Ron Belgau: why am I here?

Ron Belgau 2First, who am I?

I am a Catholic graduate student in Philosophy at Saint Louis University. Before grad school, from the end of my teens to my mid twenties, I worked as a programmer at Microsoft. Now, I teach medical ethics and philosophy of the human person, and am working on a dissertation looking at how recent discoveries in artificial intelligence and neuroscience should shape our understanding of the mind-body relation.

I’m also gay and celibate.

For the last decade and a half, I’ve been trying to articulate Christian teaching on human sexuality (particularly homosexuality) more clearly, and to bring a more respectful, Christ-like attitude to an often-hostile discussion. Along the way, I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about what it means to be gay and Christian. I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to gays and lesbians, to ex-gays, to confused college students, to concerned parents, and to anyone else who is interested in the issue and wants to learn more.

I’ve served on the steering committees for Bridges Across the Divide and the Seattle Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministry, as a group leader for Multifaith AIDS Projects, and as leader of the Gay Christian Network’s celibacy support forum. I’ve also traveled around North America speaking about Christian teaching and homosexuality, at places like the University of Rochester, Georgetown, the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and Pepperdine. I’ve been a keynote speaker for the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference, and led a number of workshops there. I’ve also led workshops at the Courage International annual conference. I was interviewed for the Bridging the Gap videos put out by New Direction Ministries. My essay, “My Alternative Lifestyle” shared first place in the Catholic Press Association’s “Best investigative writing or analysis” category in 2005.

The questions that interest me most seem simple and practical: how can I deepen my relationship with God? How can I live a joyful celibate life? How do I cultivate friendships which honor God and grow in intimacy?

But as I have sought to answer these questions, I find that they lead much deeper. After many years of thought and reflecton, here are some of the themes that seem most prominent to me, and which I hope  to develop further:

  1. Love: Our culture tends to equate love with sexual intimacy, and thinks that a life without sexual intimacy is deeply deprived of love. We need to experience for our selves, and be able to articulate for others, how a celibate life can be rich in love given and love received. This means learning anew the wisdom the Christian tradition has to offer regarding prayer and growth in intimacy with God, and also recovering and extending what the tradition has to say about friendship. It’s important to understand for ourselves, and be able to offer to others, practical advice about how to meet the daily challenges of celibate life in a culture that is organized around romantic relationships. This also means thinking about concrete forms of relationship, and how those forms might be recognized by family, friends, Church, and state.
  2. Hope: What is Christian hope? How is it compatible with the cross? What does it mean to live in hope? What do we hope for? What hope can we offer to young LGBT Christians who are wrestling with what obedience to God will mean in their life? There is something paradoxical about Christian hope: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). When young people ask me what hope I can offer them, they are often looking for something tangible: can I promise that they’ll be able to become straight and get married? Or that they can find a celibate boyfriend and live happily ever after? But hope in Christ is not the immediate fulfillment of desire; it is the strength that enables us to look to God, even when it seems to cost us every immediate desire–oddly enough, the word “hope” appears more frequently in the Book of Job than in almost any other book in the Bible. On the other hand, I have found it repeatedly true that “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is at times loneliness and frustration in obedience, but there have also been rich rewards.
  3. Faith: I have sometimes wondered, is God really there? Is this really worth it? And in my conversations with others, this is one of the questions that comes up frequently. How can we really know that God is real, and that the Bible and Christian tradition give a reliable witness to His will? How do we know we aren’t just trying to force our lives into a mold formed by the myths of an ancient and superstitious tribe of hunter-gatherers? Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In order for our hope to be something more than pure delusion, it needs to based on something real. Faith is not just assent to a series of propositions: it involves trust. It is an I-Thou relation with God, involving both trust and knowledge. It is, like hope and love, a gift from God; but it can be easier to receive that gift if we clear away false expectations and misunderstandings of what faith involves. We can also, if we have faith, grow in understanding, and help others to understand their faith more deeply, as well.
  4. Terminology: We all know about the terminology wars: should we label ourselves gay, or SSA, “persons afflicted with the homosexual condition,” or something else? I think that most of this argument is misguided. The problem is not labels, so much as it is the concepts that lie behind the labels. Our culture has a hard time understanding Christ’s vision for human sexuality; many do not understand the lifelong commitment of marriage, or abstinence before marriage, or the value of celibacy. In a culture that assumes it is unhealthy to say no to sex, it will be assumed that if I am attracted to men, sooner or later I will have sex with men, even if I don’t label myself as “gay.” Changing the label I put on my attraction from a three letter word to a three letter acronym doesn’t do much to challenge those cultural assumptions. We need to think about how to explain ourselves in terms which are as accessible as possible to this culture, while also able to communicate the very different vision of human sexuality which informs our lives.
  5. Psychology: It is difficult to talk about homosexuality in conservative Christian circles without talking about Reparative Therapy. I think this approach is largely misguided, based heavily on a Freudian framework which has been rejected by Christians for understanding every other aspect of human personality and sexuality (it has also been rejected by secular psychologists, who have found that it does not fit well with the data from scientific studies of human motivation and behavior). I think it is important to deconstruct this approach (though there may be some insights from these therapeutic approaches which are worth keeping), and work on putting a new framework in its place. This does not necessarily mean offering a competing theory about the cause of homosexuality: it seems to me that the evidence at this stage is inconclusive. Rather, we need to place same-sex attraction in the context of a larger framework for understanding human relationships and human sexuality in the light of Christ. This framework would help to inform the practical discussion of how to love in a rich and human way while living a chaste life in accordance with Christian teaching regarding homosexuality.
  6. Politics: At the present time, Christian attention on homosexuality is overwhelmingly political. Donations to groups opposing same-sex marriage are orders of magnitude larger than donations to ministries offering support and counselling to Christians trying to integrate their faith and sexuality. This is obviously wrong: Christ consistently refused the role of political Messiah, even though his followers repeatedly tried to push Him into that role. He also consistently took time to seek out those who were marginalized, including those involved in sexual sin, even though the religious leaders of His day sharply criticized Him for doing so. It is important to call the Church away from its misguided investment in politics, and remind it of Christ’s love for the prodigal, for the outcast, for the lost sheep. This also means asking more broadly what role the Gospel has in the public sphere. I do not think we should legislate our faith; but I also do not believe that our faith is something purely private, with no public implications. These are deep questions, but I think that part of our current quagmire results from a lack of adequate answers to these deep questions. Because faith is universal, not private, many Christians believe that its teachings must be written into public law (although this rhetoric gets rather inconsistently applied in practice). Because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, other Christians confine their faith to the private sphere. Because each of these premises has some truth to it, we fight interminably over who is right. And issues that primarily affect gays and lesbians are a convenient battleground for this fight, because keeping gay marriage illegal is a lot less painful to most participants than, say, eliminating no-fault divorce. And punishing sodomy is a lot easier for the majority than, for example, punishing fornication. The present focus on politics is far removed from Christ’s approach; but if we want to change the Church’s approach, we will have to be prepared to answer the questions our fellow-Christians will raise, and offer them a new way of thinking that is neither the militancy of the Christian Right, nor a surrender to the Secular Left that privatizes faith and seeks to live our public life as if it did not matter whether God exists or not.

Having said all that, I hasten to say again that the questions that interest me most are simple and practical: how can I deepen my relationship with God? How can I live a joyful celibate life? How do I cultivate friendships which honor God and grow in intimacy? These are the questions which, above all, I hope to discuss with and learn from all of you. I hope that our shared insights will help us offer the Body of Christ better answers to these sometimes difficult questions.

11 thoughts on “Ron Belgau: why am I here?

  1. I’m glad to have been pointed here by a post today on an Exodus Leaders’ list. It’s been 14+ years since we regularly dialogued on Bridges Across the Divide. Before I got here, I already saw the video that is posted at this site in which you dialogue with Justin Lee, another old B-A’er. I only know Wesley Hill from having read his book, but I’m glad that you and he are teaming up. I look forward to what will come of this bold endeavor. May God bless your efforts!

  2. Pingback: Newman, and the development of Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality | Ideas of a University

  3. Greetings in Christ Brother Ron;
    I stumbled upon spiritualfriendship.org and finally found this beginning post. I am a big believer in finding the beginning in order to understand what follows.
    First let me say I appreciate your thoughts.
    Second let me say I am a verbal processors so I might make several posts to your one first blog here. Please have patience with me?
    Third know that we agree on many points and disagree on many more.
    Many of us are on the same or similar journeys. When I came out of homosexuality my first calling was to share the freedom of Christ and share that my eyes were opened to my captivity of homosexuality.
    As you know, or as I believe you know, being aware of one’s captivity and being free of it are two different things. Know I am not a fan of reparative therapy yet I know a few folks who have come out of homosexuality because of it.
    My coming out of homosexuality was a long 10-15 year ordeal. It was between God and I. He and I were in constant conversation. I kept asking Him to help me to understand why I have the attractions to other women. Over the course of those 10-15 years He helped me to understand it so much that for the last 5 years my attractions have been towards the opposite gender.
    When I came to Christ I knew immediately I needed to be celibate and I was and I also identified for another few years as a lesbian. Though looking back I still believed God made me gay which is why I still called myself a lesbian. Once my eyes were opened, two years later, to my captivity, I no longer identified myself as a lesbian though it did take awhile, quite a few years to get my mind set away from it considering the attraction hung around for quite some time.
    Okay, this is getting too long. I hope you will allow the conversation to continue. The conversation being my discussing the thoughts in this first blog and those to come. I will say now that I do believe, eventually, anyone who is in Christ will come out of identifying themselves as gay or lesbian. I hope you will bear with me my brother in Christ?

    Take care for now . .. Charlene .

  4. Pingback: Commonplace Holiness Blog

  5. hey, I was referred to your blog by Justin Lee. I am someone who has same gender attraction. although I dislike the term “gay” (because I am believing for change), I am also wanting to enjoy living a celibate life until my desires change. so I look forward to reading more of your posts. I appreciate Christians from all walks of life and denominations. I myself am a charismatic Christian that attends a charismatic church in Fort Worth, TX. one of the ways I cope with singleness is by attending therapy where I regularly encounter God’s love and compassion through my therapist. I have two female friends that I visit frequently, and a couple of male friends that I see on occasion. I am seeking more male friends. I do have a disability of anxiety/depression and I experience physical afflictions on my face and head (it feels like bugs are crawling on me). I take medication, though it doesn’t help all that much. I experience tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit’s Presence on occasion that comfort me in my affliction and provide solace. I eagerly anticipate each encounter with the presence of Jesus as though it were an oasis in a desert. His Presence is what keeps me safe and keeps me celibate. simply knowing that He loves me keeps me faithful.

  6. Your section on terminology is loaded! I wouldn’t dismiss the label wars as irrelevant, rather unresolved. The labels matter because the concepts behind them matter. What do we mean when we use the terms? Are we using the right term for a concept?

    For example, the term ‘sexuality’ does it properly describe being male or female, or does it describe an orientation. And, really what does that word mean? OK I get what is meant by it, but the concept is fuzzy to me. Is the term based on a construct or a concept?

    Not attempting to engage in war, rather honest debate about concepts and accurate labels.

    More thoughts and questions coming…

  7. Ex-gay– one person may mean he left behind sexual activity whereas another may mean he likes girls now.

    In common usage there will be multiple meanings and shades. Differently understood terms can render debate fruitless.

    For some debates terms need to be defined such as ex-gay can only mean you’re a man who used to like other men but now you like women.

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