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.
In my last post, I pointed out the way that some Christians have exploited the ambiguous meaning of the word “gay” to make misleading promises (like “You don’t have to be gay”) to others.
Today, I want to look at how the word is sometimes used to mislead others—including other Christians—about the speaker’s own life and experiences.
Consider, for example, the sad case of Dr. George Rekers. He helped co-found the Family Research Council, and was for many years a member of the board and scientific advisor for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). He was a leading opponent of gay rights and advocate of reparative therapy for several decades.
In 2010, he hired a man who worked as a male prostitute to accompany him on a trip to Europe. Allegedly, his travel assistant provided him with daily sexual massage services during the trip.
When these accusations became public, Dr. Rekers denied that he was gay.
Aaron Taylor recently wrote a critique of the use (or abuse) of the category of “disorder” in relation to homosexual acts here at Spiritual Friendship. To my mind, the most important of his observations was the following:
First, the claim that homosexual acts are disordered obviously entails the judgment that the inclination to those acts is disordered. However, this is usually heard as the Church calling the sexuality of gays and lesbians disordered in toto. Given that the Church teaches that sexuality “affects all aspects of the human person,” it is almost impossible for the layman to distinguish this from the claim that the entire personalities of gay people are disordered.
It seems to me that the core problem that this term has when it comes to the relation between the Catholic Church and the gay community is the oft-repeated inaccuracy that the Church teaches that gay people are disordered. When someone says this, I think it touches a good deal more directly on the “homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered” than on the “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (though, as Aaron notes, the two are linked.)
This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at my Catholic Faith, and how it relates to my life and my sexuality. Click to see the first, second, and third installments.
The term “gay” can be both descriptive and constructive. It can be used as a term to describe particular emotions, sentiments, orientations, and actions. Or it can be used as a means by which one identifies oneself and one’s relation to the world. The word “Catholic” is always both constructive and descriptive. It describes one’s religious affiliation, but it is also a means of identification and construction; it becomes a center upon which one builds one’s life. It is not used merely to describe one’s beliefs. Rather, it dictates a way of life and has a command and affect on how we view ourselves. An identification with “Catholic” implies radical change and carries constructive force.
In contemporary culture, “gay” is the most common word for describing homosexual persons. This has become so much a part of the default language that Pope Francis used it as a neutral description of a person’s sexual attractions in response to a question at a recent press conference.
I think a lot of the language debates that go on around homosexuality make mountains out of molehills (I could link to examples, but why give traffic to posts I think are hurting the discussion?). I am more interested in talking about vocation, friendship, celibacy, and other questions which I think address more important needs.
Still, language can cause confusion, and stirs up a lot of debate. So I’m going to say something about it, even though I think the arguments have been blown out of proportion.
This is the first in a series of posts looking at my Catholic Faith, and how it relates to my life and my sexuality.
For a time now, I have been engaging in intense self-reflection, considering the direction that my life seems to be taking and the ways in which I can develop as a Catholic and as a human being. It seems to me that many Catholics today are confused about their relationship to the Church and its teachings about sexuality. Many are unsure of whether they can find a place in the Church. They feel alienated by misunderstandings, confusions, misrepresentations, unjust caricatures, and unfounded discriminations.
I count myself as among these Catholics. And I’ve realized that, if I am going to get past these obstacles, it is time for me to be open about myself and to reach out to others who are like me.
The main point of this post is the firm and frank admission: I’m gay.
Justin Taylor points to an excerpt from an article by Michael A. G. Haykin, the Patristics scholar, on biblical images for friendship:
The Bible uses two consistent images in its representation of friendship.
The first is that of the knitting of souls together.
Deuteronomy provides the earliest mention in this regard when it speaks of a ‘friend who is as your own soul’ (Deut. 13:6), that is, one who is a companion of one’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Prominent in this reflection on friendship is the concept of intimacy. It is well illustrated by Jonathan and David’s friendship. For example, in 1 Samuel 18:1 we read that the ‘soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’ This reflection on the meaning of friendship bears with it ideas of strong emotional attachment and loyalty. Not surprisingly, the term ‘friend’ naturally became another name for believers or brothers and sisters in the Lord (see 3 John 14).
The second image that the Bible uses to represent friendship is the face-to-face encounter. This is literally the image used for Moses’ relationship to God. In the tabernacle God spoke to Moses ‘face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exod. 33:11; see also Num. 12:8). The face-to-face image implies a conversation, a sharing of confidences and consequently a meeting of minds, goals and direction. In the New Testament, we find a similar idea expressed in 2 John 12, where the Elder tells his readers that he wants to speak to them ‘face to face.’ One of the benefits of such face-to-face encounters between friends is the heightened insight that such times of friendship produce. As the famous saying in Proverbs 27:17 puts it, ‘Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.’
Matthew Schmitz’s recent post on First Thoughts (“Evangelicals Oppose Gay Marriage, Now More than Ever”, Wednesday, July 10, 2013) noted that First Things has become the venue of choice for discussion of the pastoral issues concerning celibate gay Christians, one which has now (happily) come to include a first-person perspective. The exploration of the terminology used by the Church about the personal status of homosexuality has formed a major thread in this discussion, and has brought forth many articles. On the one hand, Daniel Mattson has written some pointed pieces arguing that the Church condemns describing a person as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ (e.g. “Why I Don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian,” “Homosexual Orientation, or Disorientation?” and “In Defense of the Church’s Challenging Language on Homosexuality“). On the other hand, Joshua Gonnerman has written an explanation of how the omission of a word from the original Latin has led to a misreading of the English text of Homosexualitatis Problema. This would form what one might call the “general argument about identity terms.”
In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch has an excellent editorial on the church’s future and matters LGBTQIA. Please do read the whole thing. He writes,
There is really only one conviction that can hold this coalition of disparate human experiences [i.e., the experiences captured under the label LGBTQIA] together. And it is the irrelevance of bodies—specifically, the irrelevance of biological sexual differentiation in how we use our bodies.
What unites the LGBTQIA coalition is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one’s body but one’s heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know.