Yesterday, the Religion News Service began promoting a story through several outlets (including Huffington Post) proclaiming Christians' improved newfound acceptance of celibate gays as a sign of tremendous progress over against the Church's previous attempts (now illegal in many places) to make gay people straight with "reparative therapy." As long as gays and lesbians never, ever act on their feelings of attraction for a partner of the same gender (even in a faithful, lifelong, committed marriage) and as long as we don't use the phrase "gay Christians" (because after all, our ONLY identity is in Christ), these evangelicals are now willing to tolerate us. God be praised. What a wonderful relief that should be.
However, as a scholar of religion who is gay (and -- by the way -- currently celibate), I staunchly oppose this heretical Christian claim that the rare spiritual gift of and vocation to celibacy is automatically to be assigned to an entire group of people merely because of their affectional or sexual orientation (the gender of the two partners in a committed couple). Being gay and Christian does NOT automatically imply that one possesses what the Bible itself describes as a rare spiritual vocation or gift -- lifelong celibacy, traditionally something those few Christians who received this gift lived in mutually supportive monastic communities or as hermits in order to practice successfully because it is so difficult. Are Christians today willing financially to support entire monastic communities of gays, lesbians and heterosexual allies living in celibacy together as a spiritual vocation - as Christians around the world did for centuries to help people called to this nearly impossible vocation succeed at it? Or are we now claiming what has never been claimed before in the Bible or history of the Church that just because someone is born gay they should have supernatural individual strength to do what almost no one has ever been able to accomplish - live a perfect life of spiritual purity without any support to do so?
In Genesis 2:18, God says of the first human (who was undivided and therefore both male and female at that point), "It is not good for the adam [biblical Hebrew for "the human created of earth"] to be alone." So God created human partnership -- inclusive of sexual love, partners becoming "one flesh" (Gen. 2.24, quoted by Jesus without reference to gender in Mark 10.8). The point is that two become one, and this is more a spiritual and relational truth than a genital one - though it certainly includes the erotic and sexual expression of that relationship. (Thus those Christians who claim that friendship alone should be sufficient for a gay Christian couple make claims incompatible with those of the Bible itself.) Later, Christian apostle Paul confirms that while celibacy is indeed a spiritual gift to be desired and celebrated, MOST are called to marry (1 Cor 7). More to the point, it's heterosexual people Paul seems to be directly encouraging to remain celibate if they can. However, he concedes that each should lead the life the Lord has assigned and called them to - whether married or single (1 Cor.7:17). Again, this encouragement to lifelong chastity seems most explicitly directed to heterosexuals.
Ultimately, Jesus taught us to judge people and behavior by the spiritual fruit they bear (Matt. 7.16-20). Christians called to same-sex married life can and do bear the same fruits of the Spirit as heterosexual married couples who submit to one another in mutual reverence for their God (Eph. 5.22) - Christians like Rev. Troy Perry, Rev. Susan Russell and Rev. Mel White are merely a few more recent, well-known examples.
There are terrifying consequences for promoting the heresy that all gays are automatically called (or forced) to either celibacy or apostasy (breaking with their faith). Not only does the failure to celebrate monogamous, faithful, committed, lifelong, covenant partnerships between same-sex couples as a gift of God within their community of faith drive many out of the Church or even turn them entirely away from God as they mistakenly attribute to God the bigotry of mere humans, cultural and religious violence lead to the deaths and assault of those who merely seek the partnership for which God has created human beings (Gen. 2.18). Here in the U.S. and around the world, corporal punishment and hate crimes attempt to enforce a celibate lifestyle upon the majority of gay and lesbian people , who (just like those who are heterosexual) are human beings God has called to partnership.
However, in the Bible, God's spiritual gifts are NEVER dependent on any specific human behavior or quality (such as sexual orientation). The contemporary Christian teaching that all gay and lesbian Christians are called to lifelong celibacy sets up gay and lesbian Christian for disproportionate failure and suffering in the Christian life, since, like the majority of all human beings, we too are created for partnership. To teach otherwise is counter to the Bible and Christian history. Yet in practice today, American Christians are suggesting only gays and lesbians should remain celibate for life, regardless of whether the Spirit has given them this gift or not, relying on our own power and strength in isolation. Yet in the passage most quoted to demand celibacy of gay Christians, even the apostle Paul admits this suggestion is a matter of opinion or personal judgment (1 Cor. 7.40), not of restricting people from what they feel God is calling them to do, which only they can discern (1 Cor. 7.35-36). Mandatory celibacy for gays and lesbians in the Church is an unbiblical and false doctrine. Celebrating the lifelong, committed, monogamous, God-centered marriages between those called to same-sex partnership with the support of Christian community is the better alternative for most (1 Cor. 7.9).