I’ve written before about how often gay or same-sex attracted people are treated as if the central spiritual and moral issues of our lives are all sexual. For some reason this story strikes me as the most poignant example. But we’re subjected to so many demands that we repeat, “I’m chaste! I’m celibate!” in order to earn an uncertain welcome in the church.
Some straight Christians seem to view everything we bring to our churches solely through the lens of our sexuality. I just heard a couple heartbreaking stories from friends who were told that the abuse they had suffered, or their struggles with addiction, were the result of their homosexuality. I’ve had friends whose pastors assessed friendships and other relationships solely on the basis of whether they helped the friend remain chaste—as if chastity were the only virtue, and friendship was a sort of chastity accountability partnership. Basically, gay people are sometimes treated as if all our experiences are unusually sexually-charged, and all our relationships are either a) focused solely on chastity, or b) near occasions of sin.
This sexualization harms us (and our churches) in a lot of ways.
Well, here we are, talking about labels and identity. Again.
[throws taupe confetti in the air]
Among those who think people shouldn’t describe themselves as ‘gay’, the most common objection is that it intrinsically compromises one’s core identity as a Christian (or, in some cases, as a man or woman). The supporting claims are varied and come from a few different directions, but near their center is a belief that saying ‘gay’ identifies one too closely with one’s sexuality or certain possible sins.
The thing is, those of us who are fine with using ‘gay’ as a social label are similarly concerned by the way many people’s self-perception, regardless of orientation, is dominated by their sexuality. The difference, of course, is that as far as we can tell it is this obsession over language and labels that is one of the primary causes of this myopia in churches.
I never feel more defined by my sexuality than when Christians obsess over how I sometimes describe myself. In my current communities, where people are pretty chill and understand how and why I occasionally describe myself as gay, I find my self-perception has much more balance and integrity; I feel like a whole person with various facets held together by my relationship with God rather than any one particular label. Thus I don’t only find the fervent ‘don’t say gay’ movement socially harmful and theologically errant but also practically self-defeating.
(Sorry, Ron, for stealing for your title)
We’ve written a lot here at SF about Crisis Magazine’s profiling of the “New Homophiles” over the past couple of weeks. I think a lot of the response is because this is the closest that we’ve come to direct engagement with the people that tend to cause us frustration: the people who seem to be responsible for behaviours that we would characterize as “homophobic.” For me, at least, there’s always a hope of being able to engage in constructive dialogue both with the LGBTQ community, and also with those within the Christian community who struggle to be able to present an even remotely charitable response to homosexuals. In one of Ron’s earlier blog projects he used the image of a bridge, and I always thought it a very beautiful image for what it is that we try to do: we are attempting to make of our lives, our thoughts, even our bodies a bridge connecting the Christians church with LGBTQ people.
The response that we’ve received from Crisis shows us that, at least with some people we still have an awfully long way to go. Today Ron tweeted a link to the forums at Suscipe Domine, which you shouldn’t read unless you have a deep desire to go home and cry into your oatmeal. (As you can see, I’ve included the link in order to help you in this project. Please consider offering up your tears for the GCN conference this weekend.)
I was tremendously impressed by Pope Francis’ recent interview. It’s so full of wonderful insights. Here I’m going to expand on his idea that if, as a Church, we focus excessively on a small handful of sins then the moral edifice will fail, and that the Church should be a field hospital for the wounded.
The difficulty is not with telling the truth about sexuality, it’s with telling that truth in a way that hurts and alienates people. There are two things that I’ve heard repeatedly from other Christians that I think, to a certain extent, illustrate the problem with a lot of the “truth-telling” that goes on in the Culture Wars. The first is the assumption that when I go to speak I must meet with a lot of resistance and persecution from the LGBTQ community. I’ve had a number of Americans suggest that, living as I do in ultra-liberal Canada, I must be on the verge of being jailed for hate crimes. This is untrue. There have been situations where I’ve faced resistance but on the whole I’ve found those situations to be fruitful and instructive. Those are the situations that have taught me how to listen and how to present what I have to say in a constructive and respectful way. Generally once I actually start talking a lot of the anger goes away — and in the cases where it hasn’t, I can see what I did wrong.
First Things has published a short piece I wrote on the recent Dan Savage debacle. Note: I did not choose the title!
Update: Elizabeth Scalia (“The Anchoress”) has picked up the article and offered her own commentary.
Update II: Rod Dreher has also responded to the article.