From Celibate Gay Poster Child to Future Gay Husband

The most humbling thing I ever have to do is admit when I am wrong. It’s not humbling because I hate changing my beliefs; I kind of delight in being less wrong, actually. The thing I dislike about shifting my beliefs is that it tends to alienate people with whom I have developed close friendships based on a shared personal conviction.

I dread the thought of disappointing many of you in writing that I am fully affirming of same-sex marriage as a blessed covenant before God. In this reflection, I will not make the arguments for my position, but provide little bit of context to the process that got me (and my partner) there.

The Backstory

In the past eight years of being a Christian, I have always held the traditional view of marriage and sexuality, initially believing God was calling me to marry a woman. I was told to do otherwise would be tantamount to abandoning my newly formed faith. My thinking about marriage changed when I ended my four-year-long relationship with a female friend in 2017. Things got even more complicated a year and a half ago, when I fell in love with Kyle. Neither him nor I wanted to cut off the deep bond we were forming, but our consciences did not allow us to pursue a sexual relationship. We eventually decided to begin a celibate partnership, immediately seeking advice from priests, pastors, and our community in order to do something we had no idea how to do.

While most people were unable or unwilling to give us a lot of advice, I wrote a lot of blog posts and social media updates on what living in a celibate partnership was like, never intending to be a poster child for any movement or cause. I have always been upfront that I am not a theologian or an expert; I simply want to live with integrity and transparency with my readers and faith community. Writing is my process of thinking out loud.

It has always been a challenge for me to intellectually defend the traditional perspective on sexuality. My blog from the onset was not an apologetic for the traditional position, but a personal reflection on how I was doing my best to live into my conviction on sexual morality. Regardless of my view on sexual ethics, I strongly believed that God was calling me to share life with Kyle in companionship for the attainment of my sanctification. As we grew deeper in love, I saw a more patient and tender Kyle come to life . I became less stubborn to doing things my way. I have witnessed us become better together than previously when we were apart.

We did our best to be open about our partnership, damaging some longstanding relationships with other Christians, friends, and family members. It resulted in Kyle leaving his church and both of us feeling unsupported by gossip and suspicion in our communities.

The Turning Point

The turning point for me began in March of this year when I wrote a response to Sam Allberry defending non-sexual same-sex relationships. While I felt it was one of the best articulations of my support for same-sex love, I felt unsatisfied. While that piece was sincerely written to defend my choice to be celibate in a relationship that I did not believe was a sacramental marriage, I could no longer grasp how or why I would be harming my relationship with God if Kyle and I decided to marry and express sexual intimacy within that marriage. Why was I trying so hard to prove my relationship was not imitating marriage? I needed answers.

Around the same time, a friend of mine posted on social media describing God’s alleged prohibitions against same-sex sexual activity as timeless commandments that “lead to human flourishing”. I found myself feeling annoyed. What evidence does he have that this prohibition leads to flourishing? Why does marrying someone of the same sex seem to be so obviously wrong to him but not to me? I should not have felt angry, I reasoned. If I truly believed same-sex sexual activity was wrong, then shouldn’t I wholeheartedly endorse this kind of language? We shouldn’t merely tolerate God’s commands, we should delight in them. And yet, I could never sincerely say to my affirming friends “What you are doing is harming yourself and your relationship with God”.

It dawned on me that when my gay friends got married, it didn’t grieve me in a way that sin should have. While I was trying my best to faithfully receive the traditional teaching, I struggled with being able to articulate my reasons for believing God was calling every gay Christian to celibacy or marriage with the opposite sex. There was a cognitive dissonance in my heart that was starting to boil to the surface. I had to do something about it.

The Discernment

This led me to reading a lot of books, journaling, listening to lectures and debates, seeking the counsel of Christians, and praying for better discernment. During that time, I did not publish any new content on my blog, publicly defend celibate partnerships, or argue a defense for the traditional sexual ethic. The most I did was publicly defend celibate gay Christians from slander and criticism. Additionally, I consulted a dozen celibate gay Christian friends for advice and support during my process, some of whom I discussed with for hours on multiple occasions. I even deleted my social media for a month to step back to hear God’s voice over all the noise.

Kyle was also embarking on a journey of his own. Since leaving his last evangelical church, Kyle and I have been learning and wrestling with theological concepts through robust dialogue. The sexual ethics conversation was no different. I remember one evening when I was particularly more upset than usual at the prospect of becoming affirming, he tightly wrapped his arms around me and said, “I am not with you because of your theology. I am not with you because I expect us to be married or have sex in the future. I am with you because I love you. None of that changes.” Kyle has been a channel of grace and peace to me.

After several months of intense discernment, both of us arrived at the affirming position. We no longer believe sex between two people of the same sex is always a sin. We believe God established the Sacrament of Marriage for the salvation of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Both are in equal need of the grace for their theosis.

This has not been a simple process. I have read more than I have ever cared to read (and that is saying something!). I have sobbed into my pillow asking God to convict my conscience to the traditional position again. I pleaded with God to take this thorn out of flesh that puts me at odds with the people I love. I have felt like a failure to the dozens upon dozens of celibate gay Christians who email or message me saying this blog gives them hope to live out celibacy. That’s the weird thing about beliefs: We don’t choose them. Beliefs form as the result of a weird intersection of faith, hope, reason, experience, and conscience.

I have wondered why, if the traditional view is true, couldn’t the arguments be better? I have wondered why, if the affirming position is true, couldn’t the Tradition of the Church demonstrate explicit support for it? There is a lot I am still wrestling through in my frustration with both conservative and progressive Christians who have added on a lot of unnecessary shame in asking these questions.

The Unknown

There is much to look forward to in this new season of life. I am excited in the coming days to explore with you publicly the reasons for changing my position. I am praying for the day, sometime in the future, when Kyle and I decide to make vows to be husbands to one another before the Lord.

But I can’t pretend that I am not grieving. I was recently talking with an affirming friend who described abandoning non-affirming theology as lifting a huge boulder off his back that he had gotten used to carrying for years. That resonates with me. It feels freeing that, once married, Kyle and I will renew our marital vows in the one-flesh union of sexual intimacy. We no longer have to explain ourselves to skeptics. Our consciences will be clear.

And yet, the thing is, part of me misses that boulder right now. That boulder kept me in communion with so many other celibate gay Christians carrying heavy, but beautifully rich burdens of their own. It is a community where right now many feel very betrayed, disappointed, sad, confused, and angry by our departure. Some speculate that our change in position is because we could not handle the burden of celibacy. Others think we are abandoning our obedience to Christ. Others feel we are taking the easy path to fulfill the desires of the flesh. Certain people perceive that we pretended to be a voice for the celibate gay movement while our convictions were drifting to a different place, despite us taking a step back during that process. And yet, at this moment, I feel more vulnerable to losing the love, commitment, and security the celibate, non-affirming boulder allowed me to have.

I worry who will still be there for us when they read this. I get anxious about one day having to worry about who to invite to my wedding, wearying over who will reject the invitation. I respect everyone’s right to grieve our choices, but I would be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt when I see yet another celibate gay Christian unfriend me on social media. I wonder what will happen to me in my own Christian tradition. Will I be excommunicated once I marry?

The unknown frightens me, but I could not live with myself if I were dishonest.

Costly Obedience

I recently attended the Revoice Conference for the second year in a row. While I walked away edified by much of the content, it was a bittersweet experience this year. Much of the rhetoric surrounding gay celibacy centered on “costly obedience”. To be sure, celibacy costs a lot. It is a sacrifice that pleases Jesus. But the logical implication is that sincerely being convicted of the affirming position, marrying Kyle, and doing my best to follow Christ would somehow cheapen grace; as if making a covenant before God to give our very lives and bodies over to one another forever is to throw away our Cross.

Thankfully, St. Paul calls marriage “a profound mystery [of] Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage is typified by the Incarnate God who humbled himself in submission to the Father and poured out on us His Spirit. The Bridegroom of the Church who washed our feet and exhorted us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) becomes the model that Kyle and I will follow in holy matrimony. Christ our Master became a servant of submission, as spouses “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). When a man marries a woman, they both pick up their crosses to follow Christ. We don’t call them selfish. Even if you disagree with affirming theology, I hope we can agree lifelong commitment costs something.

The Eastern Christian wedding service illustrates marriage as an ascetic discipline. The spouses wear crowns on their heads, representing the crowns of martyrdom in establishing what Fr. Alexander Schmemann calls a “little kingdom”. What a beautiful foretaste of the Kingdom to come!

Abandoning Tradition?

I still agree with St. Paul that celibacy is the highest calling (1 Cor 7:7) but I no longer believe it is the calling of every gay Christian who is not married to the opposite sex. My beliefs about marital fidelity and sexual morality have not changed; only modified in when and how they are applied. I will later argue in my blog that they are the same principles that we apply for any Christian who “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor 7:9). My theology is very much rooted in the creeds, the councils, the Scriptures, and the saints. That is not going away.

I do not believe in throwing out Holy Tradition or pretending the Holy Fathers and Mothers condoned same-sex sexual activity (they didn’t!). I want to write about the deeper questions that I have been pondering the last several months:

Is the same-sex sexual activity condemned by biblical authors morally analogous to the monogamous, lifelong covenants that two baptized men or women are seeking to establish in Christ within contemporary times?

Is the male and female pairing in Genesis a prescriptive model for all marital relationships or a descriptive model for the origins of humankind?

What is the purpose of sex and its context within marriage?

Can creation ordinances from God change based on human need and the alleviation of suffering, even if its the ordinance of marriage?

Does the marriage or sexual intercourse between male and female portray the love of Christ and the Church in a way two men or two women cannot?

How did the Holy Fathers and Mothers understand gender and its fulfillment in the Eschaton? What does this mean for gender identity, gender roles, ordination, and marriage today?

What is sex complementarity and how can it be grounded with the existence of intersex bodies?

Even if male/female marriage is the ideal, can we condone same-sex relationships in a similar way as divorce and re-marriage in the Orthodox and Protestant traditions?

Whether you think I am right or wrong, I welcome the opportunity to inquire these topics with you.

I do not know what the future holds in its entirety. I feel the weight of tension in being in a traditional church that does not know exactly how to pastorally care for gay people like us. Please keep me, Kyle, and our loved ones in your prayers as we embark on this new journey. If I am wrong, I pray that God and my fellow siblings in Christ extend grace to me in the midst of my error.

God, in your mercy, forgive my moral faults, as well as my intellectual ones. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Recommended Reading

Books:

Sex Difference in Christian Theology by Megan DeFranza

Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson

Modern Kinship by David Khalaf and Constantino Khalaf

Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same Sex Relationships by Karen Keen

Debating Same-Sex Marriage by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher

What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? by John Corvino

Articles:

Same-Sex Complementarity by Eugene Rogers

A Theology of Marriage Including Same-Sex Couples by Eugene Rogers, Deirdre Good, Willis Jenkins, and Cynthia Kittredge

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!

Repent of Your Gay Sin

As the Revoice Conference in June approaches, it’s likely LGBT+ Christians will receive plenty of reminders from the conference’s critics to repent of sin and place their “identities in Christ”. I agree with them that repenting is the work of every Christian. I also appreciate the emphasis on dying to self and rising to a new life with God.

However, if last year’s criticisms of the conference are any indication of the health of the Church, then we need to prepare for it with prayer and fasting. Leaders of evangelical churches demonstrated just how willing they were to misrepresent and demonize queer people. I sincerely pray for people under weight of pastoral malpractice.

But these critics were right about one thing: I have a multitude of gay sins to repent for. We all do.

Let us repent of the lie that we are shameful or dirty for our lack of heterosexuality.

Let us repent of the lie that our sexual sins would vanish if our sexual orientations were to change.

Let us repent of the lie that you earn basic dignity by adhering to a particular church’s sexual ethic.

Let us repent of the lie that we aren’t allowed to lament when others do not love us well.

Let us repent of the lie that we are lacking in “grace” for calling something homophobic.

Let us repent of the lie that homophobia does not pervade the minds and hearts of loving people.

Let us repent of the lie that gay sexual sin is the most pressing sexual sin of our time.

Let us repent of the lie that LGBT+ believers cannot offer unique gifts and talents to the Body of Christ.

Let us repent of the lie that heterosexuality is not a broken sexuality.

Let us repent of the lie that gay orientation only encompasses a propensity to lust and fornicate.

Let us repent of the lie that LGBT+ people are not God’s children.

Let us repent of the lie that heterosexual marriage is the only vocation of love, commitment, and holiness.

Let us repent of the lie that we are above criticism simply because we inhabit one or more marginalized experiences.

Let us repent of the lie that we are not infinitely loved by God, even when we mess up.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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. 

10 Ways to Become the Poster Child for Gay Christian Celibacy

I’ve had the opportunity to meet other LGBT+ Christians with very different walks of life and within many kinds of Christian traditions. Most of the folks I interact with are more theologically progressive than I am and are understandably skeptical of someone who strives for celibacy within a conservative tradition. Sometimes I receive remarks that the only reason I’m celibate and hold to traditional sexual ethics is because it keeps me in good graces with conservative straight people. 

As someone who rarely has positive interactions with conservative Christians when I share my story, this particular assumption didn’t resonate with me. The more I thought about it, though, it made sense when I looked beyond my individual narrative and reflected on the macro LGBT narrative in conservative Christian discourse. What are the popular stories within conservative churches when framing the topic of sexuality? The lived experience of traditional sexual ethics typically relies on testimonies of cisgender men and women who “struggle” against their sexuality with very specific requirements for their vocation to be seen as holy or faithful. 

My progressive friends aren’t thinking of my LGBT+ friends who wear gender non-conforming clothes, proudly paint their nails, or attend PRIDE marches every year; and yet, my friends hold to a traditional view of marriage and sexuality. These are some of the queerest folks I know but their stories of faithfulness to traditional theology will never be amplified in their respective culture religious communities. 

Here’s a list of ten requirements for gender and sexual minorities if they want to be given a platform in the conservative church: 

1. Avoid terms like gay, bi, queer, etc.

Your non-straight sexual orientation should always be referred to as “same-sex attraction”. Because the three-letter word “gay” indicates making your sexuality the totality of your identity, then clearly the three-letter abbreviation of SSA does not! If you use LGBT+ language, then you will look too liberal for the theological gatekeepers for your voice to recommended as authoritative. You might get away with using it if you frame yourself as similar to someone calling themselves an “alcoholic” and naming their sin; or maybe as a missiological vocabulary to reach lost souls. 

2. Frame your sexuality as purely a struggle.

Your sexuality might be a thorn in your flesh, stumbling block, cross, or temptation, but it certainly can’t be a blessing. Do not talk about your queerness as a connection to a beautiful subculture or community. Anything associated with your sexuality besides suffering will result in people assuming that you are playing “identity politics” or “creating an identity based on sinful inclinations”. For most conservative folks, they see queerness through a lens of sexual sin and not a relation to beauty in this world or in other people. 

3. Add a qualifier of hope to your “persistent same-sex attractions”.

Make it abundantly clear that even though it’s not required to become straight, you pray that God will heal you of your gayness in the future. There might be a way to get around this one; you could at least lament your attractions like Paul’s thorn in his flesh. You will need many justifications for why you do not trust God enough to let go of your broken sexuality (as if gay orientations are the only kinds of broken sexualities). 

4. Do not enter into celibate partnerships or vowed friendships with other people of the same sex.

This is definitely a dealbreaker. Your credibility on this topic will be utterly comprised if you are living celibacy in a community of two. If you are partnered and celibate, you will have virtually no platform in conservative spaces, even traditional LGBT+ Christian spaces.  If you are not in one of these partnerships, you may be able to say positive things about them on occasion as long as you add warnings that they are “risky” and not for most LGBT+ people. In addition to this, your conception of “family” should be strictly reduced to  the straight nuclear family; no concept of queer family allowed. 

5. Do not use your cisgender voice to support trans folks.

Discussing trans experiences will have you immediately written off as a social justice liberal with no theological credibility. As sloppy as the Church is at helping sexual minorities, it’s nothing compared to the lack of education on gender minorities. You will look like you’ve gone off the deep end if you suggest using preferred pronouns or calling a trans person by their new name. 

6. You’re allowed to talk about singleness but talk about marriage more.

The Church is improving on discussing the role of singles in the local church. Gay celibates are sometimes welcome to share the hardships of singleness (it’s better than partnerships at least) but they must realize these problems could be solved through a mixed- orientation marriage (marrying someone of the opposite sex). If you say God is not calling you to marriage, you may be accused of not trusting God. 

7. You must conform to a narrow view of gender.

Your clothing choices, tone, and gestures can’t be “too gay” if you want to share your experience as a sexual minority. If you’re a gay man who likes makeup and feminine clothing and says “Yaaas” while sipping your iced coffee, then no platform for you! You will be given direction on “biblical manhood” with a list of rules that are ironically absent from the Bible. 

8. Do not speak positively about your non-celibate, progressive LGBT+ siblings.

If you call your LGBT+ friends fellow believers who disagree on a nuanced issue, that crosses a line of fellowship. You must frame yourself as the obedient Christian and them as disobedient sinners who only care about the desires of the flesh. Any hint of extending grace on this complex theological topic will raise eyebrows, following with accusations that you are watering down the Gospel or relativizing morality. You must reject any kind of statement that would suggest your friends in same-sex relationships have anything to teach you in becoming more like Christ. 

9. Do not attempt to exercise any spiritual wisdom as a lay celibate.

You can’t rebuke or correct homophobia for fear of being labeled an insubordinate. You can’t disciple anyone. You can rarely serve in leadership if you’re out of the closet. The default assumption is that you cannot possibly have any insight to offer people on this issue because you’re biased (as if straight people who have been conditioned to dehumanize and despise gay people are any less biased). 

10. Don’t hang out with a lot of LGBT+ folks.

If you spend significant amounts of time with non-straight Christians, there will be concerns that you are isolating yourself from church and community, as if you’re in a queer bubble. Although surprisingly, you won’t hear anyone complaining about a straight bubble when most people hang out exclusively with heterosexuals. There’s also a hidden assumption that gay people are not part of the Body of Christ with their own gifts to minister to others. It’s imperative for you to stop hanging out with “stumbling blocks” and start spending time with actual Christians. 

I understand that progressive Christians possess a narrative that is a tougher sell; that God blesses same-sex sexual relationships as marriages. But the idea that my story is one the scores points is simply false. My story rarely goes well when I share it with conservative Christians even after telling them I accept and follow the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. When straight Christians respond positively, it’s a rare surprise. Usually at best, Christian friends say nothing; at worst they gossip or say dehumanizing things. 

I see myself in a position where I deeply know and love many LGBT+ Christians with a wide array of perspectives. I can easily point to acquaintances in diverging camps and say, “Yep, those two would click as good friends easily” and yet, they’ll never meet because of this ideological wedge. We assume based on the answers to the questions “What is marriage?” and “In what context is sexual activity pleasing to God?” that we know all the elements of someone’s story, worldview and their perception of us. I’m just as guilty of this and I want to do better. 

If you’re a progressive Christian, sit with my rule guide above and ask yourself if your imagination of celibacy is broad enough to accurately level a statement like, “Anthony’s narrative is just his way of appeasing conservatives”. 

If you’re a celibate LGBT+ Christian, take my rule guide and throw it in the trash.  

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.