Below is a letter I wrote in response to an old friend who is committed to living a celibate life. I’m posting an edited version of it because it seems to be a query that I am hearing more and more often…
“I have had conversations with a number of ‘side B’ same-gender attracted people – those who hold to a conservative understanding of sexual ethics – who have also expressed some frustration / concern with how to interact with ‘side A’ gay Christians – including the times they find themselves in the same church. This can be a difficult situation – and I can empathize with the different tensions that result.
I think we will increasingly see in the church that homosexuality is viewed as a disputable matter. More and more I think there will be an acceptance of the reality that people of good Christian faith come to different conclusions on this interpretive issue. For myself, I have been stretched a lot in the last number of years. I continue to be influenced and impacted by the Creation account and my sense of God’s best intentions for human sexuality. But, like you, I have encountered others who come to different conclusions – and they have a very genuine faith. This disconnect can be anxiety producing and threatening – and this is especially so when it is a personal reality, struggle and journey.
A few things I would offer …..
1. You need to own your convictions. This requires great maturity. You must live your life in alignment with what you really believe to be true – even if you find yourself increasingly faced with others who have made different choices. It is a different situation – but there are some similiarities. I have been married for 14 years. It has often been a very difficult marriage. For a variety of reasons it is often a lonely and painful place – for both of us – despite our best intentions. All around me there are people who are encouraging me to seek a divorce. And I know a lot of divorced Christians who love God, some who have remarried and are very happy in their new marriage. This can cause me to wonder why I should continue to be faithful in my marriage – given some of the hurts that happen. But at the end of the day, I need to make my decision to stay faithful in my marriage based on what my convictions are. And I continue to believe that God will be faithful to us, that he will be sufficient, that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life, that God will help me and provide for me as I stay true to my vows.
2. Be alert to the temptations to bitterness and blaming. This may require great discipline to continue to forgive, release, bless and love others – including the gay couples in your church.
3. Don’t be afraid. God is with you. He is leading you. Don’t worry about whether you will change your convictions. Don’t worry about disappointing God. Don’t fear making the wrong decision. When we give energy to worry and fear – the enemy has a foothold. Fear and love are like oil and vinegar. If you spend energy worrying and afraid that you will not be able to maintain a celibate life – you will be distracted from that which will actually strengthen you to stay true to your convictions regardless of what others are doing. What will actually strengthen you in your convictions is to be focused on God’s love for you. Instead of being afraid that you will disappoint God if you change your views – focus on the Father’s extravagent love for you – no matter what. Even if your views changed, or if you had a same-sex sexual relationship – God the Father loves you. You don’t have to be afraid. As you rest in this love, as you refuse to give fear a foothold, you will actually be more free to stay true to your convictions.
4. Be alert to the core temptations common to all humanity. The desert fathers and mothers talked about the 8 bad thoughts as the root of all sin and seperation from God. We often think of them as the 7 deadly sins ….. but I think it is actually more helpful to view them as the 8 temptations. Lust, gluttony, laziness, indifference, pride, greed, envy, anger. I would encourage you to find some helpful and encouraging resources to help you focus on growing in mastery over these temptations. Kathleen Norris has a new book called “Acedia and Me” (acedia is the temptation to ‘indifference’) …. it is a wonderful read that is practical, encouraging, realistic, and solid. Another very good read is Jean Vanier’s “Becoming Human”.
5. Stay connected to the people and things that bring you joy.
6. Watch for a rebellious spirit that wants to eradicate suffering. Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.
7. Nurture a sense of fulfillment in your own spirit from the choices you have made.
8. Watch your own levels of anxiety. Practise good self-care so that anxiety doesn’t become a dominating reality.
I share these things, in part, out of my own difficult journey of seeking to remain faithful to what I believe to be true – when many others around me think my staying true is silly or unnecessary or based in fear. I want my life to be motivated by love – but the reality is that is hard work.
I hope that is somewhat helpful.
It was great to hear from you and I pray that you will experience great shalom in your walk with Christ, your friendships and relationships, in your work and that you will know great joy.