Are you aware of a church that holds onto a more traditional understanding of scripture and homosexuality that is proactively seeking to construct support systems and help create life-giving realities for gay and lesbian individuals in their congregations that are pursuing celibacy? What are they doing they you find to be helpful?
Earlier this year in June, Exodus International closed its doors after operating for 37 years. Among reasons listed for their decision to close, Alan Chambers stated, “We’re going out of business so the church can do its job.” Implied in his statement seemed to be the understanding that Exodus needed to step out of the way in order to help the more traditional churches take responsibility, when for too long many of them have been essentially outsourcing members of their congregations because they did not know what to do.
While a few lesser known organizations are trying to hold onto the practice, the closing of Exodus seems to be another indicator that the idea of reparative therapy is slowly losing its relevance and coming to an end. Now that the dust is starting to settle after the closing of Exodus, I’m left wondering how churches adhering to a more traditional interpretation of scripture are walking alongside those that have abandoned the idea and that they are calling to celibacy.
I have to admit that I’m a bit biased in asking this question. I don’t ask it in an antagonistic or condescending way as I’m genuinely looking for voices, but at the same time I have not heard of many churches or pastors that while upholding a traditional sexual ethic are inviting their congregations into imagining what it tangibly looks like to walk with gay and lesbian individuals on this journey in seeking to live life abundantly. There are individuals initiating conversations about ideas they think may be helpful like spiritual disciplines, finding friends and families to spend time with and adopt them in a sense, ‘spiritual friendship’, finding mentors, and so on. These voices tend to be those that are pursuing celibacy themselves though (whom are never in lead pastoral positions themselves in evangelical churches as it tends to not be a possibility for some reason).
I’ve come across variations of people feeling surprised by celibacy and others feeling crushed by it, and while those are extremely important I’m waiting to hear about (and possibly missing) pastors adding their voices to this conversation in churches and online in a way that invites individuals to imagine life-giving narratives and subsequently leading others into them. Calling an entire group of people to celibacy without seeking to create systems of support would simply be irresponsible and reckless, so I imagine the conversations are happening.
In asking this question, I’m not seeking to imply that these different ideas or practices are a substitute for a romantic relationship or that they will necessarily cause imposed celibacy to be life-giving. I’m also not getting into the argument of whether celibacy is only a gift or something all are called to when it comes to those holding a more traditional ethic. Acknowledging the reality that a sizable number of churches will be calling gay and lesbian individuals to celibacy for the foreseeable future, I’m wondering about the steps that pastors and congregations are discussing and taking in the present while conversations about celibacy and theology are (hopefully) happening.
So coming back to the question: What have you come across in terms of ideas and practices that churches are inviting those into that are pursuing celibacy that you think are helpful? What ideas and practices would you like to see churches discuss, pursue, or implement? If you’re gay or lesbian and pursuing celibacy, what has been helpful for you?