to explore how romance is intrinsically linked to codependency, temptation, and fornication in the way he asserts here.

Notice that Allberry never gives a definition for what romance is. He says that “the moment” a friendship becomes romantic, we become confused. How do I recognize this “moment” of transition from the platonic to the romantic when I haven’t been told what I’m looking for? A few possible suggestions could be: holding hands, a squeeze on the arm, buying dinner, giving flowers, remembering anniversaries, among other acts I do in my friendships. These actions seem culturally “romantic” to most of us, but I fail to see why they’re necessarily sinful.

If we are going to use the word “romance” at all, then I’ll be the first in this dialogue to offer a definition. I appreciated Fr. Mac Stewart’s definition of romance in the area of friendship:

All of this suggests to me that there is a whole wonderful realm of relational intimacy that our culture misses out on by loading all of its human-closeness eggs in the basket of specifically sexual intimacy. We tend to refer to these latter relationships as “romantic,” and yet perhaps our sense of romance here is a bit impoverished. 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 and spontaneously and gratuitously fulfilling them, forbearing with their irritating eccentricities while dwelling on their excellences, overcoming their occasional coldness with a deeper kindness.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 great big love story, one cosmic romance?

Fr. Mac offers a helpful, intuitive definition of “romance” as relational closeness while Allberry doesn’t offer any. If we’re going to bring up romanticism, then I’m going to reference this definition until I receive a better one.

I’m not saying all forms of romance are morally licit, but I am saying romance is a social construct that is almost impossible to ground theologically. Most people in church history did not experience romance within their marriages due to family arrangements and social alliances, and yet Christ was present in their union and producing saints out of it. Romance is not what the authors of Scripture, the Church Fathers, or the ecumenical councils had in mind when they discussed the theology of marriage. They were concerned with a union that typified Christ and His Church; a one-flesh union of husband and wife that allowed them to be co-creators with the Holy Trinity.

Allberry rightly argues that marriage isn’t “just sex”, but then makes the mistake of reducing its ontological reality to subjective feelings. This is because sexual exclusivity is an objective reality, while romance is a culturally changing, subjective understanding of tenderness and infatuation. It comes and goes within marriages and in friendships; it’s perceived differently between individuals and couples. To ask that same-sex attracted Christians not have particular feelings in their close relationships is to “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads” and place them on gay people’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4).

The Adultery Objection

People ask, “If it’s morally licit for a same-sex attracted Christian to have a romantic non-sexual relationship, then do you think a married man should be able to have a romantic non-sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife?”

Allberry didn’t address this in his piece, but it is a response I have seen on social media. To this question, I would first have to ask, as I did earlier, “What do you mean by romance?” Critics cannot call every emotional behavior they find problematic “romantic” and believe that is a valid argument. If we are not referencing Fr. Mac Stewart’s definition, but instead referring to an emotional affair, then no. Men and women make marriage vows to one another as a one-flesh union. A husband should not be engaging in deception, which affects himself, his wife, and his children. That doesn’t mean men can’t have tenderness and relational intimacy with women who they are not married to; it means that spouses should be involved in who is speaking into the family’s well-being.

Married people make vows of sexual exclusivity. If celibate partners make vows, those vows are to support one another in their vocation to celibacy. Critics shouldn’t use the word “romance” for celibate partnerships when they mean “tenderness” and then go on to use the same word to mean “adultery”. It’s a conflation of terms; a comparison of apples to oranges. I’m not saying Allberry did that here, but it is an objection that needs to be addressed.

Pastoral Concerns

Ultimately, I am writing this response not because I am determined to call my partnership a “romantic relationship”. I do not desire a relationship that looks like marriage. I am responding because the concept of romance is rooted in cultural connotations that are not necessarily Scriptural. It is not a reliable basis for sexual ethics. My concern is that even if a close same-sex friendship is chaste, many conservative Christians will still label it “romantically sinful” when it challenges our cultural assumptions about intimacy. Romance is a moving target; it will be the go-to term when same-sex attracted people make Christians uncomfortable in the way they demonstrate affection to one another.

We can spend all day parsing out the difference between romantic and platonic; friendship and marriage, etc. My contention is simply that deep, intimate, and abiding relationships between people of the same sex have a place in the Kingdom of God, even between two gay people who feel tenderness and warmth for one another. St. Gregory the Theologian described his friendship with St. Basil the Great in this way:

We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.

Can I describe my friendship with my partner in this way? Is it too romantic? Is it too covenantal? Too exclusive? I don’t think those are the most helpful questions. The primary question is, “Is it holy?” And I think it can be.

10 Ways Conservative Christians Can Support LGBTQ+ People

I’m often asked by straight people, “What exactly do you want from the Church? Are you saying the Church needs to start blessing same-sex marriages in order to be loving?”

I always find this question perplexing because if you read my writings, I never advocate for a change in Church teaching on marriage or sexuality. In fact, I’ve often defended its integrity on public platforms and articles. But I do think there are some practical steps that can be made from both priests and laity who are theologically conservative, yet want to make the Church a safer place for LGBTQ+ people.

1. Don’t quarrel about terminology.

We get it. As a straight person, you’re probably used to associating words like “gay” or “lesbian” with a particular sexual lifestyle. Remember that you likely don’t associate the word “straight” or even opposite-sex sexual activity with a specifically “heterosexual lifestyle” though. Either way, keep a humble attitude and listen to the reasons people share for identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. before jumping to conclusions.

2. Save the apologetics for another time.

I promise you that we’ve heard the scriptural verses that prohibit same-sex sexual activity. Some of us are obedient to those passages; others believe God blesses same-sex sexual activity within marriage. Wherever we end up on the sexual ethics question, it’s important to note that LGBTQ+ Christians have been wrestling with those questions in a way that straight people never had to. We are very familiar with the arguments. Your reminders will only serve to distract from potential areas of agreement.

3. Preach love outside of marriage.

Every Christian is called to love, even if they aren’t called to sex. Avoid setting up marriage as the expectation for everyone. Watch how you’re projecting a married future on your children when the possibility exists that they are called to a celibate way of life. Encourage your friends and family to consider monastic vocations and speak highly of them. Don’t use your words in such a way that imply marriage is the only way humans can access love, commitment, and intimacy. These are human needs for everyone, celibate or non-celibate.

4. Don’t assume you know our sex lives.

When someone says they are LGBTQ+ or even in a relationship with someone of the same sex, don’t assume you know what they are doing in the bedroom. Many celibate LGBTQ+ Christians are going to live happier, healthier lives with someone by their side. Get to know celibate couples and covenanted friends, and learn from them. Allow yourself to see God working within the committed love of two people striving to live holy, chaste lives. You might not understand it at first, but if you stay curious and avoid rushing to judgment, you may be surprised. Start with the assumption that these two men or two women want to know and love God together.

5. Support liturgical rites and blessings for friendship.

If a priest can bless a house or car, surely he can bless two committed friends. Public liturgies would be a groundbreaking way for friends to make promises of commitment to one another’s virtue and salvation. Rather than scoff at this idea as some slippery slope to same-sex marriage, think about how we are neglecting friendship as an honorable way to love God and neighbor. And great news: the Church has totally done this before!

6. Rebuke homophobia when you see it.

LGBTQ+ friends of yours need you to speak up when you hear slurs or dehumanizing stereotypes about them. We understand that is uncomfortable, but we appreciate when we see someone stand up for us.

7. Speak out on injustices toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Out of all the issues affecting the community, we hear a lot about gay sex. When the Church is silent about homelessness, job/housing discrimination, hate crimes, bullying, suicide rates, mental health disparities, familial rejection, and spiritual abuse that disproportionately affect non-straight and non-cisgender people, we notice your priorities. Lead Them Home is a great resource if you are a conservative Christian just now educating yourself about these injustices.

8. Invite LGBTQ+ Christians to speak at your church.

Many churches have sermon series on sexual ethics (even specifically homosexuality), but most of these events don’t even feature actual queer voices. There are many qualified queer theologians on this subject who can speak to your church. At the very least, invite LGBTQ+ friends to share their testimonies at an event.

9. Be open to feedback.

If we tell you something you said was hurtful or unhelpful, believe we are being sincere and not looking to attack you. We are sharing our hurt because we think there is hope you will demonstrate humility and listen. Even if you don’t understand in the moment, do your best to ask questions and think about the feedback we are giving you. We are offering honesty because we believe in you! If we didn’t, we likely wouldn’t be sharing.

10. Get to know us.

If you claim to love queer people, but don’t have any close, queer friends, then you likely only love the idea of loving queer people. Realize we all come at these issues with different ways of thinking and opinions. You can’t rely on one gay person to give you all the information you need to know. You will see your life enriched when you surround yourself with people different from yourself!

You Don’t Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction

Language seems to be a dominant conversation in LGBT+ Christian discourse, or at least in conservative subculture. I have some brief thoughts on the phrase “struggle with same-sex attraction”. 

I respect an individual’s choice of language when it comes to sexuality descriptors.  I do, however, have concerns when a non-straight person doesn’t use LGBT+ self-identifiers; not because I want to force them into a box, but because their reasons for not doing so usually include mistaken ideas about gay identity. So when someone says, “I struggle with same-sex attraction”, I will say they are “same-sex attracted” and not insist they call themselves gay, but I’m going to leave the verb “struggle” out of my future sentences. You might be asking why that matters. It matters because using this kind of language is a refusal to take ownership over actual sin in our lives.

To be fair, I do believe being non-straight comes with a whole host of struggles, but where is that suffering coming from? It usually comes from voices that are telling us we aren’t beloved children of God, that our lives are going to be filled with loneliness if we can’t get married, and that being gay is unfortunate at best and disgusting at worst. We live in a society where LGBT+ people suffer from familial rejection, homelessness, job discrimination, and a long litany of injustices. A queer life does include suffering and we shouldn’t minimize it, but we can recognize it without equating all forms of suffering as sinful. 

But what about sexual sin struggles? I’ve talked before why sexuality is morally neutral and not a sin itself. Heck, it’s not even temptation itself. Every orientation encompasses good, bad, and neutral inclinations. Some of the most chaste people I know are LGBT+. If you woke up tomorrow as a straight person, I doubt you’re going to stop struggling with unwanted temptations.

You don’t struggle with same-sex attraction. You struggle with lust. 

Saying you struggle with same-sex attraction because you lust is like saying you struggle with your pretty rad hairstyle because you happen to be vane about it. You’re taking a morally neutral component of yourself and saying that is the source of your sin. It’s a subtle and common form of homophobia when Christians take every common sinful experience and attribute it to being gay. 

If it’s evident that heterosexual people are afflicted with sexual sin, then it frees us from shifting blame for our sins onto our sexual orientations. There is nothing unhealthy, maladjusted, or shameful about having a non-straight orientation. Jesus Christ calls us to refrain from looking at human beings as sexual objects. Stop blaming your morally neutral orientation. Start taking ownership over self-control, repent of internalized homophobia, go to counseling, and find yourself a non-homophobic spiritual director. Commit to prayer practices, accountability, and solid friendships. 

Unlike conservative critics suggest, I’m not interested in a victim mentality. It’s interesting to me that this accusation is thrown around when we call the Church to corporately repent of unjust treatment to non-straight people, but then they go on to box us into victim language of affliction, suffering, and despair. 

I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am enabled to love other men and reject lust. Let’s allow God’s grace to transform us by taking ownership over our sins, using spiritually edifying language for queerness, and surrounding ourselves with robust community. 

Relevant Reading: 

“Why Homosexuality is Not My Struggle” 

“My Gay Lifestyle”

“Why Won’t You Pray Away the Gay?” 

Mary: More Spacious Than The Heavens

I just recently moved cities, but at my last parish one of my favorite parts was looking up behind the altar and seeing this icon above encompass almost the entire east wall.

The icon is called “More Spacious than the Heavens”. Why? How can Mary be more spacious than the destination we are called to dwell in for eternity? I think that this icon has more to say about Advent, God, and his relationship to humankind than it does about Mary herself. 

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” – 1 Kings 8:27

We view God as transcendent, distant, and never-changing. God holds the whole creation in his hand and possesses divine sovereignty over our lives. And yet, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ awakened us to a deeper understanding of God.

In the Incarnation, God becomes what we are – human. He is fully human and fully divine. Remember that the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity decided to take on all of his human nature from his mother. 

Why is Mary more spacious than the heavens? Because she contained the Uncontainable One. The sustainer of the whole cosmos is now sustained by his mother’s womb. Our God who provides nourishment to the whole creation must now feed on the nourishment of his mother’s breasts. Mary is more spacious than the heavens because she embodied that which the Heavens could not. 

The Nativity hymnography of the Christian East cuts through all the typical sentimentality we usually hear:

“I behold a strange, most glorious mystery! Heaven-the cave! The cherubic throne-the Virgin! The manger-the place where Christ lay, the uncontainable God, Whom we magnify in song!”

Mary is the prefigurement of what we all are when we approach the Holy Table. When we feed on Christ’s body and blood, our own bodies become divine dwelling places. We partake in a God who is not elusive or distant; we partake in a God who intimately wants to reside in and through us. 

May the Incarnation illumine our understanding of God and His work in creation. Amen. 

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 way. 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, 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.