Celibacy Shouldn’t Be The New Ex-Gay Ministry

by Rev . Irene Monroe

Embracing celibacy as an appropriate religious calling to be a God-abiding LGBTQ Christian is now on the rise.

And I didn’t know my sexual orientation was still up for debate—no joke. 

Progress has been made on federal and state levels concerning LGBTQ civil rights, but many churches, especially in certain religious conservative circles, are far behind.

For example, at their 221st General Assembly this June, the Presbyterian Church removed the provision (Amendment 10-A) prohibiting the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers. The ratification came with a scolding and heterosexist caveat—church officers must be either celibate or be active with a member of the opposite gender.

While such a provision on how church officers are to be sexually active or celibate is laughable to anyone living in present time, the governing body of the Presbyterian Church isn’t kidding. And neither are many church conservatives—both straight and, surprisingly, LGBTQ.

For those heterosexual Christians who embrace the theological qualifier “to love the sinner, but hate the sin” homosexuality is merely on the laundry list of transgressions. But for LGBTQ Christian conservatives, the debate has literally taken sides—with celibate LGBTQ Christian bloggers referring to themselves in shorthand as “Side A” Christians and “Side B” Christians.

“Side A” Christians support marriage equality and queer sexual orientations whereas “Side B” support Biblical literalism. 

Last year, the “ex-gay” ministries would have had both Side A” and “Side B” Christians in their folds, but in 2013, Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus International, announced the closing of the organization.

At the 2012 Exodus International annual conference Chambers stated, “I do not believe that ‘cure’ is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included….For someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’—that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”

What appeared as a seismic shift, or a closing chapter in the harmful history of ex-gay ministries was neither. His new modus operandi, Speak. Love.—that has both monetary and ideological backing—is to peddle the theological rhetoric of celibacy.

And it’s working. 

Just this year the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) released its revised 2014 Code of Ethics replacing reparative therapies with celibacy:

“Counselors may agree to and support the desire to work through issues of homosexual and transgender identity and attractions, but will not describe or reduce human identity and nature to sexual orientation or reference, and will encourage sexual celibacy or biblically-prescribed sexual behavior while such issues are being addressed,” the revised code says.

However, just six years ago, the American Psychological Association put out an official position paper stating:

“The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation.”

The negative health outcomes both emotional and psychological these “conversion” programs exact are untold and include depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of intimacy, loss of faith and spirituality, and the reinforcement of internalized homophobia and self-hatred, to name a few.

There are, however, still groups, usually motivated by religion-based homophobic therapies and ministries, who are hell-bent on the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans can and should be made straight.

These groups proselytize ex-gay rhetoric as both their Christian and patriotic duty.

But truth be told, as Chambers recognizes, these conversions from being “homosexual” to “heterosexual” don’t “cure.” And these therapies attempt to put LGBTQ people on the road to outwardly live a straight life.

Case in point: John Paulk, “ex-gay” poster boy, who appeared in HRC’s 2000 photo album with a one-word caption: “Gotcha!” In his public apology for spewing the lies of Exodus International, Paulk has decided to finally stay out of the closet, hoping the LGBTQ community will not only forgive him, but will also allow him to make restitution to the community.

“I no longer support the ex-gay movement or efforts to attempt to change individuals— especially teens who already feel insecure and alienated. I feel great sorrow over the pain that has been caused when my words were misconstrued. I have worked at giving generously to the gay community in Portland where I work and live. I am working hard to be authentic and genuine in all of my relationships,” Paulk stated in the 2013 April/May issue of Proud Queer (PQ) Monthly.

The Latin root for the word “religion” is “religio” meaning to bind, and history has shown us how religion has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred—especially when it comes LGBTQs sexual orientation.

Our bodies are our temples, and as our temples they house the most sacred and scariest truth about us: our sexuality.

Our sexuality is an essential part of being human and it is an expression of who we are with and in our bodies. It is a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion-human and divine. However, as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer children of God, our sexualities transgress the conventional gender and sexual norms.

Also, our sexualities force us all to see the walls of partition erected in our society, in our churches, and in our families that prohibit us to live freely in our bodies. These walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female, but they also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.

But now, with more and more ex-gay ministries losing potential clients and political leverage (while also losing monies reparative therapies generated), there is a gradual shift from “curing” one’s LGBTQ sexual orientation to abstinence from it. In other words, the theological message that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination to God remain intact, but more emphasis is now placed on celibacy.

An emphasis on a discipleship to celibacy is equally as harmful and damaging as ex-gay ministries.

This message suggests we’re incurable and should execute control over our ungodly desires.

Christians—both straight and LGBTQ—intolerant of the wide spectrum of sexual expressions must reconcile their fear with Jesus’s mandate: “…to love one another” as stated in John 13:34 in order to experience the deepest desire and expression of spiritual communion.

How we express that love sexually is not mandated to be heterosexual, because God affirms the inherent goodness of all sexualities as part of creation.

Photo via flickr user Will Choi

Comments (5)


YES! I completely agree. The
YES! I completely agree. The mandate for LGBTQ+ people to practice celibacy because same sex relationships are wrong is a harmful and damaging message!! It comes from a place that says “LGBTQ+ people are broken”.


I checked on the change to
I checked on the change to the Presbyterian constitution. It seems that the move to re-word that section was spurred by a desire to allow the ordination of gay ministers, many of whom lived in states where they could not marry. What is the source of the “scolding” mentioned in this article?

John Thomas

Preach! thankfully, I
Preach! thankfully, I believe that the forced celibacy-only option (gifts aren’t forced!) will decline as LGBT affirmations grow across the US. Perhaps even this is progress for the churches who once believed “acting gay” was a choice– as rediculus as that sounds!
I strongly recommend “REASONABLE AND HOLY” by TOBIAS HALLER, for a Scripture-based response to this new ex-gay movement (no doubt Fr. Haller has people like Wesley Hill, a “B”-side “forced celibacy for all LGBT people” person in mind). Celibacy is wonderful, but no one should ever be forced into it by another person!

Peterson Toscano

Thank you for this important
Thank you for this important post. Whenever Conservative Christians ask me about celibacy as God’s route for gay folks, I ask them, “How many of your straight friends are actively avoiding being in a relationship and choosing celibacy?” Rarely do they know a straight person going celibate.

Also, they do not understand that by insisting celibacy as God’s path for all or most gay and lesbian folks, they undermine any sorts of friendships that might develop with someone of the same gender. One needs to live with thick walls to protect oneself from falling in love. “For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

In a world where the idealized norm has been heterosexuality for a very long time, I find it suspect when groups of gays feel compelled by God to go celibate. Sure there is always the rare person called to a celibate life, but to go that route after years of heterosexism and homophobia reqiures a thoughtful discernment process, preferably by a professional who hasn’t shown a long-term disdain for same-gender loving relationships.

Peterson Toscano

Thank you for this important
Thank you for this important post. I have long been concerned about the merging of Side B Gay Christians with the Ex-Gay Movement, even in its weakened state.

I mean, yes, it is queer to be a celibate gay, to abstain not only from sex but from pursuing any potential partnership or romantic attachment. And as a community there is room for all sort of LGBTQ people. While there are some asexual people in the world, the reality is that most people feel attraction and have sexuality as part of their makeup. Added to that, we are a people that proposer in relationship. All sorts of studies reveal that people who are partnered are typically happier and healthier and even live longer.

Not everyone gets to partner, and a single life is a reality for lots of people straight and gay. Being committed to celibacy while single is a standard for many straight Christians. But believing that God does NOT want you to have a partner, that God is asking you to to build a life without the prospect of romance or an interdependent relationship, that God forbids one from forming a coupled relationship which includes all sorts of wonderful things including sex, well that is VERY very rare in the straight world. Why is it looming so large for gays and lesbians and bisexuals?

After years of having our sexuality demonized in churches, society in general, and particularly in ex-gay programs, I find it highly suspicious when someone feels that God too is encouraging them to renounce their sexuality. No doubt some people genuinely feel called to celibacy (gay and straight) but very few. And when someone feels that inclination, I strongly suggest they go through a thoughtful and serious discernment process with the aid of a professional therapist (and NOT a former ex-gay leader or someone who already has a bias against same-gender love)

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