This conversation about same-sex civil rights and its relationship to my Seventh-day Adventist faith community has exploded in the last few months. I have been following lots of developments–the recent General Conference vote to pass guidelines that would exclude “practicing” gays and lesbians from church membership and the Andrews University LGBT forum are just a few–and reading lots of opinions and blogs, including this most excellent one by an Andrews University student, who responded to a young woman who’d attended the forum (and her initial piece is embedded in his–read them both).
It’s gotten me to thinking about some of the critiques I’ve heard against LGBT inclusion or same-sex marriage within my community of faith. There’s one that’s always bothered me tremendously, and I want to talk about it today. It’s the line of thinking that goes, “You can be gay, but you have to be celibate,” or “You can join our church, as long as you’re celibate.”
Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for a free-love, hippie-dippie sex romp in the prayer gardens of Pioneer Memorial Church. I just think we glibly state the “I don’t want to be intolerant, but I must follow the party line procedure, so I’ll just comfortably talk about celibacy when I’ve been married for 20 years and have no right to do so” catchphrase, because we (I’m referring to Christians here) don’t know how to talk to gay people. Or about sex. Or to gay people about sex. Or about marriage, for that matter.
People who follow the “Just Be Celibate” line of thinking sincerely believe that this moral standard should also be enforced on the straight single people in church. I’m not decrying their sincerity or consistency here.
But that’s what gets me. We don’t ask single men and women, “Are you practicing sex?” or “Are you celibate?” when they code straight and/or cis-gender (that means, you were born a specific gender and identify as that specific gender as an adult, for those readers not in the know). And when we do discuss sexuality and celibacy with straight singles, there’s always an “end point” to their celibacy:
*Oh, the right one will come along.
*There’s “still time.”
*Have you met my (cousin, nephew/niece, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, etc)?
*All in the Lord’s time!
*Just for a season.
*[Insert link to ChristianMingle or AdventistSingles.com]
We assume that God will provide the lamb and end the accursed celibacy for straight singles, when the Bible discusses it in far different terms. These above statements assume that celibacy is a cross to bear, whereas Paul treats it as a blessing and a desired state:
“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34 There is[a] a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35, NKJV).
Paul sees singlehood as a blessing to be desired for the ministry of Christ? Interesting. Because I went to more than one chapel or Bible talk about what to do “until…” with that assumption ringing that there was SOMEONE out there for me, and that the marriage bed was God’s desired plan for my life.
There is a clear pressure to get married in the faith community. Those of us who are married are immediately pressured to have children–I won’t rehash the blog post from last week, but suffice it to say, every year I get closer to turning 30, the coy “When are you having children?” questions become less coy and more pointed. Those who aren’t married get marketed for singles gatherings and ministries. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but I believe we set people up for failure and discontent when we treat marriage and parenthood as the ultimate desired goal for life and singles are treated like the sad cat ladies who just “can’t find a man.”
And that’s where my issues with enforcing celibacy on unmarried folks enter this conversation. I am married; I made a choice to be married; I had the legal right to be married. Therefore, my choice reflects my opportunities available to me. How can I then flaunt my privilege in someone else’s face because they don’t have either the opportunity or the resources to be able to make the same choice I could? I find that fundamentally unkind and unchristian.