I recall being at a youth group event and hearing my pastor correct a young man who’d used a slur against LGBTQA people: “That’s not what we believe here,” he said. “We welcome all.” This moment was especially meaningful to the person sitting next to me at the time – my best friend – who would later come out as a gay man. He would often recall that exchange as an affirmation that his identity was not an aberration or abnormality and pivotal in convincing him to come out.
As I think about why my denomination is my home, I recall this moment and the sense that I have always been safe and welcome in church.
As I slowly began to discern my own identity as an asexual, I knew my church would affirm and embrace who I am with the same extravagant love that, for me, reflects the nature of God and the ministry of Christ. Coming out to friends and family provoked more anxiety for me than the thought of talking to my church about it; to be quite honest, it never even crossed my mind that being an asexual would be an issue for either my congregation or my denomination.
That’s a powerful thing to know with certainty: that your church has your back, no matter who or where you are.
I say this knowing that, at the moment, asexuality is new and unfamiliar to many in our culture. Historically, people disinterested in physical intimacy have been thought to be so due to mental illness or childhood trauma (in much the same way that being gay was once thought to be a perversion or indicator of a psychological malaise).
Only recently has asexuality been recognized as a normal, albeit minority, way of being human. For this one percent of the population, physical intimacy holds no sway or influence in their lives. Unlike celibacy, which is a willful decision to eschew sexual desire, an asexual just isn’t “into it.” It’s innate – one could say woven by the divine hand into the strands of our DNA—and not, in that vital distinction, a sign of brokenness or malady.
I’ve wrestled with the distinction between the two. Well-meaning Christians have pointed out that Paul, for example, never married and heaps praise on celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7. There’s no indication, however, that Paul recognizes those who have no compulsion for sexual intimacy; he praises those who have it but make a conscious choice to suppress it.
While six years of seminary gave me a deep respect for scripture, it isn’t where I turn for affirmation or understanding of my asexual identity. As a teenager, I wrestled with the limited theology that springs from being bound to scripture alone; in time I saw the power of theology as a constructive enterprise engaging God through tradition, culture, and revelation to piece together a better picture of myself as an asexual.
I know many in the LGBTQA community have had this struggle, mining the Bible for justification of their self-identity, trying to contextualize the problematic passages that appear to condemn who we are. Some have given up on scripture entirely, others have taken Karl Barth’s notion of “the Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other” to heart, understanding scripture to be a spark of inspiration that grows with and into the evolution of human love and intelligence. For me, the only condition imposed on my expression and identity comes from Jesus’ Great Commandment; if God is edified and the love and dignity of my species is preserved, I am living a worthy life.
Yet there are times when even other progressive Christians are challenged by asexuality. A dear friend confessed to me recently that she sees sex as God’s gift to whole, healthy people – a sacred part of Christian praxis, a vital component of the monogamous romantic covenant. I think this perspective is common, and it’s easy to wonder if a marriage covenant is complete without the act that, in our parlance, “consummates” the bond. Especially when seen as the precursor to parenthood, physical intimacy is often given a high status in the Christian concept of marriage.
I, in fact, was previously married and have a child from that union. For some this appears paradoxical; they ask, “How can you have a child if you don’t like sex?” It’s a common misconception, and I like the response offered by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), who liken it to a spouse who goes to football games because their partner enjoys it.
Some asexuals don’t have children, some do. Hopefully, as our denominational understanding of marriages and family have grown, we’ve moved past that antiquated notion that God’s plan for marriages must include children and sex.
Far too often I experience almost an apologetic sympathy from people when I come out as asexual, because it’s perceived as a deficit or loss. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on,” is the sentiment I frequently encounter.
It doesn’t feel like a “lack” of anything to me. My spiritual practice is rich enough and I find great fulfillment in hiking, writing, meditating, and being part of my church community. Being a parent, working with my youth group, spending time with family – these fill my life with more than enough joy and meaning. I never sit around wondering “what’s missing” from my faith or practice.
Jace Paul is Christian Education Coordinator at the First Congregational Church of Willimantic, CT, and a writer whose works have appeared on The Huffington Post, Medium.com, and in three volumes of poetry. Paul is a graduate of Andover-Newton Theological School and Harvard Divinity School.”