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Should Celibate Gay Christians Call Themselves “Celibate Gay Christians”?

There has been a rise in discussion recently about whether celibate gay Christians should refer to themselves as ‘gay’. The idea that such a person should not identify themselves as ‘gay’, has existed for quite some years, eg in the discourse of Exodus International, when the preferred term was ‘ex-gay’. The hope at the time was that ideally God would remove the homosexual orientation, and that it is a Christian’s duty to pray and believe that God would give them good things – therefore they should pray to be straight and believe that they have received the answer to that prayer.

Part of the Biblical foundation for this approach, is taken from 1 Corinthians 6, where St Paul lists various behaviours that preclude people from entering the Kingdom of God, including homosexuality. This section in 1 Corinthians 6 immediately follows with St Paul stating that the Christians present were no longer engaging in such sins. Many people have concluded from this that there were homosexuals who became non-homosexuals. But was St Paul writing of people who engaged in homosexual sex who simply stopped having that type of sex, or was St Paul writing of people who were same-sex attracted and who ceased being same-sex attracted? I suspect he was describing the former rather than the latter. The more recent translation of the New International Version of the Bible seems to suggest that too.

In recent years it has come to be recognised that, for whatever reason, the prayer to become straight tends not to be answered in the affirmative. Some who prayed the prayer have found that their homosexual temptations reduced (perhaps correlating with ageing and reduced libido, or simply avoiding sexual thoughts all together?) but very few found that the homosexual temptations were eliminated. That being the case, the term ‘ex-gay’ came to be seen derisively, since those who claimed it still had a homosexual orientation, even if they were celibate.

So these days, Christians who experience same-sex attraction are in a new environment where the labels used in recent decades, such as ‘ex-gay’, no longer quite fit. Some now call themselves “gay Christians“, but this term has been used both by Christians who dont believe that gay relations are sinful, and by those who do believe that gay relations are sinful, so its meaning is a little unclear. And the term seems to better fit the former group than the latter. And small minority have embraced the label “post-gay“.

A similar situation exits in regard to a label for ministries that seek to help same-sex attracted Christians deal with their sexuality. While the term “ex-gay ministry” was a good one for Exodus International, while they were teaching people they could choose not to be gay, it’s not a good label for ministries which basically teach celibacy rather than a change in sexual orientation.

I think a better term for the individual Christian is “celibate gay Christian”. But the general tone from Restored Hope Network, for example, and some more Roman Catholic quarters, is that even this label is unsuitable. Some have claimed that mere acceptance of the term and category of ‘homosexual’ inhibits Christian witness. The leadership at Restored Hope Network have affirmingly pointed to articles such as this one, which states;

“… we cannot—we dare not—say there is any such thing as a “gay (or lesbian, etc.) Christian,” for the Christian by definition has been cleansed of his homosexuality. He cannot regard himself as a homosexual—or idolater, or thief, or drunkard—nor can the Church affirm him, or the various acts associated with the old vice, as such.”

Restored Hope Network deleted my post from their facebook wall where I recommended the term ‘celibate gay Christian’. But they replied that;

“Someone claiming to be a celibate gay person is parallel to someone saying, “I’m a celibate adulterer,” or “I’m a celibate pedophile.” Both have the problem of leaving the sinful longing untouched and in command of everything, but overt action.”

Another Restored Hope Network leader wrote similarly about this topic, on his own facebook wall;

“How about Christians routinely identifying themselves as greedy, drunkards, racist, or by any other sinful impulse? Wouldn’t this in most contexts suggest a self-affirmed identity constructed around a sinful impulse?”

Worthy considerations, yes. But then what about a Christian with cancer, who has prayed for healing. If asked whether they are a cancer victim, or whether they have cancer, should they reply with a ‘no’? I dont think so. And Im pretty sure that Christians who battle alcoholism, while not calling themselves “drunks”, do call themselves “dry alcoholics”, dont they? I agree that there is a danger in affirming the potential for sin, by applying a label to yourself that refers to a sin. But the opposite situation seems just as problematic, if not worse. IE for someone who is same-sex attracted to reject any label that describes that reality, implies that they are either asexual or straight. But their experience does not reflect that, because they generally continue to experience gay sexual attractions. And if your head tells you one thing, but the rest of body tells you something else, surely that cognitive dissonance is a problem. Does that explain why so many of the clients of Exodus International experienced depression?

Much of this quandary probably arose when the idea of reparative therapy (IE the largely debunked idea of therapy to turn a homosexual orientation into a heterosexual orientation) was popularised late last century. It’s interesting to look back for example at the writings of C.S. Lewis on homosexuality from mid last century. He was a famous author of novels, and he wove Christian themes into his books. But while being conservative in his theology, he was apparently still very understanding, tolerant and in touch with the broader culture, and he mentioned homosexuality every now and again. Interestingly, he seemed to regard homosexual orientation as permanent. He wrote at one point;

“… our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (Jn. IX 1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God [should] be made manifest in him.”

This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, [which] will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.'”

I found some interesting feedback from a celibate gay Christian who read this from C.S. Lewis, and who wrote in response here, probably in 2008, that;

The very thing in our lives that can cause us so much pain and suffering, or in the case of some addicted to sex, can, through the grace of God be transformed into something beautiful. For me, I have come to view my struggle with my homosexual desires to be the source of my “vocation,” as Lewis says.

I’ve reached a point in my life, through a couple of decades of thinking about all of this that homosexual desires in men and women has far less to do with sexuality than it does suffering. For me, it’s not so much a question of “reparative therapy” or change but rather I’ve come to view this as my daily cross to bear. I’ve been thinking about how it can be used, offered up to God as a “holy and living sacrifice.”

Through that lens, I’ve come to view my desires for men, and my need to overcome them, as something that is being redeemed by God in powerful ways and used by God to help shape me into becoming the man he wants me to be. Whenever anyone denies themselves, and says to God as Christ said in the garden, “Not my will, but thine be done,” I think powerful things happen in the Kingdom of God.

What this suggests, is that by accepting an identity or a label such as “celibate gay Christian”, this guy turned it into a positive sense of focus. I dont know how this worked out for him ultimately, but I wonder whether perhaps it was more positive than negative. Julie Rogers has likewise expressed a sense of wanting to accept rather than deny the cross that she has to bear in experiencing same sex attractions, and she seems to be doing well. Meanwhile, others have said that declaring their natural sexual inclinations has resulted in others pigeon holing them in ways that they find unhelpful.


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