Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Celibate gay Christians -- those who feel the pull of same-sex attraction, yet abstain in order to stay faithful to their faith -- get a sensitive, nuanced look in the Washington Post. Though with a couple of flaws.

This gentle 1,600-word feature examines quiet emergence of gays like Eve Tushnet in Catholic and evangelical circles. Ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein explores their feelings toward churches, right or wrong. And the feelings of church folk toward them.

Here's an excellent "nut graph," actually two paragraphs:

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages.

The Post article is timely enough. World magazine, a Christian news journal, on Dec. 11 posted an in-depth story on issues surrounding Julie Rodgers, a gay celibate counselor for students at Wheaton College.

The World article -- while in an advocacy publication -- is thoughtful, many-sided and full of background on shifting views among evangelical leaders toward homosexuality. But it sacrifices closeness and emotional depth for defense of doctrine, as noted by the GetReligion reader who gave us the story idea. And as a conservative evangelical magazine, it ends the article on a pro-heterosexual note.

The Washington Post article does more than outline the issues. It lets Tushnet suggest, if not a cure for homosexual feelings, at least some remedies:

She urges people not to focus so much on the sex they can’t have and instead find other places to pursue intimacy, such as deeper friendships that could be seen as spouselike, co-living arrangements, public service and the arts as ways to express intimacy.
“I use the image of a kaleidoscope — the jewels inside are desires. If you turn it one way, it’s lesbianism. If you rearrange them, it can be community service or devotion to Mary,” she said during a recent interview.

We also get a glimpse at several other celibate gay Christians: Josh Gonnerman, a Catholic University student; Charleigh Linde, a young adult leader at a megachurch; and a lesbian couple in Washington, D.C. She even quotes Julie Rodgers, the Wheaton staffer in the World article.

The Post story includes the usual elements of gay religion stories, like social rejection and the obligatory diss of "reparative therapy." But the story goes beyond that, to discuss the new openness in which religious groups are engaging questions surrounding same-sex attraction.

There's also a nod toward the loyal opposition: Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a go-to guy for religiously conservative quotes.  He approves the willingness to discuss gays in evangelical churches, but still believes God can change their orientation.

"He said he is not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer," the story says. He's also the only "straight" conservative Christian quoted here.

The article also points out a paradox: Although churches are growing more gay friendly, many gays and lesbians look down on the celibate gays. “There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives," Catholic leader Arthur Fitzmaurice tells the Post.

There is a lot to like in this article, but it misses at least one angle: talking with anyone in Courage, a movement for gay Catholics. The story does quote Fitzmaurice, of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry. But Courage would seem to have much of what the celibate gays want: guidance in strengthening celibacy as part of a lifestyle of devotion and spirituality. Apparently, Tushnet, Gonnerman etal. didn't bring up that group.

And you may have noted the religious "ghost": Except for the above-mentioned devotion to Mary, there's not a lot of spirituality in the quotes from these celibate Christians. Tushnet does say that "you can see love, solidarity and beauty in gay communities and still believe there is even more love and beauty in Christianity."  But what that beauty is like, the story doesn't spell out. Maybe someone from Courage could added that part of the kaleidoscope.

The Post piece also lobs a couple of cheap shots that seem out of place with its tone of reconciliation. Julie Rodgers says evangelicals are in a "real panic" on how to deal with gays. Josh Gonnerman says church leaders in the mid-2000s weren't talking about celibacy because they had "sort of thrown their lot in with the Republican Party."

The shots may have been included to illustrate the continuing ambivalence of gays toward organized religions. Religious leaders, after all, are still figuring out the terms of their own relationship with them.

“We really wish people could look past the black and white thinking,” one lesbian tells the Post.  This article helps to further that ideal.


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