There’s a quiet transformation going on within conservative Christianity (at least in Europe and North America). As the evidence that homsexuality is a real and natural phenomenon which cannot be gotten rid of by therapy this seems to be softening attitudes.
Perhaps inevitably celibacy has emerged as a way of squaring the circle of acknowledging homosexuality to be a biological fact and continuing to (erroneously) maintain that the Bible condemns it.
In an excellent article for Salon Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart goes in search of the ‘B siders’ – celibate LGBTQ Christians – and finds a fascinating group, who often find themselves in the lonely position of being attacked from within the gay rights movement and treated with suspicion by fellow conservative Christians:
All the B Siders I talked to were eager to combat the widespread view of celibacy as necessarily leading to a life of unending loneliness and isolation. In fact, many of the discussions they have among themselves have moved past the question of whether and why to remain celibate and on to how one can do so and still live a fulfilling life. This more practical, positive focus is intended to address something they believe has long been lacking in the mostly negative messages that their faith communities have long presented to LGBTQ people.
In fact, the B siders I spoke with were quick to offer critiques of homophobia within Christian communities, which surprised me, considering that they’d organized their lives around adhering to their rules. Ron Belgau, who co-founded the Spiritual Friendship blog to address the question of how celibate LGBT people can find intimacy and connection within Christian communities, summed up their frustrations by saying: “Most of [the Roman Catholic Church’s] thinking is no you can’t have sex; no you can’t go into the priesthood—they shut various doors, but there’s a need to talk about, OK, no we can’t have sex but what can we do? How can we serve the church?” Eve Tushnet, another B sider I spoke with, is writing a book to address this same conundrum. For her, the most important issue is not rule-following but “the question of how do you lead a good, fruitful life within a Catholic tradition [and] increase the tenderness and beauty in the world?”
For those of us with a more secular mindset, this might seem like a strange point to advocate so passionately for—but in the context of a silencing, closed, homophobic church culture, these Side B voices and the challenges they present may reach conservative communities that would shut out any other sorts of LGBTQ voices. That is Belgau’s view. “I think trying to shift the conversation away on Christian terms has had a significant impact. A strident gay rights voice would not be heard by the Christian right, where remaining within Christian traditions can,” he told me.
A celibate lifestyle falls pretty far outside the mainstream for most Americans, but there’s a lot in the Side B blogosphere that can stimulate fruitful reflection for those of us beyond its borders. They tackle issues like: How are people who remain unpartnered to fill their human need for intimacy and connection? How can we foster community and connection in a modern world that grows ever more alienating and complex? Why has friendship become so devalued—and whoever said that true intimacy could only be found in the context of a romantic relationship, anyway? If you’ve ever pondered these sorts of questions (and I certainly have), then there are worse places to go looking for thoughtful discussion of them than the blogs of celibate LGBTQ Christians.
Urquhart finds herself conflicted about the ‘b siders.’ As the extract above indicates she clearly feels an affinity for them but also to at one point being “filled with a desire to argue and confront the B Siders, to force them to choose sides and reveal themselves as enemies of queer people.”
I share her befuddlement. On the one hand I admire the honesty and commitment their position implies, and indeed the creativity with which they appear to responding to a difficult position. However, my main response is concern. I fear that this might become the new holding pattern for intolerance within the church: we will accept you but only at the price of your relationships and your sexual fulfillment. That’s placing on gay people a burden the rest of us would recoil from. That’s not fair and it’s not Christian.