Intended for Love – Part 2: The Consequences of Materialistic Sex & Gnostic Friendships

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This post is part of an ongoing series. If you have not read Part 1, I would highly encourage you to do so before continuing. 


In the previous post of this series, I argued that we have mistaken ourselves to be creatures simply looking for sex rather than creatures who are fundamentally driven by love and in result have been left lonely and disconnected. In that post, I sought to define those two contrasting frameworks in detail while in this post I have sought to present some of the more specific consequences of operating out of that sex-seeking framework. To clarify these consequences, I have broken this post into two parts: “Consequences in Culture” and “Consequences in the Church”. The final third of this series will seek to explore some of the possibilities of moving forward within a love-driven framework.

1) Consequences in Culture

One of the most day-to-day consequences that I have seen played out in our culture while operating out of this sex-seeking framework is the sexualization and decline of friendship. As a man in our culture, for instance, I have found it increasingly difficult to pursue rich and intimate friendships with people of either the same or opposite sex without eyebrows being raised. If I put an arm around another guy, will people assume that we are sleeping in the same bed? If I give a big hug to a female friend of mine will people assume we are romantic lovers?  As a male, the solution it often seems to maintaining reasonable friendships is to remain at a physical and emotional distance with anyone who is not considered my romantic interest. Closeness would seem to be reserved for only those I want to be sexually intimate.

If we are creatures that are primarily just seeking sex and in result use relationships for that end, this consequence should come as no surprise. When we are seen as creatures fundamentally in need of sex, nearly any relationship could devolve into a sexual one. Why would they not if we are truly wired to use friendships as a means to an end? With this in mind, friendships are and have been on the decline in several ways.

If sex is the primary thing we need from people, those friends of ours that we are not sexually attracted to will always become secondary to those friends of ours that we are attracted to. Or for those married, when attractions waver for our spouses so will doubts arise of the one in whom we are committed. Only those that we are or continue to be romantically or sexually attracted to can really offer us what we most desperately need in this life (so we think). Not only will marriages suffer, but as singles we will often feel at arm’s length with friends because we do not want to or appear to sexualize a seemingly non-sexual relationship. And these fickle relationships will typically deteriorate when we are offered a relationship that will give us what we think will finally fulfill us. If you have ever been in your early to mid-twenties as a single person watching your friends get married, you might know this sort of experience.

To clarify, when I say “friendships” I mean both friendships existing outside and inside of marriage. Certainly friendship between spouses must exist in a healthy marriage, and it is evident that the sexualization of friendship has had a significant impact on friendships within marriage as well. As a celibate person, I have obviously never experienced what it is like to be married, but as far as I know when a marriage is built upon how good the sex is within it, it will eventually crumple. When sexual gratification becomes the glue of marriage, marriages will fail. Seeing ourselves as ultimately sex-seeking creatures, instead of love-driven creatures, has devalued marriages as well as the friendships within them. This I assume is because as soon as the other is unable to fulfill us sexually we will assume we are being denied “the good life” and/or our proper “soul-mate”. We see sexual satisfaction as a sort of evidence or indicator of true love rather than sex as a gift within committed and covenantal love, and as a result, we have brought an incredible strain on marriage.

If we continue to believe that love is contingent on sex rather than sex being contingent on love, marriages will begin to fail as soon as you board the flight back from your honeymoon. Of course sex is good and healthy for flourishing marriages, but like all good things that become ultimately necessary things, they cripple us. This seems to be a significant reason why this generation has such anxiety about marriage and why “Tinder” and other outlets for easy hook-ups have become more and more common. Why get married when you can find uncommitted erotic pleasure outside of marriage? Why not live with your significant other before you get married so you will know for sure if the sex will be good or not? Marriage within this framework becomes constrictive and unsustainable, and still, it is not the singular victim either… chaste singleness also becomes an absurdity.

As a person in campus ministry practicing chastity, it is interesting to see the response I get when I mention to people on a progressive campus that I am both committed to vocational singleness and yet still believe sex is reserved for the context of marriage. Responses like these are not unexpected: “Aren’t you hurting yourself by doing that? That seems really repressive.” If this sex-seeking framework were true, this response would absolutely be right. If we need sex to live, chastity could very well be considered a form a self-harm. However, if we actually need love to live rather than sex, sex should be treated as supplementary rather than necessary. I would even go so far to say that because we treat sex as something necessary to live, we will inevitably use others for the sake of sex.

It is not hard to spot how destructively sex-saturated our culture has become with the rampancy of pornography, sex-trafficking, and casual sex. If sexual freedom has become one of the gods of our time, using others (even consensually) for our own sexual gain would seem to be the worship of that god. Our culture of consumeristic materialism has made our own pleasure and happiness the ultimate good. Like a post-apocalyptic story in which people resort to cannibalism out of a need for food, it seems we will treat sex the same way if we can not find it by normal means. If we continue to operate as simply sex-seeking creatures we will do whatever it takes to continue to hopelessly seek after that sensual end even at the expense of others or ourselves. The astronomical rise of pornographic films and pornography usage should be clear evidence of this. Not only as we pursue sexual freedom and fulfillment do we slowly diminish the value of sex but this materialistic view of sex also leaves sex devoid of its spiritual purpose.

There are spiritual consequences of reckless, consumeristic sex that are easy to become immune to if we continue under the assumption that it will eventually meet our deepest longing. As sex loses its material purpose so too does it become easier to lose sight of its transcendental purpose. To put it another way: if our sexuality and spirituality are fundamentally linked (as I briefly argued in Part 1) then there is a correlation between the mishandling of sex and the increased harm of our own souls. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce says it far better than I ever could, “There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” A dramatic consequence of stopping at sexual liberation for what we think will give us ultimate joy is missing out on what we were intended for. And I believe we as a culture have been duped into worshiping brass as gold… and sexual freedom as God.

2) Consequences in the Church

While our culture has found it tempting to undervalue and overuse sex, I believe the church, out of the sex-seeking framework, has been tempted to overvalue and idolize sex in its proper context: marriage. However, in response to our culture’s materialistic views of sex we have begun to swing towards an almost Gnostic view of all other non-marital relationships. As a by-product of the sex-seeking framework, we have inadvertently assumed that marriage is the only place in which it is appropriate for two bodies to be remotely close to each other both literally and in the sense of consistent physical community.

As culture has made sexual liberation the cardinal virtue, it seems the church has similarly responded by making sex within marriage the cardinal virtue. While sex within marriage is certainly a beautiful thing, an over-emphasis of it has seemed to under-emphasize that we as humans need so much more than just sex to flourish relationally. If we continue to operate under the assumption that we are creatures who need sex to stay sane, we will continue to push for all people to get married, and in the process will undervalue intimate friendship outside of marriage because it seems too risky a thing to pursue.

This is where the consequences in culture and church overlap the most. Whereas culture condones or even applauds friendships that become sexualized, the church on the opposite end seems terrified of them. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons there is such a push to get married and not to remain single or celibate within the church. It is as if we believe the quick fix to sexual licentiousness is getting married while being single is asking for some grand, sexual failure to occur. And as a single person in the church I feel this. It is not uncommon that I find myself increasingly pushed to date this or that woman in the church so I can finally become a mature individual. It is also not uncommon that I find myself increasingly hesitant to get too close to another single person for the fear that people will assume we are either romantically interested or sexually intimate. This sort of fear breeds isolation and kills community.

Do not get me wrong, the church still seems to value friendship and community. However, it often feels as though it is a Gnostic form of friendship that we are seeking… or in simpler terms, a view of friendship that excludes bodily contact or physical presence. This gnostic view of friendship seems to be a by-product of the sex-seeking framework in which has significant consequences within the church. I understand that living in a hyper-sexualized culture means that healthy physical affection can quickly and easily be overstepped, but in our attempts to remedy the situation, we have also been too fearful to take any steps at all. In a similar way to our social-media crazed culture, our church communities have often neglected to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship that includes consistent physical presence or sensory connection (outside of the friendly handshake or once a month meeting over coffee). Tragically, we have been left clueless on how to provide that sort of atmosphere and continue to just push people to marriage. Not only does this leave single people without a script for vocational, chaste singleness that includes healthy amounts of intimacy, but it also places an ungodly amount of pressure on these marriages.

This lack of a script for singleness and this huge weight upon the script of marriage has serious ramifications for those in our churches, whether married or single. For those married, this over-emphasis can often leave many families feeling isolated and left to survive on their own strength. If marriage is supposed to be the exclusive route to human flourishing, what happens then if aspects of those marriages feel empty? If marriage is supposed to be the solution for physical and emotional loneliness, how then do we give support and a voice to those struggling in marriages? Single people need close friendships, and families likewise need those friendships. Marriages should never exist in a vacuum, nor should singles exist to themselves.

Whether it is the woman who has yet to have a man pursue her or a man who is celibate because of his sexual orientation, there are people in our churches who may never get married. That is a reality. And as someone in this category, I have found this lack of a script for singleness troubling. Not only does it unintentionally feel like there is no room for me (and others like me) in the church, but I often feel as though I become either the object of people’s pity or suspicion. Being single in the church often feels like being Pluto among the planets in our solar system… (Pluto is not a planet). And if I do not belong among the planets, do I belong among the asteroids or in the solar system next to us? This lack of a script encourages many of us to move on rather than to utilize the benefits of celibacy and singleness for the greater church community- both among families and other single people. On missing out on this script of singleness, I believe we also miss out on a fundamental characteristic of God.

I have often wondered why God created Adam initially by himself without Eve. Certainly, it was incomplete without Eve, but I still am struck by the fact that God created in the order that he did. It is not as if he just created Adam and Eve at the same time, but he created Adam, then put him to work in the garden, and then declared that it was not good for man to be alone. I have a hunch that in God doing this He wanted to show us something of his nature. Not only do we reflect God in marriage but we also reflect him in singleness. And I think Johnathan Grant nails it in his book Divine Sex. He says, “Whereas marriage reflects the intimate bond within the Godhead, singleness expresses God’s ever-expanding love for his Creation…Christian singleness must be affirmed as a positive vision of life because it engages our sexuality rather than ascetically rejecting it.” While most of the sexual energy in marriage goes primarily towards the cultivation of the marriage (and subsequently on the lives of those around it), singles have the benefit of using that sexual energy more widely in the cultivation of the Earth and in the lives of those around them. Without this affirmative view of singleness, I believe we have deprived our communities of a reflection and embodiment of God’s character in the lives of single people within the church.

Not only do we lack a compelling script for single people in the church and increase the burden on marriage with a singular script, but we have also bought into a reductive view of human sexuality in presupposing the sex-seeking framework. If sexuality is really just about the pursuit of sex, then we are essentially reducing ourselves into animals. And one of the greatest arguments against this anthropology is in the person of Jesus who was both fully God and fully man – which includes a sexual nature. Even with this sexual nature, Jesus remained chaste while simultaneously being perfectly sexual. This seems ridiculous to even write out, but Jesus did not move towards others so that He could sexually gratify Himself. Rather, out of his sexuality, He moved towards people in love. In Genesis, we learn that God created sexuality before the Fall, and that the Fall has seriously disordered our originally good sexualities. Yet, Jesus the Incarnate Son of God used his sexuality as it was intended – to move towards others in love and to cultivate life. His sexuality expressed in singleness was used in his “ever-expanding love for His creation” and, yes, his sexuality expressed in marriage was, is, and will be used in the love, pursuit, and consummation of His Bride in the long-awaited marriage of the Lamb. In reducing our humanity not only do we reduce the image of God in which He has specifically placed in mankind but we also lose sight of the Love our love-driven natures were intended for.


These consequences have certainly forced us into paying a heavy toll on ourselves, our relationships, and in our communities. However, these consequences should help lead us to believe that perhaps our assumptions have been drastically off. Rather than just trying to survive as creatures in dire need of sexual gratification, instead, we can begin assuming and seeing the fruit of living out of the reality that we are in reality, love-driven creatures.

I hate to leave posts hanging like this. It absolutely bothers me when people make mention of loads of issues but leave it as if there is nothing to be done but be miserable and despair, and it seems as if I am doing that very thing here. I urge you though to please wait for the final part of this series in which I hope to begin a conversation on what it may look like as we begin to address these issues and grow in intimacy as love-driven creatures.


*Stay tuned for “Intended for Love – Part 3: The Fruit of Love-Driven Creatures”*

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A Quick Review: “The Soul of Shame” by Curt Thompson M.D.

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It often feels like to be human is to live with the ever-present, often insidious disease known as shame. According to Curt Thompson in his newest book, The Soul of Shame, shame has been at work within the whole of humanity’s collective and individual stories extending back as far as Adam & Eve’s.

Shame, Thompson says, is at its fundamental level a spiritual & biological plague with consequences as dire as increasing isolation & disconnection, chaotic states of mind and behavior, and diminished vocational and interpersonal creativity (among a multitude of other symptoms). These of course are all assumed to be relating to only individual persons, but Thompson, in the latter half of his book, commits to discussing how shame when left unchecked can bring about disastrous results in our churches, communities, and homes.

This discussion I found to be particularly helpful as much of what Thompson assumes in talking about shame is that it exists to rupture our God-bearing reflection as relational beings. To put it another way: shame would not exist if we were not relational. It is not to say that shame does not start personally, it certainly does, but it always involves another(s): “humans tend to experience no greater distress than when in relationships of intentional, unqualified abandonment- abandoned physically and left out of the mind of the other. With shame, I not only sense that something is deeply wrong with me, but accompanying this is the naturally extended consequence that because of this profound flaw, you will eventually want nothing to do with me…”

Thompson makes the case that shame was present and utilized by the serpent to help bring about the disruption between humans and God and humans with themselves. When we doubt our connection with others, or doubt that God really, actually, likes us, shame is often at work. Shame was secretly at work during the temptation to eat the fruit, and it was noticeably present when Adam and Eve realized that they were vulnerable and needed to be covered. And in the act of covering themselves, a wall was erected between them, a wall that exists with each of us. Adam and Eve started in the garden perfectly vulnerable, perfectly without shame, and in perfect intimacy with God and themselves. With the presence of shame, their eyes were opened, they saw their naked selves as inadequate, their failures were magnified, and they resulted to hiding from each other by covering themselves and hiding from God in a literal sense.

Shame destroys our connectedness with others. Just as Adam and Eve sought each other or another to accuse after the Fall, Thompson reminds us that “shamed people shame people.” And here we have shame’s arrival into the world through friendships, families, and communities in a self-destructive and rampant progression.

Obviously this book is much more than just a diagnosis, but certainly the diagnosis is critical. One of the reasons I initially found this book unique is because of Thompson’s psychiatric expertise and insight into the neurological effects of shame on the brain. What most can only talk about abstractly, Thompson can talk about scientifically. Yet since I am not a scientist or a doctor, I can not verify what he says is true nor speak into it very well, but he certainly backs himself.

And like any good doctor, Thompson provides a treatment option to such a malady. The almost paradoxical nature of shame is that in an attempt to not be abandoned, we cover ourselves and hide, thus resulting in our own isolation and self-abandonment. We long for intimacy but are frightened by what others may really see when we begin discarding the fig leaves of our own social status, career achievements, perfect family, theological correctness, and the myriad of ways we try to cover up our utter nakedness.

Like a returning to Eden, vulnerability is the only means by which we can taste the intimacy we once had. However, it often feels like death. It leaves us open to hurt, to rejection, to betrayal, to pain, and, yes in an extreme sense, death. Often vulnerability is spoken of as an act, but Thompson rightly reminds us, “it is something we are.” It is how we were created. Thompson even says, “It begins in the beginning where we are introduced to a vulnerable God. Vulnerable in the sense that he is open to wounding. Open to pain. Open to rejection. Open to death.”

Shame wants nothing more than our own isolation and eventual self-destruction. In light of many recent studies on the lethality of loneliness, I do not find shame’s goals so far-fetched. If shame seeks our isolation then its greatest nemesis is intimacy – to be fully known & exposed and fully loved. And Thompson goes to explain that, “We can love God, love ourselves, or love others only to the degree that we are known by God and known by others.” He does not simplify this as just positive thinking either as some often do. As a psychiatrist, he recognizes that this work of being known requires immense difficulty and risk. It requires honest confrontation and soul excavation with God and friends and often therapists. But it also requires knowing the vulnerable God naked and crucified.

Without an incarnate Jesus stripped naked on a cross, we would have no assurance of being loved in our nakedness:
“Jesus’ literal naked vulnerability is a testimony to us that he knows exactly what it is like to be us. To truly be with us Jesus not only knows what it means to be vulnerable, he knows how painfully, frighteningly hard it is to live into it, given shame’s threat… To this God, whom we meet in Jesus, we must direct our attention if we are to know the healing of our shame. We must literally look to Jesus in embodied ways in order to know how being loved in community brings shame to its knees and lifts us up and into acts of goodness and beauty.”

Thompson with this theological framework leads into numerous practical applications of living lives of intimate connectedness with others and explains that when shame begins to lose its grip on us that we may find the energy we once used for hiding for creative purposes in our vocations, hobbies, and relationships. Like a falling back into Eden, once the head of shame is crushed (although not entirely vanquished in this life), we will again be able to create and live as we once did in intimacy with our God and our friends.

A Follow-up Q&A on Homosexuality and Christianity

kHjKZ4yA Follow-up FAQ to “Falling Through the Cracks of Same-Sex & Traditional Marriage”:

It has been nearly a month since I posted this article (please consider reading it before progressing), and it has received quite a bit more of a response than I could have prepared for. The response to that article spawned both thoughtful and concerning questions from readers, and it has urged me to write a follow-up post to help answer some of those questions.

I was talking to a friend recently who also writes about the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. He told me that he does not exactly enjoy writing about these vulnerably conjoined subjects. However he feels like his frustrations with the general “culture war” have left him no other choice. And I would agree, that is essentially where I stand. I do not want this to turn into a blog exclusively about sexuality. Although, as I have stated before, I do think there is a tension mingled throughout most of my writing that will hopefully be recognized even in this discussion. The intersection of my sexuality and my Christian faith is only derivative of what I actually want to write about.

I did promise a follow-up to that post though, and I felt it appropriate to answer those questions with my own knowledge on the matter. I decided to break this post into bullet-points to address these frequently asked questions. I also did not intend for this post to tread tons of new ground on conversations that are currently happening but to hopefully provide a groundwork for those interested in entering and learning from those conversations.

My hope in this post is that it would be helpful to those of you with orthodox, Christian beliefs eager to learn and longing to both love and understand your lgbt friends, neighbors, students, family members, and congregants.

  • Should you call yourself “gay” or “same-sex attracted”?
    This is a good question, and it is one I have been chewing on myself for several years now. Personally, it is only as of recently that I’ve come to somewhat of an answer. Many find that by labeling yourself as a “celibate, gay Christian you are buying into our culture’s tendency of turning sexual orientation into a primary identity. So by even using “gay” as an adjective and not as a primary identity-label, many consider that you would still be undermining your primary identity in Christ.

    From a pragmatic standpoint, I find it easier and more helpful to cut to the point in conversation with another and say “I’m gay” (to describe what I experience, not necessarily my identity) rather than having to say something like, “I experience same-sex attraction and desire.” It is unfortunate that the word to describe a same-sex, sexual orientation in our culture implies so much and carries so much baggage. However, I still think it is the simplest yet most nuanced way of describing how I experience my own sexuality. Yet, I am still not convinced that our categories for orientation are even helpful or good.

    I do sympathize with those who are against using the term “gay” to describe themselves as I recognize that in our culture it normally implies having sex, whether monogamous or otherwise, so I really do understand where some might say it is like identifying with a word that is synonymous to a dire sin. But I do believe there is drastic distinction between having gay sex and considering yourself gay (please wait til the next bullet-point to hear me out on what I mean by that).

    I also feel the alternative of saying “I’m same-sex attracted” carries both personal and theological baggage. Personally, having to limit myself in how I experience others of the same-sex feels demeaning as it does not quite describe all the ways I relate and only seems to describe how I’m erotically attracted. Theologically, there is an implication that I am solely erotically attracted to men which seems to perpetuate the idea that sexuality is only about eroticism. It not only feels demeaning to me, but it seems to reduce the depth and beauty of sexuality.

    In all honesty, I find each set of terms beset with their own particular problems. This is where I really must ask that when we have these sorts of conversations with all sorts of people coming from all kinds of backgrounds with different presuppositions that we have these discussions with nothing but the utmost gentleness and respect.

     If you do not agree with what I have said, I would ask you earnestly to consider this: if your frustration with word choice is not allowing you to listen to the experiences someone has, please value what that person has to say before you confront their word choice. I’m not asking you to agree but to first listen.

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  • Is homosexuality sinful in and of itself?
    I find this particular discussion tricky but in need of consideration. I have been to several Christian conferences and seminars on sexuality that left me feeling hurt, misunderstood, and frustrated when homosexuality got lumped into the category of hardcore pornography, masturbation, illicit sex and other active sexual sins. Distinctions need to be made between being gay and having gay sex. If homosexuality continues to get labeled as a sin in and of itself, the conversation on homosexuality will continue into the category of active sexual sins. If that is the case, speaking from experience, shame and self-loathing will quickly find a home in that individual.

    Imagine for a moment all the things you deeply love about your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, opposite-sex/same-sex friend that cause you non-erotic desire for them: wanting to be around them, talk to them, take them out, hug them, etc.. Now consider all of that being inherently sinful or disgusting. I say this to urge you to take this argument seriously as there is much at stake in the emotional lives of gay or same-sex attracted individuals including myself. 

    If homosexuality in general is sinful, sexuality would seem to be remarkably shallow. It would imply that sexuality is really only about erotic desire and not about other desires — such as relational and emotional intimacy, friendship, companionship, closeness, and a recognition of beauty (I’m only scraping the surface). I urge you to consider this: If when I see either physical or interpersonal beauty in another man, should I call that sin? For that matter, if a heterosexual man sees beauty in another man, should I call that sin? If I see it more frequently and more obviously than someone with a heterosexual orientation and subsequently have to sometimes fight the temptation of lusting or idolizing it, does that make it sinful? Do you see what I am aiming at? Sexuality is much more than just eroticism or a carnal desire for sexual gratification.

    With the “homosexuality (in general) as sin” framework, it would seem the only two options for progress in a homosexual would be a complete shift to a heterosexual orientation or a reduction of desire. If it is all bad then our only options are to make it good or eliminate it. However, this framework operates under the assumption that we have no trace of dignity within us. Since I don’t believe that to be true, and I resolutely believe in God’s words that the original creation was “very good” I think this framework is flawed. Let me explain that.

    I am not saying a homosexual orientation is not disordered. I recognize it as a result of the Fall. I recognize that sex is only permitted within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage within the boundaries of God’s holy law. Do not hear me saying that any sex outside of this is permissible, but we do need a more holistic understanding of Imago Dei, Total Depravity, and what has happened to our desires between the creation of man and the fall of man. In Reformed Christianity circles, it can be very easy to lump everything into the Total Depravity category and ignore our original dignity and goodness as image bearers of God. Though the Fall disordered good desires for things like friendship, companionship, and beauty, our answer is not to just stop all desire. If depravity assumes, as John Calvin once phrased, “a nature formerly good and pure,” sanctification is a process of restoration and renewal — NOT a process of utter annihilation. John Stott says it well:

    “…whatever we are by creation, we must affirm: our rationality, our sense of moral obligation,… our hunger for love and community, our sense of the transcendent mystery of God, and our inbuilt urge to fall down and worship him.  All this is part of our created humanness. True, it has all been tainted and twisted by sin.  Yet Christ came to redeem and not destroy it.  So we must affirm it….”

    Yes, it is murky to sift through these hungers and to recognize the good from the disorder of sin, but it is worth it.

    To summarize: I do not believe homosexuality in itself is a sin as that would imply our basic human desires for things such as intimacy and beauty would be inherently sinful. However, I do resolutely believe that acting out these desires for intimacy in a disordered way (sex outside of marriage, homosexual sex, lust, viewing pornography,  masturbation, etc.) is entirely sinful.

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  • How do we better welcome gay/SSA people into the church?
    There is so much to be said on this, so I will only stick to one (of many) answers. With that said, one way we can better welcome them is by showing them how we suffer.

    One of the reasons I think our church’s pews have so few gay or same-sex attracted folks sitting in them is because of this feeling that they are asked to give up so much more than anyone else in the congregation. Speaking from experience, it is difficult watching couples hold hands while their kids tug on their pants after service, knowing that is probably something I will never get to experience. It only worsens when I am then questioned for being single as if I am doing something wrong.

    The reality is that as Christians, we all have to suffer in different yet profound ways. We all have massive crosses to bear. Those married and those willingly or unwillingly single, we all are struggling. Still, some crosses are more noticeable than others, and unfortunately, we have a tendency to keep those crosses hidden. One of the problems it seems is that we have idolized marriage as the answer to our need of intimacy and left single and celibate Christians feeling as though they are the only ones who have to really give something up. Clearly, it is untrue that married people are not suffering and do not experience loneliness. So what is hindering us from being more transparent about our sufferings?

    People will either look for a community of fellow sufferers or settle for something or someone that immediately satiates their particular suffering. 

    Without a proper theology of suffering, we will never be welcoming. And it is not enough to have an individual theology of suffering either. Our theology of suffering must be communal. Our masks must be taken off so others might see the hopeful yet battered faces underneath them.

    I hope my difficulty with celibacy might encourage a friend to continue to be faithful in a difficult marriage. Similarly, my friend’s decision to not marry an unbeliever, despite being in love with her has encouraged me in celibacy. Both sides of this required the sufficient transparency to let the other into our own personal suffering. How can we bear one another’s burdens if we hide them?

    As Christians, it is our belief that this life will be the worst it will ever be for us, that we have a life and future coming that will be the pinnacle of our existence living in perfect intimacy with the Lover of our souls. Contrary to this belief is the belief that this life is the best we will ever have it. If the latter is true, celibacy is essentially pointless. I say this because as we convince others that they must be married to live the ideal Christian life we are buying into the prosperity gospel’s “your best life now” mentality.  If we honestly believe in Jesus’ words that state “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” celibacy should not be abnormal, sexual fulfillment should not be an entitlement, and self-denial in general should not be crazy nor foolish but expected. 

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  • Should you expect change (in attraction)?
    Again, a difficult question to answer. This has been discussed time and time again, and I can not help but give you a grey answer.

    When people ask me if I think homosexuality is a result of nature or nurture, I assume they are looking for a single answer. My answer is that it can be either or both. Human sexuality is incredibly complicated and the answer to this question will likely vary from individual to individual.

    If the answer to the nature vs. nurture debate does vary from individual to individual then the question of whether or not change can be expected will probably be just as complicated.

    However, I will say that I know far more people who have seen little to no change in their experience of same-sex attraction.

    With that said, I want to address a problem that is typically implicit within this question. There is a big issue in expecting change as there’s usually an assumption that at the core of same-sex attraction in every individual is some plaguing, root sin that can be uprooted so that the same-sex attraction could essentially be diminished. Basically, it is a posture that assumes if we become morbidly introspective enough and repent enough our sexuality will be fixed. There must be a distinction between an effect of the Fall and the result of personal sin, and we should pursue wisdom in discerning the difference in different people of different sexualities. 

    So, should I expect change?

    I guess it depends on what is meant by “change”. Is “change” synonymous with continued sanctification, integrity, holiness, wholeness, and awareness of my own story even if that looks like no change in attraction? Or is “change” simply a shift in attraction from the same-sex to the opposite-sex? Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, I do not know if we have grounds to expect such a change in circumstance, yet that should not cease nor hinder our growth in grace.

    *****

  • Can we survive without sex?
    It’s unfortunate that our society has confused intimacy to mean sex and sex to mean intimacy.

    For instance, most in our culture would assume these two Biblical figures were in a homoerotic relationship:

    “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me [David]; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.”

    In no way should we assume Jonathan and David’s relationship was anything more than an incredibly intimate friendship, and I do not believe any culture but our own has ever assumed it to be sexual. I do not doubt that living in a hyper-sexualized culture as the one we are in now has distorted our ability to see intimacy as anything but a desire for sex.

    It is saddening that many (especially men) in our culture can barely say “I love you” to one another nor show signs of physical affection (holding hands, touching arms, arm around the shoulders, even kissing, etc.) without others assuming signs of erotic interest. It is interesting to note that when Paul speaks of “greeting others with a holy kiss” many commentators would agree that Paul is speaking of a same-sex kiss. It is uncomfortable is it not? However, it really is essential and good for two people of the same-sex to express healthy physical and emotional affection — think of John the Beloved and Jesus. Our response to a hyper-sexual culture should not be some sort of Gnostic view that our bodies and bodily needs for affection are unholy. God created us with physical bodies to embrace and be embraced like the father and the prodigal son embracing one another. He created us with bodily senses that can (and should) express and receive love. This is a particular difficulty for people who are celibate or single in our culture – one I am painfully aware of. Not only must I go without sex, I often feel I must go without intimacy since the two can rarely be seen apart from each other. 

    I believe we can survive without sex, but I don’t believe we can survive without intimacy. So here’s where we have our work cut out for us: to cultivate an environment within our churches for single, celibate, and/or widowed people to flourish.

    ******
    *******

I hope these answers are helpful for you. I do recognize each of these responses alone could be turned into their own blog-posts. There are miles and miles to go on this conversation, so thank-you for being willing to ask these sorts of questions and hear what I have to say even if you do not agree. And I hope to possibly expound upon some these answers in the future.


Additional Articles/Resources:

* For a more in-depth discussion on gay-identity labels, I’ll redirect you to Melinda Selmys’ post on gay identity terminology here.
** If you’re particularly brave, I’d suggest a glimpse at this First Things piece on why even our framework for sexual orientation can be unhelpful at best.
*** I’ve found this article from Gabriel Blanchard far more articulate and profound than myself on distinguishing the dignity and depravity within homosexuality.
**** My friend Stephen Moss has gone into great detail on how to welcome gay people into our congregations right here.
***** Melinda Selmys speaks into ministering to those who are gay or same-sex attracted very eloquently over here.
****** Rev. Brian Habig has a wonderful sermon on physical affection and “holy kisses” here.
******* For further detail on living out intimate lives without sex, I’d highly suggest Wesley Hill’s new book Spiritual Friendship.

The Dignity in Our Loneliness

Do you ever feel lonely?

I have, and I do.

For the better part of my sophmore year of college, I spent my time cramped up in my bedroom and frustrated by a lack of meaningful connection. During that time, I had to seriously wrestle with a stark and nagging loneliness that had been creeping around and was just beginning to show its terrifying face. I remember one-time sitting in a meeting with some others from my campus ministry’s leadership team, and we had begun to go around and share our high points and low points for the week. It was my turn, and I recall needing to confess that I had felt deeply alone. It was mortifying and not because of how people responded (which was actually incredibly well). I felt shame bubbling up in me to even release the words, “I feel really alone.” I don’t feel like I did it out of a desire for a pity party or just because I wanted the attention. I just feel like I had to. It had built up, and it felt as if without reprieve I’d surely just sink deeper and deeper into the mire.

It felt humiliating though to admit that to people. Though I remember a few approaching me afterwards and declaring to me those same words, “I feel lonely too.”

When people profess that they are lonely, we often pity them. Don’t we? There’s this underlying assumption that I often think about that goes sort of like this, “that poor soul must have no friends. Maybe they should join a church or a crossfit. Maybe they should get married. Maybe they should branch out a little more,” or something along those lines. Yet I still feel myself thinking those thoughts without often recognizing how much I feel their words myself.

I’m going to make a bold claim, and it’s going to sound unpleasant, but I believe it’s true:

we are all lonely.

We’re all on an even playing field. Happily married, mournfully married, unwillingly single, happily single, divorced, it doesn’t matter. Our estate is a lonely one.

At this point, you’re probably confused, maybe a little pissed off that I would make such a remark about you. You have your brunch friends and your date nights. You don’t wake up in a bed alone. You have at least a thousand Facebook friends, but yes, you’re still alone.

But hear me out, I only say that we are all alone, so that we might begin to recognize something beautiful.

I want to argue that although we all feel alone that that feeling of loneliness is actually a God-given, God-reflecting, and good desire.

Ultimately, I believe there’s a point to the loneliness, and that despite the most intimate of relationships we still feel different degrees of loneliness but still feel lonely nonetheless. The most poignant definition of loneliness I’ve ever come across is simply this: “the want of [or longing for] intimacy“. It’s the state Adam was in in perfect vertical relationship with God, but still lacking closeness, horizontally, with another person even before there was the entrance of sin into the world. If loneliness is as previously defined, then can any of us truly claim to be in perfect intimacy with another? Do we ever cease longing for more closeness with another person?  There always a want for more closeness, for a friendship to be cultivated, for another to know us just a little bit more – this is to feel a little bit of loneliness.

To feel lonely isn’t to be inhuman. If anything, to feel lonely is to feel the desire for friendship that God has ingrained us with in which is nothing but a glorious reflection of Himself. Our desire for companionship isn’t bad, it’s beautiful. I am not saying the state of loneliness is good, but that the underlying desire within loneliness is. Tim Keller would agree:

“Do you feel like a wimpy, weak little people because you’re always lonely and you’re always needing people and you don’t feel like you don’t have enough friends. If you feel like that it’s because you’re like God. It’s not a sign of your imperfection. It’s a sign of your perfection.”

The problem is not that we feel lonely. The problem is how we have adapted to respond to those feelings of loneliness.

It’s no surprise to me that alongside our age of distraction which includes the rampant use of pornography, social media, shopping, and netflix there is also a rise in feelings of isolation. Even with hundreds of friends available to us in a moment’s notice, we’re still aching for depth yet still settling for distraction. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“…how often have men cried woe upon the solitary person or portrayed the pain and misery of loneliness, how often have men, weary of the corrupting, noisy, confusing life in society, let their thoughts wander out to a solitary place—only to learn again to long for community! …In the busy, teeming crowd, which as community is both too much and too little… the cure is precisely to learn all over again the most important thing, to understand oneself in one’s longing for community.”

When we feel lonely, running from it may be just prolonging the inevitable. If we’re afraid to feel lonely, we may be doomed to it. To a certain degree, it may mean that a good place to start is becoming a tiny bit more conscious of our desire for community, intimacy, and friendship rather than consistently running to an outlet to keep our minds away from those fears.

Imagine a broken world like this without this desire for intimacy, or to put it more simply, imagine a world where no one ever felt lonely. I’d imagine everyone would be content to themselves. There would be no community, no coffee dates, no netflix-binging with roommates, no marriage, no family unit, no friendship, no vulnerable conversations, no long walks together, and no Trinity. An unredeemed* world without the feelings of loneliness would be a world of ironic isolation.

Feelings of loneliness are similar to feelings of physical pain. We need something like those feelings of pain to indicate to us that we are in an unhealthy or harmful place and need to move to something better – a place of isolation to a place of friendship. The pain itself is not bad. What causes it may be, but the pain is actually helpful if only we can find a way to respond to it properly. Numbing a dislocated shoulder won’t fix it but a painful relocation will. Like Kierkegaard said, “the cure is precisely to understand oneself in one’s longing for community,” but the cure often feels like it’s killing us.

To feel your loneliness is painful. There’s no denying that. We were created for intimacy with God and others. Vertically and horizontally, and it’s no surprise that after that intimacy was shattered with the Fall of man that Adam & Eve hid themselves from God and hid their nakedness from one another with their fig-leaf loincloths. We’re all terrified of exposing ourselves, and we’re all terrified of a life of isolation. In exposing ourselves, we risk rejection, we risk shame, and we risk our own comfort. In isolation, we lack the sort of companionship that encourages us to take risks, to journey, and to ultimately live.

But thankfully the story doesn’t end in isolation. Thankfully we have a God who knows our loneliness and won’t leave us in it. Thankfully there’s a redeemer who redeems by uniting all things in himself, in perfect intimacy. One who has known loneliness far better than we ever have and is with us in it. He who became lonely for the lonely came to draw us into His embrace.

This is the same Jesus who cried aloud to His Father in whom he was one with, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

From intimacy to isolation, He came to rescue us from our lonely position.

We won’t always feel lonely. Right now we often do, but this won’t always be the case. As assuredly as the Trinitarian God exists as a community, we can be sure there will be a day, we too, will exist in perfect communion with God and one another. A day that our dignified desires for intimacy will meet complete satiety, and until then, perhaps we may discover, as Henri Nouwen once did, that “what seemed primarily painful may then become a feeling that, though painful, opens for you the way to an ever deeper knowledge of God’s love.”


* I say “unredeemed world” because I believe in the new heavens and new earth we will be living in perfect relation to God and one another – perfect intimacy and thus no desire for something we have already attained.