He’s gay. I’m celibate. Can we talk?
Plus: David Bennett offers 3 tips for being a better friend
He is openly gay and I’m openly straight, celibate and a practising Christian. My main thought was “this could turn out terribly.”
I actually had butterflies in my stomach. It had been 12 years since I’d sat down with Trent* and had a real chat. I was nervous about the outcome of this catch-up. Probably because we live in a time where we sometimes focus on what is different about us than what unites us.
I didn’t know how to respond to that.
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard from Trent via a Facebook message asking how I was and if I wanted to catch up. It was more surprising because only a year earlier we had accidentally run into each other at the train station, and our meeting had ended on a semi-sour note.
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“We should go for coffee to have a good, long catch-up,” I had said when we bumped into each other at the station. “That’s probably not a good idea,” he said. “… You know, you’re religious and you know my situation”.
“None of that really matters, Trent,” I had said. “God loves you regardless of your lifestyle choices.”
He quickly responded, sharp and short: “It’s not a choice.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I asked again if we could catch up properly, and when that didn’t get anywhere, suggested I’d find him on Facebook instead. He said, “that’s fine.” And that was that.
Time passed and any moment I recalled our conversation I felt uncomfortable with the prospect of meeting up again. I wasn’t sure I really did want to meet again. And it looked like we wouldn’t.
And then I got a message from Trent.
Walking to the café to meet Trent, I felt nervous. I asked God for help.
He had received an invitation to a church event from another of our school friends who had recently been ordained as a Catholic priest. He had no plans of going but the invite jogged his memory and he remembered that I was keen for a catch up.
Walking to the café to meet Trent, I felt nervous. I asked God for help.
When I finally greeted Trent, we sat down to a good meal and it soon began to feel like old times, when our personal lives or decisions did no impede our friendship.
He had plenty to share. And so did I. We got around to my decision to commit to a celibate life, and the joy I have found in serving God as a mentor for high school and university students to help them understand and grow in Christian virtues.
I’ve never experienced it so I won’t try to pretend I know how you feel.
I was trying to be open about my life, and he responded, saying, ‘Well, yeah, so I wanted to talk about this and about, you know, my situation.” And while the butterflies came back as I spoke, I spoke from my heart.
“I don’t really understand your situation, to be honest. I really don’t know what it’s like to be same-sex attracted; I’ve never experienced it so I won’t try to pretend I know how you feel.
“But what I do know is this: God, the one who created you, he created you out of love, not hatred. He wants a relationship with you more than you can imagine. But like any good lover he can’t force you to love him. He respects your freedom. You’re not an accident, Trent, or the result of pure chance or chaos – you’re the result of love.”
Trent seemed to be taking it all in, and I continued.
“I don’t know what your situation is with regards to sexual sin but not one of us can say we don’t struggle with sexual sin in some way. I know I struggle with sexual sin. I’ve done things that I regret and am sorrowful for, but know Jesus forgives me no matter what it is. I confess my wrongdoing to him and as I grow closer to him, the less of an issue it becomes.”
I simply listened and tried to understand.
I also told him, “I dig chicks not dudes” … because he asked. I believe my choice to be a lifelong celibate was a gift given by God because I begged to know his will for me and became more open to whatever he wanted, even if it was contrary to my human nature (Matthew 19:12).
This gift has allowed me to have the time and energy to work more specifically for God’s kingdom. I even went so far as to say (though it sounded strange to me) that all my sexual energy now goes into trying to love and serve Jesus Christ better.
Trent shared with me his personal situation, how his family and his own relationships were going. I simply listened and tried to understand. And I was happy to hear that he had kept his relationship with his greatest lover and creator intact. I asked “do you ever, in the silence of your heart, say things to [don’t think I actually said Jesus here, only God] God?” Trent said that he did.
And that was it. We parted ways on good terms, pleased that we’d had the opportunity to talk after 12 years of distance. And we’ll probably catch up again, sooner this time.
What I’ve heard him say has really helped me be a better friend to Trent.
But I did wonder … where did my answers come from? I hadn’t known what I was going to say before I sat down with Trent and I was slightly anxious.
Of course, the Holy Spirit can and does guide us if we want him to, working with what we know – and making it work, even when we think it can’t.
I’m also grateful to people such as theologian and writer David Bennett, who has shared a lot about his understanding of being a gay celibate Christian.
What I’ve heard him say has really helped me be a better friend to Trent. Here are three things David told Eternity that, even without me realising it at the time, helped my encounter with Trent.
Admit your own brokenness
“When straight Christians are scared of gays, it’s often because we remind them of their brokenness,” explained David. “We remind them that they haven’t made it either. And I think it requires humility to not run away.”
As a friend, learn to listen and don’t be afraid of reaching out
“Such a profound existential question as one’s own personal sexuality requires a sensitivity and a profundity that has to be there for that person to open up – and for that person to be willing to hear what you have to say about it,” said David.
“I look back to the example of the person that reached out to me. And they didn’t have an answer on homosexuality; they didn’t know how to answer my questions. But they just said to me: ‘Have you experienced the love of God? Have you been loved?’ And I think that really is the question that we need to ask everyone.”
Don’t be a lukewarm Christian
If you expect sacrifice from the gay community, then the straight community must also make the sacrifices. “The way you can love the gay community is by not being a lukewarm Christian but being a Christian that is really living in that sacrifice,” said David.
“That grace [demonstrated] in motivated sacrifice of the self. And I think if the church was living in more of that then gay people, when we come into church, wouldn’t feel like we have this sacrifice being asked of us [that is] over our heads [and] that no one else is giving up, [so] why should we?
“But if you knew that this Jesus would provide for you and that this Jesus was everything and he was the pearl of great price then you would, if you knew that, you could.
“So, I think it’s a challenge for straight Christians to know him as the pearl of great price, to know him as the thing they would sell everything for.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.