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.
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.
I 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.
A common refrain I see from certain conservative Christian commentators is that homosexuality is “celebrated” in Western culture and that people are “pressured” into accepting “the homosexual lifestyle.” In some sense, I can see where this perception is coming from. I’m currently studying at a large public university, and I have previously done internships in very gay-friendly corporate settings. In these contexts, I do feel quite a bit of pressure to change my beliefs and to affirm all loving, monogamous relationships, including gay relationships with a sexual component.
There are many ways that this perception is problematic, however. The biggest problem I see is that the pressure is far from being one-sided. Ironically, the same people complaining about pressure to affirm gay relationships are themselves often creating immense pressure in a different direction. This pressure is often encouraging me to go beyond holding to traditional sexual ethics, but also to change the labels I use, to try to change my sexual orientation, or to focus my efforts and attention on opposing the gay-affirming segments of society. In some ways, I feel this sort of pressure more acutely than I do the pressure to affirm sexual gay relationships. Rachel Held Evans recently expressed this point well while discussing some related issues: “We aren’t ‘giving in’ to the culture; our culture is evangelical Christianity. We’re struggling with that culture, and doing so comes with a cost.” The fact of the matter is that the social connections that matter the most to me are those of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
“How then shall we live?”
In every culture, human beings must face and find answers to this question. However, there is no single, universally shared language and or set of categories for thinking about the question. Instead, each culture develops its own—more or less adequate—way of thinking and speaking about how we ought to act toward each other.
Recent discussions of the language of sexual identity have gotten me thinking about a more general question: how should thinking Christians engage with moral questions generally in a culture, like our own, that has confused and poorly constructed moral categories? (I apologize in advance for a very philosophical post.)
In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre argued against the various conceptual frameworks for understanding morality that emerged from the enlightenment, arguing that they had to fail. The key problem he identifies with post-enlightenment approaches to morality is the rejection of teleology.
A priest I know—we’ll call him Thomas—had studied in Rome as a seminarian some years ago. While there, he had become good friends with an English seminarian, Joseph, and the two would regularly spend hours walking through the Eternal City and talking. One day, they were walking through a Roman garden, and Joseph slipped his arm into Thomas’, drawing close as they walked. Instantly, Thomas tensed up, caught off-guard and uneasy.
Joseph turned to him and laughed: “Tom, you’re such an American. Relax. I just want to be close to you.”
* * *
We tend to think that touch and sight are things we simply do. We rarely contemplate how these senses are learned, how we not only touch and see, but also touch and see well or badly.
A lot of information (and misinformation) has been swirling around concerning a recent report by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child which criticizes the Catholic Church. Among the claims that keep being repeated is that the UN has called on the Church to “change its teaching” on homosexuality. It’s a claim repeated gloatingly by some in the media (“see, we told Catholics they were wrong, now the UN says so”), and with outrage by Catholic commentators (“how dare those liberal desk-drivers at the UN tell the Church what to do!”). But is it actually true? And, either way, what difference does it make to our efforts to reach out to the LGBT community?
In my last piece, I discussed my own experience as an early teenager finding myself attracted to the same sex. Now, I would like to offer a few reflections on what this means for today’s kids.
We must always start by thinking about how to actually love sexual minority kids. Loving people does not merely reduce to preaching about sexual ethics. Instead, we need to take into account the entirety of Christian teaching. We should start by examining our own hearts. As I wrote about previously, even though I’m not straight, I’ve had to deal with self-righteousness and other negative attitudes towards sexual minorities. I’m certainly not the only Christian to have heart issues responding to sexual minorities, and we need to keep our own motivations at the forefront. Even when sexual sin (which should not be confused with mere orientation) is involved, we must make sure that doctrine matters to us for the right reasons and that we are not only focusing on the sins of others.
Having framed the discussion this way, I will now turn to discussing some specific reflections from my own experience.
Aaron Taylor wrote a recent two-part piece (part 1 and part 2), discussing pastoral responses to same-sex attracted youth. Eve Tushnet has suggested that several of us continue that discussion by reflecting what it was like to be that teenager ourselves, and I would like to do that here by discussing my life early in my teen years. In this piece, I will discuss that part of my life, and in a follow-up piece, I will offer some reflections on what would have been helpful. Before I get to the teen years, though, I want to discuss more about my environment leading up to that time.
I grew up in a Christian home, in a stable family. Although it’s not like everything was perfect all the time, I had very good and healthy relationships with both of my parents. I first learned about sex and sexuality from having “the talk” with my dad. I was given the expectation that as I hit puberty, I’d really start to have a “hunger” for girls, and that the ultimate end for that was to be married to a woman and to have sex within that context. I was taught that my sexuality would ultimately be a good thing, but that I would face struggles with lust and sexual purity.