Michelle Boorstein has a must-read piece in The Washington Post about the celibate gay Christian movement. It features Albert Mohler, Wesley Hill, and some others from the evangelical movement. The article begins with a discussion about Eve Tushnet, a celibate Roman Catholic lesbian.
Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
This is an interesting article not least because secular people tend to find celibacy strange and even subhuman. That comes out in the article, and it goes to show how far we’ve come as a culture to think that sex is the end-all be-all of human existence. But that is where we are, and that is why the average person reading about celibacy just sort of scratches their head and says, “What? Really?” The answer is yes, really. Celibacy is celebrated in scripture for those to whom it has been given (Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7). It is no surprise that God would call some people to walk this path.
The article is also interesting because it highlights an intramural conversation that evangelicals are having about sexual orientation and same-sex attraction. The so-called “celibate gay Christian movement” is known for its emphasis on teaching gay people to use their same-sex attraction to serve God. On this view, same-sex attraction is not sinful so long as it is celibate. Another excerpt about Tushnet’s experience,
She urges people not to focus so much on the sex they can’t have and instead find other places to pursue intimacy, such as deeper friendships that could be seen as spouselike, co-living arrangements, public service and the arts as ways to express intimacy.
“I use the image of a kaleidoscope — the jewels inside are desires. If you turn it one way, it’s lesbianism. If you rearrange them, it can be community service or devotion to Mary,” she said during a recent interview.
Tushnet argues that same-sex attraction can either be aimed at unholy ends, or same-sex attraction can be used for good purposes. The unholy would be lust and fornication. The holy would be deeper friendships, public service, religious devotion, etc.
I have to say that I really appreciate Christians that are fighting the good fight and striving to live chaste lives in faithfulness to Jesus. Wesley Hill and Julie Rogers are two evangelicals featured in the piece who are doing just that. I am in their cheering section for the vocation that God has called them to.
I still think, however, that there is confusion about same-sex attraction. What I have been writing about in recent posts is in large part a response to the Christian affirmations of same-sex attraction that are on display in this article. Tushnet sees same-sex attraction as “sanctifiable,” as it were. But this is certainly a category mistake. Once the sinful elements of lust and fornication are removed, same-sex attraction is no longer same-sex attraction—at least not the way SSA has been defined clinically.
The defining element of same-sex attraction is desire for a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. Once that desire is removed, it is no longer SSA. It is just friendship. In that sense, same-sex attraction is not a means to better, more holy friendships. It is an impediment to them. When one feels himself desiring a sexual relationship with a person of the same-sex, the only appropriate response is repentance from sin (2 Tim. 2:22). It is not right or helpful to think of that sinful attraction as the foundation for building holy friendships. It is not.
The nature of those attractions, as a matter of fact, is precisely what is in dispute at the moment. My hunch is that the Roman Catholic influence at spiritualfriendship.org has something to do with our differences over this question. Roman Catholics have historically approached the issue of indwelling sin much differently than Reformed protestants. The Roman Catholic view of “desire/lust” (or “concupiscence”) is that it is not necessarily sinful. As I mentioned earlier this week, the evangelical position has in the main taught the opposite. Reformed evangelicals believe that the Bible teaches that desire for sin is sin.
This conversation is ongoing. If you want to get caught-up to speed, read here. You might also catch a couple recent posts by Owen Strachan (here and here). You can read the rest of Michelle Boorstein’s piece here.
Denny Burk is an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also serves as an Associate Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, which is in Louisville as well. Visit his website at www.DennyBurk.com.