Celibate Relationships

Gay Marriage Simpsons Style!A quick thought.

We don’t say people make monastic vows are somehow doing something inferior by ruling out marriage. If a civil partnership is made together with a public vow of celibacy, then the closest analogy is with religious communities. There may be a place for affirming (even blessing) such a relationship. But the key point IS the public affirmation of life-long celibacy even if it were possible to be sexually active. Without that the relationship is open to being sexual.


18 Comments on “Celibate Relationships

  1. If Pilling does recommend liturgies for same-sex blessings I feel I can see the ‘story arc’ from here:

    Solid news gets out ahead of the Bishops meeting about what Pilling contains. Lots of folk get wound up/ encouraged dependent on their POV.

    Bishops recommend some sort of group to look at it. Lots of folk get wound up/ encouraged by this, dependent on their POV. Hailed as a ‘victory’ in the Guardian. The ‘schism’ word gets bandied about.

    Eventually a draft liturgy emerges. Lots and lots of folk get wound up by it, dependent on whether it goes too far, or doesn’t go far enough dependent on their POV. The ‘schism’ word gets bandied about.

    2015-17 Grinds through General Synod committees. Redactors hired from MI5 to keep up with the ediiting required. A lot of folk get wound up as leaks/ wind-ups emerge from the press. The ‘schism’ word gets bandied about.

    2018 A flaccid liturgy may or may not emerge and may or may not be approved. It’s a kind of liturgical equivalent of the 2005 Bishops statement on Civil Partnerships. Lots of folk get wound up either because it doesn’t provide enough validation of active homosexuality, or it provides too much validation – dependent on what people read into the many deafening silences in the text.

    Peter, I know you see this sort of thing as crossing lots of red lines, and your website is a very helpful one, but I think the bigger picture is that at the parish level we have a choice and a opportunity in the Church of England that we’ve haven’t seen in decades. The Church of England has recently – and amazingly – said that church growth is now a key priority. As a parish priest I can spend a lot of time & energy poring over the sexuality reports and worrying about whether one day I will have to leave – or I can get stuck into the bigger agenda of making a really welcoming local church that grows and provides a place of healing for all sorts of people. We’ve all got a choice about the attitude how we spend the next few years.

    • ‘or I can get stuck into the bigger agenda of making a really welcoming local church that grows and provides a place of healing for all sorts of people.’

      As long as the healing doesn’t embrace any reparative approach to homosexuality. As long as the healing treats the propensity towards homosexual acts as anything but disordered, since the church blessing of same-sex marriage implies that God approves of inverting the physical union of bodies that He differentiated for the benefit of mankind in creation.


      • Quite so, David. I’ll raise it with the young mums at Toddlers group when they’re back from the half-term break.

        • Glad that those Mums are legally recognised as parents.

          Cold comfort for the poor guy who pitches up at church mourning the loss of any access to his child conceived out of wedlock. You know, the one whose girlfriend omitted his name from the birth certificate, only to give her new lesbian lover full parental rights through marriage.

          ‘Sorry, mate. If they’re legally married, our church now fully supports her partner’s biologically impossible parental rights over yours. But move along. I’m on a Messy Church numbers mission!’

          I know…a child out of wedlock, omitted father from birth certificate and bisexual finally tying the knot with a woman. All so far fetched.

          • Just one thought about this scenario you’ve just painted, David (apart from obviously how rare it’s likely to be) – can this scenario just apply to homosexual couples? If father is ‘unknown’ on the birth certificate wouldn’t a simple heterosexual marriage also exclude the natural father? And (taking it another step further) why are you getting worked up about the rights of a birth father when they ‘lose out’ to a woman, but not another bloke – isn’t that a bit sexist?

            From the pastoral point of view the big issue I think is dealing with the man’s sense of loss and injustice – not who he’s lost out to.

            • The presumption of paternity in a ‘simple heterosexual marriage’ is based on biological probability and legal recognition of the vows of matrimony. Yet, it is also is still rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

              The presumption is that any children born to the wife are her husband’s issue. It grants him shared primary parenting rights. As the Romans put it: ‘Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant’.

              The difference: to apply the same presumption of parenthood via a same-sex marriage involves sustaining a complete biological impossibility without regard to the primary rights of the genetic parents. The parental rights of the birth mother remains legally inviolable.

              Fortunately, adoption and IVF still involve the consent of the person from whom the child originates, not the legal usurpation of that person’s parenthood. Any same-sex presumption of parenthood without that consent is a usurpation of parenthood by definition. It is an attempt to sustain a complete legal fiction against the primary parenting rights of genetic fathers.

              So, no, it’s not even a little bit sexist, or for that matter homophobic. It’s about the same rights over the issue of our bodies that women already have in pregnancy and abortion.
              Given the fairly recent advent of legal same-sex unions being recognised as marriage, this problem will only get worse. Simply because people confound marriage recognition with the wedding celebration. The difference is that weddings don’t regulate parenthood, marriages do.

  2. I suspect the people who’d wish to take up such a rite exist in theory but not in practice. So put it in the box marked Solutions For A Parallel Universe That No-one Lives In.

    • No, there really are some people who live in celebate relationships. I think this is more common in the Catholic Church (possibly) and tends to be gay couples who later decided to follow Church teaching, so moved into separate bedrooms, but still see the non-sexual side of their relationship as a good thing. Not quite the same, but similar to married couples who later decide to throw the contraception out and have less sex (OK, maybe it’s quite different – but you see what I’m getting at in terms of people changing their mind). Or it’s quite common among those committed to life-long celibacy anyway (either Catholic or Anglo-Catholic) for the sake of serving the Church to develop a special relationship with another priest.

      The question is, why do we need to bless these relationships? Has ‘friendship’ really become such a shallow and meaningless relationship in our society (rather like acquaintances) that it no longer carrier any connotations of faithfulness, loyalty or sacrifice? Is it now too weak a word to use for these life-long bonds of love between people of the same sex?

      • CS Lewis has, I think, a useful metaphor in his “Four Loves” for “friendship love” (philos) vs “lovers” (eros): philos is a “back-to-back” relationship, facing out towards the rest of world, where more friends are always welcome, while “eros” involves two lovers face-to-face taken up with each other and where more is definitely less! Even the closest of friendships is not the same as an eros relationship. Eros vs. philos seems a much more practical (and biblical) discussion than “celibacy” (not a biblical term), which gets bogged down in hair splitting – is a peck on the cheek OK, but a smooch not? How close is too close?

        • Yes, I guess the test might be, are you prepared to let someone else move in and make it a nice three-some! (Oh dear, I can just see all the jokes heading this way …!)

      • I think these are very few. I’m afraid I’ve known too many who pretend. From a different point of view i disagree with that approach too – but I think we would both agree that it is profoundly dishonest to lie. And that cannot be positive or to be welcomed.
        I have a friend who spent a number of years in TFT. He was in a relationship all the time he was a member despite trying to convince himself he was going to be celibate. He later realised that almost everyone else was either doing the same or having casual sex.

    • Yes, Sarah1845, I’m strongly disposed to agree with you. The question that immediately sprang to my mind was “WTF4?”.

  3. I’m no expert on theology, the Bible, God and so many things so forgive me if I come across as naive.

    Isn’t the core of the issue that sex is an act intended by God to be between a man and a woman in marriage? So sex is out and celibacy is in for everyone who isn’t in a heterosexual marriage, right? It doesn’t matter whether the person is single, divorced, widowed, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or whatever other category you can think of, for such groups God’s will is celibacy. I’m not saying it’s easy to be celibate, far from it in today’s sexualised culture. When I was single I would have loved to have been able to have had sex but knew not only that God didn’t want that but that it would have created baggage I’d have to carry into a marriage if I ever was to get married.

    But God doesn’t say anything about not loving certain groups. Just as God’s grace and love isn’t selective and is available to everyone so we are called to act likewise.

    If an individual or couple makes a commitment before God to be celibate should we not honour and trust them in making that vow? If they break that vow isn’t it God that should and will judge them, not us? This isn’t something that is tied to one form of sexual orientation, there have been too many cases of breaking this vow by celibate priests as we know. Likewise, there have also been too many couples who have broken their vows of being faithful to each other and not having sex outside of their marriage. We are called to forgive and love them just as we are for any individual or couple that breaks their vows.

    Not judging isn’t easy and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be clear about God’s will about sex, we absolutely should, studies and statistics have proven Him right time and time again (don’t ask me for sources!).

    I am wrestling with this issue and will continue to do so for some time! Not blessing a celibate relationship, whatever the sexual orientation of the couple, doesn’t feel right, it feels like we would be rebelling against God. Likewise blessing a sexually active relationship outside of a marriage of a man and a woman also feels like we would be rebelling against God.

    Love and trust is what I’m left with after all this!

    Like I said, I’m no expert. I’m just a person trying to honour God in all I do and am.

    • What you’ve said is lovely in many ways, but I do worry about two things: 1. If an intentionally celibate couple who love each other are living together, then isn’t that putting themselves in a position of being particularly and constantly tempted. 2. In today’s society people who don’t know about the vow of celibacy (or who simply think the couple must be lying) will assume a sexual relationship. We are told to avoid all appearance of evil and the position of celibate couples comes perilously close to ignoring that wisdom. Any thoughts??

      • I agree with you on both points and am wrestling with those very dilemas. For celibate couples temptation will be ever present and it would be hard not to succumb to it, and you’re right it would probably be viewed cynically and with doubt by many, if not most, people. As Paul said in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7), it is better to stay single if people can. Still we are called to love and extend grace to everyone, whilst also standing firm and true to God’s commands to keep sex to between a man and woman in marriage. Hopefully if the world sees more of the love and grace being applied they will respect those believing in traditional forms of marriage.

  4. I have very great doubts as to whether there are many entirely celibate couples. Unless the couples are really platonic friends with no sexual attraction to start with.

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