In this passage, I’m in awe of how Scripture is revealed to us, straight from the Spirit, to give a full account of these words that Jesus spoke to the Father. Only God himself could give us access to this moment in history. He didn’t have to, but he did. And to know that Jesus, just hours away from death, took time to pray for me — that’s incredibly humbling and profoundly encouraging. I’m grateful that God pulled back the curtain here to give a glimpse into the prayer life of the Mediator himself. He prayed for me then, and I can rest assured that he prays for me now. What a glorious thought!
In the past month or so, several people have asked why I made the decision to remain single in response to my same-sex attraction and given the fact that marriage to someone of the opposite sex is still a real and God-honoring possibility for those who experience ongoing SSA.
The Calvinist in me would say I didn’t choose singleness; singleness chose me. And that’s partly true. As I’ve mentioned before, I think God designed me in such a way that I can thrive as a single man. My personality, my hobbies, and my schedule all lend themselves to singleness, which is incredibly providential. At the same time, I’m intentional about singleness and doing it well. I’ve become more and more proactive about building relationships, serving people, and striving for sexual purity. So yeah, in some ways, singleness chose me — in other ways, I chose singleness. I continue to choose it every day.
Singleness in my teens
Being single in high school was easy. I was too busy with music and writing and church to think about dating. (Notice I didn’t mention studying!) Shortly after graduation, friends were getting hitched left and right. (This is Utah, where people marry young.) The marryin’ age was no longer in the future; it was now. I had to consider whether marriage was realistic for me, someone who continued to experience same-sex attraction.
On the night I “came out” to my parents, I told them I still wanted a wife and kids, despite being attracted to men. They told me it was a good and godly desire, which I was free to pursue. (Such a beautiful response, by the way.) Looking back, I think my desire for marriage was actually a desire for things I believed would accompany marriage: 1) the “healing” or diminishing of my same-sex attractions, and 2) achieving the American dream, which included starting a family. I didn’t desire marriage for what it was designed to be — a living expression of God’s faithfulness to his people — I only wanted the perks (real or imagined). By God’s grace, my priority at that time was to get a degree, which put thoughts of marriage on the back burner. Phew!
Singleness in my twenties
College and the start of my career bought me enough time to realize I was pretty good at being single (while being “out” to my parents and a small group of friends eased the pressure to date or get married). I’d racked up years of experience learning how to love God, serve people, and foster community without the help of a spouse. Or, to put it another way, I’d settled nicely into singleness.
Not that I “settled” for singleness. I don’t believe it’s something we settle for. Jesus told his disciples the single life is a high calling (Matthew 19:12), and Paul said it’s BETTER to remain single, especially when it comes to ministry (1 Corinthians 7:8). So I started seeing singleness the way God does. I started to notice all the ways singleness was a blessing, as it offered more time, opportunities, and even relationships than many of my married friends. Of course, there’s a learning curve in using these gifts to bless others and serve God rather than self, but my twenties gave me lots of time — and God gave me lots of grace — to figure it out.
Singleness in my thirties
By my thirtieth birthday, lifelong singleness had become a viable, even attractive, option. I was “out” to family, friends, my church, and the blogosphere, and pretty vocal about my intent to remain single for the sake of Christ. That’s when it started to feel deliberate or “vocational,” as some call it. That’s when it felt most like a decision. I’d also started to notice other Christians, such as those at Living Out, who chose to remain celibate in response to their same-sex attraction, which made the possibility far more appealing than the bleak picture of singleness painted by secular culture.
Being more open about SSA and singleness in my thirties has also meant facing more challenges and temptations. Saying “no” to a sexual relationship with a man was no longer a hypothetical situation; it was a reality. That is, I’ve experienced the pain of obedience, of practicing what I preach. I’ve also faced more “fiery darts” in my spiritual life than ever before, perhaps because I’m so public with my story. But openness has also meant more accountability, more community, more hope. I’ve connected with people all over the world. Being in fellowship with other single Christians has proven in real life what I’ve always known in my head: singleness really is “the happy alternative” to marriage.
Singleness in the future
Having never been married, I can’t say for sure, but I think I’m better suited to pursue holiness through singleness. But my “decision” (if we’re still calling it that) to remain single has always come with a caveat: God is full of surprises. I’m open to the idea of marrying a godly woman, but since I’m not actually pursuing marriage, it certainly would come as a surprise!
There’s something I love about the phrase “single on purpose.” Better yet, single with purpose. I’ve spent the past few years striving to be single in the best possible way — with Christ-centered intentionality, commitment, even passion. I think singleness is something we have to keep seeing afresh, making adjustments as we go. After all, being a single teen is a lot different than being a single forty-something (or octogenarian). Like marriage, it’s not going to be easy, but I truly believe it can be happy. Especially if we use the gift to honor God and point people to Jesus. When I’m doing that, I know I’m making the right — here comes that word again — decision.
Today I spent a couple hours walking through the wreckage that is autumn. In the spring, my afternoon walks are ripe with resurrection imagery — buds, blossoms, butterflies. Everything whispers “new life” and I’m emboldened to hope in the risen Christ. It’s like a sermon: “Behold, I make all things new.” But today, smack in the middle of October, nature clearly pointed to death: bare branches, bone-dry plants (with a few clinging to dear life), tiny animals scrounging for scraps. (I imagined them prepping for the winter apocalypse.) As much as I love spring and the signs of life that come with it, the fall imagery was beautiful, too — just in a different way.
Which got me thinking, how can death be beautiful?
In Scripture, death is ugly — the costly wages of sin (Romans 6:23). But the death of Jesus gave death new meaning — even hope. Jesus, the best man to ever live — the only man who TRULY lived in the way we ought to, fiercely devoted to God and neighbor — this man who really lived, REALLY died. Like the beautiful, blood-red leaf that floats and spirals and plummets to the ground, severed from its source, the Son of God was slain. His corpse entombed for three days — a short season, but enough for the reality to set in. The tomb was sealed. The disciples mourned. The women blended burial spices together and knew where to find the grave. This was the real deal.
And yet Christians believe, somehow, this death is beautiful. Because this wasn’t ordinary — not like all other deaths that came before it. This particular death marked “the death of death” for all who believe. On the cross, every last drop of God’s wrath was poured out on the Son, who died in our place, and every bit of Christ’s righteousness was given to us, in what theologians call “the great exchange.” This death secured eternal LIFE for those who love Jesus — the one person whom death could never touch, because he was without sin, yet he submitted to it willingly. Yes, this death proved something: not only Christ’s love for the Father, but also his love for us.
My second thought, as I crunched my way along the trail, was of dying to self — something all Christians are called to do. A few verses came to mind. Like when Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Another time, he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Then there’s Paul, who said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). To die is gain.
In all these passages, death for the Christian is redeemed, reimagined. I think that’s why today, despite my affinity for spring, I was able to see something beyond death — something more like beauty — in the images that pervaded the landscape. At the end of the trail (right after my phone died), I spotted a caterpillar on the pavement. I picked him up with a twig and watched another sermon crawl before my very eyes:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tonight I sat on the porch and watched the storm roll through. The lightning was beautiful, the way it struck in silence, for a nanosecond brightening the drenched landscape, then disappearing again into the black. I did the thing where you count the seconds between the lightning and thunder to see how many miles away it is — how long before I get struck in my rocking chair, sipping a cup of tea.
I needed something beautiful tonight. Life has been a bit of a storm lately. Cliché, I know, but a storm just makes sense right now. I’m OK saying this on a blog called The Happy Alternative — a blog about happiness — because I give myself permission to be sad, to FEEL my way through a valley. And lately I’ve been fighting for happiness, the same way I fight for holiness. Scripture calls it a “good fight,” and that’s what I believe. That’s why I exhaust myself trying to punch and kick and head-butt my way to happiness. I know we’re made for it. We’re headed for it.
So I watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. It sounded less like thunder and more like a waterfall — three of which I’ve seen and touched in the past month, so it sounded familiar — mixed with aircraft zooming over. It lasted longer than the typical bolt, and seemed more like the “rolling thunder” we sing about on those rare occasions when we crack open our hymnals and belt out “How Great Thou Art.” His power throughout the universe displayed. And in that moment I really did think of how great he is.
I’m teaching Sunday school tomorrow, on the topic of Heaven and Hell. Tonight, in the storm, I sensed the God of both Heaven and Hell making something known. His power? His wrath? His stunning creativity? I’m too tired to figure it out, but it’s nice to feel something other than 1) nothing, because I’m always too busy THINKING, or 2) guilt and shame — two things I’ve been wrestling with lately and two things, until recently, I’ve rarely ever faced in my Christian walk.
This is just a season, I’m sure — a storm that blows over, clears the air, makes everything feel new. Tomorrow is Sunday — a new day, a new week — and, as always, I look forward to the new mercies that come with it. That’s a promise I’ve always held on to: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Such a ray of hope… in a book called Lamentations. God is full of surprises.
Hope and lamentation. That about sums it up, I think. Especially tonight, as I “word vomit” this stream of consciousness onto the computer screen (and the perfectionist in me pleas for me not to press “publish” because it’s not pretty and polished). I’m thankful to serve a sovereign God who not only allows the storms to roll through, but sometimes calms them too. Either way, I know he’s with me. For me.
Now my tea is cold. But I think the storm has blown over.
If anyone has a reason to search Scripture for an “out,” a way to be in a gay relationship and yet remain within the bounds of God’s will for sexuality, it’s me — the Christian who experiences ongoing same-sex attraction. Trust me, I’ve heard arguments from Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and others who try to make a case for gay marriage in the Church. I’ve read books, watched debates, and had long talks with friends who urge me to pursue a sexual relationship with a man. I’ve listened to and reasoned through every attempt to justify gay marriage, but nothing has convinced me — the guy who, in theory, should be the easiest person to convince.
The simple answer is “Because God said so.” It’s true, only six verses in the Bible explicitly mention homosexual practice. All of them, of course, forbid it. The most quoted are Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1, which, admittedly, come with a fair share of controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural context, and so forth. (Although it’s not as if theologians throughout time haven’t already explained why the ban on homosexual practice is different from the ban on shellfish or mixed fabrics.) These verses, complicated though they seem to some, are enough to prove to me that pursuing a gay romance would dishonor God. But let’s say I didn’t have those six verses. I still couldn’t “just be gay,” because there’s still the big picture of marriage in Scripture to consider. Which is good, because I’m a big picture kind of guy.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always the bridegroom; his people are the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). God designed marriage between husband and wife, sexual complements, for a very specific purpose: to be a living picture of the gospel. This metaphor matters to God. And it matters to me, too.
If there’d been a huge paradigm shift on marriage and sex, it would’ve happened in early Church history, not the early 21st century. With something as important as sexual purity, Jesus and the New Testament writers would’ve made it 100 percent clear that the ban on homosexual practice had been repealed, the way God did for Peter regarding dietary restrictions, with a vision of formerly unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying “eat” (Acts 10:9-16). We don’t have that with marriage; we only have reconfirmation from Christ that marriage remains as he established it in the garden: a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). A beautiful picture of the truth of the gospel.
People might ask, “Why can’t two men or two women reflect that same truth?” Well, gender and biological sex are realities created by God, and he uses them in creation and within marriage for his purposes — both for the flourishing of mankind and to tell a story. If you’re looking for a why beyond the why, I can’t help you. To me, that’s like a child asking “Why?” after the parent has already explained— as if additional answers will ever satisfy. (If you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know what I mean.) But there is a WHO beyond the why, and I can tell you he’s good, wise, loving, and he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways (Psalm 84:11). This is the God I love, trust, and seek to obey. And I’m OK with the reason he’s given. That’s enough.
At the heart of this question is a plea for me to be happy, which I appreciate. It’s nice to know I have family and friends who desire my happiness. But what I need people to understand is that following Jesus REALLY DOES make me happy! It’s not the kind of happiness a sex-obsessed world expects; it’s the happiness that comes with being given a new heart and new desires. That includes obeying God’s commands for marriage and sexuality — those boundaries set for my joy and sanctification. Violating God’s Word (and my own conscience) actually works AGAINST my ultimate happiness. I have no doubt that a sexual relationship with a man would bring some temporary pleasures, but that’s not the kind of pleasure I’m looking for. I want the kind that lasts forever, which only comes through a relationship with my God (Psalm 16:11).
Yes, I’m still attracted to the same sex, and I imagine I always will be. But I choose to remain celibate and pursue a life of joyful singleness because I believe God and his purpose for marriage. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). I really do love that man, and I want to keep his commandments without people telling me I’d be happier if I didn’t.
1. “In Tenderness” by Citizens. They took an old clunky hymn in 6/8 and made it one of my favorite songs on the planet. The words alone are enough to send my spirit soaring, but combined with those four simple chords? DYING.
2. “Clair de Lune.” Just listen to it. No, FEEL IT. Movie directors don’t even hire composers for their most poignant scenes; they use this song (think Atonement and Oceans Eleven). Debussy’s masterpiece is the soundtrack to our lives. Now, if only I could play it.
3. “We Shall Always Be With the Lord” by Ellie Holcomb. Buy the whole album. In fact, buy her whole catalogue! Simple, gorgeous, uplifting, and so many songs pulled straight from Scripture. But this song gets me every time. Tears streaming. Heart bursting. True happiness right here.
4. “Oh! Great is Our God!” by The Sing Team. You can hear the joy in their voices. It’s like family worship. And the title says it all.
5. “Sunshine” by Joy Williams. After her stint on Christian radio, but before she was half of The Civil Wars, she was an indie solo artist with two delightful EPs. This song, along with a runner-up called “You’re My Favorite,” feels like a blend of 60s pop and a children’s TV theme song.
6. “Hello” by KB. No, not Adele’s unhappy tune. This one’s a rap-sung collaboration that makes me want to do two things: 1) SANG and 2) PREACH. A “morning after” song that reminds us that God’s mercies are new every day.
7. “U Will Know” by BMU. Mmmmm, this song is YUMMY. A little-known gem from the 90s, recorded by the most soulful voices of that era. With their powers combined, they are “Black Men United.” I get one taste of that guitar intro and I’m instantly hooked — and instantly happy!
Need seven more? I got you.
Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)
As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.
Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.
The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.
Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.
This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.
Last year, a friend of mine sent me a picture of his “hot” date on Valentine’s Day. It was a brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream — and possibly human tears. (Cell phone camera, so it’s hard to say.) This is what Valentine’s Day can look like for single, celibate Christians.
But it doesn’t have to.
I’ve been single on Valentine’s Day for the past 32 years. (And every other day of the year, too, but that’s beside the point.) Yet somehow I’ve found things to love about it.
Remember in elementary school, when classmates passed out mandatory valentines and those horrible candy hearts? Sure, I got cards from people who’d never talk to me again after February 14, but it was fun getting “love notes” from the friends you cared about, and the kids who signed more than just their names.
When I was a teenager, sometimes my parents would leave me a gift on the kitchen counter. Maybe a stuffed animal or a coffee mug decked with hearts — just a little something to make Valentine’s Day special for the boy who never had a valentine. Meanwhile, hormonal girls at school huffed over not getting flowers from their insensitive boyfriends. Tragic…
In college, I’d often stay home on Valentine’s Day to spend time with my “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). That’s about the time I fell in love with the Song of Solomon. I pored over Puritan commentaries, whose typological readings of the book celebrated the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. Coming to terms with faith and sexuality, learning what celibacy would look like for me, I took comfort in seeing God as the divine bridegroom — and I still do.
Today, at 32, I still love Valentine’s Day. I love reaching out to friends and family, or even someone who wouldn’t expect it, with a valentine via text. It’s also an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage — a chance to rejoice in marital bliss (even if it’s not my own). In the last few years, I’ve teamed up with friends to do outreach on Valentine’s Day, including helping a church host a dinner for homeless women, and rallying support for a fundraiser to aid victims of sex trafficking.
So yeah, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big cry-fest for me. It’s always been a day of love.
However, there are people in my life (and yours) for whom the holiday is unhappy. Maybe someone who is divorced or widowed. Maybe someone who really wants to be married and is wrestling with God’s timing and will. We ought to be gentle with their hearts, especially on a day when romance is shoved in our faces, as if that’s the only place to find love.
This year, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to single folks in your church. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Tell them God loves them, too. Remind them love is real and available to them outside of marriage. There’s love in friendship — those people who’ve mastered the art of loving at all times (Proverbs 17:17). There’s love in the church body — a spiritual family that transcends bloodlines. There’s love in service — putting other people’s needs before your own. There’s love in the pages of Scripture, where God reveals his devotion to us. It’s all over the place, if someone would just remind us.
A very celibate Valentine’s Day can be a very happy one indeed. Come to think of it, brownies and a scoop of ice cream would make it even happier.
Hold the tears.