Saturday Symposium: Terminology and the Gay/Straight Gap

Happy Saturday! We’d like to extend a special welcome to our new readers and commenters. There has been an incredible amount of conversation this week! We hope that you’ve enjoyed the conversations as much as we have.

Pausing for a brief administrative moment, we wanted to let you know we’ve changed our comment settings so comments nest 5 deep. We made this decision because we wanted to improve readability. We’d encourage you to use the comment box at the end of the page should you find yourself lacking a Reply button on a particular comment.

It’s time for us to ask our 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: This week, we have had many conversations about how the church welcomes gay people. Our most discussed post was our response to Fr. Dwight Longenecker. We especially appreciated this comment from Will Duquette, in which Will shares that his dominant experience of gay people comes from media reporting on activists working to shut down florists and bakeries. We wanted to open a conversation about how people experience words like gay, straight, LGBT, same-gender loving, homosexual, same-sex attracted, transgender, cisgender, and the gender binary. How can you have respectful conversations with a person who experiences these terms radically differently than you do? What strategies have you found helpful in bridging gaps in understanding? What kinds of things widen the gaps? 

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.

To my friends at my baptismal parish

A reflection by Lindsey

I always start thinking about my baptism in October. I was baptized in my current Christian tradition on 31 October 2009. It’s a movie that I can replay in color immediately as I start reflecting on it. I invited friends from virtually every season of my life. It was an incredible day, and I’m immensely grateful of how God graced me with community, hope, and Himself in the sacraments.

Over the course of the last few days, many friends from my baptismal parish have gotten in touch with me. They’ve seen our posts about how we’ve been welcomed in our church here; and they’ve been contacting me to tell me that they’re sorry Sarah and I are having to endure these things. Some have even made their first comments on the blog in an effort to show me that they love me and that they want to support me, Sarah, and the relationship we have together.

To my friends at my baptismal parish: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry because I had no idea how to share my celibate vocation with you. I’m sorry that when you now click on my Facebook profile, you can see that I’ve shared every post we’ve ever published on A Queer Calling. Until today, I had the vast majority of you on a special Facebook list in order to try and preserve my privacy. I’m sorry for determining that I’d be taking far too great a risk if I shared our writing here with you.

I’ve decided to write to you today because some of you took the bold step of reaching out to me before I reached out to you. You could tell that I was struggling to figure out how to get myself to church on Sunday, and you reached out to me. Even though we’re separated by hundreds of miles, you managed to reach out and touch my heart. Thank you.

I’m sorry I’ve been so terribly gun shy about discussing my sexuality, my vocation, and my relationship with Sarah. I’ve taken to hiding in a hermetically-sealed cage because I have come to expect “welcomes” like the one I received on Sunday. I hid because I was afraid. I was afraid that the moment I actually confirmed the rumors that I am, in fact, a part of the LGBT community, I would be asked to leave the physical premises of most churches. I’ve developed a lot of coping strategies for when Christians discuss LGBT people as Public Enemy #1 or that it’s impossible to be gay and Christian. I’m constantly afraid that if Christians see me doing anything to help other LGBT people deepen their relationship with Christ, then they will demand that priests deal with me swiftly and decisively. The walls have been up for a reason, but I’m so grateful for every small way you’ve tried to edge just a bit closer to me.

Writing to you today is hard. So many priests have cautioned me against ever saying anything remotely public about my sexuality lest I cause a scandal. However, some of you have arrived at the doorstep of our comment boxes only to assure me of your prayers, love, and support. I hope I’m right in guessing that you’ve already let the cat out of the proverbial bag. I keep trying to take big deep breaths to reassure myself that some of you have commented on the blog precisely because you’re trying to let me know that I can reach back. But I’m scared, terrified even, because I’ve been told, time and time again, that I need to be incredibly cautious when I talk about these topics.

<Exhale. Deep breath. It’s going to be okay.>

I’m a celibate LGBT Christian who is one-half of a celibate LGBT couple.

I’m writing to you today because I want you to know that, yes, you actually do know someone who is LGBT and striving to cultivate a celibate vocation. I’ve learned so much about my vocation by watching how you live your lives. I’m still asking God for the grace necessary to run the race set before me; I’d covet your prayers. I know you are praying for me because you reached out to me before I reached out to you. I’ve been trying actively to keep my writing from some of you; however, you still found your way here, and I’m grateful.

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.


Welcoming Gays: A Response to Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Yesterday, Fr. Dwight Longenecker published a post called “Welcoming Gays: How Do I Do That?” We appreciate how he used a question mark in his title, and we hope he won’t mind us giving some honest feedback about welcoming LGBT people in Christian communities. Our goal in writing this post is to make some concrete suggestions about things pastors can actually do. Yesterday’s post had a reasonable litany of things best avoided.

When we welcome people, we usually want to know their names. We want to know them personally. It’s hard to feel welcome when people aren’t willing to come up to you, shake your hand, tell you their names, and ask you yours. On a similar note, welcoming a group of people means respecting how they see themselves as a group. We’ve known many a confirmation class from the United Methodist Church that has visited parishes within our Christian tradition as a part of their faith formation. We are always incredibly excited and supportive when our clergy decide to host a forum for these visitors after services to help them make sense of what they’ve seen in the Liturgy. In doing this, we’re treating them as candidates for confirmation in the United Methodist Church. There would be some differences in the ways our parishes would welcome an inquirer who is considering converting, a parishioner’s parents who are visiting from out of town, or visitors who are part of our tradition but come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

If you want to welcome gays, it’s important to know and respect what the word gay means within the LGBT community. Specifically, the word gay is “a word describing a man or a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to members of the same sex.” We deliberately took this definition from the Human Rights Campaign’s Glossary of Terms because we wanted to use a definition from clearly within the LGBT community. If we look at the American Psychological Association’s website, we’d see sexual orientation defined as, “an often enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions of men to women or women to men (heterosexual), of women to women or men to men (homosexual), or by men or women to both sexes (bisexual).” It’s important to note that within the LGBT community, LGBT modifies people and homosexual modifies sexual orientation. Swapping the modifiers to get homosexual person is indicative that the person doing the labeling is using a clinical definition of homosexuality.

Fr. Longenecker, people who are gay cannot be described accurately as: “those who are sexually active and committed not only to sexual relations with a person of the same sex, but also to what might be called ‘gay activism’. In other words, their ‘gayness’  is more than sexual activity. It also involves political activism and an ideological stance.” Equating being gay with engaging in specific forms of political activism makes it easy for conservative Christians to assume that every LGBT person is a menace to congregations and must be opposed at all costs. When parishes perceive LGBT people as a carriers of a social plague, they’re just as likely to welcome an LGBT person at church as they are to let an Ebola patient hang out with them at home. And we know that Catholics are taking in the families of Ebola patients: Catholics help people because Catholics are Catholic, not because these families are necessarily Catholic.

If you want to welcome gays, it’s best to use language that is not deliberately inflammatory. Talk to LGBT people about the Gospel; about Christ; about His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Talk to us about love and sacrifice, grace and truth, mercy and justice. Teach us how to pray, to fast, to feast, to serve, to worship. Guide us as we seek to follow Christ and to grow in our understanding of him. Hear our confessions. Sin is not a dirty word, but please do not assume that you know our sins before we tell you. Resist the urge to say, “The gay lifestyle is repugnant to any right thinking Catholic. The gay ideology is anti-Catholic and the gay manifesto is manifestly un Christian.” As LGBT people, we’re really confused about what you mean by “the gay ideology” and “the gay manifesto.” And honestly, publicly describing the lifestyle of any and all gay people as repugnant isn’t exactly going to offer us any assurance that we will be greeted with a handshake if we have the guts to walk through the door of your parish. Please know that we’re not crying “Persecution!” We’re concerned that people in your parish will take it upon themselves to speculate and query about how we’re abominations before God.

If you want to welcome gays, affirm where you see goodness within us. So many LGBT people have been called “repugnant” by Christians that it can be hard for us to see ourselves as “first and foremost brothers and sisters, fellow human beings created in the image of God and therefore good and precious eternal souls.” Many Christians treat us like we’re part of “certain pressure groups” out to get the Church to “change her basic stance on homosexuality.” We’d love the opportunity to be people who are assumed to enter the door in good faith. It’s really fantastic when pastors take time to say something positive they see in our spiritual lives.

If you want to welcome gays, be willing to listen to our stories of how we have been hurt by pastors and other Christians. We honestly wish it were true that in most churches “the homosexual person is welcomed without prejudice if he or she truly wants to be part of the family of faith.” Surveys indicate that while over 70 percent of gay adults identify some connection to Christianity, 42 percent don’t attend church. We find this incredibly sad. Many LGBT people have grown up hearing that it’s impossible to be a gay Christian. Lindsey was 29 years old before a pastor had ever said to Lindsey, “You are welcome in this parish.” It remains a singular experience but Lindsey makes a habit of replaying that memory when feeling discouraged. It’s important for priests to know how to respond if one of their brother priests denies a celibate gay person absolution because of the gay person’s sexual orientation. Yes, this does happen even if it’s not supposed to happen. Too often, straight Christians behave like ostriches when LGBT people tell stories about experiencing discrimination in church. One can dismiss these stories easily by saying, “Well, that priest was wrong to deny you communion if you weren’t sinning. That’s not what the Church teaches. Surely the priest had other reasons to deny you communion.” This kind of response accuses LGBT Christians of lying and gives straight Christians an excuse to keep their heads in the sand.

To answer your question, Fr. Longenecker, “Do [gay people] want to be assured that simply because they experience same sex attraction they will not be vilified, ostracized and excluded?” The answer is Yes. We would also like it if straight Christians could stop ignoring how LGBT Christians have been mistreated by clergy and laity alike. It would be awesome if an LGBT person could tell a story of hurt and be greeted with empathy, reassurance, and perhaps an apology if one is warranted. Speaking for ourselves as a celibate LGBT couple, we’d love it if clergy in our Christian tradition could help us sort legal matters to ensure that we’re able to care for one another. There’s been a lot of ink spilled over the question of gay marriage where many Christian traditions have concluded that it’s inappropriate for a couple like us to enact a civil marriage. However, we’re still wondering about how best to sort issues of health care, financial interdependence, and other practical matters. Not always, but often in the past when we’ve raised these issues with priests and others we trust at church, we’ve been accused of being over-dramatic and looking for an excuse to call our relationship a “marriage.” We’re grateful to have a priest now who sees us as people rather than as problems. Nonetheless, it would be nice to have some assurance that we would be treated as people if we went to a different parish within our Christian tradition. It would also be fantastic if we had a sense that our fellow parishioners felt like they could give us an authentic welcome.

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.

When the Church’s “Welcome” to LGBT People Hurts

In the last several weeks, we’ve noticed an uptick in messaging that churches do not need to extend a special welcome to specific groups because churches follow Christ’s example and welcome everyone. We believe that any time a local church extends a special welcome to any group, that welcome has its roots in past hurts. Even a celebration like Mother’s Day came after society realized it was not particularly appreciative of mothers. Neither of us has ever attended a local congregation that has explicitly identified itself as a community that welcomes LGBT people. On occasion, we’ve attended churches that are generally regarded as places that are willing to journey alongside LGBT people even if they don’t say so explicitly. At present, we feel blessed to have a priest who appreciates and respects our desires to live celibacy while assuming the best about our intentions. Nonetheless, this past Sunday was probably the most traumatic experience we’ve ever had in a church environment, even though we had done our best to prepare for the worst.

Churches that teach traditional sexual ethics tend to be traditional in other areas as well. Traditional churches often recognize places where the Gospel praises seemingly disparate approaches to life. They strive to find a good balance between extremes. They see it as important to proclaim both Love and Truth, to have space for both Justice and Mercy. They value both right belief (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). We firmly believe that churches need to present a balanced view of the faith. Like many Christians, we know that the way of Christ is indeed a narrow way that can be hard to find. Like many Christians, we’ve experienced seasons of needing to be reminded of God’s law and other seasons of needing to be reminded of God’s grace. Growing spiritually can sometimes be two steps forward and one step back as we frequently overcorrect along the way. It seems fitting to suggest that maturing in Christ is a lot like bowling with bumpers where all things good and holy try to direct forward progress.

Just as individuals can struggle to find the narrow way of Christ, many church communities teaching traditional sexual ethics do struggle with welcoming LGBT Christians. Every week, we experience a mixed bag of “welcome” when we attend church. You could think of it in terms of our necessary adaptation to a certain undercurrent. On a typical Sunday, we might experience between 1 and 3 interactions that indicate a person feels considerable animosity towards LGBT people. We know to expect it and even truly welcome the occasional presumptive “understanding” of what our lives are like. It doesn’t offend us when people try to be welcoming, but struggle. We’re glad to educate those who want to be educated. People asking almost-stupid questions directly can be a sign that they trust us enough to let their guards down and open up to learning more. However, while we’re used to hearing questions that contain some arguably innocent misconceptions, a particularly pointed discussion about LGBT issues in the Church has the potential to rip our hearts out through our noses. It’s especially bad when misconception stacks on top of misconception, and discussants drift away from considering LGBT people first and foremost as people. We’ve seen this trend in multiple local church communities, so we wanted to take the opportunity to say what not to do if you are trying to “welcome” LGBT Christians:

  • Use the first possible opportunity to ask the pastor publicly to clarify teaching on homosexuality because you suspect that there are LGBT people among your church’s membership.
  • Explain that LGBT people are welcome only because all sinners are welcome, assuming that all LGBT people struggle with lust.
  • Zoom in on a vague sense of “sinful behaviors” when discussing LGBT issues without offering any discussion about what said behaviors are.
  • Defend conservative reactionaries who have been “hurt” by gay activists before acknowledging the emotional and spiritual strains on LGBT Christians who are constantly accused of any number of outrageous activities.
  • Permit cisgender, heterosexual people space to talk openly about LGBT issues while telling LGBT people to remain “discreet” about their sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
  • Discuss the sexual orientations and perceived sins of specific members in the congregation with a priest or pastor while less than 6 feet away from those members.
  • Glare over your shoulder directly at suspected LGBT people while talking about them.
  • Accuse celibate LGBT people of a well-crafted charade to corrupt a perfectly good congregation with a hidden “liberal” agenda.
  • Suggest that LGBT people are secretly flirting with one another at church.
  • Demand proof of exactly how pastors know celibate LGBT people aren’t having all sorts of sex.
  • Accuse celibate LGBT people of lying about their celibacy.
  • Inform LGBT people they’re being “too sensitive” if they give examples of people saying hurtful things.

To be crystal clear, we’ve directly experienced all of these things in multiple congregations. Moreover, we know other celibate LGBT people who experience comparable “welcome” from their congregations. Enduring this litany seems to be part and parcel of the parish experience for many LGBT Christians, both celibate and non-celibate, who attend churches teaching a traditional sexual ethic.

The natural next question is, “So why don’t you just find a different church?”

Short answer: it’s not that easy.

Longer answer: These experiences are shockingly common. Especially within conservative Christian traditions, it’s challenging to find parishes where several items on the above list don’t happen on a regular basis. Seeking a parish and a priest is emotionally taxing beyond description. It’s like dating while knowing full well that 8 of your 10 first dates will involve verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. It requires being willing to try out a specific church, actually going, meeting with the pastor, being prepared for the severe condemnation that usually follows, taking a week or two to recover from that encounter, then repeating the process again and again until finally landing in a parish that seems not ideal, but survivable. Both in the past when we were single and now that we are a couple, we’ve found that it can take months or years of searching before finding even one priest in our tradition who is willing to see us as people instead of pastoral challenges. At this point you might be wondering, “If the two of you are celibate, why are you encountering such problems?” When it comes to our presence within a parish, our celibacy matters very little to culture warriors who see us as nothing more than incarnations of a political agenda.

We’ve never made a public statement about our LGBT status. People simply assume that we’re public sinners because we have committed the unthinkable act of showing up for Liturgy. We’ve had to recalibrate our sense of welcome and what it means to have realistic expectations about acceptance. To us, “welcome” frequently means that there are at least two people present who won’t scowl at us for every person who does. That’s not the kind of welcome other groups of people receive at church, yet so many parishes where members behave in the ways described above seriously think they’re doing all they can and all they should need to do in order to welcome LGBT Christians. How is it welcoming to foster an environment where parishioners are constantly suspecting other parishioners’ actions and motives? This is why thinking about exactly how we experience “welcome” hurts. It hurts a lot. 

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.

Confessions of a Former Bad Catholic

A reflection by Sarah

Another surprise blog post today. We seem to be in a season of life where the need for these is popping up quite often. After a very intense response to my ear injections yesterday which kept me riding an evil tilt-a-whirl all night, I’m spending the day working from home. Usually my vertigo episodes continue steadily for minutes to hours until coming to a sudden end, but last night I had about an hour of respite around 3am, during which time I read this article by Aaron Taylor at Ethika Politika. Taylor cites the story of Louise Mensch — a divorced and remarried Catholic who is not currently receiving communion due to her own convictions — as an example of the quickly dying (perhaps already dead) “bad Catholic” archetype:

Reactions to Mensch’s piece fell predictably into two camps. On one side, “liberals” decried Mensch for being self-loathing, for not dancing to the beat of the modern, sexually enlightened drum. On the other side, “conservatives” were baffled as to why, if Mensch really believed the Church’s teachings, she would not abandon her lifestyle as an “adulteress.” What both critics share is the belief that Mensch’s situation makes little sense because one cannot simultaneously uphold a set of moral standards and fall short of those standards.

Yet, until fairly recently in Catholic history, women and men like Mensch were easily understood by others in the Church as conforming to a particular type: the type of the “bad Catholic.”

“Bad Catholics” knew the moral rules taught by the Church, and they broke—even flouted—them, particularly when it came to sex. They did not, however, argue that the rules should be changed to confer moral approval on their behavior. Despite their moral failings, bad Catholics also tended to maintain a high regard for the Church’s sacramental and spiritual rules and practices. They attended Mass, were devoted to the Virgin Mary, and expressed love for the Blessed Sacrament precisely by not receiving it in Communion when in an unworthy state to do so.

Taylor goes on to point out that Mensch’s story is not representative of what generally happens to today’s “bad Catholics,” who usually end up identifying as “liberal Catholics” or leaving Catholicism altogether. Without judgment upon anyone’s faith journey and without intending to stigmatize anyone who identifies as a liberal Catholic, I am inclined to agree with his basic point. This is what becomes of today’s bad Catholics. I’ve seen it myself more times than I can count. As I’ve already outed myself on the blog as a former Catholic, I can say openly that this article struck a strong chord with me. My own reasons for leaving the Catholic Church for a different Christian tradition are completely removed from any moral teaching or behavioral expectation. (If you must know, the final nail in the coffin was my inability assent to papal supremacy after significant theological study on this doctrine’s development, but perhaps that’s a post for another time.) However, after reading the article I spent the rest of the night — at least what time I wasn’t focused on asking God to save me from falling off the floor — in reflection. I suppose I ought to thank Eve Tushnet for this as well. Somehow I’m feeling both unusually brave and extra vulnerable after my recent read of her new book.

Confession time: not only am I a former Catholic, but I’m also a former “bad Catholic.” And today, I’m still entirely capable of being a bad Christian within my current tradition. Yet despite this awareness, most of the time I don’t feel free to admit it to anyone other than Lindsey and our parish priest. I don’t have permission to be a bad Christian, and when I think seriously about it I realize that this was also true during my years as a Catholic.

Let’s back up a bit…

Though sexual sin has never been a serious struggle for me, I’ve experienced seasons in which I’ve been unable or unwilling (or both) to behave morally in other ways. Everyone who practices rigorous honesty can identify with this to an extent. But somehow, it’s still easy to presume that if a person is engaging in unchristian behaviors, his/her spiritual life is nonexistent…or alternatively, that if a person engages regularly in spiritually healthy devotional practices, he/she must be living in a way that is fully aligned with the teachings of the Gospel.

As I thought about this last night, I was taken back to my college and early graduate school days. Without hesitation, I can say that I was a deeply devoted Catholic. I attended Mass almost every day, not out of compulsion but because I woke up each morning with an eagerness to hear that day’s Gospel proclaimed, to be present with the very small daily Mass-going community in my college town, and to be in the same chapel where bread and wine mysteriously became Christ’s Body and Blood despite my inability to see this happening. I had a consistent daily prayer rule and engaged regularly in theological conversations with friends. But quite often, my most profound spiritual moments were intertwined with my most immoral behaviors.

I was a very good student and never had trouble maintaining excellent grades, and during my freshman and sophomore years everyone in my residence hall knew me as the girl who would sit in the lobby and study for hours into the night. As I immersed myself in the works of Aristotle, Tertullian, Shakespeare, and Virginia Woolf, I would take frequent mini-breaks to say a Chaplet of Divine Mercy and snort an Adderall, crushing it beforehand with my copy of the Langenscheidt German Dictionary…or the Daily Roman Missal. There wasn’t an evening that passed without my calling out to the Theotokos, whom I referred to as “Mom” at that point. On weekends after I had finished all my homework, I would load my pockets with prayer cards, a rosary, some cash for cocaine, a fake ID, and head off to a party with my sorority sisters or friends from work. I remember one night when after my eighth jello shot and an untold amount of Bacardi and diet coke, I sat in the backseat of one of my sisters’ cars, pulled a rosary from my pocket and began praying it loudly on the way back to campus. My sisters all found this quite amusing, and I remember one requesting jovially, “Pray one for me too, Sparky!” Then, there was also bulimia — the “good girl’s addiction” that I had developed by age 12. Saying the Litany of Loreto or part of Vespers/Compline on my drive to the grocery store and between binge/purge sessions was a common practice of mine for several years.

I have no doubt that some readers are horrified by this point in the post. I’m anticipating getting some nasty comments and emails from pious individuals demanding to know what possessed me to engage in such appalling and irreverent behavior. Sometimes, I wonder that myself. I wondered about it at the time too, which is why despite going to Mass almost every day, more often than not I didn’t commune. And while I always took these matters with me to confession, I never attempted to approach this sacrament if my attitude was, “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but I’m not ready to repent and amend my life.” During these times I always held onto the hope that God would eventually guide me to a place of desiring repentance. I was a bad Catholic, and I knew it and accepted it as the present reality.

I’m sure my reflection today will also receive many responses from readers who are wondering, “Why are you beating up on yourself? Why can’t you see that these behaviors you’re describing are indicative of mental illness, not sin?” I’m not beating up on myself. I’m calling a duck a duck. Sin and illness are not mutually exclusive. Yes, there’s a level at which my culpability for some of these actions was compromised. Identifying these actions as results of sin is not the same as blaming, shaming, or implying that struggles with substance abuse and behavioral addiction are my “fault.”

Coming full circle to the article’s discussion of what happens to bad Catholics, I’ve seen stories similar to mine play out very differently in the lives of other people I’ve known. There are folks who leave Catholicism or Christianity altogether because of the pressure to be perfectly free from sin before ever approaching the church’s front stoop. They know that they can’t be perfect, so they stop trying. There are others who experience pressure from secular society to ease up on themselves to the point of dismissing Christian teaching altogether, or picking and choosing the parts that are gentlest. They hear from friends and mental health professionals that thinking about their struggles in any way related to sin is pathological and masochistic. Because issues of sin that are directly related to mental health can be highly sensitive topics, these people may find that the only way they can move forward in life is to reject the moral expectations of traditional Christianity and replace them with whatever counsel is helping at the moment. I’ve noticed that these things happen frequently when a person struggling with serious sin attempts to discuss it with a priest or pastor who is more concerned with quoting dogmas than attending to the needs of a deeply wounded soul. Another common instigator is members of the parish who do not trust their priests to steward the chalice, so they take it upon themselves to protect the Church from sinners. Such people use passive aggression or sometimes direct confrontation to inform the sinner that his/her lack of repentance is scandalous. And fellow parishioners who encourage abandoning truth in favor of grace also contribute to the problem.

At this time, I am (mostly) in a positive space with regard to the spiritual issues I’ve discussed in this post. But I am still a bad Christian, and still capable of fitting the “bad Catholic” archetype at times. I can’t speak for anyone else, but seeking space where I can be accepted as a “bad Christian” or “bad Catholic” has been necessary for my spiritual growth. Such spaces are woefully rare, and I can’t say that I’ve ever belonged to a parish where the community fully appreciates what it means to accept those who believe, have committed to being obedient, but do morality poorly most all of the time and are willing to admit it. It troubles me that at our current parish, neither Lindsey nor I feel free to abstain from communion when necessary. If we do, the culture warriors begin imagining that we must be having sex. Sometimes people indicate to us that they know exactly what our sins are, and if we aren’t ready to repent of them we shouldn’t even show up. If we aren’t able to commune for whatever reason on a given Sunday, we’ve taken to visiting a large parish where we can be invisible. It also troubles me that when I’ve been a member of parishes with more “liberal” members, I’ve not felt free to abstain from communion. In these settings, everyone — no matter how much or how little he or she knows about my spiritual life — has been eager to tell me that whatever is bothering me, I should approach the chalice because God loves me and nothing else matters. What’s a person to do when he or she feels caught in the middle of all this? I ask myself that question at least once a week, usually on our drive to Liturgy. But like Taylor, I am convinced that until we all make room once again for the “bad Christians,” the entire Church will suffer from their absence.

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.