For the next interview, Richard has been gracious enough to share a part of his journey as it relates to navigating his faith and sexuality as a gay man that is pursuing celibacy and how that intersects with his life in the Church.
You are pursuing celibacy but still identify as gay. Could you expand upon that?
I self-identify as “gay” for simplification purposes—I used to want to be fully understood which required a 15-minute explanation. Nowadays I don’t mind being misunderstood, and I believe that if folks need clarification, they should just request it. I self-i.d. as gay because my sexual orientation is homosexual. I do not experience sexual attraction toward women. I pursue celibacy because I believe in sexual monogamy and have not found a life-partner. I’ve never pursued a male partner because my roles in the Christian church would require some extra hoop-jumping to pursue that! And besides, I’m content as a single man. I also have some issues on accepting homosexual marriage-type relationships as the best possible path for a gay Christian.
Having a more traditional interpretation of scripture as it relates to homosexuality, are you open to pursuing a relationship with an individual of the opposite sex or do you have concerns about that path for yourself?
I did not get married because I did not consider it relationally or emotionally honest to do so. Later in life I decided that if a woman fully understood my issues (and I think there are some who do) and might still be interested in building a life with me, I would move ahead and takes faith steps toward marriage. So far, though, this hasn’t worked and I’m still single. As I get older, I’m less inclined to pursue a traditional marriage.
Have there been particular practices, ideas, or states of mind that you have found to be helpful in your journey as you have been striving to live our your sexuality in a way that you feel is pleasing to God?
Yes. First, I find it very key to day-by-day minimize the importance of sex. I realize our culture seems to think that without sex a person is barely alive, but the culture (the Bible calls this “the world”) is not accurate about most life issues, so I’ve experimented with living life fully despite having no so-called “sexual fulfillment” and I find life can be very full and satisfying without sex. Second, cultivating an attitude of praise and thanksgiving is highly medicinal to any hurdle life puts in my path. Failing to give thanks is perhaps one of the most prevalent sins in the 21st century western church, and I try to fight that tendency/temptation in myself by finding things for which to offer thanks and praise to God. Third, I seek to comprehend and then practice the two giant commands of Christianity: love God and love people. This takes significant focus and energy. Fourth, I have offered my sexuality as a gift and offering to God. Sometimes I’ve told God, “I don’t have much to give you, but I do have this—take it and use it as You will”. Fifth, I’ve found that thinking of sexual sin in terms of “idolatry” is particularly helpful. Sex is an idol to many of us, and I do not want idols (things I worship, things I value more highly than I value God) in my life. Sixth, Celebrating the joys of single life with friends reminds me that I’d usually rather have my problems and my burdens than those of married folks. Seventh, I’m cultivating a habit of thinking about “positives”. For example, I’m often asked if I believe homosexual activity is “wrong”, but I prefer to focus on what is right…and good….and holy….and beautiful….and low-key the focus on what’s “wrong” or bad. Light overcomes darkness.
What are some of the greatest ways that the Church has supported you in your journey?
The church’s support is indirect at best. If the church encourages me to build a personal relationship with God through Jesus, to rely on the Holy Spirit, to read Scripture, to commune with God in prayer….then the church is being very supportive. If the church encourages deep interpersonal relationships among believers, sharing one’s faith, serving others—those are all supportive. But the church does not tend to directly or in any sort of focused manner support my position as a gay celibate man. The church does not understand “gay” and the church does not value “celibate” in my opinion. The evangelical church seems decidedly bent on traditional marriage as normative and positive for everyone.
What can the Church do to better support single individuals (regardless of their sexual orientation) and those pursuing celibacy?
The church tends to offer the biggest challenges to those she values the most highly. This last weekend my pastor pronounced an enormous challenge—maybe one of the strongest I’ve ever heard—to the dads in the congregation. I think his challenge bespeaks the value the church places on dads. It wouldn’t take that much to bring single people (somehow) into such challenges, but my church doesn’t do that. My church tries to provide “ministry” to single people. I don’t think single people need to be ministered to; I think we need to be challenged to live out our full, abundant, unique calling in God’s Kingdom. My church doesn’t do that very well. The Bible speaks of the benefits of singleness, and God asked some of his key servants (Jeremiah, for example) to refrain from marriage. My church never talks about any of this.
Although it is not always the case, as marriage often gets placed on a pedestal in the Church, what are some of the blessings in being single that are often overlooked?
Typically, single individuals have more time to invest in worthwhile activities as their time is not consumed with raising children and marriage. The church could be employing these people to do some of church’s most challenging tasks (including pastor-teaching and eldering), but the church typically seeks married people with children for these roles. Single people have plenty to do (i.e. we’re not sitting around with long segments of free time on our hands), but we do have great flexibility and choice about how we’re going to use resources such as time, talents and treasure. I consider this a blessing, a responsibility, and a stewardship. Again, if our churches would encourage our single people to discover and employ their creative energies as much as we encourage them to find a spouse and get about the business of marriage and family, who knows what kind of art, literature and music we might have from a community of single people in touch with their creativity.
Single people are likely better equipped to handle ministry roles that require travel and periods away from home. It’s possible that single people make more effective missionaries and traveling teachers. The spiritual discipline of solitude and a sense of intimacy with God are more available logistically to single people. Single people, even if residing in households that include other people, have a sense of aloneness about them, and the best way to cope with that is to develop good spiritual disciplines. That means the single people of the church, given the right conditions (especially the encouragement of the church) can become spiritual powerhouses and champions for the Kingdom of God.
The teachings of Paul about the advantages of remaining single might as well not even be in the Bible—those teachings are neglected in the preaching and teaching of my church and in the philosophy of anything to do with singles there. Very few people realize that God specifically told Jeremiah the prophet NOT to marry, or that Daniel was single and that most likely Paul was single. My church never makes any reference to Jesus being a single man, unmarried in a marrying world. The blessings (and they are MANY) of being single are almost entirely overlooked at my church as we go on focusing on the family. We are overly focused on “family”. Most evangelical churches seem to be. The notion of Jesus’ type of family (it’s fairly clear that Mary, Martha and Lazarus provided a family-type haven or refuge for Jesus) is considered unconventional, if considered/thought of at all….by my church. It strikes me as somewhere between mildly irritating and specifically inattentive to the whole of Scripture.