I’ve just finished reading Jeff Chu’s new book Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, and I highly recommend it. Besides being well-written and engaging (I could hardly put it down), it’s also very illuminating. The book is a balanced, fair-minded collection of snapshots of virtually every corner of the (Protestant) Christian discussion of LGBTQ matters. If someone wanted to get a sense for how American Protestants treat their gay and lesbian neighbors, this is the book I would give them first. It covers Westboro Baptist, The Episcopal Church, and everything in between.
I’ve been rereading Josef Pieper’s lovely little exposition of Aquinas on hope, and it strikes me as being very much in line with the point I was trying to make in my last post that quoted Vaclav Havel.
Pieper writes: “The concept of the status viatoris is one of the basic concepts of every Christian rule of life. To be a ‘viator’ means ‘one on the way.’ The status viatoris is, then, the ‘condition or state of being on the way.’ Its proper antonym is status comprehensoris. One who has comprehended, encompassed, arrived, is no longer a viator, but acomprehensor.”
Following Aquinas, Pieper places hope in between the vices of both despair and presumption, and this seems to me to offer those of us who are gay and Christian a useful opportunity to pause and evaluate the way that we conceive of our own “station” on the way.
In the June term this year at the seminary where I teach, Trinity School for Ministry, I’ll be the instructor for a week-long intensive class on a Christian theology of friendship. I’m excited about this opportunity not least because I’m working on a book about friendship, and teaching a class on that theme will give me a chance to try out many of my ideas in group discussions and receive helpful feedback and criticism. (And vice versa: because I’ve been reading and writing so much on the theme, I expect I’ll be of more benefit to the students than I otherwise might have been. As Mark Noll has said, “There can be no good teaching without good scholarship.”)
Many of you have thought much more deeply and carefully about sexual orientation change efforts than I have, and none of what I say here is meant to minimize the complexity of that discussion. But I just wanted to note that my understanding of the character of hope leads me to approach that discussion from a particular angle.
[H]ope… [is] a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation…. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons…. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Early on in Mark Vernon’s insightful book The Meaning of Friendship, there’s this throwaway observation: “In TV soaps, the characters always have their friends to return to when their sexual adventures fail; lovers come and go, but friends remain.” Reading that sentence, I think not only of old favorites like Seinfeld and Friends but of more recent sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother or Happy Endings: the string of the characters’ romantic attachments is forgettable; what keeps you watching these shows is the constancy of the (mostly twentysomething) friendships among the protagonists. Romance is fleeting; friendship is permanent.
At a conference where I spoke this week, the question came up again: “Why would you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?” Others have posted about this—I’m thinking of Joshua Gonnerman and Melinda Selmys and Eve Tushnet—but I never have, so here’s my brief take on the question.
First, what’s behind the question? One of my interlocutors this week suggested that a parallel case would be if someone were to label himself an “adulterous Christian” or a “stealing Christian.” Those terms are self-evidently problematic in that they make sinful behaviors part of an identity description for believers, and therefore gay Christians should find their chosen label equally problematic. My response to this is that those are not, in fact, parallel cases. “Gay” in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas “stealing Christian” certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, “gay Christian” may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.
Over at Christianity Today, Allison Althoff has a story about the growing attention to LGBT issues on evangelical Christian college campuses:
Same-sex attracted students at several Christian institutions have attempted to start on-campus organizations with varying degrees of success. Seattle Pacific University’s Haven is an “unofficial club” organized by students. It hosts weekly meetings on campus to encourage honest conversations about sexuality while holding to the school’s “Lifestyle Expectations” regarding sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
“Haven is recognized by the university administration, but not as a recognized student club through the student government system,” vice president of student life Jeff Jordan said.