OK, so huge apologies for dropping the ball on this one. I attended Living Out’s Identity conference with Tim and Kathy Keller more than two months ago, wrote my first reflection back in July, then the summer happened and I completely lost track.
So, if you need a moment to remind yourself what the conference was about, or what my first reflection was, click here.
Also, rather excitingly, Living Out have now generously made all the talks available here so you can go straight to the horse’s mouth!
Today I wanted to tell you a little about the powerful testimonies we heard throughout the day (and there’ll be a third post coming soon, to round off this trilogy, where I’ll share some reflections on Kathy’s talk, as well as some book recommendations).
When I see the issue of sexuality debated amongst Christians and those of other faiths/no faith, there seems to be an assumption that sexual fulfilment is a fundamental human right, something impossible to live without.
I have to be careful here, knowing that I’m in a marital relationship and therefore have access to this kind of fulfilment – it’s all very well for me to say that it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all – but if I couldn’t have it, would I feel the same?
Instead, I want to turn the spotlight on those who do live a celibate lifestyle, and who face these battles every day.
During the conference, four people in this situation shared their stories, and I was struck by just how joyful and fulfilled they came across! Anne’s situation was particularly inspiring – she lives with a friend, and the two of them have an open, hospitable home, sharing time, meals and space with others who need it.
Whatever the many battles she faces, Anne obviously receives so much love and support from the many close friendships she has – she’s not lonely or isolated, in fact her life seems quite the opposite: full of people and fun, in a way that marriage doesn’t always allow.
Then there was Jeanette, older than the others who shared their stories – maybe in her 50s/60s – so she knows about stamina when it comes to celibacy. But again, her life seems very fulfilling. She’s a writer and speaker, and has close Christian friendships at her church.
A young guy whose name I can’t recall is about to start training for ordination. He kicked off the day with a challenge that knocked me for six (excuse the paraphrase): “The church needs to stop talking about sacrificial living for gay Christians, and start talking about the sacrificial living required of all of us.”
In other words, he is able to see his sacrifice of sexual fulfilment as part of a wider discipleship narrative, part of the cross he has to bear (Matthew 16:24), and acknowledges that all of us, if we are trying to listen to God, will be called to make decisions which are costly.
When I see, often on social media, people advocating for Christians to be able to act upon their sexual desires, the rhetoric is often tense, bitter, forceful and arrogant. (Note, it’s not often gay Christians themselves who converse like this, but straight Christians speaking on their behalf!)
I guess on the one hand this is unsurprising. After all, if you feel strongly that a particular community has been mistreated for a number of years, you’re likely going to express that passionately, in order to tip the balance back again.
But what struck me from the testimonies shared at this conference was the kindness, gentleness, compassion and downright joy of all four speakers! None of them had any arrogance whatsoever. None of them were arguing that all should believe or act as they do. They simply shared their stories of faith and God’s calling with a huge amount of grace and good humour.
Another important aspect of all four speakers was that they appeared totally comfortable with their sexuality. There was no sinister talk of conversion therapy or any other potentially dodgy practices. All of them confidently identified as gay – and yet they were able to feel comfortable without practising their sexuality.
This gave me much food for thought as to what it means to be a sexual being, and to what extent our sexuality needs to be acted upon.
Whether we agree with the stance of these celibate gay Christians or not, it’s impossible to argue with their stories, their lives.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if we’re happy to welcome gay people in our churches who are practising their sexuality, then we also need to make space for those who have chosen a celibate lifestyle. The world will mock them – so our churches need to be a place where such brothers and sisters and loved, supported and nurtured.
If you follow this link, you can hear their stories for yourself. I hope you enjoy them.
And don’t forget my third and final reflection here!
You may also be interested in:
- Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (book review)
- Identity and Culture (reflections, part 1, from the Living Out conference)
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