Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Good Book

Over recent weeks, the world has watched people from all walks of life in the United States take to the streets to protest police brutality after the deaths of two black men at the hands of police. 

At the same time, there has also been some Bible brutality meted out as some deeply disturbing messages by Christian ministers preaching God’s vengeance on gay people from the Bible have become very public. These men quote chapter and verse. They condemn us, declare us sinners, ascribe us as filthy faggots and paedophiles and do so in God’s name and they use the Bible to endorse and corroborate their views. I will not name them in the text here for they do not deserve the oxygen of publicity on my blog, but their names are readily available. The Bible verses they use are there plain to see and these homophobic hate-mongers are only too ready and enthusiastic to use them against us. I have watched this happen many times before. You may recall if you are a regular reader of this blog that I have written about homophobia from the church a number of times before and given examples, but I think this time, I have reached my limit. Christian church, it’s time to talk about the Bible. We cannot let this kind of thing be associated with our faith or our sacred text.

I have reached a point in my LGBT activism and in my faith where I cannot stay silent on this matter any longer hoping that things will change over time. I realise that my silence is part of the stasis and so I have determined to speak up and to see if we cannot get the conversation moving faster with a view to ultimate change. I think we need a totally different way of thinking about and talking about the Bible. I also understand fully that I am shooting a sacred cow when I talk about the Bible in a way that challenges traditional models and that the Christian right: fundamentalists, literalists, strict evangelicals and pentecostals of all denominations will be quick to judge. So be it.

I am none of those things and I fit in to none of those categories. I have a different model of how to view faith nowadays and I write from that position. So when the old model of faith and scripture is promulgated as the only view of faith and scripture, the right view, the orthodox view, then I respectfully disagree and would rather suggest an alternate model, one of a number that Christians and theologians around the world today are discussing and elucidating.

What’s Wrong with the Bible?

In the words of the Apollo 13 moon mission, “Houston, we have a problem”. In fact, the more precise quote is, “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. And I think if we are honest, since the dawning of the twentieth century and the rise of both the technological age and the age of Christian fundamentalism in the United States, we’ve been having a problem with the Bible.

It has been handed down to us in its present form such that it can be used for good or ill. Anyone with an axe to grind can pick up the Bible and find in its pages something to augment or cement their particular view. It’s not difficult. The problem is that the Bible has sufficient difference, inconsistency and ambiguity in it that it can be used very easily by cruel people, misfits, the mentally ill, religious nutters, cultists and the ‘we’re right you’re wrong’ brigade (and how many of them are there!).

And Christians are not exempt. Peter Enns, professor of Biblical Studies in both Old and New Testaments on staff presently at Eastern University suggests: “Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual— follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force. If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to “defend the Bible ” against these anti-God attacks” (1).

Thus, the ‘Good Book’ has been misused so often and in so many different arenas, including social, family, theological, ecclesiastic, sexual, personal, criminal, legal and governmental, that we would be more than dishonest to pretend that everything is just business as usual with this book, “God’s in his heaven - all’s right with the world” (2). Well, I don’t think it can be business as usual any longer. And we need to own up to this.

Houston, we have a problem, with the Bible. And we need to talk about it.

In one sense, I feel rather coerced into writing this blog post about the Bible, much in the same manner as I felt coerced by my sexuality to look at my faith all those years ago and to see what was working and what was not. If it hadn’t been for my sexuality you see, I am the first to admit that I probably would not have ever questioned the assumptions of my faith and revisited them from different points of view. There’s an even chance I would have turned out an insufferable Christian know-it-all, for that’s the direction I was headed. Had it not been for my sexuality, I do wonder whether by now, I would have either just gone along with the latest ‘God-given’ teaching to hit the church, or alternatively in the context of today’s secular/religious discourse, just given it all away like so many others as some adolescent desire for certainty and easy answers that ultimately turned to ash in the hand as the reality of life interposed itself upon me. Yet it was precisely my sexuality that forced me to take a close look at my faith and to question everything: what I believed, what I didn’t believe, the nature of belief, the nature of faith itself, everything was on the table, including God, the Church and the Bible. It was the ineradicable presence of my sexuality that corralled me into reimagining the nature of my own Christian faith.

And after a lifetime of suffering, at the hands of traditional church teaching around human sexuality, there were two non-negotiables for me if I were to stick around:
  •         faith had to be real and grounded in the reality of human life in this           world;
  •     faith had to make sense, even where there are no obvious or clear             answers.

Mystery is okay, even to be valued. Lack of clarity is okay. Questions are okay. Doubt is okay. But nonsense is not okay. Force or coercion or emotional blackmail is not okay. Absurd authoritarian literalist-based teachings clearly lifted from their ancient world context and foist upon a less powerful church member, not okay. Appeal to emotion or clear illogic, not okay. So, to a certain extent, I feel that same coercion today; not this time about the Christian faith in general, but more specifically about the scared text of our faith – the Bible. And once more, in the light of what has been happening in recent weeks, it is sexuality again that is the driving force behind these questions and observations to start talking about the Bible in a different way.

From the last few weeks, we have had three Christian 'pastors' quoting chapter and verse in order to wreak destruction on gay people; a declaration that we gay people should be put to death or suicide as the consequence of our existence. So no, “wreak destruction” is not over-saucing the pudding.

The first was from a ‘pastor’ in Arizona, quoting the Bible that gay people should be executed. He is totally serious and he thumps his pulpit as he thunders out his vitriol. He quotes a verse in Leviticus that ostensibly suggests that gay people be put to death. It doesn’t of course and I’ve devoted a whole chapter in my book to these verses and others, but this guy is totally, 100% unequivocally convinced without any doubt that the Bible is saying that gay people should be put to death, today. He says that he wouldn’t do it, but like murderers and other serious criminals, the state should execute us. He’s got chapter and verse to back him up.  And yes, when read in the manner of this pastor, it’s there.

Here he is on an American news show answering the questions of an incredulous anchorman.

The second guy is a ‘pastor’ from New Zealand who responded to an email sent out to all the NZ churches by a friend of mine who has just released a new book telling of his own LGBT journey through fundamentalist Christianity. The pastor in question wrote back to him thus: "We are not interested in your filthy lifestyle or book. Romans 1 clearly says God has rejected homos and they are worthy of death. You cannot be saved. I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy child molesting fag" (3).

The third is a young acolyte of the first who is parroting his teacher’s message and uses ‘down home’ homiletic style to engage his congregation, who it must be said, are either uneducated dolts or are just homophobic bigots. It is quite sickening to listen to as he, like his master, calls for the death penalty for gay people and quotes the Bible to add authority and weight to his message of death for his fellow human beings.

Now what I want to say about these latest atrocities of Christian spirituality is this: these guys not only rely on the Bible for their inspiration but quote its verses on which to premise their arguments and to scaffold them. They use the actual words of the Bible to attack other human beings and to pass judgment over us in a way that is so over the top, so lacking in love, so unChristlike, so vicious and so feral, that their use of scripture to condemn us must in all honesty give us pause for considering the worth of the Bible. If that’s what it says, then what the hell is going on?

At the risk of sounding utterly polemic, let me spell this out!

If this book can be used this way, are we right to continue to use it? Do we need to call it out? Is it time we asked the question: is the Bible still worthy to be called the Good Book? If it can be used so dreadfully and in the service of such evil, then what in the world are we still reading it for?

Has it not been used by the Nazis to endorse their sick doctrines of Aryan supremacy and the universal totalitarianism of the Third Reich? Has it not been used by the apartheid regime of South Africa to endorse the untold misery and injustice of racial discrimination? Has it not been used by slavers to justify the keeping of slaves in the United States and to endorse white supremacy? Does not the Klu Klux Klan even today still use the Bible to promulgate that same evil? Is not the Bible used to keep women in submission to men and to endorse the systematic privileging of men in institutions? Does not the Bible tell us to beat our children in order to discipline them? Yes to all of these.

And there are problems with the text itself. It is abundantly clear that there are multitudinous inconsistencies in the Bible. It gets its people, places, events, situations, articulations and consequences quite mixed up and confused as you compare the same rendering in different books. Even God is not portrayed consistently across its pages. One moment, he’s a loving father, the next he’s a mass-murdering thug who delights in the wholesale slaughter of innocents: men, women children and animals.

To shout out, “NO, it’s not like that at all,” is just denial of the facts. It IS like that. All that stuff IS there. So it is not without evidence to suggest that the Bible is not always consistent nor always clear about things like ethics and God. It is also patently obvious that people can pick and choose which bits of it they want to use for a particular cause, even if it’s a shitty cause, and develop either some weird teaching around it (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses did with Leviticus 17: 14 and blood transfusions or 'word of faith' people watching their children suffer and die instead of taking them to the hospital) or use it to denigrate others (whites over non-whites) or use it to oppress a group of people (men over women) or just use it to beat the living daylights out of someone or some group you don’t like (fundamentalists over Catholics, literalists over gay people).

The Bible as Weapon

The latest in a long line of Biblical atrocities is the Bible-violence to gay people. Scripture is cited and used as a weapon against gay people. I have personally been on the wrong end of some pretty nasty Bible-bashing by ‘loving Christians’ as have lots of gay people I know, many of them Christian themselves. Some of the Bible’s most tribal and ancient warfare passages are used against us, passages written by Iron Age oppressed Israelites trying to survive being engulfed by surrounding larger empires and trying to eke out that survival by maintaining their ancient identity in the face of persistent existential crisis. And they didn’t always put their best foot forward, as can readily be seen in their sacred texts. The violence, viciousness, rage, cruelty and mercilessness of these ancient world passages, pulled into grotesque distortions by today’s homophobic preachers, instead of understanding them as they should be, ie., contextually, are brought to bear to batter and harangue, to repudiate and reject, to judge and to condemn gay people.

Now it is clear to me that that such use of the Bible is not acceptable. It was not acceptable in the examples I gave above in the other arenas of life and it is still not acceptable in this, the latest monstrous wickedness against gay people. In each of the examples I listed above, the world changed its stance and shifted, despite the Bible verses used to defend the initial position. In other words, we deemed those people wrong, in error, and we ignored their Bible verses because we knew that we understood better and that there was a better way.

Universal human values as cited in the United Nations Charter is a good place to start: freedom, dignity, equality, no discrimination on any basis at all, legal rights, the rule of law, peaceful assembly, the right to work and no cruelty or torture. The Iron Age aggressive and discriminatory words and practices of an insignificant ancient people trapped between warring empires desperate to maintain its survival and religious identity are no longer to be thought of as superior. We understand them for what they are. And we study them for what they can tell us about these people and their relationship to their beliefs, their governance and their God. But we leave them in the ancient world and speak of them contextually as we would the rules and practices of the the law courts of the Roman Republic.

It is not uncommon for us to reject our ancestor’s ways as we do now in Australia with our indigenous people. Two hundred years ago, our white ancestors hunted down Tasmanian aboriginal people in the belief they were doing the right thing. The ‘Black Line,’ where white settlers at the behest of the Tasmanian military Governor formed long lines and hunted down Aboriginal people at seven different locations slaughtering them as they swept forward, is a piece of Australian history that is our great shame. Our ancestors were wrong. We can say that now. We would say their ethics were wrong and their beliefs and models about life were wrong. We have changed. We have moved on.

Today, we live our lives so differently to a life lived in the ancient world, especially a life lived in an occupied land or having been sent into exile as a servant class to a conquering empire as happened to the ancient Israelites. We answer our questions today in the context of modernity and with science and human ingenuity and scholarship and a belief in universal human values. That is not to say there is nothing in the Judaeo-Christian writings for us. Plainly, that is wrong. But we must view them contextually and with great care lest we apply a model of the world or spirituality that no longer fits. More on that later.

Let me be plain. The Conservatives among you will tell their hair out, the evangelicals who still hold to sola scriptura – scripture alone, will be putting on sackcloth and ashes, the literalists will be gnashing their teeth and the fundamentalists will be doing what they do best: judging me, finding me wanting and declaring that I am not a real Christian. So be it.

So here it is. I do not hold to face-value reading of the Bible. I think it is dangerous. We have seen in the video above where the logical extension of the literal non-contextual reading and interpretation of scripture leads to. Regarding gay people, let me be plain. It leads to violence. I think it is high time that the Church stopped calling it the Word of God and that people stopped calling it the ‘good book’. We could debate perhaps some new nomenclatures: a word of God, the word about God, a good book, for example. We would even need to see what some of the various texts themselves have to say about what they actually mean when they use the term ‘the word of the Lord’ because they are not talking about The Bible.

I think the Bible is in urgent need of a rebadging. It is too valuable a resource to abandon to the haters, the nutters and the legalistic zealots. We need to start thinking of it, viewing it reading it, interpreting it in a vastly different way than hitherto fore. We need a new Bibliology; a new lens though which we look at this incredible and wonderful but dangerous book. We need to put it in a different place to that which it occupies now, a place where it can no longer be used by haters and bigots. Sorry if this hurts your sensibilities, but I do believe that the Bible is not for the uneducated, for the bigots, racists and homophobes among them lap up all that ancient world violence and spew it forth today. No, I think reading the Bible requires some education. That would seem to counter Reformation principles, but I do not mean that uneducated people be denied the Bible. After all, who could do that anyway? Rather, all people need to know before they open its pages what they are reading, how it came to be, how it can be read safely and why it is still worthwhile having around. However, it should not be read at face-value. It must be read contextually if we are to get anything out of it at all. I devote a chapter in my book to the nature of the Bible and these matters.

I do not forget, even for a moment, that the Jesus story is part of this Bible and that our faith, our understandings of God and human life are inextricably interwoven with his life, death and message as given in accounts in the Gospels and in Paul's unpacking the deeper meanings of what Jesus accomplished. But I also know that the whole compilation of books is not all 'good shepherds' and 'green pastures'.

Peter Enns proposes that the Bible is a messy, beat up, edited, heavily scripted work written over a thousand year period by different authors with different agendas and all wanting to achieve a particular goal in their efforts to preserve ancient Israel from a variety of marauding empires. As such, they filled these many separate texts that we call the Bible with differing views, discrepant models of God, the universe and ethical behaviour such that we now have a bit of a mish mash in this collection. Enns’ principle thesis is that we should accept the Bible for what it is rather than trying to make it do what it was never intended to do. In so doing we twist and contort it and ourselves in trying to make it match our models or doctrines, in trying to make it this clear, purposeful, transparent, guileless rule-book. He argues persuasively that it is not that, that it has never been that and that much of the trouble the Church finds itself in today is because such a false and contorted view is imposed on these texts. He argues we need to let these texts be themselves and accept the inconsistencies, the lack of clarity, the humanness of the writing and their historical origins in a particular time and place by authors not reluctant to write to further their cause. Anywhere else, we would call this propaganda.

Peter Enns: “The Bible is an ancient book and we shouldn’t be surprised to see it act like one. So seeing God portrayed as a violent, tribal warrior is not how God is but how he was understood to be by the ancient Israelites communing with God in their time and place. The biblical writers were storytellers. Writing about the past was never simply about understanding the past for its own sake, but about shaping, molding, and creating the past to speak to the present. “Getting the past right” wasn’t the driving issue. “Who are we now?” was. The Bible presents a variety of points of view about God and what it means to walk in his ways. This stands to reason, since the biblical writers lived at different times, in different places, and wrote for different reasons. In reading the Bible we are watching the spiritual journeys of people long ago. Jesus, like other Jews of the first century, read his Bible creatively, seeking deeper meaning that transcended or simply bypassed the boundaries of the words of scripture. Where Jesus ran afoul of the official interpreters of the Bible of his day was not in his creative handling of the Bible, but in drawing attention to his own authority and status in doing so. A crucified and resurrected messiah was a surprise ending to Israel’s story. To spread the word of this messiah, the earliest Christian writers both respected Israel’s story while also going beyond that story. They transformed it from a story of Israel centered on Torah to a story of humanity centered on Jesus” (4).

Hatred said to be spoken 'in love'
Art by Robert Adelman
What the Bible cannot be is a license to hate, a denier of authentic humanity or a racist or homophobic tool with which to hurt people. That is NOT Christianity. If you cannot read the Bible in its various contexts and understand it based on the Number 1 non-negotiable interpretation rule: every verse from a place of charity, then better not read it at all. You will only do more harm to yourself and to others. The pastors who quote chapter and verse in telling us that gay people should be executed are not practising the faith as I understand it from Jesus, who gave it its substance, and from Paul, who helped us understand it, but rather some grotesque simulacrum, a Frankenstein’s monster.

Again, Enns: "
What if the Bible is just fine the way it is? What if it doesn’t need to be protected from itself? What if it doesn’t need to be bathed and perfumed before going out in public? And what if God is actually fine with the Bible just as it is without needing anyone to stand guard over it? Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have? Maybe this Bible has something to show us about our own sacred journey of faith, and maybe God wants us to wander off the beach blanket to discover what that is" (5). If we can change the way we treat the Bible, then maybe it is just fine as it is.

Is the Church ready to start talking about the Bible? I hope so. Are we ready to acknowledge that it is not what we were always told it was? Are we ready to stop trying to beat it into submission to fit our prejudices? I hope the impetus taken from gay people’s experiences with the Bible will be a catalyst where we can get this conversation going and make some changes in this important aspect of our faith. If the Christian Church can achieve this, everyone will do better.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

1. Enns, P. (2014). The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition, p3.

2. Pippa Passes, Poem, Robert Browning.

3. retrieved 13 December 2014,

4. Op Cit. (1). p231.

5. Op. Cit. (1). p9.

Friday, 16 May 2014

IDAHOT Day 2014

May 17 is IDAHOT Day. Tonight, here in Australia, Brisbane’s Storey Bridge will be bathed in the light of rainbow colours, as a way the city burghers have offered to help in the fight against homophobia. If you are a regular reader of the BGBC Blog, you will know already that I have written two previous pieces on IDAHOT Day, the first in 2012, where I define homophobia and give an explanation as to what I believe underpins it. The second piece was a year later in 2013 where I offered two ways of seeing how homophobia manifests itself. 

Brisbane's Storey Bridge 17 May 2014

In 2014, I would just like to bring a few thoughts together from general LGBTI issues and say something that is pertinent to IDAHOT Day.

Not A Disappointment

Being gay is often seen as a disappointment. Our parents and families can be supportive but their friends can silently tut tut to themselves with, “how disappointing it must be for Mike and Janice with young Tom” or “they must be so disappointed”. This perpetuates the myth that being gay is an inferior way to live life. It is not. And homophobia feeds on this sort of thing and is emboldened by it. “Well if it’s inferior,” says the homophobe, “why can’t I call him a faggot or beat him up”?

Getty Image - Huff Post
Being gay is not a disappointment. It is not a second best way to live life, it is not the bronze medal in the life stakes. In fact, quite the contrary. Being gay is a wonderful way to live life, the equal of being straight. Gay people are able to flourish and thrive as much as straight people. We could probably do it a whole lot easier if the world had less homophobia and heterosexism in it, but the statement stands. Human life in the Western world is remarkably similar for all people, straight or gay. I am not for a moment saying that equality of opportunity is the same for everyone. Poverty, lack of education, lack of decent health care and prejudice of all kinds all still exist. But those inequalities notwithstanding, people live, work, get educated, bond with others, laugh, play, cry, mate, and do remarkably similar things. Despite cultural and regional differences, growing up in North America, Australia or Europe in the way people engage with life is relatively similar. Being gay does not preclude us from living that ‘every person’ life. We gay people can still live wonderful lives; not the slightest bit disappointing. Until parents, families, friends, colleagues and society itself can purge this disappointment notion right away, there will never be true equality. There is no need for any straight person, be they known to us or unknown, to look at us and feel sorry for us for being gay. We are not a disappointment.

Not Offensive

One of the most hurtful things that homophobia does is to declare that gay people are offensive. Some of these people use religious grounds (and I have dealt with that thoroughly in other posts), while others don’t use religious language but are just as deeply offended. 

Perhaps nothing has galvanised the Americans or the world of sport in general than ‘the great kiss’ as I think it should be called (he says facetiously) between Michael Sam and his boyfriend.

Michael Sam as will most people know is an openly gay black football player in the United States. Some months ago he publicly came out and there was much consternation and debate as to whether this disclosure would injure his career by stopping him from being drafted into the big time – the NFL. Well, as the world knows now, during the draft, he was at his home, like other players would have been, with his boyfriend and family, waiting for the phone-call to see if he made it into the League. Someone had a camera of some sort on him to record the moment. It was going to be huge if it happened at all. It was going to be historic. An openly gay man being drafted in front of all of America into the NFL for the first time. He was intensely emotional. He wept. The commentators can be heard to say such weeping is common at this time among players, such is the “raw emotion” of the moment. When the call came in and he was drafted a place in the St Louis Rams, Sam took the call, physically bent over and answered the caller through tears. When he straightened up, almost delirious with happiness and the moment, he hugged and kissed his boyfriend a few times and was embraced and patted by friends and family. Even for a non-sports fan like me, it was truly a wonderful moment. That was then.

Over the ensuing days, homophobic America went into meltdown.
  • “That kiss was offensive”.
  • “Why is he shoving it in our faces”?
  • “I’m not anti-gay, but he doesn’t have to do that in front of everyone”.
  • “That should not be allowed to be broadcast – there are children watching”.
  • “That’s disgusting”.
  • “We don’t need filthy faggotts doing this on television”.
  • “Sick and disgusting I hope they crack him straight when he gets in the game”.
  • “Those who throw around that term 'homophobic' ought to recognize the principle of what goes around comes around. Shall we label male homosexuals 'women-phobic' and 'vagina-phobic' and lesbians 'men-phobic' and 'penis-phobic.'?"

Now, in any reasonable person’s mind, this kiss was a moment of extreme happiness, one of those moments where we actually cry with tears of joy. They are rare in life and are very special. Michael Sam was being held by his partner as he listened to the phone-call and he hugged and kissed him in exquisite relief and joyful celebration; just like all the straight athletes in their homes did with their families, friends, girl-friends or wives. Is it so far a stretch that we cannot even see this for what it is; a deeply profound human moment? What it is not is offensive. 

If a gay man kissing his boyfriend in such a circumstance is offensive then so is the straight man kissing his girlfriend. Let’s not have a double standard and let’s call it out wherever we see it. Human sexuality just is. None of us decide to be straight or gay, and even if we did, there would still be no excuse for a double standard; always the test for the presence of prejudice.

The short clip below from a Dallas talk show shows the level of ignorance, homophobia and heterosexism that still exists. The two middle women are offended by Sam’s kiss, the one on the left because she doesn’t want children to see, that it was acted out as ‘news’ (she uses air quotes) as opposed to a real moment of humanity, and that she doesn’t want it shoved in our faces. The woman on the right earlier and not in this clip (it is in the longer 6 minute version which is easily found) is upset at the kiss because it is not American and she is offended.

When you read or view homophobic comments attached to this type of story, they almost always point to the so-called abnormality of gay sexuality. “Gays are not normal. That’s why I don’t want my kids seeing that”. Until society understands what we all understand: that being gay is normal, that it is not a sickness, a disease, an abnormality or a sign of psychopathology, we will continue to struggle against homophobic and heterosexist attitudes that will condemn us and harm young people. So we just need to gird up our loins and keep on keeping on with educating people and spreading the message that we’re okay and it’s okay to be gay.

Be gay but Don’t BE gay

There is another interesting side to this story. Many Americans are quite supportive of Michael Sam being drafted, but are at the same time, uncomfortable with the television network showing him kiss his boyfriend. Here the homophobia and heterosexism is more insidious. It is covert homophobia.

“I can accept that you are gay, that’s fine, but please don’t talk about it. Please don’t demonstrate in any way that you’re gay, like bringing a same sex partner to a party or wedding. Don’t wear anything that would suggest you are gay when you are with me. Don’t stick your head up above the parapet in any way like social activism. Don’t act gay. Don’t kiss your boyfriend even when you’re really happy and you’ve just achieved something historic and wonderful”.

This is the homophobia of shame. It can handle that gay sexuality exists conceptually, but it cannot handle the reality. “I feel shame when I see such displays. I feel very uncomfortable. But don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely fine with you being gay”.

Gay people have rightly shed this shame. The whole gay pride movement grew out of the acknowledgment that we had to not be ashamed of being who we were. It is sometimes hard. But we need to persevere while ever there is shame attached to being a LGBT person. We must reject it in ourselves and in we must reject it in others.

The Unaware Homophobe

One of the most hurtful of homophobic activity is when people say and declare things that are incredibly hurtful to LGBT people but they have no idea just how offensive they are being. It happens most often I think by fundamentalist religious folk who quote chapter and verse of either their Bibles or their worldview about gay people, whom they always call ‘homosexuals’ and their ‘homosexual lifestyle’ completely obvlivious to the insensitivity of thier language. When you point out that what they are saying is hurtful, they will often come back and say that they must speak their truth and that it would be wrong and even unloving if they did not. They cannot see at all that they are being hurtful or offensive.

What kind of a topsy turvy world do we have when a so-called follower of Christ can say to me, “Stuart, you will burn in hell for your faggotty ways. Your love for your partner is not love. It is just lust. And God will judge you for turning your back on the only way to him thought Jesus Christ who has shown us the only way to live our lives, which you have rejected”? See how there is some love theology mixed in with the rest of it which is just hate-speech. It is truly warped and you can find it on any fundamentalist website that discusses LGBT issues including marriage equality. What person in their right mind would change their life and follow such a person and accept that person’s values? Homophobia and heterosexism are alive and well in some quarters of the Christian Church. Such behaviour is as un-Christ-like as I can possibly think.


Today in the world, we see a certain kick back against LGBT people; a reactionary movement to the gains that LGBT activism has made over the last two decades. It is happening predominantly not in the West, although there is some, but more in Africa and countries like Haiti and Brunei. There are still 77 countries I understand where gay sexuality is illegal and some of them where it is punishable by imprisonment and even execution. We are lucky and blessed in the West. We must never rest on our laurels while such injustice, ignorance and bigotry remains.

Click on the link below for a wonderful interactive website that allows you to analyse all the countries and regions of the world as to where they stand on LGBT issues and how LGBT people are treated. It is well worth a look to keep yourself apprised of the state of the world as it is now.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Around the World

In so many places in the West, we have come so far. Times have certainly changed and have done so rapidly; so rapidly for some that thier homophobia has been ramped up in reaction. Let us once again this IDAHOT Day remember that those of us who are open and free about our sexuality stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us to win us these freedoms. Likewise, we must continue to move in that same direction: to have all people treated equally, to remove historic discriminations against LGBT people, to advocate for social change like marriage equality so that we do not have to be categorised as second-class citizens, to speak against overt and covert homophobia wherever we encounter it, to speak against nations and movements that would punish LGBT people and harm them, and to wear with pride, yes gay pride, our difference and our lack of shame at being who we are as we live our lives authentically.

Happy IDAHOT Day one and all.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Celibacy Pt 2 - An Outdated and Failed Experiment

Easily the most read post on the BGBC Blog has been that which I published on 12 March 2012: Celibacy For Gays – A Deconstruction. It has had, on average, sixty views every month since its publication just over two years ago. It has been read on every continent in the world and in so many different countries that it has surprised even me by the interest it has generated.

In that post, I attempted to spell out the catastrophic consequences of:
1.       Telling a person that despite being gay, they must never ever act on     their sexuality or express it;
2.       Mandating such a rule from authoritative people like clergy and church   leadership;
3.       Declaring that such a rule is what God wants;
4.       Policing that rule with church sanctions;
5.       Declaring that a person who breaks that rule is sinning and rebelling     against God;
6.       Declaring that a person who breaks that rule is contravening nature;
7.       Insisting that such a person repent and return to mandated lifelong       commitment to celibacy no matter the personal cost.

I attempted to spell out that cost, especially to a young gay person; to show what it actually means in the lived experience when a church leader tells a young person they must commit the rest of their lives to sensual and sexual isolation, not because they want to, but because they are told to.

So why the interest in of all things – celibacy? Why after fighting for so many years to declare that being gay is okay and being gay does not exclude a person from being Christian is the traditional church now so powerfully interested in the notion of ensuring that gay people not express their sexuality?

A New Fight

There is a good reason. It would appear to all intents and purposes that the war on gays is over; at least relatively speaking. There are still skirmishes here and there but the shift towards positive attitudes to gay people is unmistakable and unstoppable. It has been so significant and so rapid that it has left many stunned and shocked. There is now widespread acceptance that gay people have always been around, that we are around today and not ashamed anymore and so are out and very public. Gays are now part of the furniture in the developed world and are gradually becoming relatively unremarkable. When a well-known figure or celebrity comes out these days, it’s not such a big deal anymore. “Oh yeah, I always wondered” or “good for him” “good for her” are common responses nowadays. In fact, it goes even further than this. Gay people are now so out and public that we are now active in ensuring that our rights are not trampled upon by traditional bigotries. We have been and continue to be strong and voluble advocates for gay rights and the removal of discriminations. We even want our relationships recognised by our respective societies in the push for the acceptance of marriage for our community.

And as this monumental social change has taken place and taken root, the traditional evangelical church’s view on gay people, which has been the loudest and most strident, has lost purchase with general Western society. People in developed countries are well educated and know at least basically how this whole gay thing works. They know that people don’t just wake up one day and decide to be gay. They know that the gay youth suicide rate is way too high and is a powerfully distressing phenomenon for local communities and nations.

Some statistics from the United States:

      ·        Lesbians are two times more likely to attempt suicide than straight women;
·        Gay men are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers;
·        Attempts by gay and lesbian youth account for up to 30% of all completed suicides;
·        Gay teens are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

People know that these numbers are caused by rejection and self-disgust, the perception in young gay people that they are sick or sinful or unacceptable or filthy because they have been told explicitly by church or family that this is so and that they lack the emotional maturity to be able to handle such devastating declarations about their life. People have gotten the message that it has been society and church that has been sick, not the young gay person. The world is waking up to the reality of the harm of such prejudice. Society has heard the stories about people like Matthew Shepherd and Tyler Clementi losing their lives due to the tumultuous issues around gay sexuality for young people and when there is a real face with a real name on the news, there is empathy and attitudinal shift occurs.

They have either read or heard at least a modicum of science that a gay sexuality is significantly determined by genetic and biologic factors. They know gay people personally. They work with them. Gay people are part of their schools, universities, hospitals, retail centres, their families. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends. Society has moved on.

Yes, there are and always will be pockets of homophobia; always due to fear and ignorance. But on the whole, the churches know that they have lost this war. No longer can they get away telling the world that being gay is a sin, a punishment from God, a rejection of God, a deal-breaker with God, a ticket to burn in hell for eternity. No-body is buying it anymore. Not because society has become godless and profane but because those traditionally taught notions are nonsensical and juvenile and harmful and are seen to be in the public discourse. There is more education out there now. Those attitudes simply do not make sense in a twenty first century world.

So what is the response of the traditional churches?

“Let’s go to Plan B. Okay,” they say, “you can be gay. We can’t change you and we’ve learned that the hard way. We know that most people accept you as you are and we know how bad it makes us look that they do and we don’t. We know how bad it makes us look when they offer love and acceptance and we don’t. So, you can be gay. There’s probably nothing we can do to change that anyway. But while you can call yourselves gay and while you can think of yourselves as gay, we demand, because we speak for God and we know that we are about to command is exactly and precisely what God wants, that you NEVER EVER EVER enact any sexual behaviour with someone of your own gender, that you NEVER EVER EVER fall in love with someone of your own gender, that you NEVER EVER EVER touch anyone or be touched by anyone in a sensual and loving way with your own gender and that you obey our command for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. If you disagree and disobey with what we demand as being the judges of you being acceptable or not to God and his church (that’s us), you will be in sin and you will be rejecting God and you will wear in your self the punishment and pain of rejecting God. This is a deal-breaker between you and God and for those of us who are obsessed with this kind of thing, we do not hesitate to tell you that you will burn in hell for eternity for expressing your gay sexuality because that’s what we believe is in store for all unrepentant sinners”.

In other words, NOTHING has changed. All that has happened is that the focus has been shifted from the ontology of being a gay person to the expression of that ontology by living out authentically your true and natural self. The same fundamentalist forces that would have had you rejecting your natural gay self and returning to the closet and possible marrying an opposite sex partner are now clamouring to stop you from being a whole gay person by refusing you the ability to express your sexuality. “You can be gay, but don’t you dare do anything about it. You can be gay, but don’t have sex, don’t fall in love, don’t touch anyone. Just shut up and be gay quietly and some of us might let you stay”. Thus, the call for celibacy for gay people / gay Christians is a misplaced error of judgmental reasoning. In the collective mind of homophobic fundamentalists, the exclusion of sexual expression for gay people is the next best thing to the non-acceptance of gay people. “Plan A didn’t quite work out the way we expected so we will go to Plan B”.

Image via Shutterstock
While it may look like Plan B, when you analyse this position, the belief that being gay is wrong is still there. It is not really an acceptance of our sexuality at all. It is a sleight of hand, a misdirection, a religious illusion that would have young gay people, and older too, deny their identity and once again go back into the religious closet and keep quiet about sexuality once and for all. Why is sexual expression for gay people wrong? Because being gay is wrong. Well, we’re here today to challenge that notion.

This Blog Post

In this blog, I thought it might be time to put down some thoughts why I oppose celibacy for gay Christians and offer the reader some rationale for my position. This blog will perforce be more philosophical in its nature than Part 1, but the interest is clearly there, so I feel the importance of really spelling this out. To do this, the reader will need to understand from where I am launching, both theologically and philosophically, otherwise this whole discussion will not make sense or unnecessary arguments will be made that can easily be clarified if you know how I think first. So to that brief discussion, we go. To make things crystal clear, I have decided to enumerate my position in point form. There is a basic logic and sequence to the points. I will not discuss each point as to how I arrived at that conclusion for space forbids and it is not important in this particular discussion. It is sufficient to read the position statement below to gain an adequate understanding of what I say about celibacy after it.

My Basic Position (relevant to this issue)

  1.  God is love;
  2.  God is passionate about the earth and all of its people;
  3.  It is possible (and wonderful), though not essential, to make relationship with God conscious and intentional;
  4.  The first and greatest commandment, as focused on by Jesus is, not to obey God, not to submit to God, not to fear God, not to worship God, but to love God;
  5. The second greatest commandment is to love our fellow human beings (whether we like them or not);
  6.  The Christ came to show us that we are here to become – to become fully human, to become fully self, to become the individual we have the potential to be (he called it abundant living);
  7. Part of the totality of human life is our sexual identity (that we are sexual creatures and find certain stimuli erotic) and within that identity we have a sexual orientation (the direction of ‘love object’ (gender) to which we are attracted physically and emotionally;
  8.  Gay sexuality is a biopsychosocial orientation that is highly biologically and genetically determined (as is heterosexuality);
  9. It is neither wilfully chosen nor wilfully changed;
  10. It is not a sin, it is not a rejection of God;
  11. It is not a sign of demonic oppression nor of psychopathology;
  12. Gay people have been around since the beginning of recorded history and have been identified in every culture on earth;
  13. If God is spoken of as the creator of human life then gay people are as much an outpouring of God’s creative act as are straight people;
  14. God’s work of creation continues today and we are invited, gay and straight, to share in that creative act by bringing peace and justice to the world by compassion and care for our neighbour. As the saying goes, his hands are my hands (Jesus called this the Kingdom of God);
  15. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God but the outcome of the endeavours of tribal people in the ancient world who had very specific and clear agendas in what they wrote. It is more properly thought of as a compilation or library of texts and while it does possess some internal consistency, the texts have been edited out of their original forms literally countless times and must be read with an acknowledgment that there is more than one voice. The books that make up the compilation were decided by a series of church councils of men only and concluded at the Council of Trent in the mid 1500s. To this day, Catholic and non-Catholic wings of the church differ in places as to what is canonical and what is not.
  16. There is much that is inspirational in the texts especially in regard to dealing with God and in dealing with or fellow human beings. The long line of prophetic tradition, in which Jesus stands, ie., loving God and standing with the marginalised, is the closest thing we have to the teachings of Jesus about the nature of God and our place as relational creatures in the world. Thus for me now, the Bible should only be read with this guiding exegetical principle of charity. Where an interpretation shows no charity, it is to be discarded as unhelpful in today’s world;
  17. I do not now regard the Bible as un unstintingly reliable text in all matters and can no longer countenance a ‘face-value’ reading of its many and varied texts. It is not a guideline about race, gender, ethnicity or sexuality. It is a historical fact that the Bible has been used to visit violence and oppression on a number of populations of people causing untold distress. While there is much good in its texts, most notably in the accounts of the life, example, teachings and dealings of Jesus, this good must be teased apart from the voices of oppression and tribalism, the voices of domination and coercion, the voices of false piety and ostentatious religion, the voices that lack charity to the human condition;
  18. I see today that the Spirit also speaks to us in the lived experience of human life, in the lives of others, through the creation, through music, poetry, art and literature, through silence and contemplation;
  19. I am not evangelical. I am not Catholic. Today, I class myself, as stated in the book, in the camp of Progressive Christianity;
  20. I do not hold that believing certain tenets makes anyone a Christian or follower of Jesus. This focus on belief is an appeal to orthodoxy that I now reject. For me now, the Christian life is not about a list of precepts that I have to believe in order to be deemed orthodox. I do not demand anyone believe or think as I do.
  21. It is apparent that Jesus’ greatest enemies were ‘from within,’ ie., the religious leaders of his faith. Though they talked the language of spirituality, their words and deeds were often condemned by Jesus. The same happens today with so many church leaders. St Paul himself says that you can talk up your spiritual credentials all you like, and in a dazzling display of rhetorical flourish ‘you can manifest the tongues of men and of angels and even prophesy’, but if you are not loving, then you are nothing but hot air – an abrasive noisy gong or clanging cymbal; worse than hot air. For me now, I am quite cynical of religion and the mess we have made of the Jesus story (the Gospel) in this world;
  22. Part of the mess is the catastrophic teachings in the early church and in declamatory style from the third century on, that sex is evil, sinful, profane and ungodly, the opposite of spirituality; forever denoted as being associated with sin. The church got hung up about sex and remains hung up about sex;
  23. I do not see the body, sex or desire as in anyway degraded or dirty or filthy or sinful. This does not make sense in a twenty-first century world where we have better understandings of human sexuality, nor is it congruent with incarnational theology that would have us see the God-man Jesus as truly and fully human with his own sexuality and life of erotica (anything less does not make him human);
  24. I do not hold to a model of sin as the breaking of a rule which demands punishment by an authoritarian parent figure. I now hold a model of sin, a word I am happy to dispense with (as it is less than helpful in our telling of the Jesus message), as being an estrangement – from ourselves, from each other and from God. This tripartite model of sin has at its centre the concept of respect, or if you prefer more theological language, charity or love. Respecting oneself, respecting others, respecting God keeps us connected and estrangement disappears. This model is also more consistent with how the science of psychology views the human being and which aspects are, to use a psychological turn of phrase, adaptive and which are maladaptive. I do not see God as a punishing angry parent let alone an easily irritated judge figure and view that model as being juvenile and immature;
  25. Though it can be many things, a sexual act is a connective act first – a sharing between two consenting adults;
  26. Sexual connection for people, when all cultural, social and religious attributes are stripped away, is typically a reaching out for love and connection; a fundamental need in the human psyche;
  27. I do not believe that God wakes up every morning and says, ‘now who is having sex who is not married? Let me at ‘em’!;
  28. While harm can come to people via sexual means, it is always in the context of the estrangement of disrespect (Point 24) and should be avoided and shunned;
  29. The focus on personal sexual morality by the twentieth century church has been a misalignment of what is really important in the Gospel – relationality;
  30. This misalignment has become sadly part of the Judaeo-Christian culture throughout the world so that even ‘secular’ institutions, eg., the media, are ashamed and embarrassed by human sexuality;
  31. I believe now that we need to change. We need to grow up. We need to have a more adult view of human sexuality and abandon altogether the guilt, the shame and the negativity around human sex, its expression, its depiction and the discourse through which we talk about it.

Fundamentalist Reaction

So I will not be arguing my position here based solely on scriptures or on church teaching or tradition. I will be arguing my position based on an overarching understanding that God wants our good and that abundant living is his desire for us. I will be arguing that denial of identity is not a good thing and is in fact life-negating not life-affirming. I will also argue my position based on the science of psychology in which I have some expertise. And I will be arguing my position based on the truth of my own and others’ lived experience and how that plays out across the lifespan of a human being. I am not interested in having scripture wars. I am not interested in fundamentalists telling me that “the Bible says - - - - -.” I am not interested in evaluating my life or my faith up against their criteria. I do not hold their paradigms about life or about God, so there is little value in entering that fray.

But fundamentalist Christians who read this need to know that I listened to your view for almost all of my young adult life. I was a Christian gay man in psychological turmoil because of the church’s teachings about sexuality. I was also a celibate man due to traditional Christian teachings about sexuality and maintained that state for the best part of twenty two years. At the end of that time, I was a significantly diminished person and felt I could no longer go on as things were. It is one thing for you to stand on high and judge and proclaim God’s voice as if you speak for him. It is another to navigate our real life in this world and do so with all the messiness and suffering that is part of human life, whether of faith or no. So do not come to me and tell me that gay Christians should be celibate without trying it yourself. Try one year of enforced involuntary celibacy. Try two years, or five years. How about ten years? Try twenty years of sensual and sexual isolation when you yearn for love. When you’ve lived twenty years of ecclesiastically enforced involuntary celibacy, then come and talk to me about your religious worldview about sexual ethics for my life and gay people in general.  


Celibacy is a pretty counter-intuitive and self-defeating phenomenon if you really think about it. It is the willing denial and impedance of what is probably the most powerful drive within the human being after survival. The drive to be sexual becomes conscious in our early teens. Puberty is a biologically driven milestone where we gain secondary sexual characteristics, in essence, we become physical adults and can reproduce, and where, psychologically, the erotic becomes the focus of much of our internal life and the awareness of sexuality takes centre stage. That milestone, once begun never really goes away in most human beings although it is tempered when older with other matters from the adult world. At puberty we become conscious sexual creatures and that sexual identity begins to assert itself powerfully. It is one of the strongest and most well-understood psycho-biologic changes in the human being.

Adolescence follows where we are in a transition psychologically between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence, which lasts into the early twenties, is typically a time where the erotic life is one of the most salient features of our internal world, whether we are sexually active or not. The age of first sexual activity does seem to have crept down over the last thirty years so that it is not uncommon for teens to have had their first sexual encounter; something I am not a great fan of when they are particularly young. But older adolescents typically begin their life of sexual activity. There are often quite a few partners over the course of a decade and more and more, young people use sex as a means to friendship and intimacy. It is a powerful drive within.

But then celibacy. The willing denial of that drive. For some it is self-imposed. But even there, it is only to conform to a set of usually religious principles that are held strongly by the individual. For others, it is imposed from without; a Catholic religious order, an evangelical edict that gay people are not ever to express their sexuality, a church that frowns publicly on sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage, and even sometimes in cultic situations where a guru imposes celibacy on cult members. It is a frustration or impedance to what the body and mind are powerfully and naturally inclining towards. The river is damned.

Now of course, when one does this, such action is not without consequences. In thinking of the involuntary celibate as I am in this post, there follows an experience of forever wanting but never having, a yearning for touch but never experiencing, a powerful drive to sexual expression but never permitted, a deep need to be loved by another human being but forever unmet.

Make no mistake. There is a price to pay for celibacy no matter that it is self-imposed or imposed by the necessity of conforming to an external rule. Loneliness, isolation, despair. Depression, anxiety, obsession. Instability, skewed relationships, eccentricity that excludes.

I can think of no more exquisite torture for a young person in the glowing candescence of their sexual flourishing than to impose upon them, against their will, against their desire, against every fibre of their being, a life-long obligation to sexual and sensual isolation; in reality, an involuntary, externally prescribed, mandated and enforced domination over their lives of celibacy spoken over them with the voice of God by respected authority figures and the disobedience over which bringing sin and rejection by the church.

Religious Origins

So why? Why do this to oneself? Why place one’s life into a tumult willingly? First, most young people who do this do not understand what they are getting themselves into when they make such a decision. They do not understand the power of loneliness as it has not yet taken root at the depths of their soul. They only need to hear the voices of some of our elderly who talk about the depths of their loneliness to take another look at their decision and maybe run in the opposite direction. Life is too short for celibacy and the loneliness that it brings, the oldies will tell them unhesitatingly.

Sex and The Sacred

Secondly, there is a reason why young people would choose this. They have been told that should they wish to serve God, they must remain celibate until they marry on pain of sin. They are told that if they are gay, they must NEVER EVER express their sexuality and deny it for the rest of their lives on pain of sin. Young Catholic people who feel they have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life must effectively renounce their sexuality and all expression of it and become mandated ‘eunuchs’ for life if they want to ‘join up.’

My close friend who was a Franciscan monk, not yet taken final vows, finally abandoned his ‘call’ due to the relentless and unflinching set of desires within him to express himself sexually; in his case as a gay man. Another friend, a former Jesuit novice, also abandoned his vocation to the priesthood after the Jesuits told him that his burgeoning gay sexuality was unacceptable. In the order in which I was involved in the 1970s, the Redemptorists, many of the priests left the order in the late 70s and 80s either to marry or go off and be gay. Their life of imposed celibacy and the attendant psychological distress was no longer to be borne. Almost all of the Catholic religious orders have experienced the same thing; members of the various congregations abandoning their vows to go off and marry or be gay, leaving behind an aging remnant who live in vast houses and who must wonder what on earth has happened. Diocesan Catholic priests who live alone in their presbyteries in the local parishes report that the loneliness of their life and ministry can be utterly crippling and not a few of them end in skewed clandestine relationships and depressed or leave altogether. In the developed world, most young Catholics who would otherwise contemplate a life of ministry will not do so due to the mandated vow of celibacy; hence the shortage of priests across the Western world.

But of course, the celibate priesthood was not there in the beginning. It was imposed by Rome in the twelfth century and has been a curse ever since. While it is true that some men have been able to navigate its murky waters, most male clergy have struggled endlessly with celibacy because of natural and ineradicable human desire, the yearning for someone close or special, skin hunger – the desire for human touch, and the power of libido, the drive to be sexual. Women religious too have had their struggles and this is now becoming more and more talked about. Today, there is a world-wide conversation in the Catholic Church as to the possibilities of relaxing or abandoning mandate celibacy.

Clerical Child Abuse

In the present day, the Catholic Church, like a few others, is engulfed in a firestorm of its own making: the clerical sexual abuse of children and the cover-up of that abuse by bishops and church leadership. No continent or country has been exempted from this disaster. And it IS a disaster of unprecedented proportions in so many ways. While there is widespread denial from church authorities that celibacy has anything to do with it, I cannot accept that conclusion.

Mandated involuntary celibacy, especially over the course of an adult lifetime, has severe negative consequences as I outlined above. Some of these can be a skewed sense of sexuality and substantially impaired relational dynamics. Opportunistic abuse by men who are severely sexually wounded or immature or dysfunctional has occurred probably more frequently than outright diagnosable paedophilic abuse. I see this as being systemic and not just a few bad apples in that the formation to the Catholic priesthood especially in years gone by has seen immature pre-pubescent or pubescent youth plucked out of their homes and lives and catapulted into the myopic life of the church and away from normal growth, maturation and relational processes, starting in the seminary and followed by enforced celibate life in ministry, being told what to do by bishops or religious superiors; in many ways, a wholly de-sexualised and de-individuated life. Saturated in the existence of the church from a tender age, it is no wonder we have had generations of priests who were juvenile in their approach to sexuality, the body and desire, frightened by it yet drawn toward it, some of whom acted out their dysfunctionality on defenceless kids. 

An indictment on the church, its protocols, its history and its recent behaviour in its attempt to minimise its responsibility and its clear failure. Celibacy, while not the sole cause of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, must share some responsibility for causing the greatest and most damaging scandal to hit the Christian church in the modern era: the repugnant sexual abuse by trusted ‘men of God’ to little kids who are less powerful than they.

Church Attitudes to the Body

But why has the church been such an advocate of a de-sexualised clergy and an opponent of any sexual behaviour for anyone outside of heterosexual marriage? I think there are three reasons:
  • History;
  • Control;
  • Fear.


From the earliest times, the Christian church has frowned on the body and associated it with the sins of the flesh. It has taught and reiterated that human sexuality as evoked through desire, arousal and touch is to be manipulated or corralled into one and only one specific form: heterosexual marriage. It has eschewed the body, it has denigrated sex as being the opposite of the sacred, that it is earthy and dirty while God is heavenly and transcendent and beatific. The contradistinction has been pounded into the ears of believers for centuries. I took some time in Being Gay Being Christian to talk about two of the early church saints, Augustine and Jerome, both of whom had gargantuan sexual hang-ups, but of whom both had principle parts to play in shaping and guiding the early church in its attitudes to sex and the body. Augustine negativised sex and the body and women to almost incomprehensible lengths [Google some of his sayings], while Jerome was so uncomfortable with sex, and probably his own gay sexuality, that he couldn’t even countenance the apostles having sex with their own wives.

St Paul himself also seems to have had hang-ups if the accounts are to be believed. He felt the body, specifically here the genitals, were “unseemly” or “parts that are unpresentable” (1 Cor 12: 23), something we do not hold to today. In my teaching at the University, I regularly teach 3rd year medical students to avoid all such embarrassment and shame language whether articulated or on facial expression or body language with their patients who might have sexual issues. The last thing we want is to treat the body, something that every human being possesses, with Pauline unseemlyness.
It seems that, if he could have his way, his basic position was no sex at all, but that concessions would be allowed due to, what he calls, sexual immorality, or what I might call, desire. “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Cor 7: 1). That’s his foundation statement. It’s good for a guy not to have sex. That’s where he starts. In verse 5, he sets sexual activity up against prayer; the old sex is earthy and a bit nasty but prayer is transcendent and beautiful. “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” It’s as if he feels we can’t have sex with our spouses AND be prayerful. Finally in verse 7, Paul announces his greatest wish, a return to his fundamental position in verse 1. “I wish that all of you were as I am.” Paul really wanted them all to be celibate - like him. Given that he more than likely expected Christ’s return within his own lifetime, he was probably not too concerned by the notion of the human race dying out should every adult become celibate.

When I read Paul in relation to the body, to sex, to marriage, to desire, I always get the impression I am reading someone who is immature and na├»ve, someone uncomfortable with sex, someone probably uncomfortable with his own sexuality and body. He would rather people didn’t marry but says that “it’s better to marry than burn with passion” (v9), whereas in today’s world, we would be more comfortable with the idea of burning with passion, with the notion of being horny or being aroused or really wanting to have sex. For us, there is not the association with it of being a rejection of God; a sin. Paul’s own neuroses about sex undoubtedly influenced the church fathers and subsequent leaders as they fashioned the early church and that, refined in the middle ages by celibate monk-scholars so that we have become the beneficiaries of a skewed and harmful view of human sexuality that urgently needs correction.


When you control someone’s sexuality, in effect, you control their life. When you have the power to say who can have sex with whom, what kind of sex is acceptable, when it is acceptable to have sex, who can marry whom, who can have children, who cannot, or whether using contraception is acceptable, you are wielding immense social power. The Christian Church has been able to associate all these factors with the notion of orthodox belief which shamefully has had the otherworldly focus of who gets to go to heaven and who doesn’t. Even worse, who has to go to the other place. Sex has been historically conjoined with who is a good person, a Christian, and who is a bad person, an unbeliever. Now that is power. They can control what people will be permitted to do, on pain of losing their eternal salvation, by declaring the tenets of the faith and the religious and even eternal sanctions against those who disobey. This keeps people coming to church, giving the church their loyalty, their time, their energy, their strength, their tithes and offerings and keeping the whole show running.

Cyncial? You betcha. This control over the human body has been wielded by good men and bad over the centuries over that most basic of our needs: our need to sexually connect. We still see the Catholic Church today forbidding the use of contraception and declaring the use of it to be a sin. And of course, we have seen the hypocrites too. Think of former televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker ostentatiously prancing around a stage declaring what God wants for all of us, while surreptitiously both were betraying their wives’ trust and having extra-marital sexual encounters and affairs. Celibacy can control people. It is linked especially today to the unmarried and to the whole gay population. It is still linked with spirituality and is a controlling mechanism to get people to conform to a particular point of view.


From what I have said of the church above and elsewhere, it is apparent that the church has had a long entrenched history of the fear of sex and the body and desire: erophobia. It has never been comfortable with sex. It does not know how to deal with it. Celibate priests have often never really been wholly trusted by sexually active men and seen to be somehow lesser or inadequate or effeminate. Priests themselves have had a dreadful history up to the mid twentieth century of talking about sex in such a derogatory and denigrating way. Some of the ‘marriage counselling’ that celibate priests have given out to sexually active married people would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Historically, with an all-male celibate priesthood, there has been a long mistrust and lack of comprehension of women and their sexuality. The church has never understood women and still does not today. Misogyny has always been a part of the Christian church. A gay man was always thought to be effeminate and thus more womanly and to be repudiated. The fear and distrust of the body and its church enforced association with sin has done a great disservice to humanity in general; a position that sorely needs correction.

Celibacy and the Gay Person

I take as my premise that the Bible does not speak about gay sexuality as we know and understand it today. I have spelled this out in the book and elsewhere on this blog and in interviews in no uncertain terms. The Bible does talk about homogenital activity and does so in only a few places but its various texts do not address the modern concept of sexual orientation. The Bible has nothing to say about how I should live my gay life. It does have plenty to say about how I should relate to God and how I should treat other people, but it comes up short as guide book on how to live a healthy and authentic gay life. Given that I now believe that our purpose in this life, at least at one level, is to become, then I see that my becoming the best I can be, the most I can be with my particular temperament, my particular personality, my particular intelligence, my particular giftings and aptitudes, my particular interests, is in a sense, my mission in life. It is to enter into the ‘mostness’ of my own humanity. But as a Christian person, I also want to assist the ‘realm of God’ as Jesus spoke of it, in spreading peace and justice to my part of the world with especial care taken for the marginalised, for ‘the least of these.’ Now part of my ‘becoming’ in my own humanity is my personal journey in sexuality. It is not the same journey that straight people go through; it is quite different.

On pages 68 and 69 of Being Gay Being Christian, I discuss the formation of gay identity and use the Cass model to discuss the various stages that most gay people typically traverse more or less. This is a great example of becoming if ever there were one. A vast change where I learn to accept myself, like myself, and begin to slough off the shame of being gay personally and publicly. It is a process. My deepest emotions are accessed over that time. I get in touch with the need to love and be loved. I engage the need to touch and be touched. And of course this is in a same gender context, the normalcy and goodness of fit in such experiences expressing themselves strongly as I begin to feel at home. Enforced involuntary celibacy, after such a journey to self, would be a massive insult to sexual and emotional health; a boulder blocking the highway of a healthy sexual self. We are left to wend our way through this for ourselves and within the confines of our own consciences. Estrangement by disrespect, either to self, to another or to God, is to be avoided.

A behaviour that on one side of a religious divide is considered acceptable and healthy and on the other side of that divide is considered sinful and rejecting of God obviously has a sense of neutrality about it. It is obviously not the behaviour in and of itself that is the most important thing here ethically. A little like eating meat if you were Catholic pre-Vatican II (1960s). You could eat meat any day, but on Friday you were expected not to eat meat. A religious meaning was imposed on it. Eating meat itself was neutral. The religious imposition made it sinful on Fridays. Sex is similar. It is an intimate act of connection. Without the religious imposition, which is how most of society now views it, it can be an act of intimacy, exploration or friendly connection. It is not viewed in terms of sin and rejection of God. With the religious imposition, outside of heterosexual marriage it is a sin and a rejection of God’s way. Same act. Different meanings. I would argue in today’s world where churches just accept that there are few virgins walking down aisles and even fewer virginal grooms waiting for them at the front of the church, that the rule or the religious imposition should also not be the most important thing. Far more, it should be the respect for the self within personal conscience. Denying the identity is not respecting and looking after yourself. Acting like a eunuch when you are not one is not respecting yourself. Torturing yourself is not respecting yourself. Loving someone is a precious gift. It is a fundamental need to love and to be loved. Most human beings desire someone special in their lives. We often try various relationships before we settle on someone. Most people do, and many of them are Christians who go to church. During that time, we learn so much about ourselves, about the other person, about how relationships do and don’t work. It is good material. It is participating in the adult world.

Gay people need to be able to do this too like our straight brothers and sisters already do. And we need to be able to do this in a way that is healthy and respectful and that does not have Bible verse hand grenades thrown at us from the sidelines as though any straight fundamentalist could possibly understand our journey or where we are coming from. For most human beings, perhaps a time of exploration in the early twenties, most human beings associate sex with love. Loving relationships that are fulfilling and meet so many needs are integral to the stability of a healthy adult life. It is frankly nonsensical in today’s world to state that because I am gay AND happen to be a follower of Jesus that I have to deny part of my identity for the rest of my life; and to do so when I don’t actually believe God is demanding that of me at all.

I am created a gay person. A healthy and respectful expression of my sexuality is not only to be permitted but encouraged. No analogy suffices but it’s like saying you can be a singer but you cannot sing. Then in what way am I a singer? You can be a psychologist, but you can never act as one. Then in what way am I a psychologist? You can be a dancer, but you must never dance. Then in what way am I a dancer? How can I be something when I cannot express its beingness? And please don’t come back at me and say, ‘you can be a murderer, but you will never murder anyone again,’ or some such. That analogy falls down in that a murderer is obviously an ethically abhorrent referent where as a gay sexuality like a straight sexuality or a singer, psychologist or dancer are all ethically neutral referents.

I can only see involuntary enforced celibacy on gay Christian people as being immoral and unjust. Such an enforcement or teaching is harmful to people and loads the vulnerable with an unparalleled psychological burden. It destines loving people to loneliness, sexual and sensual isolation and is unnecessary when weighed up against competing notions of stable psychology, the avoidance of psychopathology like depression, a fair go at achieving happiness in life, the necessity of Biblical context, historical church erophobia, the illogic of ontology not being able to express itself and the lack of humanity and compassion inherent in imposed celibacy.

If you are gay or LGBT and a follower of Jesus, then you have a right, some might even say a duty, to become, although the Spirit of God will never coerce, only ever invite. You have been created a gay person and you have as much of the favour and love of God as any straight person. You are meant to grow, to develop into the you you can be. Abundant life, Jesus called it. Your faith does not exclude you from being gay nor does it exclude you from expressing your sexuality, part of your identity. Your faith does not exclude you from loving. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that God would create you as being a gay person and then torture you by forbidding you to act on it. Unlike strict evangelicals, I hold exactly the same view for straight people. Our human life is both wonderful and challenging. As mammals, we are designed to be social animals. We are gregarious to greater and lesser degrees. We need other human beings around us to function well. Most of us need a special someone eventually to hold that place of greatest intimacy and companionship. Gay people need that special someone too. 

Celibacy is an outdated idea and a failed experiment set up by ancient men who had very skewed ideas about human sexuality. It is time we discarded it and stopped altogether associating sex, the body and desire with sin and rejection of God. It is not. It is part of who we are. It is part of what makes us human. 

Don’t let yourself be coerced into committing your life this way. I cannot for the life of me understand how such isolation and denial of identity would be pleasing to a loving God, unless he's a sadist. And if you have already committed your life to celibacy, I challenge you to re-think. Your life of sexual and sensual isolation does not make you any more holy, any more acceptable to God, any more open to God. Time for a re-think.

This is my position. I offer it not to tell you how to live, what to do or what not to do, but for your consideration and prayerful contemplation.

Pax et Amor - Stuart