Recently there has been a “coming out” pandemic amongst celibate gay Christian bloggers. First Matt Jones—previously known as “Jordan” but now blogging under his own name at A Joyful Stammering (and Spiritual Friendship)—went public about his identity. Then Catholic blogger Steve Gershom revealed to the world that he is actually Joey Prever.
For two reasons, this trend is good news for both the Church and the world. The first, as Matt Schmitz points out, is that given the increasing acceptance of homosexual relationships in the West, the Church can no longer expect its teachings on sexuality to be credible if they are presented merely in syllogisms. If gay people are to be convinced that the Church has something to say that is worth listening to, that message will be best received when it comes from gay Christians themselves, and is shown forth in their lives. If the Church wants to speak credibly about homosexuality it must be prepared to speak “in the first person,” just as it has recently made an effort to teach the truth of Christian marriage by canonizing married saints and encouraging first-person experiential accounts of living out the Church’s teachings on marital love.
But there is also an important intra-ecclesial point here. The fact that celibate gay Christians are increasingly willing to speak openly about their experiences of reconciling sexuality and faith is not simply about clever advertising aimed at filling empty pews with gay converts. It also promotes a healthy understanding of the nature of the Church—and of the universal Christian call to holiness—among those who are already followers of Christ.
When I converted to Christianity, and read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church had to say about homosexuality, the most difficult part for me to accept was not the part that says homosexual sex is “contrary to the natural law” (2357). The most difficult part to accept was the Church’s claim that homosexual persons “can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (2359).
The reason this teaching can be so difficult for gay people to accept is because there are no known homosexual saints. Two thousand years of Christian history have produced saints of every age, race, language, and social condition. These saints did not take the secrets of their moral struggle to the grave, but, between them, are known to have battled virtually every temptation possible. As a recent convert, I worried that the absence of gay saints was God’s way of telling me that my conversion was worthless, because someone like me couldn’t be saved anyway.
The lack of same-sex attracted saints who can act as role models for gay Christians aspiring to chaste holiness is depressingly illustrated by the fact that Thomas Paprocki, the Catholic Bishop of Springfield, recently suggested that Mary Stachowicz would be an appropriate patron for the Catholic homosexual support group Courage.
Mary Stachowicz, for those who don’t know her story, was by all accounts a gentle, holy Catholic mother. She was brutally raped, beaten, stabbed, and strangled to death by a young gay man, Nicholas Gutierrez, after she tried to persuade him to give up his sexually active lifestyle.
I don’t doubt Stachowicz’s holiness, nor do I question her suitability for sainthood. But the suggestion that she would be an appropriate patron for homosexual Christians is unfortunate. Imagine if we were trying to choose a patron saint for New York taxi drivers, and instead of trying to find examples of devout Christian taxi drivers whom other taxi drivers wishing to become holy could relate to and imitate, we chose a woman who had been run over by a psychopathic cab driver in the midst of a killing rampage through the streets of New York. What kind of message would this send to other New York taxi drivers about their ability to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection”? Holiness, as the bible reminds us constantly, comes through imitation of what is already holy (Lev 11:44; 1 Cor 11:1; 1 Pet 1:15-16).
As Ron Belgau has said, for the Christian, “truth is never purely abstract.” We follow the Word made flesh who is The Truth and so truth, too, “is always incarnate.”
The Word of God became flesh in the Virgin’s womb … His holiness is revealed in the lives of the saints. But when it comes to the Church’s teaching about same-sex attraction, we have presently a great disadvantage: those who choose to embrace the world’s teaching will find an abundance of role models, whether in the media, in the schools, or even in their own parish, for many parishes today have no shortage of publicly proclaimed dissidents. But those who choose to live a life of chastity will have the greatest difficulty finding any role models at all.
Christians need role models to whom they can relate if they are to successfully pursue holiness, and gay and lesbian Christians are no exception to this. This is why the Bible provides us many examples of holy men and women from Noah to the Apostles, whose lives Scripture exhorts us to study and imitate (Heb 13:7). This is why Christian tradition has bequeathed to us so many colorful lives of the saints, to show us that every kind of person can become holy.
I am not, of course, claiming that Matt, Joey, or any other contemporary same-sex attracted blogger, is a model of holiness for people to imitate. And I doubt anyone would want me to make such a claim on their behalf. But, sooner or later, someone is going to be a gay saint, and the first, baby step along the road to having gay saints is for people to know that gay Christians exist who are trying to seek God’s will in their lives.
The holiness of the saints glorifies God, and shows forth the authenticity of His Church’s claim—in the language of the ecumenical Creed—to be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” The Church and the world need gay saints to illustrate the truth that all of “God’s beloved”—gay or straight—are “called to be saints” (Rom 1:20); that he “chose us”—all of us—“in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4).
Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society.