is being straight the goal?
This is the fourth in a six part series revolving around preconceived ideas I held about the topic of homosexuality. Thefirst post was centered around the idea of Choice, the secondfocused on the demeanor of the Church, the third on the notion of Change.
What compels me to sit and type each week is the feeling that many people I sit with in church, and those in the larger body of Christ that sit in other sanctuaries, have a lot in common with me — we are straight and raised up in the evangelical church. (That and the nagging feeling that this is what the Lord wants me to do!) Growing into a spiritual adult in the evangelical church is something that I’ve been so thankful for over the years. I have come to believe sound doctrine. I’ve been held accountable to walk in a way that represents Christ well in my daily life. And I’ve worked to become biblically literate. There are a lot of people like me in churches each week. People with the intent to love well.
But in at least some areas of loving, we are missing the mark broadly. I sat with a new friend this morning listening to her story of pain and hurt related to her church experience. She expressed feeling isolated and “without a space” in the midst of married couples and as little focus is given to the unique needs of a single person. On top of this pain, there are negative comments specific to sexual minorities made in her presence. While she is not “out” to anyone at her church, these comments increase the feelings of isolation and lack of safety for sharing.
These comments, I believe, are fueled by our lack of understanding related to issues of homosexuality and a biblical sexual ethic. And it makes me angry. As a person representing the “majority” in the church — straight, white, and married, it infuriates me to see us make so little effort to educate ourselves so that we can love people better. The sexual minorities in our midst have to shoulder that as well. And you may be thinking, “there are no LGBTQ+ people at my church.” But I’d bet you a hefty sum that you are wrong.
Today, I will endeavor to converse about goals. Specifically the idea that heterosexuality is the goal for all of us. Most Christian single people I talk to find their church bodies to be primarily focused on the needs of married people and families. Statistically, most people get married at some point in their lives. And certainly, God is pro-marriage. He designed the male/female marriage to be a visual aid for us to to understand the church as the bride of Christ. I believe this. Marriage is beautiful.
But marriage being beautiful does not mean that heterosexuality is the goal.
The failure to think through this well and with some nuance hurts us not only with LGBTQ+ people, but also with the single folks in our midst. I wrote previously about my friend Mike that was single until he was 40. Much hurt, inadvertent though it was, came his way through the assumption that his life was not complete as a single person. The assumption was made that marriage is a better pathway to holiness than singleness ever could be. Because we’ve held on to the notion that marriage is the ultimate good, from that flows that the idea that the goal is to be heterosexual.
So for the person experiencing same-sex desires, it would appear to many that we need to encourage them to pursue heterosexuality no matter how hard, long, or futile this may be. In my previous post, we walked through some research findings from Mark Yarhouse in his book Ex-Gay. Few people, even those who spend years in the effort, experience drastic orientation change that would be described as conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality. So why do we push people in this direction? And why do we not confront the false bias that we hold as evangelicals?
So think honestly about yourself. What is the goal for each of us?
I’ve written here about how a friend challenged me once with these simple thoughts, “Isn’t the goal the same for both of us? We are both pursuing holiness.”
I immediately realized the truth in what she said. But also had to recognize that often in church, and in my mind, holiness was spelled “heterosexual.”
And if heterosexuality is not actually the goal, we need to make a sharp course correction.
My friend, and many others since, have fleshed out for me in living color what it looks like to pursue holiness in the midst of experiencing gay attractions. Sometimes it looks like celibacy. Other times, it is a mixed-orientation marriage. Always, it is a heart set on following Christ despite daily and long-term costs.
But it should be costing us all something daily to follow Jesus . . .right?
The writers over at the Spiritual Friendship site taught me a while back about the term “side B” as well as the phrase “celibate gay Christian.” These two terms are not well-understood in our church culture, and that needs to change. And those who employ the term “celibate gay Christian” have been facing increasing shade and scrutiny from the evangelical church at large, and I believe this also needs to change.
Side B Christians are Christians who, for whatever reason, find themselves attracted to the same sex and continue to uphold the historic sexual ethic of the church that reserves sex for inside a male/female marriage. Along with that, they believe that if a person is not inside a male/female marriage, they should remain chaste (to abstain from sexual relations). Many of these individuals would refer to themselves as a “celibate gay Christian.”
In contrast to this are Side A Christians: Christians who experience attraction to their same gender and believe that God allows for same-gender marriages and relationships that are loving and consensual. Think of the “A” as standing for affirming of gay marriage (in a simplistic sense).
As a straight, 50-something, evangelical christian, most of the people in church with me have no paradigm for a Side B Christian. We have one box and it says that anyone who calls themselves ‘gay’ is OK with same-gender marriages. While that may be what the majority of gay Christians believe, it is not what all of them believe.
And if the term “gay” unsettles you, stay tuned because in a week we will discuss thoughts on the use of the word gay as an identifier.
You may be asking, “So what? Why do I need to understand this?”
It matters because as we live alongside Side B Christians, we need to recognize that:
1. We do not really understand their experience of sexuality.
2. We live and teach in such a way that marriage is affirmed as the best path to holiness, and this is hurtful to our brothers and sisters pursuing celibacy as a holy vocation.
3. We often do not have a space in our churches for the long-term single person, whatever the reason for singleness.
4. Their radical obedience through embracing celibacy can be a huge witness to all of us as together we press towards holiness.
5. We all should be radically obeying His call, and often we are not sacrificing much and need to be corrected.
Getting honest with ourselves and seeing biases we’ve held in the church allows us to make room and allows us to love others better.
Honestly, seeing my non-straight brothers and sisters and their choices to faithfully follow Jesus helps me desire to be a part of the solution in encouraging the church toward a more loving and educated stance. We eagerly hold up the standard that marriage should be between a male and a female. But we offer little to no support to those celibate and single persons in our midst. We go about our “family business” in a closed-off fashion when I believe the Lord would have us “plant” single people into our families. We are often selfish and self-consumed. Well-meaning selfishness is still selfishness.
I do not believe heterosexuality or marriage is the goal or the standard. God has given us a common pursuit: holiness or Christlikeness.
What do you think? Spend some time pondering, reading, investigating, and praying.
Our goal together is holiness. We need all of us walking together to get there.