Fostering Civil Conversations about LGBT People and the Church

We are grateful to our collaborators for this post: David Romano, Erik, Bill, Alison, and one other friend who wishes to remain anonymous.

Here at A Queer Calling, we work very hard to foster civil conversation about LGBT Christians. One of the first things we did when we started our blog was to author our comment policy. We know that comment boxes on the internet can make people seriously question the future of humanity, especially when contentious topics are being discussed. Since we value vulnerability and hospitality, we wanted a comment policy that helps people get over their understandable fear of the combox.

We recently tweeted:

It is completely, absolutely, totally, and entirely true that we welcome all people to leave us comments. We have especially enjoyed thoughtful challenge from people who disagree with us, even going so far to say that respectful disagreement is one of the ways we feel affirmed. However, we’ve noticed some differences in how various ideological camps have decided to engage with us as bloggers. We wonder who is on the other side of the search engine when we see that people have found is with search terms like: “Are Sarah and Lindsey of A Queer Calling really celibate?” “A Queer Calling are they really gay or straight people trying to fool Side A people,” “Are Lindsey and Sarah of A Queer Calling really orthodox?” “A Queer Calling self hating gays,” and “Lindsey and Sarah gay does their priest know.” What strikes us about these questions is that they are clearly asking something about the two of us but the searcher seemingly values asking the hive mind of an internet search engine more than contacting us directly.

We’ve received some correspondence from more conservative readers that indicates fear of getting shouted down by more liberal readers for whom the ship on LGBT Christian issues has already sailed full-steam ahead to complete affirmation of same-sex marriage. We wonder if people feel more comfortable having these discussions when everyone present basically agrees theologically and politically. If everyone gathered has come to modern liberal conclusions about sexual ethics, then it’s easier to decry those who hold traditional conservative conclusions as “out of touch” (if you’re among a reasonably polite group) or heartless hypocrites with no awareness of how the LGBT community suffers from soul-crushing oppression. We’ve noticed a breakdown of civility on both sides when people assume at the outset of the conversation that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant or malicious.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to see what happens when people move a conversation that started somewhere else into purposes that suit the sensibilities of their own camps. We had published a post where we discussed the question, “How would you suggest that Christian traditions respond to LGBT people who have given their all to celibacy only to see it fail them?” Another blogger, Daniel Mattson, quoted from our post and added significant spin that misrepresented the intention of our original post entirely. Another writer, Austin Ruse of Crisis Magazine, picked up on that blogger’s themes. Some other celibate, LGBT, Christians who are our friends recognized the quote as being from our blog, which is how we found out that we had been misrepresented. When we found these articles, we published our initial response. We and our friends were amazed at how quickly the conversation our post had tried to start became less than civil. We all noticed how both writers seemed to be making demands that celibate, LGBT, Christians should “stop whining” and “man up.” The more we’ve thought about this incident, we have realized that it’s not an isolated event. The blogosphere is extremely contentious when it comes to LGBT people and the Church, where similar patterns continue to repeat themselves. Several of our friends wanted to provide their own responses to those who feel qualified to give such orders to others just outside of their ideological camp. Therefore, we decided to give some space here at A Queer Calling in an attempt to add more voices to the conversation about how to foster civil discourse about LGBT people and the Church.

On the internet, it is really easy to bully. The internet affords bullies a range of tools. A person can successfully move a conversation into his or her own ideological camp and attempt to isolate it by not providing a link to the original source. It becomes easy for readers to take authors out of context when this happens. In thinking about one of the aforementioned articles, Erik reflects: “I might address the academic failures of the article – Ruse doesn’t properly cite the quotes he uses, thus denying his reader to explore the original context of the quote in full & demonstrating poor editorial practice.”

Additionally, an author can package condescending messages in a multitude of forms. Bill comments, “Instead, in pundit like tones, they have introduced a new unhelpful conversation, with new loaded terminology like ‘new homophiles’ — a quick and easy way to lump, categorize, and demonize without encountering anyone in the spirit of truth.”

One celibate, LGBT Christian we talked with who wishes to remain anonymous shared:

“I felt my nerves get on edge a bit and my heart crumbles when I read statements made by Mattson and Ruse that lacked empathy; I felt shame after seeing the Han Solo eye roll photo insert and the crying baby. Why did it affect me that way? I am not the person whom it is directed at but I can relate. I felt bad for those it was aimed at. Writing like that instills condescension towards ‘the other.’  How can it not be meant to injure? Although the written word is only ink on paper it can be a wielded sword in the blogosphere world.  And it reminds me of bullies on the playground.”

When people are bullied, they often have to convince themselves that they have a story worth sharing. Alison asks, “My question for Mattson is: Are you saying that I should stop opening up to other Christians about my struggles? Are you saying they should stop opening up to me? We should just assume that others have a greater cross without talking with each other about those crosses?”

Many people can exaggerate and misrepresent what a particular Christian tradition teaches about LGBT people. It is no secret that many Christians traditions have confusing and possibly less than charitable teachings about LGBT people. There are many official documents from several traditions that people can quote in order to shout down the voices of LGBT people and their allies. However, it is also possible to go beyond the meaning a particular teaching. David Romano, a Roman Catholic, highlights the way that authors can contort the official teachings of his Christian tradition in order to weaponize them:

“I accept that homosexuality is ‘disordered,’ meaning outside of God’s natural law, and that I am to remain single and chaste. I have no objections to these positions at all. What I object to, however, is a blogger or writer who refers to me as ‘evil,’ The Catholic Church does not believe I am evil; the Catholic Church specifically states in the Catechism that those with same-sex attractions are to be treated with dignity and respect. Referring to my orientation as ‘evil’ and suggesting that “manning up” means sitting in a corner and not discussing my personal struggles is hardly respectful.”

Entrenched ideological divides can make it difficult, even impossible, for people to share legitimate concerns about the status quo. When it comes to questions about LGBT people and the Church, we are often talking about the status of things in the present moment. Many times, people sharing about how they have been hurt by the church find unexpected points of connection with others, with concerns both near and far to LGBT Christians.

Like other members of the Church, many celibate, LGBT Christians want to be there when people are experiencing pain. Alison notes:

“When I have said ‘I felt like there was no place for me in the Church,’ the response has often been, ‘Me too!’ from every orientation. The response has been an embrace of one another. Mattson is correct in saying ‘Who HASN’T felt lost in the Church at some point in their lives?’ What I don’t understand is why he thinks we (all the Christians who talk about these struggles, not just gays) are ‘whining’ when we mention this incredibly formative, incredibly common experience. Does Mattson think gay Christians are the only ones talking about this experience? I recently heard nearly those exact same words from the mother of a child with a sensory disorder. The child has a hard time with the Divine Liturgy, and she felt like there was no place in the Church for her family. She felt like others were judging her for leaving early with her son or not attending at all, like she’d be given an attendance mandate, and no support in fulfilling it. If anyone called that conversation ‘whining’ or told her that she should just assume that everyone has a greater cross to bear, I’d be livid with that person. She was sharing a piece of her heart with me. If she hadn’t told me how the church could be more supportive of disabled children and their parents, how would I know what she would find encouraging and supportive?”

Bill reflects, “It is unfortunate that people such as Mr. Ruse or Mr. Mattson end up distorting and reducing to stock characters the very people who would likely agree with them the most if they were just comparing doctrinal and moral notes apart from spin.”

Our respondent who wishes to remain anonymous noted, “Unfortunately fighting will continue to be a problem as long as there are bullies and audiences.”

Lack of civil conversation with one another implies we can forget that the Church is, by nature, a communal organism. Erik states:

“There is a deeper problem in Mr. Ruse’s entire line of thinking that I feel compelled to address: his understanding of the nature of the Church community. It concerns me, deeply, and for matters entirely unrelated to the particular topic of homosexuality, that Mr. Ruse seems to argue that folks ought not discuss or share the nature of the cross they carry. It is unclear whether he thinks only Gay Catholics should, or everyone with a cross should – he cites the example of an unmarried woman in his parish who doesn’t complain about her singleness, so it may be that Mr. Ruse would simply prefer if everyone stopped complaining.”

As the Body of Christ, we are called to be mindful of everyone in our midst. After all, we are to mourn with those who mourn. Paul exhorts us to not be proud, but to be willing to associate ourselves with people in low positions. Part of finding ourselves in Christ is uniting our sufferings to His and to one another. Alison shares:

“My vlog has attracted several porn addicted straight men contacting me for support in facing their struggles. They contact me privately and ask me to pray for them. I go a few steps further, and connect them with resources for porn addiction and communities which focus on supporting those with this specific struggle. I can’t imagine their struggle, I’m glad they have a community to share their struggle with. I’m glad that they share their struggle with me, and I feel honored to pray for them. When they talk about how I can be more supportive of them in their struggle against sin, I listen.”

Erik reminds us:

“Community falls apart as people become more apathetic and disinterested in fixing parish churches. They do not participate in community functions, they do not send their children to religious education programs, and they do not know the people they’re sitting next to in the Church…. But if you value the community of the Church, if you care about our unity in Christ, if you care that Christ shared in your sins so that you may be free of them, then perhaps you might consider letting Gay Catholics have their seat at the table, and listening to their sufferings. I’d be willing to bet they want to listen to your sufferings, as well, and maybe, just maybe, lift you up in prayer. Maybe, when all is said and done, Gay Catholics just want the Church to be a real community.”

We’ve noticed that the internet can be a powerful tool for building community, even in areas filled with the most tension, but only when discourse remains civil. Civil conversation remains courteous while simultaneously allowing space for everyone and their concerns. In the Church, it’s important that we have space to listen to people who are in pain and are hurting. In so doing, we can help bear one another’s burdens while continuing our collective journey towards Christ.

We would like to close today’s post by reiterating Alison’s questions: “Why should we stop sharing each other’s burdens? Why should we stopping encouraging one-another? Why should we stop being a part of each other’s lives? Did I miss something?”

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.