Friendship and Erotophobia

Josh Gonnerman has already written a fine response to Austin Ruse’s Crisis Magazine article. There is one point that I wanted to address that I didn’t think he covered, which is the belief within a lot of conservative Catholic circles that any kind of intimate friendship between men and women is “playing with fire.”

I suppose that I should begin by pointing out that I am a convert—that’s true of most of the people here on Spiritual Friendship, but many of my friends and colleagues here are converts from Protestant churches that share this kind of suspicion when it comes to mixed-sex friendship. I’m a convert from liberal Anglicanism via atheism so I was never raised with any of these ideas. It was always just normal for me to have male friends, and it was normal for my male friends to have female friends.

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Persons, Not Body Parts

In my post yesterday, I said nothing about the substance of Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ Magazine. I said only that I did not think his comments about gays were bad enough to deserve suspension (I actually think his comments on race are more disturbing, though as far as I know A&E didn’t make an issue of these comments in announcing his suspension).

I deliberately did not address the substance of his comments, because I didn’t want to seem to be joining the people piling on and calling for his head. However, I then spent a lot of time yesterday moderating comments here and at First Things, and became convinced that I needed to say something more about the substance of Robertson’s remarks.

I have no objection to Robertson paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I’ve quoted those verses on various occasions myself. However, there is a glaring problem in his comments that none of his defenders seem to see.

In pointing this out, I want to be clear that I am responding to his comments in the GQ interview. I do not watch his show, and I do not know him personally. However, since the interview is the source of controversy, and the interview is what many Christians are defending, I think it worthwhile pointing out that at least part of what he said in the interview should have attracted much more objection from Christians than it has. A blanket defense of Robertson’s words is, from a Christian perspective, indefensible.

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My Experience of Bisexuality

I wanted to follow up Kyle’s excellent recent post on the complexity of sexual identity with my own account of bisexuality. I’m certainly not trying to characterize Tom Daley or anyone else, but I wanted to give some picture of what it could mean for a man to have a bisexual orientation.

There’s a fairly widespread belief that bisexuality doesn’t really exist in men. From what I can tell, there are a variety of reasons for this belief. I think one of the more common reasons is that it is quite common for gay men to initially identify as bisexual. That leads to the suspicion that any man claiming to be bisexual simply hasn’t been able to accept himself as gay yet. Some skepticism stems from a 2005 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men” that failed to find evidence that male bisexuality actually existed, although a 2011 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men Revisited” using the same methodology showed a different result. I was always puzzled by the 2005 study, given that my experience contradicts the conclusion many people were drawing from it. There is also need for caution in interpreting the results of both studies, because the methodology used simply involved measuring genital arousal in response to certain forms of pornography. Thus, it only measured one part of attraction under artificial laboratory conditions and may not be reflective of someone’s full experience of sexual orientation. Given that I’ve never used porn, I’m actually not certain what results I would have gotten under the studied conditions.

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Celibacy and Eros: Sublimation or Repression?

Recently, both Ron Belgau and Melinda Selmys have written here on Spiritual Friendship about Joseph Sciambra’s book Swallowed by Satan and the hubbub it has caused amongst conservative commentators. In the book, Sciambra recounts his slow descent from teenage Playboy consumer to gay Satanist and sado-masochistic porn star who dabbles in Neo-Nazi rituals. Before undergoing a Christian conversion experience at the end of the book, Sciambra enjoys an astonishing  variety of sexual liasons that I will not discuss in detail here. Conservatives have seized gleefully on Sciambra’s narrative as an expose of the sordid reality behind the “gay agenda.” Sciambra has featured on LifeSiteNews and on Bryan Fischer’s show. The message from the Religious Right is that homosexuals are out to recruit your children into the gay lifestyle—a never-ending carnival of witchcraft, Nazism, and sex with goat-headed men (you don’t want to know more, trust me).

I am not sure Sciambra is doing the Church any favors. When someone claiming to be promoting biblical teaching about homosexuality gives the impression that anything other than the slimmest imaginable proportion of gay lives are a whirligig of devil-worship and sexual sadism, chances are that when someone finds out this picture of the gay community is not accurate (by, say, meeting normal gay people), they will also conclude that Christian moral teaching is false.

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Spiritual Friendship and Christian Ministry

Although theoretical reflection about spiritual friendship is important, there is also an important place for talking about the practicalities of how it gets lived out day-to-day.

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of young Christian professionals and grad students here in St. Louis. Although our careers spanned a range of disciplines, we had enough common interests that we could get along well and have meaningful conversations.

In some ways, the life of this group of friends is quite mundane. We’re all quite busy with our studies and work. But we still make time to go hiking on weekends, or grab dinner and a movie, or hang out at a pub, or walk around Forest Park or the Botanical Garden. Sometimes there are more of us involved in these activities, sometimes smaller subsets of the group—even just two or three—will do something.

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Doing it Right

Cross-posted at Sexual Authenticity.

I wanted to write a follow up to Ron Belgau’s piece on LifeSite’s interview of Joseph Sciambra.

Joe’s story is one of the those pieces of data that needs to be taken into account if we’re going to adequately provide for the pastoral needs of LGBTQ people, but it is a story that needs to be taken into account in the right way. LifeSite, not surprisingly, presents Sciambra as if he were a typical gay man and thus presents his story as the gritty, diabolical reality that underlies the sanitized images of gaydom that one finds in the mainstream media.

Sciambra’s story is perfect for this. It’s horrific. Literally. I write horror. I like The Shining, Lost Highway, Hour of the Wolf, and zombie movies. But by the time that I was halfway through Joe’s memoir I had overcome my capacity to handle the content. It’s also real, and although it would be politically convenient for me to sweep it under the carpet as if it were a very isolated and bizarre account, that would be just as irresponsible on my part as it is for LifeSite to present the story as if it were the norm. Grappling with Sciambra’s experience responsibly involves recognizing that the sadomasochistic porn scene really is a part of the gay community, and that although sexual excess in the gay scene is sometimes overstated by Christians it is also real. How do we address that reality? How do we provide responsible warnings for those who might be at risk of encountering the kind of horrific and predatory community that Sciambra found, while at the same time avoiding alarmism?

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Sexual Orientation: Is That Even a Thing?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently established an online resource entitled Marriage: Unique for a Reason, to educate Catholics on why marriage “should be promoted and protected as the union of one man and one woman.”

Done properly, this is an important task. But it must be remembered that the debate about gay marriage is less about homosexuality than it is about the nature and purpose of marriage as an institution and as a sacrament. Precisely because we are in need of sound teaching on this topic, it is disappointing to see the USCCB’s website—whose posts are written by anonymous “staff” rather than by bishops—used not to teach about marriage, but as an opportunity for promoting half-baked theories about homosexuality.

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A Story of Marriage

With the quickly changing landscape of discussions surrounding homosexuality in the broader culture has come the advent of new ways of describing the varying situations that same-sex attracted Christians find themselves in. One of these situations is being married to the opposite sex.

These types of marriages have often been pigeon-holed into one of two narratives, depending on who is evaluating them. For many conservative Christians, these marriages have been used as a sort of sign-post declaring that one has “arrived” and has experienced re-orientation, or the change from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. Thus, whole ministries have been geared around the goal of having participants get married to a woman.

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Sin and Sexual Minorities Part 5: Sins of the Heart

Scripture clearly teaches that sin comes from the heart. For example, in Matthew 15:18-20, Jesus teaches that the sins that defile a person come from inside a person’s heart, rather than from outside. In order to truly address our own sins, including the sins described in the previous two posts, we must address the condition of our hearts. The gospel is not really about behavior modification, but about inner transformation. Therefore, in this post, I will discuss some of the attitudes of the heart that contribute to sins against sexual minority people. Despite the fact that I’m not straight, these sins in particular are ones that I have often had to address in my own life, and that I have not completely overcome. However, I believe it will be edifying to bring them to light.

A very common sin, and one that Jesus addressed repeatedly during his earthly ministry, is that of self-righteousness. I think that a lot of straight Christians see themselves as fundamentally better people than most sexual minority people. This is not a truly Christian attitude, because we are all sinners who rely on God for salvation and sanctification. We have done nothing to earn a better place in God’s eyes through our own actions.

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Dorothy Sayers on Modernity’s Sexual Malaise

In her essay, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” (collected in Creed or Chaos) Dorothy Sayers writes:

There are two main reasons for which people fall into the sin of Luxuria [lust]. It may be through sheer exuberance of animal spirits: in which case a sharp application of the curb may be all that is needed to bring the body into subjection and remind it of its proper place in the scheme of man’s twofold nature. Or—and this commonly happens in periods of disillusionment like our own, when philosophies are bankrupt and life appears without hope—men and women may turn to lust in sheer boredom and discontent, trying to find in it some stimulus which is not provided by the drab discomfort of their mental and physical surroundings. When that is the case, stern rebukes and restrictions are worse than useless. It is as though one were to endeavour to cure anaemia by bleeding; it only reduces further an already impoverished vitality. The mournful and medical aspect of twentieth-century pornography and promiscuity strongly suggests that we have reached one of these periods of spiritual depression, where people go to bed because they have nothing better to do. In other words, the “regrettable moral laxity” of which respectable people complain may have its root cause not in Luxuria at all, but in some other of the sins of society, and may automatically begin to cure itself when that root cause is removed.