This marks the first voice to speak in Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Fifty Years after Stonewall: A Virtual Listening Tour. We urge the hierarchs and pastors of the Orthodox Church to listen reflectively and prayerfully to this and the voices that follow in this series.
Within the context of an online discussion on chastity in the lives of gay Christians in the old Homosexuality and Christianity Yahoo! group, Eric Iliff of blessed memory sent this email dated Sunday, December 3, 2006, 6:09 a.m. This is probably his last public statement on same-sex love prior to his death three months later. We publish it with no corrections, exactly as he sent it.
I’ll try and add a couple comments based on my understanding.
I think you are possibly not recognizing the subtle difference between to the two terms ‘chaste’ and ‘celibate.’ For the purpose of our discussion here, into which I’m injecting myself, the two terms are quite different. Celibacy denotes no genital contact whatsoever, whether married or not, whether gay or straight, etc. However, chaste is a much more subtle concept I believe. It denotes temperate contenance within one’s life, which involves the moral lifestyle within which one lives.
Therefore, I agree with you, celibacy as a gay Christian is a choice, as many out gay Catholic priests could attest, for instance. BUT, but, but, chastity should be what ALL Christians strive for and ultimately all fall short of because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
If I haven’t been clear or explicit enough, chastity would involve directing one’s heart towards God with all one’s senses, not just the genitals. One’s eyes, hands, mouth (“Set a guard before my mouth, O Lord”), etc. would all be involved in chastity. While celibacy is something more narrow, which is why you might have balked at it as many gay Christians do. It involves “holy aloneness” before God, and isn’t to be despised. The former is a universal calling for all Christians, gay or straight, while the latter is a more specific calling of a few. Some other Christians would disagree with what I’ve said, saying ALL gay Christians must be celibate and this might have been what you were reacting to. I don’t advocate that, nor do I think Peter was, in fact I’m sure he doesn’t.
Peter, I agree with you that many gay persons have been burnt by the universal call to celibacy and feel this is as unnatural as their homosexuality is believed to be. One could easily argue that human beings, good’ol homosapiens need human companionship, whether gay, straight or anything else. They react with some level, sometimes total, moral ambiguity about holiness or chastity within gay relationships for reasons we may not agree with but certainly can try and understand and empathize with. Such reasons are that it is darn difficult to sort through these issues of celibacy, chastity and much moreover, just what does chastity mean within a gay relationship? These processes, for lake of a better term, I believe are at the core of why so many formerly churched and believing Christians leave their churches, and worse, leave their faith in Jesus Christ when they come to terms with their homosexuality.
We must attempt to understand as best we can why these things happen and empathize with Christian love, thereby sending the message that the gay Christian is still loved by God and loved by their fellow Christian, gay or straight.
I will stop here and I hope that I’ve made some sense through my “stream of consciousness.” Thanks for reading.
See the Fifty Years after Stonewall and extensive Sexuality and Gender sections in our Archives by Author.
Eric J. Iliff (1981-2007) received his MDiv from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in May 2006 with a thesis entitled “Homosexuality and the Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition.” He was a gifted church singer and iconographer, and dreamed of one day working with orphans in the developing world. On March 13, 2007 he took his life at the age of 25. (See In Memoriam: Eric J. Iliff.) Orthodoxy in Dialogue is dedicated to Eric’s memory on our About Us page. Contact us at our editorial email address for a copy of his thesis.