Ultra-Conservativism in the Church as being detrimental to the faith of LGBTQ Christians

Today, we are featuring a guest post from Patrick who shares a bit of his personal story and describes how a certain type of conservative approach to discussing faith and sexuality can cause serious harm. Patrick shares his story using language of “struggle with same-sex attraction.” This is very different from how the two of us experience our sexualities, but as we have stated before, we believe it is very important to create space for LGBTQ (or SSA if you prefer) people to use language of their own choosing when describing layers of identity. It is important to state upfront that the writer of this post is not promoting an ex-gay ideology or advocating for any sort of orientation change efforts. We believe that all stories are important, and regardless of preferred terminology, we hope that all our readers will learn something from Patrick’s story. As with all guest posts, the ideas and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of A Queer Calling.

A guest post by Patrick

First off, I want to thank Sarah and Lindsey for the chance at writing a post on their blog. I am very honored to share my thoughts and reflections here! Secondly, I want to always say, for anyone in the church reading this post who struggles with same-sex attraction, you are not alone, and not all priests and ministers are your enemy or are ignorant of your spiritual needs and sexual desires.

I should start with a brief summary of my own life. I first realized that I had same-sex attraction when I hit puberty around 11 years old. I had had ‘friend’ crushes before that- since I was 9, and had also had same-sex lust when I was 10- but I never put together lust for a single person and a ‘friend’ crush together until I was 12 years old. By the time I was 13, I knew I was gay, even though I didn’t quite know what ‘gay’ was. I thought maybe I’ll just like girls later- but I could never find myself lusting for women, even after I had seen pornography featuring only women. It was when I was 15 that it finally dawned on me that to be ‘gay’ was not Christian (as I had known it). I had heard my quite right-leaning uncle condemning my own half-sister’s lesbian relationship, and later that year- I remember reading in the bible for the first time in Leviticus where it condemned gay relations, calling them an ‘abomination’. I thought my life was over. That day I was convinced I was going to commit suicide because God wouldn’t accept me as who I was.

While I did not pursue suicide, thinking it was too awful for my family to bear; I kept my secret to myself, and only came out as ‘bisexual’ when I was 17 because of social pressure. I became Orthodox while I was in college (and still in the closet) and had to detail this part of my life to my priest through my life’s confession as I was being received into the church. While he did indeed not judge or condemn me, he did challenge me to make my life less about my sexual orientation and more about my personhood in Christ. I had gone back into the closet in college only to come back out again when I was leaving school, this time through friends that wanted to help me understand my orientation, and through my priest when he started seeing that keeping this secret was making me dangerously mentally unstable. He encouraged me to come out to my family and friends, to develop good relationships with men, and to be celibate- something I wasn’t sure was possible to do at the time. I thank God for him, as I’m not the only person he has saved from the brink of destruction by going out of his own comfort zone to listen to our emotional and spiritual needs as it relates to sexual orientation. While my struggle has *not* been easy, I know it is what I must do for my life. It is my cross to bear, and I thank God for that, as it is how I am being more conformed to his image.

I have found through my own personal experiences in the Church that there is as much diversity in thought and practice as there is in most denominations, in how we frame political and ideological lines in our faith. Liberals, conservatives, and all in between, are found at the chalice each Sunday morning, desiring to draw close to receive the body of Christ and taste the fountain of immortality. The Church is the Church, on behalf of all and for all, the saints and sinners alike. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace, and if anyone should mark iniquities, who should stand? Only God the Father is good. We live our whole spiritual lives following him in his Son, in hopes we too can share in his rich inheritance He has left for us in His goodness. This is the end goal for all Orthodox Christians- a sanctified life in Christ wherein we are saved- no matter who we are or where we are when we begin the race.

I love all members of the Church as best I can, seeing them as co-strugglers. I love them as brothers and sisters in the faith. However, I find it disconcerting when any group takes it upon themselves to proclaim moral superiority above the whole body of believers- as have certain politically ultra-conservative Orthodox Christians. We are all free to have opinions about any number of things, but we are commanded to firmly proclaim the truth in love and abide by the rules and traditions of our faith. We are all to encourage each other to fight the good fight, but to do so in love. I see very little of this happening when some take it upon themselves to be the absolute moral authority of the Church, disparaging those whom they see as lesser, and proclaiming they are not fully Orthodox. I have seen this first hand- when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and gay members in the Church. When these issues are discussed, some ultra-conservative Christians feel the need to reinforce the law to the T– sans grace, speaking only about what the canons say regarding these topics, and using the Church fathers as a backbone of their arguments.

I understand many find it tough to begin to frame conversations on spirituality and sexuality in the Orthodox tradition, without it ending up as an absolute ultimatum of a choice between marriage and monasticism. There is not historically much mention of any other choice besides these that was considered holy and venerable, and this does not help us in the modern day where sexuality is seen as a whole identity in addition to, or rather than just part of that of Christianity. The idea of a sexual identity other than heterosexual is foreign to Orthodoxy- this much is true. But the reality is that this is the world which we find ourselves. We have to be able to formulate an ethical answer to these issues that addresses the needs of the faithful who do find themselves struggling with a sexual identity that is not along heteronormative lines. But as we do this, a core group of people in the Church who want nothing more than to erase that conversation and diminish the life experiences of those who struggle, does not help in any way. The idea that an Orthodox believer could choose to be celibate and able to discuss their sexuality with others, is therefore scandalous to some of the more hard-line Orthodox. When these two groups cross it is an ugly fight of polemics.

What I have found is that many of my fellow believers are more apt to have this conversation about a third way- such as my priest- and some are simply not able to move past a mental block that does not positively allow the notion of any sexuality beyond heterosexuality. I do not blame them. This does not fit comfortably into their worldview- a worldview that only admits the possibility that Orthodox could either be straight or celibate. It is cognitive dissonance, and I do not begrudge any misunderstanding. But, I must raise my voice again when anyone brings it upon themselves to proclaim judgment and diminish another’s interpersonal struggles and validated experiences. I would say that these conversations need to be had not for the sake of writing off those struggling with same-sex attraction and sexual identity by quoting a canon or saying of the Church Fathers, but in a thoughtful, loving way. There is a way to approach these things in love and with concern, but flat out judgment, based on personal opinion and experience is not that way.

Rather than being life giving, this proclamation of judgment about supposed behavior does two things- both of which, are painfully detrimental to the spiritual lives of both sides involved:

  1. In diminishing the person’s life experiences and emotional needs, it creates further mental crisis where it likely already exists, and
  2. It assumes that we have the right to say that another’s sins are worse than our own, which is pride in its ugliest fashion.

What this proclamation often communicates to LGBTQ+ people struggling with homosexuality and same-sex attraction is that there is no hope in finding solace in the struggle- there is no help for them among their fellow Orthodox Christians, and no one who will listen and understand. This proclamation communicates that their struggle is not valid. Rather, it is nothing more than a mental condition brought on by x and y condition. It is not a cross to bear for one’s salvation, but instead it is nothing more than a fluke that must be eradicated for the sake of one’s faith and place in happy society. These assumptions do nothing but drive those who cannot will away their sexuality to develop a worse mental state than what existed before, and causes them to cope with their pain by turning to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, and in the worst cases, suicide.

The amount of suicides committed and the stories of those men and women who couldn’t ‘change’ their orientation are enough to tell that we have utterly failed to love people who are struggling with same-sex attraction, through failure on the parts of many, to separate the struggler’s sexuality from their humanity. But the truth is that what people who identify as gay, trans, and queer of all persuasions want more than the acceptance of their sexuality is rather the acceptance of their humanity. They are no less human for their struggles. However, a clear bastion of our faith wants to paint them as otherwise lesser, not Orthodox, mentally ill, etc. But what we need to do instead is to help LGBTQ+ folk realize that they too are equally human and deserving of equal worth (without getting into political aspects of ‘equality’). Even if ultra-conservative Christians are unable to validate all the struggles of LGBTQ+ people, we can and should enhance the conversation so that at least the experiences of LGBTQ+ Christians can be heard. This is the only way for both sides to meet their emotional and spiritual needs without a political war zone erupting. How this conversation will proceed, I do not have the answer for. But I can say it will begin by listening.

Only when LGBTQ+ people are able to encounter Christ personally, peacefully, and are surrounded by a community that is positive, encouraging, and supportive, will they be able to actually ford the waters of celibacy. Our faith makes it clear that genital expression outside marriage is a sin- and that all those not in a Church-sanctioned marriage must work against the carnal lusts of the flesh. This is the end goal for all persons regardless of orientation, and it cannot be argued against. Only through the support of a positive community can LGBTQ+ persons struggle against the flesh, find peace, and a positive vocation for their lives and faith paths. They may even choose to be monastics, or be married in a heterosexual relationship for the sake of having a family, but they cannot make this choice with others disturbing their peace by proclaiming that their orientation is invalidated and their emotions a sign of mental illness.

In closing, I want to leave this post with a quote from a dear friend and sister in Christ:

I think doctrinally orthodox Christians- to the extent they are guilty of this, need to stop thinking (that) believing the right things will get them into heaven. You can be perfectly orthodox in theology and go to hell. Right belief is necessary, but not sufficient- you have to live the life. People of all political stripes have to remember any political party you choose will have planks that no Christian can get behind. Who cares if someone calls you a liberal or a conservative? The issue is fidelity to Christ. I have gone on extensively over the years about right doctrine. But if you have right doctrine, and that doesn’t translate into the way you treat the poor, your enemies, strangers, people of other races, etc…then I would suggest something is amiss.

I cannot agree more. If you have true faith, you will know it by the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance- against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). Let us all cultivate these Fruits of the Spirit and proclaim love, joy, and peace to all truly, in Christ Jesus, the author of our lives. Amen.

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.

Fighting Tradition

Today we’re featuring the voice of our friend who wishes to use the name Tom Merrick. Tom grew up as a gay Christian in an Evangelical Protestant home. We’ve enjoyed getting to know Tom over the past several months. At the beginning of December, we were incredibly distressed to learn that Tom’s father had told Tom he’d no longer be welcome in his parents’ house. We wanted Tom to share his perspective about living as a celibate gay Christian, entering into a celibate partnership, and dealing with his family. As always when reading guest posts, please keep in mind that everyone’s story is different, and the experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and theological ideas presented by the author will not necessarily match completely with ours. For this guest post specifically, we would like to clarify that the word “tradition” can have different meanings depending upon the context. Tom uses the word “tradition” in reference to how fundamentalist evangelical Protestants have approached questions of faith and sexuality. 

A reflection by Tom Merrick

“Tradition, tradition!” goes the debut song of Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition tells us who we are and what God expects of us. It defines us. And sometimes it binds us.

Tradition, not Scripture, holds that one cannot be gay and be Christian. Tradition says being gay is a choice. It says gay people are unacceptable to God.

That is Tradition. And breaking with Tradition means breaking with God.

That lie I have battled against. And I lost that battle.

I lost when I came out to my parents and my father counseled me to get reparative therapy to become straight, refusing to think anything but that being gay is a choice. After a long, agonizing call where I tried to convince him otherwise, I cried. I screamed. I overturned tables and desks and chairs in tortured agony, despair, and rage. All because I could not fight Tradition.

I retreated into myself, feeling abandoned, betrayed, hopeless. I drank, figuring a hedonistic lifestyle condemning me to hell was all I could do. That was, after all, what Tradition said gay people did.

I wrote, attempting to hide my writing from my parents, who were unwilling to accept me. However, they discovered I was writing, and I spent another hopeless night trying to reason with my father. But Tradition said otherwise, and, again, I lost the battle.

I found hope in a small online community of gay Christians, who welcomed me in with open arms. I found acceptance and subsequently retreated further from the unaccepting parents I lived with.

And I found love for the first time. I fell in love with a fellow man, who loved me in return, and showed me more about Christ’s love than I could have ever understood. I learned to accept myself. To look at my reflection in the mirror without seeing myself as ugly or wounded. I found what it meant to support and be supported in rough times.

But such could not be endured by Tradition. So my father confronted me about this man I loved. And again, I lost the battle with Tradition.

Two weeks before Christmas, my father asked me to choose. Choose him and Tradition, or the man I loved. I broke with Tradition and he asked me to leave.

Tradition won that battle. The stupid Tradition found nowhere in the Bible that any not straight are hateful to God. The Tradition that says cast the unrepentant from your home to their life of rebelliousness.

And so Tradition won. I spent Christmas estranged from my family and living with the man I love. And I find myself trying to make sense of a world where Tradition reigns supreme and causes me to lose the family I love. I struggle to know how I should feel or what I should do. And I try to make ends meet in the real world of job searching, loan payments and car troubles, all in a new city and environment.

Tradition has won today. But maybe someday it will lose. And maybe someday Tradition will not ruin a family like it has mine. In the meantime, I will retreat, mourn my loss, and look forward to the day when Tradition no longer defines and binds peoples’ minds and hearts.

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.

Erotic Eucharist: Nurturing Deep Attraction Between Friends

Today’s post is a guest reflection by Dan Brennan, author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women. We believe it is just as important to give voice to heterosexual experiences of deep, meaningful, relationships outside of marriage as it is to create space for the stories of non-marriage relationships among celibate LGBT Christians. Dan, who has been married to his wife Sheila for several years, has also grown spiritually from a close relationship with his friend Jennifer. We are fascinated by Dan’s work in the area of sacred friendships and are honored to share a sample of his writing with you today. As always when reading guest posts, please keep in mind that everyone’s story is different, and the experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and theological ideas presented by the author will not necessarily match completely with ours. If you are a celibate LGBT Christian or ally, or if you have a story to share that is related to the themes we discuss at A Queer Calling, feel free to Contact Us.

A reflection by Dan Brennan

She sat to my left. Sheila, my beautiful wife, sat to my right. We were about ready to celebrate the Eucharist which we did weekly in our Anglican church. My attraction toward my female friend who regularly sat next to my left was deepening. Before I had any theories about “erotic” Eucharist, before I knew any language to describe “erotic” Eucharist, I was thoroughly processing my attraction.

Looking back on this season in my life nine years later, I can definitely rejoice in the spiritual eros I experienced in participating in the Eucharist at the time. Ever since I became an Anglican several years earlier, I longed to meet Christ every week in the Eucharist. Liturgy was no-run-of-the-mill religious ritual where I went through the motions. The Eucharist was where I celebrated the Feast. Each week I lifted my heart before the Lord’s presence. Christ was my sweet desire in Eucharistic intimacy. The real presence of Christ was my sweet delight. Each Sunday, I yearned for the deep beauty, goodness, and delight of Christ’s presence in drinking “the cup of salvation” and eating “the bread of life.”

So perhaps in hindsight, it was no coincidence I became open to explore the connection between the divine eros in the Eucharist and my deepening attraction toward my female friend.

Before I proceed, I’m honored that Lindsey and Sarah have invited me to write a post on their blog. Ever since I came across their blog a couple of months ago I’ve admired their particular calling and how are they are engaging subjects like chastity, sexuality, friendship, and the LGBT community. I’m writing from a straight white male perspective aware of my privilege. My journey has led me to a deep curiosity of how sexuality and friendship can flourish in close friendships and community. I admire Lindsey and Sarah’s call to celibacy.

Taste and See that the Lord is Good

Opening my desires, my attraction, my longings, and my anxieties while I ate the bread, drank the wine, and fed on Christ’s love and presence was a powerful discipline for me during this season. I had intuitive trust in seeking Christ through Eucharistic intimacy. I had come to know Christ, I had come to receive Christ, and I had come to trust Christ through this intimate connection. Opening my attraction for my female friend to Christ was a natural thing for me to do.

Each week I surrendered my friendship, my attraction, my desire for deeper connection before the Lord as I drank the cup of salvation and ate the bread. Wisdom is better than jewels and all that I desired could not compare with my knowing the sweet and sheer delight of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist (Proverbs 8:10-12; 30).

What is deep attraction? I desired ongoing intimacy with my friend at multiple levels: spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual. Did I have a sexual attraction for her? Or was it a nonsexual longing to deeply connect with her that included physical affection? It’s hard to sort that out when you are opening yourself up to deep attraction. I was not physically attracted to her when we first met. But as our friendship grew she became deeply beautiful in my eyes. But I was fiercely committed to my wife and I was also committed to seeing my friend as more than an object to be pursued for sexual gratification. So what I mean by deep attraction is the desire to connect with the whole person in friendship with passionate commitment to not make a move toward sex.

I was seeking the delight and presence of Christ in the Eucharist among other things. Years later, I would read something Amy Frykhom suggested: “True, deep, real pleasure is an avenue to the Holy” (See Me Naked). That was my intuitive posture as I sought Christ in the weekly Eucharist. I was not seeking self-indulgence. I was seeking the beauty of the Christ I knew in the Eucharist.

My attraction to my friend was utterly paradigm-shifting for me and opened up a whole new world as I sought to bring the wholeness of who she was before Christ in weekly Eucharist. It was conventional wisdom for evangelical men to run away from any kind of deep attraction toward women in which both parties had no romantic potential. I was seeking Christ as my wisdom as I explored this deep attraction; not a conservative list of dos and don’ts.

Too Good To Be True

Nine years later I can say I’m so grateful for the Eucharist and the gift of deep attraction. I have no regrets about continuing to talk about delight, pleasure, and mutual cherishing with a trajectory toward deep attraction in friendship. One of my differences with Christians who are my critics is right here: they think I am promoting something too good to be true for our present culture and world. Some think I’m a “daredevil.” Some think I’m suggesting a practice akin to “emotional dating.”

For many years, my conservative evangelical sexuality prohibited me from experiencing “too good to be true” moments outside of my marriage. In the past 10 years I have intentionally chosen to be open to attraction in friendships—including deep attraction with my other sex friends—with the Eucharist at the heart of integrating my sexuality and my friendships.

As Christians living in a post-Freudian culture, we are going to have to address the question: are we are going to view the Eucharist through a cultural Freudianism or are we going to view the cultural Freudianism through the Eucharist? Viewed through popular Freudianism, sex in a materialistic world is the ultimate, too good to be true story. Viewed through the Eucharist, the ultimate too good to be true story is union/intimacy with God and with one another.

At the center of the Christian faith is the Eucharist which invites us all—straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer—to this “too good to be true” intimacy where we eat and drink and take in Christ, we digest his body. Eucharistic intimacy summons us to the life and love of Christ, of shared intimacy in the present world but also into a future world. In the midst of chaos and dysfunction, it is hard to believe—‘too good to be true”— deep attraction toward healing, human flourishing, shalom, and deep delight. The Eucharist offers us a narrative where friends know the powerful delight of Christ’s love in this world.

I’ve now lost track of the many “too good to be true” moments in my various female friendships and in my marriage. What a deep joy to experience too good to be true moments with Sheila as a result of/in the midst of our other friendships. If we have good marriages, families, friendships, we all experience moments of that kind. But I am deliberately including those moments birthed of deep pleasure and love which involved my other sex friendships.

I have no doubt, that Sarah and Lindsey have experienced some of those “too good to be true” moments in their own friendship. The cultural Freudian narrative would believe Sarah and Lindsey could not experience such depth in their relationship sans sex. However, if you view their friendship through the lens of an Eucharistic intimacy, there is no ceiling on spiritual beauty in their relationship.

I continue to nurture a deep attraction toward my wife and to this day, I find her more beautiful than ever. I also continue to nurture a deep attraction toward my female friend. We have been close friends for twelve years. I had made several decisions back while I was “staying with” my attraction in a contemplative posture in my practice of the Eucharist. I took responsibility for my own actions and refused to ever act on any sexual feelings or any erotic energy I was experiencing in my friendship. I refused to fantasize. I also stayed clear of any pornographic material. I continued to nurture my attraction and love toward Sheila.

It just so happened somewhere about nine years ago that as I was experiencing the sweet and delightful love of Christ in the Eucharist and my growing delight and attraction toward my female friend, I encountered the gift of sexuality and friendship. Instead of running away from it, ignoring it, or seeking sex, I chose to nurture something deeper: a social desire for an alternative intimacy in friendship which did not neuter my sexuality. This didn’t happen overnight. But I continued to seek Christ, engage in conversation with trusted others, and eagerly search for wisdom on a wide range of issues pertaining to sexuality and friendship.

I now have a wide range of friendships. I view nurturing a deep attraction with my other sex friends as an intentional practice for being authentic in my sexuality and being authentic as a trusted and safe friend. “True desire,” writes Philip Sheldrake in his rich book, Befriending Our Desires, “is non-possessive. It is an openness to the future, to possibility, to ‘the other’ whether human other or God.” Nurturing a deep attraction is to choose the path of Eucharistic intimacy: to learn to receive, to learn to be open, to learn attentiveness to real presence, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to let go, and to attend to delight and beauty in our deepest relationships. It is too good to be true. But this is the trajectory of the Christian faith. To find the greatest treasure in the world—Christ in our relationships.

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.

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?”

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Redefining Sexual Ethics Redefines Celibacy

Today, we are honored to share a guest post from our friend Alison, another celibate member of the LGBT Christian community. Periodically, we hope to share the stories of other LGBT celibates here because we believe that all stories are valuable and worthy of being told. Each of our guest posters will have different experiences of celibacy, Christianity, sexual ethics, and life in general. That means not everything contained in every guest post will mirror our own thoughts, opinions, theology, and life experience. We believe that diversity is a beautiful part of the divine mystery, and are eager to learn more from others as they graciously share their stories with us. If you are a celibate LGBT Christian and would be interested in sharing your story with us at A Queer Calling, feel free to Contact Us.

A reflection by Alison

I was asked several months ago, “As a lesbian, why are you embracing traditional sexual ethics? Why aren’t you just a becoming a nun in the Episcopal Church?” I spent 2 years trying to be a celibate in the Episcopal church even though I was called to a more traditional denomination. Every time a conflict arose between me and the Episcopal Church, I ended up losing a deeply held notion about ethics, gender, and sexuality, and being pushed more toward Tradition. There has been a major shift in my entire way of thinking in the past few years, and when I look back on the path from there to here, I realize I would have to write volumes of text and reveal embarrassing details to guide just a few people through the same path. My answer to the question will be limited in space, education, and experience. What I can say, even at this point, is that celibacy is not merely the lack of sexual actions I take. Being a celibate person of progressive sexual ethics is totally different than being a celibate person of traditional sexual ethics.

For one thing, progressive sexual ethics tend to look at celibacy as a layover; a time of self-discovery and healing between sexual relationships. When it is not viewed as a casual commitment, celibacy is viewed as a tool. For example, it allows room for career development or charitable work. I do not see celibacy that way. Celibacy doesn’t serve me, it completes me by furthering my worship of God. Being called, for me, is a lot like falling in love. That love is only getting stronger, deeper, and wiser. Traditional celibacy, and all the theology under the surface, has become something to which I want to commit. I want this celibacy to become ingrained on my heart and life.

Traditional celibacy flows from deeper theologies. One root of the traditional sexual ethic sees all human beings as icons, as living images of God, because we are. 1 Genesis tells us that we were created in the image of God, “Male and female He created them.” Christ was born into the world and became fully human while being fully divine. There is something sacred in the physical nature of humanness, even in our fallen state. Our bodies, our sexuality, are also sacred. Editing the sexual ethics handed down to us by the people who walked with and ate with Christ is like editing the Gospel. There are times it should be done (i.e. translation into new languages) but it should be done in unity with the rest of the Church and Tradition. The progressive sexual ethic may contain theology of the body’s sacredness, but it removes the teaching from the surrounding teachings that flow into it. It cuts that particular teaching off from the desert mothers and fathers and other early saints who lived it out, and it ends up contradicting them again and again.

When I was working in scientific research, I remember listening to professors speak about their areas of expertise, and thinking, “There is no replacement for decades of 80-hour-weeks working on something.” No matter how bright you are, no matter what important fragment of knowledge you uncover, you are no match for experience. You are no match for your elders, who have seen and participated in the battles for truth and understanding since before you were born. I am no match for the Church. My ideas matter, but only in the sense that a child must learn to add before she can learn calculus. At the same time, there are false teachings and teachers everywhere. Sometimes you don’t know you’re following a false teacher for too long, and sometimes you never find out. For me, the test is unity. Unity with the past, unity amongst the community, unity with something ineffable, unselfish, and all-loving.

I was recently blessed to read a few texts written by medieval nuns. They seemed to understand the word “virginity” as a goal to aspire to, not just a physical aspect of their bodies, but a grace for which they should fight. I was shocked at how widespread this concept of virginity was. In the religion in which I grew up, that was not the view of virginity. Virginity was state of inaction. If you transgress, you are worthless. They gave symbolic lessons meant to inspire deep disgust for the lack of physical virginity. Yet, for these medieval nuns, many of whom never indulged in physical sexual activity, virginity was something they had not yet achieved. There was no disgust for sexual activity–that was merely a path to holiness they were not following. This teaching is in total agreement with the Tradition of the early Church regarding sexual ethics, but the teachings about virginity in the faith I grew up in are not. If I apply the unity test, a sexual purity lesson comparing one group of human beings (those who have had sex) to chewed-up food fails miserably.

When I converted to Christianity, I did so in the most progressive denomination available, and I still miss that church family. I still go to funerals and weddings at that church. I still care deeply about their lives, and I still desperately want their approval, just like the disaster of a teenager who walked through their doors so many years ago. That Church was the first place I ever felt loved, that church taught me everything I know about compassion, that Church was where I learned to accept the existence of a loving God. I was sitting in that Church in prayer when I was first called to be a nun. For me, love couldn’t look like, “Just do whatever you want sweetie!” because I was in rough shape. My parents were abusive, and by middle school, I was leaving the house in the morning before they woke up, and coming home after they went to sleep. I was left to raise myself with absolutely minimal interference. Parenting meant providing a place to sleep, shower, and load up on food between days. “Just do whatever,” is neglect, and I was all too familiar with it. The good people of this progressive church knew that too. One time, a man I’ll describe as “my uncle,” chastised me for not wearing my coat on a cold day. It was the first time I was corrected in a loving manner by someone who was not a teacher. My uncle cared that I was cold, he cared about me more than I did, and he did something about it.

Most of the members of this church were from extremely traditional backgrounds, and I have always wondered, if their churches had done a better job of figuring out Christian formation for gay and lesbian people, would they have ever left? I know several of the ex-Roman Catholic nuns and priests would have stayed if they hadn’t been pushed out for merely being gay or lesbian. Many people in this church talked about their attempts to embrace celibacy and being rejected anyway, or because of a slip-up. The ex-gay ministries have poisoned the water of nearly every denomination with conservative sexual ethics, turning this beautiful concept of virginity as a grace of the Holy Spirit into the same legalistic shaming with which I grew up. The religion I grew up in has satanic and pagan leanings. I view any lessons that inspire shame or vanity as profoundly unChristian.

At the same time, I can’t help but see that the impact of “do whatever” theology is very similar. “Do whatever” distracts us from aspiring to the grace of virginity, from unity with the Church and with God, by turning our focus inward. This focus forces us to constantly discipline ourselves, and figure out, “What do I need?” on our own. I am still a child in comparison to the church, She is my mother, and I would never ask Her to neglect me the way my parents did in my teenage years. I expect Her to chastise me lovingly, like my uncle.

I don’t know where this leaves my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who are not called to celibacy yet (sidenote: marital chastity, too, is a path to total chastity, just not yet). All I can say is, even with a lifetime of work, I am going to fall short of chastity as a grace of the Holy Spirit. Even as a celibate, there are elements of the Church who declare that I am a sinner merely because I will not lie about my sexual orientation. Despite many reformed whores among the saints, there are those who see my past transgressions, and desire to block my reception into the Church. The Church has room for improvement, and so do I. Maybe we should look at unity the same way the medieval nuns looked at virginity. It is a grace of the Holy Spirit, one we are working toward and haven’t yet achieved. Like chastity, it’s not a battle I’m willing to give up on.

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.