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.
I’ve been following the events surrounding Rosaria Butterfield’s recent visit to Wheaton College, where over 100 students held a demonstration prior to chapel demanding more than a single story be shared.* The students seem concerned that others might use her story prescriptively to say all gay or same sex attracted people should experience a similar transformation that leads to heterosexual marriage. A number of the students also seem concerned that Wheaton is not open to acknowledging the larger conversation regarding the morality of gay relationships, and they want to see Wheaton interacting with more progressive interpretations of Scripture on this point (which I won’t get into here).
I’ve been fascinated by Rosaria’s story since I read it last year. The first few chapters of her book gripped me with sentences like: “This word—conversion—is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God.” That resonates with me—her entire story of coming face to face with the Living God (and being transformed from the inside out) resonates with me. Then she marries a man. She marries a man, has children, home schools her children, and now leads a radically different life than the one she led as a “queer activist” and professor at Syracuse. That doesn’t resonate with me.
One of the things that I have long admired and tried to emulate about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his care to respond non-violently to those who attacked him, at to teach his followers to do the same. He was not passive in the face of evil, but his goal was always to convert those who treated him evilly, not to respond in kind, and not to try to destroy them as they had tried to destroy him.
I thought it would be appropriate, in celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday, to offer the advice King gave at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott for thought and meditation.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white bus rider. Within days, the black community in Montgomery decided to organize a boycott of the city buses, to protest the discriminatory treatment of black bus riders. Initially intended to last only a few days, the boycott lasted over a year, until the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was unconstitutional, and integrated bus service began on December 20, 1956.
I’ve been reading a few recent essays on sexual ethics written for a popular audience. A couple of them have focused specifically on homosexuality, and each one draws a strikingly similar contrast. On the one hand, these essays describe a kind of Christian faith that is focused on “certainty,” on “black and white answers,” on “knowing what’s right,” and the arrogant rigidity and coldness that goes along with that. On the other hand, these essays talk about a different sort of Christian faith, one that is more interested in “exploration,” in “questions,” in “living with tension,” in “loving real people where they’re at,” in being willing to brave the “messiness” of “life in the trenches.” (All the quotes here are paraphrases because I’m not trying to single out one author or essay or book for critique. I’m more interested in observing a trend in the reading I’ve been doing.)
In response, I find myself wanting to ask, over and over again:
- Is it possible that the “certainty” that pre-marital sex is a bad idea is itself the result of profound “exploration,” of “living in tension,” or “loving real people”?
- Is it possible that the “black and white answer” of marriage being a covenant between one man and one woman is an answer that’s been forged as Christians have “wrestled” with the “messiness” of “real life”?
- Is it possible that the “rigid, arrogant knowledge” that divorce is something Christians ought to work hard to prevent is the result of a profound “struggle” to “meet people where they’re at”?
- Can we at least entertain the idea, for the sake of argument, that the Christian tradition’s “answers” on sexual ethics aren’t just the product of unexamined patriarchal assumptions and power moves on the part of greedy bishops and priests?
- Can we at least consider the idea that the tradition might have been crafted, in part, from a hard-won, long-sought-after, humane wisdom that knew things about humanity and sexuality that we, in our time, may have forgotten?
Austin Ruse isn’t sure what to think about me, which is ok. I’m not sure what I think about him, either.
A few days ago, he published a piece about my writings in Crisis Magazine. In the first, and by far the largest, part of the piece, which was based closely on what I have actually written, he took a very positive tone, recognizing that I have written a lot that unequivocally defends Catholic sexual ethics.
I appreciate his attempt at giving my views a fair shake. And, since the piece came out, Spiritual Friendship has had about 10,000 more page views than I would have expected based on past readership. So I’m glad that at least some of those who read his pieces in Crisis came over to check out what we had to say. I hope that they got a clearer picture of what we’re up to.
(Sorry, Ron, for stealing for your title)
We’ve written a lot here at SF about Crisis Magazine’s profiling of the “New Homophiles” over the past couple of weeks. I think a lot of the response is because this is the closest that we’ve come to direct engagement with the people that tend to cause us frustration: the people who seem to be responsible for behaviours that we would characterize as “homophobic.” For me, at least, there’s always a hope of being able to engage in constructive dialogue both with the LGBTQ community, and also with those within the Christian community who struggle to be able to present an even remotely charitable response to homosexuals. In one of Ron’s earlier blog projects he used the image of a bridge, and I always thought it a very beautiful image for what it is that we try to do: we are attempting to make of our lives, our thoughts, even our bodies a bridge connecting the Christians church with LGBTQ people.
The response that we’ve received from Crisis shows us that, at least with some people we still have an awfully long way to go. Today Ron tweeted a link to the forums at Suscipe Domine, which you shouldn’t read unless you have a deep desire to go home and cry into your oatmeal. (As you can see, I’ve included the link in order to help you in this project. Please consider offering up your tears for the GCN conference this weekend.)
Last week, Crisis Magazine published a critical profile of my writings by Austin Ruse.
Over the last few days, I’ve spent some time thinking about Ruse’s article and following the comments on his Crisis articles. I’ve also been reading some of his other writings about homosexuality and the reactions he’s triggered in the gay press. (I would not recommend this as a way of spending your Christmas holidays.)
In the midst of all of this, I’ve tried to figure out what to say in response that is charitable and likely to move the conversation forward.
Ruse presents himself as deeply committed to Church teaching on this question. And if we limit the message of the Church to “gay sex is an abomination,” there is no question that Ruse communicates this teaching clearly, with emphasis, and with a certain joie de combat.
However, in an interview published in America Magazine last summer, Pope Francis said:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
I’ve just broken Josh Gonnerman’s first law of staying sane on the internet: I went and read some of the comments on Chris Damian’s Crisis article. I probably had the same reaction as most other Spiritual Friendship readers who made the same mistake. It seemed like the responses had nothing to do with the article. I rankled at the too-familiar accusations of “relativism” “spreading confusion” and “pride.” Damian’s article seemed to so clear, so lucid, so charitable and full of good will that I couldn’t understand how it provoked that kind of response.
Then my husband suggested that instead of getting angry I should try to think about the Crisis readers the same way that I think about people on Truth Wins Out. When an ex-ex-gay says something that I really disagree with, or calls the pope emeritus Pope Palpatine XVI, I very quickly and easily forgive them. I understand where they’re coming from, I see their hurt and I don’t feel inclined to blame them if they say something insensitive about my faith. So my husband suggested that I try to find a way of relating to and understanding the way that Crisis readers feel when they post the kind of comments that make my blood boil.
Editor’s Note: Last fall, after Calvin College invited Justin Lee and Wesley Hill to speak on campus, an undergraduate at another Christian college contacted Spiritual Friendship to thank us for trying to foster this conversation about homosexuality, chastity, and spiritual friendship. Although we do not normally publish anonymous pieces on Spiritual Friendship, I felt that his perspective should be heard by the faculty and administrators at Christian Colleges. So we invited him to share a bit about what the issue looks like from the perspective of a student who wants to be faithful to traditional Christian teaching at a Christian liberal arts college.
— Ron Belgau
I lead the normal life of a liberal arts college student: I’m too over-committed to do any one thing completely effectively. I wake up 10 minutes before class (and make it on time!). I am involved with a social fraternity, work two on-campus jobs. I live a busy life filled with laughter, late nights up talking to friends, and unappetizing cafeteria food. Most days are normal.
Some days, though, it feels like my existence is synonymous with controversy. I say this because I’m a Christian who is predominately, but not exclusively, attracted to the same sex. I am a bisexual Christian who believes in the “traditional” (side B) Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. I have seen at a distance and personally how controversial the existence of a person like me can become on a Christian college campus like my own.
I ended yesterday with yet another viewing of Love Actually. After a day bustling with tweets, posts, and articles stating concerns from both sides of the culture war regarding the Phil Robertson controversy (with both sides making legitimate points), it was good to get in touch with some of the fundamental human questions most gay Christians are concerned about: questions of faithfulness, friendship, love, longing, and belonging.
Whenever there’s an explosion in the culture war, it seems like the real people with genuine human struggles are shelved while we argue about rights and agendas. There are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed: How do we share our views in ways that highlight the value and dignity of people made in the image of God? Is there room for Christians to share their unpopular views freely, as there seems to be for folks who hold different values? When someone is directly asked for their opinions, are we ready to actually hear them? And in hearing them, can we respectfully agree or disagree instead of waging war? Can we consider fighting for the marginalized as passionately as we fight other sides in the debate?