Sunday, April 22, 2012

Celibacy? Grow up!

This is a post that has been nagging at me for a long, long time. And it was the recent publication of a presidential address from the Bishop Barry Morgan in Wales that has finally pulled this post from the depths of my brain and out into the blogosphere.

Bishop Morgan's address is aimed at a particular issue facing the Church in Wales about the lack of movement on the part of the church to allow for the civil registration of same-sex partners in a church building as opposed to a government office.  Apparently, this question has been before the Bishops for a year and they have been ducking it ever since.   Now there is the discussion of allowing actual marriage equality which only further exacerbates this particular issue.

But all of that is just the cover for the deeper point that Bishop Morgan wants to address. This is more about the inherent discrimination faced by LGBT people within the church at a myriad of levels, and not just where they can register their partnerships.   Bishop Morgan is getting to the nub of the whole thing: we gay people are given a conditional welcome.  Or, as Bishop Barbara Harris says, the LGBT people of faith are treated like some kind of "half-assed baptized."

It is true.  Churches are more than happy to have us join, but what happens when we are moved by the Holy Spirit?  What happens when we feel our relationship with God growing deeper and stronger?  What happens when we feel our talents and innate, God-given gifts require us to move from the laity to the ordained?  Suddenly, we go from the stranger invited into the home to being treated like a relative who has overstayed their welcome.

For example, consider the rule that exists in some dioceses that says if someone is seeking ordination, they must be either married or celibate.  Since Florida does not allow LGBT people to marry, nor does it recognize the rights and privileges afforded to lesbian and gay couples who marry in another state, anyone of the gay persuasion seeking to discern a call to the priesthood must be celibate.   Unmarried straights will quickly add that they, too, must be celibate under the rule.  That is true.  And it is also wrongheaded.  There should be no requirement that someone take the extraordinary vow of celibacy.  And while I can feel bad for those straight people who must walk a precarious line while dating someone when they are in discernment, I can't help but note that they DO have an option: they CAN get married.  In Florida, LGBT people can not.  Why then is there this demand?  Even Bishop Morgan says:

[But] can celibacy be imposed?  Shouldn't it be freely undertaken as a personal vocation by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike?  As Rowan Williams once put it, "anyone who knows the complexities of the true celibate vocation, would be the last to have any sympathy with the extraordinary idea that sexual orientation is an automatic pointer to a celibate life: almost as if celibacy before God is less costly, even less risky to the homosexual than the heterosexual."  And is not separating mind and body or feelings or orientation from practice a kind of dualism which the church has condemned in the past since human beings are a unified whole and cannot be compartmentalised in such a way.  If that is true of humanity in general, why should we expect people of a homosexual disposition to be singled out in this way? 

There is no good answer for this question.  It appears to me that the only reason for this extra requirement is to deal with the prejudice that still exists within the church toward those of us who are in same-sex relationships.  The gospel commands us and expects us to bend toward justice, not cater to the prejudices and make peace with oppressive attitudes just so that some can feel comfortable.

Bishop Morgan wonders how can the Church of Wales show that the gospel is good news for the homosexuals?  I have a very simple answer: treat us with same dignity, respect, and acceptance that is fully expected and granted to the heterosexual majority.   Do not demand that we prove ourselves even more worthy of God's love and grace as baptized members of the Body of Christ.   And allow us to live into our full baptism which includes all the sacraments of the Church. Then I will believe that the Church is willing and able to tell of the good news that is in the Gospel.  

In short, grow up and grow into the Body of Christ, and allow Christ, not the flawed and too-human episcopate, to be the head. 


fr dougal said...

The vocation to celibacy is a perfectly proper and honourable one... BUT it is also quite separate from ordination (at least outwith the Roman obedience. I agree that ordination should be open to anyone who is truly called and not "ring fenced" for LGBT candidates with the additional requirement of celibacy. Of coursre all who are ordained must strive for chastity - which not the same thing and is exercised by any Christian, Gay or straight, married or single.

SCG said...

I agree with you, fr dougal. Chastity and celibacy are NOT the same thing at all. And I think it is wrong to expect one group of candidates (LGBT) to be celibate, especially in the Episcopal Church where priests are allowed to be married.

Tejas said...

There's a common misconception that Peter, pastor of the first church ever was celebit. He wasn't. The gospels record that he had a mother-in-law. Married people have mothers-in-law. Peter was married, not celebit. He was probably chaste before marriage, but not celebit for life.

Anonymous said...

Can't add to thesethoughts.


SCG said...

The demand for us LGBT people to be celibate in order to serve God in the church has nothing to do with God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It is about denying LGBT people our full humanity in a way that is NOT done to heterosexuals.
I have no sympathy for the unmarried heterosexual who is seeking ordination and whines that they can't have a girlfriend or boyfriend. They can, they do, and then they CAN get married. And I really doubt the church police (real, or imagined in a Monty Python sketch) stalk the straight people to see if they're having sex outside of marriage.
It is offensive that LGBT people are asked to adopt an additional call that has no basis in the works of Jesus. Like I said, it is time for the church to grow up, and stop worrying about what I may or may not be doing in bed!