Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The morality question

While I find Christopher Yuan’s life and journey as he describes it in “Out of a Far Country,” I find the way in which that story culminates to his conclusions in the “Holy Sexuality” chapter to be troubling and problematic.  Again, as I alluded to in my previous post, this is where he at least implicitly shifts from telling his personal story to offering a moral prescription for others.  As such, I feel this chapter needs to be directly addressed.

This shift I’m talking about quickly becomes visible when Christopher begins his defense or justification of calling on gay men and women to a life of celibacy.  Christopher offers his realization that there are people in the Bible who lived their entire lives abstinent, noting that both Jesus and Paul were both such men.

The thing note, however, is that both men acknowledged that it was neither an easy calling or one that everyone was suited for.  When Jesus’s own disciples comment that it would be better to remain unmarried, Jesus responded that “not all can accept this,” without any sense of condemnation (Matthew 19).  Similarly Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 7), he notes that it is better to remain single, but that those who cannot control their lusts should get married.[1]  So as I read Christopher’s insistence that it’s not unfair of God to demand celibacy — especially lifelong celibacy — of certain people, I’m skeptical that his two examples of holy and celibate men would actually agree with him.

But the thing is, Christopher isn’t claiming that God is demanding lifelong celibacy of individuals, but of an entire class of people.  I have no problem believing that God called Paul, Jesus, or even Christopher Yuan to lifelong celibacy.  God places individual callings upon people all the time.  But to say that an entire class of people must remain celibate simply because of who they are drawn to when it comes to sex and romance[2] is an entirely different claim, and I think it’s a position that takes far more defense than Christopher offers.  I also think it takes far more appreciation of what one is claiming God demands of all gay and bisexual people and just how hard a road one is calling others to.

That last statement is pivotal to me.  What I see here is that some — either including Christopher or those who will be further emboldened by him — are trying to tell other people — and entire class of people, in fact — what God’s calling is for their lives.  I maintain that this is not how callings work.  Callings are not placed upon people by other individuals.  No, the things so placed are rightfully called burdens.  Callings are made not to classes of people, but to individuals by a god who draws that individual in, gives the individual a heart and desire for that calling, and fills that individual with a sense that while the calling may not always involve an easy road, it is entirely doable.  This is not what is being offered here in the chapter on holy sexuality.

As I’ve referred to the chapter’s title which invokes the word “holy,” let’s look at the statement popularized by some Exodus leaders and repeated in this chapter:

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness.”

My problem with this statement is that it reduces holiness — a complex and wondrous topic — to a mere question of not having sex or at least not having the wrong kinds of sex.  It reduces the idea of holiness in sexuality to following the right rules, avoiding the right taboos, and so on.  It does nothing to illuminate what makes sex or sexuality holy — sacred to and glorifying of the Divine — which makes it hard to accept the unsubstantiated statement[3] that the holiness of one’s sexuality or sexual activity is affected by the gender of one’s partner(s).

I wish Christopher the best in following what he believes that God has called him to.  But I would ask him not to attempt to universalize that calling for all gay people or allow others to use his story to do so.  It’s simply not his or their place.

Notes:
[1]  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for marriage as a sacred institution, is it?

[2]  And like so many others, Christopher never seems to acknowledge that same-sex relationships have a romantic side or other aspects beyond the sex.

[3]  Christopher and others might argue that “The Bible says so” should be good enough.  Setting aside that not everyone agrees about what “the Bible says” on the topic, I will note that this underscores an extremely authoritarian approach to morality and assumes and authoritarian God who gives a moral code that is based on nothing more than His say-so.  I am deeply troubled by such an understanding of both morality and God.  Indeed, I think conservative Christianity would be greatly served by the sudden appearance of many more Jobs in their ranks.

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