By E.T. Sundby
Several denominations and para-religious groups accept homosexuals if they are “non practicing” (i.e. celibate). Is this scriptural?
Another issue that some denominations are struggling with is requiring that the homosexuals remain celibate. You could sum up this argument by labeling it a “love the sinner but hate the sin” with the “act” of homosexuality seen as the sin. Therefore the homosexual is ‘ok’ if they simply don’t ‘practice the sin’ – i.e. they must remain celibate.
There are several problems with this doctrine. Starting first with the fact that such a doctrine is unscriptural. Celibacy is discussed in a couple of Bible passages. The most prominent is Paul’s discussion of the topic found in First Corinthians, chapter seven. He states in these passages that it is “good for a man not to marry” (1 Corinthians 7:1), because “one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided.” (1 Corinthians 7:33-34 NAS). While “one who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, (and) how he may please the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:32 NAS).
However, Paul clearly states that celibacy is his recommendation, and not a command (1 Corinthians 7:6). More importantly, he says that celibacy is a gift not all are given (1 Corinthians 7:7). He goes on to explain that if a person does not feel comfortable being celibate and the temptation is too great (i.e. they don’t have the gift of celibacy), that person should marry (1 Corinthians 7:2). Even then married people should “not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time”, then they should “come together again so that Satan will not tempt you” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Bringing these thoughts together we can see that Paul is recommending celibacy as a way of life so that a person can devote more of their time and attention to the Lord. However, Paul is not commanding everyone in the ministry to embrace such a lifestyle! Furthermore, he realizes that few are given this predisposition and that forcing celibacy upon someone who hasn’t been given this gift is an open invitation to much misery and temptation. Therefore, only people who feel comfortable with celibacy should do so.
“Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (NIV)
Celibacy and the Ministry
Another important note is that Paul’s admonishment regarding celibacy is primarily targeted towards those who “serve the Lord.” We now refer to such people as those “in the ministry”. The Catholic church takes Paul’s recommendation one-step further, and mandates that all those in the ministry (i.e. priests and nuns) must take vows of celibacy. Most other denominations denounce this policy, believing that such an edict demands celibacy when not all may feel comfortable with such a lifestyle. Paul himself supports this second viewpoint. Clearly stating in His letters that celibacy is a gift not all are given.
Paul recommends marriage for those who are not given this gift. In First Timothy, Paul states that a church leader (or in today’s terms we would say an pastor, bishop, overseer, deacon, priest, or church elder) should be “above reproach, the husband of but one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:2). Notice Paul didn’t say above reproach and single! In another scripture Paul, speaking about the other Apostles, states that several of them took their “believing wife along with (them).” (1 Corinthians 9:5) Nowhere do we hear Paul or others condemning these Apostles because they were married! These married men included James, the brother of Jesus, who is widely believed to have been the overseeing pastor for the mother church in Jerusalem. These passages make it clear that Paul and the other Church leaders accepted and even approved of marriage within their ranks.
So what of us? Is it possible that all homosexuals have been given the gift of celibacy? Are we all called into such a ministry? Doubtful. First the entire gay population isn’t even Christian! Secondly, nowhere in history do we see God commanding an entire nation (“nation” defined as a group of like minded people joined together by some bond that may be physical, political, social or spiritual in nature) of people to be set aside for the ministry. Even the Levites, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, who were set aside for the priesthood, did not represent the entire Jewish population nor were they required to be celibate!
If God truly has set aside the entire homosexual community for this honor then we are witnessing an historic event never before witnessed sense the dawn of creation! Such a deviation from historical patterns is highly unlikely, or believable, for we serve a God that is the “same yesterday, and to day, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8).
While it is true in one sense that all Christians are called upon to be ‘in the ministry’ as worthy ambassadors of Christ and Christianity (2 Corinthians 3:6, 5:20). Paul makes it clear that this is not the type of ministry he is talking about. If for if it were, then using the churches logic, all Christians should follow a life of celibacy! This is absurd! What Paul does say is that while some are called to full-time ministry others serve the Lord through their families and the community. Its clear we all serve, but we serve in different capacities. Likewise, not all are called to a life of celibacy.
Do I have the Gift of Celibacy?
When it became clear that a relationship with a man was not right for me, the only alternative seemed to be celibacy. I was faithful to this principle until my mid-twenties, but I was miserable. I was serving God to the best of my ability but I didn’t like being alone. The very thought of never having a loving, sexually fulfilling, life-sharing relationship with anyone tore at me. I began to have misgivings about serving such a cruel God. The situation only got worse when my sexual feelings became stronger with denial. It was driving me half-crazy, just as Paul had predicted it would.
This was not consistent with my past experiences with the Lord. In the past God had always blessed me when I did His will to the best of my ability. Now instead of being blessed, I was miserable. How had I missed it? Or was I missing it? Perhaps the church’s doctrine had missed it? I could now see that celibacy was a gift given by God to some but not all people. But how would I know if I had this gift? Scriptures didn’t seem to offer any clues. On one hand the church was telling me and the rest of the gay population that we HAD to have this gift. Yet, my own heart was telling me I was miserable. Someone, be it the church or myself, was not seeing the truth of God’s will.
There was no further help from the Bible, so I started talking about this issue with many of my friends – gay, straight, Christian and non-Christian alike. One day while we were at work, the discussion turned to relationships and the different problems we encountered. We were a pretty close-knit group, and there were few things we wouldn’t discuss with each other. Someone asked why I hadn’t started dating again after my last disaster of a boyfriend. I replied by bringing up the issue of celibacy and the church’s doctrine regarding sex outside of marriage. I was intentionally vague because I hadn’t yet had the guts to tell them I was gay. My problem, I explained, was that I didn’t know if I had this “gift of celibacy” or not, but that I’d been practicing it per the church’s doctrine.
They found this to be an interesting and novel problem as none of them were Christian. These friends thoughtfully, logically, worked the idea through. One of my co-workers, after much deliberation shyly asked; “Well, Elaine, are you happy?” My answer was a quick “no!” “Well then” he replied, quite pleased with having solved my dilemma, “I guess you don’t have the gift!”
His statement shot straight to my heart. How could I have been so dense! I laughed at myself; at all the absurdity, heartache and misery I’d put myself through! It was so blindingly obvious once I heard the words, utterly clear and honest. He was one hundred percent right. My own misery testified daily that I surely didn’t have this gift! God had never destined me to live alone. If He had, I would be at complete peace about it.
If I, as a gay person, didn’t have this gift then the church’s doctrine must be wrong. Worse yet, it was a doctrine that attempted to condemn an entire group of people to a lifestyle few could follow. Paul warned us against such false acts of ‘piety’, saying that without the “gift” of celibacy our lives would be fraught with constant temptation and misery. Perhaps even destroying our very relationship with God in the end.
“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV)
This is an excerpt from the book, Calling the Rainbow Nation Home by E.T. Sundby