Side B Christians and the Restoration of Celibacy, part 1

This is the first of a short series of blogs seeking to explore the rise of same-sex attracted men and women who have embraced celibacy.  All of us are aware of the current conversations both with and about LGBT peoples and practices.  Asbury Seminary was blessed a few weeks ago to host Dr. Preston Sprinkle on our campus.  Dr. Sprinkle has written a book, A People to be Loved, which has been a blessing to many in our community and around the world.  While, sadly, the book does not attempt to place conversations about homosexual practice within the larger theological context of a biblical view of the body, Sprinkle does do a good job putting real “faces” on the struggles around same-sex attraction and how many have tried to remain faithful to Jesus Christ. It is no mistake that the subtitle of his book is, “Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue.”  This is the greatest contribution of Preston Sprinkle.  He brings you into the inner struggles of individuals and families as they struggle over what he calls “thick” questions which defy easy “thin” answers.  Sprinkle does not use heart-wrenching stories to pull you away from biblical revelation, but deeper into it.

For those of us who serve in the United Methodist Church, we have been so torn and battered by the storms of conflict over the issue of homosexuality and gender identity that it has sometimes been difficult to see this as more than a “theological” or “biblical” question to be resolved, or a debate about whether to remove a line from the Discipline.  However, over the last few years I have taken time to get to know more people who identify as SSA (same-sex attracted) and who would see themselves as gay or part of the LGBT community.  I still remain very saddened by the relentless assault on Christian orthodoxy by unfaithful pastors and episcopal leaders who are wanting to normalize same-sex behavior and gay marriage in the life of the church.  However, alongside that struggle, I have also met quite a few devoted, orthodox Christians who love God’s word, who want to serve him faithfully, but who struggle with same-sex attraction.  Many of these have exhibited enormous bravery since they are often misunderstood by those across the spectrum.  Those in the LGBT circles do not feel comfortable with their deep commitment to Christ and the Word of God, since they normally associate evangelicals as those “against” them, rather than “for” them.  However, they are also misunderstood by the evangelical Christian community because the assumption is that someone who is SSA and gay must be a practicing homosexual.   However, there are a growing number of Christians who are SSA who are hearing the deeper call to the celibate life.  These are known as Side B Christians.  Side A refers to those who identity as gay or lesbian who want to normalize same-sex behavior and who believe that homosexual marriage should be regarded as a covenant or sacrament equivalent to Christian marriage.  Side B Christians refer to people who are SSA, but who wish to live faithfully unto Jesus Christ and in total obedience to his word.  They have heard the deeper call to celibacy.  One of the important nuances in this conversation is the difference between the word “gay” (little g) and the word “Gay” (capital G).  This distinction is sometimes used to distinguish someone who is same-sex attracted but who is not practicing homosexual behavior (gay), and someone who is same-sex attracted and is sexually involved in a same-sex relationship (Gay).  There are other ways this distinction is maintained such as “practicing or non-practicing” or “celibate gay” and so forth.  What is important is not so much using certain terminology, but just understanding that this distinction does exist and is crucial in these larger conversations.

When you hear the word “unmarried,” particularly as a Protestant Christian, what comes to mind?  For many, it seems to indicate someone who has been given a lifetime sentence of loneliness.  Those who are unmarried often get well-meaning forwarded links to e-harmony or invitations to join the church’s “pairs and spares” group, and so forth.  For others, being “unmarried” means that someone is just unwilling to commit themselves deeply, or is just not gifted relationally.  These are false narratives because they underappreciate the full biblical teaching about celibacy.  These Side B Christians are helping to pioneer a whole new re-discovery of celibacy.

In the upcoming, second part in this blog series we will explore the theological basis for celibacy and how Side B Christians are helping to re-ignite this faithful practice within the church, especially in Protestant, evangelical circles.


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