Label Makers

Well, here we are, talking about labels and identity. Again.

[throws taupe confetti in the air]

Among those who think people shouldn’t describe themselves as ‘gay’, the most common objection is that it intrinsically compromises one’s core identity as a Christian (or, in some cases, as a man or woman). The supporting claims are varied and come from a few different directions, but near their center is a belief that saying ‘gay’ identifies one too closely with one’s sexuality or certain possible sins.

The thing is, those of us who are fine with using ‘gay’ as a social label are similarly concerned by the way many people’s self-perception, regardless of orientation, is dominated by their sexuality. The difference, of course, is that as far as we can tell it is this obsession over language and labels that is one of the primary causes of this myopia in churches.

I never feel more defined by my sexuality than when Christians obsess over how I sometimes describe myself. In my current communities, where people are pretty chill and understand how and why I occasionally describe myself as gay, I find my self-perception has much more balance and integrity; I feel like a whole person with various facets held together by my relationship with God rather than any one particular label. Thus I don’t only find the fervent ‘don’t say gay’ movement socially harmful and theologically errant but also practically self-defeating.

When my same-sex attraction was the one thing that couldn’t be talked about, the one social reality that I wasn’t allowed to name, it became this leaden haze that weighed me down and corroded my vision. But now as I am doing ministry alongside friends and neighbors who know my story, with whom I can be honest and vulnerable and casually bring up my sexuality without everything else being shoved off the table, it simply ceases to be a big deal at all. When I’m with them I’m just Matt, their friend, and I am freer to earnestly love God and neighbor. That this makes the traditional sexual ethic seem more sustainable and good should go without saying.

This doesn’t mean my sexuality is erased or repressed, not at all, but rather it just takes its proper place as one strand in the web of my existence. I am seen and known and loved comprehensively as myself – something that is rarely experienced by those who must incessantly try to keep their social experiences undetectable.

The next question might be, then, even if one accepts that self-describing as ‘gay’ isn’t all that controversial, what reasons are there to continue intentionally doing so?

Much has been said about this in other posts, so I want to focus on a particular aspect of this whole thing that isn’t commonly addressed: social experience. So much angst has been spilled over inner identity that I’m afraid we have neglected the fact that ‘gay’ is not reducible to an “inner” term. What I mean is, by fact of being attracted to other guys I am automatically understood to be ‘gay’ by the majority of society; I cannot just comprehensively opt out.

Because, whether Christians acknowledge it or not, the ‘gay experience’ is so much broader than simply sex or the desire for sex. I’ve never had a romantic experience with another man and yet simply by virtue of how parts of society treat and have treated people who are attracted to the same sex I find I share certain experiences in common with many other sexual minorities regardless of their personal ethic:

I’ve felt the fear of being in a room with people making ignorant or vicious anti-gay comments; I’ve lost an internship because the leaders “didn’t approve of my lifestyle” (i.e. simply being attracted to guys*); I’ve had to wrestle with intense self-image problems because I was being told my body was evil or exceptionally messed up; I’ve had to, for a time, walk across the broken shards of my family’s dreams for me; or, less dramatically, I’ve daily been made aware in a million little ways that I don’t quite fit the ‘standard’ narrative. In short, like almost every person who is a sexual minority I’ve experienced moments of unjust isolation or harassment in communities that lack room for people who fall outside the cisgendered heterosexual norm. Things may be changing rapidly in some places, but in others they definitely are not.

While many Christians are spending their time worrying that self-describing as ‘gay’ might imply a connection to ‘gay sex’ there are still numerous contexts where ‘gay’ is used as a weapon by non-gay people to communicate that someone is weak, gross, dangerous, or worthy of abuse. These “contexts,” reprehensibly, are frequently churches or Christian institutions.

More soberingly, it is important to remember that people have even been killed simply for appearing to be a sexual minority.

It should be clear that the social experience of being a sexual minority isn’t just about self-description or “sexual behavior,” and trying to reduce it to either of those things is a grave mistake.

In high school, before I ever used the word ‘gay,’ before I had even admitted to myself that I wasn’t attracted to women, I was being psychologically torn to pieces by other Christians’ (and my own) manner of talking about gay people. Even as I trumpeted things like, “There’s no such thing as a gay Christian,” “They chose to be that way,” and other homophobic aphorisms, I knew that something about me was a lot like something about them and that I could never, ever be open about it.

By trying to clearly maintain a linguistic boundary between gay people and people in the church, Christians not only make Church teaching unnecessarily unintelligible to non-Christian gay people (and, really, non-Christians in general) but run the risk of inflicting harm on young people in the church. Whether people want it or not, some youth in the church will see aspects of their experience reflected in the broader culture under the social category of ‘gay’ and not be able to simply divorce their self-understanding from it. Nor should they have to.

I choose at times to use the label ‘gay’ both to remind church communities that they cannot talk about LGBT+ people as if they aren’t sitting in their congregations or aren’t beloved friends and family and to provide a visible example that might help other sexual minorities who are wrestling with their self-understanding to avoid some of the trauma I experienced. I didn’t have any role models for this while I was growing up and I desperately needed one. Out of fear of compromising its sexual ethic the Church has inadvertently compromised its more foundational witness of God’s reconciling movement toward humanity.

Much of this has been said before, and I am not saying that this ends the conversation; there will be a number of people who never feel comfortable with the label or whose contexts problematize things, and so it’s up to them to decide.

It’s just extremely frustrating that many Christians continue to be far more upset by a lesbian woman referring to herself as a lesbian than by the fact that beloved children of God are suffocating and suffering in communities that are supposed to embody the abundant life of Christ. We are accountable for how we use our time and energy, and this currently prevalent myopia regarding labels renders us worthy of judgment.

Matt JonesMatt Jones is a student at Fuller Seminary who blogs over at A Joyful Stammering and can be followed on Twitter: @AJoyfulStammer.

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* And/or binge-eating pita bread and hummus all the time. I never got a read on how much info they gathered.

P.S. If you have particular concerns with areas I didn’t address adequately,  please check out the veritable hoard of posts that SF has already written on the topic. There are so many, and they are frequently very high quality.

P.P.S. Deepest apologies for those of you who came here while Googling organizational aids.

57 thoughts on “Label Makers

  1. Pingback: Label Makers | A Joyful Stammering

  2. ****Among those who think people shouldn’t describe themselves as ‘gay’, the most common objection is that it intrinsically compromises one’s core identity as a Christian (or, in some cases, as a man or woman). The supporting claims are varied and come from a few different directions, but near their center is a belief that saying ‘gay’ identifies one too closely with one’s sexuality or certain possible sins.****

    Hi, Matt—from the Catholic perspective, the common claim is that the term “gay” contradicts one’s *authentic* “sexuality,” because authentic sexuality is ordered toward the conjugal love of a man and a woman. Can you see how that might be of particular importance to a Catholic?

    ****It’s just extremely frustrating that many Christians continue to be far more upset by a lesbian woman referring to herself as a lesbian than by the fact that beloved children of God are suffocating and suffering in communities that are supposed to embody the abundant life of Christ. It’s just extremely frustrating that many Christians continue to be far more upset by a lesbian woman referring to herself as a lesbian than by the fact that beloved children of God are suffocating and suffering in communities that are supposed to embody the abundant life of Christ.****

    I think this may be a gratuitous conclusion to make—unless you’ve actually researched this question. Have you made inquiries of those writing about, for example, whether it’s helpful for Catholics to publicly identify as “gay” to determine whether they really are “more upset” about the terminology than they are about the suffering of God’s children? I don’t think it’s a fair characterization. Just because someone disagrees with you about public self-identification doesn’t mean that they somehow have less compassion than you do for those who are suffering.

    • Let’s start the research now:

      How many articles and comments have you written about same-sex attracted teens being kicked out of Catholic families? How much time have you put into combating this problem? What related problems in the way that Catholics alienate same-sex attracted persons have you spent time, effort, or energy combating?

      And how many articles and comments have you written about using the terms “gay” or “lesbian”? How much time have you put into combating this problem?

      • Hi, Ron–is this *really* how we are to measure commitment and compassion for the suffering?

        How many articles have you penned on the suffering in the Ukraine? Do you care *more* about those with SSA than you do those in the Ukraine?

        See how this works? It’s wrong-headed.

        Do you really *care* about those who suffer from cancer? But you write so much more about other issues….

        It’s a logical fallacy.

        For the record, since you asked–I write on subjects that I believe I have some insights on that may be of help to others. I have no illusions that I am responsible for the whole mission field–even though I have compassion for *everyone* who suffers in that mission field. I believe that I am of service in a very small way, perhaps, but I serve *out* of compassion, not in spite of it.

      • I don’t write anything about the Ukraine because I know nothing about it beyond what I read in the news. If somebody wants an informed opinion on the Ukraine, I would be a terrible person to provide it.

        Here’s how my question to you differs from your question to me about the Ukraine. You do think you are qualified to write about how the Church should respond to people with same-sex attraction. You put yourself forward as someone whose opinion on this subject is worth reading, at the level of nationally known outlets like Crisis Magazine or Catholic Vote. You also specifically invited us to ask people who write to criticize “gay” or “lesbian” language whether they care more about the language question than about the way gay and lesbian people are treated.

        One response I can see you taking is that the question of language actually is critically important, and that is why you put so much focus on it. Another response would be that you agree that the problem of the way that people get treated by members of the Church is more important than language, followed by a list of specific ways you have tried to address this aspect of the problem. Still, you were the one who asked if Matt had actually asked people who write about language if they cared more about language than about suffering. If you say that you care more about suffering than you do about language, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for us to ask how your concern with suffering has translated into the same kind of tangible action that you’ve taken with regard to language. We aren’t asking you to write about a subject you know nothing about. We are asking about the emphasis you take on writing about a subject you claim to know enough about to write in respected, national-level publications.

        Why do I write more about how the Church treats gay people than I write about Ukraine? I write because when I was in high school, I had good reason to think that if I came out, my dad would kick me out onto the street. My mom describes the day I came out to them as the worst day of her life, because she thought my dad would have this reaction, as well, and she thought she’d be forced to choose between her relationship with me and her relationship with him. My dad responded well but thinks that the way he treated me before I came out was his biggest mistake as a parent. I write so other fathers won’t make the same mistake. I write about it because I know people who have been kicked out onto the street for being gay. I write about it because in college, a football player threatened to throw me off the 9th floor balcony of my dorm while shouting homophobic epithets. I write about it because a number of my friends considered or attempted suicide at some point because of homophobic attitudes from their family. I write about it because a bunch of my friends have been fired from jobs in Christian institutions solely on the basis of their orientation, despite the fact that they’re following church teaching. I write about it because over and over again, I hear people leaving the Church because they are constantly criticized and interrogated just for talking about their struggles with same-sex attraction.

        I also write about it because when I do, I hear from a lot of desperate people who thank me for standing up for them, for giving voice to their struggles, for letting them know they’re not alone, for giving them a reason to live, for helping them to see that their faith and their sexuality aren’t incompatible. There isn’t much I can do about the suffering in Ukraine, or about cancer. I have little relevant expertise, and none of the decision-makers who matter care what I have to say. But there is something I can do about this issue, and so I do something about it.

        Why do you write about it?

      • Ron–I sense in your last reply that you are indeed defending Matt’s assertion above that people who write on self-identification issues are “far more upset by a lesbian woman referring to herself as a lesbian than by the fact that beloved children of God are suffocating and suffering in communities that are supposed to embody the abundant life of Christ.”

        If you and Matt really conclude that someone like me is “worthy of judgment” as being *less* compassionate toward those who are suffering, merely by asserting a different view regarding self-identification, then I don’t guess I can say much beyond what I’ve said to persuade you otherwise.

        You also wrote: ****You do think you are qualified to write about how the Church should respond to people with same-sex attraction. You put yourself forward as someone whose opinion on this subject is worth reading,*****

        Well, no, I’m not offering “opinion”–I’m offering the virtually self-evident view of human sexuality that arises from the Church’s doctrine.

      • Jim,

        I don’t understand you… How does using the word “gay” contradicts any of the catholic doctrine? Had not the pope himself used it?

        Regards

      • Rosamim–I’ll refer to the as-yet-unanswered question in my first comment: ****…from the Catholic perspective, the common claim is that the term “gay” contradicts one’s *authentic* “sexuality,” because authentic sexuality is ordered toward the conjugal love of a man and a woman. Can you see how that might be of particular importance to a Catholic?****

        Same-sex attraction, around which the term “gay” swirls in its various forms, is not ordered toward one’s authentic sexuality.

      • It seems to me that the use of the word “gay” simply recognizes the effects of the fall on our lives and our persons. There is nothing wrong or contrary to catholic doctrine in its use.

        When the Pope used the word “gay” was he wrong in using it?

      • Rosamim–the Holy Father’s utterance of the word “gay” in a press conference doesn’t exactly change the teaching of the Church regarding the human person and human sexuality as being ordered toward the conjugal love of man and woman. As long as that is the definition used by the Church for the term “sexuality” and what it is ordered to, it will remain inherently contradictory to speak of “gay” as being an identifier for the human person.

        Further, the effects of the fall are many and varied. What is to be gained by concluding that it’s wise to regard ourselves according to our specific disordered inclinations?

      • Does the Holy Father’s use of the word “gay” in a press conference and in an interview to refer to same-sex attracted persons contradict Church teaching? Has Pope Francis rejected the “virtually self-evident view of human sexuality that arises from the Church’s doctrine”? Should, Pope Francis, Like Eve Tushnet, be taking note of this aspect of his speaking and writing that, in your opinion, need to be brought in line with what the Church really teaches?

      • Are you saying that there is nothing to be gained from recognizing our fallen nature? That the Church doesn’t encourage us to see deep inside and get to know ourselves from within as children of God but affected by the fall of our forefathers? I don’t understand you…

      • So here is what Francis actually said:

        ***** So much is written about the gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say there are some there. I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”. The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one. The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies. For me, this is the greater problem. *****

        Let’s consider the entire comment. Along with his use of the term “gay,” he says “I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with ‘gay’ on it.” And he says “the problem is not having this tendency….the problem is in making a lobby of this tendency….For me, this is the greater problem.”

        So, in context, Pope Francis is warning against making a “lobby” of this tendency.

        Here’s a suggestion–I think it wise not to read too much into his use of the term in this passage. If one does, it would seem to also necessitate reading a bit more into his view that the “greater problem” is the lobbying that occurs under the rubric of “gay.”

      • Pope Francis: 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.

        Cardinal Dolan: Catholic teaching is clear: “being Gay” is not a sin, nor contrary to God’s revealed morals. Homosexual actions are (immoral) – as are any sexual relations outside of the lifelong, faithful, loving, life-giving bond of a man and woman in marriage. So, while actions are immoral, identity is not! In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, people with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice.

        Cardinal Dolan: We’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven’t been too good about that. We try our darndest to make sure we’re not anti-anybody.

      • And Jim, here’s a suggestion for you–I think it wise not to read too much into our use of the term on this blog. We respond because people like you, Dan Mattson, and Austin Ruse obsess over the term. If you would take the same measured approach to our use of the term that you recommend people take to the Pope’s use of the term, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

      • Rosamim–do me this favor–give me three or more examples of non-sexual terms referring to the effects of the fall that you would deem appropriate and helpful to add in when referring to yourself as a Christian. I come up with terms like: 1) Gluttonous Christian, or 2) Vengeful Christian or 3) Slothful Christian. But these those seem particularly helpful, do they? If “gay” is a term swirling around the experience of same-sex attraction, a disordered inclination that moves us away from authentic sexuality and toward willing that which is lustful, then why do so many “lobby” for using the term Gay alongside the term Christian?

      • Ron–let’s state the actual problem as clearly as possible. Our disagreement isn’t over whether this or that bishop (or Pope) is using or has used the word “gay” in colloquial or conversational speech. Nor is our disagreement over whether you or I might use the word similarly if doing otherwise would be cumbersome in a particular context. The disagreement is precisely over the use of the term “gay” as it pertains to “coming out” or public self-identification.

        Did the US Bishops recommend public self-identification in their 2006 document on homosexuality? No. They recommended against encouraging that in the parish setting, right?

        So, the real hinge of our disagreement is the linkage between the term “gay” as a self-identifier and the fact of its use in “coming out.” In combination, this particularly represents a contradiction of what the Church would recommend for us….

      • One of the things I notice, reading over your comments, is that you complain that Matt assumes that people who worry about labels care more about labels than about suffering, but you don’t clearly assert that, contrary to Matt’s assumption, you care more about suffering than you do about labels. When I ask you directly about your concerns, you complain about the way I’ve phrased the question, but don’t state unequivocally that you care more about suffering than labels. You then complain that Matt and I are assuming that you care more about labels than suffering, and that there’s nothing you can do to convince us, but then you don’t actually try to convince us by telling us you care more about suffering than labels. Instead, you drive the conversation off into further discussion of … guess what? … LABELS.

        Let’s remember that the whole start of this whole discussion was you complaining that Matt said that there are people who care more about labels than the suffering of LGBT people in the Church. We have asked you directly several times if you care more about suffering than labels. You didn’t like the way that we framed the question, but you didn’t say, “That’s an unfair framing, but here’s my answer: I care more about suffering than labels.” If you’d said that, we might then have had a further conversation about how you had transferred your concern with suffering into action. But instead of that what did we have? More and more and more arguments about labels.

        If you will just say, clearly, that you care more about the suffering than about labels, then we can talk about that further. But if you just keep arguing about labels, then I don’t see how you can possibly expect us to take you seriously when we complain that you’re more worried about labels than you are about suffering. And if you wonder why I keep arguing with you, go back and re-read my comment about bullying, homelessness, suicide, people feeling forced out of the Church, and then notice that your only response to that has been nit-picking about the way we have framed our questions to you, and nit-picking about labels.

        So now I will just ask the question that you wanted us to ask straight up, and let you answer it: Do you care more about arguments over labeling or do you care more about people who are being pushed out of the Church in the ways that both Matt and I have written about?

      • You know what Jim? You are right! We don’t label ourselves as “Gluttonous Christian” or “Vengeful Christian” or “Slothful Christian”. But maybe we should. Maybe if we would do that we would have less problems with obesity, violence and procrastination. Maybe if we were brave enough we would have the strength to acknowledge our struggles, to point out what we need to surrender to God.

        If we don’t have the courage or the wisdom to recognize the awfulness of being gluttonous in front of others in our current society then imagine if gluttonous people were persecuted and discriminated against. We would hide our disordered tendencies even further. But that’s what gay people have faced throughout history and that’s what they face even now. That’s clearly what Ron faced and still faces. So my answer to you is that I find them brave. Brave to recognize their tendencies in spite of society and brave to choose to follow Christ in spite of their tendencies. I applaud them. Maybe all of us should follow their lead.

      • About the bishops recommendation I’ll tell you something: they are wrong, but it won’t be the first time nor the last. And if you are wondering, I’m catholic and loyal to the Church, just like you.

      • Wow, Ron–you continue to frame this as some illogical and mutually exclusive reality–one can *only* care “more” about suffering *or* labels.

        Let me tell you quite clearly just how much I “care” about “labels”–I care so *little* about them that I think they’re reductive, vacuous, and virtually meaningless, beginning with the “label” of *orientation*, from which our current “label” discussion of “gay” arises. I care so *little* about these labels that I think it is a tragedy for *anyone* to imagine their self-worth as being even partially represented by the label “gay”–OR “straight,” which I’m sure you must know. This is by no means just about the term “gay”….

        And I find the level of *suffering* caused by these “orientation” labels and “gender identity” labels to be so immense that I am moved to speak up on behalf of those whose deep suffering could be dealt with much more effectively if so many other people would actually stop caring so *much* about the labels.

        So, yes, I care *much* more about the suffering than I do the labels.

      • Jim,

        Rosa has hit on the distinction that matters. The distinction is not between “gay” and “same-sex attracted”. It is the distinction between “my sexual attraction to the same sex is good” and “my sexual attraction to the same sex is bad.” THAT is what matters. If I call myself a “gluttonous Christian”, I am acknowledging my flaw and trying to change it. If I stopped being tempted to gluttony, I would stop calling myself that. I clearly recognize that being tempted to gluttony is not a good thing.

        If we’re going to draw lines, let’s draw them where they belong. In my opinion, someone who is *proud* to be attracted to the same sex (whatever they call themselves!) is in grave moral peril. In contrast, someone who admits the attraction, but recognizes it to be the work of the evil one, is living in the light, and is more easily capable of resisting sin.

        Many “same-sex attracted” people are proud of being attracted to the same sex, and consider it an essential aspect of themselves. Many “gay” people are simply realistic that they ARE attracted to the same sex, despite the fact that the attraction is not a good thing for them. Even if the terminology might matter — and I’m not convinced it does — the ATTITUDE we take toward our experiences matters so much more!

        I wish we could make a rule that no one in this debate is allowed to talk about labels for three months. Then, we could see what we talk about when denied our hobby horse. I suspect we would discover lots of agreements that we didn’t previously realize, and entirely new places where battle lines need to be drawn.

        Peace,
        Daniel

    • Well I have found much of the criticism over at Crisis and CWR to be frankly tedious and I find the logical justification for the criticism wanting.

      Eve wrote “Over time, my understanding of what I was supposed to be doing as a queer Catholic changed radically. I began to see that the intellectual project was interesting and necessary, but I was probably not the right person to do it. … I no longer think that a major part of my work as a queer Catholic is illuminating the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.”

      I don’t get it? If Eve is not intending to tackle the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Church’s teaching then why read into her writings the intention to contradict the Church or St John Paul II’s teachings on Christian Anthropology?

      She is a SSA/gay woman who before her conversion naturally learned or picked up the language of LGBT gender theory and may use it in her natural speech and thinking but how does that translate into a conscience desire on her part to incorporate LGBT gender theory into Catholic thought? Since that would require an effort of philosophical or theological underpinning which she denies she has competence to undertake. The famous convert from Judaism Rabbi Israeli Zolia used Rabbinic language in explaining his recognition of Catholic truth but it didn’t follow he was seeking to replace the Scholastic formulations of doctrine with Mishna & Halakkah.

      Calling yourself gay can mean you are actively seeking to participate in sinful homo erotic sex acts or it simply means you are SSA attracted nothing more.

      If some faithful Catholic clearly mean the later then what is the problem?

      The word “gay” simply means happy. In the 19th century it came to mean a permicious person. Lord Byron was “Gay” but he preferred women. Over time it came to exclusively refer to persons who indulged in the “Love that dare not speak it’s name”. Who is too say dogmatically it must refer to sexually active persons?

      Also if you identify as “gay” how does that equal a proclamation you are not a person of one gender made by the providence & Will of God for the opposite gender?

      • *****I don’t get it? If Eve is not intending to tackle the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Church’s teaching then why read into her writings the intention to contradict the Church or St John Paul II’s teachings on Christian Anthropology?*****

        Hi, James–I don’t think anyone reads into Eve’s writings any intention to contradict the Church. But if some of the things she writes *do* contradict the Church’s understanding of sexuality, then they need to be addressed rather than viewed merely as part of a project that is not concerned about such things.

        Indeed, if the “Catholic” part of the “Gay and Catholic” project is just as important as (or more important than) the “Gay” part of the project, Tushnet should, in fact, be taking note of those aspects of her writing that need to be brought in line with what the Church really teaches….

    • “And I find the level of *suffering* caused by these “orientation” labels and “gender identity” labels to be so immense that I am moved to speak up on behalf of those whose deep suffering could be dealt with much more effectively if so many other people would actually stop caring so *much* about the labels.”

      Really? Do you really believe that the use of the word “gay” is the source of suffering that should move you to action, rather than the spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse that sexual minorities experience at the hands of Christians, regardless of whether they use that label or not?

      This statement comes across as terribly misguided or completely disingenuous.

      • Mike–isn’t it pretty amazing that we’re back to where we started–implying that people who disagree with you are *obviously* not nearly as compassionate because they’re all about “labels” and we all know that people who keep talking about labels (and “they” started it–“we’re” just responding) don’t really care about people’s suffering…

        Btw, one of the “labels” that ought to be retired is “sexual minority.” As I keep saying, it’s not at all just about the word “gay”….

      • If a kid gets bullied–let’s say beat up to the point of requiring medical attention–by bullies who taunt him for being fat, is the main problem the label “fat”? Is that what we should be talking about?

      • Jim,

        You seem to be confused about a basic point. We don’t believe that you lack compassion simply because you disagree with us about labels. Rather, we believe that you lack compassion because you won’t discuss the suffering people face, except in a rant about labels. And you seem to be under the delusional belief that the suffering can be reduced to labels, unless it’s just that you don’t care about other forms of suffering or refuse to communicate that you do.

  3. Matt, I find the main problem is the false assumption that one’s orientation is a permanently ingrained aspect of one’s identity. It’s very possible for me to speak up for all who deal with SSA in society without nailing that type of identity label on myself.

    • I will add….it may make those around me feel more at ease to use such labeling, but when it doesn’t agree with how the Lord sees me, what good will that do? (As my goal in life isn’t to appease men / women, but rather to agree w/ God.)

  4. Jeremy—I’m sorry, but I just don’t care a whole lot whether you believe I lack compassion, or not. I find it offensive, of course, for you to refer to me as confused and delusional merely because I disagree with you on the proper understanding of human sexuality.

    Both you and Ron really, really need to reflect on the example you’re setting here. I engage the writers at Spiritual Friendship on *this* issue because *this* is one of the issues I think you are getting very wrong. I don’t discuss this issue because it’s somehow the *only* thing that is important about homosexuality, but rather because the Catholic view is not in harmony with the perspective you are bringing to human sexuality on this point.

    Thirty-plus comments later, you remain insistent upon shifting focus from the area of disagreement to accusations of whether I’m a sufficiently compassionate person. This shows me quite clearly that you really don’t want to engage in respectful dialogue over the substance of our disagreement.

    • I did not call you delusional because of any disagreement beyond the fact that you seem to think labels are the cause of nearly all the suffering people go through. If you think the labels are unconditionally a bad idea, I disagree, but it certainly wouldn’t be to the degree of “delusional.”

      The issue I have with the comment of yours I replied to is that you implied that your concern about labels was somehow sufficient to show concern about all the suffering at hand. THIS belief, if I’ve understood you correctly, is what is delusional. I also pointed out two other possibilities: that you don’t care about non-label-related suffering, or that you refuse to talk about it for some reason. So I didn’t even commit to calling you “delusional,” and left the possibility open for you to clarify if Matt was in fact wrong about people caring more about labels than suffering. We’ve given you multiple chances to talk about your response to suffering beyond the question of labels, and you have opted not to do so for reasons unbeknownst to me.

      Please don’t misrepresent what I said. If I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented you, I welcome correction.

      You responded to one particular point in Matt’s post, his observation that some people care more about labels than about the suffering people go through. We keep pointing out that your behavior on this thread seems to be a prime example of Matt’s point, and you haven’t really done anything to counter that. I’m not sure why you keep classifying this as “the proper understanding of human sexuality,” when this is not the point of Matt’s you’ve been responding to.

    • I think Rosa is probably right as well about this conversation not going anywhere. If you’d like to take this offline, I might be up for that. Otherwise, I probably shouldn’t keep responding. (I might actually not be the most fruitful person to have that conversation with you, given that I’m Protestant and don’t consider the viewpoint of the Catholic magisterium to be particularly authoritative as such.)

  5. Ron, Jeremy… We should just let it go don’t you think? Isn’t it best to try a different approach? Just let Jim think however he wants to think and keep up the good work otherwise I’m afraid SF is going to suffer…

  6. I don’t post very often here, but what a strange logical fallacy has been exhibited here in the combox by you, Ron, and by Matt Jones in his original post: the false dichotomy that either one is concerned with claiming one’s true and objective sexual identity as a man or woman made for one’s sexual complement, or else one is concerned about the suffering of people who live with confusion about their sexual identity and the particular modes of suffering that often come with those who you all insist here on calling “sexual minorities.” It’s really absurd.

    Of course, those of us like Jim and I who you say “obsess” over the language of “sexual identity” and “gender theory” and the bifurcation of the world (which you all seem to support) into “straight” and “something else” are motivated above else by helping people to live lives that are fully in accordance with reality, which is necessary for true human fulfillment. We see the problem of suffering in the modern world through the lens of Genesis and the creation of man, and that one of the most evil and pernicious forms of suffering that has been imposed on man by the Evil One is the notion of “straight” and “gay,” which you all tacitly accept as a given.

    The notion that there are “sexual minorities” contributes to a built in ghettoziation of the 3% of people who experience same sex attraction as somehow a different sort of person than the rest of humanity. People like Jim and I and those critical of the “gay Christian” movement do is point the way to liberty that says you are unwise to submit to the Balkanization of humanity into either LGBTQA, et.al, or “Straight.” Rather, view yourself as you truly are, as men and women like all other men and women who’ve ever walked the face of the earth who all live with painful challenges.

    And of course, the Catholic Church wisely says this too in the 1986 Letter. (Of course, you all seem to disdain this so much, especially Eve who says, “sad to say, this isn’t a crown jewel in the Church’s teaching,” something I have always viewed with great suspicion. When those who are most impacted by Church teaching challenge it’s beauty makes me think the problem isn’t with the teaching but with the receptivity and teachability of the hearers.) So what does this true crown jewel in the Church’s teaching say?

    “Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well.”

    Thanks be to God it says that to people like us, lest we think that being a member of some bizarre man-made notion of “sexual minorities” suggests that we are somehow special in our particular personal problems and difficulties. You all talk about how unique is our form of suffering. Hogwash. Let’s speak of bullying. Certainly bullying happens to people like us. Ron, you had college jerks bully you and threaten you. I had kids when I was six years old talk about my eyelashes, teasing me as if I used mascara which felt me to be in a trap. I had boys pull out the chair from underneath me, laugh at me when I fell to the ground, or tease me about my inability to play sports in elementary. But we’re not alone in being bullied, Ron. Yes, it’s brutal, but it is far more wise to find solidarity with ALL of humanity on the question of suffering than it is to constantly remain in this self-imposed exile within the “gay community” and say constantly to ourselves, “look how cruel the Church and the world is to people like us.” No, that’s a recipe for spiritual disaster through navel-gazing narcissism that says, “Church, look at how greatly we suffer–focus on us.” Everything I’ve ever read here is essentially the same thing: “look at US, Church, look at US!!!! Look how much people like us suffer!” It’s “me, me, me, me.” It’s horribly egocentric. Far better to unite our personal problems and difficulties with all of the personal problems and difficulties of all of the rest of the world and follow the example of St. Francis: let us seek to console rather than to console. That’s what I concern myself with: I say to people like us, “stop looking in the mirror at YOUR suffering and start thinking about others’ and their pains more than you do yours. And thank God that you have suffered SO much, for as William Wordsworth said, ‘A deep distress hath humanized my soul.’ Thank God that he has looked on you with love and allowed you to suffer as you have, so that you might pour that suffering out upon the world.” That is far more healthy than the view of suffering I read here in post after post.

    “I thank God for every moment of suffering he brings my way,” is the only true message of freedom that makes any sense. And our job isn’t to somehow create “gay Christian communities.” Rather it’s to go alongside children, teenagers and men and women who are hurting and weep with them in their suffering, but help them to grow up and look outside themselves by looking to the Cross of Christ and realize that all the suffering they have ever experienced in their lives was allowed by God for their good and for their sanctification so that they can become a true living sacrifice for the salvation of others.

    So in the end, it IS all about suffering, and the only way forward for anyone who lives with the privation of seeing their true sexual complement as desirable–which is in essence what all so-called “sexual minorites” have in common–is to accept who we truly are, accept that God has ordained this in our lives for our good and for our sanctification, and to become transformed as living vessels of Christ’s love through the power of the Cross.

    That’s what I obsess about: helping people get past the murky morass that you all suck people into when you say to them, “hey, come over here–we’ve got a nice little community of gay Christians here, and we’re building up a little community here. Don’t mind the swampy ground though–we’ll find a way to build a foundation here.” And of course, this is why people are so concerned about your project: it’s not built on a sound anthropological bedrock.

    And this of course is what motivates people like Jim and I. We would rather help point them to solid ground. That can only happen on the bedrock of objective truth and reality. I don’t particular care if I change anyone’s minds who have already set up a home here. But I will always stand on the outskirts of the community you are trying to build here, trying to help people from getting stuck in a path to nowhere.

      • Mattson: I’m just a reader, and perhaps my point of view doesn’t matter, but I don’t find your overall analysis of Spiritual Friendship and its point of view to be accurate. Admitting that LGBT people are, in a certain sense, a subset of humanity and experience particular types of suffering does not imply that they are a different species, or that their suffering is greater than other people’s. In fact, it implies the opposite, that LGBT people are human like straight people, and that God notices their suffering in the same way that he notices the suffering of everyone else. And I don’t think that complaining about suffering is a problem. God doesn’t encourage us to be silent and suck it up. Rather, he encourages us to complain. The psalms are full of complaining, demanding, and accusing God of wrong. In one of his parables, Jesus commands us to complain to God, like a widow complaining to an unjust judge. And if consoling is better than being consoled, the proper response to someone who is complaining is not to tell them to shut up, but to respond to them, to acknowledge their suffering, and to offer the consolation of the love of God.

      • Gabriel,

        Slight theological quibble: God does not encourage us to complain to each other; He encourages us to complain to Him. Complaining to each other is rarely helpful, and often highly destructive.

        Peace,
        Daniel

    • D.C. –

      “I thank God for every moment of suffering he brings my way,’ is the only true message of freedom that makes any sense. And our job isn’t to somehow create “gay Christian communities.” Rather it’s to go alongside children, teenagers and men and women who are hurting and weep with them in their suffering, but help them to grow up and look outside themselves by looking to the Cross of Christ and realize that all the suffering they have ever experienced in their lives was allowed by God for their good and for their sanctification so that they can become a true living sacrifice for the salvation of others.”

      Sometimes the best way to help others is to form supportive communities around particular issues. This is why support groups can be so incredibly effective for people. It allows those undergoing the same daunting challenge to co-miserate and be around others who truly understand what they are going through and can offer more effective support. Think AA.

      FYI, your comment regarding the fact that only 3% of people experience same-sex attraction is wrong as presented since no valid research has been able to adequately speak to just how many experience this issue. The best evidence I’ve read to date suggests that between 3-7% experience SSA, and even that is likely an underestimate.

      • Regarding the statistics, this comes from the CDC itself, which states the following: Results—Based on the 2013 NHIS data, 96.6% of adults identified as
        straight, 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identified as bisexual. The
        remaining 1.1% of adults identified as ‘‘something else,’’ stated ‘‘I don’t know
        the answer,’’ or refused to provide an answer. The link is here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr077.pdf

      • D.C. – if you read the analysis that has been done of the data which exists, and this includes the CDC data, you quickly that it’s very difficult to truly determine how many people are actually gay or bisexual. The difficulty stems partly from how sexual orientation is defined in whatever method is used to obtain the data, partly from people’s unwillingness to use labels they might see as limiting and partly from some unwillingness to be honest – possibly out of fear.

        “The demographics of sexual orientation are difficult to establish for a variety of reasons. One of the major reasons for the difference in statistical findings regarding homosexuality and bisexuality has to do with the nature of the research questions. .. …Fewer research subjects identify as homosexual or bisexual than report having sexual experiences or attraction to a person of the same sex. … However, since many individuals may fail to report outside the heterosexual norm define their sexuality in their own unique terms, it is difficult to fully grasp the size of the LGBT population.

        The type of survey being used and the type of setting a subject is in while being surveyed may affect the answer that the subject gives.”

        I’d say we still really don’t know for certain. I’m sure the percentage is still low but the data was have is likely not accurate.

  7. Daniel: I knew someone would point that out, and you’re quite right, I glossed over the fact that the psalms and the parable show complaining to God, not to others. Complaining to others mainly has value when it points out wrongdoing and encourages others to admit wrong and repent. Taking Matt’s words charitably, that was his goal in the post, as well as Ron’s goal in the comments, but regrettably Jim did not take them in that spirit, and simply found the “complaint” baffling and insulting. Or so it seems from my detached and idealistic vantage point.

  8. Feminists have a word for it: privilege. A straight person can no more understand my experience as a homosexual than I can imagine being a turtle. Of course, I and they can imagine but how accurate will such imagining be? How unsullied by our experience? Add to this the animosity and suspicion of who I am due to an uncommon trait no different than being left handed, at least as far as the corporeal world os concerned, and we have the current issues in Russia, Uganda, and so on.

    Did you know that, traditionally, being left handed or having heterochromatic eyes were grounds for similar treatment? Something to consider in this discussion. Be careful of allowing your foes to label you.

  9. Pingback: Various & Intriguing | LifeInCocoon

  10. Ron,

    As a gay man struggling to live within the bounds of traditional Church teaching, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your efforts and those of others on this site to stand up for and help those of us struggling with this particular passion.

    Jim Russell,

    Labels are a necessary evil that allow us to effectively communicate ideas to people. My use of the word gay, small ‘g’, to describe myself to other Christians, to atheists and to those of other faiths has been nothing but helpful so far in my journey. The term same-sex attracted is so clinical and often unhelpful and does not capture the scope of the issue well. Ex-gay is equally problematic and often stops discussions on the issue of traditional Church teaching before they can truly start. I don’t *often* find myself using the word ‘gay’ however. I don’t just throw it out any chance I get. The *ONLY* time I find that I have to really pay attention to this word and spend a great deal of time on it, is when people like you, who seem to truly obsess over it, write things as you have above.

  11. Even though I would never use “Gay Christian” as a way to identify myself, I appreciated this article quite a bit.

    My reason for not identifying as “Gay” or “SSA” Christian is because the key to unified communion in my own church and denomination has been for all of us as Christians to see each other on equal footing before the cross of Christ – simultaneously sinner and saint (simul justus et peccator). When my fellow Christians embrace the idea that we are all still equally in need of grace, day by day, moment by moment, there is no room for boasting except in the cross of Christ. If I were to identify myself by my general sexual preference, it would create an unnecessary divide and by refusing to do so, I am a reminder to my brothers and sisters in Christ that we in our weakness and sin natures are alike under the cross.

    Thank you for reading, and again, I did find this article quite helpful.

  12. Pingback: The Self-Defeating Sexualization of Gay and Same-Sex Attracted Christians | Spiritual Friendship

  13. Pingback: My Gay Is Not Your Gay | Liminal Glory

  14. Pingback: Matt Jones at OnFaith: Avoiding Hypocrisy as the Church | Spiritual Friendship

  15. Pingback: Avoiding Hypocrisy as the Church | A Joyful Stammering

  16. Pingback: Three Things I Learned Since Coming Out As A Gay Christian | Digital Dispatcher

  17. Pingback: One More Reason to Avoid “Gay”? | Spiritual Friendship

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