A Review of The Third Way

Recently, we’ve received several emails asking us for our thoughts on The Third Way. One reader indicated that this film “explains exactly what you’re talking about with your lives.” With such a ringing endorsement from a person who had watched the video, we thought that it would make sense to feature The Third Way among our resource reviews. Because this resource is a film, we’ve provided a significant synopsis of The Third Way to help readers understand the reasoning behind our critiques. As such, this review is a bit lengthy. Nonetheless, we hope that providing detail will help our readers locate the most relevant sections for their own needs and interests.

It seems fitting that this film will be the third resource we’ve reviewed. You can also click on the following links to read our reviews of God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter. As with all of our reviews, this one will attempt to answer two questions: What does this resource have to say to LGBT Christians who are living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibate vocations? How does this resource contribute to conversation about celibacy as a way of life that LGBT Christians might choose?

According to the film’s promotional materials, “The Third Way will dispel common misconceptions about homosexuality and unveil the [Roman Catholic] Church’s truly compassionate and forward-thinking position on the issue.” Produced by Rev. John Hollowell and directed by John-Andrew O’Rourke, it runs just over 38 minutes. The video is comprised largely of different people speaking with their faces to the camera about experiences with same-sex attraction and the Roman Catholic Church. The voices include those with direct, personal experience of same-sex attraction and straight Catholics known for their public presentation of official teaching on sexual ethics. We thought that The Third Way had some strong points relative to the lives of celibate LGBT Christians, but we are concerned that the people interviewed in this film do not represent the diversity of LGBT Christians committed to celibacy.

After an opening sequence featuring scenes of violence against the LGBT community and the question, “Is there another way?” we meet seven Catholics, identified simply by first name, who describe how they came to know their experiences of same-sex attraction. Almost immediately, the film turns toward emphasizing various negative experiences as causal mechanisms for homosexual orientation such as a troubled home life, sexual trauma, an emotionally dependent friendship that became too close, and a disconnect with a positive cisgender identity. Specifically, David mentions that his father was an alcoholic who physically abused him, stating emphatically, “Everything about masculinity scared me, terrified me, I hated it. ” Julie says that her relationship with her mother “was like ice.” She shares, “I grew up hating men. I had been molested as a child, and in my mind, men were just vicious brutes who just only wanted one thing from you. And I wanted nothing to do with them.” Joseph speaks well of his parents and his upbringing. Charles describes how he grew up feeling very depressed because his mother frequently told him that he was unwanted. Richard expresses not fitting in with his father’s expectations of manhood. Christopher describes how his being artistic and creative lead to trouble bonding with other boys his own age. Of all the people who describe their home lives and upbringings, Joseph is the only person has anything positive to say about how he grew up. The other stories featured have many elements used by the ex-gay movement to justify “reparative therapy” in order to reorient a person’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to straight. The film does not advocate such therapies directly, but LGBT people who have survived abuses within the ex-gay world will likely find these stories troubling.

Melinda Selmys, who appears in the film but whose growing-up story was not featured, expressed concerns about looking at a person’s home life and upbringing to explain the causes of homosexuality. After The Third Way was released, she published a blog post about how an unintended consequence of this documentary might be the shaming of good parents for “causing” their son or daughter’s sexual orientation. We considered Melinda’s contribution one of the film’s highlights. In the middle of this montage about the causes of homosexuality, she explains, “You have to understand that for women especially it’s very often not so much a matter of strong physical attractions to one gender or the other gender. It’s a matter of how you emotionally interact with people.” This quote is the film’s only indication that gay people may not view their sexualities as being principally orientated towards a desire for sex, but rather as an indicator of a broader way of interacting with other people. Melinda’s viewpoint may resonate with celibate LGBT Christians who don’t see their sexual orientations and gender identities as being primarily about desire and attraction.

A strength of The Third Way is that it gives voice to the realities of bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation, and both celibate and non-celibate LGBT Christians will find commonality with the interviewees’ stories of mistreatment. Nearly all of them talk about the cruelty they experienced in school, among church members, or within their families. David shares about how his peers were relentless, flicking him on the back of the head while spouting anti-gay slurs. Christopher describes how he didn’t feel like he could talk to people at church about the bullying he experienced so he sought refuge within the gay community. Julie tells about an experience in a Pentecostal church where she was told that it wasn’t enough for her to “leave the gay lifestyle,” and that she also had to become heterosexual in order to be a good Christian. Elements of all these tales are familiar to LGBT Christians who might view The Third Way.

Touching on ex-gay rhetoric once again, the film then moves into discussing the emptiness of “the gay lifestyle.” We hear from Julie about how she was involved in gay community organizations to the point of “pretty much [running] the gay church.” Charles shares that he had a boyfriend with whom he broke up with because “this isn’t who I am at my core.” David says, “I felt extremely depressed living in this life. The depression was overwhelming. The loneliness was overwhelming.” Christopher says, “I was really stuck in the middle of not being able to connect with men and not being able to have a healthy relationship with women.” This segment might have resonance with some celibate LGBT Christians, but will likely strike others as overly generalizing and relying on harmful stereotypes.

Throughout all of the interviews, we see two young actors walking outside in the snow. The young man and young woman are featured in isolation from one another. Eventually they end up in an abandoned, derelict building with graffiti featuring phrases like “Goodbye Tomorrow” and “Go where you love.” The meaning of this sequence is unclear and could be read in many ways. The actors might be walking alone in the snow to portray the isolation felt by the interviewees growing up. The empty shell of a building could be an attempt to portray the false promises of “the gay lifestyle.” The building might be (and closer to the end of the film, seems to be) an old church that has been defaced, perhaps trying to shame members of the Catholic Church into providing additional support. From context, it seems like the dilapidated building is trying to describe “the gay community” as a poor substitute for the community one should find in church. As the participants share their stories of living “the gay lifestyle,” the actors stand beneath a doorway reading “Out” contrasted against another doorway reading “In.” We found that bit of symbolism rather disconcerting.

At the 17 minute mark, the video begins to shift to the interviewees’ stories of why they became Catholic or became more fully committed to the Catholic Church. For a film based on Catholic experiences of spirituality, some of these stories have curious echoes of the American evangelical Protestant “and then I got saved” narrative. Julie chokes up with emotion as she says, “I was just so lost and so broken. And I knew that I needed God. And I knew that the Catholic Church was the right church and there was something that I didn’t have.” David notes changes that started to happen when he focused on God: “I stopped sex, I stopped alcohol, I stopped drugs, and I verbally forgave my dad.” Joseph reflects on how a confessor made himself available to hear more about his story and help him process his experience, being a real father to Joseph, supporting him on his journey. Celibate LGBT Christians may find the separation between one’s “gay life” and one’s “Christian life” as portrayed in the film distressing, particularly as ex-gay rhetoric continues to permeate this segment. However, Joseph’s contrasting story with being able to talk through questions about sexual orientation with a spiritual director will be encouraging. We would have appreciated hearing more about the roles of other people’s spiritual directors in helping them navigate questions of sexuality and vocation.

Celibate LGBT Christians might be aware of key places where popular sources misrepresent Catholic teaching. The Third Way highlights three such places: homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered, homosexual persons as called to chastity, and Catholics as called to combat unjust discrimination that targets homosexual persons. Five well-respected Catholic educators, who–unlike the gay interviewees–are identified by their full names and occupational titles, explain discrepancies between how people perceive Catholic teaching and what the Catholic Church officially teaches. Together, these voices present what “disordered” means in the Catholic Church and argue that this tradition’s teachings are not actually bigoted against LGBT people because everyone has disordered desires of some kind. Rev. Michael Schmitz says, “All of us are in the exact same boat. Every human being, regardless of what you actually desire, you’re made for more than what you might desire right now.” Jason Evert makes a distinction to clarify that homosexual desires are not chosen. Celibate, LGBT Christians might be encouraged to hear well-respected Catholic educators explaining what this tradition means by “intrinsically disordered” as so many who represent Catholicism have used this phrase to justify discrimination against LGBT people.

We were especially encouraged by the film’s handling of the Catholic belief that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” because it focuses upon celibacy as a meaningful way of life. Celibate, LGBT Christians who have worked hard to integrate (rather than repress) their sexualities will likely cheer when Joseph explains, “The chaste person is not the asexual person. The chaste person is somebody who knows what to do with their sexuality.” Equally, Sr. Helena Burns discusses the importance of intimacy for all people, noting that intimacy need not be sexual. As we have highlighted the importance of defining a celibate vocation by what it has rather than what it lacks, we are glad to see intimacy defined broadly. We hope this might encourage celibate LGBT Christians to continue to integrate their sexualities and find greater freedom to develop meaningful relationships with others.

The video’s next segment moves back to the topic of bullying and harassment, this time as discussed from the perspective of the film’s straight interviewees. We appreciated the forthrightness of the speakers in acknowledging that Christians, including Catholics, have contributed to LGBT bullying. Jason Evert bemoaned his own behavior as a high school student:

“You know Christianity in general is in a position where we need to start asking forgiveness for those people who have been bigoted to those who have these attractions, whether it be their own family members, whether it be their pastors, kids in their youth groups. Like we need to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Some of these people have suffered a lot and that’s their notion of the Catholic Church. Maybe that’s all they know of the Church. You know, I’ll admit, I went to an all-guy’s high school. And I confess I took part in it. You know, this ‘You’re gay! No, you’re gay! You’re gay!’ Just this stupid, stupid behavior. And I ask, I ask forgiveness on behalf of the entire community of people who experience these attractions that you’ve experienced any of this stuff from people who claim to be Christian like me, claimed to be Catholic. I did it.”

Listening to the stories of David, Joseph, and Julie as they shared their own experience of unintentional bullying at the hands of Christians provides even more weight to Jason’s apology and the film’s call for Catholics to do more to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, it’s not until minute 31 of this 38-minute film that we actually find out what the title means. From what we inferred, the “third way” means holding to a firm belief that same-sex sexual activity is inappropriate, but loving people who experience same-sex attractions. Rev. Michael Schmitz says it this way:

“The Catholic Church puts forth a third way: to treat every person, but in this case particularly persons with same-sex attraction, to be able to say, ‘We do not in anyway hate or condemn or fear or want to isolate you. At the same time, we can’t embrace everything that you choose.’ So we’re going to choose this third way, and that third way is love. We’re going to love you.”

Though some of the film’s messages might be comforting to celibate LGBT Christians, particularly those who are Catholic, we perceive that the storyboard detracts from the broader message of The Third Way. The film begins with an aggressive portrayal of the causes of homosexuality, where each cause has potential to make people search for love “in the wrong places.” Then the film highlights the “emptiness” found in the gay community. We’ve seen many reviewers focus on the apparent disconnect between unconditional love and “We can’t embrace everything that you choose.” After the explanation of the term “third way,” many of the film’s voices describe why the Catholic Church is the place for same-sex attracted people to receive love, but it’s unclear how they would respond to LGBT people making choices that cannot be embraced within the Catholic tradition. We can appreciate this skepticism, especially as the last spoken words of the video are from David, stating, “I know that I am a Catholic man. That’s my identity. I used to think I was gay. I’m not gay. I am David, a Catholic man.”

Watching The Third Way is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about homosexuality and the Catholic Church. For all this film’s attempts to clarify Catholic teaching, many people will not be able to hear that message because the apologies are few, and for some, too little and far too late. Further, it seems that all the gay/same-sex attracted people featured are at least 30 years old, with most being older. The video does not engage with how to support young people wrestling with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the latter topic is not discussed at all. We think that opening with a seventeen-minute montage about the perceived causes of and “emptiness” within homosexuality was a bad choice on the part of the producer, and many LGBT people will simply turn off the film rather than watch it in its entirety. The Third Way has potential to be a strong conversation starter in Catholic parishes about how Catholics could work to address LGBT bullying. However, we are unsure about the film’s effectiveness at presenting a more compassionate view of LGBT people because it reinforces many destructive stereotypes about those who use words like “gay” and “lesbian” to describe their sexual identities.

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21 thoughts on “A Review of The Third Way

  1. I’m going to disagree with your comment about this video being unlikely to change anyone’s minds. I wouldn’t write it off so quickly, I’ve shown it to a few people, and a couple of local churches are planning on showing it to their congregations.

    • We’re glad to hear that you’ve gotten some positive responses when sharing this film with others. Our experience has been exactly the opposite. We would be interested to hear more about how people at those parishes respond after seeing the film.

  2. Thank you very much for your thoughts. I’ve been interested to read reviews from men & women who identify as LGBT Christians. The heartfelt effort that clearly went into the film was encouraging, but it was almost immediately evident that it was striking some tones that implicitly belied the explicit message – though I couldn’t have put them as clearly as you have.

    One area that did stand out clearly for me is the parental issue. While some folks share the experiences named in the film, by not more fully naming that as one experience among many parents watching the film might find themselves unfairly anxious about what they did wrong where no such fault exists.

    Despite its faults, there seems to be great goodwill around this effort. I hope that feedback like yours are heard & taken to heart for future projects – of which I pray there are many.

    • Hello Fr. Maurer. It’s nice to hear from you again! We do think the parental issue and the other subtle claims about the “causes” of homosexuality are the greatest weakness of this film. We also appreciate the effort behind the project and are not aware of many other Christian resources that attempt to discuss a traditional sexual ethic in a positive manner. Yes, we hope there will be many more resources created in the future for beginning helpful conversation about such topics, but the ex-gay tone a lot of these take on needs to change.

    • I am a Baptized, First Communion, and Confirmed lifelong devoted Catholic . My conscience and my conception of who God is came from my own Catholic grandparents, parents, and my upbringing in Catholic grammar, middle school , and high school. I was taught by the Stigmatine Fathers, the Venerini Sisters from grade 1-8, and the Sisters of St Joseph 9-12, with only 2 Catholic lay teacher’s among them. What I’m about to say comes from a varied background of superb Catholic education.

      God didn’t make just ONE sort of anything. Almost every form of life has many different varieties, so it makes no logical sense that anything about human beings would be of just one , very concrete definition. It logically follows that human sexuality is no exception because that’s what we have always observed , especially today with the easy access we have to information. Although not questioning the credibility of the gays and lesbian in this film, their anguish about their orientation is certainly not what we observe from the entire community . As Catholics and as Christians our only interest must be the truths which lead us to the Truth of God concerning LGBT people. We can observe and experience the LGBT community much more than we could at any other time in human history. God is giving us this opportunity to learn not only about them , but also learn more about God. So please ask yourselves this question: Why aren’t we listening to them , all of them , when they are so desperately trying to give us just another piece of the puzzle to God’s artistry?

      What many religions refuse to acknowledge,even though they know better, is that God was extremely artistic and colorful when he made human beings. God didn’t paint us on a 1×1 inch canvas with only one color and one style. Human sexuality and humanity in general is on an enormous canvas of all sorts of beautiful colors and styles…..a masterpiece that reflects God’s own infinite, humanly unimaginable colors and styles. As the Catholic Church beautifully teaches, we are ALL products of “his image and likeness” , and the vastness of the universe and the complexity of life tells us God is anything but plain and simple in anything
      God created ….and continues to create….

      My own personal feeling is that the path this priest clearly mapped out for us in this film , can only close us off to getting even closer to the Truth of God seen in the rich diversity of humanity. The path of this film leads to imprisonment, rather than unlock the doors that lead us to the fullness of who we are as gay people…which lead to heaven …..and to the Light of God.

      I’m not asking anyone to change their mind. Not asking the Church to change doctrine, because in the year 2015 it would be futile to even try. What I am asking is that as a Catholic, LGBT or not, you fully examine your conscience when you consider this teaching, and if you come away with any sort of questionable feelings , or feelings of uneasiness about telling a whole group of people that they , because of their sexuality, must renounce a core part of who they are as people….you may consider what the Church teaches about conscience and what Pope Benedict once said:

      “”Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism”.
      Benedict XVI, 1967

  3. I wanted to give this movie the benefit of the doubt but when a friend of mine who is “struggling with same sex attraction” told me about it, I was instantly suspicious so maybe I didn’t watch it with such an open mind. I heard a lot of ex-gay language and it was exhausting to hear them continually focus on what a horrible life everyone had and that’s why they are gay.

    You two might want to do a bit more research on Fr. Hollowell and his blog. The guy is a homophobe and a bigot. And unfortunately, he represents the Catholic Church. I have some links to some articles with more information about him. Won’t post them here. I’m sure you have already read them but if not, you know how to reach me.

    • Thanks for the info. Neither of us was very familiar with Fr. John Hollowell prior to viewing this film. We took a look at his blog for the first time was we were preparing the review.

      • Hi Dennis, there are other critical reviews of The Third Way that discuss the film from this perspective. Our review is centered on what this resource contributes to the conversation about celibacy as a way of life for LGBT people.

        • It is good to have a conversation, however just to throw around names does not contribute anything to the conversation. My question was to a comment made in the comments by someone.

  4. Hey how do you know this is ex-gay? Nobody said nothing about ex-gay in the movie. You’re giving it a label you want to suit your agenda and that’s no better than Side A.

    • The term “ex-gay” was not used in the video, but if one does a bit of research, it’s easy to find out that almost all the LGBT/same-sex attracted people featured in the video *do* identify as ex-gay in real life. Furthermore, the rhetoric we spoke of in the review is characteristic of the rhetoric found within the ex-gay movement. We are not imposing this label upon anyone: most of the documentary’s participants have chosen it for themselves. Our only agenda in reviewing The Third Way was to evaluate it for what it could potentially offer to celibate LGBT Christians. If you read the full review, you’ll see that we did note positive aspects of the film and ways it might be beneficial to celibate LGBT Christians.

      • Freely chosen celibacy, absolutely. I’m gay and at this time celibate myself. However, you are aware that’s not what the Catholic Church teaches? That celibacy for all gay Catholics in not to be questioned and every gay person, Catholic or otherwise, is to be celibate? Are you aware that Fr Hollowell is not only interested in enforcing this in the Church, but in the entire country as law.

        Have you seen his blog? Have you seen the following comments?

        1)”When homosexual sex is described to people using proper anatomical terms, and when a discussion is had as to the fluids exchanged and so forth, most people are repulsed.”
        2)”heterosexual sex described does not repulse people on anything like the same level that homosexual sex does.”
        3)”there are some bodily fluids involved in male homosexual sex that are not involved in heterosexual sex.”

        I think your somewhat favorable review of his film is the product of your inability to comprehend what he is really trying to do. He has no interest in helping gay people, but rather convince his listeners how morally and sexually sick they are and therefore eradicate them completely.

        Again, celibacy is fine. However, any LGBT person who supports his film also has a hand in causing great suffering for LGBT people, their families, and their friends not only in his immediate area, or possibly not only in the USA, but anyone who watches that film around the world . With all due respect, this review was highly irresponsible and in now way captured the true message of his film

        • I typed fast, sorry for some spelling errors, but I think you got the gist.

          Forgot to mention…his film is also a lie about the diversity of who gay people are. We aren’t all tortured and unhappy because we are gay, and many of us have wonderful , very well adjusted, very fulfilled lives, with marriages and families to call our own. He deliberately failed to present this in order to garner false support for a Church doctrine.

          Ask yourselves this question: How can any Church doctrine be based on the truth of God when the only way to garner support for that doctrine is to lie and misrepresent gay people? To give the impression we are ALL the same.? To ignore the same vast differences that we see among heterosexual people and in humanity in general? To diminish us as “beasts” and sexual perverts?

          I wrote a very long letter to Fr Hollowell which anyone can see among the comments section for his film on You Tube . Posted under Novar 19.

          If you wish, I’d be very happy to copy and paste that letter here, it goes into much greater detail and illustrates his lies in more depth.

          Thank you

          • If your letter is short, feel free to put it in a comment for discussion. If it is lengthy and would not be appropriate for a comment because of its length, you can post a link to it if it is somewhere publicly on the internet. But once again, it’s important to be clear on the fact that our review is not a review of Fr. Hollowell or his ministry, official teachings of the Catholic Church, alternative positions challenging those teachings, or efforts to create celibacy mandates. The purpose of our initial post was to review the resource for those who might find parts of it useful.

        • Hi Novar. Thanks for your comment. We are not unaware of Fr. Hollowell’s position, and we disagree with you that our review is irresponsible. We gave a balanced review of the strong and weak points of the film, and the purpose of the review was to evaluate the film as a potential resource for celibate LGBTQ Christians. For that purpose, the film has some value. Not sure how you’ve come to see this review as “favorable.” Of course you’re free to disagree with us, but we stand by our review. There were many things we didn’t like about the film, but that does not make the whole film worthless.

          • If his film was a documentary about only those interviewed and it was made clear it was only about them and not the entire gay and lesbian community, then maybe it may have had some worth. That was not his intention nor the purpose of his film.

            Of course you have a right to your opinion. Mine is that any film that is based on deceit and deliberately misrepresents gays and lesbians for the purpose of taking away their right to marriage equality within the law, has zero value….and consequently becomes worthless. More importantly, the fact that deceit was involved in this film, makes it immoral and not Christian

            I do appreciate your time . Thank you for answering, and no I’ve changed my mind and don’t wish to communicate with you further .

  5. I take deep,exception to the generalization that all queers have had an empty, shallow and/or troubled life. My life has been rich in love within my family and among my friends, both gay and straight. However, the biggest irritant is the assumption that because someone is a sexual minority they must live as a Celibate. I have deep respect for those who are called to a celibate life, but it is a vocation, not something that can be imposed for unrelated matters. I do not have a call to celibate life.

    God has blessed me with a wonderful man as my husband. Unfortunately he has been so burned by his experience within the RC church that he will not participate in that institution. He has a rich prayer life, considers Jesus to be his saviour, and is a thoroughly loving individual seeking to embody the teaching of our Lord. The institution is still saying, we will accept you, even love you, but it must be on our terms. It is time for the church in its many forms, to recognize that following Jesus does not mean agreeing about everything. We are all Abba’s children redeemed, and sanctified by the Holy source of all.

    • We also take exception to the stereotypes of LGBTQ individuals. We don’t presume to know the ins and outs of another person’s spiritual journey. Our reviews are always written in an attempt to answer what does this resource have to offer LGBT Christians who are living celibacy or exploring the possibility of celibacy. We do hope some of our observations from this lens are useful for people who don’t feel like we’re writing to them and their specific situation.

      • Thank you both for your blog. My first exposure was the above item posted on another site in England. (Tho I am Canadian). As an Anglican, or Episcopalian as you may be more familiar with, we have celibates as well. I have friends who live as celibate priests in parish or other work as well as in convents and monasteries. I have deep admiration and thankfulness for their ministries. However, it has been one of those things that I have just accepted and never really delved into the kind of reflections you are engaging on your site. I have never been subject to the kind of misconceptions you wrote about but do know they exist and am grateful for the articulation you provided. I have been binging on your entries and again thank you for your work.

        Your entry about economic issues is very thought provoking and I look forward to your further development of this matter. I too was a working class kid and it took my father many years after his military service in WWII to get to the point of stable work and income. As as Yorkshireman, (his nickname was Yorkey) he had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the church, but given the opportunity, he could have and, I think, should have been ordained. Instead he was sent to the coal mines at 12 to help the family income. He didn’t live long enough to attend my ordination but I was assured by a priest mentor that he would have been proud as punch but probably never would have said so. Culture is a funny thing. Preparing for orders in the 60’s, I really never thought I would have much in the way of financial security but believed that my parents had taught me well about how to live on limited means.

        Your life together sounds like that kind of measured financial resources enriched by a deep love for God and each other. Blessings on your life and vocation.

        • We’re glad that you’ve found us! Feel free to comment on any post, and we’ll happily continue the conversation.

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