Monday 12 March 2012

Celibacy and Gays Pt 1.

Over the last few days I have been pondering what it really means to have a lifelong commitment to celibacy. Why have I been pondering such a thought? Because this is exactly what the church teaches today that young gay people should have. It works this way. You're young, gay and you go to church. You come out hoping to find some acceptance. Instead you are offered what I consider to be one of the most devestating and vicious pieces of counsel that anyone can hear.

You must not only repent of your sin, but further, you must commit to an automatic, externally-mandated, no questions asked, non-negotiable obligation to celibacy. And you must do this for the rest of your life. Both will go home that night after this mandate is given - the counsellor and the counsellee. The Catholic priest who himself has a mandated and enforced celibacy, his from his superiors in the Church, will go home that night and have the accoutrements of the vast resources of the Catholic Church to help him live out his life within the confines of celibacy - a celibacy for which he volunteered in the first place. Alternatively, the evangelical or Pentecostal pastor, more likely to be married than not, will go home that night and have sex with his wife after a long series of tiring Sunday services and forget about his young charge that night. The gay teenager or adolescent who has been told how to live his or her life by a Christian authority figure will go home that night crestfallen, in fear, loneliness, confusion and anguish. "What does this mean for me?" he or she will rightly ask, and "How on earth am I supposed to do that?"

I want to deconstruct this piece of throw-away counsel in this blog post to ensure that people see what it is that we're really talking about. First of all, the church has been traditionally big on the whole sin message. It has virtually predominated the life and discourse of the church since the 1st century. Personally, and I am not alone in this theological position, I think it has warped the message of the Gospel and the meaning of Christ and the incarnation so that the message is now so skewed to sin that we have lost sight of the greatest story in the God - Humanity epic - the Divine act of continuing creation. But because of the dominance of the sin message, we have come to accept scriptures like "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" as being the crux and point of the whole Gospel. So, the church across the ages has taught that we must avoid not only sin itself but the occasions of sin. What this means is that we are supposed to diligently avoid any place, person or event that might lead us into an occasion for sinning. With that in mind, let's get back to our topic at hand.

A gay person, young or older, is told in declaration not negotiation, by a clergyman that they are to commit to lifelong celibacy because to act out of their natural gay sexual orientation would be to reject the divine order and to commit sin against God according to the Scriptures. Of course this will also mean avoiding the occasions whereby sin is a potential outcome.

So in real life what does this mean for our gay person? For ease of flowing prose, let's make this person an adolescent gay guy, but it could just as easily be a young lesbian woman. To start with, he cannot hold hands with a partner - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot sit on a sofa, arm around the shoulder of a sweetheart to watch a movie - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot give or receive a foot massage during the movie - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot run his fingers through a boyfriend's hair - lest that lead him into sin. Of course, he cannot have a boyfriend at all anyway. Likewise he must refuse all overtures from another male gay friend to have his own hair touseled - lest that lead him into sin. He certainly should not give his friend a back massage or receive one either - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot hug this other young man, even when he desperately wants or needs a hug - lest that lead him into sin. He most certainly cannot kiss his friend no matter how much he may have fallen in love with him - lest that lead him into sin. In fact, given the propensity to closeness and intimacy with this other young man, he should avoid him at all costs and not allow his presence into his life.

There can be no trips to the beach or bushwalks together. There can be no wonderful cinema experiences or music shared at a great concert. No special dinners. No time spent together just lolling about with your loved one. None of the normal and typical behaviours that young people in love get to to do. Those feelings, those behaviours are denied our young man. Any of these could lead to an occasion for sin!

He will never be able to spoon his partner in bed during the winter months. He will never be able to lie there with his partner and talk before falling off to sleep or laugh hysterically lying there together at some hilarity that happened to him during the day. He will never be able to kiss his partner good-night or snuggle up to him half asleep on a rainy early morning. He will never be able to shower with his partner and have the fun of washing each others' backs. Never bathe with his partner, legs entwined as they navigate two bodies into one bath with a few candles set around. All the talks, the banter, the laughter, the bonding that occurs during these behaviours will be denied him. His straight brother will have them all, but our young gay man will be told that he must endure this solitude for the rest of his life - just because he is gay - an orientation that emerged without his say-so during early adolescence just at the same time as his brother's straight orientation emerged without his say-so during his own early adolescence.

And of course it goes without saying that he will never be able to make love to a boyfriend or partner, never know the passion of sexual touch, the physicality of his own body during love-making, the sheer delight of sensual pleasure, the like of which there is nothing to compare. No early morning bonk just because they both feel like it before they go off to work. No late night encounter becasue they're not tired. No middle of the night half asleep bonding of two people in love. No grunt sex. No passionate sex. No make-up sex. No slow sex. No romantic sex. No birthday sex. No New Years sex. No stress-relief sex. No sex at all. No allowing his natural desire to be met in any way. And by God, he can't stimulate himself either because that is a sin too.

No, our young gay man must deny his body and every desire that it affords him. He must reject everything that is sensual. He must repudiate everything that is relational to the same gender with the exception of platonic relationships, a cruel joke on his mind and heart. He must endure a life of loneliness and solitude, a life of of longing and yearning, of exquisitly painful isolation as he watches his brother and peers pair up in relationships with their girlfriends.

But our gay young man must not touch and must not be touched. He is to live out his life outside of what is considered to be healthy and whole for the the human family - outside of loving touch. With the exception of family and friendly hugs or pats on the back - and if he's not close to his family, then that's just bad luck - he is not to be touched. He is denied the first and oldest of our senses - touch.

And in its place, he is told he must rely on Christ. When he feels the need to take someone in his arms and hold them close, instead he must call on Christ. When he feels the need to be held tight and kissed and caressed, instead he must call on Christ. When he is as horny as only an adolescent can be, then he must call on Christ. In the middle of the night when he wakes up because of overwhelming sexual tension, he must call on Christ. And he must do this day after day, month after month, and year after year. For life! He is told that God will give him the strength to bear such a burden.

But Jesus never does heal us of our gay sexuality. How can he? It is not a sickness. Jesus doesn't appear in the middle of the night and take away our desire or our loneliness or our isolation. When we turn over to an empty space in a bed and feel the weight of loneliness, it is not Jesus who meets that need. It can only be a flesh and blood person. Try relying on Christ in this turmoil for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years or more - this is what he has been told he must do.

Our young man turns into a middle aged man and he is tired and lonely and angry. He is angry at the church and angry at God for having to endure such a dreadful life. And he is angry at himself for letting clergymen tell him how to live his life rather than giving primacy to his own conscience and to following the Way of Jesus as a gay person. He feels it is all too late now, he feels that he has squandered his youth by living in a sin consciousness - his desires never did go away, so he constantly repented and asked forgiveness of God for his relentless sin nature.

This is the logical consequence of telling a young man or woman that they are obliged to commit to an automatic non-negotiable lifelong celibacy. I call it it by what it is. It is emotional abuse. And our young people are vulnerable to Christian authority figures telling them this stuff. It is abuse pure and simple. Abuse by the church. Abuse by the clergy. I have seen first-hand what this teaching has done to some people. They are utterly diminished by it and are shells of their potential selves.

The psychology literature shows clearly that touch is an essential component for human beings to grow, thrive and flourish. Without it, there is frailty, diminution and death. We have seen this in other mammals such as rhesus monkeys in the famous Harlow experiments and we have seen it in human infants after the Ceausescu regime fell in Communist Romania in untouched orphans with underdeveloped physical, cognitive and emotional capacities. There are serious consequences to not being touched!

So to the church, to the clergy: Stop this abuse. Stop it. You have no right to tell any person to live that way, young or older.
As I say in BGBC, God is not into torturing his children and neither should you be.

This is me when I was in my 20s, preaching at a church camp,
looking confident, but inside in turmoil at my loneliness and longing -
the moustache, long hair and tight little footy shorts all gone now.
I know the story above well because it is also my story. For too long I lived a life of self-enforced celibacy because I believed the teachings of the church about my nature as a gay person - that I was sick and sinful and needed to be saved or healed. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. My loneliness as a young man knew no bounds and my desire to be touched was sometimes overwhelming, despite my strong faith in God. Today I am so grateful that I made it through.

Don't let your precious life be destroyed by fatuous thinking that has come out of a blind stubborn church still not ready to undertand human desire in all its forms, that refuses to work with what science has shown us about human sexuality and that still treats gay people as entrenched sinners who choose a sinful lifestyle. Achh! Be free in the knowledge that if you are gay, God has given you a wonderful gift, a different way of experiencing the world, an exhilirating way to experience human life. You get out there and enjoy being gay and leave the celibacy to the mediaeval monks.

So the next time you hear a church leader, clergyman or pastor of any church casually say, "well if they're gay, they'll have to remain celibate for life to be in right relationship with God and his church", then understand that what they are sentencing on another human life is effectively a life lost, a life of isolation and a life of desolation. Celibacy means a whole lot more than just not having sex.

Pax et Amor - Stuart


  1. The way you described the celibate life of a gay Christian is very misleading. This life is like a blink of an eye compared to eternity. Yes,it's a cross to bear, but we are all called to pick up our cross daily - whatever it may be.
    With the support of family, friends and other true Christians, most gay people can live a rich happy and celibate life. Your personal failure is sad enough, but your need to lead others into a lifestyle similar to yours is sadder still. "For a time will be when they will not endure sound doctrine, but they will heap up teachers to themselves according to their own lusts, tickling the ear." 2Tim 4:3

  2. Thank you for your comment Anonymous. My name is Stuart Edser and I stand by my views. Needless to say I do not agree with your position. I specifically discuss the scripture you quote in my book about 'taking up our cross' and I would urge you to read my book if you haven't in order to understand that the Bible is not talking about the negation of human life in that text, which is the ultimate effect of what you are espousing.

    Being gay is an orientation, just like being straight. It is part of the identity. The expression of our identity and therefore our sexual orientation is an integral part of being human. You imply, "you can be gay, but you can't express it". I say, that is a life of unnecessary torture and a cruel lie to young people. I tried that life for over twenty years and found it to be a desert, even though I was surrounded by good friends and family. No amount of support from family and friends can satisfy the human need to love and be loved, to touch and be touched.

    Your personal attack on me that my life is sad is a pretty poor argument frankly. An ad hominem attack is universally rejected as a strategy to make a point. Your suggestion that you are a true Christian and that I, and by implication other gay Christians like me, are not, is a judgement I reject. It is not your place to judge my heart or anyone else's. The 2 Tim scripture you quote is a backhander to me; effectively a Bible verse across the face. I do not condone the use of Scripture in this way. Further, I no longer believe that being Christian is just about eternity; it's just as much about this life and how we live it. Eternity is in the hands of God. Living life here in this world is in our hands.

    You are free to to live the life you choose and you are free to think whatever it is you think. If you want to be celibate for the rest of your life, go for it. But you are not free to either force me to live according to your rules or to think you the way you think. And you are not free to pass judgement by quoting negative Scripture at me just because I don't. I will leave your comment here and not delete it but this forum is not the place for other Christians, even "true" ones like yourself, to denigrate gay people or negate our lives and judge us as false and inadequate.

  3. Thank you for this blog post. I have been having a lot of trouble with this lately and you made me aware of the things I'd be giving up by pursuing the celibacy required by my church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) I guess I will have to find a Plan B, not sure what that will be though.

  4. Hey there Anonymous. In your situation, I can easily see why why you have decided to remain unnamed. In this kind of circumstance, I endorse that decision.

    I am very glad that you read my Post. Do you know that out of all the 30 odd posts I have written in the BGBC Blog, all quite substantial pieces of writing, it is this one on celibacy that has received the most views. So you are definitely not alone in your struggle with this.

    My own struggles lead me to mental ill-health and I count myself blessed today that I made it through those dark days. I write this Blog to try to save others from going through similar days.

    Modern psychological understanding of human beings sees our sexual orientation as being part of our identity. To deny the expression of that orientation and therefore the identity is considered unhealthy. To say that I am a singer but must never ever sing is nonsensical. And to never ever sing, not because this is my free choice, but because someone else told me to, when they would never countenance it for themselves, is cruel and unjust.

    I would strongly encourage you to seek out other LGBT LDS people - they are out there - and begin a conversation with them to help you through this time. If God is truly creator, then He created us all. And humanity has always had and always will have gay people. You are not a mistake. You are not an accident. You are not the product of sin. You are a child of God and you get to live our your life and enter into the fullness of abundant humanity (Jn 10: 10) like everyone else gets to do if they so choose. So go ahead and fall in love, enjoy your body and walk humbly with your God. Plan B will make itself known. Go and talk to others like yourself. My best wishes - Stuart