Why I Changed My Mind on Women Clergy

The Orthodox Church, while never dogmatically ruling against women priests, has never ordained women. There is, however, a historical basis to reviving the female diaconate, which has simply fallen into disuse for various reasons.

Although St. Paul asks for women’s silence in the church in one specific context (1 Cor 14:34), he also commends St. Junia as a fellow co-worker and Apostle (Romans 16:7), and praises St. Priscilla, the teacher of St. Apollos. Paul also mentions women praying and prophesying publicly in the local churches (1 Cor 11). He calls St. Phoebe a deacon and she is the one who teaches the Letter to the Romans (Romans 16).

The Church is indebted to the contributions of holy women, and has recognized them consistently in their veneration of saints. St. Macrina the Younger taught her younger brothers St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa while leading a monastery. Female emperors like St. Theodora restored icons and convened councils, while preachers like St. Mary Magdalene witnessed the Resurrection are fondly referred to as “Equal to the Apostles” in liturgical prayer.

I was not for male-only clergy because I believed men were better than women. I simply believed God gave men and women different roles. My catechism class taught me that women had the unique ability to create biological life in their bodies (pregnancy) while priests had the the unique ability to create life on the altar (the Risen Jesus in the Eucharist). They were not saying men had to be priests and women had to be mothers, but were giving an example of how difference does not mean lacking in dignity.

But pregnancy is unique to female bodies because of biology. While a male body cannot become pregnant, a female body can receive the laying of hands, say public prayers, preach, and perform the sacraments. Nature does not prevent her from doing so. Furthermore, men also create new life biologically, though they do not carry the child to term. The analogy did not make sense upon further reflection.

Another perspective I hear often is rooted in Christ’s role as the Bridegroom of the Church. The Church has historically been identified as the Bride of Christ. The priests are bridegrooms. Priests are also addressed as fathers. Thus, priests are to be men.

But analogies can only go so far. St. Paul describes himself and his preaching companions as nursing mothers, not fathers (1 Thess. 2:7). Jesus is not only illustrated as a Bridegroom, he is also described as a Lamb. The Church is not only depicted as a spouse, She is also depicted as the Body of Christ. Restricting the roles of women simply because of one analogy among many does not do the analogy justice.

The understanding of priesthood I landed on for several years was rooted in Roman Catholic sacramental theology; the priest being in persona Christi, or the person of Christ. I acknowledged that since Christ is a male, and because a priest is an icon of Christ at the altar, only men could be icons of Christ at the altar. We use bread and wine for communion and water for baptism, so it made that in picking twelve male apostles, Christ indicated to us that males are the necessary “matter” to the Sacrament in order to represent him.

Critics to this perspective point out that Christ was a Jew and the Twelve were Jewish. Why is maleness an essential property for ordination but not Jewish ethnicity The ontological question is answered by St. Paul:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal 3:28

A response to this is that ethnicity does not point to the ontological nature of personhood, but gender (maleness or femaleness) does. However, making maleness an essential part of personhood, whether for Christ or for us, indidcates worse implications.

First, maleness and femaleness cannot be essential parts of our personhood. God being called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has never intended to say anything about the gender of the Trinity. Men and women are both fully made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) who is without gender. Women and men could not both reflect the Godhead if this was the case.

Secondly, this argument does not merely exclude women from the clergy, it excludes them from salvation. St. Gregory of Nazianzus asserted that “the unassumed is the unhealed.” The Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). In other words, Jesus had to clothe himself in every part of humanity to share in all of its suffering and death in order to save it. The Cross does not save because it is God in male flesh; it saves because it is God in human flesh.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson puts it more succinctly:

“It is not a hysterical overstatement, then, to assert that the ordination of women is closely tied to the salvation of women. If the female cannot represent Christ because of her femininity, it is hard to understand how Christ in his masculinity can represent her in his death and resurrection.”

Making Jesus’ maleness an essential part of his personhood is in conflict with what the Church Fathers believed about the Incarnation. This does not mean they supported women priests! None of them could probably have imagined this discussion taking place like it is in contemporary ecumenical dialogue. But it does mean we need to listen to the Holy Spirit working through them in their teachings on Christology and Incarnational theology, and following that to its logical conclusion (i.e. ordaining women as full icons of Christ). This is not a new project, by the way. The Church Fathers say things the Church no longer practices or believes, but that’s another post for another time.

Far from abandoning the Great Tradition, ordaining women enhances it.

One last thought before this discussion goes too far up the ivory tower — The most impactful moment for me arriving at this conclusion was at an Episcopal Christmas Eve service hearing a woman say the Eucharistic Prayer and watching her distribute the Divine Gifts. That’s it. There is not a doubt in my mind these women represent Christ. Holy Orders enable them to present the eucharistic gifts to the Father, to call upon the Holy Spirit to transform them into the Body and Blood of the Son.

The Church will ordain women when it listens to women calling us to the Resurrected One, just as it did on Easter morning.

Author’s Note: I had very little original thought to add to this discussion, so I will direct you to better resources below.

Books:

The Ministry of Women in the Church by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel by Sarah Hinlicky-Wilson

The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Met. Kallistos Ware

Articles:

Ordaining Women: Two Views by Jessica Ferrara and Sarah Hinlicky-Wilson

Ecumenical Perspectives on the Ordination of Women by Sarah Hinlicky-Wilson

From Charisms to Calling by Wesley Hill

Progressive Gay Celibacy: A Response to Nick Roen

Nick Roen, pastor and public writer on faith and sexuality, wrote a fascinating take on the state of the “Side B” movement in the Church. Side B has been a term used to describe any person who does not believe God blesses same-sex sexual activity or same-sex marriage. Conversely, “Side A” describes people who do not believe same-sex sexual activity is always a sin. Nick admits that he is no longer comfortable identifying with the Side B movement because it is a term that is too inclusive and too vague to be meaningful in casting a traditional Christian vision of human sexuality.

I have enjoyed reading Nick’s reflections the past several years. Our interactions on Twitter have always been edifying, and I continue to have much to learn from him in the coming years. Even though I recently moved to a fully affirming position on same-sex sexual relationships, I found myself agreeing with much of his analysis on human sexuality discourse within the Church. The progressive/conservative rift within the Side B community has been an issue I have expressed concern over in private conversations over in the past year. I want to go through some of the excerpts from his piece that I found the most illuminating.

I’ll mostly focus on one main reason that I feel compelled to distance myself from the label, but there are no doubt more. For example, even the very language of Side A and Side B presents as two sides of the same Christian coin. 

I deeply resonate with this concern. The Side A/Side B dichotomy has often led to a kind of theological relativism. I have heard self-identified Side B Christians say something akin to “I am personally Side B, but I think Side A is a valid option. Not everyone is called to celibacy.” This view makes little sense because if same-sex sexual activity is a serious sin, then it should be something from which we refrain; we cannot leave it up to personal preference. Similarly, I have heard self-identified Side A Christians say phrases like “Side B is fine if people choose it for themselves; it’s when they start saying queer relationships are wrong that I have a problem.” This description of Side B is unhelpful as well, because the traditional position is intrinsically connected with the concern of same-sex sexual activity being a sin. If it weren’t, then we are only describing personal celibacy, which is perfectly compatible with affirming theology.

I think my biggest concern with the Side B movement has come down to this: there is such a wide diversity of beliefs that flow downstream from the broad source of a “traditional sexual ethic” that it is impossible to pin down what Side B actually “looks like”. Really, the only thing you can definitively say is that Side B is a whole bunch of people from a whole bunch of Christian backgrounds saying that they believe sex is reserved for a one-man, one-woman marriage while also rejecting promises of certain orientation change.

This is a fair assessment of the limitations of Side A/Side B language. Even when I identified as Side B, I sometimes felt like I had more in common with particular Side A individuals than I did with other self-identified Side Bers who discussed their same-sex attraction solely as a source of struggle. At the time, many of my affirming friends shared my outlook in feeling connected to a broader queer community and culture, while many of my traditional friends felt alienated by it.

For me, the most personal example of the progressive/conservative rift in Side B spaces was the topic of celibate partnerships. My Side A friends were generally accepting of our relationship and our choice to refrain from sex, while many Side B people had serious moral reservations. I agree with Nick that answering one question (“Is same-sex sexual activity a sin?”) is not the most effective way in promoting a particular sexual ethic.

But can Side B ecumenism surrounding only a traditional view of marriage win the support of more broadly conservative Christian circles that are watching?

Here, Nick is concerned with the Side B movement’s perception among conservative Christians. Now, I want to offer my thoughts here with the full acknowledgment that Nick has been far more involved in pastoral ministry, study, and public witness than I have. I want to offer my pushback with that understanding in mind. I don’t believe the lack of conservative support to sexual minorities has much to do with lack of Side B unity. In fact, Ron Belgau, the co-founder of Spiritual Friendship and other writers repeatedly clarified the positions of their articles in response to conservative criticisms of Revoice. Revoice later released their Statement on Sexual Ethics. The result has been consistent misrepresentation from conservative critics. I readily admit that I am speaking as an observer here, so I very well may be inaccurate in my understanding of the ongoing conversation. Judging by the repeated mischaracterizations from Rosaria Butterfield, Denny Burk, and Christopher Yuan, I am forced to infer that conservatives are ignoring public intellectuals regardless of the diversity of viewpoints within Side B.

In my view, I believe the past few years have shown that a “traditional view of marriage and sex” isn’t enough unity to get that job done. It’s a great starting point, and a good initial test of orthodoxy.

I concur with Nick that our definition of marriage should be one of the first questions we ask. However, I have difficulty assigning a teaching not found in the ecumenical councils or ancient creeds as an adequate test for theological fidelity. For myself, I disagree with divorce and remarriage in most cases, and yet I would not immediately label a Reformed Baptist as a heretic merely for holding a more liberal position on the matter. I currently think the creeds and councils are the best initial test for “orthodoxy”, but I am open to amending my view if I hear a better one.

For example, one might believe that sex is reserved for heterosexual marriage while also believing that same-sex orientation is not (at least totally) disordered, but is rather a good to be celebrated. And so he or she will refrain from gay sex, but celebrate Gay Pride and talk of their orientation as a feature, and not a bug, of the experience of their embodied soul.

I appreciate Nick’s nuance in describing the plurality of views within the Side B movement. Considerations of the moral status of same-sex attraction, same-sex sexual activity, and one’s own relationship with the secular LGBT community are questions of utmost importance. As mentioned earlier, I am not familiar with any public figure within the Side B conversation who is saying same-sex sexual desire is not a result of the Fall or recommending that Christians should attend Pride festivals. And even if there were, it should not be presumed that these folks are affirming or unorthodox for simply coming to a different conclusion in how the traditional sexual ethic should be lived out.

Nick writes a thorough, accurate analysis of the progressive views that have been gaining traction among lay people within Side B circles the past few years, in particular celibate partnerships, queer culture, and sublimation of gay desire. He sums up his critiques of these views by saying:

I guess what I’m really saying is that a traditional view of marriage isn’t enough for me to feel comfortable being affiliated with a movement. Side Ber’s can all say “We believe this one thing” while living their lives very differently. And the differences, in my mind, matter a great deal. If a hypothetical person can legitimately be Side B who is in a celibate partnership, celebrates Pride, does not believe same-sex orientation is disordered, and affirms the faith of practicing Side A folks, then I simply can’t claim the label Side B. I suspect I’m not alone.

I am sure this made a few self-identified Side B Christians uncomfortable, but it was the excerpt of Nick’s reflection that struck a chord for me. There are certain tensions that I experienced when I was Side B and held more progressive positions on certain issues. It was difficult for me to 1) Believe in the sinfulness of same-sex sexual acts and 2) Think it was good to possess an attraction towards those particular acts (i.e. “It is good to be gay”).

When I identified as Side B , I attempted to separate “queerness” from the sexual aspects of queer relationships. While I agree that queerness is not merely reducible to sexual desire or sexual action, it is unclear how one separates queerness from sexual and romantic love. Not every queer person has sex, but sexual experiences are still part of most queer lives. If people lacked same-sex sexual attraction (a fallen desire in the Side B view), then queerness would not exist as we know it. The stigma of gay sexual and romantic love is an essential part to the narrative of queer marginalization and identity.

There was definitely friction between myself and more conservative-leaning Side B people. I interpreted St. Paul as saying every kind of gay sex is sinful when he says, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1: 27). But in discussing my own same-sex attraction and orientation, I could not to resonate with the language of “God gave them up to the sinful desires of their hearts” (Romans 1:24). I will continue to support other progressive-leaning Side B friends in their conclusion that queerness is beautiful and that same-sex attraction is not a sinful or disordered desire, while also recognizing I could not find a way to resolve that tension. It is important for Side B organizations like Spiritual Friendship and Revoice to include diverse voices who are publicly and private wrestling with these questions in their own ways.

In my experience, the tension among different “camps” within the identified Side B movement needed to be named and addressed. I became a Christian at 17 years old as an atheist who did not attend church. Before my conversion, I saw the beauty of same-sex relationships and believed there was nothing wrong or disordered about my gay friends for being attracted to the same sex. I struggled with coming to terms with my sexuality, not because I was convicted there was something broken about same-sex attraction, but because other Christians had told me I should be ashamed of it.

When I discovered the truth about our God made flesh in Jesus Christ, dying for our sins, and granting us life in Resurrection through the Spirit, I tried my best to make my moral intuitions compatible with the conclusions stated in my catechism. It said gay sex was wrong and that same-sex attraction was “intrinsically disordered”. In my past sexual experiences with other men, I knew they were sinful, but not really because of the their gender. I knew they were wrong because they were hookups in absence of covenantal commitment. I was told to be faithful to Christ meant becoming a traditionalist, so I always said I believed same-sex sexual desire was the result of the Fall, hoping my heart would catch up to my words. I tried different ways to make sense of my personal experience in light of Church teaching by praying “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, make me to understand Thy statutes”. I hoped for the possibility of celibate romance and attempted to reframe what it meant for same-sex attraction to be a struggle. Eventually, I realized my position was untenable. I suspect some (not many, or even most) in the “progressive wing” of Side B might be midst of a similar challenge in making sense of their moral intuitions in light of what their Christian leaders, peers, and churches are saying the Bible teaches about human sexuality. That requires honest dialogue and disagreement made in good faith rather than immediately saying “This isn’t truly Side B.”

I appreciate Nick’s charity and directness in explaining his shift away from identifying as Side B. Rather than finding a new label, I simply hope he becomes more outspoken in support for individuals he thinks get it right on sexuality. I would love to hear more of his thoughts on Revoice’s Statement on Sexual Ethics and if it is a sufficient statement to continue identifying with the movement. It would be wonderful for him to continue to enter into more public dialogue with the writers of Spiritual Friendship. Dialogue and collaboration are not tantamount to theological affirmation. While I ultimately disagree with his conclusions, Nick has made an invaluable contribution in asking the Side B community to wrestle with its public perception, beliefs, and consistency.

Edited on 7/5 to make language less generalized in describing Side B views and experiences.

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

Covenant and Calling by Robert Song

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.