- Religion News Service | By Sarah Pulliam Bailey
- Posted: 08/04/2014 6:27 pm EDT
…Rodgers [self identified lesbian] spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.
… For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change.
But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.
Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.
But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.
“We can be easily misunderstood, to put it nicely, by both sides of the culture war,” Rodgers said. “For those who have a more affirming position, it’s as if we’re repressed, self-hated homophobes, encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. And conservative Christians think that those who shift on sexuality are being rebellious.”
Moving from ex-gay
Christians’ shift away from ex-gay therapy came amid larger cultural changes, including a wider societal acceptance of homosexuality and a rapid embrace of same-sex civil marriage.
.. Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.
Mark Yarhouse, a Regent University psychology professor who has done research on ex-gay Christians, is just now beginning to study celibate gay Christians. “Evangelicals are so enamored with marriage, it’s been hard for them to value singleness and celibacy,” he said.
Celibacy is a better trend for Christians than conversion therapy was, said Alan Chambers, who led Exodus before shuttering it last year.
“Celibacy is an age-old concept, so I think it’s a great option for a lot of people. People have been so afraid of it,” said Chambers, who has been married to his wife for 16 years. “The only option before it was to stay completely silent or adopt this ex-gay mentality.”
Some evangelicals mine Catholicism’s centuries-old tradition of celibacy, said Wesley Hill, a professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry, who wrote “Washed and Waiting,” a 2010 book on being gay and celibate.
“They already have a rich history of celibacy that I had to discover as an evangelical,” Hill said. “Twenty years ago, being gay would be considered irredeemably bad, something to be delivered from or be changed. (Celibacy) leads me to form close bonds with friends, to have self-denial and sacrifice.”
..Eve Tushnet, a 35-year-old whose book “Gay and Catholic” comes out in October, is fast emerging as a significant voice on sexuality and Catholic teaching.
“I felt like there’s a lot of things I don’t understand, but I can do my wrestling and doubting from within the church,” she said.
….Tushnet grew up somewhere between agnosticism and Judaism, and when she became a Catholic in 1998, she didn’t know of other openly gay Christians who were following the church’s teaching on sexuality.
“Because marriage, the standard American solution to the problem of the human heart, is typically unavailable to gay Christians, we’ve had to confront loneliness earlier and more publicly than many of our peers,” she wrote in The American Conservative.
In a 2013 study in the journal Symbolic Interaction, Hollins University sociologist S.J. Creek found that celibate gay Christians tend to prioritize their sexuality differently than others might, unwilling to compromise their Christianity.
For some like Tushnet, the loneliness of celibacy has been tempered by communities such as Spiritual Friendship, a blog for celibate gay Christians. Hill co-founded the blog with Ron Belgau, who grew up Baptist and converted to Catholicism at 24. Belgau said celibacy was one of the things that attracted him to the Catholic Church.
Naming and claiming
The mere presence of self-identifying celibate gay Christians requires other Christians to wrestle with theological challenges, says Matthew Vines, author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” Vines doesn’t promote sex outside of marriage but believes gay Christians can make a theological case for same-sex marriage.
“It’s a subtle but significant shift,” said Vines, who is openly gay, of celibate gay Christians. “They’re saying, ‘There’s nothing wrong with being gay in and of itself,’ and that is a big change.”
In fact, that’s the teaching of major religious traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church and even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Homosexuality only becomes sinful when a person chooses to act on it.
Moody Bible Institute professor Christopher Yuan has been countering progressive messages like Vines’ with a more traditional message of celibacy for those who, like him, are attracted to the same sex. In his book review of Vines’ book for Christianity Today, however, Yuan, too, took a harsh look at conversion therapy.
Related posts this blog:
(Link): Typical Erroneous Teaching About Adult Celibacy Rears Its Head Again: To Paraphrase Speaker at Ethics and Public Policy Center: Lifelong Celibacy is “heroic ethical standard that is not expected of heteros, so it should not be expected of homosexuals”