Our Journey as a Celibate LGBT Christian Couple (a guest post by Sarah and Lindsey from A Queer Calling)

Our Journey as a Celibate LGBT Christian Couple (a guest post by Sarah and Lindsey from A Queer Calling) February 19, 2014

[The following is a guest post from Lindsey and Sarah who describe themselves as a celibate LGBT Christian couple. They reached out to me on twitter after my post about the Wheaton dialogue between LGBT-affirming students and Rosaria Butterfield. Lindsey and Sarah are emphatic about saying that they don’t want their story to be used to invalidate any other LGBT story. I asked them to write a guest-post because I was fascinated by their lifestyle, and it was something I hadn’t encountered before. Please ask any genuine, un-snarky questions that you have and/or visit their blog at aqueercalling.com.]

Hello! We’re Lindsey and Sarah, members of a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple who blog regularly at A Queer Calling. We appreciate Morgan giving us an opportunity to share a little of our story with Morgan’s regular readers. We are enthusiastic to be here because we believe there is a multiplicity of LGBT Christian stories, and each story is worthy of being told and heard.

By way of introduction, we’re 29 (Sarah) and 30 (Lindsey) years old and have been enjoying life as a couple for over 16 months. While this may sound like a short period of time, both of us have over a decade of experience in exploring celibate vocations before becoming a couple. The story of celibacy is frequently mischaracterized. We feel that it should be rendered as the stories of celibacies (plural) because every celibate vocation tends to be unique. The life we share together has similarities to and differences from the lives of celibate singles and monastics.

Common images of celibacy include the Roman Catholic priesthood and other kinds of vowed religious life. It’s also reasonably common for people to view a celibate as a hermit who intentionally shuns human contact or as an incredibly socially awkward person who had absolutely no hope of marriage. The idea that God could call us to live our lives as a celibate couple often boggles the minds of many people. And we get that. We totally do. While we are not the only celibate couple we know, we can appreciate that celibate couples are a rare breed. So many of our friends wanted to hear more about our life experience that they encouraged us to share our story. This encouragement from our friends combined with some nudges from the Holy Spirit inspired us to start blogging at A Queer Calling.

Sarah remembers feeling drawn to celibacy for the first time during elementary school, but did not consider the possibility of cultivating a celibate vocation until age 19. Sarah remembers the thought, “I think I might not get married when I grow up” coming to mind for the first time at some point during the fourth grade. During high school, one of Sarah’s most prominent influences was Sarah’s English teacher, Ms. Chafin. Sarah was inspired by the exceptional dedication Ms. Chafin showed her students, and Sarah observed that because Ms. Chafin was not married, there was something different about the way her commitment and compassion for students manifested. Ms. Chafin was also Sarah’s primary influence for choosing a career in education. During Sarah’s time as a young college student, Sarah began to notice the seeds of earlier thoughts on celibacy taking root. After becoming acquainted with a number of religious sisters who found great joy in their celibate vocations, Sarah began a vocational discernment journey that would include many peaks and troughs throughout Sarah’s college and graduate school years. Sarah visited several monasteries and had many illuminating experiences during these times, but slowly came to see that God was not leading Sarah to a monastic vocation. Simultaneously, Sarah was exploring the possibilities of committed relationships with other women. Until the past couple of years, Sarah had struggled with what many gay Christians see as the Church’s “celibacy mandate.” Sarah had previously thought committed partnership and celibacy were mutually exclusive and felt a great deal of pressure to choose one or the other, assuming that no other person would ever consent to living in a celibate partnership. After meeting Lindsey, Sarah immediately felt a greater sense of confidence in where God’s call was leading.

Lindsey began feeling celibacy’s pull at 17. The idea of marriage had lost most of its appeal, especially as Lindsey did not feel inclined towards parenthood. Throughout college, Lindsey considered extensive missionary service. However, many missionary organizations did not seem interested in sending an engineer like Lindsey, which caused that path to feel a bit too much like a force fit. After college, Lindsey searched for a faith community that kept the Gospel at the center of the church’s life and would not require that Lindsey “become straight” before participating in the life of the church. As a result of this search, Lindsey connected with a Christian tradition that celebrated both marriage and monasticism. Several previously disparate parts clicked together in Lindsey’s mind and enabled Lindsey to pray about discerning a celibate vocation. Lindsey spent years visiting different monastic communities and was struck by the diversity present. However, Lindsey did not feel drawn to any particular monastic community. Eventually, Lindsey summoned courage to ask a monastic community for prayers as Lindsey began the discernment process to a celibate way of life. Lindsey approached an abbess in another monastic community who challenged Lindsey to begin practicing a monastic way of life to the degree made possible by God. When Lindsey met Sarah, the door to a celibate vocation grew increasingly wider.

We conceive of celibacy as a vocation. That is to say, we think of celibacy in the same way you might think of marriage and monasticism. Celibacy is a vocation one usually enters into as an adult, is a permanent way of life, and is a path to spiritual maturity. From our vantage point, the vocation of celibacy is not the same thing as a person who commits to sexual abstinence until marriage. We do not, for an instant, conceive of our way of life as the only way to live a celibate vocation. Further, we do not recommend our way of life for all LGBT Christians. As a matter of fact, we are very opposed to forms of spiritual direction that tell LGBT Christians their vocations rather than help LGBT Christians discern their vocational pathways.

First, celibacy is a vocation that a person generally enters into as an adult. God’s call to celibacy can emerge at a young age. It’s not terribly uncommon for a young person to experience inklings that God might be calling him or her to celibacy, but often it takes years of discernment before one can conclude that one is called to celibacy just as it may take years of dating before one commits to choosing one’s spouse. Some people might view celibacy as a sort of default condition: “I was celibate until I got married.” That sort of statement confuses celibate vocations with abstinence. It is true that people are abstinent until their first sexual encounters. However, abstinence does not mean that a person is cultivating a celibate vocation. A person who abstains from sexual intimacy until marriage is most often in the process of discerning a marital vocation. A person becomes celibate in the vocational sense when he or she makes a choice to embrace a lifelong commitment to celibacy. People can make commitments to celibacy when they have some sense or vision for how God wants them to love and serve the world as celibate people. It takes time to attune to how God wants to direct one’s life if one will be living in a celibate vocation. We’d add that it also takes God sending people to confirm that a particular individual is called to a celibate vocation.

Second, celibacy as a vocation is a permanent way of life. In our time together as a couple, we have been amazed at how many people have assumed that God might be calling us to celibacy for a season rather than permanently. We have heard many people say things like, “Maybe you’ll start to see your relationship as a marriage some day,” “You’re so young. When you’re older, you’ll realize that a celibate relationship is impossible,” and “‘Celibacy’ might be a word you need to use for a short period of time before you feel comfortable exploring a fully [sexually] intimate life together.” These attitudes reflect a belief that celibacy can be completely defined as abstention from sexual acts. People often conflate celibacy with abstinence, yet celibacy is a way of life just as marriage is a way of life. Because celibacy is a vocation that a person enters into an as adult, we would encourage churches that offer pre-marriage courses to think about offering pre-celibacy courses as well. If we were designing the syllabus for such a course, we would focus our energies on 4 main topics: 1) radical hospitality, 2) vulnerability, 3) a shared spiritual life, and 4) commitment. Churches do not offer pre-marriage counseling anticipating that the marriage commitment is temporary. As a matter of fact, many churches go to extreme lengths to offer support to married couples. We believe that many Christian traditions have the resources to be able to offer just as much support to those called to celibacy.

Third, celibacy is a path to spiritual maturity. Marriage is not just about two people being together for the rest of their lives and having children; marriage is also concerned with providing both spouses with spiritual growth as they learn to love one another as Christ loves the Church. Similarly, celibacy is a route to holiness as celibate people learn to love and serve the world.  We should note that there are many different ways people live in celibate vocations. In our context as a celibate couple, we have so many options about how we use what we have to serve the world. We are constantly discerning how to use our own resources and gifts for this purpose. Part of our life together has involved Lindsey’s supporting Sarah in recovery from an eating disorder. Both Sarah’s lived experience of having an eating disorder and Lindsey’s seeming knack at being supportive have led us to pray about whether God might ask us to support other people in their recoveries. We are prayerfully considering appropriate future steps towards the end goal of opening our home to people who need support with this issue and others. Part of celibacy’s joy is in discerning how God might be calling us to holiness in ways that are both similar to and different from how a married couple might serve the world.

By way of conclusion, we would like to emphasize that we don’t have all the answers. Our journey in celibacy is mysterious, elusive, fantastic, joyous, terrifying, and awesome. We like to think that we have some sense of the important questions, and we benefit immensely from discussing those with others. We have seen ample evidence that God is guiding us towards an abundant life, and we would be grateful for your prayers. We are grateful to Morgan for opening up this space on his blog for us to share a bit more of our story. If you want to see more we’ve written on these ideas, we’d encourage you to check out aqueercalling.com and follow us on Twitter @aqueercalling.

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Meunier

    Morgan, thank you for inviting this post. Sarah and Lindsey, thank you for writing. May God bless you in your vocation.

  • Dave Farmer

    Sarah and Lindsey,

    Thanks for sharing your perspectives…I learned a lot more about both of you. I am curious on your use of the term “marriage,” specifically, am curious to your reference at a young age(s) not wanting to get married, and what marriage meant/means to you. Personally, I never really thought about that before (my perspective of getting married when I was a very young person), but I now realize that I didn’t want to marry a female because I knew very young I was gay…but I didn’t have the felling of not wanting to ever “be” married (and in my youth, the option of same-sex marriage wasn’t even a twinkling of a possibility). To me, being married is much more than a sexual matter…in addition to the emotional aspect of committing to another person (whether celibate or not) there are legal rights, protections and obligations that come with state-sanctioned marriage. For Ron and I, our covenant to each other and with God was of utmost importance, which we celebrated in a commitment ceremony (in our minds, marriage…although not state sanctioned) performed by a Baptist minister 20 years ago. Then we were legally married in 2008. The legal rights are important for many reasons as demonstrated by Edith Windsor’s case regarding inheritance tax.

    I totally support where you are and your decision, but I am wondering if you ever envision state-sanctioned marriage for the legal rights, obligations and protections. And in my mind, such marriage doesn’t change your calling to celibacy. My point being that marriage does not have to = sex, but the rights and protections may be important to your lives in the future.

    I enjoy having to think outside of my “box” and look forward to seeing the two of you in person again soon!

    PS: Morgan, thanks for being brave enough to host such a candid discussion!

    • Hi Dave, thanks for the great question!

      Lindsey had sort of a gut level feeling of what marriage meant. While growing up in a very culturally American home, Lindsey constantly heard messages about “family values” and “family first.” Additionally, Lindsey’s mom placed a high regard on her role as a mother and the assorted responsibilities related to raising children. As a concrete example, Lindsey’s parents remained in the same town through Lindsey’s formative years so that both children had a stable school environment from kindergarten to high school graduation. Lindsey’s gut level feeling was not influenced much by being in church environments as Lindsey did not start attending any church regularly until high school.

      Sarah had started to pick up on the idea of being different ways of being and different ways of living life and using one’s gifts than to be in a marriage. Though it may sound odd that Sarah was thinking about those things at a young age, that was honestly Sarah’s process of envisioning the possibility of not being married. Sarah has always had a strong maternal instinct, so Sarah wondered how that maternal instinct would manifest if Sarah never got married and had children. Sarah continues to pray and explore to discern just how this instinct will manifest itself.

      We’ve also gotten to know a number of people living in celibate vocations. It’s been amazing to see how they do cultivate emotional commitments to one another, to their service to the Christ and the world, and to the places they live. Seeing the depth of this emotional commitment helped us both know that the celibate life could be an exceptionally fulfilling life indeed.

      As for legal rights, we have encountered a number of situations where legal recognition has been exceptionally important to us. We blogged recently on that topic where you can read more at: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/02/03/when-legal-recognition-matters/ From our perspective, we’ve noted that the State has figured out how to confer legal recognition on celibate people living in monasteries. However, since we’re not in a monastery, we are very grateful to have other legal options to ensure that we can care for one another and be there when it matters most. We’ve talked about what kinds of legal recognition are best for us and our circumstances, and we can appreciate how other celibate people would make different choices than the choices we plan to make. We are grateful to live in a place that gives us a significant number of legal options. Personally, we are of the opinion that the package of rights and obligations found in a civil marriage is not at odds with living in a celibate partnership.

      • Dave Farmer

        Thanks for adding this perspective!

  • Trevor Morgan

    Fascinating, thanks for sharing this. I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of marriage as a sacrament; I think you’re saying something similar when you describe the ‘marital vocation.’ If I understand you correctly you’re saying that a vocation is a path to spiritual maturity, and that different people are going to have different pathways. So if we approach it correctly, then marriage can be a way through which we grow spiritually; likewise celibacy can also be such a path. But in both cases it has to be intentional: the attitude with which we approach these things determines whether our circumstances are pathways to spiritual growth or not.

    Thanks again for your insights.

    • Exactly. Both the married and celibate state should be approached intentionally.

  • Since we think that it’s important to recognize that LGBT Christians have different stories, we posted today regarding some lessons we’ve learned from LGBT Christian couples who do not feel called to celibacy: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/03/03/learning-from-other-couples/

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      Thanks for the resource!

    • MorganGuyton

      Thank you so much for sharing this!