Since asexuality is currently little-known as an orientation, there exists some degree of uncertainty over how it is/will be regarded by religion, especially Christianity, thanks to the gross parts of the Christian Church being so influential in the debate over same-sex marriage. Aydan, who has more experience with this, has written on the subject before, and my (untested) expectations from the Churchfolk I’m acquainted with are that they’ll default to secular invalidation styles (like the ever-popular “It could be a problem with your hormones”) rather than approach the matter on the basis of religious doctrine.
However, it’d still be interesting to know how Church people would respond if asked to declare their views of asexuality in terms of their theology. And while it would be good to find out, I’d rather not conduct such an investigation by just walking up into the nearest congregation and announcing, “Hey, I’m on the asexual spectrum. Are y’all okay with that?”
So I’ve been thinking about collecting a little (entirely unempirical) data by emailing some local churches and asking for a statement. I’d be very curious about what kind of results this would produce. Best case scenario — and this is unlikely — I’ll get an influx of positive, affirming responses that make me feel safer about coming out to people during coffee hour. Worst case scenario, the churches will express alarming bigotry that, if nothing else, will at least give me the opportunity to respond to it. In between the two extremes, what I’m expecting at least in part is for many of the emails to 1) never get a response, or 2) get a response that simply expresses confusion or unfamiliarity with the subject, without any outright prejudice.
While I don’t have an absolutely clear idea of what I’ll be doing with this information (since this is mostly just a matter of me putting out feelers for the sake of my own interests), I’m assuming it could be of interest to other aces, and if I actually go through with this, I’m planning to post the results here on this blog.
My biggest concern, though, is wording the email in such a way as to increase the chances of getting an actual response, and part of me feels like I’m just silly and would be making a nuisance of myself. Any input welcome.
UPDATE: Y’all talked me into it. The emails have been sent.
April 19th, 2014 at 2:07 pm
I guess the best way to get a response is to maybe explain a lot of (or some of) what you wrote here, yet keep the asexuality part short and simple.
Of course, if you frame asexuality as a “sexual orientation”, anti-gay churches might be more prone to dismiss it, since many of them dismiss the idea of people having different sexual orientations? Although I think even some extremely conservative churches are beginning to accept that people don’t choose who they’re attracted to, so they move to “acting on it is a sin, but feeling what you feel isn’t”.
Are we talking about a church where a woman is expected to submit to her husband and marital rape is dismissed as a nonsensical topic? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/08/a-tale-of-two-boxes-contrastin-sexual-ethics.html Where “consent” doesn’t really exist because you’re either having one form of sinful sex (they’d never call it rape) or performing your marital duties as a wife (or if you’re a man exercising the desire to have sex that all men want all the time)? It might be very relevant whether you’re considering a hypothetical man to be asexual or a hypothetical woman, in this case. I don’t know.
What are you wondering if the churches would accept? The idea of any person choosing to identify as “asexual”? Or something more specific about behavior, like the idea that you want to never have sex, potentially never get married? Not have (at least biological) children? Those things obviously are not things that apply to *all* asexuals (as *no* one lifestyle choice applies to all of us), but I guess I wonder what the most controversial point of view might be.
One potential email I might compose would go something like:
“There is a lot of information on the internet regarding “asexuality”, and after doing quite a bit of personal introspection combined with internet research, many of us have come to the conclusion that we are asexual. That means we do not experience sexual attraction, and for many of us this means that we do not wish to ever have sex, even if we were to get married. I was wondering if your church had an official stance on asexuality. If you accept it as a valid sexual orientation, and if it’s okay, according to your theology and doctrines, for us to never pursue sex in our lives. It would be greatly appreciated if you could reply and let me know where your church stands on this issue.”
April 19th, 2014 at 3:12 pm
Hmm, that’s a good idea. Thanks.
I’m undecided as to whether to specifically call it a sexual orientation, now that you mention it. I was planning to just say “asexuality describes people who do not experience sexual attraction to any gender” or something like that, without going into any extra details.
The churches in my area range from at least one that is deliberately supportive of gay people to at least one so conservative that on its official webpage it uses the word “man” to mean humankind, so if this does get responses, chances are it’ll be a mixed bag.
Initially I was just wondering about asexuality itself, but asking about permanent celibacy (without going into the ministry) might be a good thing to ask about too.
April 19th, 2014 at 9:08 pm
re: wording, one thing that may make a difference is whether you write it as a question about your personal identity, or if you ask about it as a general topic. For example, I’d expect that something like “hello, I identify as asexual, and I’m not sure how this fits into my faith, can you give me any advice?” to get a very different response than “hey, so I heard of this weird thing called asexuality, does the church have an opinion on that?”
Either way, this sounds like a really cool project! I’d definitely recommend including at least a basic definition, and a link to something like the AVEN FAQS that has more info.
If you do end up going through with this, do you think you’d be able to post a copy of whatever email you send in case any of us are interesting in doing something similar with religious groups in our areas?
April 19th, 2014 at 9:46 pm
Whoa, it’s nextstepcake. Hello.
I was planning on posing it as a general question, in a way that didn’t outright identify me as an ace… although I was also planning to send the emails from my theacethesit gmail account, and they’d easily be able to connect the dots if they tried… But anyway, assuming no one pays attention to my email address, do you think it’d be better to specifically announce that I’m including myself in the group? It might beget friendlier responses, but on the other hand, if this does reach prejudiced eyes, I expect that might lead them to invite me to come talk with a pastor in person about it, and that’s exactly what I don’t want.
Including links… Okay, might do that.
And yep, once I draft something and round up some contacts, I’ll be sure to share a copy here!
April 19th, 2014 at 10:03 pm
I think both types could work well, actually, so it’s just a matter of preference. I suspect that generic questions will be more likely to get “that’s not a real thing”but also maybe more honest responses, whereas personal ones might get more specific but more also more carefully tactful suggestions.
One thing to keep in mind: I don’t know much about the places you are planning to contact, but if there’s any that you’re not sure about you may want to consider making a side email that’s not linked to anything you use much online, just in case someone gets nasty – though if you’re mostly contacting larger churches I think they should be sensible enough to be respectful and not share it, so hopefully that’s a small chance.
April 20th, 2014 at 1:13 am
This is very interesting and something I’ve never really thought of besides hearing from my mother that I’m just ‘Chaste.’ (yeah, she’s stubborn…we’re a Catholic family too, so hearing the differences between Christian and the rest of the religions would be really interesting) Please keep us updated on your findings!
April 20th, 2014 at 8:48 am
My (Episcopalian) mother is somewhat similar — when I came out to her, one of her first reactions was along the lines of “So…. how is that different from chastity?”
April 20th, 2014 at 8:30 am
It’s been put in the linkspam. ;)
Also, this is a really awesome project and I approve. I’m wondering about your methodology, though–are you planning to contact all churches of a specific denomination? You said “local churches,” so I assume they’ll all be in roughly the same area. Are you going to check if they are LGBT-friendly first? (I would be really interested in whether the LGBT-friendly churches are more likely to also be ace-friendly or not.) Basically, I do religious studies and I’m like, “Ethnography????”
April 20th, 2014 at 9:03 am
ahahaha, I don’t plan to be rigorous or empirical or anything like that at all, though maybe this will encourage someone else to do a more proper version.
I’ll start by sending out emails to some churches that are in and around my city, yeah, so that’ll be a mix of different denominations (it might be interesting to see how they stack up against each other, but I’m accustomed to seeing most Protestant denominations as relatively interchangeable aside from the rituals — then again, maybe this’ll teach me to see differently). Also might expand the radius and add more to the list depending on how Round 1 pans out.
And yes, that list will include at least one church that considers itself “welcoming to all orientations”, so, fingers crossed.
April 20th, 2014 at 11:05 am
Ah, see, if you were an academic you could make an argument something like, “I don’t believe Christian denominations are that different from each other when it comes to the topic of sexual orientation, and so I have decided to ignore denominational differences.” (I…haven’t been reading too much religious ethnography this semester, what are you talking about.)
I’m looking forward to seeing what responses you get!
April 20th, 2014 at 1:34 pm
Also, it looks like someone’s tried with Mormon missionaries before: http://keepdreamingincolour.tumblr.com/post/83323788162/project-idea-regarding-asexuality-and-the-church
April 20th, 2014 at 1:45 pm
Whoa, cool, thanks for telling me (and bless you and your tags, as always).
Admittedly, I’m… not sure what relevance “It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation” has in relation to asexuality, but from the looks of it, their stance would not be friendly to ace/celibate and aro/nonamorous people.
April 20th, 2014 at 8:53 am
I am entirely behind this. My own anecdotal experience has always been that church people respond to asexuality with an attitude of “cool with it, but don’t really understand it” (except for my mother, who’s so conservative she used to be sceptical of evolution and was therefore never going to be anything but an outlier), but it’d be good to widen the conversation.
The inclusion of detailed links could be interesting – in my experience, the bigotry levels in responses tend to suddenly diversify when you get into the details (the idea of celibate marriages seems to be a big sticking point among some denominations, for example).
April 21st, 2014 at 12:41 pm
I’m a seminary-bound member of the Congregational Church of San Mateo (United Church of Christ). My congregation is ONA, which is shorthand Open And Affirming, meaning that all persons are welcome. This often describes a UCC chruch that is LGBTQIA+ friendly.
In addition to working on my Master’s of Divinity in order to be ordained, I will also be working on a Certificate of Sexuality and Religion while at seminary.
I would love and be honored to help facilitate your questions with my home church, and if possible with my wider denomination. If you’d like to work with me on this, you can contact me through my blog or directly at connieanne11 at yahoo dot com.
April 21st, 2014 at 1:25 pm
Cool. For now I’m just looking at the churches in my area, but I’ll be sure to see if there are any UCC churches around, and I’ll keep your church on the radar if I end up expanding the project.
April 21st, 2014 at 2:54 pm
Okay. Hope all goes well!