A Plea to 'Side B' Christians
In her recent Christianity Today piece Bekah Mason (executive director of Revoice) encouraged the evangelical church to stop seeing ‘Side B’ Christians as threats, and to instead honour them as important members of the Body of Christ.
(For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Side B’, it is a self-adopted shorthand reference for Christians who experience same-sex attraction but who are also committed to the Bible’s sexual ethic of faithful monogamy between a husband and wife in marriage, and sexual continence for those who are not married. As it has grown bigger, the movement itself has become more complex. But in essence, ‘Side B’ stands in contrast to ‘Side A’, which refers to those who affirm same-sex relationships as not only permissible, but good for Christians)
As seems to be the case with pretty much anything at all I read on the topics of singleness, sexuality and faith these days, I had a somewhat mixed personal response to Bekah’s piece.
Like her, I am convinced that Christians who experience same-sex attraction and are committed to faithfully stewarding their sexuality in celibacy (according to God’s word and in response to the gospel) are important members of the Body of Christ who are to be treated with love, honour and respect. And so there were parts of her argument to which I found myself echoing a loud and hearty “Amen!”. For example:
‘We are convicted that Jesus is better than sexual fulfilment, and many of us have committed to lifetime celibacy because of our belief in the traditional sexual ethic’.
‘Both in the body of Christ and in the culture at large, celibacy is a difficult commitment to maintain, especially long term. With it comes a loss of dreams and expectations, especially for those of us who were raised in evangelical churches’.
‘We want to model […] belonging that isn’t inherently connected to sexual relationships. Why? Because the Bible tells us this sort of intimacy and connection is what we’ll all experience in eternity (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25).’
On the other hand, there were parts of Bekah’s piece which I was not quite so sure about. At least not within the contextualising framework of a broader Side B movement which, over time, seems to have become less defined in content, commitment and conviction . However, that’s a much larger conversation for us all to keep having in the months and years ahead.
Right now though, I want to focus on one particular part of Bekah’s piece… a part which I felt stirred to respond to more immediately. My response takes the form of a plea to the Side B community. I hope they might read this plea generously and consider it prayerfully. Here it is.
Side B brothers and sisters, will you please stop writing opposite-sex attracted Christian singles out of the story of faithful, distinctive and instructive celibacy?
In her op ed, Bekah recounts a past conversation:
A friend once told me that she couldn’t imagine anyone better equipped to talk to Christian teens about living the traditional sexual ethic than a gay Christian committed to celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage.
She argued that, in a world motivated by the twin mantras of “follow your heart” and “live your truth,” who better to demonstrate a countercultural lifestyle than those who could easily find love and acceptance in both progressive churches and secular culture at large, yet choose to remain faithful to God’s design?
I have no doubt that Bekah’s Side B readership found that conversational anecdote wonderfully encouraging and affirming.
But I also have no doubt that there is another readership who found that comment desperately discouraging and distressing. The reason I know this is that I am one of those other readers.
Who better equipped to talk to Christian teens about living the traditional sexual ethic?
Well, as a never-married, opposite-sex attracted Christian woman in her early 40s who has never had sex (because I believe it is God’s good for me and for others to not do so for so long as I am not married), I may not necessarily be better equipped to do this. But I can assure you, I am certainly at least as equipped to do it.
And so are countless other opposite-sex attracted unmarried Christians who faithfully steward their sexuality through a sex-obsessed world (and sometimes, church) which designates their sexual purity to be nothing more than existential suppression.
Let me not beat around the bush.
Side B Christians did not discover “celibacy”.
Side B Christians are not a first generation of disciples to demonstrate a countercultural lifestyle of sexual faithfulness in singleness.
Side B Christians are not the only singles to make difficult choices which involve not pursuing romantic and sexual intimacy with someone God has not intended for them.
Side B Christians are not the only ones prayerfully and (by God’s grace) successfully resisting the lures of the evil one and the world when it comes to “following your heart” and “living your truth”.
Side B Christians are not alone in the possibility of finding love and acceptance in progressive churches and secular society at large, but who choose to remain faithful to God’s design for sexual holiness outside of marriage.
All of this is certainly true of Side B Christians. But it is not true of them alone. It’s not even true of them in particular.
The story of faithful, distinctive and instructive celibacy is a shared story which all faithful single Christians inhabit. Together.
Unfortunately, that is becoming less and less obvious. The anecdote that Bekah relates is just one example amongst an ever increasing number. Over and over again, contemporary conversations about faithful sexuality in singleness seem to be rendering opposite-sex attracted, sexually continent single Christians invisible.
It’s like we don’t exist.
In fact, it’s like we were never here at all.
Of course, there are some important differences between the experience of being opposite-sex attracted (OSA) and same-sex attracted (SSA) as a Christian. I don’t deny that for a moment. Of course, those differences matter.
But here’s the thing—not only is there much more commonality between our experiences of singleness than we are often willing to admit, but even when it comes to those important points of differentiation, it is not a competition about who has it more difficult and therefore who is really doing the “hard work” of Christian celibacy today.
Let me give you just one example.
I have numerous SSA Christian friends who I love dearly. From my conversations with them I have an understanding of how painful it can be to reconcile yourself to the fact that marriage and children likely does not lie in your future. Closing the door on that possibility is a very hard, very painful reality for many SSA Christians. It involves genuine grief.
But hard too is the experience of OSA Christians for whom the possibility of marriage is tantalisingly ever before them, but seemingly just out of reach. The ongoing grief of unrealised potential of what could be —the grief of that door always being open, but never being able to walk through it—well, it too is agonising. I can personally assure you of that.
And yet we are not in a competition about whose agony (or indeed, whose blessing) in singleness is greater. While the differences in our experiences are valid and important, SSA and OSA Christians are not players in some bizarre zero sum game. Or at least we shouldn’t be.
Rather, we are a cast of characters who inhabit the same shared story. It’s a story in which SSA and OSA Christians have been cast into overlapping roles alongside one another. It’s a story in which we are together called to testify to the Body of Christ that romance and sex are good, but not ultimate; that living for Jesus is so, so, so much better than living for self.
Bekah finishes her piece in this way:
If we want the next generation to believe that sex and marriage are not the ultimate sources of Christian community, the church would do well to ensure we are not rejecting those whose very existence demonstrates that fact.
With that in mind, let me repeat my plea:
Side B brothers and sisters, will you please ensure that you too are not rejecting those whose very existence demonstrates that same fact alongside you?
We exist too.
We matter too.
Will you please start writing us back into our shared story?
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