The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is hosting a Summit from April 21 to 23, and the topic is “The Gospel and Human Sexuality.” Last night, after the panel had discussed “The Gospel and Homosexuality,” I was scrolling through tweets from people I follow who had been listening in to the livestream. You can access the tweets here, with the hashtag #erlcsummit, and I’ll just note that Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s are the most informative.
It’s probably definitely unwise to make an assessment of a conference based on a Twitter stream, and I’ll almost certainly regret writing this post tomorrow, but a couple of things struck me as especially comment-worthy. (Apparently the video sessions will be available to watch after the summit concludes, which means that I won’t get to them for another day or two.)
At the request of Jeremy Erickson, I’ve decided to rework a post that I wrote a while ago on my own blog. At the time I was responding to a minor internet skirmish that erupted when Josh Gonnerman posted his First Things article about being gay and Catholic. Critics claimed, not always in entirely charitable terms, that gayness was not compatible with the Catholic faith.
The foundation of their argument will probably be familiar to a lot of the readers here at Spiritual Friendship: being gay involves identifying with a form of lustful disorder, and every Christian should devote themselves heart and soul to stamping out every last trace of lust from their heart in order to be worthy of Christ.
I think that this kind of rhetoric is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be gay. Homosexuality as defined by the Catechism refers solely to same-sex lust. But gayness is not the same thing. Being gay is not reduceable to having, or desiring to have, homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality. Some Christians appear to believe that these currents are so fundamentally disordered that the only proper response to them is one of outright warfare, that the personality must have surgery performed on it in order to eliminate every vestige of queerness in order that it might be rendered fit for salvation.
I haven’t yet been able to read Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert cover to cover, but I do want to highlight one portion of it that I’ve been thinking about recently in relation to our project here at Spiritual Friendship. Towards the end, Butterfield writes:
What good Christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be “healed” by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death; nothing more and nothing less.
From the context, I think it’s clear that Butterfield is making an anti-Pelagian point. She’s saying that what we sexual sinners need is not a touch-up operation that amounts to little more than a project of moral self-improvement. What we need, instead, is total, absolute surrender—death to the entirety of our old ways of thinking and living, and rebirth on God’s terms. So, for instance, she goes on to say that a lot of young Christians think their pornography addictions will be cured if they can just get married. (A misreading of 1 Corinthians 7:9, I might add.) But no, Butterfield says, “Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus can do that.” The project of self-salvation, even with something sanctified like marriage, is doomed from the get-go.
Now, the reason I’ve been thinking about this is that it could be read as antithetical to the work we’re trying to do here at SF. We say things like this: Our same-sex love can “express itself as chaste friendship or mystical approach to God rather than as gay sex.” Which could imply that we think our being gay shouldn’t be surrendered to daily death so much as it should be reinterpreted or redeemed or reformed.
During the debate over Galileo, some theologians appealed to verses of Scripture to “prove” that Galileo’s sun-centered model of the solar system could not be correct. For example, Psalm 93:1 says, “the world is established; it shall never be moved.” Along with 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 96:10, and Psalm 104:5, this was taken to show that Galileo’s claim that the earth moved around the sun was contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures. Ecclesiastes 1:5, which says, “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises,” was interpreted to show that the sun does move. Taken together, these were thought by some to provide a conclusive biblical refutation of Galileo’s heliocentric arguments.
The problem with this kind of interpretation is that these interpreters were mistaking phenomenological language, which describes appearances, with ontological language, which tells us about things as they really are. The sun does appear to rise and set, but this is caused by the earth’s rotation, and not by the motion of the sun. The earth appears fixed and immovable, but in fact, it rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.
One of the most persistent mistakes made by critics of Spiritual Friendship is the assumption that when we use any language that they don’t like (most commonly, though not limited to, the word “gay”) to describe our experiences, we are using that language to make ontological claims.
Austin Ruse, the President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, is running a series of critical investigations on the work of Spiritual Friendship (or on the “New Homophiles,” as he calls us) over at Crisis Magazine. His most recent article, “The New Homophiles and Their Critics,” takes a look at the arguments of some of the more seasoned critics of our ideas such as Daniel Mattson and Michael W. Hannon. At the end, Ruse poses an important question:
Your 14-year-old son feels different from the other guys at school … He confides this to a counselor who asks him about his sexual orientation. Your son says that maybe the difference he feels is that he is gay …
Now, do you want your son to talk to Chris Damian, one of the New Homophiles who has said he would tell that young man to “Seek to draw yourself more fully into the Church and to discern how this might be a gift in your life and in others’ lives.”
Or do you want him to meet Daniel Mattson and Father Paul Scalia who would tell the boy, “You are not your sexual inclinations. You are not ‘gay.’ What you are is a man and a Son of God.”
At first blush there seems to be very little difference between the two, but as you gaze more closely at all that is packed into the New Homophile Proposition, you realize the difference is immense and may be profoundly harmful.
Yesterday, Tom Daley, the Olympic medalist in diving from England, came out in a short five-minute video on YouTube.
You’ll note I said, “came out,” which in current parlance can mean several things, but is most commonly taken to mean publicly identifying as gay. Indeed as this article in the Guardian points out, many major media outlets took it this way, describing Daley as having come out as gay. However, if you watch the video, Daley never claims a particular sexual identity (gay, bisexual, or otherwise), but simply says that he is in a relationship with another guy. Indeed, he adds that he still fancies girls and that his relationship with this guy seemingly took him by surprise. What do we make of a statement like this? And is it even our job to make something of it?
I have an essay that has been published over at Ethika Politika today, a combined response to four recent articles pushing the “don’t say gay” claim.
In it, I explore the meaning and value of gayness from a historical perspective in conversation with two queer intellectuals—Michel Foucault (a lapsed Catholic atheist) and Marc-Andre Raffalovich (a devout Catholic convert from Judaism). Here is a brief taste:
History always involves a certain amount of anachronism, of reading the past in light of the present, precisely because history is something constructed in the present. Despite professing to be an attempt to raise our level of moral virtue (and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of this profession), the “don’t say gay” claim, applied to history, robs gay people of almost all of the great examples of moral virtue they have. By ripping up our current cultural framework for the understanding of sexuality, we might legitimately claim that men like Hopkins and Raffalovich weren’t really gay at all, but at what cost? Once you’ve redefined faithful, orthodox gay Christians out of existence, and once you’ve erased them from history, the claim that you can’t be gay and a good Christian simply becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You can read the rest here.
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.
My friend Fr. Stewart Ruch III, the newly elected Anglican (ACNA) bishop of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, was recently interviewed about a sermon he gave on celibacy. For many years, Fr. Stewart has been the rector of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, and in this interview he draws on several conversations he had with celibate members of his parish.
Here’s a taste:
I wanted to talk about a larger issue than just human marriage or singleness. I wanted to talk about the very goal of human personhood. God in Christ wants to marry humanity. He chose spiritual marriage, the great marriage of our souls with God, as a kind of beatific vision, the end goal of all of our personhood. Marriage with God is a dramatic biblical metaphor for God’s relationship with his people.
The concept of “singleness” can’t do justice to this. For one thing, no one is autonomous or truly “single.” When we realize this, we begin to see that every person is profoundly connected, and has the ultimate destiny of absolute communion with God.
Often, the problem in the church is that “singles” get left behind. We subtly communicate that marriage and raising a family is the “big deal” of Christianity. That’s incomplete. Celibacy, just like marriage, points us towards the real big deal—the marriage of God in Christ with humanity. A celibate Christian can be a sign of living faithfully into that marriage. Celibacy is a far more rounded, nuanced, positive word to say what our theology calls us into. I call those embracing this lifestyle “celibate” because they’re actually being called to live in full marriage with God as a picture of what we’re all going to be when there’s no giving and taking of marriage in heaven.
Read the whole thing.
Last week I had a great lunch w/another gay Christian woman. We differ pretty strongly on how one follows Christ, both in terms of communion/church (she’s a Protestant) and, relatedly, in terms of chastity. But the difference which I found most striking wasn’t a difference in belief; it was our respective emotional responses to some of the terms people use to describe “my side” of the Christian discussion of sexual orientation and chastity.
My new friend described me as “single,” which for her was a neutral to positive term. “Celibate,” which is the term I usually use for myself, sounded really negative to her. I wish we’d talked about this longer, since I don’t know exactly what she associated with “celibacy”: repression, frigidity, spinsterhood, perversion? I do know what I associate with the term “single,” though: stressed-out straight women made miserable by the unhappy prospect of dating (or, and this is sometimes even worse, not dating) straight men.