The Pen

Why Gay Celibacy is Not the Gospel-Centered Answer

Gay celibacy is not the Gospel-centered answer for those struggling with the sin of Same-Sex Attraction (SSA). And yet for many evangelicals, celibacy for those with SSA seems to be answer-of-the-moment. And that answer is a relatively new answer that is finding prominence in our newly “post-Obergfell world.” Celibacy, in fact, is being ardently defended as though this has always been the position for the church and solution to SSA.

Many in the Evangelical Intelligentsia are promoting celibacy as the best response to SSA, including Russell Moore (source link) , Denny Burk (source link), The Gospel Coalition (source link) and more. Our evangelical overlords have spoken, and celibacy it is. That’s the plan. That’s the sermon. It’s been written for you, so preach it, ye proletariat. Thankfully, there are several who are taking exception with the notion that the best solution for aberrant sexual desire is to reject what is God’s plan for (most) people and be deprived of healthy, godly monogamous marriage.

At Bayly Blog, Joseph Bayly began a series of articles concerning The G̶o̶s̶p̶e̶l̶  Coalition’s post promoting the celibacy teaching of Ed Shaw. Bayly describes the celibacy movement as…

…the sweet spot today among Evangelicals wanting to appear kinder and gentler in our post-Obergefell world. The Gospel Coalition’s error is typical of the error of the church today with respect to this battle…

And Bayly is right. One thing is true about the celibacy movement for sure – it is being promoted by those who desire a kinder and gentler image, like what Russell Moore was exhibiting when the Wall Street Journal noticed his “new tone” with homosexuals in their post, “Southern Baptists, Gay Community, Break Bread at Conference.” Level Ground, the LGBT group, has also noticed (and commended) Russell Moore’s “change in posture” toward homosexuals (source link).

RC wrote an excellent piece on the topic, although introductory, at P&P yesterday that is entitled Heterosexuality is Godliness (a play-on words of The G̶o̶s̶p̶e̶l̶  Coalition’s post, Godliness is Not Heterosexuality). RC argued that celibacy is not the best solution to SSA, and did so from a Biblical perspective. After citing Matthew 19:9-12, RC writes…

Here, Jesus gives three reasons for celibacy; eunuchs from birth, eunuchs made by men, or become a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom. An example of the latter would be Paul’s celibacy for the sake of his commitment to travel and preach the word of God, for the sake of the kingdom. Further, Paul speaks of celibacy as a gift from God (1 Cor 7:7). Should we consider same-sex attraction, a result of the fall, as a gift from God? God does not tempt us (James 1:13) Further, nowhere in Scripture does it teach that celibacy is prescribed by God as an antidote or an alternative to a homosexual lifestyle any more than it prescribes abstinence from food as the alternative to gluttony.

RC’s point is simple – believing in the power of the Gospel to transform us means that giving up on God’s ideal for human relationships (monogamous, fruitful marriage) should not be presented as either the only or the best option for those with SSA. Rather, the goal should be transformation of the heart and will.

Furthermore, RC points out the obvious reality that being a “eunuch for the Lord” is not prescribed for sin. Some are celibate because of physical handicap. Some are celibate to advance the Gospel of Christ into dangerous places (I and many others do not believe this type of celibacy to be permanent). However, SSA (like other sins) is not a gift from God. Celibacy, which can be a gift from God, does not and should not spring forth from sin.

I’ll go one step further. I believe strongly that the push for celibacy among those and for those with SSA is designed to create a special class of Christians – those set apart by their sexual desire to a life of singleness -who are to be celebrated in the church as particularly sacrificial and godly and revered. The entire LGBTQXYZ agenda centers on homosexuals as a special class of citizens. They’re a special class who are to be specially revered who are to have special rights and are to be uniquely celebrated (or else). The push for celibacy, which you have to admit is being done by those prone to compromise, will create a special and celebrated class, not altogether different from the ambition of the lost LGBTQXYZ cabal.

No one – not RC, not myself, not Robert Gagnon, not anyone who’s yet to bend the knee on this important issue – would suggest that the solution to homosexual desire is heterosexual marriage. That would be both stupid and dangerous to presume. No –  we believe Gospel transformation is the solution to homosexual desire. Neither are we saying that celibacy for a time be a part of one’s spiritual rehabilitation during their sanctification. After all, even heterosexuals better be practicing celibacy until they’re within the confines of monogamous marriage. Rather, I’m suggesting that advocating life-long celibacy as the preeminent goal for those with SSA falls short of believing in the Holy Spirit’s power to redeem our desires and govern our flesh.

Most married men will at some point have desires (to differing degrees) for women who are not their wives. For some it will be a passing thought. For others it will be a strong urge to commit the gravest sin against their wives. That sexual desire is forbidden. That sexual desire is sinful. That sexual desire is inexcusable. They are attracted to someone they should not be. The solution for that individual is not celibacy. The solution is to mortify their own flesh daily, repent of that sin, and love their wives. And for young men not yet married, the law of probability (and depravity) suggests that they, too, will struggle with lust for one who is not their future wife. Would you tell that soon-to-struggle man not to marry? Is celibacy his answer, too?

The answer from many is, “That’s different. That’s a straight guy having desires for another woman. It’s just different.” Well, sure. And homosexuality is used repeatedly in Scripture as an illustration of the depths of human depravity – even more so than infidelity and adultery. But the point is that with no other sin do we say that lust contrary to God’s will is reason to forgo what God said is “good” – that man not be alone. My contention is that the church not segregate homosexuality as a special or distinguished type of sin. It is sin. It should be treated as any other kind of sin and not coddled, and those who suffer from it not treated as martyrs.

Here’s an inconvenient truth – as evangelicals did a 180 flip-flop on reparative therapy (which has been commensurate with the societal paradigm shift on homosexuality), celibacy became the new teaching. Reparative therapy was replaced by celibacy. Discussing Reparative Therapy in 2011 (source link), Albert Mohler commended the notion by writing…

This means that Christians cannot accept any argument that suggests that a fundamental reorientation of the believer’s desires in a way that increasingly pleases God and is increasingly obedient to Christ is impossible. To the contrary, we must argue that this process is exactly what the Christian life is to demonstrate. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]

Amen and amen. Mohler was a stalwart defender of Reparative Therapy going back to at least 2005, when he lamented thosewho criticize ministries that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation by means of Reparative Therapy. They dismiss many of these ministries, and reject the testimonials of individuals who claim to have had their sexual orientation changed back to heterosexuality as “false, self-deceptive, or from people who never were genuinely homosexual.

But now, Mohler has (commensurate with the change is societal opinion) now come out against Reparative Therapy and has said he’s learned some things…

“Put simply, most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply ‘happens,’ and they come to know it…One of the things we should not be embarrassed to say is that we are learning. One of the embarrassments that I have to bear is that I have written on some of these issues now for nearly 30 years, and at a couple of points I have to say ‘I got that wrong,’ and we have to go back and correct it, correct it by Scripture.”

It’s commendable to learn and even to admit getting things wrong. But one thing is for sure – evangelicals are getting further from the notion that the Gospel can change the heart and conquer the flesh. And that’s seen in the evangelical intelligentsia’s push for celibacy rather than transformation. That celibacy has replaced Reparative Therapy isn’t my crazy conspiracy theory. Karen Swallow Prior’s gay bestie agrees with me. Speaking of gay celibacy, Brandon Ambrosino (a homosexual himself) writes at The Daily Beast...

However, if you strip away the culturally-sensitive language, is there any substantial difference between this new movement and earlier versions of ex-gay therapy? Is gay celibacy really just Ex-Gay 2.0? Is it the same “Love the gay/hate the gay sex” we’ve been hearing for decades, only with gentler language and bloggers?

Ambrosino then explains the curious case of Julie Rodgers, the Wheaton professor who finally succumbed to her flesh earlier this year and went from being someone who struggles with SSA who advocated first Reparative Therapy, then celibacy and finally, full-blown acceptance of her homosexuality, citing her “evolving opinions.” Ambrosino used Rodgers as the example of evolution in thought that has brought in celibacy from Reparative Therapy – which led to her full acceptance.

Ambrosino quotes Alan Chambers, the founder of now-defunct Exodus International, and then provides commentary…

[Chambers says…] “From my standpoint, towards the end, we were the beginning of the celibacy movement.” That is [Ambrosino says] after realizing that orientation change wasn’t really possible, Chambers’s focus shifted to encouraging same-sex attracted people (his term) to choose celibacy.

My fear is that Ambrosino is correct. Whether or not Reparative Therapy in a clinical or psychological setting should be the go-to method of ministry for those struggle with SSA is one thing, but if surrendering our position on the Gospel’s power to transform our nature is where the push for celibacy is coming from, it should be considered with great skepticism. Julie Rodgers is at least one example in which celibacy was chosen, we see in hindsight, not as a way to be obedient to the Scripture’s teaching, but as a way to thwart God’s desire in her life for monogamous heterosexuality. And we see how that turned out.

Brothers, we have to believe in the Gospel’s power to transform. No – transformation does not happen overnight because, yes – sanctification is progressive. But if the Gospel can’t change and replace our sinful natures with renewed natures, we might as well give up on the Gospel altogether.

[Contributed by JD Hall – ps….for folks who don’t know what that means, it means that I wrote it]