The new message given to gays these days by evangelical churches is one of acceptance– with a catch. Several mainstream evangelical churches have begun preaching that, as long as gays stay celibate, they can be fully accepted by the church. Unfortunately, this message has convinced straight Christians, and some gay Christians, that gay sex is the problem.
The history of the church’s reaction to gays
Clearly, churches have been much worse to the GLBTQ community. They used to burn us. Certainly early Church fathers condemned us, saying that we were aberrations (at best) or the devil (at worst)–with a midscale reaction that lasted through my lifetime, that gays were normally heterosexual people who got seduced by the devil to turn to homosexuality which was unnatural. (As if no normal person could ever BE gay…this fooled me for a long time.)
In my lifetime I have seen that stance change. It went from condemnation, saying that God never created gay folks, to an acceptance of the fact that gay people might be innately attracted to the same-sex–or born that way. Created gay–but abnormal, in the sense that some children are born with defects, and that gay is just another defect. Right now, pastors are calling it “not God’s best”–and they are willing to embrace gays if they remain celibate. Well, it just so happens that Evangelicals have stumbled on an accidental “agreement” with a smaller percentage of gays, called Side B Christians, who believe the Bible has “no room for gay sexuality.”
The emergence of Side B Christianity
It was surprising when I first came out, after that hard struggle to accept myself despite church teaching, to discover that there was a section of gay Christians who believed that though they were gay, they were not allowed to have sexual relationships. That God didn’t want them to. If you want to read a sample of their theology you can read it here on Gay Christian Network. It’s a long essay, and finally it concludes with two points (and I paraphrase):
1. That there is an overall negative view of gay sexuality in the Bible; that Jesus had nothing positive to say about gays, and the Bible has no room to bless same-sex unions or marriages. That if you want to follow Jesus–and it’s hard–you will abstain from sexual immorality, and, for gays,–that’s ALL sex. (And you probably shouldn’t be kissing and gettin’ all hot and heavy either, because that just leads to sex, or leads to Really Difficult Moments in Abstinence.)
2. That [gays] have undervalued friendship to the point of making same-sex friendship immediately, and only, into sexual unions, thereby foregoing the cool idea of friendship men can have. The author of the above linked essay confessed that he would have been pretty miserable if he had just believed God was against same-sex relationships, but he felt better when he realized that he had undervalued friendships.
I have respect for those gays who believe they are called to celibacy, but I have a problem with their theology.
Checked the Bible thoroughly myself, and while we both conclude that Jesus never said anything about gays, Side Bs see that negatively—that Jesus didn’t take the time to promote them, nor did the Bible–and I see that as positive–that Christ had more important things to promote, and that it didn’t matter to shout out to the gays in the audience. Perhaps no one was having a big problem with them. Look at the Roman Centurion and his “boy” in Matthew 8:5-13 whom Jesus affirms. He may not need to point out what was obvious to everyone watching. This was a same-sex couple.
The absence of specific mention doesn’t have to be a lack of blessing, as SideBs see, but might instead indicate a lack of divisiveness. Divorce got a heckuva lot of mentions from Jesus! It was important to correct people’s ideas about it. Still, it doesn’t seem to matter now. But his mention of it stemmed from the problems it created. If gay love were a problem, he would have mentioned it.
The second argument in the SideB theology–the lack of good male friendships with gay men– doesn’t hold up logically. If you are hungry for a man to love, OF COURSE relationships will be hard to keep “straight.” But it is no different between men and women. Very few horny men can really have good women friends without thinking about sex. Abstaining would make it worse. Why do you think Monks go off to a monastery away from women? Since straight men are attracted to women, we don’t expect them just to be friends–we allow for falling in love to meet their needs and desires.
Let’s see When Harry Met Sally for that one.
Sure, i’ll agree that as a SINGLE gay man, male friendships are difficult–because I’m desiring a man of my own–just like a man desiring a woman will have a problem not hitting on all of his women friends. But stopping yourself from having sex with SOMEONE would only worsen all your friendship and the sexual tension that is created for you. Trust me, I know. If I had a partner, my male friends would be relieved!
Third, Celibates are called to be celibate, individually, not collectively. You cannot tell someone they must be celibate. God can only tell an individual that. And for many, many gays, this is not their calling. Celibacy is an individual choice. It is not a mandate. Paul and Jesus both emphasize that celibacy must be something that the individual feels called to do. Paul even goes so far as to say, “it is better to marry than to burn” [with lust]. Well, if it’s a hard road for those lusty straight people–and better that they are married because of the trouble lust will get them into–then it’s applicable to gay people. We are not separate species! It will be better for us to marry than to burn.
How the church will manipulate this
I have a fear that evangelical Christian churches will use Side B Christians as pawns to try and manipulate how gays can come to church. Right now, there seems to be a blessing on gay celibate Christians–and they receive the love from their congregations–but it is a clear message to those of us who believe God is cool with us dating and having relationships that our “interpretation” of gay christianity is not acceptable and that the Side B version of gay Christianity is.
But imagine what it’s like for most gays looking at those churches. They will still see rejection–but this time the rejection of gays is being justified and promoted by gays in the church! It’s almost like having women in a church stand up during a meeting and denounce women in leadership positions. If you’re a strong woman in a church and you watch the argument unfold, pitting women against women to decide women’s place in the church, you just want to scream. I don’t like how this argument is shaping up–that gay celibates are being used as models of gay Christianity against those who believe differently. You will win no gays this way, ‘cept those that are frightened of their own sexuality.
Consider this book review from Books and Culture where the author reviews Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. I admire that they had a gay christian review the book, and I have nothing against Mr. Hill personally–though some his comments I will look at closely. It might have been nice to unghettoize it and have a straight Christian say–hey, this is cool. I mean, the book is meant for straight Christians. It’d be nice to hear what a straight Christian thinks in Books and Culture–whether the argument is convincing to them. Instead, I almost felt like they called in a “ringer” —someone on our team who could challenge the concept.
And he did. In his review he challenged the idea that an individual could hear something from God that God was not telling the church.
it is difficult to avoid seeing here an overemphasis on the role of the individual and a downplaying of the church’s collective task of discernment and discipline. Say, for instance, that a gay Christian does hear God’s personal, immediate voice telling them he affirms their sexuality, what then? What becomes of this person’s identity as a member of a historic community of faith? Suppose a gay Christian who is—oh, I don’t know, just hypothetically—Anglican hears God telling her he feels being gay is best for her life. Does it matter for this Christian that the Anglican Communion has not yet heard God’s voice to that effect? And if it doesn’t, why not?
I think it’s surprising that Mr. Hill puts all the burden of the possible loss of community on the lone gay person rather than on the church.
The ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT is a collection of books from individuals who were told something that wasn’t told to the church. Jesus, Peter, Paul, Timothy, the entire collection of Disciples…. nearly all of them have written encounters with stunned “churches” (Judaic or Christian) who are flabbergasted that someone would re-interpret thousands of years of “the way it’s been done before.” Heaven forbid, the Pope didn’t get the memo.
Over and over again, Mr. Hill, the reviewer, posits the question that we must doubt the lone believer against the greater church doctrine–or doubt that God loves the church. This is striking to say when SO many denominations are actually turning to the idea of accepting gays FULLY. Now where is your argument, Mr. Hill, if churches have “okayed” the new doctrine of the lone believer? Still, it shocks me that anyone would throw out the Priesthood of the Believer. It’s arrogant to think that God only deals from the top down—when Jesus NEVER did. Jesus always went from the Bottom-up!
Mr. Hill also brings up his own personal bias as a way to make straight Christians afraid of Marin’s book–
… for those gay Christians, like myself, who feel that their efforts to remain abstinent are bound up with their sanctification and growth in godliness, a plea for love without an attendant call for supportive pastoral accountability may sound hollow.
Here’s where Mr. Hill’s individual choice to be celibate angles for a better position for himself as opposed to other gay christians. Mr. Hill is seeking sanctifcation (as abstinence will lead him there) and godliness—implying that those other gays or gay Christians are completely, apparently, missing the boat on both sanctification and godly growth. Funny that sex for straight people doesn’t inhibit their godliness or their sanctification. (I don’t doubt that for god-called Celibates, their abstinence is important to their Christianity, but certainly not to all Christians. The implication for gay Christians, though, is that celibacy is for all gays.)
However, Hebrews 10 tells us that Christ already sanctified us. The first 25 verses are powerful. They’re sufficient for me. Because I don’t believe I am sinning, verses 26-to the end don’t apply to gay sex. Certainly they have nothing to do with sanctification.
Hill also makes a plea to the pastor to not abandon gay celibates. This, I find, is the most difficult part of Hill’s and possibly other Side B’s strategies. Why does it have to be us vs. them? It is a plea of “protect us, protect us” from our own passions, and from the influence of those “worldly” gays. It brings out a protective, paternal side of pastors–who already believe that young men and women are being “seduced” by gays and who believe that only Pastors stand between gays and their hormones. They believe now that while someone may be born gay, the devil is still present to get you to try to act on it.
Finally, even though Hill is happy that Marin is trying to elevate the dialogue between gay and straight christians, he damns the book in the end:
I still have hope that the conversation between evangelical Christians and the GLBT community may indeed be elevated. But it’s hard to celebrate an elevation—even one motivated by the sincerest love—that comes at the cost of turning a blind eye to the hard work of discernment happening in the collective hearts and minds of historic Christian communities.
Really? The church is more important than a whole group of gay people? Hill, in effect, tells Marin to leave the process alone–let the churches duke it out. Stop trying to celebrate gays. While one might commend Hill on his stand for orthodoxy, the price he pays is the turning away of the LGBT community. Marin is trying to elevate the conversation; Hill wants it only between churches, and for the LGBT community to wait till it’s finished. But that’s a situation fraught with problems.
Now, Hill’s review was done in 2009, and I don’t know if he still holds the same views. Regardless, the review is still online. It still has a negative effect on gays, and on Marin’s book.
There is a dangerous dichotomy set up here: godly and sanctified gays are celibate, and gays who marry, or date, are in a questionable state. Just enough doubt to affirm him in the eyes of the church (and gain him the important solidarity) and condemn us. I don’t believe this is all Hill’s fault, though he embraces the rhetoric with gusto.
Gays have been coerced into this decision.
This is a result of the church’s threat to reject gays. They ask gay christians to either sacrifice their sexuality or their church membership. Side B Christians have taken the first method, and many others gays have taken the latter. I’m mad at Evangelical Christianity. I’m not mad at Side Bs, or even Hill. He’s protecting himself. I’m mad that Evangelical churches have poisoned us with this idea that our own sexuality is horrible, and will cause us to sin. They have turned us against ourselves–and they have turned us against each other. In effect, the painful rejection all gays feel by the church has been ameliorated in this SideB idea. They won’t have to be rejected by the church if they just stay celibate. They can get the solidarity and the family they seek, at the cost of their wholeness.
What a horrible trick of enslavement that is.
The Hope in Christ Jesus, and in the Church
Well, I believe you can keep Family, and solidarity, by changing who is in your Family—and/or by changing the minds of the people in your family. Solidarity is not only achieved by giving up your priviliges. You don’t have to give everything over to be loved. That’s too high a price for love. I would have done anything to keep the love of my church, Mr. Hill, but asking a person to give up their sexuality—for church acceptance–is degrading hogwash, swill forced on us to drink by the church. However, from the Side B point of view, the pressure is coming from the other side: as more and more churches are becoming gay accepting, fully accepting, gay celibates feel threatened by that acceptance, as if they are being pulled by friends into an abyss they don’t want to go into–an abyss of sex and pleasure.
It’s not like that. I still believe in a committed relationship, and I have been as thoughtful, careful and considerate as any straight single person in deciding how to approach the full acceptance of my sexuality. It doesn’t mean a person is a slut, or is dangerously promiscuous. It means that we have a healthy respect for sexuality. It is what God calls me to be.
So, for the sake of the LGBT community outside the church that need to hear of Christ and his love, and for the growth of the church towards acceptance, I would ask that Side B Christians simply drop the idea that celibacy is God’s mandate and embrace celibacy as an individual calling. This is going to take some work, and listening to what OTHER denominations and churches, who have “done the hard work of discernment” that Hill asks us to respect, have done on this matter, and making a discerning line between the calling of celibacy for straights and gays alike; and the call to full sexual expression for straights and gays alike. If Side Bs make this distinction, that they are being called individually to celibacy, then friends and family could stand behind their call to celibacy without seeing the rest of us as wicked anti-christian tempters, trying to thwart the gay celibate Christian in his or her journey towards godliness through abstinence. I encourage and commend anyone who decides this is God’s calling for them. Blessings and peace on you.
For other gay christian organizations: While I realize that Gay Christian Network, and other gay christian organizations, are a place for Side Bs and other gays to live and work in peace together, I will never feel safe at a Gay Christian Network conference. As long as they bring in speakers who hold the “celibacy only” theory, I might as well be back in my old church that demoted me, ostracized and preached against me. What’s the difference? Gay Christians–especially those who fought to be out, sacrificing everything, need to be surrounded by a supportive community. Right now, the most supportive community for gays is the secular community (though it ridicules us, sometimes, for being believers). One may say LGBTs and SideBs can agree to disagree, but one group is getting all the love from the churches and standing beside them helping them condemn the other group. This isn’t post-tribs and pre-tribs together, who can easily agree to disagree. This is my life and my christianity here. My own gay friends believe that the Bible does not support my love of my partner? They might as well be straight christians who don’t understand a thing.
I think there’s a danger that, with the accidental help of Side B Christians, the Christian church will stop progressing towards full acceptance of gay christians. Why change their stance if they always have celibate gays affirming current Evangelical beliefs: that gay sex is wrong, that gay marriage is wrong, that the Bible doesn’t condone gay sexuality, that God doesn’t condone gay sexuality? No wonder the church believes it, a gay christian said it. And if one of our own says we deserved to be treated this way, churches will take that easy route, rather than examine the scriptures more closely. It condones a whole litany of abuses and condemnations against the LGBT community. And straight Christians don’t even have to take responsibility for saying it—they got a gay Christian to say it for them.
Evangelical Churches, I’m mad at you for your promotion of this faulty belief that inhibits the growth of the church, of gay Christians, and of your own faith. We must put a sharp line between celibacy for individuals and gay christianity.
Sadly, promoting gay celibacy as your policy keeps gays who choose to be celibate in a perpetual state of guilt and fear, feeling that they must be protected from other gays on the outside and their own feelings on the inside. They believe too that if they slip, they may lose your love.
It also keeps the LGBT community out of “church” –and we can’t distinguish sometimes between churches that condemn gays and those that embrace. We may not take the time. And therefore we may miss out.
And Mr. Hill, and others, why doesn’t THAT bother the church?