Saturday Symposium: Are “Third Way” Approaches Even Possible?

Greetings, readers! Thanks once again for a great week of comments, feedback, and discussion. As usual, we’re a bit behind on email. We’ve received more this week than ever before in a single week! Later today, we will also be responding to comments on this week’s blog posts. Up to this point, we haven’t had much time to do that because Lindsey has been at a series of all-day job trainings and Sarah has been busily working on the doctoral dissertation. But no matter how busy we are, we do look forward to reading your comments, interacting with you on Twitter, and responding to your questions.

Let’s get to today’s Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: We decided upon this week’s question after receiving a significant amount of feedback on Lindsey’s reflection Some Thoughts about “Third Way” Churches. Some readers expressed uncertainty about whether Third Way approaches to issues of sexuality would have any possibility of working within conservative churches. We received many questions along the lines of, “Isn’t a Third Way just asking everyone to give up their convictions and say, ‘I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all relativists?'” We have some thoughts on this matter, but would be interested in hearing from more of you. Do you think Third Way approaches necessarily require Christians with more conservative sexual ethics to give up their beliefs? Is there any kind of Third Way approach that might be equally fair to both conservative and progressive Christians on this matter? Are Third Way approaches more possible within some Christian traditions than others?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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.

12 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Are “Third Way” Approaches Even Possible?

  1. Totally get the “behind on email” thing…. me too!

    I loved your gravatar post! It made me smile. Lindsey, I’m an introvert, too, and that hamster comic is the best thing EVER.

    Is there any kind of Third Way approach that might be equally fair to both conservative and progressive Christians on this matter? Are Third Way approaches more possible within some Christian traditions than others?

    I am new at this, so I’m not sure my opinion counts for all that much, but I just think a really successful Third Way, successful to the point of not still actually offending LGBT people with ignorance and unconscious bias, is incredibly hard to maintain. As long as the issue is comparatively hypothetical–which it was for me, for most of my sheltered, homeschooled, never-even-worked-in-a-truly-secular-workplace life–you can hold onto your morals and yet show love, but you’re going to make some mistakes and cause offense, just because you’re not close enough to the community to know what you don’t know, as it were.

    Once you’re looking into the face of someone you love so much you can’t imagine wanting to change them, the showing-love part becomes easy–but holding onto the moral ideals can become excruciatingly difficult. If my whole life weren’t likely to come apart if I left the Church, I’m honestly not sure if I could’ve stayed, and it continues to be a struggle.

    Granted, “incredibly difficult” is not the same thing as “impossible.”

    • We’re glad you like the hamster comic. We have so many laughs together about the care and feeding of introverts.

      We appreciate you drawing a distinction between “incredibly difficult” and “impossible.” There’s so much work to be done to correct various misconceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Lindsey keeps reflecting to learning about racial reconciliation, where it was important for white people to reflect on how they understood the shared experience of whiteness. It’s important for people in any majority position to reflect on their own experiences. In the case of LGBT issues, it’s important for straight, cisgender people to reflect on what it means for them to have a sexual orientation and a gender identity.

      • Thanks! You’re so right about all the work to be done–I feel the weight of that, and will do my level best to be part of it–and about the importance of reflection. I’ve got some serious catch-up work to do in that latter regard, too. Thanks for being part of that, and for letting me come and work out all my volatile, developing emotions in your combox. 🙂

  2. As a devout Catholic, my position is clear. The Church teaches that homosexuality as the predisposition to same sex attraction is not sinful. It is considered disordered in the sense that acting out this attraction, ie, engaging in homosexual acts will not serve the primary objective purpose of sex which is to cooperate with God in the creation of new life and therefore homosexual acts become sinful.

    Opposite sex attraction is not sinful. It is however not disordered as acting out this desire will serve the purpose of procreating new life. BUT, heterosexual acts are moral only if the couple and their relationship are blessed in the sacrament of matrimony; otherwise sexual acts are sinful.

    Having said that, how do we then treat homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexuals couples?

    First, they are always welcome and encouraged to continue to be active in the parish community and religious activities.

    Second, they should be offered pastoral counselling and reminded of the teachings of the church on homosexual relations and adulterous relations. They should be encouraged to amend their lives and avail of the sacrament of reconciliation, otherwise they should refrain from receiving holy communion.

    Note that Catholics who are publicly known (‘public sinners’) to live opposed to the teachings of the church and are considered in the state of mortal sin are treated in this same way – homosexual couples, unmarried heterosexual couples, divorced-remarried couples, abortion-contraceptives users/advocates, etc.

    Our duty (debt of love) to our neighbors is to help them lead a holy life and attain eternal life. How we treat ‘public sinners’ must always be based on this.

    For Catholics, therefore, there is no need for a third way.

    • I’m afraid I may have to disagree with you. I was recently in a conversation with a Catholic about celibate LGBT Catholics, and he was almost unbelievably cruel and insulting in the way he spoke about LGBT people, including celibate ones. Among other things (such as very liberally using the term “mentally ill”), he told me that anyone who used the words “LGBT” or “gay” or “lesbian” to describe themselves instead of “same sex attracted” wasn’t really Catholic, and was in rebellion against the church, regardless of whether they were celibate/chaste. I’m not Catholic myself- but if what he said was accurate, then the Catholic church badly needs a third way (and even if what he said was not accurate, then the Catholic church still needs a third way, because clearly there are people who are very confused about what the sin in question actually is).

      • I’m so sorry that that person spoke so hatefully. I think you are right; there is a lot of confusion amongst conservative Catholics about what homosexuality is and how to go about welcoming LGBTQ people and loving them

        • If Catholics will only read carefully the Catechism (available at and in many other sites just by googling it), they will find paragraphs 2357-2359 explain the official stand of the Church.

          Furthermore, good Catholics, instead of harboring hatred, anger, disdain towards those they feel are living in violation of the church doctrines, offer prayers, sacrifices, Masses, Rosaries as instructed by the Blessed Virgin Mary in many of her apparitions (Fatima, Garabandal, Lourdes) for their conversion.

          • You’re right; the Catechism does explain the official stance of the Church in regards to homosexuality, and I’m not here to argue against that stance.

            My point is simply that I agree with teleogram; there is confusion among conservative, NFP-using, pope-loving, well-meaning Catholics about how to live out paragraphs 2357-2359 practically. This is not the first time I’ve heard of a devout Catholic who exhibits a homophobic attitude.

            I think the confusion stems from emphasizing ‘intrinsically disordered’ instead of ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

            The Church has explained the stance, but we, the Church, are not living up to it.

          • There is often a real breakdown between talk and action. From our reading about Third Way approaches, they seem to emphasize the importance of getting to know where people are coming from and taking a more humble stance to spiritual direction. The three paragraphs of the Catholic Catechism pose enough paradoxes where it is good to acknowledge the difficulties. Claire, you’ve said it well by highlighting the importance of ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

  3. I’d like to take a crack at this even though my understanding of Third Way approaches is limited. I don’t hold a conservative sexual ethic so I thought of my friends who do hold traditional beliefs and are active in their churches, primarily Catholic, and thought about our relationships. What jumped out at me is that, well, I guess we have Third Way friendships. In our friendships I don’t require their affirmation of my LGBT status, or my partnered relationship, just acknowledgement that I am gay, that my relationship exists and that I see both as positive things. Likewise, they ask that I understand their beliefs, and the value they put on those beliefs. Of course the gift of friendship means that as friendship grows, both sides of the relationship extend our appreciation and valuing well beyond what is asked of each other. The key there is gift offered, not an expectation required.

    It’s easy for me to abstract from this to how a church might pick up Third Way practices, if I think of the Church from a bottoms-up view as a community of belief, people, the Body of Christ. The starting point is acknowledgement, meeting people where they are, with acknowledgement being a two-way street. The most hopeful thing about this idea is that it would seem to provide a place for something to grow. What distinguishes this approach from “affirming” is that it employs a forcing function of engagement toward dialog that is more dynamic than just static affirmation before moving on. Acknowledgement is not a judgment or condoning, so I don’t think this approach requires a traditional believer to forsake beliefs in order to be welcoming, but I’m opinionating on that from the cheap seats. I continue to listen to understand better why this is so threatening to some, because I very clearly hear that it is.

    I know my friends individually operate on a Third Way basis, as I understand the term, in their own parishes. I can think of a couple of area parishes that maybe flirt with some of these ideas. But this is spitting in the Roman Catholic ocean. I have experienced that tradition as much more weighted toward a top-down definition of Church as institution rather than bottoms-up experience of community, and find Kasoy’s translation of the RC pastoral approach to LGBT members to be accurate. Church guidance rightly asserts a prerogative to deny roles of service to those that violate Church teaching, but in practice I’ve seen it applied as a blanket mandate. More damaging in my view is the guidance that one’s “homosexual tendencies” be shared only with close intimates and kept out of the view of public parish life. These two pieces of guidance in practice lead to identification of “public sinners”, and encourages people who are only too willing to offer counseling and reinforce teachings, with precious little listening going on. I don’t think the atmosphere is very conducive to Third Way approaches, and that saddens me.

    • Hi Kacy, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful reply. Lindsey felt like you really nailed it talking about the importance of friendship. Perhaps it’s best to discuss “The Third Way” as the Way of Authentic Friendship.

    • Kacy, as an (hetero, cis) RC with LGBT friends, I strongly appreciated your thoughtful (and breathtakingly non-antagonistic) comment. It gave me some hope. I have been walking the precipice this spring, on the point of flinging myself off into plain agnosticism, because I’ve been on the receiving end of Christian judgment myself, and I simply won’t be part of it. I won’t.

      Between Pope Francis and the existence of some of us who are sick to death of culture wars, I’m hopeful that under the huge amount of ghettoized defensiveness and emphatic orthodoxy that is still the side of the wall that faces the world, things are quietly beginning to change toward a stronger emphasis on “accepting with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and “avoiding every hint of unjust discrimination.” The Church may not change, but she may develop, and she desperately needs to.

      I wholeheartedly agree with this:

      Church guidance rightly asserts a prerogative to deny roles of service to those that violate Church teaching [I’d strictly limit this to public teaching roles, myself–there should be places where anyone and everyone can serve] , but in practice I’ve seen it applied as a blanket mandate. More damaging in my view is the guidance that one’s “homosexual tendencies” be shared only with close intimates and kept out of the view of public parish life. These two pieces of guidance in practice lead to identification of “public sinners”, and encourages people who are only too willing to offer counseling and reinforce teachings, with precious little listening going on.

      And if being one little ally in the Church can help change those guidances and practices, I’m in. If not, it will be awfully hard for me to live out the rest of my life as a Christian.

      Best wishes to you and yours for all your happiness.

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