Celibacy has been wielded as a weapon against so-called sexual immorality. But what if it is intended to be a gift, a relief, for sex-averse and sex-repulsed people instead?
This article was originally posted on Invisible Cake Society.
Yes, as our friend, comforter, creator, divine parent, provider, protector, lover, healer, Lord, and shepherd… God cares about our sexuality and bodies.
God made us good and different: giving some people sex-favourability, some sex-indifference, some sex-aversion, and some sex-repulsion. To some, They give romantic relationships, to others singleness. To some, queer orientations, to others straight. To some, trans genders; to others, cis.
All imago Dei. All beautiful. None with the same journey or story or callings. Each with unique individual gifts and personalities and relationships and features. Each with equal worth and dignity, capacity for holiness and embodied presence of God’s body.
Celibacy is a gift. The kind of gift that comes as a blessed relief and freedom for those most marginalised by amatonormativity. Joy. A burden lifted. Belonging in the kingdom just as I was created to be.
You know what a gift is not, by definition? A sacrifice, self-denial, a cross to bear, suffering, pain inflicted by the giver. That’s not love. That’s not a gift.
Some gifts are difficult to receive, yes, but suffering is not how we define a gift. The purpose of a gift is not to punish us into submission or be a beacon of God’s wrath or to use our bodies as objects to show the world how to sacrifice our joy. (It also isn’t a signpost of our sin, our failures, our chains of worthlessness, or a demon. There’s a whole history and theology of suffering I could go into here, from the Desert Fathers to the Puritans to the prosperity gospel. But instead, I will refer you to the work of Dr. Kate Bowler and those she interviews on her beautiful podcast, Everything Happens.)
You have probably received a gift from a loved one at some point that is just so you. Maybe it wasn’t always easy, maybe it took a while to figure out what it even was, and maybe not everyone understood it, but it was so YOU. Generously so. How much more will the God of goodness and love and creation give good gifts to Their children!
I have the gift of celibacy. It’s difficult in the sense that I live in a world that demands sexuality of everyone. Even the church expects sexual desire as the default. But I don’t. So it’s hard to be different, to be unexpected, to be the exception. It is not hard for me to avoid having sex with anyone. It literally would not occur to me to do so, ever, in my daily life. I have been given a gift that says it’s okay for me to be this way. That God honours it and even intentionally made me this way for a purpose. So the gift itself is not the burden. The burden is living in a world that doesn’t accept my gift for the relief and joy it is.
I say this with all due gentleness and soft suggestiveness: If celibacy is not a gift for you, perhaps consider that you are not actually called to it and God gave you the good gift of sex-favourability instead. Neither is more holy or righteous as a blanket statement because we were all given different gifts, and those are equally good.
The life we are all called to is pretty clear to me: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. If it is not loving to yourself or your neighbour or God, do not do it. If it IS loving to yourself and your neighbour and to God… just, go ahead and do it and save the drama. You can always stop if it isn’t right.
Yes, God does care about your sexuality, your body, your mind, your delight and pain and longing desire and pleasure. God created them good and whole and on a very diverse spectrum of attraction, gender, ability, neurodivergence, and preference.
Is there such thing as sexual immorality? YES. Is it what conservative Christians think it is? Clearly not or they would clean up their own houses and leave the rest of us alone. “Consent,” as the very lowest bar, is hard for them to wrap their minds around for a reason, I guess. But let’s be clear: no one here is saying sexual immorality is nonexistent. It just looks less like violation of made-up gender roles and relationship status and more like abuse, cruelty, lies, lust, violence, betrayal… The same as any other kind of immorality.
Know this: The God of mercy and justice, who is and whose name is Love, is absolutely concerned with holiness in relation to how you treat people. That has nothing to do with your orientation or gender or what a piece of paper says about your relationship status, and everything to do with how you steward the gifts of love and grace and kindness that have been given to you. Using those to show love with your body? Definitely something God cares about, whether that is sexual or not.
God... cares about the sexual wounds you have been through
I also want to be clear that God, being love, cares about the sexual wounds you have been through. God cares about your body and all the pain it feels. God cares about your heartache and your longing and your dreams.
Hear me: I’m not saying this is always easy to live out.
I’m saying God cares. Not as a bully. Not as a divine judge or referee or scorekeeper. As a giver. As the inventor of pleasure. As the potter who moulded your body into being, every good and holy part.
There is already so much suffering, pain, and self-denial that we all go through just to love ourselves and our neighbour as we fight to survive. We all face struggles and fear and shame. Let’s stop trying to create more by denying the good gifts our Father gives Their children.
What if instead of concerning ourselves with how far is too far, and lists of who can and can’t have which and what kind of sex or relationship or clothing or cultural identity signifier… we looked up to see the real Jesus, who taught us what neighbour-love is, who modelled real kindness and real sacrifice, breaking the rules for love: for connection, healing, freedom, joy, community, delight.
There is enough suffering in the world. We do not have to provide our own.
We do have to discern the right path for each us, which is much more complex and requires a devotion to Wisdom beyond simplistic sweeping statements of purity and cookie-cutter identity.
I promise you will be given plenty of other opportunities to pick up your cross, if you are led by the Spirit.
I’m not saying that God doesn’t call us to hard things or that the path of love, freedom, joy, and authenticity is always smooth or easy. But grace carries us through, grace provides, grace teaches and revives us and gives life. Not stifles it. Not punishes. Not condemns.
This love, without the platitudes and slogans and black-and-white answers is much harder. It’s freedom, but it’s also about justice and mercy, not shame and fear. It’s joy, but it’s also about having to know what’s right and wrong with the guidance of the Spirit. Maturity.
So, does God care about what happens (or doesn’t) in your bedroom? YES, please understand, yes. But God cares because it matters to you, because it happens to and with and by you, Their beloved. Because it’s a place of vulnerability and longing and authenticity and using the gifts God created you with. Your unique expression of love, in Their image.
Are there good reasons for seasons of abstinence? Yeah! Will they be harder for sex-favourable people but worth it if they are called to it for whatever reason? Sure! But make sure that’s really God calling you to it, and not a religious purity code or a social rule or a requirement based on something inherent to your identity.
Find what is healthy, good, joy-filled, and loving for you and for your neighbour and for your connection to God.
What honours the gifts God has given you?
To learn more, I highly recommend Matthias Roberts’ book, Beyond Shame. He discusses this with the wisdom and experience of a gay Christian therapist, who has not only lived his own story of finding freedom and safety and authenticity but has helped many others along the path as well.