Responses & Resources for the Abraham/Isaac Question

So my post last week about wrestling with the story of Abraham and Isaac and considering the role that conscience plays in our interpretation and application of Scripture generated quite a response. I got “farewelled” and called a heretic. People bemoaned my slippery-slope sliding, mocked my lack of theological training, and accused me of challenging God, hating the Bible, and exploring atheism.  But in the midst of all that came some really fantastic insights, challenges, questions, and ideas…exactly what I’d hoped the post would generate.  And I was reminded that I’m not alone in my questions and curiosity, and that questions and curiosity need not threaten faith but can actually enliven it. 

As it turns out, people have been wrestling with this text and its implications for centuries and there are many fascinating, helpful perspectives on it. And when I asked for more, you sent me poems, essays, books, articles,  encyclopedia entries, and even songs—little gifts that softened my defensive posture by infusing me with fresh curiosity. 

This, I believe, is exactly what the Bible is meant to be: a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender. The Bible invites us into conversation with God and with one another as we debate, discuss, wrestle with, and learn from its various texts. And this divine conversation reminds us that being people of faith isn’t just about being right; it’s about being a part of a community, part of a great tradition of dialog. Think how boring and individualistic the Christian life would be if biblical interpretation were easy! 

So I thought I’d share with you some of the best responses and resources I received over the past few days. While I don’t agree with every point in every one of these comments, articles, and quotes—I’ve included thoughts from Christians, Jews, and even atheists—I think they provide great fodder for conversation and may help you as you work through all this on your own. Feel free to share your own favorite posts or resources in the comment section.  

Theology and biblical interpretation aren’t meant to be done alone, but in community. We’re all learning as we go. So let’s take a deep breath and just listen to one another for a while: 

From the comments… 

 From Nate Pyle: 

“If, as some argue, the story of Abraham and Isaac is about God revealing himself in a new way and showing that a religion requiring a child sacrifice is wrong, I can't help but wonder what that means for us. For me as a pastor, being sure not to sacrifice my family and my kids on the altar of church. Not sacrificing people with a heavy, moralistic yoke. Not sacrificing relationships because of "truth." Maybe it is time we pay attention to all the ways we sacrifice people on the altar of religion and then stop it.” 

From Amanda:

“There is a scene at the end of Shusaku Endo's exquisite historical novel, Silence, in which the young Jesuit priest Rodrigues is given a choice between ending his Japanese Christian brothers and sisters' tortuous suffering by recanting and trampling on an image of Christ, or standing resolute in his faith and not denying his Savior. In his agonized moment of indecision, Rodrigues hears the voice of Christ say, ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’ And so, I will forever treasure this novel for teaching me that to deny our absolute faith in God and belief in right doctrine out of love for another is to do exactly as Christ would have us do."

From Kathleen Margaret Schwab: 

“I personally find convincing the theory that the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Issac is a story about the end of child sacrifice. Perhaps the beginning of the culture beginning to wrestle with this ancient practice, and define a response. Sacrificing children was a part of the culture of the time. The Hebrews broke from this practice and went on to be very very critical of it...although the OT also records that even kings of Israel sacrificed their children, which implies that common people may have also done so. I personally think that humans often deal with emotionally heated topics through story telling. The story of Abraham, with the details of the journey, the wood, the binding and the knife, provokes a powerful emotional response from the listener or reader. I think most of us want to say NO! And then our emotional response is confirmed by a message from God, that this sacrifice is not necessary.  I think we need to dig into stories like this, to see what message they give, the emotional arc they take us through.” 

From Micah: 

“Oh man, have I spent a lot of time on this passage. I've hated it and loved it and hated it and loved it again. At this point it's one of my favorite passages of scripture. It wasn't an accident that we named our kid Isaac. There's a lot to this passage, but there's one thing that you've not mentioned that I find completely fascinating: Abraham did not regard God's command as immoral. When you read the text again and again and grapple with it, you're struck by the fact that Abraham's objections were purely logistical, not moral. Isaac was the child of promise; how could he have descendants if he died? Abraham didn't seem particularly fazed by the whole "child sacrifice" thing, and for good reason: child sacrifice was completely normal in his area. No one had ever voiced objections to child sacrifice. Why would they? On what grounds would one of his neighbors have ever decided that a child's life had inherent worth? God didn't ask Abraham to do anything out of the ordinary in Abraham's culture. But it was out of the ordinary for the new culture that God wanted to create. Else why supply the ram at all? So I don't read this passage as a cruel and petty God testing Abraham. I see this passage as the beginning of a redemptive arc that sweeps through all of Scripture. It's the beginning of God teaching his people a new and better ethic. It continues on in, for example, Deuteronomy 18:10 and then carries on throughout the story of Israel. (Micah wrote more about this in a post here.

From Rabbi Moffic: 

Jewish tradition has a long history of arguing that Abraham FAILED God's test. He should have protested. That's why it is an angel at the end who stays Abraham's hand, not God. Just as Abraham protested in Sodom and Gomorrah, all the more he should protested when God's ask him to sacrifice his son.

Articles, Essays, Books, Poems…

Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: 

“The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he meant to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he meant to sacrifice Isaac—but precisely in this contradiction is the anxiety that can make a person sleepless, and yet without this anxiety Abraham is not who he is.” Read the rest here (or a summary here)

The Jewish Virtual Library’s “Akedah” entry (shared by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg): 

“Milton Steinberg (Anatomy of Faith (1960), 147), rejected Kierkegaard's view as ‘unmitigated sacrilege…While it was a merit in Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his only son to his God, it was God's nature and merit that He would not accept an immoral tribute. And it was His purpose, among other things, to establish that truth.’ Other thinkers such as J.B. Soloveitchik have found the Kierkegaardian insights fully compatible with Judaism. Ernst Simon (in Conservative Judaism, 12 (spring 1958), 15–19) believes that a middle position between the two is possible. Judaism is an ethical religion and would never in fact demand a teleological suspension of the ethical. Abraham is, therefore, ordered to stay his hand. The original command to sacrifice Isaac is a warning against too complete an identification of religion with naturalistic ethics." (Read the whole entry.)

Rob Bell’s The Gods Aren’t Angry (or, abbreviated in “What is the Bible: Part 6”)

“…This isn’t a story about what Abraham does for God; it’s a story about what God does for Abraham. Mind blowing. New. Ground breaking. A story about a god who doesn’t demand anything but gives and blesses…So, back to our original question: What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son? Now, an answer: Not this one. The other gods may demand your firstborn, but not this God.”

 “Abraham’s Madness” by Bink Noll (shared by Preston Yancey) and “Sarah: Before Mount Moriah” and “Isaac” by Madeleine L’Engle 

But Where is the Lamb? Imagining the Story of Abraham and Isaac by James Goodman (reviewed here) and The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son by Jon Levenson 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on “Noah” - seems relevant 

“[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God….God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith . It isn’t until Abraham, when God says, ‘we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,’ Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?’ He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience.”

Blog Posts…

Derek Rishmawy with “Abraham, Cultural Distance, and Offering Up Our Moral Conscience” 

“All too often in these discussions of troubling texts, we collapse the cultural distance between us and the biblical characters. Human nature is, in many ways, constant. Conscience is one of those basic human features. Across cultures, everybody has a clear sense of right and wrong, norms against which we must not cross, and an internal compass about these sorts of things. That said, any student of culture knows there are some significant variations across cultures as well. “Self-evident truths” held by post-Enlightenment Americans are not all that apparent to equally intelligent Middle Easterners or citizens of the Majority world. The conscience of a 1st Century citizen might be very sensitive about an issue you and I wouldn’t blink twice about, and vice versa. Our cultural presuppositions and plausibility structures do a significant amount of work here.”

Neil at Godless in Dixie with “Evangelicalism: It’s Not Just a Messaging Problem” 

“In the end, if whatever God tells you to do is right, then morality is fundamentally relative.  Once you’ve decided on that way of thinking, it inevitably devolves into a theological debate about God’s feelings.  This is a highly subjective discussion, of course, since one of the key tenets of monotheism is that if there is a God, you’re probably not him.  So how is it that you feel qualified to determine what he wants and what he doesn’t (and for that matter, why it has to be a “he”)?  It’s your word against another man’s word, not God’s word against everyone else’s.  You can try saying “but the Bible says,” except that’s really the word of more people just like you.  Any attempt to deny this leads to untenable absurdity because the Bible isn’t even consistent with itself.  Biblical writers didn’t all see everything the same way."

[I included the atheist's perspective because it was one of the only responses to actually engage the question at the heart of the post of which the story of Abraham and Isaac was simply an illustration. Also, it was refreshingly free of condescension!]  

Lee Wyatt with “Do Christians Still Sacrifice Their Children?: A Response to Rachel Held Evans” (this one also includes a nice quote from John Howard Yoder) 

“Evans is in effect complaining about a flat reading of the text which assumes any and every command of God is applicable to his people anytime and anywhere.  Yet she appears to practice the same hermeneutic in assuming that believers today might sometime face the same command to sacrifice our children. This is a red herring because we will never face such a command.  Evan’s failure to read the Bible as a story told as chapters or acts of a play (Creation, Catastrophe, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation) and factoring in the difference it makes that we live in the fifth chapter or act, “the Church,” rather than the earlier ones where these texts are found.  After Christ, and in the absence of anything remotely similar in the rest of the New Testament, ought to assure us that whatever those earlier stories mean, they no longer hold for the chapter of the story we live in.  That doesn’t lessen the difficulty we feel with those earlier stories, but it does mean that things have radically changed since Christ such that no more of that kind of thing is appropriate or should even be thinkable for God’s people today.  Yes, some do still think that way, as Evans points out, but that is a misuse or misinterpretation of the Bible and should be treated as such.”

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What did I miss? Please feel free to share links in the comment section! 

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Sunday Superlatives 10/19/14: Travel Edition

I was offline this week traveling from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Charleston, West Virginia, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Phoenix, Arizona to hang out with the Methodist, the Lutherans, and the evangelicals. So today’s superlatives go to the most memorable experiences from the week. Feel free to share your picks from the blogosphere in the comment section. 


Lightest Packer: 
Yours Truly with six days of travel crammed into one backpack and a purse 

Most Unnerving: 
Delta pilot in Chattanooga with “Take a look at that windsock! This should be exciting!” 

Scariest Airport: 
Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia with its 6,302-foot mountaintop runway 

Best Dancers: 
Members of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church Clergy School who opened their first session dancing to “Happy” 

Best Conversation:
My conversation/interview with Laura Harbert Allen on Southern life, LGBT equality, and faith 

Best Sermon: 
Rev. Telley Gadson on 1 Corinthians 13 at the West Virginia Conference UMC Clergy School (if I can get my hands on the sermon itself, I will share it!) 

Funniest Crew Member:
Delta flight attendant with “If you haven’t been in a moving vehicle since 1985, here’s how you fasten your seat belt.” 

Most Beautiful: 
Good Earth Village in in Spring Valley Minnesota with FALL 

Most Stimulating:
Talking about the sacraments of baptism, confession, communion and anointing of the sick with Lutheran (ELCA) clergy in Minnesota. I loved these people and learned so much. 

Best Light-Reading for a Long Flight: 
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

Best Deep-Reading for a Long Flight: 
The Atlantic Monthly’s November issue and Jon Lee Anderson’s breathtaking feature article, “The Mission” in The New Yorker  

Best Hugs: 
Participants at the Barefoot Tribe Conference at The Grove in Phoenix whose warm welcome will not soon be forgotten 

Coolest Idea:
Artist Scott Erickson created this as I spoke about gender equality at Barefoot Tribes

Most Inspiring: 
When the people of The Grove church shared how they took this post and brought it to life by holding a great feast for more than 675 people at one table! 

Best Feeling: 
HOME!!!!!!!

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In spending time with Christians from a variety of church traditions this week, I was reminded of the degree to which theological and ecclesiological diversity strengthens the Body of Christ. It was especially encouraging to talk about the sacraments (the topic of my next book) with groups that express those sacraments in different ways. I learned a lot and I felt like I contributed a lot too, which is the best way to feel after a trip like this one. Thanks to everyone who instructed me, listened to me, encouraged me, and fed me this week.  I came home feeling tired but grateful. 

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So, what did I miss online this week? Share your favorite links in the comments and I’ll catch up! 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Sunday Superlatives 10/12/14

Cutest:
The New York Times treats second graders to fine dining 

Wisest: 
Charles Blow (in an interview with Jason Parham) on masculinity

“I believe that we have drawn masculinity in this incredibly narrow, rigid, dangerous way. We think of it as a peak, and I think of it as an ocean…Boys are constantly confronting this notion of failure because they cannot live up to idea of people saying to them, Man up! Be a man! And they don't know what that is because they're just trying to be human. And being human is sometimes fragile. I believe we have to redraw our collective concept of what masculinity is so that it includes the possibility of difference and variation. And once we do that we free these kids up to be kids, and to be human beings.”

Bravest: 
Sarah Schwartz at Deeper Story with “Antidepressants as a Means of Grace” 

“On Wednesday mornings, the high school ministry team I was a part of met for breakfast at a local diner. As we swapped prayer requests over bad coffee and scrambled eggs, I shared that I had started taking medicine to help combat my depression, to which the leader of the team, a senior boy I admired, turned and forcefully informed me, ‘You know, that would go away if you just trusted God enough.’”

Coolest:
“Undulatus Asperatus: A New Cloud Type” 

Most Powerful: 
Amena Brown at MOMcan with “Be You Bravely” 

Most Inspiring (nominated by Ryan Kenji Kuramitsu):  
Christy Wade with “How a Transgender Lady Helped Me Not Walk Away Fom My Christian Faith” 

“For an hour, I listened as she shared her story of coming to terms with her faith and gender identity. I was amazed she went to seminary at Baylor and had served as a Baptist preacher. She listened as I shared my journey and how I was struggling. I learned we shared the same belief that the Bible was more than a book of literature. She told me I didn’t have to disregard Scripture. It was obvious she was a woman of vibrant, deep Christian faith. Hope entered my life again. I was overwhelmed with God’s presence and tangibly felt His love wash over me. My life changed that day, and I began my journey of reconciling my faith and sexual orientation, whatever that would look like.” 

Most Informative: 
Marg Mowczko with “Paul and Women in a Nutshell” and “The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women” 

“Paul was not a misogynist: he did not hate or mistrust women. Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers in gospel ministry. He refers to Junia as his relative (or compatriot), his fellow prisoner, and as outstanding among the apostles. He commends Phoebe to the church at Rome as “our sister”, a patroness of many, a minister of the church at Cenchrea, and he probably sent his letter to the Romans with her. He acknowledges the ministry labours of Mary of Rome, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis…”

Most Insightful: 
Richard Beck with “Be Holy to Love Each Other” 

“We are called to be holy as God is holy. We are to purify ourselves. But what is the goal of holiness? For what purpose is purity? The purpose and the goal of holiness and purity is that we will have sincere, genuine, deep and mutual love for each other. Holiness and purity are not the opposite of love. Holiness and purity are the cultivation of love.  The holy person is the loving person. The pure person is the loving person.”

Best Headline:
Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker with “Man infected with Ebola misinformation through causal contact with cable news” 

Best Profile: 
Wyatt Mason at New York Times Magazine with “The Revelations of Marilynne Robinson” 

“…And it was here that Robinson brought up fear: How it has come to keep us at bay from our best selves, the selves that could and should “do something.” In her case, that “something” has been writing. For Robinson, writing is not a craft; it is “testimony,” a bearing witness: an act that demands much of its maker, not least of which is the courage to reveal what one loves.”

Best Series: 
Rebecca Lujan Loveless with “An Uneven Scale: Blog Series on Western Evangelical Justice Work” 

Best Op-Ed:
Nicholas Kristof with “The Diversity of Islam” 

“Beware of generalizations about any faith because they sometimes amount to the religious equivalent of racial profiling. Hinduism contained both Gandhi and the fanatic who assassinated him. The Dalai Lama today is an extraordinary humanitarian, but the fifth Dalai Lama in 1660 ordered children massacred ‘like eggs smashed against rocks.’ Christianity encompassed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: ‘Kill them all; God will know his own.’”

Best Reflection:
Ruthie Johnson at Missio Alliance with "Restoring Unity: The Invitation of the Banquet of Heaven"

“In order to move towards unity as the Church, we must first practice the incarnational Kingdom in small, meaningful and routine places, such as meals. Our daily actions and interactions with those who are different—seeking to build bridges across, gender, theology, socioeconomics and race build skills to help us move toward unity as a whole.”


Best Advice:
James Hamblin at The Atlantic with “Buy Experiences, Not Things” 

Best List: 
Peter Enns with “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Bible” 

“An extremely important lesson for Christians to learn from Judaism is that the Bible invites debate. In fact, it can’t avoid it, given how open it is to multiple interpretations. Winning Bible feuds with others, getting to the right answer, isn’t the end goal. The back-and forth with the Bible, and with God, is where deeper faith is found.”

Best Perspective:  
Jim Wallis with “Ebola is an Inequality Crisis” 

“The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.”

On Twitter...


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So, what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on your blog? 

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Ask a (Celibate) Gay Christian….Response

Since our ongoing discussion around Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, has highlighted an affirming view of same-sex relationships, I wanted to make space here for another perspective. Thankfully, my new friend Julie Rodgers was quick to graciously agree to join us for another installment of our “Ask a….” series: “Ask a (Celibate) Gay Christian…” 

Julie writes about the angst of growing up gay in the church and the hope she finds in Christ's story of restoration. She blogs about all things sexuality, celibacy, community, and (mostly) flourishing on her personal blog and with friends on the Spiritual Friendship blog. Julie earned a Masters in English for the sheer pleasure of stories (nerd alert), served urban youth the past four years through a ministry in West Dallas, and recently joined the chaplain's office at Wheaton College as the Ministry Associate for Spiritual Care. She's known to laugh loud and hard at all the wrong times. Julie loves Jesus. She says she “loves that He entered into the human experience and alleviated suffering in those around Him, and that He absorbed the pain of the world with His life, death, and resurrection.” 

You asked Julie some fantastic questions.  Here are Julie's responses: 

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Thank you, Rachel, for creating the space for me to share on your blog. Thank you also to those of you who asked thoughtful questions with a gracious spirit. Not only are your charitable spirits encouraging to me personally, but I also imagine that kind of posture calms the anxiety of silent observers who wonder if they can be honest about their sexual orientation and religious convictions, and also treated with tenderness and respect. We offer a gift to them when we’re gracious toward others in this conversation, assuring them they’ll be valued as human beings made in the image of God no matter what. 

From bperickson: Should a gay Christian committed to celibacy still come out publicly as gay? Why? What do you feel you have gained from doing so yourself?

One benefit is that the church needs more celibate gay Christian role models. They need to see gay Christians leading vibrant lives filled with intimacy, passion, and adventure. I know when I first envisioned a life of celibacy, I got an image of the future version of myself as a lonely old woman knitting in a cold cabin with famished cats everywhere. Part of the reason the future looked so bleak was because I couldn’t look to many others who were living into compelling stories as celibate men and women, and the future story the church imagined for me hinged on marriage. We need more celibate gay Christians to help the church imagine a robust life for single men and women, with an expectation that God will surprise us with His faithfulness.  

I can’t speak to what everyone should do since one’s sexuality is so personal and each situation so unique, but I would at least encourage people to open up to their inner circle. I felt strangled by shame during every stage of coming to terms with my sexuality (when I first acknowledged my orientation and then again after extensive involvement with Exodus International). “Coming out” simply meant I invited others into a corner of my heart that whispered lies that no one would love me if they really knew me. When they embraced me in that place I felt like I could finally breathe. I went from feeling isolated and unknown to believing intimate relationships were a real possibility for me. 

There are still countless misconceptions about gay people in the church. Many still don’t realize this group of people they perceive as “those people out there” are actually in here, in the church, seeking to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. When I was a teenager, I felt like I had to either lie about my sexuality or leave the church altogether. Encountering other gay Christians gave me hope that I could work out my questions about sexuality inside the church—in the context of a loving Christian community—instead of lying or leaving. Also, I’m not sure we can know or feel God’s love if we don’t experience His love through His people. When I shared more of myself with other Christians and was embraced in that place, I thought: “If they know all about me and still love me, maybe God still loves me, too.”

From Guest: Like most churches in America, my church is generally made up of families. How can a church be sensitive to the needs of a person who has embraced celibacy?

The short answer: Consider inviting a celibate person to live with you (short term or long), have single people over for dinner on a regular basis (while your house is still messy and your dishes still dirty), and establish normal rhythms together like running errands or ordering takeout or watching Breaking Bad again. 

The longer answer: It seems like most of us tend to roll with people in similar life stages, and all of us would benefit from breaking out of those categories to build relationships that cross common barriers: age, race, sex, or marital status, among others. As a celibate woman observing families from the outside, it often seems like folks are solely focused on their own nuclear families. The relationships they do have outside of that are those they encounter in their natural circles: other soccer families or church families or PTA friends. While we all miss out when we lack diversity in our relationships, single people—particularly older single people—feel the blow badly. Let’s be real: celibacy isn’t considered a super sexy lifestyle. Few people choose it because the misconceptions cause people to feel they’ll be destined for a life devoid of love. This means there comes a time when only a small number of people share their life situation, so they actually WILL end up alone if we don’t intentionally step outside of our homogeneous circles.  

When we settle into our separate pockets of society, our relational lives start to look like scheduling an event a week or two out, where we meet up and tell others about the life we’ve lived over the weeks that have passed. What we long for, though, is everyday intimacy where we can put on our fat clothes and think out loud with one another without editing ourselves. In order for that to happen, we need to spend time together in the common routines of life. Both families and single people would benefit from this.

One example: I’m new here to Wheaton and I’ve developed a friendship with a young family that welcomed me when I first arrived, providing a room for me in their home while I searched for a permanent place to land. Just this past week, the mom was sick and the dad stayed home from work in hopes of keeping the kids alive for another day. As I was getting off work, they shot me a text asking if I could do something—anything!—to help them make it through the day, and it was no problem for me to show up at their house with frozen pizzas, ice cream, and wine. Then I helped the kids with their nightly routine and we all decompressed together: everyday intimacy. 

From Christina: How do you feel that your decision to be celibate affects your relationship with gay friends who have not made the same decision?

Each relationship is unique so it varies from person to person, but my friends and I tend to see a whole human being when we look at each other rather than just a “GAY” or a “SIDE A GAY” or a “SIDE B GAY”. I also tend to be drawn to those who seek to be gracious and humble, so whenever differences arise we’re able to acknowledge the tension of our different beliefs without feeling personally threatened by one another. Most gay Christians have been deeply scarred by the culture war, and most of us barely held onto our faith (many barely remained alive), so we’re pretty understanding of one another’s need for a lot of space and grace as we grow in our understanding of what it means to honor the Lord with the whole of our lives (including our sexuality). 

From Danner: I believe a person's sexuality is an integral aspect of who he or she is as a human being. Unlike my preference for black coffee vs. lattes, my sexual identity (and sexual relationship with my wife) is a very significant aspect of who I am as a person… Do you disagree with the assertion that sexuality is integral to the identity, and what are your thoughts on why God created you as a gay woman while forbidding you to ever live that out in a relationship with another woman?

I don’t know how integral one’s sexuality is to his or her identity (perhaps it varies from person to person, depending on the weight each person gives it). I believe my sexuality matters in the same way I believe it matters that I’m a woman or that I’m an introvert: they affect how I exist in the world and how I relate to other people. What’s most important to me with regard to my identity though—what I choose to give the most weight—is my faith. The deepest part of who I am is a follower of Christ who’s been rescued by Him, and the Bible informs my understanding of why I’m here and what I’m to be about. I might see through a slightly different lens because of my orientation, but it seems the Lord uses all the different parts of me—including my sexuality—to write a unique story of restoration that creates a little more beauty in the world. 

I don’t have a strong opinion about why some people are gay: research implies both biology and the developmental process likely influence a person’s orientation, and the extent to which one is more influential than the other probably differs from person to person, as sexuality is so layered and complex. I’m more comfortable saying, “God allowed me to have a gay orientation.” 

Regardless, I do not believe He wants me to be alone. We’re wired for intimacy, and while we can live without sex, we cannot live without intimacy. The more we celebrate sustained, non-sexual, sacrificial relationships in our society, the less people will feel like the only way to experience love and intimacy is in the context of a marriage or a sexual relationship. It would also be helpful if Christians would resist the urge to hit the “panic” button whenever gay people experience deep affection for those of the same sex. As a young person, I was so concerned about the “risk” of relationships turning sexual that I erred on the side of suppression and isolation (which leads to destructive explosions). It was so life-giving to exhale and move away from a fear-based approach, choosing instead to be more concerned about the risks of isolation. That has enabled me to actually remain chaste for years because my needs for intimacy are met through rich relationships with both men and women, which didn’t happen when I was disconnected out of fear. We were made for relationships, and we can work out what it means to be healthy, whole, Christ-honoring men and women in the context of relationship.  


From Rachel P.:  have you ever been in love? How did it go? And supposing that your views on celibacy will not change, is being with someone romantically (perhaps someone else committed to celibacy) a viable option for your future?

While I’ve certainly felt the butterflies for a few women, I’m not sure I can say I’ve experienced the sustained and mutual affection that’s necessary for love to really take root. It seems like true love is discovered over time with another person, and since my relationships with women are directed toward friendship, perhaps my experience of love is shaped and informed by that end. There’s much more to explore there, but if I ever do experience a sustained and mutual intensity of attraction that feels overwhelming, I hope I’ll find a way to express it through intimate friendship. 

Sharing life with other people is important to me. I would love to end up in a communal living situation with solid folks who are married, single, gay, straight, and devoted to living into the New Testament’s vision of community and hospitality. I’m also entirely committed to having an extra room for down-and-out little hooligans to crash when they need a safe space to land (read: potential foster care or at least a place for hurting teens to belong). 


From Joshua: Do you ever feel like your personal struggles and decisions are being used as a tool by those on one side or the other in the debates concerning same sex relationships, and if so, what would you want those people using your decisions to advance their causes to know or consider?

Yes, and I’m very uncomfortable with that, particularly when it’s used to shame those who, for one reason or another, are in a different place. I see this as less of a Gay Debate Problem and more of a Human Problem though: we play the comparison game in almost every area of life and it inflates egos, breeds feelings of inferiority, or causes jealousy (among other terrible ways of internalizing the comparison culture). 

If it’s not in the context of the comparison game though, I do think it can be encouraging for people to connect with others who share their experience. I know it’s been life-giving for me to connect with celibate gay Christians because I felt so alone for so long. Even beyond the sexuality conversation, it’s encouraging for me to observe those who lead faithful lives—to learn from their examples, both positive and negative. I think we need role models, but a role model is very different than a story that’s used to shame or coerce someone else. 

Ultimately, I hope Christians will simply point people to Christ as our example. It’s been my experience that the more I’m captured by the beauty of the Gospel, the less I’m concerned about what will or won’t happen in every area of my life, including my sexuality and future relationships. I didn’t choose this path because of someone else’s story and I certainly didn’t choose it because others shamed me into it: I chose it because I fell in love with Jesus and this has been my response to His rescue. While these conversations are important, they’re simply not as important as people encountering the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice and experiencing His love in the deepest parts of their hearts. 

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A big thanks to Julie for taking time out of a busy life to talk with us. Be sure to check out our series on God and the Gay Christian (Part 1Part 2Part 3) as well as the other entries in our "Ask a..." series.

See also "Why I Invite Guests With Whom I Disagree" and "The Danger of a Single Story"

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