Gays & Church
Eve Tushnet, who is a chaste Catholic lesbian, had a fascinating essay on TAC this week about homosexuals and American churches. She says that younger gay Christians who are coming out, and who wish to live by historic Christian teaching on homosexuality, are changing their churches for the better. Excerpt:
Today, Christians who begin to realize they’re gay—or, in a great Onion headline that captures my freshman and sophomore years of college pretty well, “Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian”—have options beyond tweezering at their relationships with their fathers and praying for change.
Gay Christians may end up married to the opposite sex, because life and sexuality are complex: Spiritual Friendship has a few married contributors, although none consider themselves “ex-gay.” But most gay Christians who accept the historical teaching are accepting a lifetime of celibacy. We can’t plan on marriage or wait around for it. So we’ve had to be much more intentional about asking how we can give and receive love. To whom can we devote ourselves, and on whom can we rely?
In order to help answer these urgent questions, some churches and individual Christians are rediscovering a broader understanding of “kinship” that goes against a culture in which marriage is the only chosen form of adult kinship we recognize. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus promises that those who lose their homes or families for His sake will receive new homes and families, “a hundred times more now.”
But the church has rarely deigned to provide that family for its gay members who are estranged from their families of origin, or who suffer from loneliness and lack of purpose because they’re unmarried and unable to pursue marriage. Gay Christians are finding “chosen families” in many different ways. Some live in intentional communities: in my forthcoming book I interview a man who has found that community life offers him the kind of lasting, difficult love that chastens and rewards us. Others look to the nearly forgotten Christian traditions in which friendship was treated as a form of kinship that carried obligations of care.
I think this is a great thing. Heterosexual Christians who, for whatever reason, have not married and don’t expect to marry, also need this kind of friendship — but so often do not get it from church communities, which tend to be centered around families. Eve is correct, it seems to me, that gay Christians who are unafraid to tell the world — and the Church — what their journey of faith looks like, and to seek to join the life of the Church fully, in accord with what the Church knows to be true about human sexuality, are not only pioneers, but a blessing to the entire Church.
By “Church,” I mean the church universal, not just the Catholic church. When I converted to Catholicism in the early 1990s, I knew that I had to accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality. This meant that I could not live as I had been living before. I had to be chaste until marriage — and if it was not my calling to marry, I had to be chaste for the rest of my life. This was non-negotiable. In fact, I had tried to negotiate it when I was in college, and wanted to be a Christian without giving my entire self to God. I wanted fiercely to protect my sexual freedom. But it just doesn’t work that way. You cannot give yourself partly to Christ. It’s all or nothing. Unsurprisingly, my attempt to negotiate the terms of my surrender to God created within me an ersatz religion that had no power to bind me, and no power to inspire me. It was just psychological comfort, with smells and bells.
Anyway, by the time I converted for real, I knew that the greatest test I would face early in my walk as a Christian was to be faithful to Christ in all things, not just the things that came easy for me. I found very little help in the official Church, and, understandably, no help from my non-Christian or liberal Christian friends, who loved me, but thought I was a weirdo. I especially cherished the companionship of two gay Catholic friends, men who were close to me, who were walking the same walk, though theirs was made more difficult by the fact that they could never hope to be married, unless something absolutely extraordinary happened. Their walk was also harder because while fellow straights looked at me as an eccentric, the gay community looked upon them as traitors.
Yet they staggered on, rejoicing. It was an inspiration to me. It turned out that our common struggle to be chaste in an eroticized, de-Christianized culture like ours was something that deepened our friendship. It made me feel less alone in the Church and in the world. My friends were part of Courage, the Catholic fellowship for gay believers who wish to live lives in accord with Catholic teaching. Come to think of it, something like Courage might be a model for heterosexual single Christians who need companionship to bear the burdens of the walk of authentic Christian faith in a faithless world.
One more thing about how younger gays may be changing churches. I was recently at a Starbucks when I overheard a loud conversation between two women next to me. They looked to be college age. One was talking about how she found a new Bible study, blah blah blah. She was also talking about problems with her girlfriend. It finally dawned on me that this was a young lesbian Evangelical. I don’t know which church she attends, but in our part of the world, it’s unlikely that her Evangelical church will be accepting and affirming of gay relationships. I might be wrong about her, but my guess is that she doesn’t ask for her church’s approval; she just goes and does her own thing anyway. A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me about her pal, an out twentysomething lesbian who attends a conservative charismatic church faithfully, and who sees no particular conflict between that and her sexuality. I don’t know this person, so I don’t know if she is chaste (my sense is that she is not). If she isn’t, I have no idea how she negotiates that ecclesial relationship, either within her own mind or among her fellow conservative churchgoers, who may or may not know. My guess, though, is that neither of these young women feel the need to make everything line up logically.
Of course I think this is deeply problematic for several reasons that will be obvious, but I also believe that their audacity — whether for good or for ill — will change their churches.
UPDATE: I’m going to be away from the keys for the next few hours. Please be patient; I’ll update comments as I am able.