No sex please, we’re Christians!

Jesus said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbour as yourself.”

This year the subject of same-sex marriages in and out of the headlines.  Often, maybe always, a controversial topic it raises tensions and all too frequently leads to a barrage of abuse, sadly even from those who agree with Christ’s call to love and respect one another.

Peter Ould, an Anglican priest, blogger and tweeter, has strong views on the subject.  His recent post on potential changes to liturgy within the Church of England (see The Path after Pilling) caused quite a stir.  In it he suggested that a Church of England report would be recommending that liturgical be changed to include blessings for same-sex marriages. The Church of England’s Director of Communications, Arun Arora, responded saying that Peter Ould’s suggestions were incorrect as the draft report in question was recommending against blessing same-sex marriages.

Peter Ould’s post and the response to it showed that tolerance can be in short supply when such issues are discussed. Vicky Beeching and Caroline Criado Perez found the same when discussing feminism and having a lady on at least one English bank note earlier this year (I touched on this in my blog Do you feel tolerant? Well, do ya, punk?).

It was a debate I stayed out of. I am in the midst of writing up my thoughts on Gerard Hughes’ God of Surprises for my next meeting with the DDO.  As I tried to quieten my mind after a night struggling to get my thoughts into a coherent form, I read the following question Peter Ould raised.

We don’t say people make monastic vows are somehow doing something inferior by ruling out marriage. If a civil partnership is made together with a public vow of celibacy, then the closest analogy is with religious communities. There may be a place for affirming (even blessing) such a relationship. But the key point IS the public affirmation of life-long celibacy even if it were possible to be sexually active. Without that the relationship is open to being sexual.

In hindsight reading the short post was a silly thing to do, as my mind was more awake than before!  Having read in God of Surprises about paying attention to the signals sent out by our inner life or soul I felt called to respond.  It is something that I ought to have an opinion of sorts on, incomplete or not, as no doubt would I be questioned about it somewhere along the ordination path.

So the body that wanted sleep gave into the mind that wanted to stay awake and I typed a response into the tiny screen of my smart phone.

I was very conscious of being no expert on theology, the Bible, God and so many things and that my feelings could come across as particularly naive.  My thoughts on the subject, and on many others, are still forming themselves and have not yet reached a position where my opinions feel secure.

I desperately wished not to offend then, nor do I wish to offend now, so it was therefore with some trepidation that I posted my thoughts.

I wrote:

Isn’t the core of the issue that sex is an act intended by God to be between a man and a woman in marriage?  So sex is out and celibacy is in for everyone who isn’t in a heterosexual marriage, right?  It doesn’t matter whether the person is single, divorced, widowed, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or whatever other category you can think of, for such groups God’s will is celibacy.

I’m not saying it’s easy to be celibate, far from it in today’s sexualised culture.  When I was single I would have loved to have been able to have had sex but knew not only that it would have created baggage that I would have to carry into a marriage if I ever was to get married but, subsequently as once I became a Christian, that God didn’t want me to either.

But God doesn’t say anything about not loving certain groups.  Just as God’s grace and love isn’t selective and is available to everyone so we are called to act likewise.

If an individual or couple makes a commitment before God to be celibate should we not honour and trust them in making that vow?   If they break that vow isn’t it God that should and will judge them, not us?   This isn’t something that is tied to one form of sexual orientation, there have been too many cases of breaking this vow by celibate priests as we know.   Likewise, there have also been too many couples who have broken their vows of being faithful to each other and not having sex outside of their marriage.  We are called to forgive and love them just as we are for any individual or couple that breaks their vows.

Not judging isn’t easy and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be clear about God’s will about sex, we absolutely should, studies and statistics have proven Him right time and time again (don’t ask me for sources!).

I am wrestling with this issue and will continue to do so for some time!  Not blessing a celibate relationship, whatever the sexual orientation of the couple, doesn’t feel right, it feels like we would be rebelling against God.  Likewise blessing a sexually active relationship outside of a marriage of a man and a woman also feels like we would be rebelling against God.

Love and trust is what I’m left with after all this!

Like I said, I’m no expert. I’m just a person trying to honour God in all I do and am.

(The above has been ever so slightly edited to improve my grammar!)

Submitting my comment was unnerving. I wondered if I was opening myself for a tirade of abuse or anger. Yet somehow I managed to fall asleep; having obeyed what I felt was God’s call for me to engage with the issue my mind was at peace.  Please note that I am not saying God gave me those words, He didn’t.

The next day I noticed that my comment had elicited a reply:

What you’ve said is lovely in many ways, but I do worry about two things:

1. If an intentionally celibate couple who love each other are living together, then isn’t that putting themselves in a position of being particularly and constantly tempted.

2. In today’s society people who don’t know about the vow of celibacy (or who simply think the couple must be lying) will assume a sexual relationship. We are told to avoid all appearance of evil and the position of celibate couples comes perilously close to ignoring that wisdom.

Any thoughts?? (from disqus_ZoX0ba92G4)

I was relieved, upon reading it, to find a constructive comment from another person wrestling with the issue and searching for God’s will on the subject. I could have ignored the reply, having done my apparent duty in submitting my initial comments but that would have been wrong. I owed the person a reply, and quickly wrote the following:

I agree with you on both points and am wrestling with those very dilemmas. For celibate couples temptation will be ever present and it would be hard not to succumb to it, and you’re right it would probably be viewed cynically and with doubt by many, if not most, people. As Paul said in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7), it is better to stay single if people can.

Still we are called to love and extend grace to everyone, whilst also standing firm and true to God’s commands to keep sex to between a man and woman in marriage. Hopefully if the world sees more of the love and grace being applied they will respect those believing in traditional forms of marriage.

This is a difficult subject and I have been fearful of getting off the fence and making my views public but it is a challenge I know I will face many times in the future, especially should I become ordained.  I love my friends, irrespective of their sexual orientation, and I want them to be happy.  If those of my friends that happen to be gay want to join with another in civil partnership or marriage I would not want to deny them that opportunity.  But, and it is a big ‘but’ that may well offend people and be viewed as hypocritical, with my views on sex I could not bless a sexually active same-sex relationship just as I couldn’t bless a sexually active relationship between heterosexual friends who were not married.

As I said earlier in this post I hope I have not caused offense in what I have written.  I have simply written as someone wrestling with an issue and trying to love as God loves.  If I have offended please, please forgive me and help me to understand your views, even if we are unable to agree on everything.

Finally, please listen to the moving speech below by Canon Mark Oakley where he talks at Green Belt 2013 about gay marriage and life as a gay Christian.  It broke my heart.  I hope he understands my position and forgives anything that I have said, written or done that has harmed him or another.  Above I hope he can accept that l, weak and flawed as I am, love Him as a brother just as he knows God loves him too as His son.

I would welcome your thoughts on the subject, whether you agree with my feelings or not. May I ask one thing?  Please be gentle, constructive and loving too.  And yes, I know, that could count as three things!

5 thoughts on “No sex please, we’re Christians!

  1. I’m not engaging with your argument (too cowardly, lazy or both) but I do want to applaud the way you say it. The humility shines through. The tone of our speaking on any subject, and this one in particular, matters hugely, IMO

  2. What you write is very humbling to read, at least it was for me. I would have to do a lot of thinking before I respond more fully, but my knee jerk reaction is that you are so right, trust is the core issue. The other issue that features strongly with me is that, regardless of our sexual orientation, God made us all, every single one of us, and He made us who and what we are. He never intended us to be without love as that is what He is – Love. I have a hard time sometimes wishing the church would please drag itself kicking and screaming into the 21st century and get with the program, understand and accept that diversity is normal. But I take on board what you say about God intending that some of us are to live without sex, but not without love. And the glue that holds all of that together is trust. Great post!

  3. I appreciate your wrestling with the issue, as we all must. I wish I could say I agree with you, but I cannot. Mark very beautifully led my BAP, and I have had the opportunity to hear him since. He is but one of the gay Christian – and gay priests – whom I know, respect and adore, and know to be as if not plenty more godly than me despite my lifestyle not contravening IHS/some people’s interpretation of scripture.

    Three things in return:
    I note that while you can allow those wishing to enter a civil partnership the opportunity to do so, and find yourself currently unable to bless those, you don’t however comment on the ‘third’ option that I, as a priest, who wrestles with and interprets scripture, but comes to differing views than you, and in pastoral care may in exceedingly good conscience along lines you heard Mark offer, I *do* want to be able to offer those children of God who wish to declare their commitment to each other in the sight of Him and their families and friends, his blessing and ours. People do not, for the most part, enter into marriage solemnized in church lightly, selfishly or irreverently, even if it later breaks down. Those who wake every morning to have to put on a mask of false identity who eventually accept the love of the God in whose image they are made and allow themselves to love, and wish to bring that love in thanksgiving to God – these are those we would turn away, when the ‘being happy’ that you wish upon them is to bring all that they are before God. I can’t help but compare that with Las Vegas chapels offering plenty that is light, selfish and irreverent and wonder where grace and trust lie then…

    As I have wrestled with scripture and experience and made my own journey on this topic over the years, I cannot but still be somehow caught out at how much time, thought & text seems to be expended on sex. I wouldn’t like to presume to comment on your marriage, but I would hazard a guess that there is much more that you cherish about the relationship with your wife than biological intercourse, and for myself I cannot but believe that when vows of ‘everything I am I give to you’ reflects that care, intimacy, company, devotion, vulnerability, fun and a million other things that make a relationship a strong, functioning one that God smiles upon as reflecting triune Love – more than sex. Do not misunderstand me, I most absolutely believe in fidelity and chastity, but must we really keep reducing everything to sex?

    On the pathway to ordination, I fear this is far from the last time you will be called upon to consider this subject. I wrote about it at length while training, to allow me the time to engage in reading and prayer to back up my instinct and my experience. If you dm me an email, am happy to share what I ended up with. I suspect you will have many sleepless nights yet – but at least you are caring enough to do so. For that, thankyou.

    • Thank you Kate for your comments. I am glad that we are all different, the breadth of views and understanding that the Anglican Communion is able to hold together is something that I’m appreciating more and more (looking into infant and adult baptism has helped in that regard!). Perhaps you misunderstand what I wrote, or more likely I didn’t write it clearly enough, but I would like to be able to bless same-sex partnerships but don’t feel able to if they aren’t committed to celibacy.

      I think we may have been reading or following different aspects of this issue as I haven’t seen the issue of sex being talked about that much. Most of what I have come across has talked about love and, at best, danced around the issue of sex to the point that I have been crying out for some other people’s thoughts on the issue of sex and God. We might not like or feel comfortable talking about sex but sometimes we need to. Certainly that is the key to the issue I have been wrestling with and I felt I was being called to form my thoughts into words. How coherent they and my point of view are is a matter for debate and I don’t claim to be infallible! Like we all are, I am on a journey trying to understand myself, God and the world better. My post is where I am now. Will I still be in the same place in the future? I don’t know but I am willing to led God lead me.

      You’re right, my relationship with my wife is far more than one of sexual intimacy and I am certainly not seeking to suggest celibacy is easy, it is anything but and I remember my struggles with it well (I was a single adult for much longer than I have been a married one). The other aspects of love and friendship are ones that I would not want to deny anyone from having. I hope you understand that.

      I’ll keep on wrestling with this issue and I would appreciate being able to read your thoughts on the subject.

      Thank you again for your kind and constructive comments. God bless you.

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