A reflection by Sarah
Yesterday, Lindsey shared with our readers a difficult and painful decision that the two of us have reached after an extended period of prayer and discernment. As much as both of us love the Orthodox Church, we reached a point both individually and together of being unable to remain within that particular Christian tradition. We bear no ill will toward Orthodoxy or its people, and I certainly don’t intend to bash the Orthodox faith in this post. But I will say that as an individual, I could not continue in good conscience to be part of the Orthodox Church. There are many reasons for this, and most of them hinge on the fact that the spirituality I practiced as an Orthodox Christian was breaking me, and I was not able to find a viable path into a better way of life using the resources of the tradition.
The purpose of this post is not to offer an explanation for my leaving Orthodoxy, but I would like to offer some clarifications relative to issues that arose after we published Lindsey’s post yesterday:
Lindsey and I are not giving up celibacy. The reality that God has called us both to a celibate way of life is abundantly clear. That simply is not changing. We continue to understand our relationship as a way of life that combines elements of skete monasticism and partnership lived in the world.
We are not leaving Orthodoxy so that we can get a legal marriage, get a religious marriage in a different Christian tradition, or start thinking of our relationship as a marriage. A number of people seem to be under the impression that our plan is to run immediately to the courthouse and get a legally recognized marriage. A few seem to think we are now looking for a more liberal Christian tradition that will marry us. Both of these assumptions are false.
Leaving Orthodoxy does not solve our problem of insufficient legal protections. We have no idea how we are going to sort our legal affairs in the end. It’s a complicated question that has only become more complicated as non-marital forms of union between two people in the United States are going the way of the dodo.
Our story is not a weapon, and we will continue to call out anyone who uses it as such. Let’s be honest: Lindsey’s post yesterday was the post that many of our more liberal readers have been waiting for since the beginning of our blog. We’ve long known that at times, more conservative readers have used our posts to beat their LGBTQ friends over the head with a celibacy frying pan. But as of yesterday, we also have readers proclaiming, “If a celibate couple like Sarah and Lindsey aren’t even welcome in the Church, that definitely means it needs to change its abusive teachings!” Make no mistake, Lindsey and I are not on a smear campaign and are not advocating for doctrinal changes to any Christian tradition. Our story is not fuel for your political fire.
Not long ago, the two of us gave an evening devotional at a retreat with about 30 of our brothers who are also celibate LGBTQ Christians from a variety of traditions. At the end of our talk, we asked those gathered to reflect on what might be next in their lives relative to their faith communities, interpersonal relationships, new callings, and so on. Given our announcement that we are leaving Orthodoxy, I’m sure that many of you are reading and wondering what is next for us. That’s a difficult question, considering how we came to Orthodoxy from very different backgrounds and left for our own individual reasons, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our readers as we sort the answers.
As for me, less than a week ago I approached a Catholic priest who used to hear my confessions on occasion before I became Orthodox. Though I had intended nothing more than to engage in a conversation about some controversial issues in Catholic ecclesiology, things changed about an hour into our discussion. He told me that I appeared troubled and asked what was on my heart. There was something about the way he said it (or at least what I got from lip reading) that led me to think about a truth I had not considered in a long while: the decision to follow Christ within the context of a particular Christian tradition is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the head. And I had known for quite some time that when I took my analytical theological brain with me to Orthodoxy, I left my heart behind in Catholicism. Living in a neighborhood with over 40 Catholic institutions has been a constant reminder of this: one can’t walk more than a few blocks in this area without bumping into a priest, brother, or nun in full habit. As we continued to talk, I found myself forgetting all about my angels-on-pinheads theological misgivings…and before I knew exactly what I was saying, tears filled my eyes and I blurted, “I want to come back!” In a moment of impulsive yet entirely free decision, my theological conversation became a sacramental confession. Soon after, I was welcomed back to the faith where I had first experienced a meaningful relationship with Christ. And for the first time in a very long while, I felt like a free woman.
I didn’t return to Catholicism because I see the Catholic faith as easy, or because I believe that I can do it well after doing Orthodoxy so poorly. When I look back on my faith journey so far, I can say with confidence that I have spent more years of my life being a bad Catholic than a good Catholic. Read this post if you don’t believe me. I have not yet sorted all of the theological issues where I find myself far more in agreement with the approaches of the East than the approaches of the West, and I expect there will be frequent occasions when I attend a Roman Catholic Mass or Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy and abstain from the Eucharist. But I see no problem in taking that approach because Christianity is not supposed to be easy, and the Church does not give up on her children when they find themselves in situations where reasoned argumentation and the internal spiritual experience aren’t matching.
I can be Catholic without being perfect. I can be Catholic without engaging in obsessively legalistic thinking about my faith. I can be Catholic while sitting in the tension as other Catholics disagree with my way of life and the bishops try to sort out what kinds of non-marital legal protections they can support for people in my situation. I can be Catholic while viewing my hearing loss positively, even attending deaf parishes and receiving spiritual direction and confession from deaf priests. To be Catholic is to be part of a worldwide family that is as dysfunctional as it is delightful. It means participating in the tough conversations as much as it means being obedient. And at the end of the day, I’m grateful and relieved to be home.
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