This is part III of a series introduced in this post.
The last post dealt with the consequences when I fell for the lie that because the church opposes gay marriage, both it and the God it serves rejected me as a gay person and offered no positive direction for my life.
This post will treat the consequences when I fell for an opposite collection of lies.
God loves me no matter what–so I can do whatever I feel is right. Being celibate is unrealistic. Sex is not that big a deal–I’m not walking funny or growing hair on my palms. The Church’s teachings about sex are idealistic, but in the real world it’s more complicated. I’m evolved enough to separate casual sex from love and family.
It’s a pretty typical story I think. It’s summertime, friends of friends come together for parties and long weekend trips, a lot of alcohol is consumed, signals are sent, sleeping arrangements are subtly manipulated, and the slippery slope of sexual experience is primed. As anyone who knows anything about such situations will tell you, lines get blurry in those situations, and I woke up after one such evening a little bit satisfied after a pleasurable experience and a little bit unsettled at losing my virginity. So much of my early adolescence had built up that hypothetical moment as the end-of-the-world moral sin that would ruin my life. Continue reading
This is part II of a series which is introduced in the previous post.
By my 20th birthday, I was a confident and happy young man who had spend the last 6 years as a proud Catholic who was actively discerning a vocation to the priesthood. This identity survived a lot during that time, including the private recognition that I was gay. Over the next year I pursued a desire to be more open about my sexual orientation with both myself and close friends–an impulse which I think was healthy and necessary. However, I got swept up in the media maelstrom surrounding gay marriage and lost my sense of vocation and my faith as a result.
When I first came out to close friends, most of whom shared my Catholic faith, they were extremely supportive and understanding. However, I did not let these interactions determine my perception of what being gay should mean for me as a Christian. Instead, because I acknowledged that I was a gay person, and because I was (and still am) a news junkie, I paid a great deal of attention to what was said about gay people in the media. I could easily read a dozen stories about LBGT issues each day as the culture wars over gay marriage raged. As a gay person in the process of figuring out what my sexual orientation should mean for my life, I started to take what I read personally. When I read something positive about gay people and their relationships, I felt affirmed. When I read something negative about gay people or their relationships, I felt insulted and indignant. And over that year there were many opportunities for indignation in relation to the Catholic Church, and none in which I felt affirmed.
I paid close attention as a cast of Hollywood all-stars reenacted the blockbuster Proposal 8 trial and lampooned the defenders of California’s gay marriage repeal and their comically irrational and ignorant arguments. My Church had proclaimed itself an ally to that side of the debate. Other groups on the larger “side” of the culture war included the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God hates fags”) fame, and the hateful lies that gays were child molesters, bad parents, and wanted to “turn” kids gay.
In the last couple posts I’ve been wrestling with a way to interpret the Synod on the Family and attempting to frame the two “sides” in the debate about homosexuality (and other issues) which the media has encouraged and often exaggerated. This week I’m introducing a
3 4 post series* to show how the exaggerated portrait of each side can cause trauma for gay people–because that is exactly what has happened to me. Forgive me for only teasing you with an introduction this week.
As a brief recap of the controversy that has come to light throughout the synod:
- So-called-conservatives are frustrated that so-called liberals talk so much about mercy and love without sufficient reminders that certain acts like remarriage and gay sex are sinful. This could lead more people to doubt or ignore these moral teachings, and therefore damage souls and society.
- So-called-liberals are battling back so-called-conservatives who talk so much about the sinfulness of remarriage and gay sex without sufficient reminders that the Church’s core is mercy and love. This causes people to doubt or ignore these central realities of our Church and therefore leave or stop taking it seriously, which damages souls and society.
*These two points are basically a better version of last week’s post–where I emphasized the need for so-called-conservatives to be more mindful about their own media representations.
Both sides consist of people who share the same beliefs about remarriage, gay sex, mercy, and love. Their debate treats the search for a rhetorical balance that builds the Church in Christ’s image. Both sides appear to be reactionary in a sense: one side reacting to the widespread perception of the Church as homophobic and unloving; the other reacting to the widespread perception of the culture that Church teachings on sexuality are antiquated and silly. Both social realities are worthy of some reaction/response (we don’t want to be silly, antiquated, homophobic, or unloving!)–but doing all that at once is a tightrope act with few to no masters–at least at the global level. A big part of getting the balance right is knowing your audience–Which extreme is more prevalent? More problematic? Who’s doing a good job of this already? Doesn’t the answer depend on who you’re talking to? I imagine that the message for LGBT Christians in Uganda and San Franciscio need to be different. Francis has repeatedly emphasized the role of pastors in using their pastoral judgement to work with individuals according to particular situations and needs. But we are also immersed by a global media and global platform (the Pope, the Vatican, the Synod documents, etc.) that should be leveraged to speak the Truth. So again, the question is how to leverage these tools to share the fullness of Truth to everyone without further damaging souls and society?
That kind of thinking leads me to appreciate Pope Francis’ inspired decision to invite Catholic families from various parts of the world to share their experiences, so that the Synod on the Family will listen to the voices of people who experience the challenges of the family today firsthand. Because the synod has been sidetracked by the issue of “irregular unions” (at least somewhat–even if the media has exaggerated the prominence of these debates), I think it would be rather helpful to actually highlight the voices of gay and divorced Catholics as well… but I digress.
What hit me like a brick wall on the bus this week (I spend a hideous amount of time on the bus) is that the two equally false extremes (“it’s okay to ignore the Church’s moral teachings about sexuality because God loves you anyway” and “the Church judges and rejects gay people because it cares more about its rules than human persons”) have both taken hold of my life at different moments, and both lies have done serious harm. Each of the next two posts will be a flashback of sorts to provide one concrete example of what can happen in the life of a gay Catholic who falls into one extreme line of thinking. It hasn’t been pretty, but I’ve learned a lot.
I decided to add a conclusion to these three, and called it One Extreme is Worse than the Other.
I had no idea how to address the moderate craziness ensuing at the Vatican right now, and even wilder craziness the media has spun out (although, to be fair, there is a good deal of level-headed and accurate reporting to be found in mainstream outlets like TIME). Then I read this amazing article by Mark Shea at Patheos which you should stop and read right now. I’m such a fan that all
three four hyperlinks go to the same place. Among many thoughtful points, he incisively highlights how the most extreme members on both sides are operating as atheists. (Perhaps more on that later.)
I want to respond to one thing:
1. (in a list of one) The scope of what is at stake here
First of all, the document causing the kerfuffle is a “relatio post disceptationem” which is a totally non-binding collection of some thoughts so far that have been aired (and were not even voted on or meant to reflect a majority–just commonly mentioned ideas as recorded by a few of the participants), in the first smaller segment of a Synod (which is a meeting of Church leaders lower than a Council with no ability to change doctrine, that I know of…), which will take two years, which was called by the Pope to discuss the topic of his choosing: “Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
This topic alone indicates that the participants of the synod are NOT doing what the BBC reports in a byline: “Senior clerics taking part in a review of Catholic teachings on the family.” For me this conjures the laughable notion of bishops studying for a theology midterm by re-reading their professor’s PowerPoint slides one more time. But for the public, this misleading sentence indicates that the teachings about the family are “under review”–that people are deciding if they are good or bad. This is not the kind of thing that happens at a Synod anyway, and it also defies the purpose of the meeting as outlined by the Pope… to discuss “pastoral challenges.” Perhaps this term lacks obvious meaning–which is just one more example of the big problem at stake: The language (and related mindsets) of our Church leadership is lost on the public. That’s why this synod was a great idea.