A Ministry to the Hateful and the Hated

It sometimes feels like being the bridge between two angry worlds. And it’s heartbreaking – not because people are angry, but because people have such good reason to be angry.

I’ve recently had opportunities to meet men and women who have been incredibly hurt by members of the Church. Priests, Christian family members, and spiritual mentors and guides have hurt them physically, sexually, and emotionally. I’ve heard stories of physical and emotional abuse, rejection, and hatred at the hands of Christian leaders. I’ve looked into the pained faces of beautiful men and women and received words of anger about the Church and Her members.  Continue reading

Chastity and Privilege

Single, lonely heterosexual Christians who want to marry are in a different situation to faithful same-sex attracted Christians who cannot even entertain the idea of marriage. The cross of homosexuality is heavier than many others. Same-sex attracted Christians who, amidst all the temptations of our culture, eschew the flesh and bear that cross faithfully, are among the true heroes in the Church today.

If you are a gay or lesbian Christian trying to live out a traditional sexual ethic, how often have you heard this, or something like it? It’s something—in various guises—that I’ve heard fairly often, even if not directed at me personally.

A spirituality of redemptive suffering is something that is close to my own heart, and I wouldn’t want to take it away from anyone (though I would point out that everyone suffers somehow, and intimacy with God through cross-bearing is not limited to one “special” group or their experiences). But statements like this also represent a subtle danger.

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The Freedom to Love

When many of my friends moved toward a theology that affirms gay sexual relationships, they did so because they grew weary of saying “no” to love. Several of them described an experience where they were fully committed to the church’s traditional teaching on sexual ethics when they grew to deeply love someone of the same sex. They remained chaste for a season and prayed for direction, then eventually sensed the Lord saying: You’re free to love.

While many Christians considered their shift an act of rebellion—a plunge into sin—they saw it as the only path to love and intimacy. They recognized that “It’s not good for man to be alone,” and they longed to serve the one they love, share their lives with the one they love, and mutually draw energy from that love to better serve those around them. Many felt like the traditional ethic required them to cut off fundamental aspects of being human in order to be chaste: they felt saying “no” to sexual relationships meant saying “no” to love, and that saying “no” to love meant saying “no” to any intimacy, and that saying “no” to intimacy meant saying “no” to feelings altogether, which eventually led to detachment and isolation. The burden felt unbearable.

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The Cards We Are Dealt

This post is something of a follow up to Wes’s discussion of whether being gay is sanctifiable, especially this comment toward the end: “But let’s remember that much of what contemporary Christians would classify under the label “being gay” is part of what Scripture describes under the heading of that new, resurrection life in Christ.” I suppose in a sense it also echoes Aaron’s recent (much more philosophical) post about same-sex eros.

A couple years back I was leading a support group for men who experienced same-sex attraction. The majority of these men experienced their same-sex attraction as a burden, a disabling secret that had hindered their relationships with God and others. In an effort to get everyone to process the role that their sexuality had played in shaping their stories, we did an exercise that I called “the cards we are dealt.” Yes, it is trading on a cliché, but sometimes clichés have a certain traction.

The guys wrote five “cards” they were dealt in life. They could be experiences, personality traits, inclinations, tastes—the only requirement was that they came as something given, not chosen. We then went around sharing our cards one at a time, describing the effect they had on our stories and then deciding whether or not we would trade them in if given the chance.

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Notre Dame Marriage Panel Follow-Up

Last Monday, I spoke on a panel on marriage at the University of Notre Dame. Here is an excerpt from the Irish Rover’s article on the event:

Ron Belgau is a graduate student in philosophy at Saint Louis University and founder of the website Spiritual Friendship. . . .

Belgau began the discussion by acknowledging that “debates over same-sex marriage are extremely polarizing.” As a gay Catholic who embraces the Church’s teachings on sexuality, Belgau emphasized the need for a positive pastoral example for men and women who have same-sex attractions. He noted the experience many people have of “homosexual sins [being] graded on a very different scale than heterosexual sins.” In light of this tendency for homosexuals to feel marginalized, Belgau noted the importance of discussing ways for these people to respond to God’s calling and to use their particular gifts within the Church, with a particular emphasis on spiritual friendship—understanding the Church’s teachings as offering a positive vocation for same-sex attracted people.

In contrast with the negative precept to not engage in “gay sex,” Belgau said that a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching on chastity can provide a positive vision for same-sex attracted persons. To be chaste, Belgau explained, is “to be able to order our sexual desires in accordance with right reason, in accordance with the plan that God wrote into creation that is known through right reason but which is also revealed to us in the Church.”

Belgau concluded by discussing the importance of mercy as related through the St. Patrick’s Day Gospel reading. “If we respond to this call to bear witness in a way that recognizes our own sin, recognizes our own struggle, then we have a very different witness to give to our culture,” he said.

I’ll post video of the event when it becomes available. The whole article is worth reading.

Christianity and Same-Sex Eros

Nathan O’Halloran has an interesting article over at Vox Nova on the “richness of homosexual relationality.”

O’Halloran points out something I’ve highlighted before, which is that when the Church speaks negatively about “homosexuality,” it is not talking about the same thing we generally mean by “being gay.” When the Catechism speaks about “homosexuality,” it doesn’t even mean the same thing we mean by “homosexuality” in everyday speech (as opposed to its meaning within the technical discourse of Catholic moral theology). The teaching of the Church against homosexuality, as O’Halloran notes, “extends only to same-sex genital acts and does not refer to the sexuality as a whole.” The Bishops of England and Wales make this very clear in their pastoral letter Cherishing Life:

In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life … it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered. However, it must be quite clear that a homosexual orientation must never be considered sinful or evil in itself.

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Still Looking to Desire

At the request of Jeremy Erickson, I’ve decided to rework a post that I wrote a while ago on my own blog. At the time I was responding to a minor internet skirmish that erupted when Josh Gonnerman posted his First Things article about being gay and Catholic. Critics claimed, not always in entirely charitable terms, that gayness was not compatible with the Catholic faith.

The foundation of their argument will probably be familiar to a lot of the readers here at Spiritual Friendship: being gay involves identifying with a form of lustful disorder, and every Christian should devote themselves heart and soul to stamping out every last trace of lust from their heart in order to be worthy of Christ.

I think that this kind of rhetoric is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be gay. Homosexuality as defined by the Catechism refers solely to same-sex lust. But gayness is not the same thing. Being gay is not reduceable to having, or desiring to have, homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality. Some Christians appear to believe that these currents are so fundamentally disordered that the only proper response to them is one of outright warfare, that the personality must have surgery performed on it in order to eliminate every vestige of queerness in order that it might be rendered fit for salvation.

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Panel Discussion on Marriage at Notre Dame March 17

GrottoI will be joining Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, and Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson, coauthors, with Robert P. George, of the book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense for a panel discussion on the role of the Catholic Church in the cultural and political debate about marriage.

The discussion, “Marriage, the Church and the Common Good,” is sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and several student groups and will take place at 7 p.m. Monday (March 17) in DeBartolo Hall, Room 101, on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

According to Michael Bradley, a Notre Dame senior student who organized the event, “no cultural, legal or philosophical issues are gripping the nation as firmly as are the questions that comprise the marriage debate. What is marriage? Why does it matter? How should public policy reflect sound answers to these questions? What role, if any, should the Catholic Church play in the development of this discussion? Having four of the most articulate Catholic voices in the marriage debate gathered here to discuss these and other questions should be an unparalleled occasion to explore them in harmony with the Catholic tradition.”

The discussion is free and open to the public.