Spiritual Friendship does not have a lot in common with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). On most questions related to sexuality, we hold positions very different from theirs. It is unlikely that they would endorse our approach, and we do not endorse theirs. But we do share a concern with the way sexual minority youth are treated. Two years ago, Jeremy Erickson wrote a post about the Day of Silence, which also linked to this 2010 Day of Silence post from Disputed Mutability, who is a friend of this blog. Jeremy also recommended Bill Henson’s Lead Them Home and Shawn Harrison’s six:11 Ministries as organizations that address anti-gay bullying in a way that is faithful to a traditional Christian sexual ethic.
Some Christians have raised the concern that anti-bullying efforts like the Day of Silence can be used to silence Christians. I believe that the most effective way to address that problem is to make it clear that traditional Christian convictions about sexual ethics are no barrier to acknowledging and trying to fix the bullying that LGBT youth experience. I think that all bullying is important and needs to be addressed. But in order to do that effectively, it’s not enough to just say “bullying is bad.” We need to understand different types of bullying and make sure that our anti-bullying policies are adequate to address all of the problems that need to be addressed. And that means understanding and specifically addressing the concerns of sexual minority youth.
I am not involved with either primary or secondary education. I am not, therefore, in the best position to make policy recommendations, or even to understand fully what the actual situation on the ground is today. I imagine it is quite different from what it was when I was in high school, but I believe that, in at least some parts of the country, the environment is still quite hostile for LGBT youth.
And in one respect, at least, I know that the problem is much worse now than it was in the early 1990s. When I was in high school, I remember homosexuality being mentioned only a half dozen times or so at church. Today, the discussion is inescapable. And as difficult as some of the things I experienced in my teens were, I never had to read a Crisis Magazine comment thread. Internet comments sometimes bring out the very worst in human nature, and if I had read some of those comment threads as a teen, I think it is quite possible I would have been permanently alienated from Christian faith. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6). Many of the comments about homosexuality at Crisis and other Christian publications are a very public expression of the deadly sin of wrath. This calls for a serious examination of conscience and a repentance that is as public as the original sin. Only public humility and repentance can begin to undo the damage to Christian witness done by this kind of public self-righteousness. In this regard, it’s worth remembering that Jesus was not crucified by a conspiracy of sexual sinners: it was the self-righteous religious pundits of His day who plotted to have Him murdered.
In this post, I want to talk a bit about my own experience, in order to highlight some of the ways that it is difficult to be sexually different in adolescence—especially in a culture like ours, which makes sexuality so central to identity, and is divided by such sharp conflicts over sexual ethics.
Long before I had any idea what the words “fag” or “queer” meant, I learned that they are among the worst insults in the book. I heard them thrown around at recess. I thought of them as generic terms of abuse, not words that referred to any specific desires. They were mainly emotive, rather than descriptive terms. That is, they were more often used to indicate the abuser’s contempt for his victim than to make accurate observations about the victim’s sexual orientation.
Although I heard words like “fag” and “homo” used as insults, certainly in middle school and perhaps in elementary school, I never thought they had any connection with me. I don’t remember thinking much about them before high school, though I knew the words and knew they were insults. And though I was bullied and taunted a bit in elementary and middle school, I don’t remember ever being called any of these words. I had carved out a very solid niche for myself as a nerd, which was a much more socially acceptable form of outcast. In the late 1980’s, it was relatively easy to feel unashamed about being a member of the same tribe as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
My dad sometimes warned me about the danger that “queers” posed to young boys; but I don’t think I had any clear idea of what a “queer” was (some kind of wild animal, perhaps?). But I did learn that, in my dad’s mind, “queers” were the lowest of the low, a kind of dangerous predator.
I heard pastors at church condemn the “homosexual agenda” as an abomination to God and a threat to America, but again, I didn’t connect the “homosexual agenda” specifically with the idea of two men having sex. In fact, although I knew where babies came from, I’m pretty sure that, until I was in high school, it never even occurred to me that it was possible for two men to have sex. Yet I had already learned that there was something overwhelmingly shameful about “fag,” “queer,” “gay,” “homo,” etc.
I remember, in sixth grade, when I learned that the Latin name for the human species was homo sapiens, knowing that there was something funny and rather awkward about asking someone, “Are you a homo sapiens?” But I could not have explained the joke, and I had a vague sense that it would be extraordinarily awkward to ask someone else to explain it. I did not know what a “homo” was, but I knew that there was something unspeakable there, some dark meaning that could only be hinted at through jokes and insults.
This was a key difference. I was sometimes teased for being a nerd, but it was also completely acceptable to claim that for my own, get to know the other nerds, and talk about nerdy things together. I never feared that I would be thrown out of the house if my dad found out I was a nerd. Nobody said that nerds couldn’t go to heaven. To be a nerd was to occupy a (somewhat awkward) social role. It was not, however, a possible death sentence.
I was a bit of a late bloomer, so hormones didn’t hit until my freshman year of high school. And until that time, I had no reason to even consider the possibility that I would turn out to be physically attracted to guys. I assumed that I would marry a woman and have children, and I thought about which of my female acquaintances would make a suitable match. The desire to marry a particular person is much more complex than just the desire to have sex with that person. It also involves emotional connection, the desire to become a father (or mother) and to raise a family together. So even though I didn’t feel any physical desire for any of the girls I knew, I could still daydream about the possibility of a future together. And in this, I was quite ordinary—most children think about marriage long before they know what sex is or have any desire for it. (Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether children may not understand marriage better than adolescents.)
During my freshman year of high school, however, my hormones began to awaken, and I realized with some shock that I was fantasizing about my male friends. These fantasies meant I was attracted to men the way most of my peers were attracted to women. These attractions were what words like “fag,” “homo,” “queer,” and “homosexual agenda” were about.
I said, a moment ago, that being a nerd wasn’t a death sentence. But I quickly realized that being gay could be. I had a friend (or at least an acquaintance) with whom I graduated high school. He would sometimes boast that when he was in middle school (he and I attended different middle schools), he and some of his friends beat up another boy with baseball bats, leaving him hospitalized for several days and permanently disfigured. Why? Because he was a “fag” who got an erection in the showers after P.E.
As an adult, I wonder about this story. Could he really have participated in an assault serious enough to send his victim to the hospital for several days without being prosecuted? Would the authorities have excused even an assault this serious if they believed the victim was gay? They might. I have certainly heard horror stories from that era. But I also wonder if he was not exaggerating or even fabricating the story in order to build up a reputation as a tough guy, a manly man. At the time, however, I it didn’t even occur to me that he might be lying or exaggerating: I just assumed that if he found out I was gay, he would organize a similarly brutal attack that might leave me disfigured or dead.
And so at age 15, I suddenly began to deal with the hormone rush of adolescence, and to grapple with the fact that if anyone found out—if anyone even guessed—who I was attracted to, I might be kicked out of my house onto the streets, and could even be brutally beaten up or killed. Yet I had to deal with this in high school, among other teenagers, who couldn’t stop talking about sex, about who was interested in whom, who was going with whom. Other boys boasted of their conquests in the locker room. Then there were the Homecoming Dance, Junior Prom, and Senior Ball. If you were not dating, friends asked who you liked. If you mentioned someone, they were likely to try to set you up. If you said you weren’t interested in anyone, they keep pressing. If you said that you’re interested in another guy… Actually, I have no clue what would have happened. I may at times have wanted to die, but I wasn’t that suicidal.
Adolescence is, of course, a very difficult time for everyone; everyone has secrets, fears, and insecurities. Social life, dating, and romance can be very frustrating for heterosexuals as well. But most don’t have to worry that their friends will come after them with baseball bats if they ever give an honest answer to the question, “Who are you interested in?” However wide the gap is between their real self with all its insecurities and fears and their carefully packaged public face, there are significant connections. Even if the girl they are interested in thinks they are a pimple-faced geek, they can at least tell their other pimple-faced geek friends whom they are interested in. Even if society has labeled them a nerd, they can band together with other nerds for support. Students mocked for their race can go home to a family which understands racism and can be supportive and sympathetic. Girls frustrated with boys’ sexual harassment can go to their mothers, who likely dealt with the same issues growing up. But when I realized that I was attracted to other guys, the last thing I wanted to do was to tell anyone.
This had two results. First, it meant that I found myself relentlessly splitting into two parts: an academically focused over-achiever who didn’t have time for dating, but enjoyed many friendships, won honors and awards, and who seemed to have almost everything; and a very lonely, sometimes suicidal, often very confused kid trying to find his way, to find friendship, and maybe love.
The second result of remaining silent, and of the silence of others in my high school who were dealing with the same issues, was that we were alone. The nerds could commiserate with other nerds; the minorities could talk to other minority students and to their parents; and we had nobody.
My successful and confident mask achieved a lot both academically and socially. It had friends, it won honors, and it made my parents, my Church, and my community proud. But it was too far removed from my real self to give me any sense of connection to its accomplishments. I knew that it had made my parents and my Church and my friends proud. But I knew my father’s attitude toward gays; I knew my Church’s attitude toward gays; and I knew my friends’ attitude toward gays. It had made them proud; but I knew that there was nothing more shameful than a homosexual, and so clearly I would not make them proud.
I once read a novel about convoy duty in the Atlantic during World War II that helped me to understand the anxiety I felt as a teen. The Atlantic is a huge ocean, and the Germans did not have that many submarines. Some convoys made it across without encountering any U-boats. Even those that were attacked usually were not attacked continuously. Yet though a convoy might go for days without any contact with German submarines at all, the first warning might be the explosion of a torpedo against your hull; five minutes later you might be in the cold Atlantic desperately hoping another ship would stop to pick you up (a dangerous proposition with U-Boats nearby). So even on the best crossing—a crossing where you completely avoided any contact with German submarines and didn’t lose any ships or men—could still be filled with debilitating anxiety. Even on the best of days, you knew that everything could change before you’d finished exhaling your current breath. When you went to bed at night, you knew you might be awakened by an explosion and find the cruel sea rushing into your cabin, blocking your escape. For some men, the nightmares they met when they retired to their cabins were worse than the Germans they faced during the day. Torpedoes could destroy their bodies, but this interior torture could rob the souls even of those who survived the physical violence.
I never got beaten up for being gay. I don’t even remember being taunted for being gay in high school. On the surface, I had it easy (much easier than Disputed Mutability, for example). Teachers, my parents, other students thought I could look forward to one of the brightest futures of any of the students in my class. And they were right. I did have a bright future. But it was also a future which could be destroyed in an instant if my dad found out and kicked me out of the house, or if classmates found out and beat me to death. And this anxiety took form again and again in my dreams. My happy dreams would be suddenly interrupted by nuclear war, with the explosions rendered like Hollywood special effects, repeating the destruction over and over again from different angles. I dreamed of being locked out of the house at night in winter, or of being beaten up, struggling to resist the attackers through the fatal sluggishness of the paralysis you experience in dreams.
Having called out the sometimes brutally unChristian environment to be found in the comment threads at Crisis and some other Christian publications, I want express my appreciation for this recent post at Crisis by Jennifer Roback Morse, which not only speaks very clearly to the Christian hypocrisy that fueled my alienation from the church as a teen, but also articulates the frustration with the sexual revolution that was, for me, one of the most powerful arguments for trusting the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, and which eventually led me to the Catholic Church:
We need a different strategy: argue against the Sexual Revolution because it has hurt people.
And I do mean the whole Sexual Revolution. We are tacitly giving a pass to the earlier phases of the Sexual Revolution, by saying so little about them. The only serious exception to this generalization is abortion: the Catholic Church, and more recently, other Christians, have put up a noble fight against the Big Abortion Machine. But other aspects of the Sexual Revolution? Divorce? Contraception? Taxpayer-funded Sexual Miseducation in the schools? Not so much.
It is as if we are saying, “We like the Sexual Revolution just fine: we just don’t like the Gay Parts.” That simply will not do. It is not fair to individuals who are same sex attracted. And, it is intellectually incoherent, since the acceptance of genderless marriage actually depends upon our acceptance of those earlier phases of the Sexual Revolution.
(Regarding “tacitly giving a pass to the earlier phases of the Sexual Revolution,” see here and here.)
If Christians want to credibly challenge the sexual revolution, and credibly argue that it has hurt people and that we have a better way, we have to be able to speak out in defense of LGBT youth. If we cannot acknowledge the problem of anti-LGBT bullying in schools, and can’t acknowledge the way that Christian preaching which treats homosexuality as the most serious sin has contributed to this climate, then we cannot speak credibly to the harms of the sexual revolution, and cannot credibly offer the Gospel as a more loving alternative.
Update, via Jeremy Erickson: There’s also this tragic list of posts on Bill Henson’s blog about people who went through with suicide after being bullied. Sadly, we’re dealing with something that has a death toll with names and faces of people who ended their lives far too young:
Reblogged this on the conservative cyclist.
It angers me that this forum, which has recently sought to advocate publicly for the harmful theology to which you subscribe, has the audacity to use the images of those who committed suicide in this post. You are complicit in these tragedies. To claim otherwise is, sadly, consistent with the overall Spiritual Friendship narrative of “…but we’re the good gays”.
It angers me that you would try to politicize the deaths of adolescents to push some half-baked and historically flimsy idea that social and ecclesial affirmation or even celebration of desires for particular sex acts is essential to human fulfillment and that any hint of suggesting boundaries (other than consent) is akin to denying people air or breathing. It’s just ludicrous and so bald-facedly self-serving.
SF is saying kindness, charity, understanding, and tolerance are necessary for human flourishing and here you come along trying use that as a wedge to justify the idea that certain ways of getting off are equally fundamental. It’s really quite twisted.
This attitude really upsets me, Ford, it’s insanely perverse.
SF has always been at the forefront of arguing against shaming, bullying, shunning, stigmatization, or any sort of coercion as legitimate tools of moral encouragement or enforcement when it comes to chastity or orthodoxy.
SF has always opposed the attitudes of self-righteous judgmentalism, presumptuous Phariseeism, or any sort of illiberal demagoguery that refuses to see the person first (and only) but which instead would see them merely as the pawns of a socio-political agenda, vector of a memetic (and/or mimetic) virus, symptom of social decadence, or vanguard of a cultural revolution.
And here you bring in identity politics to try to claim psychological victims of entirely unnecessary crossfire as martyrs for your cause of sexual libertinism. The mendacious cynicism of this is to me unspeakably horrific.
Who he hell do you think you are and what the hell do you think you know about me? This isn’t about identity politics even a little.
This is about a theology that teaches contempt for people who are gay. This is about a theology that dehumanizes people who are gay. This is about a theology that says gay people are profoundly flawed in a way that makes us unsuitable for even the possibility of romantic intimacy. This is about a theology that insists the intimate relationships we form are inferior and immoral. This is about a theology that insists gay people live contrary to God’s creative intent for humanity. This is about a theology that causes intense distress in the interior lives of gay kids and rejection -including bullying – in that kid’s community.
This is about a theology that has driven me and countless others to the brink of suicide. And this is about a group of gay Christians, publicly advocating this theology, setting themselves up as the gays who make their identity in Christ (as opposed to those unfaithful gays), claiming that they are not somehow complicit in the harm they decry.
If anyone has politicized these kids’ death, it’s the one who has used them to claim a mantle of compassion while at the same time causing injury.
[… some half-baked and historically flimsy idea that social and ecclesial affirmation or even celebration of desires for particular sex acts is essential to human fulfillment…]
[… certain ways of getting off are equally fundamental.]
[… for your cause of sexual libertinism.]
It is common for those who hold an anti-gay view to attempt to dehumanize us by separating sex out from what it springs from. By treating sex and love as if they are unrelated when it comes to homosexuals they impress the view on the listener that homosexuals are little more than animals themselves, guided by deviancy and self pleasure at the cost of others.
We do not fight nor have we ever fought for “sexual libertinism”. When our foes use phrases like “sexual libertinism”, “deviant lifestyle choice”, and so on they are dehumanizing us. They are reducing us to animals, downplaying our capacity for love, and directly attacking us as people.
[… that refuses to see the person first (and only) but which instead would see them merely as the pawns of a socio-political agenda…]
Another common anti-gay sentiment is to take those who die or are abused due to anti-gay bigotry and flip the tables when this is identified for what it is. Suddenly, it is not the monstrous bigot who is to blame for these cruel abuses and losses but the one who points the bigot out. Legitimate defensive posturing is reduced to little more than nefarious propaganda.
[… vector of a memetic (and/or mimetic) virus, symptom of social decadence, or vanguard of a cultural revolution.]
In this instance, we see a flash of the truth in the posters feelings, disguised as righteous indignation against the “propaganda” I previously mentioned. We are viruses. Symptoms of social decadence. A revolution in the same way that a cancer revolts in the body of a healthy host.
[And here you bring in identity politics to try to claim psychological victims of entirely unnecessary crossfire as martyrs … The mendacious cynicism of this is to me unspeakably horrific.]
And we come to the conclusion – the implication here is absolutely crystal clear: every gay person who has ever been abused and has ever died brought it upon themselves because they fought an “unnecessary” war. We deserve it, I guess, for rebelling against God and making you uncomfortable.
I don’t know whether your intentions are born of ignorance or malice but you are part of the problem. Your views of me and my brethren is fruit of the most rotten kind.
The view that sex is the necessary expression and outcome of love or intimacy is a modern construct. It is a essentialism that I oppose even as a proud gay man in a relationship, just for the sake of intellectual honesty.
Of course I understand the connection between sex and love, what I deny is that this connection is psychologically necessary to the point that even suggesting denying or sublimating or redirecting it, or positing a voluntary and non-coercive moral system that requires that, constitutes some sort of unbearable torture.
That’s just not true. Yes, people for whom the mere thought of abstaining from sex is torture…are incomprehensible to me. I simply do not believe this is an honest experience, or if it is then yes it is like an addiction, because sex just should not be that necessary to anyone, whether you believe it is immoral or not. And yes, I believe in a world where I can make such value calls rather than some Leftist relativism that would see as “dehumanizing” anything other than affirming people’s subjective judgments of what is a “necessity” for them.
As for my list with “viruses” and “pawns” etc…who are you to say this is my “disguised” real feelings? They’re not. They’re positions I’ve seen conservatives hold but which I am pointing out that SF explicitly rejects.
I never said victims of anti-gay violence are to blame! I said that it seems to me that many of the suicides are caught in the social tension between two narratives, and that both are to blame; the tension would be less if *either* was less strident or insistent. Images are powerful, and conflicting messages/images create a dissonance inside real people who are hurting.
Yes, not saying “homosexuality is morally problematic” might help reduce the turmoil and conflict these people feel. But then, so might not pushing the narrative that “romantic love sexually expressed is necessary for human flourishing and happiness.”
I’m not talking about people killed in hate-crimes (it’s clear enough who is to blame there). I’m talking about the narrative that people who are torn enough inside to desire to end their life are somehow martyrs for a particular philosophy or cultural movement. To claim them this way is to politicize them and their deaths and to vastly over-simplify the psychology of the whole thing, instead reading into their highly personal and inscrutable struggles some sort of microcosm of an “us vs them” social war ( which doesn’t even make sense on an individual psychological level ).
>It angers me that this forum, which has recently sought to advocate publicly for the harmful theology to which you subscribe…
>This is about a theology that teaches contempt for people who are gay….
Ironically when I first read your post I thought you where one of the extremist Jansenist pseudo Catholics who post regularly in the combox over at Crisis(i.e. paranoid people whose hatred for gays extends even to orthodox Catholic ones like here on this forum).
Now with further posts it seems you are just an ordinary anti-Catholic gay activist type in the mold of Dan Savage.
Interesting how I have trouble telling the difference between the two these days……
Ford: the only message of this post is, “anti-gay shaming and bullying is bad.” The images and the links to the stories are there to emphasize, “It’s so bad it can lead to suicide.”
As I said in the post, I don’t agree with everything GLSEN says, but I agree that shaming and bullying are a problem, and I can help them raise awareness for that. I disagree with your claim that any version of traditional Christian theology is as damaging as the version you grew up with, but I’m not going to get into that debate here. SF is aware of the damage that conservative Christians have done and continue to do to LGBT youth. This is not the first time we’ve spoken out against that and tried to raise awareness about it, nor will it be the last.
This post addresses some of the ways Christian attitudes about homosexuality are harmful to gay youth. If you only want Christians who reject traditional teachings on sexual ethics to talk about anti-gay bullying and suicide, then you are effectively shutting down an important conversation for the majority of Christians. I think that’s insane, and that it would make life worse for LGBT youth in Christian homes, but its a free country, and everyone is entitled to their opinions.
I think this post does something positive to raise awareness of the dangers of anti-LGBT bullying and shaming. I stand by it, and stand by the use of the images of LGBT youth who have committed suicide to drive that point home.
With due respect, to what degree are you personally, and those who contribute here, contributing to the stigma?
There are ethically tenable ways to hold non-affirming views. To my knowledge, they have never been articulated in this forum. Instead, you reinforce the narrative that gay relationships can never be God-pleasing and can never be tolerated in the Christian worldview.
If you truly believe what you wrote minutes ago, then I urge you to publish pieces that actually reduce stigma rather than a piece like this – regretting the consequences of the positions you publicly advocate.
Ford: could you elaborate on the “ethically tenable ways” one could hold non-affirming views?
Any position that doesn’t require the stigmatization and marginalization of gay couples in the Church or in society is ethically defensible. I can articulate two briefly, but I’m sure there are other such views.
The legitimization view: “I hold to the traditional understanding of sexuality, but I recognize that other faithful Christians have come to a different understanding. While I believe I’m theologically correct, I don’t presume that affirming Christians are unfaithful. Gay couples should be fully embraced in the Church as we continue our common journey of discipleship.”
The legitimization view is what Pope Francis hinted at when he said “who am I to judge” and even more when he clarified those comments. This view allows us to keep communion with one another despite or theological differences, and it doesn’t require the exclusion of gay couples in the Church or in society.
The accommodation view: “We are all dealing with post-fall sexual brokenness. While I believe that God’s intention is for heterosexual coupling, I recognize that celibacy may not be sustainable for all gay people. Therefore, covenantal partnership may be the most moral life available to some people who are gay.”
The accommodation view allows for gay couples living faithfully. It was posited by conservative theologians Thielicke, Smedes and others. It doesn’t affirm the sanctity of gay relationships, but it importantly doesn’t require gay couples to be excluded, stigmatized, or marginalized in the Church or in society.
William Stacy Johnson says this about the accommodation view:
If you do not think this piece is aimed at reducing stigma, then you and I see the world very differently.
Perhaps I misunderstand you, but don’t you conclude this piece by saying that gay coupling is one of the harmful results of the sexual revolution? Aren’t you saying that the world would be better off if gay couples didn’t exist and weren’t accepted in society?
Aren’t you saying that gay couples aren’t living in accord with the Gospel?
Please help me understand how those proclamations are in any way aimed at reducing stigma rather than promoting it. Feeling bad about the consequences of stigma is not the same thing as combating it.
Sod off, Ford.
I’ve read several of Ron’s articles on SF as well as GCN and never felt that he was dehumanizing anyone. He answered you well enough in his 11:12AM comment. Just because he advocates celibacy doesn’t mean he believes couples should be rejected by the Church nor justifies the shaming & injustice faced by our youth.
Ron, as one of those who, with honest & uncruel conviction, unwittingly contributed to the stigma in the past, I count your writings among the things that have helped me to understand the issue and change my views. Thank you.
Out of curiosity, have you written any posts on the idea of celibate marriage?
Ford, reading your posts is baffling because I don’t know where you’re getting this interpretation of SF.
SF focuses much more on the need for welcome, tolerance, meeting people where they are, non-judgmentalism, a rethinking of priorities, and being civil and respectful (and not just that, but genuine friends) with people regardless of disagreement on this issue.
Ron himself has often written of his friendship and co-efforts with “Side A” people like Justin Lee and the Gay Christian Network.
Sometimes there are posts on how those who do believe in celibacy according to the traditional ethic can understand it or get support in living it out.
Only rarely is there anything “apologetic” trying to argue for or impose that orthodoxy or convince or browbeat or debate people into it.
As for accommodation, I suspect most people here recognize the principle of gradualism or “lesser of two evils” and a tacit accomodationism (what I would just call realism) is implicit in the general ethos it seems to me, as it must be in any attitude that sees people as people and not political pawns of abstract ideology.
William, thanks for your kind words about my writings.
I have not written about “celibate marriage.” The closest thing to something like that which has been written for Spiritual Friendship is Aaron Taylor’s post on “Chaste, Gay Couples” and the Church.
Perhaps I misunderstand you, but don’t you conclude this piece by saying that gay coupling is one of the harmful results of the sexual revolution?
But Mr Belgau, how can you be so sure that the Internet comments from the catholics you read sometimes bring out the very worst in human nature… What if they simply feel free to express what they truly fear and think under the cover of anonymity and their put on persona is their daily, politically correct one? I know I have met countless people like that in churches. I’ve heard their confessions, listened to their complaints etc… It is also true that many kids are brought up in such loathsome Christian environments and are thoroughly twisted by it.
I don’t think there’s a significant difference between saying that the Internet frees people up to say what they truly think and fear, and saying that the Internet brings out the worst in human nature. The basic point is simply that people are often less inhibited online and say and do things that are more cruel than they would usually be in real life.
It is fascinating to see how my experience as a younger generation of homosexual matched up with ones like those of Mr. Belgau. I am not much younger but this has all changed, wildly, in a short time. When I was growing up, my church and Lifeteen group didn’t address homosexuality at all. It was the late nineties and the tide had not yet turned. Leaving us to our own devices, I found I had little trouble with them. I was friends with an apologetically effeminate guy who wore skirts and shaved his legs (who, in hindsight, I had a big crush on before I realized I was actually gay) and a lesbian who openly dated another girl.
These things were normal to me.
Compare to guys like Belgau who makes it seem as if “queers” were akin to some mythical beast in the woods. Some bugbear that preyed on boys. It is easy to forget how different our experiences are. Much of my own defense of LGBT people and my own angry defiance of doctrine and God comes from knowing and loving these people (and, thus, seeing those that harm them as evil and worthy only of the title “foe” up to and including God Himself).
Where you might see the problem being with the Sexual Revolution I have chosen to call the Patriarchy and Gender Roles the enemy that has created all of our problems. I wonder how different it would be if our roles were reversed.
Your either/or attitude sort of baffles me.
I don’t see SF as exclusive blaming the sexual revolution and it has had more than enough critique of conservative/reactionary attitudes towards it (indeed, that’s its whole niche; lots of people critique the revolution, but there isn’t a lot of moderating self-critique from the critics side).
To whatever degree Spiritual Friendship explores ways for the Church to support people in singleness, I’m all in. The church generally sucks at that (and I include myself in that). That’s why I added this site to my RSS feed in the first place.
But over the last year or so, there has been “mission creep” here; the gay celibate narrative has become those here holding themselves up as examples of faithfulness (as compared to the unfaithful gays). I would challenge you to find examples of legitimization of revisionist theology or gay relationships in this forum.
In this very article that is ostensibly compassionate, Ron writes that gay coupling is a harmful expression of the sexual revolution. The charge of immorality in that statement is more than a suggestion or implication. It’s plain – he’s saying the world would be better off if gay couples didn’t exist.
And to pretend that the traditionalist doctrine in practice is not harmful or coercive is just wrong. To say that it is a voluntary moral system ignores the fact that kids are indoctrinated by their families and faith communities and that they risk rejection and expulsion if they violate the norms of that community. Both traditionalist Protestant and Catholic doctrine says that celibacy is obligatory for gay people and expressions of homosexuality can never be condoned. That’s not voluntary. That’s not benign as you suggest. That’s emotionally coercive and abusive.
It’s emotionally and spiritually abusive because gay people are fully human, deserving to know and be known, deserving to love and be loved intimately. We are fully human and worthy of living a fully human life which includes being open to the possibility of romantic intimacy. No thirteen-year-old gay kid in the front pew should ever be told differently.
Indoctrination is happening in two directions though. The narrative of sexual identities and romantic love (both only very recently posited as necessary for human happiness, very historically contingent) is the other side of the coin, the other pole in that tension.
You’re basically saying that where there is a conflict of narratives that puts impressionable young people in a (sometimes unbearable) tension, it is the traditional ethic that should just step aside.
Why? It is no more a construct than your ideas of gay essentialism and a modern necessitarian attitude towards sex (and yes it is about sex, because SF has never problematized relationships as such, even when they contain problematized acts sometimes).
At least the SF crowd would recognize the deconstructability of ALL these things, including their own position. You seem to be taking for granted the ideology of gay essentialism.
I’m not entirely sure how you’re meaning “essentialist”. I’m not sure what in anything that I’ve written you can say I’ve made an idol out of intimate relationships. I’ve never said that the pursuit of chastity through celibacy is wrong or improper for some gay Christians. So I think you’re either misunderstanding me or projecting beliefs on me that I don’t hold.
I’m in no way saying that intimate relationship is a pathway to flourishing for all people. But it clearly is a pathway for some. Traditionalist doctrine refuses to acknowledge that reality and insists that gay people must be closed to that possibility. And that’s damaging and dehumanizing. Revisionist doctrine creates space for traditionalists. That’s not true in reverse.
It’s not dehumanizing, it’s just not relativist. It disagrees that people are correct in an ultimate way if they believe sex acts are a necessity for their flourishing, and that there’s no reason to say people are right about what’s good for them in a transcendent and final senses just because they think so. Yes, it means people can be wrong. But rejecting that sort of radically individualist essentialism is not dehumanizing unless you already buy that ideology.
Believing that moral norms are ultimately universal says nothing about forcing people to see what they won’t or can’t see right now, nor about ostracizing or shaming people who disagree sincerely with us, nor about refusing to meet people “where they are” and see the good tendencies in their present situation even if we believe they can and should be somewhere else eventually.
Thanks for visiting the forum. I often find your posts very thought provoking, and I take your perspective to heart.
I’m a little confused: you have said that there are ethical ways of being non-affirming. At the same time, some of your posts give the impression that you hold that it is intrisically harmful to believe that gay marriages fall short of God’s perfect will. But is that not just what it means to be non-affirming–as you put it, to believe that gay marriages are not sanctified, such that non-affirming folk theologically disagree with affirming folk? It just follows from the non-affirming position that gay marriages fall short of God’s ideal for sexual coupling. It looks like you see that this is the case in your description of “ethical” non-affirming views.
If you do think that non-affirming positions are intrinsically harmful, this is of course a defensible position. I respect it. But even if you held *that* position, it is hard to argue that Ron’s post won’t have the effect of making things *better* for gay people, as it is a post against bullying, disrespect, rejection, and abuse. One might think it doesn’t go far enough, but the net result would still be to make things better, and I’m sure many traditional (and non-traditional) gay Christians will be helped by it.
However, so far as I can see, the most consistent reading of your posts gives the impression that you only believe that certain *implementations* of the non-affirming view are harmful. Specifically, those that give no ecclesial and societal space for affirming folk, those that coerce gay kids into celibacy by giving them an ultimatum of celibacy or community rejection, etc. You offer an accommodation view and a legitimization view as alternatives, and cite Pope Francis as a practitioner of the former. But Ron has not said anything for or against practical approaches like this. You cite his comment that gay marriage is a mistake stemming from the sexual revolution, and that it is harmful–but isn’t this best interpreted as a simple statement of a non-affirming position–namely that gay marriage falls short of what God puts forth as His perfect will for sexual coupling, which presumably is (on this view) what is best for humanity? It doesn’t follow from this that Ron wants to banish gay affirming folk from church life.
Given Ron’s ecumenical dialog with affirming gay Christians and his friendships with them, I would say that Ron is much closer to the ethical implementations of non-affirming views that you lay out. In fact, given that he is Catholic, I would guess he lines up pretty closely with Pope Francis’s implementation :).
By way of comparison, Ron would also believe remarried and contracepting couples fall short of God’s ideal for marriage. But I’m sure his implementation of these views is quite accommodationist, given his ecumenical dialog and friendships with Protestants of various stripes.
I hope my post helps clarify some things.
Hi Kyle –
I’ll let Ron speak for himself. If he thinks that gay couples should be embraced in the Church and that there are legitimate theological views that affirm the sanctity of gay relationships, I’m very happy to be mistaken and would readily admit my error. I’d be even happier to see those views put forward explicitly in this forum.
I can’t speak for Ron, but it seems to me that the ethos of SF believes ALL people should be embraced by the church.
I’d also point out that what is mainly problematized in this understanding of the traditional ethic is sex acts.
There might be some debate on whether or how gay couples qua couples could be recognized somehow, but I think the whole point of this blog is that any friendship can be good and supported in it’s good elements even if sometimes it contains acts that are morally problematic.
SF does not strike me as a crowd which would deny there were any human values in a gay relationship, or even good *effects* of physical intimacy, even if ultimately sex acts could not be recommended or affirmed morally.
As for “legitimate theologies”…it’s unclear how legitimate is different from correct or true. There is no true theology that affirms gay sex, because we believe such a theology is wrong.
In a Catholic context, at least, this truth is already doctrine, so it’s denial is also heresy (or similar) and puts one outside communion.
But the Church is also ecumenical about reaching out to those she is not in communion with and treating them with respect and civility and fraternal affection in spite of painful divisions or disagreements.
So again, your complaint seems to be that believing something is true and holding that belief as a corporate requirement is somehow harmful and that relativism must be embraced instead. That anything but such a relativism is psychological torture of those who disagree in spite of our right to freedom of association.
I simply disagree.
Perhaps you can explain how you’ve been misunderstood. You agree with Morse that “…the acceptance of genderless marriage actually depends upon our acceptance of those earlier phases of the Sexual Revolution.” This implies that gay couples – even in covenantal partnerships – should not be accepted in society. Then you go on to write that failure to speak out against bullying undermines your credibility when speaking of the harms of the sexual revolution (which presumably includes gay partnership).
This is your 9th comment in less than 24 hours that attempts to start an argument over same-sex marriage on a post about bullying, stigmatization, and suicide of LGBT youth. If I wanted to have an argument about same-sex marriage, I would write a post about it.
I wrote this post because I think bullying, stigmatization, and suicide are issues that people who disagree about sexual ethics can agree on. If you would rather debate same-sex marriage than find ways to work together to address these issues, there are a lot of forums you can find to argue those issues. But I’m not going to poison a discussion of how to work together to combat bullying, stigma, and suicide by rehashing the gay marriage debate.
Regarding gay couples and harm, I agreed with Morse that the sexual revolution harms people. I did not say that gay couples were one of the harms of the sexual revolution. I didn’t really say anything about what I thought the harms of the sexual revolution were, because that wasn’t the point of this post. I cited Morse here because she pointed out the hypocrisy of Christian opposition to the sexual revolution that scapegoats LGBT people.
Again, I think that you are looking for a fight on a post that I wrote to encourage setting aside differences about same-sex marriage working together to help LGBT youth. In a different context, your question could be interesting. In this context, It seems to me that you are again trying to hold conversation about protecting gay youth hostage to debates about same-sex marriage. I’m not interested in feeding that particular troll.
Thanks for sharing your insights and life experience. Recently I started a blog, in part, to speak to the current issues of the day in the context of my own faith community. Here is a recent tack on the issue of respect, etc – and wonder what you might have to say/add/correct. https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/r-e-s-p-e-c-t/
Ever a student. Thanks for your blog. Rusty
I wonder if there isn’t an element of utopianism to the idea that we can do anything to make life for gay and lesbian youth in high school that much better. Under the best of circumstances, adolescence is a crisis-ridden time when boys and girls try to discover their own identities and form their own relationships based on those identities. Homosexuality is something that frustrates both identity and relationships even if the person subject to it has determined not to physically express it. Even in the most “open and affirming” environment, this person will always be an alien “other,” always have a subjective experience that does not sync up with any of his peers and always face the difficulties that come with his orientation alone. The best-case scenario is probably one like the one related to me by the 20-year-old who currently lives with me: A high school environment where the faculty turns a blind eye to all questions of sexual orientation amongst the students and allows a sort of anarchic Social Darwinism to rule the day.
In my opinion, the best case scenario is one where the school and society at large view homosexuality, cross dressing, transgender people, and so on as no different from the way we now view left handed people. Left handed people were once considered warped and broken in some societies too (the medical name for the left hand is Sinestro/Sinister, for example). If the way left handedness is treated these days is any indication, I think we will eventually get there as a society, once the novelty wears off and LGBT people are seen as just another variation on the norm. Not sure if that could be sped along or not, but it is nice to know it will likely eventually happen.
I might reply that left-handedness isn’t as close to the core of a person’s identity as homosexuality is. Even psychological models that attempt to describe an entirely nurture-based genesis to homosexuality rely, in part, upon certain inherent and usually disfavorable characteristics of their subject in order to explain away the lack of higher-than-normal rates of homosexuality in family dynamics that match the parameters of the model. The point is that whether you believe in the morality of homosexuality or not, the experience of it has been believed to say more about you as a person than has left-handedness.
[I might reply that left-handedness isn’t as close to the core of a person’s identity as homosexuality is.]
Identity is what you make of it. People are architects, romantic, pragmatic, left-brained, fixed mindset, growth mindset, Type A Personality, and so on. Nobody really bats an eye because these things are all variations from the norm. Morality aside, there is little evidence that homosexuality can be correlated, properly, with negative traits (if there were, it would still be in the DSM and the World Health Organization would classify it as a disorder). All attempts to establish causation where negative correlations to homosexuality exist have always failed, without a single exception, under scrutiny. None stand today, unrefuted.
[The point is that whether you believe in the morality of homosexuality or not, the experience of it has been believed to say more about you as a person than has left-handedness.]
I would argue that this is due to the novelty of it, as once was true of being left-handed. Even today, there are all manner of stereotypes of left-handed people that persist from old (e.g. Left handed people are in their right mind, left handed people tend to be ambitious, and so forth). The difference is that they are viewed, pretty uniformly, with ambivalence and not hostility.
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