This has not been the easiest Father’s Day for me, having lost my dad from this world just over 2 months ago, and having no earthly descendants to celebrate it with me. Not exactly anyway. But far from the worst either.
In the last couple months as I have been healing from the events of this winter and spring, I wrote two articles in tribute to my father. One was in regards to my relationship with him and in particular in connection to SSA (same-sex attraction) issues, and I was privileged to have this article first posted in Public Discourse, an outreach and arm of the esteemed Witherspoon Institute, and, just today, in ChurchPOP, a Catholic collection of many different articles, news items, quizzes and other just-for-fun stuff. Read it in either place (if you haven’t already that is), but be sure to in any case peruse them both. There are tons of other articles in both sites that I am confident you will enjoy and be blessed with, and in order to be sure you do not miss out I am placing both links just below, which also list other articles I have written for each site:
The second article dealt with the death experience itself, and, while that may sound morbid to some of you, and I will never say it was not tough stuff, it was also unexpectedly beautiful. The other site I write for is Catholic Stand, and they recently published that particular tribute, as well as linking it to the Big Pulpit. Both are the brainchildren of one Tito Edwards, who does most of his great work through the National Catholic Register, the nation’s oldest Catholic news publication, and now owned by EWTN. Again the link below will come from my author page, as I had a number of other items on that page, but the one on “happy death” was my latest, and certainly a lasting tribute to the good man who was my earthly father.
Lastly, a FB (Facebook) friend shared with me some of the most touching words possible last night when we were chatting online. I have not met this young man as of yet but hope to in the future. His name is Andres, and he lives in Mexico. Here is what he said to me:
“Happy father’s day for you, I love you lots my brother and your baby is very proud of you… Your papa is holding him on his arms and he is very happy seeing him smile, as I smile for you.”
The backstory on that comment is this–My former wife Shirley and myself had 4 miscarriages in the early 1980s. We have therefore four “30-something” children in heaven. Andres, whose first language is Spanish, wrote this when my dad initially passed away, in fact on that very day. It is both simple and powerful:
Andres–“Now you have mama and papa praying for you in heaven.”
Me–“Yes I do. Amazing.”
Andres–“And now your papa met your son :)”
I have not met my unborn children, although I briefly held the first one for a few moments, as the amniotic sac had not broken. But this young man recalled me speaking of them and wanted me to know that they now had grandparents in heaven. Pretty amazing for a young man I have never met.
Finally last year I became a godfather for the Catholic baptism of John Paul Xavier Millegan, the youngest son of my friends Brantly and Krista Millegan. ChurchPOP, mentioned above, is Brantly’s brainchild. So, as I heard it said recently on the radio by a man in a similar situation, I have 5 children, and one I can hold. I am definitely a dad. And a proud one too. Although he is definitely “bigger and badder” now, here is pretty much my favorite picture so far of the recent one year old:
My godson John Paul Xavier Millegan
So yes, I am a father too. The links and pics prove it I think. And a very proud one at that!!! Happy Father’s Day to all men out there, whether you have co-created any children or not. It’s your day so enjoy it.
I have never been particularly fond of contraception. Even when I was an Assemblies of God minister and newly married in 1979, primarily for health reasons (as my then-wife had epilepsy), we decided to investigate NFP (Natural Family Planning), ironically at a time in history when not only were pretty much all of my charismatic/Pentecostal friends and colleagues using the ever-tasty birth control Pill to prevent those “little surprises” until they felt ready, but just a dozen or so short years after Roman Catholics en masse (and sometimes in Mass!) had rejected the teachings of Humane Vitae and were busily contracepting like never before.
But even then, 35 years ago now, we never regretted the choice of NFP and realized that, unlike its earlier primitive “cousin” often referred to as the rhythm method, it was exactly as effective statistically as the Pill and just as easy to use. The couple simply was to keep a chart of daily temperature readings, (even easier and quicker now with the advent of the electronic thermometer), and you virtually knew both the least and most fertile times each month, which was information that artificial birth control could never give to you, and we used it not only to prevent but to virtually ensure the timing of our 4 pregnancies when we did start trying to begin a family. It worked in both directions.
What NFP is to birth control is, in a very real way, what baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ is, or at least should be, to salvation. One of the biggest objections, and one I highly agree with, to using artificial birth control, is that it separates the sexual or marital act from a committed and hopefully permanent marital union. Bluntly put, due to the amazing advances in medical science, you no longer need to worry or fear about a pregnancy and thus have no particular need to wait until marriage to enjoy the pleasures of whatever form of sexuality you might desire. You can truly, as Stephen Stills and the late Luther Vandross sang so powerfully, “love the one you’re with.” What is sad and even tragic about this philosophy is that it does more than encourage early and varied sexual experimentation, but then proceeds to take away the very joy of that same sexual expression when one finally does finish sowing their wild oats, so to speak.
Simply put, if you have had a diet of chocolate sundaes all of your life, it is (and I can attest to this as a person with diabetes) suddenly a large letdown to begin eating a diet consisting purely of fruits, raw veggies, lean meat and to count carbohydrates daily. And most of us even with this condition do not follow the dietary and health recommendations fully and hence suffer with health issues which could be prevented or cured much more easily if we did so. The same is true with artificial birth control—and if you do not believe me, then simply look at the statistics, both within Christianity and other religious expressions. Since the advent of artificial contraception and easy abortion should it fail, 50% of today’s marriages end in divorce, and, if you count couples who live together and cohabitate, even long-term, as a form of “marriage,” then that statistic skyrockets even higher. Add to that the numerous improprieties that occur within modern marriages that do last and it becomes nearly impossible not to connect the dots here. Nor does the Pill or Depo shot particularly prevent abortions, because many abortions occur precisely due to the failure or misuse of contraception. Artificial birth control plainly does not work—not really.
However this article is not primarily about the topic of birth control!!! I have some great friends andassociates (Brantly and Krista Millegan come to mind, as do many others) who have written extensively on this topic, and I would defer to them for further information if it is a topic you wish to study further.
This post is, in reality, about the many aborted or illegitimate spiritual births which have occurred since the Church, particularly post-Reformation. This newer and in many ways truncated form of Christian expression has found it expedient to, in a similar way as artificial birth control does to traditional marriage, separate the salvation experience somehow from the very method God has instituted to initiate it and infuse it into our Christian lives. And that method of spiritual transmission of the Gospel is the Sacrament of water baptism in the name of the Triune Godhead, whether infant or later in life. That is God’s intended mode of causing us to become “born again Christians.”
I know that this sounds as though I doubt the salvation experiences of my non-Catholic or non-baptized evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. Or that I do not believe in the saving power of a living Faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. On both counts I will just say I don’t. Not in and of themselves. But I do realize that there is a great deal of confusion of what the Christian life even is, much less in how it is lived out, and just like the contraceptive mentality, the “saved by faith alone” mentality, the idea of accepting Christ by a simple prayer and then going on our merry way does essentially the same thing spiritually in far too many cases. And, irony of ironies, during my 35 years away from the Church I heard, over and over, that Catholics, Orthodox, and certain other Protestants too, depended on baptism, not Jesus, for their salvation, and therefore were not “real” Christians. Yet those same folks very often depended on a specific moment of time too when Christ came into their lives too—for some it was an evangelistic Crusade such as Billy Graham, others a tearful night at the altar of their local church, or any number of similar occasions when Jesus indeed became more real to them and they went forth considering themselves “saved.” And no matter how they lived afterwards, many then and now have held tenaciously to that childhood or teenage experience of “asking Jesus into their hearts” as a guarantee of their place in the afterlife. In short they were doing with the “sinner’s prayer” what many Roman Catholics had done with baptism—they depended on that one moment in time to have saved them, once for all, and had long since quit worrying about how they lived their lives as believers in Jesus Christ.
I would be very clear at this point that there are those, including myself, who found new and deeper walks with Christ in His reality outside of the established Church. The real question is not whether God can do this, or does. He can and does. But amazingly, in the zeal many of us had as evangelicals to “get others saved,” as well as staying saved ourselves, that very zealotry has led to level upon level of confusion of what salvation even is meant to be, or how we are intended to enter into it. It is similar to living together outside of marriage while yet genuinely loving the other person and calling it a marriage when it is not. The love can be just as real, or perhaps in many cases more so, but just as easily can lead to the hook up mentality which is so prevalent today. It can very much seem like a marriage until you for whatever reason are no longer together, and then when it ends you may say “well we were not really married anyway.”
Here is an example. The other day on TV I heard a woman, on a secular program, talking about a particular minister she was angry with for one reason or another, but, despite her wrath and disillusionment, was not particularly worried about going to hell for her attitude towards him because she believed in “once saved always saved.” Even to those who believe in salvation strictly by faith in Christ, the thinking of such a person is ludicrous and dangerous to say the least. The reason I say this is that the fruit of such an attitude is a complete separation from a one-time childhood prayer from the way we then choose to later live as a result.
But God never intended such a separation. Never. Looking in Sacred Scripture to the book of Acts, St Peter led 3000 people to Christ on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:37-41). And how did he do so? He told the crowd to “repent and be baptized,” offering them the promised gift of the Holy Spirit as a direct result. He, like Jesus before him just 10 days earlier (see St Matthew 28: 19-20), connected two things to that saving faith in order to activate it in one’s life—foremost was repentance, or a turning away of sin and towards God, and the other—water baptism. And, of particular interest to those who believe that infant baptism is incorrect, Jesus actually reverses the order here, mentioning baptism first! And, throughout the New Testament, you do not find one instance of unbaptized Christians. No one was considered Christian, at least not fully so, without this Sacrament of initiation. And yet somehow we have nearly completely lost this in our day and age. We have separated Jesus from His very path to us. And while it is true, as stated already, that He is not limited to the Sacrament of baptism, and further that many who are indeed baptized depend upon it in a very similar way that the woman above seemingly depended on her childhood sinner’s prayer experience but divorced it from her daily life in many aspects, there is nevertheless a clear foundation, given by Jesus and understood by the early Church, of what makes a person fully a Christian, and it always, always, always starts with baptism. From St John the Baptist to Jesus. From St Peter to St Paul. And when we “contracept” our salvation experience, it should not then surprise us when we find ourselves eventually divorced from Christ by either a rejection of our baptismal initiation into Him, or by similarly tossing aside a zeal to find a personal conversion experience. The problem is we need both. We are called in the New Testament to be baptized into Him, and then by that same New Testament to live for Him until death. And those two things were both the expectation of Jesus Himself and the Church right from the beginning. The New Testament does not acknowledge as Christian those who have been baptized but later reject the Lord and His Teachings in their daily lives. In short there is no such thing as a “backslidden Christian,” or someone who (and this expression is even more peculiar to me and always has been) someone who has “accepted Christ as Savior but not as Lord.” We cannot disconnect our salvation experiences or walks with Christ into such word slicing and dicing. We love Him or we don’t.
When I first attended RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults—which is a series of classes offered in most Catholic parishes for those wishing to become Catholic or to renew their commitment to the Church), I was admittedly astounded that the first introductory session did not in any way emphasize that personal aspect of a Christ who was waiting to burst into our lives. Instead they session opened with a “centering prayer,” which is a whole other topic by the way, and the rest of the informational meeting told what to expect in the coming months if we continued. They spoke of such topics as the 7 Sacraments, the yearly Liturgical Calendar, and what kind of expectations Rome had for us as Catholic Christians, such as attending Mass every Sunday, or accepting Mary or Papal authority. I do not recall every detail but that was essentially it. The sad truth was, I was then a very recent returnee to the Church, and although well-catechized in my formative years, was admittedly pretty rusty and most of those themes meant very little to me or to my daily life at that time. It was not only “Christianese” but “Catholic Christianese.” And totally overwhelming. But that missing aspect was one I noticed, because as I listened I waited in vain for someone to even offer an opportunity for us to repent of our sins and make a fresh commitment to Christ.
Jeff Cavins writes about this in his tremendous book “My Life on the Rock.” He points out the need to, first and foremost, give that simple message to those who have not yet accepted Christianity and/or who need a fresh and vital commitment to our Lord. Otherwise becoming Catholic alone will not be effective in bringing that person to salvation. Neither, he goes on to say, is it enough to point someone to personal repentance of sin and faith in Christ without then giving them the tools to live the Christian life, and those tools and graces are indeed to be found in the Sacramental life and the Liturgy. But particularly with adults the first order of business is to bring that person to the understanding that they need Christ, and this is something Pope Francis, as well as Benedict and Blessed John Paul II, have often emphasized in their teachings and writings.
So which comes first, conversion or baptism? Theologians have been grappling with this for hundreds of years, and again I would defer to my many brother and sister Catholic apologists and to official Church teaching to answer that one. And I would once more point out that God, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacred Scripture, uses the Sacraments to bring us grace but is “not bound by the Sacraments” (see CCC #1257). We all know of exceptions such as the good thief who, literally in His last moments of life and breath, fully repented and was then guaranteed salvation by Christ Jesus Himself. But that was never God’s best for him. Nor for us. My real point here is that neither are to be neglected, nor do either guarantee heaven to us. But let us not separate that which God has joined together, as the Sacred Scripture speaks of in regard to human marriage but which also, as the bride of Christ, applies fully and totally to each and every believer in Him. Baptism is the normative, not the exception. And it is appropriate to speak of our salvation experience as beginning there. Just do not think it ends there, nor that praying some obscure prayer when you were 3 or 4 years of age guarantees somehow that you are “forever saved.” One view contracepts the Gospel—the other aborts it totally. Neither are an especially good choice to make if you wish to meet and live with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords one day. True salvation is indeed by faith—and that faith is first and foremost expressed and in fact imparted to us in the holy waters of baptism. But true salvation never ends there, and is a lifelong process of remaining in a state of sanctifying grace. Jesus said it best when He solemnly told His followers, “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13, RSV, CE). Let us therefore quit contracepting—whether in the physical or spiritual realms. Neither are God’s intent for us. And both matter.
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 agreat 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…
SUMMER 2013 NOTE: While this post is a bit dated, I am sharing it once again because I have a somewhat different audience than when it was originally blogged. I think it clarifies, not just my opinion, but basic Catholic teaching on both celibacy and chastity, and applies not just to those of us who are SSA but to any single persons.
While the 2012 campaign is long over, I do reference a couple of posts, with links below, regarding meeting US Senator and former (and possibly future!) Presidential candidate Rick Santorum. This is not meant as an endorsement or even a suggestion of who to vote for when the time may again arise in 2016, but does show my journey of skepticism to respect of someone I consider a fine person and sincere in his Catholic Christian Faith. And who is not a homophobe. So here is a chance to dig into a complicated mind (mine) and to at least attempt understanding why I have moved towards a more traditionalist view on the issues of same-sex attraction and the Church. I do not ask for agreement on all that is shared here obviously, but would ask that you read with a mind–and heart–that is open. Thanks.
After the recent articles I wrote regarding SSA (same-sex attraction) and my support of and subsequent opportunity to meet Rick Santorum, I received many kind comments, along with just two who were somewhat less than supportive. Although I already answered them briefly in the comments section of that posting, a few of the points or challenges made by one of the commentators (Tom Veers) caused me to do some thinking about the possible reasons behind his virulent opposition.
He even strongly suggested that I was not following official Catholic teaching in my views on the issues of chastity and celibacy, and his arguments sounded vaguely familiar to me so I decided to do a bit more delving into the topic, both for my own benefit and for that of the readers. And thus this post. I would like at this point to note that the Santorum posts each received more “hits” than any on this blog so far. So I know that the topic is of very real interest and concern to many of you, just as it is to me. For your convenience I will include links to both articles following today’s writing.
What I would like to first do is to share Mr. Veer’s initial comment, along with any relevant portions of my own response, and then add his second comment and again mine back to him. After that I will add some points I later reflected upon which I believe may have influenced his thinking and his reasons for believing that I am “radical” in my views on this topic. I would place the disclaimer here that I cannot speak for him, but I base my thoughts strictly upon what he has already publicly shared on this blog. I would also add that this in no way is to question his Catholic Christian Faith or walk with our Lord, but rather to point out where we apparently differ and why.
As a conservative, chaste, Catholic who is also homosexual (I find the same-sex attracted talk to be pointless. We do not call heterosexuals “opposite-gender attracted”. As my orthodox confessor says “One can compare it to being right-handed, but that analogy fails after a point, because sexuality affects the entirety of our being.”) I cannot fathom how you support Rick Santorum. He IS a homophobe. Plain and simple. The push for gay marriage is not like the 9/11 attacks. His take on couples who are in a romantic relationship and comparing them to his love of his grandmother is demeaning. Yes, it is disordered attraction, but there is something significantly different about it than compared to the love of an elderly family member.
It is fine to stand with the Church. I proudly do it. She is my mother, even though it is hard sometimes. That being said, she calls on us to stand against homophobia. Having read some of your blog posts I honestly think you are not comfortable with your sexuality and trying to compensate for it by supporting extremist Catholic positions against homosexuality/gay marriage that ARE NOT in line with Church teaching.
You do no service to those of us who want to live a normal life within the confines of the Church with the self-hating rhetoric.
I thank you Tom Veers and also ProginMN for your sharing and thoughts, and since both posts are similar I would like to tackle them together if I may. I know that the term “SSA” does carry some negative political connotations to it, which is why some object to it. Ironically so does LGBT, which is why others object to it. We could argue about this side point endlessly but I think I would just prefer to summarize your accusations, which is what they are, that I take some unusual and “extreme” position on homosexuality and same-gender marriage, as utter nonsense.
The clear teaching of the Catechism and every single Vatican document or writing of the USCCB would bear out that I am taking the official Roman Catholic Church stance on this issue–no more and no less. As to my discomfort with my own sexuality, I must smile a bit because I have indeed struggled very hard and wrestled with the Church position every bit as much as you or any of us from our backgrounds do, and have found that this kind of wrestling causes a person to face themselves pretty squarely in many ways–some of which are indeed uncomfortable. Change always is. Ironically a few weeks back I was somewhat attacked for being too “accepting” of my sexuality, and it too was in regards to this very same posting! Strange how different people can read the same article and come to vastly different opinions.
I would just ask you both to remember that words on a page do not always clearly show the nuances one has, and we all have them, within our understandings of what Catholic teaching really is. But extreme I am not. I have always clearly stated that I support basic rights of actively LGBT couples, but that it does not need to be done in a way that promotes or redefines marriage. I have further said that I am not particularly a fan of “ex-gay” or reparative therapy and have shared some of that in my posts as well. I accept myself as a person who has SSA, but I do not allow my sexuality to define who I am as a person. I think your confessor is mistaken if that is indeed what he is saying.
I am a child of the living God, and a Catholic Christian. If that makes me an “extremist” so be it. You might re-read some of my posts and note that I have done precious little compensating or attempting to cover some hidden self-hatred you both think I carry. Possibly you are projecting some of your own discomfort on to me? I do not know that and would not presume to say. And I would ask for that same respect from both of you.
Anyway that is not, at heart, the issue. My hang-ups or yours mean precious little in the grand scheme of things on this teaching or any other Church “hot button issues” here. What the issue does boil down to is, what does the Church actually teach, and can I believe and fully accept it? If not, I need to find another place of worship. If I call myself a Catholic Christian I need to accept Magisterial authority. I would suggest you might ask yourselves some of those very difficult questions if you have not done so already. If you are a Catholic, and I pray you stay within the Church if so, I would challenge you to follow the Church fully.
Finally I would never pretend or mislead you or any other person from a homosexual background into thinking that the goal of celibacy or chastity is some cake-walk. It isn’t. But living outside of your own understanding of God’s moral code is far harder in the long run, and much more stressful. Again I appreciate where you both are coming from, but for now we will need to agree to see this issue differently. Peace.
I accept everything the Church teaches to be true. My confessor is not saying that we should define ourselves by our sexuality, but that sexuality, straight or gay, does affect the entirety of our being. Bl. John Paul II says this in Theology of the Body. Weshould not define ourselves as gay or straight, but to say that it is the same as another trait such as being right-handed or having blue eyes is naïve. We are by our very nature sexual creatures. You don’t seem to acknowledge this or the fact that homosexuals who do accept the Magisterium of the Church are often discriminated against by so-called “orthodox” Catholics, unless they take positions that are utterly at odds with the Church’s call for compassion.
Back to my other point though, which you never answered. How can you support Rick Santorum, a man who thinks that supporting gay rights is equivalent to the 9/11 attacks and has compared homosexual relationships to wanting to marry your grandmother, a proposition that is demeaning. If he was any other candidate that opposed the ridiculous idea that two men could marry I would have no problem. The man has indicated, however, by his public statements on this matter that he is a bigot.
Tom I would just suggest you do as I did, having had similar concerns about Santorum in the past. Dig into what he actually did say, and the context of it. You will find he did not make the statements you suggest, at least not in the ways you suggest he did. I find him to be surprisingly (and pleasantly so) compassionate and not the monster that Dan Savage and some other LGBT activists have made him out to be. I get your concerns, I truly do. I would just say to do some further research before assuming the worst about him. And if you choose not to support him that is fine obviously but at least do a bit more homework on it before slandering him needlessly.
As to this right or left hand thing, I do not know where you are coming from. I never suggested sexuality was a simple matter of such a thing. Of course it is a very in-depth part of our lives and of who we are as people. I never once hinted otherwise. And I have even written about the fact that the Church has a long ways to go in the compassion department. One thing that I find very hurtful is people who “admire” me and my story, and then subtly reject my offer of platonic friendship with them. And it has happened to me more than once. If you really have studied my words on this topic you would find I have written on this very thing, on this very blog in fact. And I agree with you that it is painful indeed. But I am not going to reject Church teaching on gay marriage or compromise my beliefs even if some within the Church do so by their unloving attitudes. That is on them, not me.
And believe me, I know it is easier said than done to follow our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, and I am the first to acknowledge I do so far from perfectly. But you in fact seem very intent on rejecting me as well, as some radical person who does not understand Church teaching and I do not believe that to be the case. If so, please tell me what particular official Church teaching I am incorrect on so that I can correct it. I will gladly do so.
I received no further comments from Mr. Veers, but since a few of his challenges or questions are also common ones from the Catholic actively LGBT community (and yes there is one), I thought it would pay to deal with them and hopefully benefit us all in the process.
First, if you noted the title of this post, I very deliberately pointed out the contrast between two words that many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, tend to equate with each another—celibacy and chastity. While the core concepts are certainly related, they are not identical. I bring this up because, from Mr. Veer’s responses, I found myself later wondering if he perhaps believed that a person with SSA could be “chaste but not celibate?” I bring this up because it was a very real question I myself wrestled with awhile back, and I think it is a very valid question. If you notice in his initial comment, he calls himself “aconservative, chaste, Catholic who is also homosexual.” He uses the word chastity but not mention celibacy, nor does he once do so in either of his interactions with me, even when I bring it up. He does however further state that “It is fine to stand with the Church. I proudly do it. She is my mother, even though it is hard sometimes. That being said, she calls on us to standagainst homophobia.” And later in that same paragraph, he suggests that I am “supporting extremist Catholic positions against homosexuality/gay marriage that ARE NOT in line with Church teaching.”
What I find telling here is not what he says, but what he does not say. I have had many contacts with Catholics or those who consider themselves such but who are also open to the idea of monogamous same-gender sexual relationships. All of them would consider themselves in line with Church teaching, as well as “chaste.” For that reason I find myself wondering out loud if that is what Mr. Veers may be doing here. He also seems far more concerned with Santorum’s (and the Church’s) opposition to legalizing gay marriage than he is about her defining chastity. Again this is not an accusation but simply an observation, and a “teaching moment” if you will on the official Catholic definitions of those words.
First “chastity”—the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which is by the way a binding Magisterial document which was thoroughly reviewed by the bishops of the entire world before ever being signed off as official by Blessed John Paul II, defines it this way:
2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,”135 the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.
A dictionary definition of this word is as follows:
the state of being chaste; purity
abstention from sexual intercourse; virginity or celibacy: a vow of chastity
[C13: from Old French chasteté, from Latin castitās, from castus chaste ]
It may be worth noting that one could actually read this definition and believe that “chastity” is not being violated in a same-sex relationship, particularly if one considers that relationship to be a “marriage,” and by choosing to use only definition # 1 from the dictionary as cited. I know because I at one mercifully short period of time read it exactly that way, and as a result attempted to compromise my own overall understanding of Catholic teaching on the topic of SSA. Could a person or persons in a same-gender relationship be aiming for chastity? It could possibly be so, if the above definition was the only thing the Church officially stated on the topic. But herein lies the problem with reading things out of context, and further with “proof-texting” either the Catechism or the Bible. Just a few paragraphs later the CCC defines, just in case there is any question left, what “chastity” means to a person with homosexual inclinations:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Clearly from these three paragraphs, those of us from SSA backgrounds as well as those who are not are both called to celibacy unless sacramentally married within the Church. However celibacy alone is not the ultimate goal—chastity is.
And while Mr. Veers is absolutely correct that the Church is to stand against homophobia, she also tells us how to do so in CCC# 2358 above. And supporting same-sex marriage legislation is not one of those ways—in fact we are expressly forbidden to do so in numerous Vatican and USCCB documents. Again for convenience I will list links to those immediately following this post. So here is where he “veers” off course in saying that what he considers to be “extremist Catholic positions againsthomosexuality/gay marriage” are somehow against Church teaching. One and one still equals two, and either the Church is correct or incorrect on this official teaching. There is not a third option available. And if she is wrong here, she may be wrong in many other places also. I contend that she is correct. We therefore either both believe and attempt to follow the very important teachings given by our beloved Church on gay marriage, or we do not. And yet, as Mr. Veers rightly tells us, we also attempt to stand against homophobia as well. It however is not an “either/or” but rather a “both /and” proposition.
A remark about the word “homophobia” is in order here. I have heard some Catholics and other Christians snidely say “I am not homophobic—I am not scared of gays and lesbians.” Might I ask you to think that through a bit before you make such a statement? This term, while drastically overused at times, is not in its purest form something to be dismissed so easily. If you are busy being “disgusted” by LGBT people, angry at “them” for not conforming to your standards, and will not associate with “people like that” then you are, yes, homophobic. A phobia is a fear—and if you find the need to treat a group of people, whoever they are, in a different manner or to keep them at arm’s length, is that not a fear of sorts? And in most cases it is groundless. We who are from that background are not any more likely to molest your children than the married gym teachers at their private Catholic or public schools. We also may not conform perfectly to your idea of masculine or feminine, even if we are no longer active in the lifestyle. I for one have yet to learn to change the oil in my car, and I prefer a good jazz concert or symphony to a football game any day. Those differences are superficial though. They do not make us who we are any more than does our sexual inclination towards the same or opposite genders. So do not tell me you like my writings, but neglect to invite me to your home for a good meal. And when I do, let your child sit on my lap for God’s sake—literally. They will be safe. Maybe too you can teach me a little about football, and I in turn can take you to a play or concert or cook you a good meal. Homophobia is subtle but it does exist, and it includes all of the above and much, much more. And the Church—our Church—tells us to let it go; along with a host of other sins we all tend to carry deep within us. For “unjust discrimination” (CCC# 2358) takes many forms and homophobia is surely one of them.
Lastly I found a fascinating link which supposedly lists the “The 8 worst things Rick Santorum has said about gay people.” Since Mr. Veers seems to believe most or all of what is written here, I would like to take just a moment to once again use the word “context.” While I could poke holes in each and every one of these items, I will just choose one or two and share why I do not believe these statements were or are “homophobic.”
3.Discussing gay marriage: “This is an issue just like 9-11… We didn’t decide we wanted to fight the war on terrorism because we wanted to. It was brought to us. And if not now, when? When the supreme courts in all the other states have succumbed to the Massachusetts version of the law?”
Veers and others use this statement of the honorable Senator to “prove” he thinks LGBT folks are just as evil as the 9/11 attackers. But read the second sentence, and he was simply comparing the fight for gay “marriage” to 9/11 in one specific sense—neither battle was asked for, and both were foisted upon the nation. And that, in both cases, now, not later (when it is the law of the entire land) is the time to fight. He vilifies no LGBT person here.
Here is another one:
7.“Is anyone saying same-sex couples can’t love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?”
I do not know about you, but I am in some very serious doubt that Rick Santorum has fantasies about his mother-in-law. He was making the point that, once marriage for same-gender couples is legalized, other types of “love” relationships could indeed follow. And in fact he is correct. There are already moves to allow polygamy and “man-boy” love to be legalized. What is next??? That is what he is saying here. He is not condemning anyone in what apparently was meant as a humorous statement.
As stated I could go through the whole list, but I think the point is clear. We need chastity in all of our lives, whether celibate or not. And for those of us who are single, chastity starts and ends with celibacy. Oh, and in case you are not aware, “heterophobia” exists and is alive and well within the LGBT community. And both are horribly wrong.
If you have known me any length of time or followed me either here or on FB/Twitter, you will know I have been all over the map and a couple planetary globes over the last 3 years or so in my personal quest to understand the Church and where I fit in with her as a single and celibate same-sex attracted male.
I will not pretend to suddenly have all of the answers, as I surely do not, but one thing I realize, even after trying to run from it on several occasions, is that I belong to Rome and Rome to me.
Understanding that point is one thing, and discerning how to follow it is, at least for me, yet another. I have been greatly disturbed during the continued marriage debates and other cultural battlegrounds with both sides, very frankly, and I think that very real scandals can come from extremes in either direction at times.
Think with me first of what a scandal actually is if you will. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has a number of definitions, but the first two are worth noting in regards to the Church and the questions regarding same-sex marriage:
a: discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person
b: conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another
: Loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety
I especially relate the first definition to myself, as I have definitely done my share of careless overreacting and, while not with malice, have certainly spoken out of turn in regards to this issue and how both the Vatican and our own Archdiocese have at times handled it in practice.
As you may know, Minnesota was a battleground state and there was, and still is, a deep divide among Catholics as to the recent decision to allow same-sex marriage to begin here in exactly one week from today (August 1).
Part of me was simply glad to see the battle over, at least in my immediate vicinity. That same part of me did actually rejoice, and I freely admit this, because of the very real need for family-type units of all stripes, even those who do not in any way follow or practice the Catholic Faith, to have very clear protections under the law with regard to such things as inheritance taxes, Social Security benefits, hospital visitation, wills, and onward. And I still see those results as a positive outcome for the most part.
That was one side of me. But another region of my soul was deeply conflicted because Roman Catholicism teaches, and I happen to agree with her, that a truly sacramental marriage in the Church can only be between one man and one woman, and is normally meant to exist for a lifetime. And, not only due to same-gender marriages, but with such public policies as easy “no fault” divorce, even easier contraception, and abortion supposed “rights,” marriage has already taken a horrific beating just since I was growing up in the 1960s. Speaking of scandal, by the way, when I was a child any divorce was considered to be exactly that. Now marriage is commonly viewed to be, as one woman I know used to say, “as long as you both shall love.” And that is not what marriage or family is meant to be. The foundational redefinition of this sacred institution started, in reality, long ago.
SPECIAL NOTE: I found out on my way home from work tonight, after writing this post, that today is the 45th anniversary of Humanae Vitae!!! This was the controversial encyclical penned by Pope Paul VI on this day in 1968 that argued forcefully against artificial contraception, stating it would lead pretty much to the entire list of things I just mentioned. Pretty amazing and prophetic. If you have never read it I will link it here:
As you read it, you might be surprised at how much Pope Paul VI knew of human nature as well as societal trends. He was clearly ahead of ,not behind, the times.And he suffered for his courage in sharing what he believed God had given to him–and God indeed had done so.
In any case when the announcement came that MN had passed the recent Marriage Act, and defined all marriage as “civil,” something other states who have allowed same-sex marriages to become part of the law have not done, I felt in one sense it was a step in a needed direction, not because I supported redefining marriage as such, but because I believed, and still do, that the sheer amount of animosity between the Church and the LGBT communities which has formed over the years will only get worse and to an absolute crisis point if some type of protections are not clearly put into place. FBI reports, just as an example, have cited a drastic rise in crimes towards LGBT persons here in MN as well as in other places where this battle has come to a head. My fear was and is that if the Legislature had rejected the proposed changes in marriage law, eventually some of those on the far right side of the issue would be emboldened to do even more of those types of crimes. The noticeable open hostility had begun to frighten me and continues to do so.
All that to say that I see the possibility of scandal and misuse of power existing on both sides, those for “marriage equality” and those not, and I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of that kind of injustice. I know it to a very small extent compared to many others, but I also am far too aware of others who have paid for it through everything from being mercilessly bullied to their very lives, and at least largely the Church has been silent on that particular “scandal” unfortunately. And scandal it is.
So what am I saying here? I am not suggesting that the Church change her doctrinal stance on this issue, not at all, but that she instead ready herself on a pragmatic level and seriously begin to educate leaders and laity alike in ways to become far more pastoral and compassionate than in the past. The “gay issue” is not going to go away, no matter the results of the marriage or anti-marriage movements. And I would feel that way no matter what Church body I was a part of. Catholics are not the only religious group who are guilty here either.
But then there is the other “scandal,” the one most Christians more are familiar with, and that is the sense of feeling that the LGBT “life choices” are being foisted upon them through the societal changes we all face in regards to these issues. And the argument does not hold up that there are no choices here. The feelings are not chosen, but behavior always is. And I get that too.
I also am clearly guilty of this area of scandal in a number of my Face Book and blog posts near the time of the marriage vote this spring, and for that I profusely apologize. I went from being fairly silent about the issue to sounding and reacting almost militantly against what my Church teaches. THAT WAS WRONG OF ME.EXTREMELY SO. And for those I offended or hurt by doing those words I very deeply apologize. Further, and more seriously, I allowed myself to give up on Holy Mother Church and ran instead and yet again to easier pastures to graze for a time. One might think I would have learned better by now, particularly after 2 or 3 other such gallivants, but clearly I permitted something that is usually my strength, which is a genuine desire for social justice and compassion, to become instead my weakness by not staying tenaciously where I belonged and taking a sane and middle of the road approach, and most importantly one which was and is in accord with Church teaching. In other words I blew it.
Hence my trip to the confessional yesterday after two months of anger and un-dealt with guilt that had been building up, like it or not. And the realization that I can never, ever, ever let this or other issues push me away from the Church again. And the further recognition that either side on this thorny issue can cause scandal and unneeded pain and hurt to others if not handled with both kindness and yet truth. Both/and, not either/or.
So “Catholicboyrichard” is here to stay, and with a capital “C” this time around. Maybe one day I will be a grown man in the Faith and can finally change my screen name. I hope so. But not yet. I have to finish adolescence first.
Mea maxima culpa.
Related articles–As always from a variety of perspectives…
My name is Richard Gerard Evans. I mention that because my middle name is based on St Gerard Majella, one of the premier “pro life” Saints within the Catholic Church. I do not know to this day if my mother knew this when I was named, but I do know that my parents, devoted Catholic Christians, produced 8 children in a family where money was scarce and almost any alternative would have been easier.
For the amazing story of this great young Saint, read below please:
But now I must make a correction–there were 9 of us. When I was conceived, it was just a few months after my mother had suffered a miscarriage. She once told me that I was the one blessing from that event, in that she and my father would not have conceived me if that other child had lived. So not only do I have a sibling in heaven who I have never met, but I owe my life to that unknown and unnamed sibling. I also owe my life, the youngest of 9, not 8, to the fact that Roe v Wade was yet 17 years in the future at the time of my birth. While I do not believe my parents would have considered abortion, they certainly could have done so when I was still a “clump of cells” in an over-used womb which had produced 7 living children and finally a miscarried one. If there had been a “logical reason” to recommend abortion this certainly would have been a classic case. Instead, my parents not only had me but I was baptized and given the name of a patron who obviously prayed for me then and still does so.
A few years ago I has posted a number of “pro life” articles on my Face Book page. As a result, I was told that I as a middle-aged white male had “no right” to even have an opinion on the issue. I think I do. I think we all do. Half of the children aborted are male. And I might easily have been one of them. Add to that, this was not the first time I heard a similar argument. When I was 14 or 15, I stated my pro-life views to another family member, and was shot down by the suggestion at that time that “I was too young” to have a view on the issue. So I was “too young” then, am “too old” now, have always been the wrong gender, even though it takes both a male and female set of cells to produce a child and always will, and on top of it all I am “white” and could not possibly know what poverty and desperation are like. Guess again on all counts.
As to the first listed of those reasons why my voice does not matter, I would not pretend to have first-hand insight on that one. I have never been a woman and have no intention of gender re-assignment in the near or distant future. But I do have a couple of closely second-hand experiences that I am pretty sure a number of people do not realize or know about, and I would like to bear my heart and share those right now.
When I was 18, I met a lovely young woman who I began to care about very deeply. Although not a practicing Catholic at the time, I had made a serious and strong choice to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ and spent a fair amount of time sharing what this meant to me with her. I also had a certain amount of attraction to her, but we had no formal commitment to one another as such due to the difference in our beliefs primarily. So although seeing me from time to time, she was concurrently dating another man and eventually realized that she was pregnant by him. He left her, and fast. So now it was my turn. I was able to pray with her, and she surrendered her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior. But she was still pregnant. So, the summer after my senior year in high school, my commitment to this young woman deepened, and I made some calls and contacts with an early Crisis Pregnancy Center who was willing to take her in while she prepared to give birth to her child and then decided what to do about his or her future. Arrangements were made, and then…we had to tell her father. I again offered to be there during that difficult conversation, as well as a local evangelical pastor known by her family. We went there knowing she might be facing a tough sell–as this would be her second abortion and her dad had been behind that one as well.
We explained to him the arrangements that had been made, and I can still recall the shock and utter frustration with this man, a widower, who actually wanted his then 21 year old daughter to abort again, even though she had clear and huge support and was attempting to follow Christ this time around. Sadly, he won the battle in the end. But later she was so very, very sad knowing she had ended the life of her child, and did not have to. And I wonder where her father was then. The irony of it all was that, had she kept that child, I very likely might have married her eventually, and raised that child as my own with no questions asked. Would that have been best decision for me? I do not know. But the opportunity was never given, because she had been abandoned by the biological father, and her own father, her one living parent, pressured her daily until she caved in. So do men have a voice? Obviously so. But which voice do we have?
My next experience was when I was married, and my former wife and myself had repeated (4 total) miscarriages. Each of those situations were heartbreaking to us. To us both. I mention that because, even then, so many rallied around Shirley (for which I am deeply thankful) but in the process nearly or even totally forgot me. These children were mine too. And I held one of them, born far too early to live outside the womb, but yet still intact within the sac. I touched, as did Shirley, our first-born. But once we went to the doctor, there was no more contact as the “specimen” of only 2 months was collected by the Dr (ironically a Catholic by the way) and was never seen by either of us again. This was in the early 1980s, and today we might have been able to request our precious child back for a quiet funeral, but not then.
Skipping ahead we eventually went through a case study for possible adoption, but just 10 short years after Roe v Wade there were simply no infants available except in foreign nations. And those adoptions were far beyond our financial resources. Another barrier was that, although we were willing to adopt an older child, and/or a biracial one, we were literally blocked by a movement among African-American social workers at that time who did not wish white couples to adopt “their” children. While I can understand the reasoning to a large extent, we were a couple who had not only been exposed to numerous minorities, but had directly lived and intensely worked with those of a wide variety of backgrounds during our very interracial ministry. We would have taken pains to expose whatever child we adopted to their own races and cultures, but that did not matter. The door was thus closed to us, financially and culturally. And yet many of the children who we could have adopted instead grew up in foster homes and were given no stability, all for the sake of a small group’s political views. I can only hope that those children, adults now, do not follow suit.
So what has “pro-choice” done for me? It robbed me of initially raising or at least helping to place an infant into a Christian home at age 18, it robbed me of the chance to later on adopt an infant after our miscarriages, and it caused me to feel for over 20 years that I was not a “real” father, even to the child I held in my hands that now long ago fateful day. Perhaps if I had not seen that sac intact, I could have explained it away as “tissue” but, like the ultrasounds of today, I could simply look and see that my child was real, and not just subjectively. Each of them in fact were objectively a combination of the love of two people, and the only “clumps of cells” in our world which can claim that distinction.
My 4 children would be just over 30 years old now. Instead of buying gifts for my grandchildren, I collect records and books. I want you to know that I would trade every original Charlie Parker record or old Bible I own for one chance, one moment, to hold any one of those children, while they still lived. But one day I will. When I returned to the Church I found out how much was now being done for those of us who had experienced miscarriages. My four children finally had a funeral at St Stephen’s Catholic Church here in Minneapolis, and I know I will one day have the opportunity to hold and hug each of them. They now have names–Bethany Rachelle, Nathan Joshua, Jeremiah Joseph, and Mary Delores. And I am at last a father.
So please do not tell me I do not understand the pain of women who face the pain of unplanned pregnancies. I at least have some idea. And I will never, never not be “pro-life” or call it by some other name. And do not expect me to be silent. I won’t be.
THIS IS NOT MEANT AS AN PERSONAL ATTACK upon any religion or group of people so please do not read it as such. I base it upon my own studies, struggles with the Faith, and subsequent conclusions that Christianity in her fullness is either founded upon the Apostles and thus passed down, or it is not. I believe it is.
I recently came across a well-designed web page, laying out a grand “new direction” for the Roman Catholic Church and signed by many self-professed theologians (most of whom bask in far more obscurity than me), as well as other Catholic lay persons, and which gives opportunity for each of us to add our 3 cents in as well. In other words, read it and sign it (actually please do not sign!). So I choose to do instead give my thoughts here. The link to this document is as follows:
and at first glance it sounds both compelling and worth further study. It isn’t.
Having spent nearly a year of my life within the Anglican Communion, and some of that time fairly recently, as well as formally studying Church History through a local seminary from that perspective this last fall, I will just say that each of these ideas or concepts could be lifted (ummmm…most likely are in fact!!!) from their collective “scratch pad.” There is little or no theology or philosophy within this proposal which was not bantered about during class at one time or another, and primarily by other students in fact. So while I hear what they are saying, I will categorically say I have “heard it all before.” And many of those reading have as well.
My limited experience with Anglicanism is that the primary difference between her and Rome is not doctrinal, but rather the glaring lack thereof. And it is in fact a point of pride with many of the good folk I studied with. They as a group presently do many of the things suggested here, lay people “voting” on doctrine for instance (as if it were even up for a vote under any circumstances), or whole segments of the Communion simply ignoring the core 39 “Articles of Religion” which were laid out during the Elizabethian settlement. The second is a direct result of instituting the proposed “not-so-new” idea of allowing local Bishop‘s synods more authority and de-centralizing from Rome. See:
for more detailed information on these articles and their historical and present impact upon Anglicanism worldwide. Again, or the lack thereof.
My point is this–if these supposed “scholars” really believe and feel as they say here, why not simply become Anglicans in the first place and not attempt to re-rudder the fundamental teachings of a 2000 year old Roman Catholic Church with 1.2 billion members? I say “supposed” not in questioning their credentials, but in attempting to point out the utter lack of original thinking here. I could have written this document, even while sleep deprived, and I am quite far from an authority (plus I would not bother to pretend such audacity anyway, since I would be found out in short order to say the least). This is lay people “trying or dying” to become the hierarchy. Pure and simple.
The attempt to foist it upon the world as some type of “official” needed fulfillment of Vatican II is what troubles me most here. It is neither realistic nor intellectually honest in the least. No wonder Hans Kung gets into trouble so often (the only signer whose name I recognized by the way).
I am sure Bishop John Shelby Spong would have gladly endorsed it, but he is not Roman Catholic. He, in fact, is Anglican, and in good standing, of course. So is his polar opposite, NT Wright. And J I Packer. And Archbishop Tutu. And Eugene Robinson. And Katharine Jefferts Schori too. Anyone, of any or no theological persuasion, can become a Bishop in Anglicanism in our day and age. And that is not to condemn or rip apart the above list of people. Many of them are deeply caring and dedicated to the Gospel of Christ. So again that is not my point here.
My point is this though. Houses built upon the sand do not stand during storms. And authentic unity costs more than beach mud, water, and wading, and writing petitions. It may cost you your life. And your theology. And mine too. That however is what the Church is all about. Truth and love. Love and truth. Not either but both.