From Celibacy to Marriage: Some Gay Christians Make the Shift

By Lori Heine

In The American Conservative, Eve Tushnet discusses her experience as a celibate lesbian Catholic.  She says that the “first shift” in the Church’s treatment of gays has been “away from the ‘ex-gay narrative.’”  It has at least accepted the reality that gays cannot change their orientation, though Roman Catholic doctrine admitted as much long before the Evangelical camp was willing to accept it.  Tushnet compares celibate gay Christians to Jesus, calling Him “the preeminent model for gay Christians.”

This may strike some people as a rather peculiar theology.  We thought Jesus was supposed to be “the preeminent model” for all Christians.  Evidently to Tushnet, the celibate part only applies to gays.

The Roman Catholic Church, like some other churches, welcomes gays into the pews – as long as we accept celibacy.  Traditionally, however, celibacy was understood to be a calling each individual could discern only for him or herself – not a sentence forced upon us by others.  Straight conservative Christians claim that they respect tradition.  Apparently they only respect it when it suits them.

Rod Dreher, also writing in The American Conservative, seems determined to convince himself that he loves gay people.  He pronounces Tushnet’s article “fascinating,” perhaps because she says exactly what he wants gay Christians to say.  He tries to claim that his experiences as a young Catholic convert were the same, because he had to remain celibate until marriage – without admitting that marriage was an option he had, but that he would deny to Tushnet.  He gets to choose, but she doesn’t.

We are supposed to think there’s no difference, but when Dreher tells us “if it was not my calling to marry, I had to be chaste for the rest of my life,” he is tacitly admitting that, like marriage, celibacy is a calling.  It’s a calling he seems to presume he has the right to divine – not only for himself, but others.  But nobody died and made Rod God.

Steve Fiechter, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, got a very different calling from God.  He writes about it in The Advocate.  He had been prepared to leave the ministry, because he realized he had a different calling than the one of which straight conservatives might approve.  “I was beginning to see…to experience a more unified ‘me,’” he explains.

Then the ELCA, “in its 2009 churchwide assembly, changed the rules.  I could be me, whoever that was, and so could scores of others.”  Fiechter now has a ministry – and a husband.  Straights uneasy about welcoming gays into their churches might think that our callings should come from them, but many of us happen to believe that they should come from God.

As the number of LGBT Christians, conservatives and Republicans continues to increase, straight conservatives agonize over what to do with us.  Would we cooperate with them if they asked us for our political support – our votes and money – but told us to stay out of church? That didn’t work out very well.  Their latest tactic – the “first shift” – is that we can come to church with them, as long as we stay celibate.

A growing number of us are insisting on a second shift.  We believe God called us into the churches – and into marriage – whether straight conservatives like it or not.


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