Our theme for the month of June is “sex and the church.” To read posts from our first pass at this theme, check out our June 2018 archives.
As someone who is newly part of the Christian Reformed Church and was raised Christian but isn’t, like, theological about it, I know enough about sex rules to get by. When the church gives guidelines on sexuality immorality, whether that be sex outside of marriage or sex between two people of the same sex, celibacy is the silver bullet. You can be gay, but keep it PG-13. You can date people and have fun, but no matter how old you are you can’t have sex until you’re married. When in doubt, celibate it out.
I am not particularly bothered by celibacy. Sure, I enjoyed a good sex scene in a novel. I’ve had physically intimate moments, the most intense one being someone tenderly touching my belly. It lead to an epiphany of sorts (wow, people can connect physically) but not to the epiphany I was looking for (i.e. it was not “Oh I do want to have sex”). So when the church repeatedly reminded me that I couldn’t have sex in my current state of affairs, I basically shrugged and went, “Okay, whatever.”
After exploring and probing my asexuality more, though, I’m finding it harder and harder to swallow the celibacy route.
The church has framed celibacy as a punishment: you’re not doing sex in the right context, you unmarried harlot, so you aren’t allowed to have it at all. Since you are not heterosexual, you have to atone for it by giving up physical intimacy with a partner (and still be grateful that you are accepted here in church at all). Sex is so good, the church says—it was created by God to bring humans closer together, but you don’t get to experience it unless you check all the boxes. Don’t you want it so so bad? Aren’t you willing to do the right things so you get to have it? Isn’t not having sex awful?
Earlier this year, I took part in a Colossian Way small group focused on human sexuality, and we discussed celibacy a lot. In one of the lessons, a gay man told his story about growing up in the church, wrestling with his sexuality, and eventually deciding to be celibate and foster deep connections in his church. As someone who doesn’t plan on having sex and enjoys having deep connections within her church, I felt decidedly uncomfortable. Sure, he found an option he was happy with, but how much was his hand forced by the church? Would he have still chosen celibacy if the church had gone further in their LGBTQ+ inclusion?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for every person who decides that they don’t want to opt into the sex culture (and I think they have a biblical basis). However, there should be space inside the church for those who want to have sex and those who do not, regardless of sexual orientation. This framing of celibacy as a punishment, intentional or not, has put sex on a pedestal and dismissed those who do not partake.
Choosing not to have sex is not a punishment, nor is it an infantile decision, and the church should respect (and celebrate!) people who go down that route without forcing them down that route. Sex is not the end-all be-all. As we have racial, gender, cultural, and age diversity in church, there is room for sexual diversity too.
Asexuality is often erased in the wider culture, and the same holds true for the church currently. Right now, being asexual in the church feels like being the model minority of the LGBTQ+ community—you fit in just enough to not stick out as long as you don’t make any waves. But if the church is to be truly inclusive of all queer people, we’ve got to rethink how we treat celibacy.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.