Expert Advice: Celibacy & Religion


Expert Advice: Celibacy & Religion

by Broderick Greer, Master’s of Divinity student

Our son just came out to us as gay. We are religious, and while we accept and love our son for who he is, our beliefs tell us that he should not act on his desires. Our belief is that he should remain celibate, and we have communicated this with him... but he does not agree. How do we handle this?
— Anonymous

Broderick Says:

I am writing this response as a son, not as a parent. Since I do not have children of my own, it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I know what it is like to have a son or daughter tell me he or she is gay. Even though I do not know what it’s like to be a parent in this situation, I do know what it’s like to disclose my sexual orientation. It can be like a shot into the dark or a seed planted with no assurance of healthy fruition. Your son has taken the risk of exposing himself to possible ridicule, bigotry, malice, and violence (both emotional and physical). This is not the time to lecture him about his desires. It is the time to listen to him. When I say listen, I don’t mean simply nodding your head and acknowledging he’s talking. I mean hearing him and giving him the space to be the human being God made him to be. 

Jesus practiced this sort of listening all throughout his life. Instead of berating the woman caught in adultery, Jesus distracts the vigilantes who want her dead by writing on the ground with his finger. After this, he said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” He created the space for the ravenous crowd to look inside, inspect themselves, and leave the woman alone. That is the sort of space your son needs. He needs the space to explore his sexual orientation, ask questions, and take risks. In short, your son needs room to be human. Imagine the courage and moral fortitude it took for him to disclose his sexual orientation to you. Imagine the conflict he is experiencing knowing that his sense of self does not match up with his parents’ views around human sexuality. Be gentle with him. Take a moment and allow Jesus write on the ground of your family’s life. Pause. Do not judge. Put your stones down.

There are many faithful voices that advocate for the full sexual and romantic expression of Christians who are gay and lesbian. Being a Christian does not necessarily make one opposed to gay companionship. If Jesus teaches us anything in his life, he teaches us that God, in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, is not either/or. Jesus embodies a God who is expansive enough to love people who think gay people should be celibate and people who think gay people should enjoy the same right as gay people to marry. The diversity of God’s creation - hippos and aardvarks, mountains and plateaus - is a verbose testimony to God’s capacity to tolerate, encourage, and enjoy the wide spectrum of sexual orientations and sexual identities. Do not limit the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Allow yourself to be surprised by this illusive, mischievous Person.

In that vein, I would like to offer a few resources that have proven helpful to me on my journey to integrate my Christian and gay identities:

The Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng is a theologian, professor and ordained minister whose series of Huffington Post Religion essays in 2010 helped me come to terms with my own sexual orientation (especially this one). His books are a must have for any person who wants a well-rounded understanding of modern Christian interpretations of sexuality.

Brent Bailey is a Master of Divinity student at Abilene Christian University’s School of Theology. His blog on living as Christian and gay came to me at an important juncture in my journey. We both come from Churches of Christ and graduated from universities affiliated with that denomination. He is a thoughtful, fair voice in this ongoing conversation.

Our Selves, Our Souls, & Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God is a collection of essays by leading figures in the Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Christianity. As a Christian who follows Jesus in the Anglican tradition, I find this book to be a faithful, lively conversation partner. It takes the intersection of sexuality, Scripture, tradition, and human experience seriously, even if it is a bit dated. Rowan Williams’ essay is worth the whole price of the book.

I also recommend this, and this. My list could go on and on. If only there were enough moments in a lifetime to take this conversation in!

As you know, a profound part of sexual experience is nakedness. Deeper than that physical nakedness though, is the nakedness one experiences before God as a bare, vulnerable human being. This divine nudity of self can be lonely at times. It can be suffocating. It can be overwhelming. Allow yourself to be naked before God. In that nakedness you will find mercy and only mercy. Jesus Christ is not interested in you or son living lives defined by shame or guilt. Jesus is inviting you into a life of fearlessness, a life defined by his abundant love and faithfulness. Rest in that love. Share it with your son. Answers may not follow, but love will.

Broderick Greer was reared in Texas, went to college in Tennessee, and is now a master’s of divinity student at Virginia Theological Seminary. He enjoys jogging, traveling, Beyoncé, politics, and vanilla milkshakes.