Exodus Takes on the Celibate Menace

October 5, 2006

So I’ve just read God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door, by Exodus President Alan Chambers and other Exodus leaders. Some good, some bad, and overall a profoundly alienating experience. Maybe a review later, but I’m not really the reviewing sort, so probably not.
I’ve been listening/reading to Exodus stuff for quite some time, so there weren’t a ton of surprises in here. But one thing that shocked me was their hostility toward the celibate gay route. I had always thought they had a live-and-let-live attitude and were cool with the celibate gay Christians doing their own thing. It turns out I was just projecting.

Here are three quotes, with horrified commentary from me.

1. While listing various faulty Christian attitudes toward homosexuality, Mike Goeke refers to the “website” of a mystery denomination (he gives no further information, but he is quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) which advocates chastity as the proper course of action for the same-sex-attracted believer.

The website states that “homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” However, there is a clear implication that true change is not possible. (64)

(emphasis mine)

When I first read this, I didn’t know whether to faint, puke, or rend my garments.

I mean, what have we become if we are portraying the gradual and resolute approach of Christian perfection as somehow not being “true change?” If sanctification isn’t true change for a Christian, then what is? I feel like I’m always trying to tell people that contrary to our awful reputation, we exgays really do see holiness and obedience and faith as the highest and most important things, and all the other kinds of change as secondary at best. Am I wrong about that?

2. Another bit from Goeke, as he again denigrates celibacy in comparison with the True Christian option. Let’s do this one as a quiz, okay? Fill in the blank in the following passage:

Many who leave homosexuality behind are unwilling to accept that their only option is to live a life of celibacy, simply managing unwanted attractions. What they really want is _________.

If, like me, you would put “to get laid” or anything having to do with sex or relationship or marriage, you’d be wrong. The actual quote:

Many who leave homosexuality behind are unwilling to accept that their only option is to live a life of celibacy, simply managing unwanted attractions. What they really want is a change in identity. They no longer want the gay label attached to them. (69-70)

This just doesn’t make sense. How does changing your identity and label free you from celibacy and the onerous responsibility of managing your unwanted attractions? Is “change in identity” supposed to be some sort of code for “heterosexual attractions and relationships?” I’m totally perplexed.

Look, I’m in favor of people taking their gay identity and nailing it to the cross. Really I am. But I think doing it primarily in order to improve your sex/love life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And that’s what this passage seems to be implying. Tired of this long dry season you’ve been having? Switch labels!

Maybe I just don’t understand. In fact, I’m quite sure I don’t understand. But you know, I’ve been trying to sympathetically understand Exodus-speak for several years now, and I think I’m about ready to give up.

3. Alan Chambers this time:

This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is. (218)

(emphasis mine)

If I understand that correctly, he’s saying there’s no sin in the gay sex at all. Right? If celibacy is just as sinful as promiscuity, then the sex makes no moral difference.

Whatever I believe about gay identity, it isn’t that.

I honestly don’t think we have grounds for declaring gay identity flat-out sinful. I do worry about it from a prudential/practical perspective–I simply haven’t seen it “work” in the lives of the many seeking-to-be-faithful-and-obedient homo-atrracted folk I’ve known, with the exception of this one guy (who has himself expressed doubts to me about the wisdom of identifying as gay.) It also appears to work okay for this chick, but seeing as how I don’t know her from a hole in the wall, I can’t really say.

My basic problem with Chambers’s statement, aside from its absurdity in declaring celibacy and promiscuity to be morally equivalent, is that there’s no acknowledgment of the complexity of the issue. There’s no sense that “identifying with” something can take a variety of forms, or that “gay identity” might mean different things to different people. And what does “contrary to Christ” mean? In what way is gay identity like or different from other kinds of identity in this respect? If he just means that our allegiance to Christ ought to trump and transcend all our earthly identities, well yeah! But if he means something more than that, and presumably he does, I think a bit more needs to be said by way of explanation.