Choosing Celibacy

Choosing Celibacy November 15, 2010

Often enough it is the story of someone we know or love that creates empathy and a new perspective. A student comes into my office who tells me her brother is gay; her father is an evangelical pastor. She’s now in the role of mediator between father and son. She told me she was against homosexuality until her brother came out. She told me she knows her brother is a Christian. She told me she knows what the Bible says.

Many of us want to fashion our faith on the basis of the Bible. But encounters with stories of people often force us to think again.

So what do we do? What I’m often seeing is the tension and ambivalence of a both-and: Such persons both think the Bible’s view of homosexuality is that it is out of God’s will and at the same time know that their friend or brother or sister is gay and conclude they think it is OK. The tension is both knowing it is not God’s will from the Bible, and thinking it is OK for the person they know and love.

To summarize: the story of personal experience is what creates this problem. Many people have very little tolerance for homosexuality until they meet a homosexual person. Then things change.

What are your experiences, in a few sentences, in journeying alongside a gay person or lesbian person? What “stories” are possible or safe to tell in the church?

The reality is that only one kind of story is tolerable to many: the story above.

Enter a different story, the story of celibacy:I know enough gay and lesbian people to know the oft-told story above is not the only story. I also know that for many any other story is unacceptable, intolerable and even oppressive. But there is another story: Many gay and lesbian Christians know they are gay or lesbian, know they are committed to the traditional view of the Bible, and are struggling to live a life of celibacy. What we perhaps need is a compelling story of the one who chooses to be celibate but who knows that he or she may never be “healed” and may never be attracted to the opposite sex.

This story has now been told by Wesley Hill in his excellent, moving, and sensitive book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality . I cannot recommend it enough.

Let me sketch his story briefly, but I can’t do it justice in this sketch: Wesley grew up in a Southern evangelical home and family; there are no “typical” issues for his same-sex attraction; as he went through puberty he — confusingly of course — began to realize he was attracted to men and not women; he went to Wheaton; he worked as an intern in an evangelical megachurch; he is now doing a PhD in New Testament studies in the UK. He’s gay and he’s Christian and he’s celibate.

He’s open and he’s struggling and he’s lonely and he’s accountable and he’s waiting. And his story made me empathetic with the story of those who struggle to be celibate.

His theology is simple: he’s been washed pure in the graces of God’s forgiveness and he’s waiting for the restoration of all things. In between forgiveness and restoration he struggles.

The core of this book is the story of a Christian who is gay and who wants to live faithfully before God as someone who admits his own same-sex attraction. His appeal is to churches to permit this story within its walls. He wants tho make this story honest and safe in the Christian church.

If I were a pastor, I’d have copies of this book available, free, at places where struggling Christians could pick it up.

Some of Wesley’s own observations:

My own story… is a story of feeling spiritually hindered rather than helped by my homosexuality.

… my story testifies to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost unanimity throughout the centuries, namely that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity, that it is, on the contrary, a tragic sign of human nature and relationship being fractured by sin, and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.

… the only “answer” I have to offer to the question of how to live well before God and with others as a homosexual Christian is the life I am trying to live by the power of the gospel.

I am a Christian before I am anything else. My homosexuality is part of my makeup, a facet of my personality. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian — someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit — will remain.

"That applies to all Christians everywhere."

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive
"I come under attack in my own country for defending the USA. The whole world ..."

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive
"You lost me at "the weekly 30-55 minute lecture on the Bible.""

Is the Sermon Toxic? (by Jeff ..."
"I believe there's been a long-standing, at least generations, problem with people who identify as ..."

Why Doubts? What to Do? (RJS)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • James Petticrew

    I found Deb Hirsch’s personal story inspiring and her thoughts challenging on this subject http://vintagechurch.org/2010.11.07.message.html

  • Jaeger

    I respect the author’s choice of celibacy. My own story is here: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2007/10/16/a-personal-story/#comments Try as I might, I cannot impose celibacy as the only choice for Christians who are homosexual, do not have the “gift” of celibacy, and cannot “change.” Struggling…

  • Jim

    While I see celibacy as a helpful option I wonder how well we do in supporting celibacy as an option in evangelical churches. i.e. it’s one thing to say to homosexual Christians to be celibate but it’s another to provide congregational practices that make celibacy possible for people, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

    I would also add that we have a wonderful opportunity before us to practice hospitality in this regard as well as the qualities of friendship that would enable our celibate brothers and sisters to go on in that regard.

  • Thanks Scot for a well-worded and well-needed perspective on a topic that needs more dialog instead of hate and pat answers.

  • Pat

    I find that personal experience affects us on a number of topics, not just homosexuality. It’s meeting and rubbing shoulders from all walks of life that tends to bring to light our misunderstandings, prejudices and too swift rushes to judgment.

    While I have interacted with many homosexuals, I have not yet interacted with one that has chosen celibacy. I was however very disappointed in my own church when we did not accept for membership someone who said they couldn’t say that homosexuality was sin in accordance with our church’s doctrinal statement. We wrestled with this topic with me trying to convince people that we all do not think alike on all issues, current members included. The concern was what if this woman wanted to teach children–what would she teach them? Mind you, this woman wasn’t gay. She was just someone who had a close friend who was gay who introduced her to Christ. Therein lay her struggle to agree with our doctrine. She agreed on every other point. Unfortunately, because of her past involvement in a pagan lifestyle in which she suffered at the hands of Christians, she was greatly offended by our church’s action and left very angry. I was very grieved that we could not accept her. It was a very revealing time for me to see how some of our people think on a variety of topics and there is much work to be done in our church for accepting those not like us and those living outside of what may be considered acceptable behavior. One thing I’m learning is how to persevere in situations like this and help move the church toward change rather than being defeated by it and becoming bitter.

  • There are struggles that we *all* have which will not simply go away. The thief on the cross, the tax collector standing at a distance in the temple praying, the many from east and west and north and south who are “last”, are the poster children of those who sincerely desire to follow Christ.

    “…he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

    Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures:

    “The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
    the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes”?

    Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’ ”

    We need to continually fall on this stone.

  • Chris Zoephel

    It seems that Mr Wesley is doing just what the RC Catechism recommends. I need to go look again though but they called homosexuallity a sin but identified (and I think rightly) that some folks will always struggle with it and so they recommend a life of celibacy. However, that is also within a church that practices celibacy heavily:)

  • Ed Gentry

    Trying to comment but only getting:

    Hmmm, your comment seems a bit spammy. We’re not real big on spam around here.

  • Ed Gentry

    It seems impossible to submit anything. I’m still getting “Hmmm, your comment seems a bit spammy. We’re not real big on spam around here.”

    The point I was tring to make is that we should preach celibacy but do so for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.

    We cannot condemn homosexual activity and then turn a blind eye to all of the co-habituating hetrosexual couples in our congregation.

  • Rodney

    It is sad to me that celibacy seems to come up in conversation only as a last resort, i.e., for those who “can’t” get married. In our hyper-sexual culture, I wish we could create space for Christ believers to choose celibacy as supreme devotion to the Lord–much like Paul. That is to say, that we would celebrate Mr. Wesley’s decision not because he “struggles” with homoerotic feelings, but because he represents a high standard of commitment to Christ.

  • Rodney

    Sorry. I should have referred to the author as “Mr. Hill.”

  • Kristin

    I agree with Ed & Rodney, for quite some time celibacy has not been preached to heterosexuals (I have never heard it), and the church over-emphasizes marriage and how awesome married sex life is.

    This is quite frankly a double standard. In this light celibacy is more of a condemnation for gay christians. Heterosexuals get all these great gifts from God but gays…you just need to sit in the corner and be celibate.

  • Wesley Hill is a role model for all those who struggle with this issue of how to negotiate this issue well, biblically and a way that honors God. It is the option. It is unfortunate that in our sex-obsessed age, we have made celibacy for both straight and gay people seem odd and repressive.

    It is neither. It is a way of honoring God with one’s sexuality.

  • Karl

    I appreciated that Duke’s Richard Hays began the chapter on homosexuality in his “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” with the story of his friendship with Gary, his gay Christian friend from Yale. It is worth reading:

    http://www.corningmennonite.org/gaymatter/gary.htm

  • alberto medrano

    It’s true. The problem with most of our churches is that we don’t talk much about celibacy. We are “family-focused”. We preach heterosexual marriage is the life to choose, yet forget that the two people we admire, Jesus and Paul, were both celibate. It’s difficult to help homosexuals to practice celibacy when we’re telling heterosexuals to get married. Rather than preach marriage is God’s will, we should preach celibacy is the better choice for all Christians.

  • “We cannot condemn homo—ual activity and then turn a blind eye to all of the co-habituating hetro—ual couples in our congregation.”

    We cannot, and churches that do not preach and facilitate a consistent ethic of —ual morality should be called out for their hypocrisy.

    Often, churches fail to address —ual behavior in the congregation at all. As such, ethics are left to the cultural proclivities of the membership.

    Our pastors will not perform wedding ceremonies for co-habitating couples, consistent with the principle that they will not perform ceremonies for homo—uals.

  • I find this statement interesting: “What we perhaps need is a compelling story of the one who chooses to be celibate but who knows that he or she may never be “healed” and may never be attracted to the opposite sex.” I guess I don’t buy it. I don’t think “never healed” is even aligned with the character of Christ and nature in which he operates. I do agree that sin is simply that: sin. I believe that through the power of Jesus Christ in aid by the Spirit, we can find ourselves COMPLETELY HEALED, HOLY and in RIGHT STANDING with the Lord. I believe we can grow to a place where a desire to consciously sin is no more.

    Someone who chooses to partake in a [hetero]sexual relationship prior to marriage or with someone else other than their spouse — sin. Someone who chooses to partake in a [homo]sexual relationship — sin.

    God can heal us from the desire to appease the flesh, be it in lust of a man or a woman. I celebrate those who have chosen celibacy, it is an explicit choice towards supressing the flesh therby creating room for the Spirit to work. We must believe that he can heal all of humanity and draw us into deeper, right relationship with him.

    http://www.nationalprayerregistry.com

  • Charlie

    Several commenters have already hit the nail on the head: the evangelical church doesn’t know how to deal with celibacy, at least insofar as it ponders the subject at all. At best it’s a kind of cross that single people are expected to bear, hopefully only until it can be quickly lifted off their backs by marriage. Marriage and parenthood have become two of the pillars of modern evangelical culture. I wonder how many single, celibate people, straight or gay, feel like second class citizens in the church. I also wonder if the day will ever come when the church is a body of equal brothers and sisters in Christ, some married, some celibate, and neither group is more highly esteemed than the other.

  • smcknight

    I hear this “celibacy” emphasis and it’s a theme that deserves emphasis and it deserves more thought. But I would contend perception-wise there is a radical leap in most evangelical churches from the person who is heterosexual and celibate to the person who says aloud that he or she is a homosexual person and celibate.

    What happens in this leap is that the word “celibate” is de-emphasized and the word “homosexual” jumps to the fore, so much so that the word “person” is almost lost.

  • Mark

    Fascinating. So much of the discussions on this blog end up dancing around aspects of traditional apostolic Christianity that the Reformation did away with or even condemned. That thread of celibacy in imitation of the Lord never died in Catholicism or Orthodoxy and was (in anticipation of objections) not limited at least in Catholicism to a sense of priesthood. There has always been a sense that living for the Lord and sacrificing the things of this world – including exclusive human sexual and emotional attachment – is an option for anyone that might possibly lead anyone closer to the Lord.

  • a_reader

    Wanted to comment on this, but every time I try, it says my comment seems a bit spammy…??

  • a_reader

    Thanks for the review, Scot.

    Four years ago, when I turned 18, I began to look into what it meant to be gay and Christian. What I found was that, overwhelmingly, conservative Christians advocated the ex-gay approach. However, after reading ex-gay literature extensively and stories of those with experience in the ex-gay community, I’m fairly convinced that there is much danger in that approach.

    cont…

  • a_reader

    Thankfully, the voices of Christians who are both gay (not “ex-gay”) and celibate are becoming more prominent. I believe that, for conservative Christians, the “gay and celibate” approach is a much better option than the “ex-gay” approach.

    cont…

  • a_reader

    That said, I do see some potential problems with the “gay and celibate” approach. One of the potential issues with this approach is the danger that celibacy could be considered to include staying closeted (especially by hetero Christians uncomfortable with gay indviduals). This is definitely not a healthy choice. Even when celibate, gay individuals still have a significant part of their identity shaped by their sexual orientation. For example, no matter how celibate I am, I still find certain members of the same sex attractive, and my relationship to them is influenced by this reality.

    cont…

  • a_reader

    Finally, another concern I have, which has already been mentioned, is hypocrisy. Is it really right for a Christian who is on his/her third marriage (due to divorce) to demand celibacy of me? If we are going to demand celibacy of gay Christians, shouldn’t we demand celibacy for those who were divorced (for reasons other than allowed in Scripture)?

    (I had to break my comment up in order to post)

  • Jim

    @19…I’ll go one better. I suspect “homosexual man” jumps to the fore more than “homosexual woman”…that many are more uncomfortable with the former than the latter.

    One thing that I think would help many traditional evangelical churches is to absolutely do away with a narrow emphasis on church “membership”…as in, they meet this or that qualification to be on the roll.

    would be great if the churches could become more communities of friendship than communities marked by who’s in & who’s out based upon agreement to certain checklists.

    Then we at least might have more conversations w/ folks who are “not like us” in whatever ways we mean that.

  • a_reader

    Scot, just read your comment #19:

    “But I would contend perception-wise there is a radical leap in most evangelical churches from the person who is heterosexual and celibate to the person who says aloud that he or she is a homosexual person and celibate.”

    That is what I was getting at in my first concern about the “gay and celibate” approach.

  • Tim

    Celibacy is not the only issue here. Being gay isn’t only relevant to one’s sexual expression, but their romantic life as well. So, being gay and choosing a life of celibacy also entails choosing a life of romantic solitude. I don’t know about you, but even if I could swing the celibacy thing, I would’t feel at all OK about living a life without romantic attachment and all the joy, fullfillment, and (hopefully) lifelong companionship that entails.

    IMO, those who encourage gay Christians to live a life of celibacy are giving very unhelpful and very destructive advice. Do them a favor, and encourage them to find a life of monogamous love within their own orientation. Or, if you can’t do that, at least support them without judgement if that is the path they choose for themselves.

  • a_reader

    “Is it really right for a Christian who is on his/her third marriage (due to divorce) to demand celibacy of me?”

    Depends on the circumstances of the divorce, and the nature of the demands.

    If the divorces occurred prior to the person becoming a Christian, and that person has been faithfully married since, then there is no issue of hypocrisy. If the person divorced due to reasons of adultery, or was abandoned, then there is no issue of hypocrisy.

    If either is the case, and that person is a leader within the church, then that person may demand celibacy of members and other leaders. This should be done with an attitude of grace, and with an eye toward restoring the sinner. But when it comes to unrepentant sin, that person is within his or her rights to take action.

    But you are correct that one who repeatedly rejects his or her marriage vows has no right to expect anything in terms of sexual purity from church membership.

  • @Tim

    I feel like you are drawing a minor distinction with regard to the case for celibacy, and then disregarding that distinction when stating your own case.

    If you believe that you can enjoy romantic solitude while remaining celibate, go and do likewise. I don’t now how romance exists without physical attraction, and how that attraction can exist without some sort of sexual dialogue, but if that’s your thing, do it.

    But the command to remain celibate remains, in your scenario.

  • Patricia

    As a Catholic I find it troubling with some people disparage celibacy as impossible. I was celibate before marriage and find that the religious, including priests and religious brothers and sisters, are a great gift to the Catholic Church. They have dedicated their lives to building up the Kingdom of God and Jesus himself in the case of religious sisters and in the case of priests the Church is their bride/groom.

    I certainly don’t think we should minimize the struggles of people who struggle with same sex attraction since we have solidarity with them as sinner but neither should we accept sin.

  • DRT

    I guess in the old days the churches had something much more similar to the military policy of don’t ask don’t tell. Uncle Bob the confirmed bachelor who always dressed so well, and Mary and Agnes who love traveling together, really quite inseparable.

    Were they in love? Yes they were. Was it physical? Maybe? Is it anybody’s business? No.

  • Tim

    Kevin S.,

    Read my comment again. I’m not saying what you think I am.

  • Seth

    Scot, I appreciate that you’re encouraging us to listen to the stories of celibate gay Christians. They have an important voice, and like most sexual minorities, they don’t often get heard.

    But I would contest that the “only kind of story that is tolerable” is the story of a faithful, gay, partnered Christian, and that Mr. Hill’s story is the less-often heard in the church. I go to an evangelical seminary, and have been in evangelical churches all my life, and the *only* story that was ever acceptable were stories like Hill’s. My story, that of a Christian who deeply loves God and believes I am being biblically faithful to God by following God’s leading into a loving partnership with another man… my story is the one that is totally unacceptable, and never permitted. I am concerned that by encouraging evangelicals to listen to Wesley Hill’s story (as they should) straight evangelicals will feel even more reason to totally ignore and continue to suppress my story, and feel even more comfortable in segregating themselves from me (and from straight Christians who believe as I do that God gives some people the gift of a gay sexual orientation also) since they have someone like Mr. Hill to feel good about.

    That said, I love that Hill’s book has finally come out – I’ve been waiting on it for a while. Our churches are definitely set up to reward couples and ignore celibate singles, and that’s not okay. I hope his story is encouraging to gay and straight Christians who feel they have been given the gift of celibacy, and that it will be helpful to straight Christians who need to understand them. But I fear that a horde of straight evangelicals will read his story and rather than becoming more compassionate, will use Wesley against me. They will “know” that I have been given the gift of celibacy too, and that they will feel completely comfortable never discussing this with me, personally, theologically, or otherwise… even more than they are now.

  • Dana Ames

    There are several questions that I see are raised by this post.

    1) Is celibacy possible?
    2) Is celibacy valued?
    3) Is “romantic love” an essential part of being human and/or expressing humanity?
    4) What does “being healed of” SSA mean?
    5) How do we think about, and what do we do with suffering that “comes upon us” that is not a part of any overt sin?

    I know some bible-believing Christians who don’t believe celibacy is possible, who believe that expressing “romantic love” is an essential aspect of humanity and is, without qualification, necessary to the fullness of a human being. I think this reflects a church experience where celibacy is not valued, where hetero marriage is the be-all and end-all of male/female relationships, where cross-sex or even deep same-sex friendships are highly suspicious and so there is little connection with others on a very deep level, where there is no theology that adequately deals with suffering, where it is expect that as soon as someone “becomes a Christian” that person will have no more struggles, about sexual expression or anything else.

    Jesus was celibate – not only as God, but as a human being. If hetero marriage was the be-all and end-all of relationships, Jesus would have been married. So “romantic love” is not essential to being human. Connecting with people on a deep level is, but when that connection is cast only in terms of “romantic attraction”, being human itself is what is disparaged. I think it is also disparaged when we think that we have to avoid pain (loneliness or any kind) at all costs. Every Christian is in the process of being healed, from a multitude of things that push us toward sin, not just SSA.

    As for Scot’s questions, right now in my life I am walking beside two celibate gay Orthodox men who hold positions of responsibility (not priests, other service), because that is possible in Orthodoxy as long as they are celibate and accountable. I know a third celibate gay man who is supported by a “new monastic” community, and his SSA isn’t seen as any worse than anyone else’s impetus toward possible sin. Sometimes they do miss physical sexual expression and not having physical offspring; sometimes they are lonely. They all lead very full lives, two of them very sacrificially for others in economically poor areas of the world.

    I am friends with a secular Jewish partnered lesbian couple to whom I am trying to show the utmost kindness, because a) I wear a cross visibly and b) they both had terrible childhoods. I am likewise friends with a partnered gay man who identifies as a Christian but hasn’t been to church for a long time. If my non-celibate gay friends are not having qualms of conscience, what do I have to say to them?

    Dana

  • Jennifer

    One book that has been mentioned on this blog before can offer some help here.

    Dan Brennan’s “Sacred Unions Sacred Passions” deals very carefully and fully with several of the questions raised here, especially Dana’s first three questions. His book deals with them in the arena of opposite-sex freindship, but many of the good questions he raises apply here. Highly recomended. http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Unions-Passions-Engaging-Friendship/dp/0982580703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278525751&sr=8-1

  • Andy

    This is a great discussion. My pastor spoke in singleness and celibacy just two weeks ago–in 37 years of church, I’ve never heard a sermon on the topic. Mark Yarhouse (psych prof at Regent) has a new book out called “Homosexuality and the Christian.” It talks about how the Church needs to embrace those, like Mr. Hill, who can’t “change” their orientation, but who choose to be faithful to the Church’s historic view on homosexuality.

  • DRT

    I think there should be one more or less undisputed point in these conversations. As desire changes drastically for individuals from time to time, I firmly believe that there is a huge variation in desire from person to person, in addition to time to time.

    But is the issue celibacy or abstinence? To me, the difference is involvement from another person. Shouldn’t those who are homophobic be promoting abstinence? Or should the thought police prevail in this arena? Do the puritans want to outlaw gay fantasy?

  • Celibacy can be a gift and I greatly appreciate the contributions of the celibate clergy and religious.

    But they made a choice. They decided to be celibate because they knew they could handle it. Some people can’t. I can’t, as my husband can copiously witness.

    It’s something else entirely to tell people that they must be celibate, whether they are suited to that lifestyle or not, based on something they can’t control.

  • Good post. In the years I’ve spent in pastoral ministry, I heard both kinds of stories. I am glad to know about this book. More and more I hear church leaders clamoring for books/tools that will genuinely be helpful.

  • kerry

    The church has large numbers of women who are celibate, not by their own choice, they were simply unable to partner due to the gender imbalance in churches. I once did a count through our church roll and found 9 single men for 47 single women. Of the 9 men, 3 were divorced.

    Those who have mental and physical disabilities frequently do not meet that special someone who will love them for who they are, even in the church. And then there are the widowed and the deserted. All of these groups are ignored in our preaching, and the use of our ministry dollars, as are those with a homosexual orientation.

  • MR

    Some of our (my husband and I) closest friends are gay. Some are “Side A” (are in or pursuing relationships), some are “Side B” (choose celibacy), one has completely left his once very fervent faith, and two have married women. Nearly all of our friendships began with them still “in the closet”.

    Because of the sheer number of gay friends we have, we’re pretty certain that God brought them into our lives for a reason. We’ve been through a long journey of trying to discern how we, as a heterosexual Christian couple, should respond, and the more we try to understand sexuality and God, the less sure we are of anything. We do support our friends no matter where they are in their convictions and if they are Side A, we apply the same commitment and physical boundary principles that we feel all Christians are to follow. Dating is ultimately for marriage and sex, in all its forms, is for marriage alone. We are definitely in support for same-sex marriage in government (but for within the church, not so sure).

    Our ambiguity is not because we are just avoiding hard decisions. After much prayer, we just don’t feel a sense of resolution and perhaps that is where God wants us to be for now. Our friends get enough judgment and condemnation as it is from everyone else; what would we add by adding to the chorus?

    In many ways, this is the same way we feel about women who are in abusive marriages. There are OT passages that could even justify these marriages, but nowhere does it state abuse as a grounds for divorce. Who are we to say that an abuse victim cannot leave her husband?

  • Tim

    Here are some of God’s commands to ponder, to make sure we’re applying a consistent hermeneutic here in how we read the Bible and interpret what God’s will for us, in fact, actually is:

    *rationalizations for not following these passages are provided afterward, as a bit of a satirical, though hopefully not offensive, twist. The reason being that those who read the Bible and walk away with the impression that the select few verses that deal with this topic are culturally relevant and therefore not directly pertinent to monogamous romantic homosexual relations today are often accused by others holding a “high view of scripture” of “rationalizing away” the commands of God.*

    Matthew 19:21 – Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Why you don’t have to follow this: Jesus was just speaking to a rich man (you aren’t rich are you?), and who cares about being perfect anyway – no one can be perfect and it’s belief that counts anyway.

    Luke 12:32-33 – Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

    Why you don’t have to follow this: Poverty was a bigger issue in Jesus’ day. We have welfare and stuff now. Besides, if you sell just part of your possessions, this is still selling your positions right? Like donating some old clothes or food or something to the homeless.

    Luke 14:12-14 – Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

    Why you don’t have to follow this: Jesus was speaking to a well-to-do Pharisee. You’re not a well-to-do Pharisee are you? No? Well, you’re off the hook then.

    Matthew 5:40-42 – And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    Why you don’t have to follow this: Um, if someone sues you you really ought defend yourself in court. Ditto for giving to anyone who asks of you. Seriously. Jesus said this stuff in the early 1st century Palestine. You aren’t living in 1st century Palestine are you? No? Alright, then you’re good.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Do you not realise that people who do evil will never inherit the kingdom of God? Make no mistake — the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

    Why this is true for all times and cultures: The context of the same-sex relationships Paul is describing in his time in antiquity (typically wildly promiscuous, wanton sexual activity between same-gendered participants – particularly given that Paul is writing in a time rife with pagan temple prostitution) is completely comparable to our society today where some gay & lesbian couples seek to marry (or form a civil union) and live in committed, monogamous, life-long relationships. Yep, similar enough for me. No cultural relative to see here folks. This no doubt should be accepted at face value completely.

  • Tim

    …and some contextualizing info for Luke 12:32-33 quoted above that clearly lays out the mindset Jesus is quoted by Luke to have laid out for those who might feel the giving away of their possessions to be foolhardy or a violation of common sense(the preceding verses of Luke 12:22-31):

    Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

    “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

  • Tim

    …and please ignore the “and it’s belief that counts anyway.” bit. That was a copy-and-paste from a conversation with a far more fundamentalist participant and not at all appropriate for the crowd at Jesus Creed. That being said, I think the rest stands up just fine, and would welcome any thoughts.

  • Michelle

    What an amazing testimony of a faithful man of God. I admire these men and women who remain celibate whether homosexual or straight – my husband and I married more quickly than we would have done if we were not Bible-believing Christians and these wonderful people are remaining celibate for years!

    I think the bible is very clear about same-sex relationships as well as sexual relationships outside of marriage. Romans 1:26-32 is very clear and there are many other scriptures which illustrate this.

    We are all sinners and are only saved by grace so I don’t think we have any right to judge another. This aside however, we are called to repent and repentance means turning aside from sin. If we are accepting of co-habitation or homosexual relationships, we are not fulfilling our Christian duty as in Romans 8:32 and are in danger of sinning ourselves.

    As a church we need to be praying and discussing these subjects. The fact that celibacy is rarely discussed is something that needs to change as the world changes and being liberal is becoming “fashionable”.

    Thank you Lord for compassionate and encouraging people of God that will continue to pray alongside anyone who is stuck in sin and can’t seem to find their way out. So many will give up after a few years, ten years, 30 years but Lord you know who those faithful few are.

  • Michelle:

    As per Tim’s comment, have you sold all your possessions and given them to the poor? The Bible is very clear on that point, too.

  • Michelle

    Thank you for your pertinent comment Colleen. I have of course not sold all my possessions and given them to the poor. This was something Jesus said to a man who had followed all of the laws but couldn’t choose God over mammon. It isn’t a commandment meant for all believers.

    I did point out that we are all sinners and it is the repentant heart that is important as is what we choose to worship with our time and our relationships. Jesus also however spent all of his time with sinners and helping others. We can never hope to attain the compassion and love that Jesus has for mankind but we can try to help those who need prayer and support by not pretending things are ok and that goes for all sin. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman, but he told her “sin no more”. Otherwise all we are doing is sending the world mixed messages.

  • re MR’s comment, #42 – an abusive husband has already violated the covenant of marriage by his abuse of the woman whom God has called him to become one with. David Instone-Brewer articulated this point well in a CT article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/october/20.26.html I appreciated the sensitivity & care your husband & you show to all your friends. May God’s love shine through you! Those around us may know how we understand Scripture, yet grace & truth are embodied in how we treat one another with love & value as created by God. We’re not called to judge; we’re called to love one another. If asked, we can (should) explain how we discern the words of Scripture on a subject, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to quicken that word to hearts.

    re Tim’s flurry of challenges/questions – understanding the foundations of Judeo-Christian belief in the creation of humans, diversely male & female gendered in God’s image in creation, leads us along very different paths than seeing “commands” everywhere one looks in Scripture. It seems you aim to point out that Scripture is culturally relative, uniformly so. However, cherry-picking Scripture verses out of the overall context to blur the import of verses that directly address gay/lesbian practices (not SSA) invalidates them all. (Cf. Scot’s book, The Blue Parakeet, if you haven’t read it.)

    It seems that SSA (or heterosexual attraction) isn’t necessarily a stable condition, according to scientific studies, and that many people may move along the spectrum, given certain conditions, experiences & circumstances. The “B” part in “LGBT” evidences that.

    Fidelity to Godself is the central focus for Christians, & is enabled by the Holy Spirit. We understand God through the Scripture, tradition and stories of God’s interactions with others and ourselves. Any person who is called by God & has any sexual drives is called to be faithful in this area, too.

  • I’m a Non-Church Christian, homo not Gay (the former is an “orientation,” the latter an ideology to which I do not adhere). I’m a vowed celibate and what I call an urban neo-monastic hermit. None of this involves spiritual heroics. I at some point embraced celibacy becawz it was the cruel condition of my l+f, appearing to be permanent whether I l+kd it or not. Gradually thru much prayer, i lost m+ sense of loneliness and enterd into aloneness — where in wet t+mz the Lord was my only companion, in dr+ t+mz the Lord didn’t seem to show up and I woud be too numb to notice even were he there bes+d me. Wet and dry are monastic terms from the ins+d.

    In the discussion here, a few things stood out as positive to me. One is the remark to the effect that sexual attraction (and des+r, I presume) comes in different intensities, and is t+mbound. It can change over t+m, not necessarily, perhaps not at all, do to one’s willing oneself to be less intense (notice the circularity in the notion of intensely willing oneself to be less intensely desirous). Illness lowers the intensity of sexual des+r for most people, it seems. It certainly has in m+ case. But my youth was a wasteland of des+r; I’m 70 now. It seems to me homos (I’m male, and I do not pretend to be voice for lesbians), homo men have three choices: intimate union (not marriage, that’s a different order of intimacy where the dialogue is between differents, where the difference between male and female must be negotiated on an ongoing basis), celibacy (where the vow is not to another human but to the Lord with the support of an order and/or a church), or promiscuity. I have compassion for promiscuous homos, especially the young, whereas I don’t so much for heteros where the boy/man wants to get —–, and the girl/woman wants to get married. I know these latter are a function of my age and an earlier t+m, a stereotype, but true to my conversations with young people (many younger and older came to me with their ad hoc confessions simply becawz I was a dilemmed person, and was out). I moved from promiscuity, wanted an intimate union (male to male), and settled for a miserable loneliness (while very active in reformational Gospel work) until the Lord at last gave me release and I became a vowed celibate.

    I mention in closing that the c+tation of Romans 1:26-32. This is the bete noire of biblistic legalism on homos. I believe it’s false witness against the neibour. Remember, if Acts is true basically, then we have here Saul hiding behind his new name, repeating his fanatical scapegoating. In the first instance we know about, he turned his murderous religious fanaticism on St Stephen, murdering him in the name of God. Now, later, in Romans, he’s turning it on his new scapegoats, saying they’re worthy of death, but our Lord can save them. His picture of homos may be true regarding some, a few actually. But it’s not true of most homos. Homos existed in Israel, if you allow the passage about David and Jonathan’s parting as do most Jews, including Orthodox. It’s not true of the Greek soldiers in the Roman army who garrisoned the MidEast; they abounded in permanent l+flong intimate unions between warrior men (Gerd Thiessen), the ancient Spartan tradition (where the men also married women and had children).

    The Bible is not a book of ethics. It evidences changing mores and morals, and it is replete with commandments. But the reformation we need is to get away from such an approach, expecting the Bible to do our work for us. Ethical thawt is our task, it is part of our sc+entific task (since the days of Aristotle when he differentiated the discipline). But just as with philosophy, we reformational Christians have never had a scientially-responsible meditation on mores, morals, and moral communities. St Paul is such a wondrous, marvellous witness in most things most of the t+m, but when we can witness his pathology working the same before his conversion and afterward as an apostle, we have to real+z that Paul was a very serious sinner. Unless the passage wasn’t written by Paul, but was interpolated into a version that later became canonical, as some scholars of the Greek text suggest. It is literarily anomalous to the rest of the Letter to the Romans. I don’t see w+ I shoud suffer further becawz of the unintended consequences of Paul’s celibacy bringing out the darker s+d, the scapegoating s+d that led to St Stephen’s death, and the death of many other homo Christrians over the ages.

  • Susan N.

    Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite authors. In works of his edited by friends and published after his death, it was revealed that he struggled with his H.S. identity. He chose–motivated at least in part, I’m sure, by his Roman Catholic priestly vows–to remain celibate; he also chose not to reveal his H.S.-ity until after his death. I admire tremendously the depth and eloquence of his faith and spirituality.

    I know H.S.-ity is very prominent as one of the hot button issues in the “culture wars.” But I don’t really understand why this is a greater sin than any of the other sins that are regularly/habitually committed by Christians every day? Is it biblical to judge? Is it Christlike to be unmerciful? So many apparently feel obliged to defend God out of a seeming certainty that He is more offended by H.S.-ity?

    I’m not so certain that H.S.-ity is any worse than the host of other culturally-acceptable sins that Christians commit. So I’m reluctant to go around beating anyone (H.S. or otherwise) over the head with the truth of their “sins.” Or, suggesting that I know celibacy is an attainable alternative; or that complete “healing” is possible. If, in Christ, as I believe, we are all works in progress (sanctification), I propose that each one of us has our own “cross(es)” to bear, and a “thorn in the side”, or two, at one time or another.

    The agony of H.S.-ity evokes compassion from me, as opposed to stone-throwing or “disfellowshiping”. My husband and I personally know people who struggle with H.S.-ity. Our shared humanity compels us to be kind versus judgmental and condemning of their “sin.”

  • Tim

    Michelle (48),

    “I have of course not sold all my possessions and given them to the poor. This was something Jesus said to a man who had followed all of the laws but couldn’t choose God over mammon. It isn’t a commandment meant for all believers.”

    That’s great. How about Luke 12:32-33 then? Oh wait, that was spoken to Jesus disciples, and you’re not a disciple right? No wait, I mean, you are a “disciple” in that you follow Christ, but not one of the 12, and Jesus must have meant this for the 12, and the rich man, but not you…right?

  • Tim,

    I don’t think you are familiar enough with the objections to your line of argumentation.

    Regarding the man who was told to sell all his possessions, the important part of that story is that he wouldn’t do it. Christ directed him to do something, and he refused. It’s a great illustration of the power of worldly goods, but it is not a command to give them all away. His disciples had possessions, as did those who provided them with places to stay.

    The passage in Luke simply admonishes us to sell possessions and give them to the poor. We should absolutely do so, as a general rule. Anyone who counters that our welfare systems are sufficient isn’t arguing biblically.

    These verses are challenging, and require sacrifices that most of us fall short of making. But I would not respect any church leader who argues that we can neglect these passages simply because they are hard to follow, or because we can’t help but invite only the wealthy and connected to our banquets because it is our nature.

    So why should I respect the same argument with respect to homosexuality?

  • Hi Scott,

    I don’t think that because a person has no feelings of attraction towards the opposite sex means that they are homosexual. It simply means that God has other things for that person to do. You should love ALL your friends. To express that love in a way that is within God’s love is spelled out clearly in the Bible.

    Lou Barba

  • Tim

    Kevin S.,

    I think the case for limtless charity is stronger than you would allow.

    You seem to be suggesting that “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” reads more like “sell SOME of your possessions and give to the poor…” I think the all here is implicit, but you are free to disagree of course. But then you have to contend with the rest of Jesus’ message in the gospels. Such as: Don’t defend yourself in court. Give to those who ask of you, lend to those who want to borrow from you. If someone takes your tunic, give them your cloak as well. I think this “context” provides a more robust argument toward an “all” in giving away to charity than a “some.” As in give till you have nothing left and then trust in God to provide for you (as he does for the lilies of the field – see Luke 12:22-31).

    But you can always reason away these arguments, and I am familiar with many attempts to do just that (seriously, why when someone disagrees is it the first impulse in many a person’s mind that their conversational opponent is simply unfamiliar with their arguments?). But then why come down so hard on what in my view are very sensible attempts to interpret the few passages of homosexuality in their own cultural contexts in such a manner that monogamous homosexual relations today are permitted?

  • Tim,

    If we take Christ’s words extremely literally, they contradict themselves. If we are to give away everything to the poor, we’ll have no money to lend or tunic to give.

    The bible says it is unwise to lend to certain people, and I haven’t read any scholarship that contends Jesus asked us to loan to everyone, unilaterally.

    “seriously, why when someone disagrees is it the first impulse in many a person’s mind that their conversational opponent is simply unfamiliar with their arguments?”

    Your sarcastic tone made it seem as though you were unfamiliar with the arguments I presented. You earn the right to introduce sarcasm when you have made headway against the most persuasive arguments on the other side. You presented a sarcastic take down of flimsy arguments that I don’t hear anyone making.

    “But then why come down so hard on what in my view are very sensible attempts to interpret the few passages of homosexuality in their own cultural contexts in such a manner that monogamous homosexual relations today are permitted?”

    Contextualizing Christ’s comments on the poor in light of culture is a mistake. Just because culture has ignored the poor, or found different ways to take care of the poor, or what have you, does not mean we can neglect his teaching regarding the poor.

    However, we look to all of scriptures to provide context for Christ’s teachings. Paul relied on the gratuity and hospitality of his followers, who clearly had possessions to give. Proverbs warns against lending money to a foolish man (and from borrowing generally). We read the whole bible to discern Christ’s meaning, and certainly apply it to the culture. But we do not change it to conform to the culture.

    That’s a key distinction. The bible consistently names homosexual behavior as a sin, in different contexts, throughout the old and new testament. There is no proverb about the wisdom of pursuing a same-sex romantic relationship. There is no clear example of scripture sanctioning gay relationships at all, so there is no reason to re-evaluate what it has to say.

  • Tim

    Kevin S.

    Thank you for strawmanning my argument. No, I’m not talking about taking the Bible “extremely literally.” I’m not saying, for instance, to go around cutting your arm off if it compels you to sin, that would be a relatively clear case of hyperbole in the passage attributed to Jesus for effect.

    “Your sarcastic tone made it seem as though you were unfamiliar with the arguments I presented.”

    I went out of the way to highlight that I was being sarcastic, and why I was doing so at the beginning of my post.

    “You presented a sarcastic take down of flimsy arguments that I don’t hear anyone making.”

    Really, so there is no parallel at all between my “rationalization” in my original post

    “Besides, if you sell just part of your possessions, this is still selling your positions right?”

    and your comment in post #53

    “it is not a command to give them all away. His disciples had possessions, as did those who provided them with places to stay. The passage in Luke simply admonishes us to sell possessions and give them to the poor. We should absolutely do so, as a general rule.”

    right?

    “The bible consistently names homosexual behavior as a sin, in different contexts, throughout the old and new testament.”

    The Bible barely touches on homosexuality at all. It mentions it explicitly in very few places, and it is rolled into other issues implicitly in a few others. It is one of the least discussed aspects of humanity that you will ever find in scripture.

    “Proverbs warns against lending money to a foolish man”

    Oh, I must be confused here. I thought we were talking about Jesus’ teachings and not ancient wisdom literature.

    “Contextualizing Christ’s comments on the poor in light of culture is a mistake. Just because culture has ignored the poor, or found different ways to take care of the poor, or what have you, does not mean we can neglect his teaching regarding the poor.”

    That’s strange, as I’m pretty much wanting to put Jesus’ teachings on the poor out there to stand on their own. The only “contextualizing” I’m doing is using Jesus’ other teachings to serve as context.

  • Linda

    It is more than just about remaining celibate, God looks at the thoughts, desires, and intentions of a person – the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:28 that if you ever looked at someone with lust (sexual desire) that you have committed adultery in your heart.

  • So you know what the Bible actually says consistently and repeatedly, throughout the Old and New Testaments?

    Don’t lend money for interest.

    I bet you have a bank account.

    Before you scream “cultural differences,” that’s exactly the point. (Fred Clark has some good thoughts on the topic.)

  • John I.

    I thought it was only don’t lend money to other Israelites and that the prohibition was against usurious interest.

  • Dear Scot,

    My question Sir is simply this: How does being “gay” become a category similar to race, class, gender or culture?

    Are you in agreement that there is such a things a “being gay”?

    Understand … I haven’t always been a Christian. Nor have all my friends been “straight.” And even now I minister to many who struggle concerning their identity in Christ AND their sexual preferences.

    I am trying to understand your (Scot’s) position.

    Thanks!

  • I don’t think anyone with a bank account could be accused of usury based on the 1.25% interest they earn.

    @Tim

    Well, you are being sarcastic again, this time without the caveat.

    You are insinuating now that we should disregard “wisdom literature”, or that wisdom literature is at odds with the teachings of Christ. Your position requires us to do so, which is why most orthodox Christians reject your position.

    That’s the core of it, which your original comment did nothing to address.

  • Tim

    Kevin S.,

    “Well, you are being sarcastic again, this time without the caveat.

    You are insinuating now that we should disregard “wisdom literature”, or that wisdom literature is at odds with the teachings of Christ.”

    Um, no. I am identifying the genre of proverbs as wisdom literature. If you take issue with that, you will be taking issue with the dominant scholarly position even among believing Biblical scholars. I think the parallels between proverbs, as wisdom literature, and other ANE works of wisdom literature are apparent, particularly as relates to the Egyptian literature. I think that this can guide how one interprets the content, even if you do believe it was divinely inspired.

    For instance, wisdom literature is often (though not solely) concerned about giving good, sound, practical advice for the people living at the time it was written. This practicality extends beyond just spiritual or moral issues, but includes the more banal daily life stuff as well. I think if you go back and read Proverbs again you will see this.

    Some examples:

    Proverbs 6:1-5

    “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
    if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
    2 you have been trapped by what you said,
    ensnared by the words of your mouth.
    3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
    since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
    Go—to the point of exhaustion—[a]
    and give your neighbor no rest!
    4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,
    no slumber to your eyelids.
    5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
    like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”

    Proverbs 10:15

    The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
    but poverty is the ruin of the poor.

    Proverbs 11:14

    For lack of guidance a nation falls,
    but victory is won through many advisers.

    Proverbs 12:9

    Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant
    than pretend to be somebody and have no food.

    So, I would advise you to consider your proverb concerning not lending money to fools in the same sound practical advice vein.

    It always fascinates me to see people fishing through the Bible to reinterpret something Jesus said that, most straightforwardly, would represent something they might not particularly like, but then take umbrage when others take such liberties on issues that don’t present such hurdles to them personally, such as homosexuality.

  • Tim,

    I am not taking umbrage with your calling it wisdom literature. You are wrong to contrast it with Christ’s teachings. They do not contradict each other, and the belief that they do is indigenous to what you stated above.

    I am not reinterpreting what Jesus said, but interpreting it with the assumption that the wisdom books and Paul are also the inspired word of God. Whether or not you agree with that method, it is consistent in its treatment of both the passages on giving to the poor and those that forbid the practice of homosexuality.

    The only person for whom the admonishment, to give away all of your possessions, was most straightforward was the rich man in the passage. How we apply that to our lives is not at all straightforward, since the bible clearly demonstrates faithful Christians having possessions. That’s a paradox that theologians of all stripes have sought to solve.

    There is no such nuance to be drawn with respect to homosexuality. The bible tersely, unequivocally, condemns it. The only paradox is that many practicing homosexuals are such nice people, and feel strongly that homosexuality is part of their identity.

    Treating these paradoxes differently is NOT a sign of theological weakness.

  • Tim

    Kevin S.,

    I am not “contrasting” Proverbs with Christ’s teachings. I am simply identifying their genre and noting the issues that genre deals with. If you want to understand Christ’s teachings, read Christ’s teachings. Bringing in a proverb that was meant to highlight the practical risks involved in loaning money to fools has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus’ mandate for charity. The proverb was a practical teaching, Jesus’ exhortation to give and lend to those in need was a moral teaching.

    As far as bringing in other scriptures to bear, you are already well familiar with the divorce that is allowed and regulated in the OT, and how Jesus’ teachings overturns that. Jesus mentioned that he is no giving a stricter command than what was previously given. The issue on charity is the same. Proverbs gave good practical advice on how to hold onto your money, and Jesus gave moral advice to give it away to those in need.

    I would step back for a second there Kevin S. and take a good hard look at the hermeneutical framework you impose on scripture.

  • Tim

    …should be “now giving”, not “no giving”.

  • “If you want to understand Christ’s teachings, read Christ’s teachings.”

    I disagree. If you read Christ’s teachings, absent the remainder of scripture, you will very poorly understand Christ’s teachings.

    But even if I did agree with you, that doesn’t get you any closer to demonstrating any theological inconsistency. In fact, you are being inconsistent, insisting that we can fully understand Christ by his teachings, but that we must look to context for our understanding of homosexuality as a sin.

  • Tim

    Kevin,

    I am not attempting to demonstrate theological inconsistency. I don’t know how many different times or ways I can convey that. Please do me the courtesy of reading what I write and not some distorted representation of it in your own head.

  • I just wanted to share this message that I recently listened to, and greatly appreciated. John Armstrong gave this presentation a few years ago I believe. I felt he had a very gracious, balanced presentation on homosexuality, individuals, causes, and the church.

    heres the link.

    http://www.soundword.com/chpeonho.html

  • I am a homosexual, celibate man, aware of my sexuality since childhood. I converted to Catholicism during my adolescence, but the deep struggle between faith and desire came much later. I wrote about it, for myself. Now, years later, I offer a digest of my experience online. I have come to believe that, as difficult as it is, celibacy is a positive good. Please visit: simonjamesonline.com. SJ