Monday, May 28, 2007

Thoughts On Celibacy, Part 1: The Calling

Recently, various sources have brought the subject of celibacy to my attention. Not being one to miss an opportunity to speak (or write) my mind, I decided it would be a good time to write a post about the subject. It was then that I realized that I had a lot more to say about it than I previously thought, which is why I intend to spread all my thoughts, reflections, and questions about celibacy across three posts. This is, of course, the first, and it is about a concept that often goes hand-in-hand with celibacy: calling.

I don't think it is strange to hear celibacy referred to as a calling. After all, in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7, Paul calls it a "gift." But what, exactly, is a calling? As a Calvinist (albeit a new one), I should know a thing or two about it, because I believe Christians are called to belief (and I believe the Bible makes a strong case for that). But when we think of callings, are we thinking of them correctly? Personally, when I first hear the word "calling," what I think of is a burning bush, a voice from the sky, or some cathartic life experience that points directly to what God has called a certain individual to do. I mean, callings are supposed to be dramatic, right?

I don't think so. Sure, sometimes they are, but I also believe that callings can manifest themselves through basic circumstances. For example, the fact that I was raised in a Christian home is a good indicator that I was called to be a Christian. It wasn't definite, because I had many opportunities to fall away from Christ. I actually tried to on some occasions and found that I couldn't. But we can talk about Irresistible Grace some other time. :)

Or to put it another way, I absolutely love kids. I can't see anything better for my life than working with kids daily. Is it too bold of me to say that this love for children is a call for me to be a teacher? Again, I don't think so. I think that's exactly what a calling is. It may not be dramatic, but it's pretty real.

But here is where it gets tricky. What if you are called to do something that you just don't want to do? It's nothing new. Moses is an example right off the top of my head and I'm sure he's not the only one. However, his calling was dramatic. There was no doubt of what the call was and that God was doing it. Let's say your calling is not so dramatic. It's a calling of basic circumstance. We're willing to accept these kinds of callings when they are things we want, but what about when we don't want them? From what I've seen, it's these kinds of callings that are seen as tragic circumstances that must be overcome at all costs. It's the overcoming that can make things a little messy sometimes.

I recently came across an interesting Catholic blogger called The Anchoress. She had made a post about obedience, and though it originally concerned infertility, it was this paragraph that caught my attention:

"How about another scenario - and this one will really tick some off - you’re gay. You’re a human being, with a human sexuality and a human sex drive, but you’re gay. The church in which you’ve been raised says, "okay, so, you’re gay. No sin in that, but as such, you may not marry - because marriage is the province of men and women whose coming together assists in the continuation and revitalization of all creation - therefore, since you may not marry, you are called to the same celibacy as any unmarried person. One gift has been denied you, but if you pay attention you will be shown your gift, and your calling - perhaps you are called to be a necessary other…do you accept the calling? Do you accept this dangerous blessing?"

Interesting, isn't it? I don't know much about the "necessary other" stuff (Is that a Catholic thing? Anyone?), but I do know that the view expressed coincides with my own. Not to mention it's another reason why I love Catholics. :)

A lot of people are going to disagree with the notion that homosexual feelings are a call to celibacy, and I don't want to suggest that. Each case is individual and should be dealt with as such. However, I also don't like the notion that only those without sex drives are called to celibacy. For one, do such people exist? I know Paul said it was better for a man to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9), but does that mean the only people called to celibacy are those that don't want sex?

Personally, I like sex. I like it a lot. The thought that all gay men aren't supposed to have it is a little daunting (let's face it; a lot of them are really hot!) But let's look at it this way. God called a shepherd with a speech impediment to stand before Pharoah and lead the Jews out of Egypt. He called a very elderly man to be the patriarch of the nations. He called a shepherd boy to be a king. He called a group of fishermen to lead a new and radical religious movement. So, what makes anyone think that to be called for something, you have to be ready-made for the task?

Again, I'm not asking all gay men and women reading this that they should automatically think celibacy is their calling. Perhaps the fact that I have interpreted it as such is just another reason why it is a calling for me. All I would ask is that people pray, reflect, and read God's Word. Just because you don't desire it, doesn't mean that God hasn't set it out before you. The Anchoress closed her post with a good line, and I hope she doesn't mind me repeating it:

"Okay, God, you dealt me this hand. I don’t particularly appreciate it - it’s not the hand I would have chosen. Therefore, I’ll let you play it, I’ll follow your lead and trust that it will not come up a stinker."

Now, for those of us who have decided that celibacy is what God has meant for us (at least for now), then there's the question of "What next?" That's the subject of the next post. Stick around. :)

Thoughts on Celibacy, Part 2: The Life
Thoughts on Celibacy, Part 3: The Church

18 comments:

Beast said...

Good post, Jay! [clap, clap] ;D

Not to disrupt or anything, I personally think a test or a trial could show petty much the same symptoms - something happens that you don't like...but anyway...look forward to the 'What's next?'.

Beast.

Brandon said...

Jay,

I'll admit I've questioned lately my beliefs on whether or not it is okay for me to act out on my feelings. I've been holding onto the idea that it's not okay (for me). You've actually helped me to remember why I believe this way. Thanks for reminding me. :)

Brandon

Jay said...

Beast: Well, I think you could be on to something there. How do we, as Christians, distinguish between a calling and a trial? I'd love to see you do a post on that sometimes in the future. :)

Brandon: You are very welcome. Take care of yourself.

Jay

Pomoprophet said...

I'll never forget my roommate once talking about a gay friend of his who believed his sexuality was a "call" to celibacy. He said that before he ever knew about me.

For me celibacy = singleness = lonliness and falling in the tub when im older with no one to find me until my rotting corpse stinks up the place so bad that someone finally calls.

So my heart resists the idea. but what freedom there is in being single. So far its allowed me to do tons more ministry with my students.

I dont think that message will be well received though because people for some reason feel they have a God-given right to express their sexuality how they so please (never mind that tons of the Bible is dedicated to sexual restrictions) and they see a God who gives us a sexual desire and then denies that as mean. Well I feel sorry for their small view of God and how human centered that is. And I think you bring up some interesting points

Norm! said...

Hmmmm, I've been pondering your post in my mind today. If you freely do something that you don't want to do, doesn't that mean you're consciously choosing to do it? Instead of describing it as "a calling" from God, why not describe it as your own thoughtful choice? (Really, I'm not trying to be argumentative. I'm just trying to understand this in my own way.) Are there reasons to pursue celibacy besides conformance to Bible doctrine?

I guess my pet peeve is the implication that the "calling" terminology implies that God is directing you. I respect your faith and don't question that you believe you're led by God. However, in my own life, I strive to be careful about implying God endorses the choices I make. So, I try to avoid proclaiming decisions without having some explanation.

Jay said...

Pomoprophet: For me celibacy = singleness = lonliness and falling in the tub when im older with no one to find me until my rotting corpse stinks up the place so bad that someone finally calls.

Haha. More on my thoughts on that in the next post. I like what you said about perceived "right to sex" too.

Norm: Are there reasons to pursue celibacy besides conformance to Bible doctrine?

Priests and nuns have done it throughout the ages, as have probably other people who just wished to live a life in service to God. Mine, I'll admit, is a combination of both. If there were no Biblical verses speaking out against homosexual practice, then I suppose I'd be fine having sex (and, theoretically, the church would be fine, too). But the fact that I believe there are leads me to want to live a life of celibacy, and to devote that life to God. It's not just about being single because God wants me to.

Your concerns are certainly valid and, if we were talking about this two years ago, I'd probably be sharing them. But let's put it this way. Preachers (at least in the South) often claim that they were "called" to the ministry. Yet they have to consciously choose to enroll in seminary, become a student pastor, and lead a congregation. There's no magic about it. They definitely have a choice.

And some preachers may not even say they felt a calling. They might just think that preaching is something they'd be good at. From the outside looking in, there is no difference. This has to do with the problems with the concept of "callings" in general.

You are definitely not being argumentative. This is the kind of stuff I live for. I appreciate your comments and look forward to more.

Jane said...

Hey. To start, here is a little background on myself. I am a 25 years old women who is also same-sex attracted.

For the most part, in the past, I've completely blown the whole idea of celibacy right out the window without giving it any thought whatsoever. It's been chucked out immediately under the premise that to ask a person to be celibate is just "mean". So that's where all my research into celibacy has ended. One thought about it, then it's just downright cruel and not worth anymore thought after that. Ok and after reading some of these comments, according to pomoprophet, thinking that celibacy is "mean" is a small and human centered view of God. Don't worry I'm not offended by that cause maybe that's somewhat true for me. :) Hey, I'm not the world's greatest Christian and God and I routinely throwdown anyway (maybe it's more me putting up the fight). So the idea that it's "mean", until recently, has been as far as I've gotten.

It wasn't until about 6 weeks ago when I stumbled into Disputed Mutability's blog that I started giving celibacy some consideration and wanting to know more about it. So I'm looking forward to the next several posts. Not that I expect anyone to convince me that it's the best path for myself as a ssa-ed Christian, it's just interesting to learn why others are traveling that road.

So far, I subscribe to the idea of a loving, committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship being honorable to God. It's the camp that I'm most comfortable sitting in at the moment. It's nice to look at other viewpoints, but unless I'm totally convicted, then that camp is where I'll stay. After all, how we each deal with our sexuality varies and that's perfectly alright.

1 Corinthians 7:9 says, "But if they cannot contain let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." Here are my thoughts on that verse. First, what does it mean to burn with passion? I get the picture of a person thinking about sex constantly, lusting over other people around them, looking at porn or any other provocative material, masturbating to thoughts of others. Basically, a person caught in what I like to call "the black box". It's a room of total sexual frustration. This room is pitch black with no door and no window. It's being trapped with no outlet at all for anything sexual and yet wanting to release sexual tension badly. So it's better to marry than to burn with passion? Understandably, the ways in which a person "burns" are sinful and "burning" isn't pleasant to say the least. So, those lucky hetero-attracted get to leave "the black box" or better yet, they don't even have a "black box" at all, go out into the world, marry and release a vast majority of their sexual frustrations in marriage. Alright, but what happens if you are "burning with passion" for members of the same-sex? It's funny how straights who cannot contain can release sexual tension in marriage, but there are also gays who cannot contain, gays who have the same high libido as straights, well then what about them? Do they just burn with passion? No escape, no release, that darn "box"! It just doesn't seem fair.

Also, celibacy does mean loneliness. It's so hard to watch the companionship of married couples. I wish for that kind of relationship myself. So do we have to live out our lives with no one to share our days with? All we can have are friends? Not to downplay friendships, but there is a greater connection when you are fully intimate with someone. Friendships in my book just don't stack up. It's really hard to think about the prospect of no lifelong partner.

It seems to me, the principle that makes marriage honorable is the commitment and if that commitment were to be applied to homosexual relationships, they too would be honorable in the eyes of God. That's my reasoning for siding with the loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship.

To jump around a little bit here, I don't think that only person's without sex drives are those called to celibacy. People with sex drives can be called to celibacy too and then sex is just another temptation (and probably a monster of one at that!) for them. Maybe it's a matter of listening to what God wants for your life and trying to do it.

Alright, these are all just random thoughts, but here is the final one, let's suppose that homosex and homosexual relationships ARE indeed sinful (maybe most people reading this believe that, but I have hard time with it) . So, those with ssa are expected to be celibate for life or not to act on those attractions and hopefully find a mate of the opposite sex. This belief is a hard one for me to swallow. But it has to be taken on faith I guess. Well God knows who is and isn't cut out for celibacy. So a person may be homo-attracted, but they need to trust God to know what's best for them and trust that if God doesn't think they can make it abstaining from sexual intimacy, whether they are 100% same-sex attracted or not, God will send that person a suitable opposite-sex mate for marriage. I don't just mean any random person of the opposite-sex. I'm talking about a person with whom they are compatable and may be (completely by surprise to them) sexually attracted to as well. If God is opposed to the practice of homosexuality, God will not abandon those homosexually-attracted person's struggling with celibacy. Not that God will take away same-sex attractions or exchange them for opposite-sex attractions in general, but God will send someone if He sees the need. Maybe subscribing to the loving, monogamous, committed homosexual relationship isn't trusting God in His calling for our lives (my life), but taking matters into our (my) own hands out of fear. Maybe this is the correct take on the Bible and homosexuality? I don't know. For now I like the other side. Just thoughts and I'm looking forward to future posts on celibacy.

Jane

Norm! said...

Jay: "Priests and nuns have done it throughout the ages, as have probably other people who just wished to live a life in service to God. Mine, I'll admit, is a combination of both. . . ."

I do admire Catholic clergy's vow of celibacy. I don't understand it, but I respect their commitment to their faith. I imagine not having a clergy title would make explaining your celibate status a little more complicated [unless you plan on wearing a collar or ...er... habit :) ].

Jay: ". . . Preachers (at least in the South) often claim that they were "called" to the ministry. Yet they have to consciously choose to enroll in seminary, become a student pastor, and lead a congregation. There's no magic about it. They definitely have a choice. . . ."

Certainly there is a choice to following God's calling which can be refused (i.e. Jonah and the whale). My issue is that it's hard for me to believe God would call me to do something that doesn't make sense to me. Admittedly, that makes for a limited faith since by definition faith is doing things without full understanding.

I suppose what troubles me is that you say that you are choosing to do something you don't want to do. While choosing to do something (or not to do something) is often part of life (i.e. work, gym, taxes, etc.), I usually rely on some logical rationale to make myself intellectually want to do something. [Not that rational thought works since I haven't been to a gym in many, many months.]

Thanks for being so open and giving us insight into your faith. I seriously considered celibacy too when I was in an ex-gay ministry because it seemed a whole lot simplier than gay-to-straight theology/therapy.

Robert said...

Jay,

An excellent, thought provoking post. I cannot claim to know the "right" answer on this issue, but my gut instinct tells me that each person's calling is personal and different for each one of us. The challenge is to discern what we want to be true, from what we believe to be true. To expound a little on Pomo's comment, our sex-obsessed society does not seem to understand a person's need to not have sex. As human's we tend to create our understanding of the divine to suit our hopes and desires. It is far rarer, and more challenging, to hold to a belief that does not make you comfortable, but which speaks to your understanding of God's desire for you. The task in such instance is to be true to your understanding/calling, and to gently dismiss common views that go contrary to it.

MR said...

Jay,

You said,

"I don't know much about the "necessary other" stuff"

I think Anchoress meant "necessary other" as opposed to "SIGNIFICANT other". In other words you may be called to give yourself to helping people in need instead of helping a lover in a sexual relationship.

Jay said...

Norm: I suppose what troubles me is that you say that you are choosing to do something you don't want to do.

Well, the complicated thing is that I want to do it, because I feel that God is asking me to do it (through Scripture and calling). Do I think it's easy? No. Do I wish God wasn't asking me? Sometimes, yes. But I think one of the goals of faith is having your will aligned with God's. That makes questions of what you want to do complicated.

Jay said...

Robert & MR: Thank you both for your comments. I think I agree with everything that you two said.

Jane: Wow! Just...wow! Everything you wrote is probably something that has crossed my mind at one point or another. DM had a lot to do with me changing my opinions, as well (she's probably the reason that I'm both Side B and a blogger).

As far as your theoretical situation about God providing SSA-folk with one special opposite-sex partner, I think you might be onto something. That seems to be what happened to DM (but you'll have to let her verify that). In either case, it's something I've thought about and haven't come to a conclusion about yet. Remember that I'm only 19 and that a lot of this is just rand stuff from the top of my head. :)

Thanks again for the comment. I hope to see you around again. And e-mail me if you'd like to!

spj287 said...

This is really awesome, beautiful blog. I mean, wow!!

A.C. Thomas said...

Hi Jay, I deeply appreciate your humility and willingness to serve others with your thoughts and insights. I've studied the issue that you considered here in this post as it was an issue for me when I was in Bible College as to whether or not I should take a wife like Peter, or remain celibate like Paul. I struggled greatly with the question, sincerely desiring to do what was best for the kingdom, but also having the desire to marry. I would like to share some of my conclusions with you and your readers.

Through my studies and a class on 1 Corinthian I concluded that Paul's point here is that he would love it if everyone could be single like he for the sake of ministry, but recognizes that not all have that gift (i.e. the desire for celibacy). It's important to point out that the "gift" is the same as the "calling." And Paul makes clear that one should not allow himself to "burn" if he has desire to marry. The word for burn is "puroo" from which we get our word "Purity." Paul is probably saying two things here. The first is that if you have a pure passion for loving sex and companionship with another person, then go ahead and act on it. And, second, don't allow yourself to be "righteously burned alive" by your passion simply because you think you will be more spiritual if you don't marry (which is what many people who have taken vows of celibacy have done - and thus never ceased struggling).

I just wanted to comment on this issue, because I want my gay and lesbian friends to know that this principle applies to them as well and no gay person should feel compelled to be celibate if they are not with the gift (i.e. "calling" = lack of sexual desire). I respect your decision to be celibate, but I just wanted to offer up another view on the issue, because I've personally struggled with it and would hate to see anyone (gay or straight) feel as if they must be celibate if they don't have the desire to do so (though I know that is not what you are teaching, many gay Christians I've met often feel pressured to remain celibate). Basically, you know you are "called" to celibacy if you have the desire to be this way and you know you are "called" to marriage if you have a pure desire for it.

Great site and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future!

Charlise said...

I just found your blog a couple of days ago, when I was thinking of starting my own blog about being a Christian who is realizing her identity is not "lesbian"... I am so excited to find others who share some of my beliefs! I look forward to reading all of your posts.

Jay said...

Thank you Charlise! I hope you start that blog. Even though I've met so many others, it's still encouraging to meet people who are also struggling with this. It makes one feel that much less alone. :)

U.T. said...

Hey Jay.

It is encouraging to hear that a person with SSA is taking that with stride, and willingly taking a vow of celibacy. I am also a college student, like you, struggling severely with SSA issues. I hope one day I can be like you, accepting it with gladness. Although, I must say, after a bout of sinful fall, I started to feel a little discouraged. Initially I wanted to get rid of SSA so I can get married and have children, but now my main priority is so that I can be rid of my sinful addiction and glorify God.

I actually fear that the temptation intensity doesn't die down throughout my life and I have to live with all the restrictions I impose on myself now. I even blocked normal search engines despite me being a research student. The thought of having to block it for a lifetime is actually more depressing than the thought of staying celibate.

Meanwhile, still learning to trust in God that He will provide but oh it's so difficult to do so seeing all the different viewpoints on homosexuality saturating the web these days. But it's still encouraging to find a fellow believer, esp one willing to be celibate for God. Looking forward to your future posts.

Jay said...

Hey U.T.!

Thanks for the encouragement. It's a blessing to know that my random ramblings have been a blessing to others. There is nothing good in me except for what has come from Christ. I am always around to talk if you need somebody. Just send an e-mail, okay? Take care!