How to Make the Benefits of Family Life Accessible to LGBT People
“In the day-to-day details of navigating Christian obedience with a gay orientation,” observes Nate Collins in his new book All But Invisible, “we do not have turn-by-turn directions to tell us where to go, but only landmarks that confirm we’re on the right track” (83). [See more of Nate Collins’ traditional view on sex and marriage at the start of this post.]
One of those landmarks Collins would like to recapture is the notion of vocation to guide discussions about what it means to be gay and Christian. Collins explains, “when the Bible refers to a particular behavior or pattern of living as a ‘gift,’ it is highlighting the calling or vocation that the gift represents to those who have it” (85)—including marital status. As with all gifts, “human sexuality is likewise something in need of stewardship” (86).
What does this mean for the gay person if their own marital status is considered a gift or vocation, particularly in the context of a believing community whose primary commitment to such stewardship emphasizes the nuclear family as the primary form of kinship? And how should it be stewarded, used for the sake of God’s kingdom?
Collins outlines three vocations that gay people might follow in order to participate in and enjoy the benefits of family life.
Vocation 1: Single Celibacy
This first vocation “is the status quo expectation that many gay people feel is thrust upon them” (86). And it affects their feelings about the future.
While a single woman in her thirties might feel anxious about her diminishing prospects as the years go by, at least she has prospects. What then is a single gay person to do?
“In addition to maintaining hope that God in his goodness will provide for their emotional and relational needs, single gay people also have to learn how to experience their sexuality in holy and lifegiving ways” (89). One of those ways is sublimation.
First used in the context of human sexuality by Freud, he believed “that sublimation occurs whenever an individual redirects…his or her sexual energy, or libido, and expresses it in nonsexual ways” (89–90). A Christian account of sublimation would redirect sexual energy and desire “in productive ways that are faithful to the call to pursue holiness” (90).
Collins envisions a gay person committed to this vocation of sublimation would experience “increased intimacy with others and a deeper spirituality” (92).
Vocation 2: Mixed-Orientation Marriage
This second vocation has also been part of the status quo, given that opposite-marriage has been the norm and most same-sex attracted people entered into such marriages as their only option. And yet Collins explains how a gay person might be attracted to and then marry someone of the opposite gender:
Interest in the other person typically isn’t sexual at first, and has little to do with the gender of the person. Physical attraction and sexual desire for an opposite-sex friend don’t often emerge in a gay person until the couple has become emotionally and spiritually intimate. When this happens, it is not because sexuality has been driving the relationship the entire time but because the newly discovered sexual desire for the opposite-sex person finds a home in the gay person’s sexuality. (96)
If mixed orientation marriage can be a viable vocation, how might it be a wise one? Aside from warning against pursuing it out of guilt or false hope, Collins offers two pieces of advice:
- Honesty and transparency about sexuality is crucial for success
- The couple should have realistic expectations about married life and conflict
Vocation 3: Communal Celibacy
“I can’t count the number of gay people I’ve met who want a relationship with a same-gender friend that is both deeply passionate and intimate but nonsexual like the relationship between Jonathan and David in the Old Testament. Others simply don’t want to grow old alone” (98).
Mixed-orientation marriage is not an option for many gay people and celibacy is not particularly fulfilling, what about a third vocational option? Collins offers three vocational shapes that could make family life accessible to LGBT people:
- Expanded Kinship. “What would it look like if families opened their homes to the gay people in our churches who don’t have families of their own?” (98)
- Intentional Community. “If gay people can experience kinship and domestic stability in the context of an intentional community, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine a scenario in which several Christian men and/or women might make a long-term commitment to share domestic space together, even if one or more (or perhaps even all) of them are gay” (99).
- Celibate Partnership. “We shouldn’t discount committed friendships for appearing to be something they’re not intended to be. Committed friendships between gay people who are embracing celibacy are intended to be just that: celibate” (102).
How might new forms of kinship make the blessings of family life accessible to gay people who are pursuing the traditional model of biblical sexuality?
Engage Collins’s book yourself to find guidance to identity questions at the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality.
Professors, this might be a great fit for your class. Find out if it is by requesting an exam copy here.