Ministry Matters: Gay, Christian, and Celibate?

I've been (mostly) enjoying reading Ministry Matters, which is a Methodist-based online forum for church leadership, evangelism, and growth.  Here is a recent article they ran called "Gay, Christian, and Celibate: the Changing Face of the Homosexuality Debate."

The article covers an often-overlooked (or deliberately ignored for ideological reasons?) segment of the population that identifies as "Homosexual" in terms of experiencing consistent attraction of persons of the same sex, but who have also deliberately embraced a celibate lifestyle because of they also identify as Bible-believing Christians.  Another such group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but who live in holy celibacy (these mostly in the Church of England) contribute to the Living Out website.  These many stories of struggle and faithfulness and spiritual discipline deserve an important place in contemporary conversations about sexuality and Christian faith.

Since the Reformation, with Martin Luther's strong objections to vows of celibacy (himself a celibate for many years as a monk and priest), Protestants have largely ignored or downplayed the significant and ancient Christian tradition of celibacy as a lifestyle and even a spiritual gift from God (Greek: "charisma" - see 1 Corinthians 7:6-9).  "Focus-on-the-family" style evangelical Protestantism has lifted up marriage as the essentially universal vocation of all good Christians.  Yet the gift of celibacy as a form of Christian obedience and self-dedication to God is rooted in our Lord's own words.  When the Apostles objected (as many do still today) that his teachings on marriage were too strict (one man and one woman for life; no divorce except when the marriage vows have been broken), the Lord Jesus replied to them, "...there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Let anyone accept this who can." (Matthew 19:12); which is to say, some have sworn off marriage and sex, embracing a celibate lifestyle instead for the sake of being dedicated to God's mission.  St. Paul the Apostle was one such (see 1 Cor. 7 above).

There have actually been a great many Protestant clergy, laity, and missionaries who have chosen a life of celibacy to devote themselves more fully to the Lord's work - many Evangelicals, Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists (including early Methodist circuit riders, bishops, and more recent luminaries such as Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon) and others.  I hope and pray that our conversations around the nature of human sexuality as ordered by God can create an opening for those of us in the Reformational churches to recover some of the deeper, older, and more "catholic" (universal) ideas about the positive gift of celibacy in the life of the Church of the Lord Jesus.  This might even go hand-in-hand (one can only hope and pray) with our also recovering an understanding of the value of monastic communities and intentionally establishing new such communities.

As the Ministry Matters article describes, some Christians don't know what to do with or what to think about such "gay-but-celibate" (or any deliberately celibate) believers in our midst.  We should start by listening to their stories.  We can also take a lesson from the Early Church.  Since ancient times the church has celebrated and encouraged the unique spiritual gifts, discipline, and ministry of such celibate-for-the-Kingdom people as exemplary and as a gift from God to his church; I think we must do so again - especially when people choose celibacy as a holy way forward that both affirms the reality of their same-sex attractions, but also the even higher reality of their identity as baptized believers who find Christ himself and his Kingdom to be their true orientation.

The full Ministry Matters article can be found here.

See also this older post.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

whose side are you on

9:29 PM, September 02, 2014  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear Anonymous,

Given what I've said (with some clarity, I hope), I'm curious what sparked your question.

I am simply saying that no person is morally responsible simply for their desires as such, but only for their actions. Therefore, a person may "identify" as "gay" (which is simply a short hand for saying "I have same-sex desires") but still live within the rather straight-forward teachings of the New Testament on the topic of sexual morality by choosing to live a celibate lifestyle, and I'm pointing out that there are plenty of people who are doing exactly what I am describing.

I do believe, however, that the phrasing of your question illustrates exactly the problem with my denomination at the moment - and historic Protestantism around the world.

We've drawn up battle lines and expect everyone to be either on "one side of the other." Then we get threatened when some middle group appears (like celibate, gay, traditionalists) who don't quite fit in either box, don't quite align with the expectations of either "side".

11:00 AM, September 16, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is another interesting point of view from a man who experiences bi-sexual attraction, and who also served as a leader in a conservative Christian campus ministry with which he was affiliated. That group is no longer recognized by its university because of "discrimination."


6:35 PM, September 21, 2014  

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