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

Are Celibate Gay Christians Prohibited From Same-Sex Romance?

A question Kyle and I receive often is, “Do you consider yourselves to be in a romantic relationship?” As two Christian men who uphold a traditional ethic on sex and marriage (Side B), people are surprised when our answer is yes.

Let me explain. Side B is the belief that the covenant of marriage is a union of one man and one woman, and sexual intercourse is reserved for that union alone. Both Kyle and I come from Christian traditions that teach this ethic. As members of these churches, we are obedient to this doctrine. 

Many Side B Christians share their experience in blogs and testimonies of “being forbidden from romantic relationships with people of the same sex”. But I honestly don’t think they are forbidden from romantic relationships, at least depending on what they mean by romantic. There are a few reasons why I find the term “romance” unhelpful as it relates to sexual ethics. 

1. Romance is too ambiguous of a concept

I’ve yet to hear a good working definition of what constitutes a romantic action or relationship. Is holding hands romantic? What about pouring a glass of champagne for your friend or partner?

I know romance when I see it; I’m just unsure of how to define it. When Kyle takes me out to dinner and sits in the booth beside me, it’s a romantic gesture; there’s special affection between us in our shared experience. But I have affections that are reserved for other friends too that wouldn’t be considered immoral.

It seems romance requires social and cultural context. I don’t see a relevant Scriptural passage for the Christian that prohibits romantic gestures between two people of the same sex, especially because friends engage in these gestures all the time. For example, if kissing is romantic, then David and Jonathan in the Old Testament must have been a gay couple. 

Without a clear working definition, I’m afraid prohibiting “romantic” relationships will only cause LGBT+ Christians to sever emotional intimacy from people of the same sex for fear of it turning into sin. 

2. Romantic doesn’t equal sexual 

This seems obvious to me. If we thought all romance was sexual, then Christians should force all unmarried heterosexual couples to be completely aromantic until marriage, lest they be flirting with sin. 

It doesn’t take a theologian to see a boyfriend buying his girlfriend a rose for Valentine’s Day as a romantic gesture but not a sexual one. It’s easy to sexualize every action between LGBT+ people because we aren’t acknowledging orientation as multi-faceted and complex; we only see queer people as walking sex drives. 

I’m thankful for Kyle taking me out on dates, placing his hand on my knee when I’m upset, or verbalizing compassionate affirmation without worrying that it’s the made-up sin of romanticism. 

3. Connecting romance to sex erases the experience of asexual people

This is a point I don’t have personal experience with, but we can take some wisdom from it. If sex and romance are inherently interconnected, then we risk marginalizing asexual (ace) people, many of whom have romantic relationships but not sexual ones. It’s possible for non-ace people to have romantic non-sexual relationships too, since gay people aren’t sexually attracted to every member of the same sex, or even desire a sexual relationship. 

In my experience, a virtue of the LGBT+ community is its commitment to platonic physical affection. I hold hands and cuddle with close friends I trust, but most Americans would see that as inherently romantic. 

4. Romance isn’t a necessary theological condition for marriage

This might surprise our contemporary culture, but I don’t think marriage has to be romantic in order to be a valid sacrament. If aromantic people are called to marriage, then we should support them. Aromantic people can be capable spouses and parents. Certainly, not all examples of marriage in the Bible were romantic relationships. 

In my Orthodox tradition, marriage is the one-flesh union of husband and wife. Spouses manifest the Kingdom of God by supporting one another’s path to Heaven and raising in the faith any children that were conceived. Marriage reflects the intimacy of Christ and his Church in a physical, sacramental way. Adding romance as a necessary condition is extrabiblical.

Put it this way: In criticizing same-sex partnerships as “quasi-marriages” because they’re romantic, you may be just as guilty of revising the definition of marriage as progressives. Marriage isn’t about romance or shared living space, it’s a coming together of two spouses as “one flesh”. 

So what does this all mean?

My conclusion is that I find the whole idea of romance unhelpful as it relates to the morality of LGBT+relationships. Romance is a real, yet socially constructed concept. I know romance when I see it, even if I can’t always define it. 

For Side B Christians and their allies, I would recommend leaving the word “romance” out of your definition of marriage and clarify what you think is sexually permissible or impermissible in human relationships. Otherwise LGBT+ Christians may waste time and anxiety worrying about sin that simply isn’t there. 

This is personal to us. Kyle and I have had friends and even clergy profess judgment for our relationship because it was “too romantic”. This was done without taking the time to explore the dynamic of our relationship or providing an explanation for how our “romance” dishonors God. LGBT+ people should have the freedom to pursue holy same-sex love without having to struggle to articulate theological nuances every time they discuss people they are pursuing intentional friendships with. Even I struggle with this, and I love theology!

Are all celibate partnerships romantic? No. Is mine? Possibly, but I don’t always know exactly what that means. I know Kyle and I have many sins to work through as a celibate gay couple. . . but this isn’t one of them.