Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

Religion News Service published an article this week entitled “Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate,” which examines how the concept of celibacy is re-shaping the conservative religious establishment’s approach to lesbian and gay issues.   That is a shame for gay and lesbian people, religion, and, most of all, celibacy.

According to the article, with reparative therapy falling into greater and greater disrepute, many of its former proponents are now promoting celibacy as the proper option for lesbian and gay people.  Using Exodus, one of the former premier religious reparative therapy groups, the article states:

“When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy. . . .

“Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.”

Not surprisingly, these conservative religious groups have looked to Catholicism, which has a long tradition of celibacy, for support in this endeavor.  The article states:

“Some evangelicals mine Catholicism’s centuries-old tradition of celibacy, said Wesley Hill, a professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry, who wrote Washed and Waiting, a 2010 book on being gay and celibate.

“‘They already have a rich history of celibacy that I had to discover as an evangelical,’ Hill said. ‘Twenty years ago, being gay would be considered irredeemably bad, something to be delivered from or be changed. (Celibacy) leads me to form close bonds with friends, to have self-denial and sacrifice.’ ”

There is no doubt that celibacy can be a beautiful, satisfying, and enriching way to live.   And Catholicism’s history is filled with many holy and virtuous celibates.   But these conservative Christians will be making the same mistake that Catholic leaders have made for decades by saying that celibacy is the only moral option for lesbian and gay people.

Catholicism, and perhaps more accurately, early Christianity viewed celibacy as a gift and a calling.  It was something that grew out of a personal relationship with God and also seen as a way of responding to this relationship.  It was never something that was required of a whole class of people.  It was seen as a calling, a vocation, which arose out of one’s spiritual longings and experiences.

In the Middle Ages church officials eventually did make it a discipline and requirement for ordination to priesthood, but it was something that, in most of the ordinary circumstances, no one was morally required to adopt because of an outside moral obligation.

Most importantly, for the most part celibacy was seen as something that grew in the context of community.  Religious celibates enacted their calling with the mutual support of others who shared a similar call in a monastery, convent, and eventually in religious life that stressed apostolic ministry.

So, when Catholic leaders make the case that celibacy is the moral requirement of all lesbian and gay people, they are actually re-imagining a totally different understanding of what celibacy is.  Instead of a calling, it seems to be imagined as a punishment or a remedy.  Celibacy of this kind cannot be life-giving to individuals or to the community of the Church.

I have met many lesbian and gay Catholics who are called to celibacy.  They live their lives as priests, in religious communities, and as lay people active in the world.  Their celibacy is a calling, a response, and a choice.  For them, it is a joy.

I have also met a number of celibate people, both homosexual and heterosexual, who experienced this life practice as a burden and an unwanted cross.  For some, it is viewed as an endurance test rather than as a spiritual aid.  They are not happy people, and I cannot imagine that God wants them to live so unhappily.

For conservative Christians to turn to celibacy as a way to deal with an unwanted homosexual orientation, they are not experiencing the gift of this practice in the way that God intended.  If they are turning to Catholicism for a model in how to live celibacy, they should also pay attention to the way that Catholics have abused and mistreated this potentially beautiful gift.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article: “Thou Shalt Not Forsake Thy Celibate Christian LGBTQ Brethren”



13 replies
  1. tazman42
    tazman42 says:

    When will all they realize that Celibacy only refers to Marriage; CHASTITY, IS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT! Everyone, married or single may be called to be chaste, IF they follow the rules of the RCC. married or single. Since Gay people, that are not RCC, are not bound by their regulations, they may date and become engaged as they are want. The concept of Chastity, commitment to a single person
    (serial or otherwise,) is valuable in establishing a solid legal & Civil relationship.

    Celibacy is totally other; It is merely an esoteric exacted promise, (if you want Ordination,) not to marry. It is forced on clerics as a financial means by Bishops to hold on to Church property (Benefice,) a hold over from medieval property rights/law. It is not Scriptural, it is all about power & Control, and well may be the Clerical attempts to control Gays and keep their control the financial/sacrament/ legality of Marriage.

    • Bill Welch
      Bill Welch says:

      I agree. It appears that the major thrust behind the vow of celibacy as a requirement for priesthood and bishops is/was to protect church property so that it did not pass to family members of the married priest or bishop, especially to male children who followed in the footsteps of their biological parent father. I wonder how many persons are/were aware that the wife and biological children in the times of the approved married priest or bishop were considered chattel and property of the Church.

  2. Larry
    Larry says:

    This is unfortunate. The Catholic Church offers the group Courage as the only alternative for the LGBT community to be one with the Church and their sexuality but it is simply enforced celibacy and a way to keep gay folks apart from a full life and demoralized – in my view a kind of penance. The Evangelicals might note that Courage in the RC is a marginalized and useless group and back off this terrible idea.

    But what is most disturbing is that they simply wont give up trying to destroy gay lives. I would have thought by know that they would understand that we are God’s people made in His Image and entitled to a true life. The Evangelical insistence that gay cannot be good says so much more about their lack of love as we seek love. Unfortunately, we will pay the price for their blindness.

    • Guglielmo Marinaro
      Guglielmo Marinaro says:

      Thank you for that, Larry. I entirely agree with you. There is nothing wrong with celibacy if it is what a person genuinely prefers and has voluntarily chosen, free from any kind of pressure. Celibacy as a moral demand or imposition is quite improper.

  3. chandlerklebs
    chandlerklebs says:

    Perhaps I am alone in my views, but I tend to think that celibacy needs to be removed from the context of religion. I am a 27 year old male virgin and my reasons for this come not from what I was taught, but rather because I don’t feel the need to produce more children when there are already enough people here who need food, water, education, and a family who loves them. I am considering adopting someone someday, but there are many goals I have that would not fit in with having a wife, girlfriend, or children.

    I think that everyone who expects gay people to be celibate must first realize that it is the heterosexual people who are ruining the world by producing children only to kill them by abortion or to abuse them. By making an issue out homosexual people, Christians often cause more damage to the world. They create division and controversy that distracts us from solving injustice such as abortion, rape, and war.

  4. Larry
    Larry says:

    I applaud chandlerklebs for his personal strength and respect his decision which he made thoughtfully and as an adult. The only comment I have is that sex is not just for procreation which is a club that the Church often uses against gay relationships. In a committed relationship, sex is a gift.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Bondings 2.0: “Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?“ […]

  2. […] the last few weeks, I’ve seen many bloggers asking the question, “Is celibacy the newest ex-gay ministry?” They note that […]

  3. […] Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays? ( […]

  4. […] of “sexual abstinence”) is not really the point: vocation is. Francis DeBernardo wrote a post on New Ways Ministry’s blog suggesting that celibacy is becoming the new reparative therapy […]

  5. […] 2.0 asked whether a Catholic understanding of mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people was becoming the new ‘reparative’ therapy option among conservative Christians. Today, we look at Catholic teaching on celibacy from a different […]

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