There are many reasons why I returned to Roman Catholicism, the Christianity of my childhood, after many years away. I cannot pinpoint any one of them totally as “the key” which opened that rusty lock within me, but suffice it to say that I was more surprised than anyone else when it finally happened in the fall of 2005. Today though, I would like to present just one of the pieces to that puzzle in more detail, both as part of my ongoing discussion on Catholicism and its place in my life today and to give perhaps more detail and insight into my life at that time as well. Some of what I share here is very personal, but I would ask you to bear with me and know that this article is neither an attack on the actively LGBT community nor a promotion of it. It is simply what happened to me on my “journey of rediscovery.”
First of all, and foremost in this writing, I would wish to say loudly and clearly that I accept and am not in any way at war with my identity as a same-sex attracted man. I say that because it is often suggested, or at least subtly implied, that anyone who chooses lifetime celibacy over being sexually active is somehow being oppressed by the archaic traditions of an out of touch Church or set of societal rules. And that may well be true in some cases, in fact I would be the first to suggest so. But this article is about me, not others, and my own reasons for choosing a lifestyle of permanent singleness.
In my original article about my return to Rome, published initially in September 2008 in the internationally known Catholic periodical then called This Rock (now Catholic Answers) magazine, one incident that I mention there has been a key component in my growing process, and it is indeed a process, which, among many other things, tipped me towards the direction I now intentionally live out my life and vocation as a celibate Catholic Christian man. In that article, I share about a “moment of truth” which caused me to, for the first time since my initial “coming out” in 1991, literally walk away from a statewide pro-LGBT rights rally, held on the Capitol grounds, primarily to promote what is now known as “marriage equality.” During that event, one of the main speakers kept talking about the “poor Bible.” She pontificated (pun definitely intended), and rather loudly so, that the Bible had been and still often is misused to promote oppression of others, whether slaves, women, or, those within the actively LGBT community. And to be fair she was not completely wrong in her assessment either. The Bible has been used over the years to justify utterly horrific practices, and the Church, not only Catholic but within many Protestant sects and denominations, has unquestioningly gone along with it on far too many occasions, both officially and unofficially. My objection to her words was not in that point—not at all.
But she took her logic to a conclusion that I found I could no longer agree with or support in stating that the “poor Bible” was still being used that way to unfairly hold back the LGBT community from the “true equality” of redefining marriage. I would ask the reader to please keep in mind that, as I listened that day, I was still an active/activist member of the LGBT community and a return to Catholicism was not yet on my radar screen, although I had been raised in the Church but it had been over 30 years since I had believed in anything much coming from the Vatican or hierarchy. So those influences were not at the forefront within me, at least then, and I felt no compelling obligation based upon Sacred Tradition or long-standing interpretations of Sacred Scripture to make my decision to leave a movement I had been part of for the majority of my adult years. It was something else, something I had not fully been able to put into words back then and which only lately have I seen, that caused my feet to vacate the premises as a result of her railing and rants.
As I have written elsewhere in the past, we all live our lives based upon certain presuppositions. We go to bed assuming our mattress will rest our back and help us to have a good night’s sleep (ironically I am awake tonight and writing this at 2 AM, but generally that presupposition nevertheless applies even to me!). We do not assume we will suddenly die or become paralyzed during the night, but rather set our alarms to drag those same yet-tired limbs and body parts to work, in order to pay at least enough of our ever-mounting bills with the goal of finding ourselves able to afford the drive to and from that job in order to, once again the next night, climb into that same bed and repeat the same process the next day.
And we have other suppositions as well—we expect gravity to hold us in place, and, unlike the terribly and sadly unfortunate man in Florida a couple of years ago, we assume we will awaken intact and yet within our apartment or home rather than buried suddenly at the bottom of a sinkhole with no escape route, as happened to him. We all know that there are exceptions which, as in his case, may suddenly and without warning occur, but yet we live as though these basics are fact and move forward in that imperfect but hoped-for knowledge that life tomorrow will be much as life today has been, or at least comfortably close.
Coming back then to what bothered me about her words that day, I had carried for years the presupposition that LGBT rights must or at least should include such things as the ability to have a family of my own choosing and that my sexuality was my business and mine alone. Although I have never been “pro-choice” in the area of abortion, I definitely was in the area of homosexuality! And I still am to a great extent. More on that later. But she took it to a magnitude I was not prepared for. Her words were vigorously spoken just after calling forward all clergy present, and this included several dozen, to come and stand behind her as she spoke. She thus purported, in an unofficial but extremely powerful way, to speak for them, and thus for the Church, on this matter of the ways she believed that the Bible was being misused and misinterpreted in the context of the rally at hand. In short she was “Papess for a day.” What she said would be taken home, discussed or written about, and all thinking people would take her side as a result, including any Christians who were on the fence regarding the issue. Why? Because she planned it that way. The Bible was being manipulated by her in exactly the same way that she was accusing others of doing so in the past. And I found I could no longer buy either that message or her techniques.
And, again to be fair to all, the Church has famously conducted many of the same types of performances over the years in order to bring equal and opposite reactions on both this and many other societal concerns through the centuries. No one is blameless on that one nor should be let off the hook. But right is still right, and her approach was wrong and harmful, particularly to those of us who were attempting to very honestly live for Christ and honor the Bible with our lives, while yet supporting what seemed (at least to me at that time) a clear issue of social justice. The presupposition she proposed was that, if you even believed in a more traditional or conservative interpretation of the Word of God, you, not her nor the clergy present, had any possibility of being correct in any way, and further, you were in short a bigoted and pompous ass if you dared to think otherwise. Period. She was in simple terms using her own methods against herself and the very cause she represented, which was meant to be peace, freedom, and justice for all.
Obviously that methodology did not prove her point either way. The real question that it triggered in me though was not in her manipulative manner but something deeper and more basic. What it really caused me to ask myself was, “who was really right in this fight?” I loved both then and now the actively LGBT community as well as the Church, and they seemed both then and now to hate one another or at least to come very close to doing so. And as an “out and proud” LGBT Christian that ripped through me like a knife, since it was a bit like having to choose between hanging on to the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which, as we now know, are very different but both quite necessary parts of what make us human. It seemed to me that both sides were missing something very basic in this escalating fight, and that neither was about to budge. Choosing one over another struck me as a spiritual lobotomy of sorts, and by the way it still does.
So that was my battle. Moving back a few years, I want to share, again on a personal level and not suggesting that mine was the experience of all LGBT persons, what had originally pushed me towards celibacy in the first place or even made it in the least appealing to me. When I first came out, I was, to be brutally frank and honest, on a sexual level like the proverbial bull in the china shop. I had been a virgin to both female and male partners at the time of my marriage at age 23, and at age 36 (unlike now) I was in very good physical shape, dressed daily to the nines even for work, and was ready for some “action.” And I did get some. Without going into detail I will just say that I had somewhere around 50 or so sexual partners in the next few years, visited the local bars such as the Gay Nineties at least weekly or more, arriving but seldom leaving alone, and I would be lying to pretend that it was not great fun. Surprised? So was I, believe me. However even with all that I have always had a heart, and generally would not spend the night with a man who I did not genuinely at least like or feel some type of rapport for. Some seem able to do this type of thing with no feeling whatsoever, but I was not one who did. If someone shared my bed, or I theirs, it always meant something to me, even if only for that night or weekend. Not necessarily love as such, but clearly a passion at least for the moment. But I soon learned that not all who I felt something towards felt as I did, and my ultimate goal, as is true with many within the “marriage equality” movement of today, was to eventually settle down and have a real and permanent love. Not a bad goal, and I might add that I have had no more partners overall than many of my heterosexual counterparts with that same eventual goal in mind. I was basically just late on sowing the “wild oats” I had long denied myself. That is not meant as an excuse in any way, but simply was a fact of my life during those years.
Now here comes the rub—in the LGBT community, no matter what is told to those of us who are asked to “come out, come out, wherever you are,” the choices are far more complicated than in the straight world I had been accustomed to during my heterosexual dating years and subsequent marriage. For example, let’s say that I have the “choice” of all the men in the world, now that I am finally “free to be me.” To many, including me, that would be the legendary “dream come true”—that is if it were the case. The reality is however that the majority of all of those men are not gay and therefore not available to me anyway. Even if 5% of the male population is non-straight, and those statistics can be argued but I would contend that they are at least within the ballpark, that means that, since women are approximately 51 % of the general population, I in reality only would have the choice of 2.5% of the world from which to find a life partner. Then, within that 2.5%, I further am limited due to the even smaller percent of available and uncoupled men within that population who are involved in church or spirituality on some level, assuming I wanted (and I did) someone who I could share or at least freely practice my Christian faith with, and most of those types were not within the bar crowd who I found myself gravitating towards, or else to be basically alone. The world, and particularly the LGBT world, is not as “large and in charge” as it may seem. And for every person who tells us that “it gets better,” there is a very real possibility that it may “get bitter” instead. In any case, after being robbed on a petty level twice, and once majorly, and having one huge HIV scare (I turned out to be negative, thanks be to God) after hearing of a former one-night partner who was dying one short year later of AIDS (may God rest your soul, dear Carl), I, like so many others fast approaching age 40 and who were still single, ultimately slowed down. A lot.
While I still had not at that point made a commitment to celibacy as such, I found myself going to bed alone most nights. Couple that with the very easy weight gain of the ever famous “middle age spread” and just being bogged down in general with life, I began, at least somewhere in my subconscious mind, to ask myself if my lifestyle change had really been worth it. While still far from ready to commit to celibacy for religious reasons, I essentially began living it more and more, and minding it less and less. And that too surprised me. I found that there were other things, first and foremost my long-neglected study of the Bible and involvement in a Christian community (for around 7 years I had not gone to any public Christian worship other than some, not all, Christmas or other holidays), to once again appeal to me on a genuine level. I still believed that “gay was okay,” but I wanted more and more to be part of the church world once again, and found a very lovely Methodist congregation with a pastor who was both evangelical and yet quietly accepting of the LGBT community. For the next 4 years I attended there happily, and had “come out” to him as well as certain individual members of the church community with no particularly problematic repercussions. And I seldom frequented the bars anymore.
By that time I was as I stated earlier entering into my 40s and had been “out” for nearly a decade, and found myself questioning the entire decision-making process I had made earlier regarding the right or wrong of being sexually active outside of traditional marriage. At very least I was questioning it for myself, while still not assuming or presuming to know what was right or wrong for others, yet realizing that if I ever wished to minister again to anyone beyond the LGBT community I would need to do so as a celibate or risk not being ever listened to on a serious level. Ironically it was at this very point in my life that I heard the infamous “poor Bible” speech at the State Capitol rally, and found my presuppositions of the last 10 years were beginning to unravel.
Since I have written elsewhere about this, I will just very briefly mention that I then came across a book (sadly out of print currently but well worth reading) by the name of Beyond Gay by David Morrison. It was through that book that I learned of some middle of the road approaches that did not carry the extremes of groups such as EXODUS INTERNATIONAL (the now defunct coalition of “ex-gay” ministries who spent much of their time and energy attempting to “praying the gay away” and in many cases causing as a result an unhealthy denial of very real feelings within conflicted persons from my background) nor did they promote what I now see as an unhealthy attachment to what we mistakenly believed to be sexual freedom—in short I did not need to deny the existence of attractions within me but rather learn concrete ways of giving them to God on a regular basis, and then to let Him be the true center of my life rather than my sexuality—something I will hastily add I am still learning—and hence the term Morrison used describing this way of life, referring to himself as having “same-sex attraction” rather than calling himself gay, became, at least to me, a far more logical and accurate label of my experience going forward. And I found to my next surprise that this was and is the official Roman Catholic approach to this issue as well! Instead of thinking of myself as either LGBT or “ex-gay” I began, for the first time in my life, to see myself as merely a child of God with particular needs that not all understood or even needed to. And in this discovery I found much freedom. Perhaps Catholics knew some things I did not.
By this time, for a number of other reasons written about elsewhere on this blog and in my original story, I was beginning to review and renew my Roman roots and eventually went back to the Church in 2005 at age 49—after 35 years away. But struggles do not die easily. However, the way we deal with those struggles is paramount, and I will freely say I did not always deal with them as clear and single-mindedly as I should have even after my return to Rome. Part of my issue in this regard has been that I have found, even within Roman Catholic circles, a sometimes less-than-kind attitude towards the LGBT community. Some of it is overt, as in the occasional open hostility, and some, and this is far more insidious I think, has been more of a passing off of or diminishing of the feelings and very real hurts within LGBT persons and the very real pain within.
I will note at this juncture that no one, and I mean no one, “chooses” to have these feelings. And with sexual drive being the 4th strongest set of urges within humanity, just after air, water and food, to pass those feelings off lightly then is to be incredibly unkind and unfeeling to say the least. I get the anger of sincere Christians towards manipulative folks such as the woman I heard at the Capitol that day and realize that the legal battle is fierce within and without to define or redefine our culture. But making those battles personal is not only groundless but wholly un-Christ like in my opinion. There are ways to fight—votes, legislatively, and even in personal conversation—that do not have to become whipping posts for personal attacks on either side. It is for instance not always the narrow-minded bigot who is most for traditional marriage—very often I have found that many very conservative persons, both religiously and politically, to be in fact my closest allies. And I sadly discovered, on more than one occasion, that the actively LGBT community and its allies have been led, at least at times, by less than scrupulous people who are so full of anger towards the Church that they honestly do not recognize the love She offers them. Love is not always about agreeing. In fact often it is not. Things are not always as they may seem.
So yes I have struggled and even briefly supported the “marriage equality” model on a few occasions after my return to Catholicism. But it does not work and cannot work. In saying that I would quickly clarify that it does work for certain individuals. That is not what I mean in saying the above seemingly blanket statement. However I would suggest that, given the somewhat more promiscuous and visual nature of male sexuality, and the fact that men are statistically far more likely to be gay than women, putting two men together as a couple creates a set of dynamics that make fidelity very difficult if not nearly impossible. And if marriage is not about fidelity, first to God and then to one another, what exactly is it about? It essentially means nothing if it is not the case.
Strange to think that much of my own experience of 15 years as an out, proud and activist gay man, and I could list many more stories and details of those years here if I chose to, actually caused me to move away from, not towards, the belief in the ideal of same-sex marriage as somehow being on the “right side of history” in the best sense and on a truly societal level. But it did, and that is where I am and why. Obviously as a Roman Catholic I am influenced by the official teaching of my Church and hierarchy first and absolutely foremost, and I will not deny that. Yet setting that all aside, I think I would still, at least eventually, have come to many of the same conclusions I have, for the reasons I listed above and a host of others besides. Redefining marriage is not the answer.
I stated early on in this post that I believed in, and still do believe in, equality for all persons. I do. But equality, at least to me, means equal footing in housing, inheritances, employment, and in general living and allowing other adults to live as they choose, as long as doing so is not a major physical or other serious danger to the rest of society. And I will continue to applaud my sisters and brothers within the LGBT rights movements for pushing those things through into our society. It was they, not the Church, who did so, and that is both sad and noteworthy. It is largely because of events such as the Stonewall riots and the LGBT freedom movement have given hard-earned legal protections within each of these areas, and I for one am glad for that and grateful. Commendably, most or at least many within the Church now see this, and this thankfully includes even those who would be considered very traditional and conservative by anyone’s standards. So progress has been and continues to be made.
But, as so many political movements have unfortunately done, we as humans always want the “next step.” We get the speed limit up to 65 MPH and then as a result drive 80, killing thousands more in the process. Many of us have come to believe that medical marijuana (or opiates for that matter) can and perhaps should at times be used for pain control in terminally ill people. But now we want the freedom of such toxic drugs being available easily for recreation, and we then create 14-year-old “pothead” kids who quit studying and do not finish high school. Briefly we do not know where to stop. We eliminated the anti-sodomy laws and homosexual sexual expression is essentially legal in all 50 states between consenting adults. Again that is how it should be in my opinion, and I know all will not agree with me on that point but it is my view. But allowing all sexually active adults to then marry is not automatically “equality” just because it carries no jail time in our day and age. Others have written on the reasons for this, for the cautions here, and many of those reasons are not even particularly religious in nature. In fact one book I would highly recommend on this topic is What Is Marriage by Shirif Girgis, a wonderful friend of mine and brother in Christ, along with Ryan T Anderson and Robert P George, all three brilliant scholars and kind people, who together more eloquently explain those reasons, both the religious and secularly based, than I could ever attempt to. Read it. You may be surprised as well.
My point in all of this rather seemingly scattered writing is one thing—to share why I, a Catholic Christian, one who shares Pope Francis’ exhortation not to judge the souls of others who disagree with me in this or in other areas, and one who does not hate myself nor my Church, can, as a “same-sex attracted” man, yet at the same time not stand in support of those who advocate their version of equality. And yet again, who can say with our Holy Father, “who am I to judge?” The fine line I walk is in attempting to do both. Or neither, depending how you view it. But Jesus told us that the path to life was narrow, and by that I do not think He was always suggesting more rules, regulations, or restrictions. But He did mean hearing one another out, and being genuinely kind to those we vehemently disagree with. And that is what I, in my own at times stumbling and faltering way, am endeavoring to do. And doing so led me full circle to my roots as a Catholic and traditional Christian who believes our society is in danger when we throw away something as basic as marriage between one man and one woman. And that view does not make me a bigot, extremist, or fanatical. Nor does it make me a self-homophobe. It simply makes me a person who, at times, must walk outside of my comfort zone. So may I dare you to do the same? And if, in doing so, we find we at the end of the day that we still do not agree, may we then at least genuinely respect the search and suffering of those who we disagree with, whether on this or other thistle-like issues? After all, isn’t that what true tolerance is meant to be?
Related articles, AS ALWAYS, FROM VARIOUS POINTS OF VIEW…
- LGBT allies changing the church from within (msnbc.com)
- The Silent LGBT Rights Revolution in America’s Churches (tjeys1984.wordpress.com)
- Madonna Shows Support for Russian LGBT Community With New Campaign (mix1051.cbslocal.com)
- Taxpayer-Funded Christian School Forces Shocking Anti-Gay Pledge On Their Families (addictinginfo.org)
- My first novel: A discussion on faith, scripture and sexual identity (tylerjfrancke.com)