We don’t want to make a habit of posting on Sundays, but late Saturday evening we found ourselves needing to work ourselves out of an emotional funk. This post is our best attempt at that.
For LGBT Christians, the news cycle can be vicious. Many media outlets are primed to look for any way particular churches may be increasingly open to people in same-sex relationships. Last summer, World Vision made news in Protestant circles when it briefly signaled a move toward potentially hiring Christians in same-sex marriages. This week, controversy has abounded after a mid-term report from the Synod on the Family signaled that the Roman Catholic Church might shift to more welcoming language regarding gay people. We, like many people in the English-speaking world, were rather astonished to see a Catholic document that said,
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
Fast forward to just a few hours ago, and it became clear that many bishops viewed the welcoming language as inviting too much compromise of Catholic teachings on marriage and family. Even though our Italian isn’t that great, it seems that the newly ratified document treats the mere presence of LGBT people as a challenge to the family. According to the approved version, some perfectly faithful families headed by married heterosexual people may have to deal with the presence of a gay person in the family…and that’s pretty much it. The new document does not have any words for LGBT people themselves. It seems talking directly to LGBT people is just too scandalous. Apparently, it requires much less trouble to talk to their parents who have the parental obligation of staying close to their wayward children. And of course, the Roman Catholic Church will be there to help the prodigals “move beyond the confines of the homosexual label to a more complete identity in Christ” provided that the prodigals are willing to take Step 1 of admitting they were powerless over homosexuality.
We’re not writing this post because we have a horse in the race when it comes to LGBT Catholic issues. Though Sarah was once a member of the Roman Catholic Church, we are not Catholic. But we do feel a great deal of solidarity with our friends having to make the choice about whether and where they’re attending Mass tomorrow. Honestly, most of the time when we see this much news coverage about LGBT people in the Church, we decide it would be a great week to visit a different parish even though our specific Christian tradition rarely makes headlines. However, today we’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the reality that we’ll be with our home congregation tomorrow. We’re serving coffee hour, and we both felt knots in our stomachs this Saturday as we made plans for our chicken pot pie, lasagna, and chocolate chip cookies.
Coffee hour is always tricky for us. We’ve grown accustomed to it being a staging area for a number of folks deeply involved in culture war issues. The hour right after Liturgy can be challenging even during tame news cycles. This week, it’s been nearly impossible to find anywhere in the English-speaking world that does not have all eyes fixed on Rome. [We would have preferred joining one of our Twitter followers and spending the week brushing up on our Spanish instead.] But given the conversation we know we’ll observe this Sunday, we can’t decide what scenario would be worse: 1) rantings about the Vatican being on the verge of radical apostasy for including a paragraph that welcomes gay people specifically, or 2) proclamations of relief that the Vatican’s courageous conservative bishops saved the Catholic Church from heretical teachings on sexuality. We’re bracing ourselves for a good dose of the latter because one hears everything when one serves coffee hour. Of course, Sarah might be somewhat fortunate to have a low hearing day, or conveniently forgetting hearing aids is a strong temptation…
Or we might have another day like Saturday where Sarah wakes up with some intense vertigo and other symptoms. Meniere’s disease is extremely unpredictable. But, no matter what happens, we’ve decided that Lindsey will certainly be at church. After all, it’s our turn to serve coffee hour.
Sometimes, deciding to go to church requires a whole heap of grit and determination. It’s especially hard to go to church on days when we feel the weight of having to police our language. We avoid certain topics of conversation altogether. Some members of our parish seem absolutely scandalized to know that after coffee hour, we’ll be going home (or somewhere else) together rather than going our separate ways as single people do. Around the holidays, we see a fair amount of awkward blushing from folks who ask us about travel. When we say, “This year, we’re heading to Minnesota to see Lindsey’s family,” instead of telling them that we each have individual plans, they never know how to reply. Very often, church people will end an interaction with us by stammering something like, “You two are really good friends to each other,” as if to assure themselves that there’s nothing especially meaningful about our relationship. A few readers on the blog have suggested that by claiming to be partners, we devalue the term “friendship.” But at coffee hour, we’re reminded every week that when people refer to us as friends it’s usually not because of a willingness to honor the beauty of love between friends — it’s to downplay the idea that our relationship has any sort of significance beyond “close roommates.”
During coffee hour, the two of us face similar yet different sets of problems. Lindsey, whose physical appearance pings straight people’s gaydars without fail, experiences universally awkward interactions with culture warriors. Sarah, whose appearance is very traditionally feminine, experiences the frustration of being viewed as any other member of the parish until Lindsey pulls up a chair and sits next to Sarah. Though it’s not always direct, there’s an impulse among our fellow parishioners to “protect” the Church from public sinners, and coming up against that every week is exhausting. Part of the reason it’s exhausting is that heterosexual people at our church tend to treat all other heterosexual people as though their virtuousness can be assumed. Being in an environment where one is not heterosexual and is therefore assumed to be a public sinner becomes taxing. Oftentimes, we wonder if there’s anything we could possibly do that would lead the skeptics to see anything even slightly virtuous in our relationship. All of this becomes heightened each time the news cycle includes extensive coverage of controversies involving LGBT Christians.
If you’re wondering at this point why we don’t just leave our Christian tradition and join an Open and Affirming denomination, read this post where we’ve already answered that question. As for this Sunday (and we hope all Sundays in the future), we have decided to go to church. No matter what will await us at coffee hour, we plan to wake up in the morning and join the other members of our parish for Liturgy because we — sinners, public and private — are all the Body of Christ. We will go to church because always and especially at times as uncertain as these, we have a desperate need to receive grace through the sacraments. We need the peace and wholeness that only Christ himself can offer, and challenging as it is to commune with people who find our presence inconvenient at best and scandalizing at worst, every soul who stands before the altar needs God’s love just as much as we do. When we go to church, we are faced with the reality that — in the words of Dorothy Day — “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” And after Liturgy has ended, the food has been blessed, cups are filled, and conversation starts to get messier than the dishes, we will do the same as we do every sixth Sunday: we will serve coffee hour.
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After writing this post, we noticed that it fit nicely into the theme of Coming/Going of the Queer Theology Synchroblog.