The owning and the living of faith

Over at Sexual Authenticity, Melinda Selmys has recently written a post on coming to terms with the deep reality of her sexuality. She referenced a post of mine on a private blog; since she found it helpful, I thought I’d share it publicly:

Tonight, I went with our own Eve Tushnet to see Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts. The play is about a relationship between two gay men; Adam is older, neurotic, and agnostic, while Luke is younger and possessed of a strong religiosity of an evangelical (veering towards fundamentalist) stripe. The play explores a number of issues related to religion and sexuality (as well as family, friendship, exterior presentation vs. interior reality, etc.). The play is framed in a hospital; Luke, having been hit by a errant taxi, is in critical condition. A few moments, in particular, provided me with fodder with reflection.

Luke reconciles his faith and his sexuality in a very simple way (at least on the surface). It’s a sin, sure, but Christ died for all of our sins, and if we just believe in him, we will be saved. A major impetus of the whole play is a simultaneous draw towards faith and repulsion from overly shallow approaches to religious questions, which is signalled when Adam and Luke, after a late night of worrying, head to bed. Adam fetches sleeping pills, and Luke is reminded of an analogy he had made earlier for Christ’s gift of salvation and the rejection thereof. If everyone had cancer, and a cure were found, some people would take it, but some would be too angry at having cancer in the first place to take the pill. He washes his sleeping pill down, and looks up to Adam with a smug assurance. Adam sighs, says “If it were that easy, everyone would swallow it,” and walks back into the bedroom, the pill still held in his hand. Adam, of course, understands Christianity more truly than Luke does, as Christ does not come merely to save us, but to call us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” A Christianity which does not see itself as called to the path of perfection and being conformed further and further to the image of Christ is at best a cultural affiliation. Another character, Brandon, tells Adam “”I can understand the need to give in to urges, and when you and Luke were just hooking up, I was okay with that; but when you choose that lifestyle [i.e., enter a long-term relationship], that’s where I draw the line.” Of course, we are all familiar with this approach from Christian ministries to homosexuals; in some circles, for instance, it is more acceptable for a married man to repeatedly have anonymous sex with other married men than for a person who is totally celibate to identify as gay, and we do well to push back against that. However, there is a certain truth to it, as expressed powerfully in Julia Flyte’s living in sin monologue from Brideshead Revisited. There can be no spiritual growth where there is no desire to avoid sin, and it becomes questionable to what extent that is really Christianity. It’s a delicate tension to be navigated between deploying in word or thought that “one little, flat, deadly word that covers a lifetime,” and failing to recognize the fundamental difference between “doing wrong, knowing it’s wrong, stopping it doing it, forgetting it,” and lacking the basic intention to live rightly, not even having the stance from which to fall. A delicate tension, and one which I, for one, have not entirely discerned how to live in.

That Christianity is far from ideal, and the same is true of the Christianity which is wholly received. As Holly, Adam and Luke’s close friend notes, “At some point, there comes a time to put aside what you grew up with, and find your own way to God.” While such a view can lead in dangerous directions (especially towards the ever-popular “spiritual but not religous”), there is a real truth to it. Holding uncritically to the faith one has received results in a failure to truly own faith, and make it one’s own, and what is left is a simple conformity to what has been taught, devoid of the deeply existential character necessary to be truly oriented towards God. Because Luke has not truly found his own faith, an apparently nonchalant “Christ died for my sins, so I don’t have to worry” approach becomes possible.

Joshua GonnermanJoshua Gonnerman lives in Washington, DC, where he is pursuing a doctorate in historical theology. His main focus is on Augustine, and he hopes to dissertate on Augustine’s doctrine of grace. He has also occasionally published in First ThingsSpiritual Friendship, and PRISM Magazine, where he makes small attempts to help re-orient the way the Church related to gay people.

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