I want you to meet a rather unique couple. Their names are Sarah and Lindsey, but don’t form your opinions too quickly. Yes, Sarah and Lindsey are partners. Yes, they are attracted to the same sex. But no, they are not married nor are they engaging in sexual relations. They are celibate. Now, before you race to declare where you “stand” on this situation—Is it sin?! Is it not a sin!? Why are they partners and not just roommates?!—why don’t you get to know them first? If you’re an evangelical Christian, and you’re heterosexual, and you are wrestling with the question of homosexuality, the best advice I can give you is to stop and listen. To listen is to love and to learn—few people ever learn anything while they are talking or racing to form opinions with ear plugs in.
So let’s listen to the story of Sarah and Lindsey.
PS: Thanks Sarah Lindsey for sharing your story with us. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourselves. Who you are, what you do, and how long you’ve been together?
S&L: Thanks, Preston, for interviewing us. It’s a little weird to introduce ourselves as a couple. We are both Christians, we work as teachers, and we love sharing life. Lindsey’s faith journey began in high school while Sarah’s started at birth. We are active in our church. We fell into a natural pattern of sharing various aspects of our lives, and we’ve been exploring life together for a little over two years.
PS: Now, since everyone is dying to know, I’m sure. Tell us about your “partnership.” Why did you chose to become partners yet remain celibate? And what does this look like?
S&L: Our doing life together just sort of happened. Neither of us expected it, as we were not seeking partnership. Things started to fall together organically. We had a natural desire to be there for one another, and we learned quickly that we make a good team. The reason we use the term “partnership” is that we see ourselves as a team: we work together to follow God where he calls us. Many people assume that partnership has an inherent connotation of “sexually active.” We have never understood the word “partner” in this way and like to challenge assumptions about what it means to be in a partnership.
We have a series of posts on our blog that we’ve listed as “Glimpses into our relationship.” We’ve learned a lot from monastic communities. Our four values of celibacy (hospitality, vulnerability, shared spiritual life, and commitment) pull strongly from what we’ve observed in those spaces. Equally, we recognize aspects of our life together that mirror what married couples do. To get more specific, we share finances and insurance, and make healthcare decisions together.
PS: On the question of celibacy, can you help clear up some common misunderstandings about celibacy? I think some people equate celibacy with forced loneliness, or monastic solitude. What does celibacy mean to you?
S&L: We’ve noticed conflation of celibacy with singleness, specifically a form of singleness that is cut off from the world. In our experience, the celibates who lead the most fulfilling lives (whether they do so while in the world or in monasteries) have meaningful relationships. We find it distressing when people equate celibacy with avoiding all relationships of every kind. This misconception leads Christians to believe that celibacy is somehow lesser than marriage. It seems to us that many Christians ignore what the Scriptures say about the value of celibacy as a way to seek Christ and the Kingdom of God. Celibacy is portrayed as an almost freakish way of life where the only way people enter is by being coerced. We’ve lost track of how many people have tried to tell us that we are suffering from deeply damaging internalized homophobia because we’ve embraced celibacy freely.
Celibacy is an opportunity to love and serve the world differently than married people. We organize our life together around the four guiding values we’ve already mentioned. Because sex is not a part of our relationship, we find it comparatively easy to turn our focus outward to the world around us. Additionally, we have the opportunity to develop deep emotional and spiritual intimacy with each other.
PS: I imagine that you’ve probably received some criticism from people on both sides of the debate. Is this true? If so, what are the main critiques you’ve received? How have you handled that?
S&L: We find that a lot of people on both sides don’t have space for a couple like us. Those arguing in favor of sexually active same-sex relationships often zoom in on the cruelty of denying all gay people space to be known and loved. We don’t think our partnered celibate way of living is for everyone, but we’re frequently accused of trying to deprive others of sexual freedom. It’s also frustrating when people deny the fact that we’re in meaningful relationship with one another because we’re celibate. Those who criticize us generally assume that we’re lying when we say that we’re celibate, we’re trying to force every other LGBT couple to embrace celibacy, and our relationship is nothing more than a sexless gay marriage. We find it oddly amusing that depending upon a reader’s perspective, he or she may label us as either flaming liberals or staunch conservatives. Because our situation doesn’t fit preconceived notions about relationships, many people try to find alternate explanations for our way of life that better align to their worldviews. We’ve made it a point to engage conversationally with our readers both in our comments and through email. We have several posts dedicated to readers’ questions and maintain an up-to-date FAQ page.
PS: Tell us about some of the highs and lows of being a celibate LGBT couple.
S&L: One practical high is that we each have another person with whom to share life intentionally. We’re both big fans of hugs, and it’s nice living with someone who is always willing to share a hug. One thing we appreciate more broadly about being a celibate LGBT couple is that we have the opportunity to participate in conversations about sexuality in the church in ways that other people just can’t.
The biggest low of being a celibate LGBT couple is always being treated with suspicion from people on both sides of the debate. We’re so grateful that we’ve been able to find compassionate spiritual directors, but it’s challenging to feel at home in any church community.
PS: What would you like to tell Evangelical Christians who are trying to think through the issue of homosexuality?
S&L: We think it’s important for straight people to ponder how they have experienced their own sexualities and gender identities before making pronouncements about LGBT people. If you’re in the sexual majority: What does it mean for you to be straight? What does it mean for you to be cisgender? Are there any places where your experience of sexuality or gender differed from what was expected of you? How did you deal with those periods of difference? How has your understanding of your sexuality and gender changed as you’ve grown up? When God has convicted you about how you’ve expressed your sexuality, what have you done to move forward? Who walked with you as you sought to grow in Christ?
The reason we think these questions are so important is that we LGBT Christians ask these questions of ourselves constantly. There’s a life-giving way to ask these questions. It’s so much easier to journey alongside Christians who have made the effort to trust that God is big and gracious enough to guide people compassionately through difficult issues.
PS: Thanks so much for your time, Sarah and Lindsey!
If you would like to know more about Sarah and Lindsey, check out their blog “A Queer Calling.”