Love Undivided: A Side B Perspective
By Anthony Trent, blogger of The Liturgical Queer
“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”
As I read Isaac’s reflection and prayed over the Q Christian conference scriptural verse, I felt enormous gratitude for the unity within LGBTQ+ Christianity. I am Side B (celibacy affirming), an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and living in a same-sex celibate partnership. When Isaac discusses transcending boxes and binaries, I cannot help but relate. God has given me the generous gift of fellowship with other LGBTQ+ Christians, even Side A (same-gender sex affirming) believers.
But as I read over the verse, I also felt challenged. I wondered, “Am I, as Paul commends, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit?” Probably not.
I share Isaac and Q Christian’s vision of deconstructing dualistic thinking, cherishing neighbors who disagree with me, and living alongside one another in unity. The challenge, however, is when we try to apply those principles in real life. I can try to downplay it all I want, but I’m Side B; my church doesn’t bless same-sex marriages or same-sex sexual activity. If I’m wrong in my obedience to this conviction, I’m in serious error. If my Side A siblings are wrong, then they are in serious error.
How do we make sense of the seriousness of our disagreements on sexual ethics while also living alongside one another in love? I’m not perfect by any means in my quest to participate in Love Undivided, but here are three frameworks I keep in mind as I dialogue:
1. Remember that we, LGBTQ+ people, are doing the best we can
When many of us discovered and disclosed a non-straight identity, we were told to either marry someone of the opposite sex or stay celibate for the rest of our lives. That is a huge burden to put on someone, especially if they discover their sexuality when they are 13 years old. From the moment of self-realization, many LGBTQ+ Christians do everything they can to sort out who God is and what God wants from their lives. There are complex reasons why people end up Side A or B. It might be a sincere interpretation of Scripture or a commitment to an ecclesiastical body; Catholics and Orthodox, for example, believe their respective churches have the authority to interpret Scripture with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. People can be Side A without being interested in sex and people can be Side B without hating themselves. Let’s stay curious while listening to why our friends have adopted a particular sexual ethic.
2. Be consistent in your theological posture
We live in a world full of false “good/bad” binaries. People believe they either have to say it doesn’t matter which sexual ethic they adopt or that they should cut fellowship with people who disagree. Yet, we are able to navigate similar tensions on other issues all the time. For example, one of my fundamental theological beliefs is that infants have a right to be baptized and receive communion; most churches, pastors, and parents do not do this. I think to exclude infants from sacraments is a serious error because it is the primary way God heals and interacts with his creation, but I’m still able to understand why other people have not adopted my conclusion. I do not think your choice to not baptize or commune an infant makes you a worse Christian (you’re probably a better follower of Christ than I am), but I can still think you are mistaken. I try to exercise a consistent posture toward my Side A Christian friends: You are a follower of Christ who has simply come to a different conclusion than I.
3. Acknowledge that God is working in all LGBTQ+ lives
This past summer, my partner and I visited a same-sex couple with whom we are friends. My partner and I are Side B and pursuing celibacy, but our friends are Side A and plan on marrying next year. Do my partner and I feel morally superior because of our sexual ethic? Absolutely not. God cherishes love, commitment, intimacy, companionship, and mutual care, no matter who is participating in it. Every adult relationship has a mix of virtue and vice. No adult relationship is 100% honoring to God or 100% dishonoring to God. My partner and I non-sexually sin in plenty of ways and practice virtue in other ways. I believe the grace of God is large enough to cover our moral and intellectual mistakes on sexual ethics because “God desires all to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). What we do or not do in our bedrooms doesn’t cancel out God’s delight in us. We can live in tension with our disagreements while remaining faithful to our convictions.
While I will not be attending the Q Christian conference this year, I am earnestly praying that the Spirit will teach and guide us to follow Jesus Christ, who gives and receives love perfectly to and from God. The Trinity is a communion of three persons who delight in each and every LGBTQ+ person. I will be praying for all of you in Chicago. Whether you are Side A, Side B, or still processing your convictions, all of us should desire one another’s flourishing. May God help us make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Amen.