Question of the day

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I learned that celibacy was both a charism (a particular spiritual gift) and an act of heroic self-sacrifice made by priests on behalf of God’s Church. Growing older in the Episcopal Church, I increasingly hear people argue that God calls homosexuals–every single one of them–to lives of celibacy.

Are these positions compatible? Is lifelong celibacy for heterosexuals a rarely-issued invitation to acts of spiritual heroism, while lifelong celibacy for homosexuals the only alternative to damnation? If so, has anyone worked out a plausible theory on what God’s intention may have been in ordering creation in this fashion?

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11 Comments
  1. Peter Pearson

    Celibacy cannot be a mandatory gift, that just doesn’t make sense. But I don’t think we are talking about a gift here, we’re talking about a punishment. Either way, somebody else is laying out what the lives of GLBT folks shoule look like. We are, in fact,addicted to our own opinions of what OTHER people should do.

  2. Derek Olsen

    Jim, the short answer (of course) is that it’s a double standard–especially for those who let heterosexuals divorce and remarry as well. After all, that’s just as contrary to Scripture as homosexuality. If you read the text that way for some, you have to read it that way for all…

    A more nuanced answer is that we’re dealing with two different states.

    The celibacy of the (RC) priesthood and the celibacy of professed religious is a gift and dedication to God where sexually intimate relationships and their inevitable fruit (from a heterosexual pre-birth control perspective)–children–are foresworn so that the individuals can dedicate all of their energy and attention to serving God and the people of God.

    This is both an act of will and a spiritual grace.

    On the other hand we have the Christian virtue of chastity. The quickest and easiest definition is: celibate when single, monogamous when married. Again, coming from a male heterosexual pre-birth control paradigm this has a lot to do with not just fidelity but responsibility, caring for the consequences of your action–i.e., children. Yes, there is a celibacy envisioned here but it is of a temporary nature (until you meet that special person) and not the life-long gift spoken of above. The obvious issue for queer folk is that, the way the “rules” are written, the theoretically temporary state becomes life-long.

    I’m for retaining and honoring those in our church who are gifted with and choose life-long celibacy like those in our religious orders.

    I’m for maintaining standards of Christian chastity that insist that other people are not sexual toys for our own gratification but that intimacy belongs in proper relationships where the emotional and physical consequences are fully nurtured.

    As I’ve argued here before (part 1 and part 2) and will continue to do, the biblical and traditional logic, when followed to its conclusion, commends the state of marriage to all who would seek it whether gay or straight.

  3. rick allen

    “…has anyone worked out a plausible theory on what God’s intention may have been in ordering creation in this fashion?”

    I think the theoy is called “the fall,” but admittedly it seems itelf to have fallen in esteem.

    As St. Paul observes, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.”

    But it is surely mischievous to equate sin with damnation. If that’s the case, we’re obviously all damned.

  4. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    How about this one? (forgive me, Lord):

    It is clear, from a plain reading of the scriptures, that God created humanity as Male and Female, Adam and Eve. They were commanded to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” and were provided “complementary” (I’m trying not to be ill here) genitals and God-intended sexual desire to allow them to fulfill this, the first all of all commandments. In the second creation account of Genesis, only Eve, the woman, was a fit companion for Adam. “So the man shall leave his parents, etc etc.” This original intention, however, was marred by the sins of the first humans and “the fall,” in which sin defaced the image of God in humanity. The sinful human nature that was the result of this causes us to desire many things that God did not intend, and homosexual intercourse is one of these among many other sinful desires. It cannot ever be, therefore, that the “original” intent of the Creator was to make homosexual persons, but these persons are, as it were, results of sin’s corruption of the creator’s original design. Each human, therefore, bears this burden of original sin from birth in general and in specific manner, and this sin takes different forms in different persons. This “diversity” of sinfulness is a further mark of the “disorder” that resulted from the marring of the Creator’s “perfect” original order.

    In Christ, God has, however, at great personal cost, redeemed and renewed humanity and, by our union with him, restored his broken creation. For those of us here, however, in the “church militant,” we do not yet fully live the “life of the world to come” but “wait for the coming of the Kingdom.” “We have this treasure in clay pots,” and for “now we see in the mirror dimly.” St. Paul, however, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has given us instruction in how to live our lives in the shadow of expectation of the future realization of the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul makes it quite clear that, for yet-unmarried persons, the highest state for all is celibacy. Marriage is commended only as a sort of “second best” alternative for those whose sexual impulses would otherwise cause them to sin further. For them, it is better to “marry than to burn.” Celibacy is not, therefore, just a “special charism” but the new design for redeemed humanity in the Kingdom of Heaven in which there is “neither marrying nor giving in marriage.” Here we see a great mystery, for the “new creation” is not just a restoration of the old one, but a better creation. It is part of the “mystery of faith” that God has been able to take the sin of humanity and redeem it so that the end result is “better” than would have been had humanity not fallen. In lines that have been edited out of our current version of the Exultet: “O truly needful sin of Adam which was blotted out by the death of Christ! O happy fault which merited so great a Redeemer!” To be born with homosexual desires, therefore, can be conceived of as a “happy fault,” for homosexual persons cannot, at least, be shunted into the “second best” state of continent marriage, but have a special opportunity, as it were, to “pass Go” and go straight to the ideal state for all humanity in the new created order: Celibacy. In the Gospel of John, the people asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replies, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Here, God “redeems” the homosexual in a special way that allows that “the works of God might be made manifest in him.” It was, in the same way, the sinful prodigal son for whom the joyful banquet was given on his return. Surely, the “unfortunate” heterosexual persons without this “happy fault” who cannot experience such a great degree of redemption and restoration should be “envious” of homosexuals who are afforded the opportunity of sharing the “life of the world to come” in an even greater degree of redemption from a state of sin deeper than that into which they (unfortunate heterosexuals) have themselves fallen.

    Having written this, I think I need a cup of tea, I feel a bit ill. : )

  5. Christopher Evans

    First, texts like Genesis and Romans when not treated as proclaimed and liturgical lead to hardnened ontological claims that miss certain points: 1) that our status before God is always dependent on Being Who is Communion not just in the past as if God wound up a clock (as many heterosexual ideological readings of Genesis tend) but in this moment, 2) the main relationship of Genesis is Creator/creature, 3) the main point of Romans is that if you go away feeling that you are unscathed and justified in yourself (as much heterosexual ideology tends), you’ve missed the point of the proclamation.

    The question really is How do we see grace at work in the lives of homosexuals? How is it that when homosexuals give praise to God for being made in their particularity as homosexuals, grace works (a la Luther’s comments on the first article of the Creed in the Small Cathechism)? We only know what sin has wrought in light of grace and not simply by proof-texting Holy Writ–a modern way of reading rather than a liturgical way of our being read. And both Roman Catholics and Protestants fall into this Modernity and in relation to homosexuals often into scriptural fundamentalistic tendencies. And making proof-text readings of nature while ignoring how grace seems to be at work in nature that don’t quite add up with the proof-text.

    Do we see in same-sex couples similar signs of grace–care, faithfulness, kindness, etc. Not measured to impossible heights that we wouldn’t expect of different-sex couples, but along the same lines, over the long-haul? That is the question, not just what does the bible say or what does a particular reading (and it is a reading) of nature say?

    How do we see grace at work? How do the Scritpures in liturgy read us, lead us to a recognition of God’s creating us (not just in the past), but here and now in relationship to, etc. These are the questions to ask.

    Celibacy then becomes a particular gift and calling rather than an ideology thrust upon us in a program that already has the answers about grace before we even have a chance to praise God for ourselves.

  6. Peter Pearson

    What is frustrating here is that no amount of rational, prayerful, informed argument changes anybody’s heart. My only suggestion is that the folks who do not agree get to know GLBT couples and discover God’s grace in their lives. This isn’t math, it’s human relationships and God’s presence in them.

  7. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    I hope that no one misunderstands what I wrote above. I find all of that terribly unconvincing and can poke many, many holes in that way of looking at things. I only posted it to make a “point” that there are persons who feel that this is “all worked out” and really cannot see at all why someone would think differently. A “static once-for-all” creation that got “broken” and now has been “fixed for all time” may be a pretty idea, but it flies in the face of the “gospel” of the natural world and our own “evolution” as religious and spiritual beings.

    That kind of “economy of salvation” that I have presented above, however, still continues to be sustaining for many people as a “story” of their salvation, and twisted minds could make mandatory celibacy into a “gift” or at least a “crucified place” for LGBT people to inhabit. I do not agree with it for a minute, of course.

  8. Stephen Nobles

    I would be interested in seeing how someone may reconcile the modern Queer Theory with the Bible. I once totally rejected this theory, and I’m still slightly suspect of it, however, in light of past scientific discoveries and advances we’ve had to change our interpretations of the Bible. For example, any intelligent person today would reject a literal reading of the Genesis Creation story. The six days of Creation are a poem full of metaphor and symbolism. Also, the Earth is obviously much older than the old standard “BIBLICAL” age of 6,000 years old. Today, many see the “days” of creation to be indefinite long periods of time or simply poetic devices to describe creation for ancient humanity, not literal 24 hour periods of time. If the once assumed Christian ideas of creation and origins can be modified according to modern science, can our assumptions of human sexuality be modified as well? The last few decades have seen advances in scientific knowledge about gender and sexuality identity in humans. How will this affect our biblical interpretation? Will it be like the advent of modern biology and geology in the past century?

  9. Christopher Evans

    First, a quote from Rowan Williams pre-program:

    “The Church exists to be in itself a symbol of God’s purpose for a reconciled humanity; as such it works on the assumption that we do not yet know where the boundaries of the Body of Christ might finally lie. It cannot assume that this or that group is ultimately unreconcilable to God or the rest of humanity. This is not because of any sentimental preconceptions about the natural goodness of human beings, but because of a conviction that the call of God can be addressed to any human person or community, and that it is the same call to compassion, justice, conscious and responsible love. Thus policies which involve wholesale slaughter or which rest on indiscriminate demonisation of a real or potential enemy cannot be squared with the kind of thing the Church is. Just by being itself, the Church will put a question to any such distorted ideas. The Church proclaims that there is one human destiny and that it is found in relation to one focal figure, Jesus; but also that what this human destiny means cannot be worked out without ‘communion’, a relation of profound and costly involvement with each other and receiving from each other. This and this alone is what saves the proclamation of Christ’s uniqueness from being a piece of ideological tyranny. Only as each different ‘other’ becomes a friend and a member of the Body can we discern how the unity of the Body will look; we do not begin with a blueprint which is to be forced on the stranger, or even a timetable and a programme for how they must accept the gospel. It is a matter of looking at the stranger with candour, patience, and hope, in the trust that our common destiny can be uncovered by the grace of Christ.” Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, 26-27.

    Jeffrey, I understood perfectly what you were trying to show. And it is how many think. It’s a way of understanding creation/fall/new creation as past rather than existential, that is personal-communal and alive. And it lets, in this case, heterosexuals off the hook, something Romans disallows.

    When we turn to the real question, How do we see grace at work in the lives of homosexuals?, however, and when we set aside heterosexuality as the only possibile way of being created as a sexual human being, that is a connective human being, we notice that homosexuals do not seem to generally become heterosexuals (overthrowing heterosexual ideology, an ideology I might add that is Modern and in contrast to the supremacy of celibacy in the past).

    Rather, grace makes homosexuals better homosexuals…more faithful, more committed, less promiscuous, willing to discern their calling to partnership or singleness/celibacy (that is, free), etc. The present heterosexual ideologies leaves not place for us to encounter Christ before it is filtered through heterosexuality and a program to heterosexuality. It tells us that by grace we’ll either become heterosexuals or become celibate. They are ideologies precisely for two reasons: 1) they make heterosexuality and heterosexuals normative rather than Jesus Christ in faith and ethics–heterosexuals are as fallen as we are in their sexuality and I won’t make them the starting point for faith or ethics, and 2) because they make not space to see what grace and encounter might do outside of the heterosexual program. It’s a closed-end deal from the start. And yet, nature and grace seem to be showing otherwise. And hence, ideology rather than moral theology prevails.

    I was baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, NOT in the Name of the father, the mother, and the two and a half children. I will not bow down to the idol many heterosexuals want to make of themselves for us. Jesus is Lord!

  10. Jim, could you come up with some hard questions?

    ;)

  11. tgflux

    I think the theo[r]y is called “the fall,” but admittedly it seems itelf to have fallen in esteem.

    If so, Rick, I would argue that this is because the theory’s chief propagators have adopted an Animal Farm-like corollary (SELF-interested, just like AF’s pigs!) that “While ALL humans are fallen, some humans are fallen further than others.” [Ergo, the further-fallen are “intrinsically-disordered”, such that THEY are denied the freedom to discern their vocation according to, per Derek O, the Christian virtue of chastity…: celibate when single, monogamous when married.]

    It is (IMO) disreputable to the whole enterprise, Rick, when some of the fallen game the system, at the expense of their moral equals (i.e., fellow sinners).

    JC Fisher

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