Pauline Vocational Celibacy and Side B’s Framework
In my pushback on Reformed and Side B, I wrote:
And I push against some of my sexual minority traditional Christian brethren for conflating a difficult native state of unweddedness with Pauline vocational celibacy.
This requires some explanation.
Marriage and celibacy are mutually illuminating vocations. There’s no generic celibacy. It has a backdrop that structures and orients it. And the backdrop given by the Apostle Paul in his discussion in 1 Corinthians 7 is natural marriage. One could view both vocations as institutions. Perhaps ideally so. Perhaps a stricter formal celibacy needs to be established by vows, and it needs the recognition and support of the church in order to give it a more substantial public reality just like marriage. Permanent celibacy should be publicly vowed celibacy in which the community has a vested interest.
Apart from that, one is in a state of native singleness that’s about being sexually faithful in that season of life (however long it may be) and isn’t committed one way or another to a vowed state of monasticism or marriage. In any event, celibacy is about forgoing natural marriage for the sake of service to the Kingdom. It involves recognizing a sort of default general call to marriage and procreation as the majority expectation (I won’t call that the normative expectation) for how people must still live and yet will also have to submit to having their marriages subsumed under the priorities of the Kingdom. But the celibate Christian forgoes that path and embraces another path for subsuming his life under the priorities of the Kingdom.
As far as the backdrop of celibacy being marriage, I sometimes hear Side B folks slip into a mode of speaking about celibacy as if the backdrop is self-denial from entering into a same-sex marriage. Of finding a partner of the same sex and building a home and family through additional acts of defiance of the created order with that person. When that slip happens, and insofar as it’s regularly at work in the mind of the individual, that denial isn’t celibacy juxtaposed to natural marriage. It’s sexual fidelity and obedience to Christ in contradistinction to sinful rebellion.
This is a potential pitfall I see lurking in the ambiguity of talking about sexual fidelity as “costly obedience”. What does it cost that is of value? Being a faithful gay/SSA Christian by living a chaste life in celibacy is “costly obedience” only if the measure of cost is the wealth of sin forgone in the form of a same-sex marriage. It’s not “costly” obedience. But it’s hard obedience which is legitimate, respectable, and bears much fruit.
Now, of course, if we’re talking about someone forgoing the vocation of natural marriage, then that’s another story. There are real costs attributable to that. And there are real costs attributable to people who forgo the vocation of celibacy for marriage.
Refraining from sin is not the same as forgoing the dignified calling of marriage. It’s not an honorable deprivation in the sense that refraining from sin is some form of glorious calling. Refraining from sin in all its forms is just universal obligation to Christ. But I do affirm, respect, and champion the unique hard obedience of chaste gay Christians. Often a harder obedience than many other Christians practice. I would do the same for any gay Christian who entered into natural marriage as a particular hard obedience.
I get the impression from some Side B folks that their gay self-conception is an automatic sign that celibacy is the only true and lifelong vocation available or seriously considered. Some Side B folks in their push against Side X (which is conceived according to the rules of the Side A/B game) do not sufficiently seriously consider natural marriage as a viable option for them. I get the sense that such an outlook is fortified by thinking according to the sexual orientation paradigm (Freudian clinical psychology) too heavily.
It’s also fortified by the assumption that a gay man, for instance, must become attracted to women in general before he can become attracted to and marry a particular woman. Except that’s not how attraction usually works. And it’s cynical about what can happen when another person loves us first, what being loved first can bring out of us.
As I read Paul’s comment that remaining unwed is good, but because of intemperance toward sexual immorality, one should marry rather than burn, I don’t think homoerotic and homosexual desires and inclinations are an exception in his opinion or teaching. I wouldn’t grant such desires and inclinations as automatic disqualifying exceptions from the long list of life’s hardships that hinder individuals from marriage. I’d just say life is ugly and messy and complicated and harsh. And it’s differently so for different people.
When Paul affirms the goodness of a man remaining in the calling (e.g. bondservant or freedman, Jew or Gentile, wed or unwed) in which he is called (i.e. into the Faith), those callings are significantly involuntary in their origins. It’s going to mean learning to live with them and live into them even though we’re already planted in them as conditions.
The same would hold true if anyone changes callings. I wouldn’t presume a change of callings puts someone in an inherently easy new condition. It’s more straightforward to say of all faithful single Christians, regardless of personal circumstances, that they are living faithfully in a hard or complicated state of native unweddedness.