Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seriously, stop accusing us of "how close can we get to the line"

Image source.

Julie Rodgers was recently interviewed in Rachel Held Evans's post, Ask a (Celibate) Gay Christian, and had a lot of very important things to say, particularly about being single, dealing with loneliness, and how the church needs to support single people.

Though she believes that God does not allow same-sex sexual relationships, Rodgers says people need intimacy:
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.
I also recommend reading the post she linked in that paragraph, The Freedom to Love.

This view strikes me as so surprising, and also really healthy and practical.

She's so right about Christian culture's fear of relationships turning sexual. I've experienced the fear and warnings because of purity culture, and LGBT Christians probably experience it to an even greater degree.

Image source.

Once I was at a Christian conference where LGBT issues were discussed, and I thought they handled it pretty well, talking about the different bible passages, how there are different interpretations and it's not so clear, and hearing real stories from real LGBT people, emphasizing how badly the church has handled this issue and how we need to focus on LOVING people. It was all really great until near the end, when we came back to one particular bible passage and one of the leaders explained actually because of this or that Greek word, Paul meant that all gay marriage is off-limits. It was presented as "some of these passages aren't so clear, maybe they have multiple interpretations, but here's the RIGHT ANSWER." And after that, the whole tone of the session changed. Everyone (not really everyone, I know there were people there who didn't agree) participated in the discussions with the assumption that the bible says gay marriage is wrong. I think the problem was so many evangelical Christians just want to know "the right answer" rather than respect the fact that different people have different opinions and that's okay.

But anyway, at this conference, at one point there was a panel taking questions from the audience. One question was, okay, so gay people can't have sex, but what about having a close friendship- maybe even at the level of a "covenant"- and not having sex? And the leaders on the panel answered, "eh, no, it's sounds too much like 'let's find out exactly where the line is so we can get as close to it as possible.'"

You know "the line"?

The line. A highly important concept in purity culture. Okay, so we can't have sex. But what exactly can one do with one's boyfriend or girlfriend? Can we kiss? Hold hands? And every time you ask this question in your youth group, the leaders will answer, "Whoa, hold on, hold on. This sounds like a case of trying to find exactly where the line is so you can get as close to it as possible without sinning. No no. Don't try to find the line, just work on following Jesus."

Which of course annoyed me to no end because dang, I just want a straight answer. This is a very practical question! And I've heard all kinds of mixed messages- you've got people who advocate "saving your first kiss" for marriage/engagement, you've got warnings that ANY AND ALL physical contact with a member of the opposite sex (oh btw everyone is straight) can lead to sex, but on the other hand I see couples at church holding hands, or giving each other a quick kiss... so what's the deal? (Are they just so overwhelmed by temptation that they've "compromised" and decided that little romantic gestures are okay?)

No one ever said, yes, it is okay and normal for couples to do X, Y, and Z.

(And I'm straight. This must be even more ridiculously confusing for Christians who are not.)

We're not trying to be as bad as possible without hitting "the line." We're trying to actually understand what the rules are, and what freedom God gives us. And when that question gets answered with "no no no, you shouldn't be trying to FIND the line," the message it sends is "probably everything you think of as romantically or sexually pleasurable is NOT OKAY." And also, if you go too close to "the line" then there will be all kinds of temptation and you'll end up crossing "the line" anyway.

It's all very hazy, but you should probably feel really guilty about it.

My experiences with "the line" are that of a straight teenager/ college student. For adult gay or lesbian Christians who believe they must be celibate, it's a very different thing. Let's get back to what Julie Rodgers said: "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."

You see that? "The risks of isolation." Staying as far away from "the line" as possible is ACTUALLY A BAD AND UNHEALTHY THING.

Is there a rooftop I can shout this from?

She's so right. Especially for single adults. People need love, friendship, and intimacy from other people. Those are needs, not locations on the slippery slope toward having sex. God-given blessings, not harmful influences that will push us too close to "the line."

From now on, if you believe in the existence of "the line" but don't believe people should try to find it, kindly shut up about it. You've turned "the line" into a big blur of fear and guilt, and that is not the freedom God wants God's children to live in.


  1. As far as Christ was concerned, "the line" was "adultery".

    And yet so many of the same people whom scream about "the line" when it comes to gay and lesbian people are the same ones whom CROSS the line that Jesus gave. Which instantly makes me think of this:

    "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get."

  2. This. So much this. And (at least in the environment I was brought up in) it doesn't just go for sex and relationships: alcohol, music, TV, what you can do on Sunday; the list goes on. It's only with several years distance that I can see how destructive this whole approach is.