Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Choosing Celibacy"

So what do you think of this?

Choosing Celibacy

    ...Wesley grew up in a Southern evangelical home and family; there are no “typical” issues for his same-sex attraction; as he went through puberty he — confusingly of course — began to realize he was attracted to men and not women; he went to Wheaton; he worked as an intern in an evangelical megachurch; he is now doing a PhD in New Testament studies in the UK. He’s gay and he’s Christian and he’s celibate.

    He’s open and he’s struggling and he’s lonely and he’s accountable and he’s waiting. And his story made me empathetic with the story of those who struggle to be celibate.

    His theology is simple: he’s been washed pure in the graces of God’s forgiveness and he’s waiting for the restoration of all things. In between forgiveness and restoration he struggles.

Are churches open to this kind of thing? Are WE open to it? Or would there be an innate "fear" about it? It seems like such a simple (and Biblical) concept at first, but the topic seems to evoke a lot of issues and passions in people. Are our churches able to have a true, open discussion on the concept of sex, celibacy, and homosexuality?


Craig said...

Well, you know, the church is full of heterosexual people for whom the presence of opposite-sex persons in the same pews with them every Sunday could also constitute a temptation to sexual sin (and there are so many more of us; the 'field of opportunity' is a lot bigger). . .

All of us have the Christian duty to resist sin and temptation, however it comes to us. Homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals in that regard. . .

The Catholic Church (just to give the example with which I'm most familiar) has long drawn a sharp distinction between homosexual attraction and homosexual action. The second is sin; the first, taken by itself, isn't. Just like I might have an attraction to my neighbor's wife, but in-and-of-itself, it isn't sinful unless I act on it. I would have a lot of respect for someone who struggled with homosexual attraction, but committed himself (or herself) to chastity. Not a lot of support around for such a commitment. . .

Can I say that I'm not fully comfortable with someone like Wesley embracing the label 'gay' for himself? Fair enough that he experiences same-sex attractions, but I wouldn't want him to give it the kind of 'ontological' status in his life that would tend to come with accepting the label for himself. But that's not really the point here, is it?

(And just for the sake of saying so, I think 'chastity' or 'continence' are better words for what you're talking about than 'celibacy', which carries the connotation of a specific religious vow, eg, a monastic vow, or priestly ordination. What Wesley is doing is more like just resisting temptation - albeit, perhaps, in a particularly challenging way - which we all have to do, vow or not. . .)

Joe B said...

I'll let Craig be the smart one today...I can't match that clean, intelligent response. I'll be the haphazard silly one.

I am extremely comfortable with Wesley's approach to the situation, and I am comfy with hanging out with him or being a room mate or whatever. If I wrote the prescriptions for all mankind, that's how I would write it for people like him.

There is a wide range of reasons that preculde individuals from getting what they want sexually, romantically, and socially. One is merely that attraction is not reciprocated by the object of one's desire--that is probably more common than Wesley's situation (possibly more common that homosexual orientation.)

Other frustrating factors are strictly moral. I will not list here all the things that I would like very much to do, but which I know I nevermore shall do. Sometimes it makes me sad, and like Wesley, I look ahead to the fulfillment of all things in the resurrection of the dead.

Look, I can't have everything I want anyway...why ruin myself in running after those things. For instance, I am very satisfied, thrilled even, with my lovely wife. But truly is that how I am oriented? No, I am oriented toward keeping a whole stinkin' harem. And I suspect Wesley is wired not much differently (except his harem would wear Axe instead of Chanel.) Just cause you're homosexual doesn't mean you will be SATISFIED with one man, or with fifty men.

We simply do not get what we want unless we happen to be wired to want little or nothing. I know some such people, and they are remarkable, blessed people. As for me, I must acquire contentment through walking in the Spirit (and occasionally by discipline of the will.)

I think it is helpful to widen the scope of "desiderata" beyond sex. I wish I had more money, and believe me I could steal me some. I also want vindication, and I could get it through contention or good old fashioned revenge. But I will not, because I have chosen not to, and I am under no compulsion to.

I have decided to follow Jesus instead of my desires. I have found that it is entirely possible, even if I am sometimes imperfect in my execution.

Joe B said...

I think that it is a rare church that has "discussion" on anything. Churches, as we know them, are unidirectional venues where people hear stuff and then vote on it with their feet and wallets. Thus the people are segregated by their preconceptions into various denominations. I really know of no other organization that functions that way, except maybe media channels.
The result is that within the organization there is no discussion. By the time issues come to discussion they are already evolved into controversies. Of course, it is a sin to raise controversies, so these quickly become personal, ad hominem fights among factions.
Yes, I know there are exceptions.

Scott said...

If I may play the "yeah, but" devil's advocate card on your first two comments, Craig and Joe...

While I agree on the surface that "temptation is temptation," it's a whole different ball of wax here. "I'd like to have all sorts of sex with all sorts of women, but God wants me to just have sex with my wife," is quite different from "I'd like to have sex with all sorts of guys, but God wants me to not have sex at all. For my whole life."

When I was 17 and I wanted to have sex more than just about anything imaginable, it soothed my mind to know that once I got married, at least it could happen. To be 17, wanting to have sex more than just about anything imaginable, and knowing that the only way I could follow God's plan is to NEVER have sex? That's tough. Real tough.

Don't misread me. I'm simply saying it's tough. And sometimes God asks very tough things of us. I have the utmost respect for Wesley and anyone ("gay" tendencies or straight tendencies) that is willing to aim for a lifetime of chastity.

"Waiting for the resoration of all things." What a great way to put it.

Scott said...

Oh, I was gonna throw in one other thing: I Corinthians 7 becomes tricky in this regard.

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

Paul's plan for those of us that "burn with passion" doesn't help Wesley much. If that were me, that "non-chastity" passage would be quite frustrating.

Just an honest thought.

Craig said...

True enough; I tried to put across (inadequately, I'm sure) that I think that for a homosexual to live chastely might be particularly challenging, in a way that doesn't neccesarily translate directly into 'hetero' life.

To be clear, I'm not in the least meaning to make light of Wesley's challenges - I regard such a life as high on the scale of 'heroic sanctity', and, like you, Scott, I can appreciate how challenging such a life would be for me. (I've wondered, from time to time, what my life would be like if my wife should unexpectedly pre-decease me; fortunately, she's generally healthier than I am. . .)


And, if I may, I don't quite think that the ball of wax is wholly different. It's all a matter rightly ordering our sexuality; and that's WAY more than just what you do with sundry body parts, and with whom (altho an awfully large segment of the culture we live in thinks of it in exactly those terms, and ONLY those terms; which, at bottom, is an awfully impoverished view of human nature). It involves a whole orientation toward other people, as persons who are made in God's image, and never to be used. One can be married, and having all the sex one wants, and still be radically missing the point for which God made them sexual beings, because they're using their spouse for their own gratification, and not treating them in accord with their own human dignity.

And your 17-year-old horndog self (and mine, too) probably wasn't quite there, yet. . .


And of course, there are those of heterosexual 'orientation' who would love to get married, but for whatever reason, never do (and I think there are more of them than there used to be). For them, the issue is not just, "I can NEVER have sex" (which honestly, is probably more of an 'existential issue' for men than women; but I digress); it's compounded with "why doesn't anyone want me?" Again, not in the least to make light of Wesley's situation, but only to say that holiness is a challenge for all of us. . .

And I think our culture does tend to magnify things that pertain to sex - "OHMYGOD, I CAN'T HAVE SEX!!! WHAT THE HECK AM I GONNA DO?!?!?" And the answer is deceptively simple - "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength. . ." Simple, but not easy. . .

Joe B said...

Fascinating thoughts again Craig.

First a golden quote: "It involves a whole orientation toward other people, as persons who are made in God's image."

Second, this: I think it is perfectly fine if my spouse "uses me for sexual gratification." God didn't make me merely to eat food, but we wouldn't consider it a problem if I eat a certain food only for pleasure. (Obvoiusly we are not talking about abusing a person here.)

My wife likes chocolate, so I buy her some. She likes wine, so I pour it. If she happens to like sex too, then I say let the introspection end and let the party begin.

Craig said...

Yeah, I suppose most guys ("and God, I know I'm one. . .") would be just fine with 'being used' for their wife's sexual gratification. . .

But of course, something is wrong if she's getting gratified without ever engaging your personhood, or the unitive part of your union. (And, let's be candid; WAY more men than women are prone to viewing their sexual partners as instruments of their own gratification, without engaging their personhood. Which doesn't mean that it never happens the other way. . .)

And it doesn't mean that a married couple can only ever make love on fluffy clouds of angel feathers, after praying first. The 'fundamental orientation' toward other people is the thing; and that's more like a cultivated habit of respect than some big 'introspective' thing. . . Just because you're having fun, doesn't mean that God doesn't like it. . .

If you haven't yet read the late pope's Theology of the Body, I highly recommend it; it's all in there. . . ;)