Side A + Side B
“I’m side B”. What the heck is that! I thought to myself. If you’ve been hearing this buzz phrase, “Side A and Side B” when it comes to the debate about homosexuality and Christianity, but have no idea what it is, you’re not alone. I had actually not heard of it until this last year. It’s a term coined by the Gay Christian Network in the hopes of providing support and a place of community for all. I applaud them for this! There truly is no need to alienate and judge within a community that already has experienced plenty of that, the LGBTQ Christian community that is.
So what are these two sides? Side A consists of LGBTQ Christians who believe to be gay and live as a gay person in a same-sex romantic relationship is not a sin. People on Side B believe it’s not a sin to be LGBTQ, but see the only way to stay within these parameters is to live a celibate life and thus never engage in a same-sex sexual relationship. Once I understood these two sides I realized I had heard of it long before GCN coined the term. One of my favorite spiritual writers, Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest was gay, but lived a celibate life. His writing, words and heart have changed and molded my world more than any other writer. That’s why it’s been a bit of a shift to consider his sexuality in light of this side A, side B debate. I used to think he chose to be celibate because he was a Catholic priest, I mean that makes sense! Except, now I’m wondering if he chose the route of priest more to help ensure he wouldn’t fall into the sin of acting on his homosexuality. And honestly, I find myself wondering if there had been the option of being able to be LGBTQ in a way that ensured I wasn’t engaging in the worst kind of sin, what I thought about homosexuality when I was a young college student I might have chosen that rout. If I’m honest, it might have caused me less pain than the torment of trying to change the fact that I was a lesbian with no success.
I can see the draw to find another solution as a Christian. The Ex-gay, reparative therapy movement has been proven over and over again to not work, or be ethical and has actually causes an extreme amount of harm. And if you have an assumption that to be homosexual means to be promiscuous and ungodly then there aren’t a whole lot of choices. And what could sound more godly and spiritual that celibacy?! Christianity hales those who can live lives’ full of sacrifice and self-denial. Desire of any kind is seen as bad and minimally not a godly attribute in many Christian circles. In the film Love Free or Die, the story about the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Gene Robinson one of his colleagues said something that drove this point home. Bishop Bob Duncans responds to his friend, Bishop Robinson about living as a gay man in this way, “Buck up, straighten up. Holiness is the issue, sacrifice is the issue, not fulfillment, or affirmation. Remember, hell is the enjoyment of your own way forever.” When I heard him say this my heart sank. This man, Bishop Duncan is the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America and he’s leading thousands and thousands of people and church leaders in a theology full of the rhetoric that to be a Christian means to lose yourself. Didn’t God create us beautifully and wonderfully?! It might seem odd but his words would have worried me less if he had just stuck to the old, homosexuality is a sin and you’re going to hell bit. But he confirms what I think is a road for very few people, but makes it look broader than it really is. That you can go from being the least of these, an LGBTQ Christian, experiencing a same sex relationship to the most celebrated, self sacrificing, godly Christian, a celibate. All you have to do is cut yourself off from desire and who you are. I feel he has gravely misunderstood Christ’s desire for us as humans. Celibacy is gift given to very few people, straight and LGBTQ alike. In fact his Christian tradition doesn’t even require celibacy from their priests and bishops because they know it’s a gift given to few.
When deciding which side of the debate you fall on, or which side you want to live out in your own life it is important to remember that this is a deeply personal decision. It’s a decision that’s ultimately between you and God. No one can make it for you and it’s a calling/gift that only God puts in your heart. I want to assure you that as a therapist if you came to me and wanted help living a celibate life I would be honored to walk with you in that. In no way would I try and convince you to switch to either side. There’s nothing for me to gain by somehow manipulating you to be okay with living as a practicing LGTBQ Christian.
However, I do believe we were made by God as sexual, relational beings. We were made to connect with one another and we were made to experience God in those places of emotional and sexual connection. Another words, when I experience the sexual parts of myself through desire and pleasure, I’m experiencing a beauty that God indented me to enjoy and therefore see as a reflection of Him. And so it’s not that I think to live a celibate life is a bad idea, but it asks that person to miss out on what God created for them—to love and be loved in deep emotional and sexual ways and therefore to miss out on parts of God. Desire, sex and connection are gifts from God given to all. May we steward them and enjoy them the way he intended, with joy and fulfillment.