Peace, Peace? Further Thoughts on Staying Put

Wes recently wrote a reflection about the Church Clarity website, and what it might mean for someone who differs from a church’s stated beliefs on sexuality to “stay put” as it were, in spite of serious disagreement.

I want to say right away how much I love and appreciate Wes and his writing. He, perhaps more than anyone, has given me a profound vision of committed friendship and helped me to see a path for positive flourishing in the midst of my same-sex attractions. I am deeply thankful to God for his grace to me through Wes.

Furthermore, regarding Wes’s post, I share much of his concern that we not too easily abandon ship in our commitment to a local church, denomination, or broad Christian tradition based on any and every disagreement we might encounter. When it comes to issues not primary to salvation and the heart of the gospel, membership vows should mean a great deal in our decision making. I also recognize that Wes is coming from a context where his broad church tradition is in the midst of significant change in understanding sexual ethics. I am very sympathetic to the tension he must feel as one who affirms the traditional biblical view of marriage and same-sex sexual activity within the Episcopal Church.

However, one of the unique features of Spiritual Friendship is that all of the contributors do not agree on everything. As I read Wes’s post, I must confess that I was not persuaded by his argument. Part of the reason for this likely flows from exegetical differences, as well as the different ecclesial structures in which we are living. Additionally, my reservations flow from the pastoral perspective from which I write. After all, I am a pastor in a local church, so the question of whether to stay or go takes on a particular flavor for me. In other words, I am not asking the question, “Should I as an individual believer commit to stay at a church with whom I am in serious disagreement?” Instead, the question for me becomes, “There are people at our church who regularly attend, seek to become members, be baptized, take communion, and flourish as Christians. In light of these disagreements on sexuality, how can my fellow pastors and I effectively shepherd our church as a whole AND the individual believers of whom our local body is comprised?”

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On “Church Clarity” and the Cost of Staying Put

A few weeks ago a website called Church Clarity launched. Their stated goal is to encourage churches, primarily evangelical ones, it seems, to be upfront about their policies regarding LGBTQ members. If, for instance, some churches will hospitably “welcome” LGBTQ members but not allow them to serve in leadership roles or receive Communion, Church Clarity wants those churches to own up to that policy on their websites so that potential members can see ahead of time what they’re getting into. As their own website indicates, they’re developing a database that offers “scores”:

The Church Clarity database scores churches on how clearly their websites communicate their policies. Currently, we are evaluating clarity of policies regarding LGBTQ people. To begin, we’ve published a selection of evangelical churches in America. The goal is to compile a comprehensive database of as many churches, especially evangelical ones, as possible.

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Sacrifice and Sexual Ethics

Crucifixion

God doesn’t promise that He’ll only ask you for the sacrifices you agree with and understand. – Eve Tushnet

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself; accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked; accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. – Terence Malick, Tree of Life

In paragraph 265 of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis teaches:

We have to arrive at the point where the good that the intellect grasps can take root in us as a profound affective inclination, as a thirst for the good that outweighs other attractions and helps us to realize that what we consider objectively good is also good “for us” here and now. A good ethical education includes showing a person that it is in his own interest to do what is right. Today, it is less and less effective to demand something that calls for effort and sacrifice, without clearly pointing to the benefits which it can bring.

The basic message is traditional. Morality involves rational pursuit of the good. This is so by definition because humanity was created with a desire for happiness (which, as St Augustine beautifully explains in his Confessions, can ultimately be satisfied only by God) – or, as ancient Greeks called it, eudaimonia (“flourishing”). Whatever we choose, we choose because we judge, rightly or wrongly, that it will contribute to eudaimonia. As Herbert McCabe puts it:

Living well means doing good because you want to do it, because you have become the kind of you that just naturally wants to do this.

The Church believes her rules surrounding sexual behaviour are not arbitrary. The goods indicated as desirable by Church teaching are (in the Holy Father’s words) good “for us,” given the way our nature was created. Pope Francis is restating the Church’s belief that her teachings on sex concern natural law, not eccelesiastical policy.

But paradigms of moral behaviour in Scripture often cannot be understood within the context of an ethic solely focused on the pursuit of eudaimonia. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ prays:

Abba, Father … all things are possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. (Mark 14:36)

Christ, God and man, had two wills and two intellects (human and divine). His prayer indicates the desire of his (human) will is at odds with the Father’s desire. This suggests that Christ’s human intellect, in itself, could not grasp that his Passion was “in his own interest.” If it had grasped this, even his human will would have desired to undergo the Passion, since the will naturally desires what the intellect grasps as good.

St Augustine says that by praying as he did, Christ “shows Himself to have willed something else than did His Father.” St Thomas Aquinas explains this by arguing that although Christ’s “will as reason” always “willed the same as God,” in his “rational will considered as nature, Christ could will what God did not.” What is important to note is that even the human will of Jesus, although it never experienced disordered affection, cannot be said to have had a “profound affective inclination” toward his proper good at all times; nor can his human intellect, in itself, have been capable of completely comprehending that good, even though Christ’s human intellect (unlike ours) knew everything possible for a human intellect to know.

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Heartbreak and Celibacy Pt. 3

(See Part 1 & Part 2)

Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community

I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced is merely a part of life and a part of growing up. I had few examples of what to do with romantic feelings as a celibate gay man, which made it difficult to know how normal or abnormal my experiences were. As I learned, falling in love and going through heartache and heartbreak is just a part of life, celibate or not. I was thankful for the advice and empathy my friends shared as well as their enduring patience with me.

As a celibate gay man, I never thought I was supposed to fall in love. Matthew Vines, the popular gay-affirming apologist, has said that one of the worst things that can happen to a celibate gay man or woman is to fall in love. I don’t know if it is the single worst thing, but I think it is an especially excruciating challenge for many of us. In the celibate world, there are few models or examples of just getting through experiences of falling in love, and as a result, few talk about that experience openly. More than one of my celibate friends have participated in the wedding of the man or woman they were in love with at one time. For many of them, that was a heartache they endured silently. What they were feeling was something they believed they needed to reject or fear. So often they endured these intense feelings silently and alone.

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©️ Gregg Webb 2014

 

Some of my affirming friends lost faith in their convictions about celibacy after they experienced mutual romantic connection. It was easy to get caught up in the rush of feelings that you never thought were possible and a connection you never believed could really exist. In most cases they eventually experienced heartbreak but almost always didn’t stop pursuing romantic relationships after that first experience. The veil had been torn down, and they suddenly realized what, in a sense, they’d been missing. The challenge for celibate gay Christians is: How do you walk right up to the edge of the brink, look your feelings in the eye and acknowledge that they are real and important, but still choose not to walk down the path that these feelings are naturally inclined to lead? Continue reading

Heartbreak and Celibacy Pt. 1

Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself

How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about my heart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.

Twice in my adult life I’ve fallen in love with a man. Early crushes may have happened before adulthood, nothing significant enough to write about. The first time I fell in love was for a writer I’d gotten to know through his blog. I’ll call him Corey. As much as I struggled not to fall in love with Corey, I eventually did. I was madly in denial about what I was experiencing because it felt so incongruent with my values and, in many ways, pointless. Hundreds of miles separated us, and he never reciprocated my feelings, so there were fewer kicks to the face emotionally that would have made the nature of my feelings more apparent to me.

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©️ Gregg Webb 2014

Caught up in all of the heartache was fear. I feared what these feelings meant for me and for my future life as a celibate gay man. I couldn’t figure out which of the feelings I experienced were acceptable and which I was supposed to try and kill off. It took me over a year just to start finding language I felt comfortable with to describe what I was feeling. In many ways, because falling in love seemed pointless as a celibate gay man, I just wanted to forget about the whole thing altogether. My heart, and sometimes my dear friends, never really let me ignore it entirely, though I tried. It took Spotify listing my number one song of 2014 as “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else,” by A Great Big World, for me to begin accepting that even the music I was (cluelessly) listening to somehow expressed what I could not. Experiences like the one I wrote about in “Forsaking All Others also helped me come to terms with my myself and slowly began to help me identify what I was feeling. Continue reading

Friends as Family Perspective

We are looking to enhance our understanding of the experiences of celibate gay Christians and their support system. We would like to interview friends who are close to celibate gay Christians or function as family in the lives of celibate gay Christians and could speak to that friendship. We would like to understand how people have built supportive friendships and to learn about the challenges, approaches, and your shared wisdom in building such relationships.  You don’t have to be living together as family, although a communal life together is an option for being included in the interviews. We are also open to interviewing celibate gay Christians who are in a covenant partnership or related relationship that is intentional in the way we described above.

These interviews are confidential, and we have some funds to support a limited number of interviews.

The interview takes about 40 minutes or so to complete and is typically done by phone or Skype. If you are interested in sharing some of your experience, please email me at markyar@regent.edu.

 

Gay Students at Christian Colleges: What’s Our Vision for Their Flourishing?

In January, I spoke to a room full of Christian college presidents for the annual gathering of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The topic they set for me was how to talk about a Christian theology of marriage with real compassion for students wrestling through questions of sexual identity. The CCCU has now transcribed my remarks, and you can read them here.

An excerpt:

I want to suggest to you that one of the most important things you can do on your campuses is cast a vision of what a hopeful future could look like for your students who are same-sex attracted. For so many of us, when we think about living out our lives in the evangelical church as gay—and as celibate, probably, for most of us—the future looks blank. We can’t picture what it would look like because we don’t have models of how this goes. I’ve spent all my life in the church, and I have rarely seen people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are talking openly about what it looks like to embrace a vocation of celibacy.

I remember recently talking to a Roman Catholic friend of mine who grew up in the church. He said, “From the time I was 4 years old, it was a huge question in my mind as to whether God might call me to be celibate”—because God might call him to be a priest. As soon as I heard him say that, I thought, “Our childhoods were so profoundly different because it never occurred to me that God might call me to be celibate. It never occurred to me to contemplate the single life.” I always simply assumed I’d go to college and meet my spouse like my parents did and live a Christian life by having kids and being part of a family values church. That was the future; that was the path. It never occurred to me that God might have in mind a vocation of celibacy. I apparently never read 1 Corinthians 7.

But this is the challenge for you, to cast a vision—and it doesn’t have to be one vision; I think there are 100 different models that this could take for your students—but to cast a vision [for your students]: “This is what a hopeful future looks like for you. If you’re same-sex attracted, and you’ve tried everything, and you haven’t experienced one iota of change in your same-sex attraction, and you’re wanting to give your life to God in celibacy, that does not have to equal loneliness. That does not have to equal isolation. … There’s a life for you. There’s a future for you that doesn’t simply look like alienation from your fellow believers in the church who seem to be so fixated on the nuclear family.” … What I am praying for you is that you will find yourself thinking of your same-sex attracted students not as a liability on your campus, but as people you’re in solidarity with.

You can read the rest here.

Why Do We Think the Bible is Against Same-Sex Marriage?

I’ve just returned from Calgary, Alberta where Justin Lee, the founder of the Gay Christian Network (GCN), and I had a public dialogue on All Things Gay and Christian for the Anglican Church of Canada diocese there. It’s not the first time he and I have done something like this, but we both agreed that this one seemed to touch on all the major issues—debates over biblical interpretation, the church’s need for repentance for its treatment of LGBTQ persons, the need to celebrate singleness, to name just a few—in a way we felt was particularly effective. And it helps that Justin such a gracious and generous friend.

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The Everyday Touches of Life

I got to know my brother, Parker, when I moved in with his family my sophomore year of college.

I know, that’s a strange sentence. You see, Parker is my brother, but we aren’t actually related by blood or legal family name (his last name is Fischer). He’s my brother because we decided to be brothers. Simple as that.

My freshman year, I became close friends with Parker’s older (blood) brothers, Travis and Tylor, and I started hanging out at their family home during most of my free time. Eventually, since I basically lived there anyway, it became natural for me to officially move in. During my year and a half in the Fischer home, I became a part of their family. And Parker—and Travis and Tylor—became my brothers.

*          *          *

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The Benedictine Confessional

The righteousness of the saints in this world consists
more in the forgiveness of sins
than in the perfection of virtues.
—St. Augustine

To my knowledge, I’ve only written about the so-called “Benedict Option”—the subject of Rod Dreher’s new bestselling book—once, and it was after the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. In that post, I quoted from the Catholic theologian Paul Griffiths:

What the pagans need on this matter [of same-sex marriage] is conversion, not argument; and what the Church ought to do to encourage that is to burnish the practice of marriage by Catholics until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.

In other words, if anyone is going to be convinced of the Scriptural, traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sex, it’s going to be because of winsome, attractive, beautiful Christian practice of that teaching. The living out of the biblical teaching on marriage is what will be persuasive, when all political and theological arguments seem to be ineffectual. And that viewpoint, it would seem, is what the “Benedict Option,” at its best, is all about. It’s about strategically regrouping and recommitting ourselves to serious discipleship so that the world can see we’re not just interested in “culture warring” but that we’re mainly about living out what we profess to believe.

I still think, two years after Obergefell, this is basically right. But I’ve also been thinking lately, since Dreher’s book has been published and I’ve now had a chance to read it, about a qualification or addendum I’d want to make: When Griffiths talks about Christians’ “burnishing the practice of marriage,” that can’t mean “practicing Christian marriage ‘successfully’ or flawlessly.” It also, and inevitably (given the reality of what the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion call the “remaining corruption” of those who are regenerated in Christ), must mean confessing sin and finding forgiveness and pursuing reconciliation in our marriages.

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