Peace, Peace? Further Thoughts on Staying Put

Wes recently wrote a reflection about the Church Clarity website, and what it might mean for someone who differs from a church’s stated beliefs on sexuality to “stay put” as it were, in spite of serious disagreement.

I want to say right away how much I love and appreciate Wes and his writing. He, perhaps more than anyone, has given me a profound vision of committed friendship and helped me to see a path for positive flourishing in the midst of my same-sex attractions. I am deeply thankful to God for his grace to me through Wes.

Furthermore, regarding Wes’s post, I share much of his concern that we not too easily abandon ship in our commitment to a local church, denomination, or broad Christian tradition based on any and every disagreement we might encounter. When it comes to issues not primary to salvation and the heart of the gospel, membership vows should mean a great deal in our decision making. I also recognize that Wes is coming from a context where his broad church tradition is in the midst of significant change in understanding sexual ethics. I am very sympathetic to the tension he must feel as one who affirms the traditional biblical view of marriage and same-sex sexual activity within the Episcopal Church.

However, one of the unique features of Spiritual Friendship is that all of the contributors do not agree on everything. As I read Wes’s post, I must confess that I was not persuaded by his argument. Part of the reason for this likely flows from exegetical differences, as well as the different ecclesial structures in which we are living. Additionally, my reservations flow from the pastoral perspective from which I write. After all, I am a pastor in a local church, so the question of whether to stay or go takes on a particular flavor for me. In other words, I am not asking the question, “Should I as an individual believer commit to stay at a church with whom I am in serious disagreement?” Instead, the question for me becomes, “There are people at our church who regularly attend, seek to become members, be baptized, take communion, and flourish as Christians. In light of these disagreements on sexuality, how can my fellow pastors and I effectively shepherd our church as a whole AND the individual believers of whom our local body is comprised?”

Continue reading

On “Church Clarity” and the Cost of Staying Put

A few weeks ago a website called Church Clarity launched. Their stated goal is to encourage churches, primarily evangelical ones, it seems, to be upfront about their policies regarding LGBTQ members. If, for instance, some churches will hospitably “welcome” LGBTQ members but not allow them to serve in leadership roles or receive Communion, Church Clarity wants those churches to own up to that policy on their websites so that potential members can see ahead of time what they’re getting into. As their own website indicates, they’re developing a database that offers “scores”:

The Church Clarity database scores churches on how clearly their websites communicate their policies. Currently, we are evaluating clarity of policies regarding LGBTQ people. To begin, we’ve published a selection of evangelical churches in America. The goal is to compile a comprehensive database of as many churches, especially evangelical ones, as possible.

Continue reading

Sacrifice and Sexual Ethics

Crucifixion

God doesn’t promise that He’ll only ask you for the sacrifices you agree with and understand. – Eve Tushnet

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself; accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked; accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. – Terence Malick, Tree of Life

In paragraph 265 of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis teaches:

We have to arrive at the point where the good that the intellect grasps can take root in us as a profound affective inclination, as a thirst for the good that outweighs other attractions and helps us to realize that what we consider objectively good is also good “for us” here and now. A good ethical education includes showing a person that it is in his own interest to do what is right. Today, it is less and less effective to demand something that calls for effort and sacrifice, without clearly pointing to the benefits which it can bring.

The basic message is traditional. Morality involves rational pursuit of the good. This is so by definition because humanity was created with a desire for happiness (which, as St Augustine beautifully explains in his Confessions, can ultimately be satisfied only by God) – or, as ancient Greeks called it, eudaimonia (“flourishing”). Whatever we choose, we choose because we judge, rightly or wrongly, that it will contribute to eudaimonia. As Herbert McCabe puts it:

Living well means doing good because you want to do it, because you have become the kind of you that just naturally wants to do this.

The Church believes her rules surrounding sexual behaviour are not arbitrary. The goods indicated as desirable by Church teaching are (in the Holy Father’s words) good “for us,” given the way our nature was created. Pope Francis is restating the Church’s belief that her teachings on sex concern natural law, not eccelesiastical policy.

But paradigms of moral behaviour in Scripture often cannot be understood within the context of an ethic solely focused on the pursuit of eudaimonia. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ prays:

Abba, Father … all things are possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. (Mark 14:36)

Christ, God and man, had two wills and two intellects (human and divine). His prayer indicates the desire of his (human) will is at odds with the Father’s desire. This suggests that Christ’s human intellect, in itself, could not grasp that his Passion was “in his own interest.” If it had grasped this, even his human will would have desired to undergo the Passion, since the will naturally desires what the intellect grasps as good.

St Augustine says that by praying as he did, Christ “shows Himself to have willed something else than did His Father.” St Thomas Aquinas explains this by arguing that although Christ’s “will as reason” always “willed the same as God,” in his “rational will considered as nature, Christ could will what God did not.” What is important to note is that even the human will of Jesus, although it never experienced disordered affection, cannot be said to have had a “profound affective inclination” toward his proper good at all times; nor can his human intellect, in itself, have been capable of completely comprehending that good, even though Christ’s human intellect (unlike ours) knew everything possible for a human intellect to know.

Continue reading

Heartbreak and Celibacy Pt. 3

(See Part 1 & Part 2)

Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community

I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced is merely a part of life and a part of growing up. I had few examples of what to do with romantic feelings as a celibate gay man, which made it difficult to know how normal or abnormal my experiences were. As I learned, falling in love and going through heartache and heartbreak is just a part of life, celibate or not. I was thankful for the advice and empathy my friends shared as well as their enduring patience with me.

As a celibate gay man, I never thought I was supposed to fall in love. Matthew Vines, the popular gay-affirming apologist, has said that one of the worst things that can happen to a celibate gay man or woman is to fall in love. I don’t know if it is the single worst thing, but I think it is an especially excruciating challenge for many of us. In the celibate world, there are few models or examples of just getting through experiences of falling in love, and as a result, few talk about that experience openly. More than one of my celibate friends have participated in the wedding of the man or woman they were in love with at one time. For many of them, that was a heartache they endured silently. What they were feeling was something they believed they needed to reject or fear. So often they endured these intense feelings silently and alone.

14834005796_d87cf9fef0_o

©️ Gregg Webb 2014

 

Some of my affirming friends lost faith in their convictions about celibacy after they experienced mutual romantic connection. It was easy to get caught up in the rush of feelings that you never thought were possible and a connection you never believed could really exist. In most cases they eventually experienced heartbreak but almost always didn’t stop pursuing romantic relationships after that first experience. The veil had been torn down, and they suddenly realized what, in a sense, they’d been missing. The challenge for celibate gay Christians is: How do you walk right up to the edge of the brink, look your feelings in the eye and acknowledge that they are real and important, but still choose not to walk down the path that these feelings are naturally inclined to lead? Continue reading

Heartbreak and Celibacy Pt. 2

(See Part 1)

Part 2: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Heart

The second time I fell in love was with a new friend I met during my last year in St. Louis. I’ll call him Brad. This time, I wanted to learn from my last experience and decided to dive head first into the feelings and try and embrace them as best I could. My friends and counselors had been showing me all the ways I had grown callous and dismissive toward my emotions, and they encouraged me to try a different approach than repressing them. I was threatened by my feelings, and so if they didn’t make sense, or if it seemed pointless to feel them, I would try and reject or repress them. As the wiser voices in my life knew, though, rejecting and ignoring them only made them fester. This time I decided that I was going to take these newly learned lessons in emotional congruence and let my feelings be rather than fighting them. I was moving away from St. Louis several months after meeting Brad, and so whatever happened, it would have a firm end when I moved to Chicago.

Part of expressing what I was feeling was finding language for it. Unlike my experience with Corey, I more readily admitted to a few close friends my attractions to Brad and would effusively share with those friends around me about the feelings. I was a man who had a crush on (and eventually fell in love with) another man—it seemed simple enough. I had no intent of pursuing anything with brad other than, perhaps, a lesson in increased emotional intelligence. Even after my experience of falling in love with Corey, I still felt that I’d never fully accepted the part of me that was romantically attracted to other men. My lust and sexual desires were all too familiar, but I still largely resisted and ignored the more complicated side of my attraction to other men. This side of myself longed for a deep, intimate connection with another person, which I had largely ignored or repressed. I knew that all of us long for love and connection and that self-sacrifice and deep love can exist in friendship as well as marriage. What I didn’t know was if there was some goodness in my romantic feelings for Brad that could be genuinely loving and selfless without having to be rejected altogether.

14736414968_b0ac5ee6dc_o

©️ Gregg Webb 2014

I believe that part of why I was so emotionally shut off to my own experiences was out of a fear of what those feelings might mean about me. They scared and threatened me because they weren’t as clearly rooted in sin as my lust was. My lust was selfish and grounded in my own pleasure, but my feelings for Brad felt more connected to what I believed was selflessness—the same feelings that lead someone to forsake father and mother and give over their life to the good of someone else’s. This self-giving and person-focused side of my attractions was what I wanted to begin opening myself up to in a way that I hadn’t with Corey. I wanted to try and be more open to the parts of these feelings that could be pleasing to God, like selflessness. My faith told me that I was called to resist lust for the same gender, but it wasn’t as clear to me if these other parts of my feelings for Brad could somehow be good. Continue reading

Heartbreak and Celibacy Pt. 1

Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself

How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about my heart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.

Twice in my adult life I’ve fallen in love with a man. Early crushes may have happened before adulthood, nothing significant enough to write about. The first time I fell in love was for a writer I’d gotten to know through his blog. I’ll call him Corey. As much as I struggled not to fall in love with Corey, I eventually did. I was madly in denial about what I was experiencing because it felt so incongruent with my values and, in many ways, pointless. Hundreds of miles separated us, and he never reciprocated my feelings, so there were fewer kicks to the face emotionally that would have made the nature of my feelings more apparent to me.

14670309780_a4e39804b6_o

©️ Gregg Webb 2014

Caught up in all of the heartache was fear. I feared what these feelings meant for me and for my future life as a celibate gay man. I couldn’t figure out which of the feelings I experienced were acceptable and which I was supposed to try and kill off. It took me over a year just to start finding language I felt comfortable with to describe what I was feeling. In many ways, because falling in love seemed pointless as a celibate gay man, I just wanted to forget about the whole thing altogether. My heart, and sometimes my dear friends, never really let me ignore it entirely, though I tried. It took Spotify listing my number one song of 2014 as “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else,” by A Great Big World, for me to begin accepting that even the music I was (cluelessly) listening to somehow expressed what I could not. Experiences like the one I wrote about in “Forsaking All Others also helped me come to terms with my myself and slowly began to help me identify what I was feeling. Continue reading

Reflections on Reformation Day

As most of my readers will be aware, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Church in Wittenberg, Germany on this day, five hundred years ago.

95 Theses

No informed Catholic should deny that there were very serious problems in the Church in the time leading up to the Reformation. To see this, we need only read what Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or any of the other Counter-Reformation saints had to say about the abuses they saw and the opposition they faced when they tried to correct them. We could also look at the reforms of the Council of Trent, or the biographies of Renaissance Popes for examples of corruption within the Church.

On the other hand, no serious Protestant should deny that the Reformation led to a fracturing of the Church and a proliferation of conflicting theologies that none of the original Reformers would agree with. I don’t think many Protestants would want to defend the purity of Henry VIII’s motives in breaking the Church of England away from Rome. And Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli soon found themselves divided against each other almost as much as against Rome.

Also, everyone hated the Anabaptists.

Continue reading

Notes for University of Dallas Talk

SB Hall

I am speaking at University of Dallas tonight on “Friendship and Homosexuality,” sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry. Given time limits, a talk like this can only briefly touch on topics which I have written about in much more depth here on Spiritual Friendship. This post provides a handy reference for people who heard my talk to read more about what I said. (And for those who weren’t able to make it to the talk, it still provides a handy reference to several important posts I’ve written over the years.)

First, I shared a bit about my own story. This post tells a bit about how I started to realize I wasn’t attracted to women. You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church, first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church. This post, perhaps the most important for setting the stage for my later thinking about chastity, relates more about my experience of falling in love with a friend in college. An important theme in all of this is the difference between talking with and talking about.

Aelred of Rievaulx is one of the most important influences on my vision for the Spiritual Friendship blog. I’ve written about his typology of friendship, as well as the distinction between true and false friendship. With respect to Catholic teaching on friendship and homosexuality I’ve written about various Catholic documents that commend friendship for men and women with homosexual inclinations, as well as what the Catechism means by “disinterested friendship.” Another important influence on my thinking is Blessed John Henry Newman’s sermon on the “Love of Relations and Friends.”

I closed by reflecting on two experiences I had in France: seeing a painting by Gabriel Girodon depicting the martyrdom of the brothers Crepin and Crepinien at Soissons, and a pilgrimage to Lourdes I took 15 years ago with an older friend of mine who was dying of pancreatic cancer.

Speaking @ University of Dallas 10/10

SB Hall

For those in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, I will be speaking at University of Dallas on Tuesday October 10, 2017. The talk will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room, SB Hall, sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry

From the event flyer:

The Catholic Church has frequently recommended friendship as a part of her pastoral care to same-sex attracted Catholics. In this talk, Ron Belgau will reflect on his own experiences with realizing he was gay and how a close friend helped him to choose chastity. He will also explain the Church’s teaching on friendship and homosexuality more clearly, and how the virtue of chastity “blossoms in friendship” (CCC 2347).

The speaker, Ron Belgau, is an internationally known speaker who lectures on Biblical sexual ethics and his own experiences as a celibate gay Christian. He is the cofounder, with Wesley Hill, of Spiritual Friendship, an increasingly popular group blog dedicated to exploring how the recovery of authentic Christian teaching on friendship can help to provide a faithful and orthodox response to the challenge of homosexuality.

In 2015, during Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia he and his mother, Beverley, were invited by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., to speak at the World Meeting of Families about how Catholic families can better respond to gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons in their midst.

Hope to see you there!

Sexual Minorities in the Orthodox Church: Towards a Better Conversation

A few months ago I was invited to become one of the contributors to a new Eastern Orthodox blog called Orthodoxy in Dialogue. At the time I had just written my post How Should We Then Live? which was a response to conversations around Giacomo Sanfilippo’s post on Conjugal Friendship. Giacomo is one of the editors at Orthodoxy in Dialogue and asked if I’d contribute from time to time. They are hoping to “provide a space for the discussion of topics relevant to Orthodox Christianity.” Some of those topics, will overlap with Spiritual Friendship’s ongoing discussions around the place of sexual minorities in the church. One of their recent posts, “Transgenderism” Isn’t a Thing is in the same vein of subjects we’ve written about here on Spiritual Friendship.

IMG_0076

I recently published my first essay with Orthodoxy In Dialogue continuing the themes of How Should We Then Live and wanted to share with you all.

Most often, the rehashing and restating of the Church’s concrete theological positions grate against me. It pains me not because I personally disagree with its conclusions; rather, I find it lacking in practical advice or teaching that actually helps make sense of the life I’m called to live. Discussions around celibate relationships, committed friendships, life in community, sexual abstinence, and many others just don’t happen. I’ve found the Church leery of engaging in these gray areas for fear of somehow failing a test of “Orthodoxy.” Simply even engaging with the lived experiences of queer people in the Church is dangerous, or has the possibility of contaminating what is seen as “pure” theology.

I want to affirm the need for theological preservation, and for ancient truths to continue to have a place in the teaching of the Church. But the problem comes when it starts to feel as if I’ve been forgotten by the Church or reduced to a theological anomaly.

You can read the rest of the post here!