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

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.

I love you but…

This morning, I came across a heartbreaking post on a Facebook friend’s profile:

Received tonight from a great-grandmother (one of the most poignant responses I have received yet)…

“Thirty four years ago this week, our family created an unnecessarily empty chair at our Thanksgiving table. Earlier that Autumn of 1983, our second of four sons had revealed to my husband and me that he was homosexual. While the story is too long and intricate to share in detail in this forum, suffice it to say, we absolutely drove him away. Though we didn’t mean to, that is exactly what we did. We told him that we loved him BUT…and then he was gone. GONE. DISAPPEARED.

Oh, for sure, we felt righteously justified, year after year, by the emptiness of the chair — heartbroken but righteous, with the righteousness obviously more important to us than the heartbreak. After all, the Apostle Paul had taught in First Corinthians 5, ‘With such a one, do not even eat.’ So we didn’t. We were good Christians but terrible parents.

While a book could be, and deserves to be, written here, I just wanted you to know that our son died nine years later of AIDS. And while the people in our church ‘knew’ this was ‘the wages of sin,’ I knew then, and know now, it had nothing to do with his sin and everything to do with ours.

So please keep doing what you are doing and saying what you are saying. It matters.

P.S. This Thanksgiving, one of our granddaughters, who happens to be homosexual, sat in the chair of an uncle she doesn’t remember. And she said the Thanksgiving prayer. It was beautiful.

And I was heartbroken and grateful.

I look forward to the day when I can sit again at the table with her uncle and my boy. Heaven must give me the chance to tell him I am sorry.”

This was the first thing I read this morning. It hit me so hard that I started weeping. My familial estrangement isn’t related to my sexuality, yet so much of this story resonated with me. Placing the conjunction “but” on love in a vulnerable moment alienates LGBT people from the Church, rather than running to Her as Mother.

As a gay man, I never stop coming out. Every person I meet initiates a complex process of emotional calculation: When do I mention it to this person? Do I wait for it to come up naturally? What if they ask me a question about marriage or dating? Am I lying by omission if I answer a question vaguely? Is this person safe?

Coming out is a vulnerable ordeal, especially within the context of faith communities. A consistent response I receive from Christians when I come out is, “I love you, but I can’t support same-sex marriage” or “I love you, but I can’t support sin.” Setting aside the constant assumption of what my sexual ethic looks like or what does/does not happen in my bedroom, that response just doesn’t sit right with me.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to adopt a liberal sexual ethic to love LGBT people. I’m not saying you can’t find specific sexual behaviors immoral while simultaneously loving sexual and gender minorities. I think LGBT people like myself find the “I love you, but…” response so frustrating because it’s uniquely applied to us and not to straight people.

Imagine if your friend broke down one day and shared the present difficulties within her marriage. I certainly hope your response wouldn’t be, “I love you, but I can’t support divorce.” Your response would assume a lot about her decisions, context, and culpability in the situation. It would also miss an opportunity to meet your friend’s need for love that she isn’t currently receiving from her husband.

Back to the original post:

What I love about the reflection from the woman in this story, is that she didn’t specificy what her current theological stance is on same-sex marriage and gay sex. She didn’t need to. She recognized sin as a communal disorder where her actions had the direct spiritual impact on her son. She repented. She is doing her best to love her granddaughter. And she earnestly looks to the day of Resurrection when “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev 21:4) and experience eternal communion with her son. This email could have been written by a woman who has a traditional sexual ethic or a liberal sexual ethic, and I’m genuinely grateful for her courage.

When I put in the emotional labor to tell you I’m gay, switch up the conjunction. Try: “I love you and nothing you just told me will ever change that.”