This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Opinion: Sexualty: commitment or celibacy

“Isn’t that an oxymoron?” my son asked when I told him about my gay friend who would be joining us for dinner.

I was widowed, and some of my children were not ready for me to date again. This friend wasn’t interested in dating because he was celibate.

My son had not considered that there might be people with a homosexual orientation who were not sexually active.

A lot of people confuse same-sex attraction with having a sexual partner and with promiscuity. Not all people with a homosexual orientation have sexual partners.

The fact that hundreds of same-sex couples rush out of closets at the first legal opportunity to be married indicates that many people with a homosexual orientation are not promiscuous.

Many gay people are in—and want to remain in—monogamous relationships. And some of these couples are in Mennonite Church USA and want to remain Mennonites because of important values of our denomination.

With ongoing discussions about homosexuality and sexual abuse in Mennonite Church USA, although necessary and important, I am concerned we may have neglected other crucial concerns about sexuality, such as fidelity and chastity and celibacy outside marriage.

We may never agree on whether same-sex, monogamous, committed relationships are right or wrong. (We do have a fine contribution from Hispanic pastors in the Western District Conference about how to live with our differences: See December 2014 issue, page 41.) I think the day will come when the pressing issues will be unimaginably different, and we will accept gay marriages as a matter of fact.

So let us instead focus on love, peace, justice, grace, discipleship, integrity, honesty, fidelity, chastity and commitment.

Rather than being concerned about the gender of people who make commitments to relationships, let’s attend to helping people make commitments before having genital sexual relationships—regardless of sexual orientation.

Young people explode with sexual energy before they are ready for sexual intimacy. Let’s help them find creative outlets for that energy that will not be harmful to themselves or others.

Here are more: 

  • Let’s welcome people with all sexual orientations into the church where they can learn to be honest and faithful followers of Jesus while exploring relationships with peers and mentors, where they can be supported in taking on disciplines that enable them to be countercultural when it comes to individualism, materialism and self-indulgence.
  • Let’s nurture our youth as well as older single people to experience emotional and intellectual and spiritual intimacy so they don’t seek sexual intimacy in genital relationships that are not intimate.
  • If we believe genital sexual intimacy is intended to be expressed within a monogamous, lifelong, covenanted relationship of mutual respect and equality, then let us focus on developing attributes of friendship where needs for emotional intimacy can be met for both single and coupled people.
  • Let’s emphasize that we are created in God’s image for relationships with God and others but that relationships don’t need to be genital to be satisfying.
  • Let’s be clear that a sexual orgasm does not fulfill the need for intimacy.
  • Let those of us who are celibate talk about how we have learned to live with unmet desires so that the greater values of love and honesty and integrity can be realized.
  • Let’s be honest that self-stimulation can be an effective way to relieve sexual tension, that masturbation can be wholesome if it does not interfere with real relationships with other people. Let’s talk about healthy sexuality rather than getting bogged down in debates about sexual orientation. God’s intentions for human sexuality include communion, procreation, creativity and pleasure.
  • Let’s change our discussions about sexuality so that we encourage people to develop relationships rooted in love, fidelity, respect, mutuality and trust, and let’s support and bless commitments to such healthy relationships where they already exist.
  • Let’s educate our youth about the risks and dangers of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and promiscuity.
  • Let’s give more attention to victims of sexual abuse who need tender loving care.
  • Let’s equip ourselves with knowledge, language and self-confidence to make good choices, to either be celibate or make monogamous lifelong commitments before engaging in genital sexual activity.

Let us be the countercultural group of people that Jesus calls us to be.

Mennonite Church USA has good resources. MennoMedia’s Body and Soul: Healthy Sexuality and the People of God is for individuals and congregations. Go to

Rachel Nafziger Hartzler is a member of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., and an ordained minister in Mennonite Church USA. This ran in the February issue

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