I respect the work of New Ways Ministry. I do not find myself on the same theological page as them. I also do not see myself as “gay,” even though I am SSA (same sex attracted) and always expect to be so. I find this article intriguing in that the very thing that began moving me in that direction was, in fact, the reason the writer of this article is against that terminology–the idea that we are more than our sexuality and are people of dignity in the eyes of God, whatever our orientation. And that is not the center of our lives. He is.
The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently featured an interview with Fr. Philip Bochanski, the new director of Courage, a ministry which promotes celibacy as the only path for gay and lesbian Catholics. The article states that the priest reported that “the organization feels supported by Pope Francis’ encouragement to accompany those ‘with same-sex attraction’ on their spiritual journeys.” Bochanski is quoted as saying that Francis’ language of accompaniment, “is very useful for us. It recognizes the approach we take.”
Fr. Philip Bochanski
It is noteworthy that Courage is taking direction in their pastoral work from Pope Francis, who is seen by many as having initiated on new openness on LGBT issues in the Church. But, as the NCR article points out, the leadership of Courage does not follow Pope Francis when it comes to language about LGBT issues. The reporter stated:
“[The Courage] approach includes using a language that some might…
I was extremely privileged to have this article used in one of my favorite online journals, Public Discourse. If you are not familiar with them, they are an outreach of The Witherspoon Institute, and an outreach of my good friend Ryan T Anderson, PhD, who has been on every media venue from CNN to FOX to NBC and who has written for National Review, as well as The Heritage Foundation, plus who co-authored the book What is Marriage? Man & Woman: A Defense with Sherif Girgis and… Robert P George. And the list goes on, with yet another book coming out this summer. Why did I do this article and why now? Simply put, it is a tribute to my recently late father, Donald Leroy Evans, and a tribute to traditional marriage, quite frankly something that is becoming an endangered species in the United States as well as the world in our society today. Some of you will likely disagree with my conclusions regarding the future of marriage, but I think we all can agree that real love and acceptance is what every person, whether actively LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), or those such as myself with SSA (same-sex attraction), but who have chosen not to act upon those desires at this time in my life, both want and need. And we desire it most from our family and particularly our parents. My dad gifted me with that. Profoundly. And, in doing so, gave me a sense of manhood that no other human, living or dead, could have done. Please read, enjoy, and know that what I share here is deeply personal and from my heart. God bless!
There have been a deluge of articles on homosexuality of late within the Catholic and other Christian faith communities, many which seem to center around “what to call” those of us from homosexual backgrounds who are now celibate. This is obviously of great importance to many people, and there is certainly some validity to the desire on the parts of those who, whether from homosexual or heterosexual backgrounds, wish to clearly define “what” those of us who have dabbled in erotic thoughts or behavior with people of our own gender should be termed as. To be honest that is the least of my problems when I get up in the morning and drag my ever-older body to work each day or go to Mass on Sundays or weekdays. It seems to matter not at all to our Lord Jesus Christ or to the Blessed Mother when I pray my Rosary at night either. But it matters to society, and I get that point. And that is why I write this essay.
Let me start out by saying that I am not writing this to attack those who may disagree or may find fault with my views here—I get, very much first-hand in fact, the reasons for using terms such as “celibate gay,” as well as those who may refer to themselves as “ex-gays” (mostly within evangelical Protestant circles). I have also noticed that the term SSA (which I prefer, and which means “same-sex attracted” ) is becoming increasingly hijacked by many who do not understand its current connotations in the first place but who choose to use it in some cases against those of us who have come to a decision of celibacy and are aiming for ever-increasing chastity. I will add that I have noticed this trend to constantly redefine terminology among both “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” people, which is what makes it increasingly ironic and baffling to me.
Metamorphosis and Phraseology
But that in itself does not make one set of terms wrong at all times, nor the other one always correct. I will deal with each of these semantics then, share my own observations on why they seem to be increasingly used, abused and misused, and finally give some concluding thoughts, and I do so fully respecting those who may disagree with my pre or post-suppositions. I think that words can create a metamorphosis, and I am noticing a whole lot of folks who are using them incorrectly while feverishly trying to explain me to myself. This then is my first point—please do not tell me who I am. Let me explain myself to you instead, just as I would hope you choose to do with me, and let me use the terms and understandings I have come to accept as a Catholic Christian. That is called mutual respect. Is there room for dialogue and discussion? Absolutely. But in the final analysis how I define myself is up to me. And ultimately God.
First off I resisted the term “SSA” for a long time, even after returning to the Church after 15 years of “gay activism.” It still seems clumsy to me at best, and like a clinical disease at worst. I would prefer to say I am “same gender attracted,” but even that was suggested to me by a fellow blogger to cause its own confusion since not all agree on what gender even is in these days. Yikes! Besides if I started calling myself SGA then absolutely no one will know what I am referring to—not the least because it sounds more like a supermarket than a condition. So, SSA will need to do for now. But why use it in preference to “gay,” or LGBT, or (and I truly hate this one), LGBTQ? The last one should be a no-brainer in any case. I am not a “queer Catholic” or “queer” anything else. I am a human made in the image of an infinite God. And so are you.
What says the “LGBT community?”
To understand the connotations of “gay” as opposed to SSA, we need look no further than leading experts within the actively LGBT world. The explanation and definitions below are from http://www.pridenet.com/history.html, and not much could better show the ever-changing meaning of words than what is written on their site. An excerpt is below as well:
“The word (gay) started to acquire sexual connotations in the late 17th century, being used with meaning “addicted to pleasures and dissipations”. This was by extension from the primary meaning of “carefree”: implying “uninhibited by moral constraints”. By the late nineteenth century the term “gay life” was a well-established euphemism for prostitution and other forms of extramarital sexual behavior that were perceived as immoral.
The use of the term gay, as it relates to homosexuality, arises from an extension of the sexualized connotation of “carefree and uninhibited”, implying a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Such usage is documented as early as the 1920′s. It was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as for example in the once-common phrase “gay Lothario”, or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is “Gay”. Well into the mid-20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as “gay” without prejudice.
By the mid-century “gay” was well-established as an antonym for “straight” (respectable sexual behavior), and to refer to the lifestyles of unmarried and or unattached people. Other connotations of frivolousness and showiness in dress (“gay attire“) led to association with camp and effeminacy. This range of connotation probably affected the gradual movement of the term towards its current dominant meaning, which was at first confined to subcultures. The subcultural usage started to become main-stream in the 1960′s, when gay became the term predominantly preferred by homosexual men to describe themselves. Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as “queer” were felt to be derogatory. “Homosexual” was perceived as excessively clinical: especially since homosexuality was at that time designated as a mental illness, and “homosexual” was used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to denote men affected by this “mental illness”. Homosexuality was no longer classified as an illness in the DSM by 1973, but the clinical connotation of the word was already embedded in society. By 1963, the word “gay” was known well enough by the straight community to be used fluently.”
“Not so gay” these days
When you read the above history and definition, given to us from the best research within the actively LGBT communities, the realization is apparent that the term pretty much assumes active involvement in the lifestyle and support of the overall homosexual community. Since I am celibate, and I have withdrawn my support for such things as unconditional “marriage equality” and the like, dropped my memberships from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and OUTFRONT Minnesota, no longer attend or participate in Pride parades, and relinquished my position where at my place of employment I had been the lead “LGBT” spokesperson for several years, all of which were only parts of activism activities I was involved with over the course of 15 years, I am not acting, by the actively LGBT’s own definition, particularly “gay” these days. So there is not much of that lifestyle left in my life other than a still definite attraction to members of my gender. And I am definitely a man, despite the screen/blogger name “Catholicboyrichard.” But I will admit to being little more than a child when it comes to the Faith. In fact, none of us are. If St Paul called himself “chief of sinners” then what am I? Or any of us?
My point—I do not live as a “gay person” and yet I would be lying to deny the existence of those attractions. So what am I? I no longer identify with a community I was bound integrally to for 15 years, however nor am I suddenly “macho man” plus. Plus, yes, macho no. The most macho thing I probably have learned over the years was how to become a couch potato, and my doctor is not putting up with that these days anyway. Oh well. So back to the definitions—I am someone with something. I am a person, in the image of God my Maker, marred yes by sin, but in His Image nevertheless. I have leanings towards and see the beauty in other males more quickly than I do with females. That is it. I am “same-sex attracted.” SSA. The term fits and makes sense to me. But I am not “gay,” which implies an innate make-up in my being that I am powerless to do anything about other than to but accept. There is an old commercial (for Oil of Olay—or “Oil of Delay” as a friend of mine used to call it) which says “I do not intend to age gracefully—I’ll fight it every step of the way.”
The measure of a man?
That is how I view my SSA tendencies. And when I say “fight it,” I do not mean I must become a boxing fan, watch excessively violent TV or movies, or start passing gas or burping in public places. I am still allowed to be a fairly sensitive, kind-hearted person and to prefer cooking or reading to football. It may surprise the straight men reading this that Jesus Himself was pretty “not-so-macho.” Let’s see—He wore a robe all the time, hung around with men constantly, loved women but never made passes at them or checked out their rears, secretly or otherwise, cooked for the 12 Apostles on occasion (fish for breakfast, anyone?), and shared parables and stories based on His own hours of prayer and studies. In short He was strong but knew when to be tender. And in His day and age, the societal standards of what made men “manly” were in any case somewhat different from ours today. This is exactly my point in fact. He showed us that the “measure of a man” consisted of very different things than what Americanized John Wayne types of guys currently look for. And since the sports of choice in His day involved such things as throwing people to the lions for lunch, using them as human torches, and earning their freedom from noxious slavery by “killing their way to the top” via gladiator activities, I doubt He was particularly an athletics aficionado either. He loved worshipful music and knew Sacred Scripture as if He wrote it—oh wait, He did! He could be tough as nails (not only such as the ones used to torture Him on the cross but the type apparently used in His carpentry work) and yet gentle towards women who would gladly have had Him for their pleasure, and simply told them “Go and sin no more.” He was the quintessential man of men. We need to look no further for what makes one manly. And the same may be said for our Blessed Mother in regard to womanhood. Mary was the original authentic feminist—and the only person to ever get by with telling Jesus when to begin His miracle ministry at the wedding in Cana. She followed Him but never doted. She submitted to St Joseph but never backed down from her high calling or “fiat” even when he was ready to divorce her for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock while engaged to him. And she worked and travelled all through her pregnancy until the very day our Lord and Savior was born. “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy could have easily been her theme song too, not just the famous feminism theme of the 1970s. She truly was and is womanhood personified.
One of the best lists of “manly” characteristics in the New Testament is in 1st Timothy 3:1-3. I am quoting from the RSV (Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition) here:
1 The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.
That is what being a “real man” is all about and nothing else. My point is this—neither our King of Kings nor His and our Queen Mother followed social norms, even of their own days, as to what being “manly” or “womanly” supposedly meant then or now. The asexual parts therefore of my nature, which may or may not have indirectly contributed to my SSA leanings in some way, are not in themselves sinful, and do not need surgical removal. In fact there are a few of them I would prefer to keep intact. That is part of what scares me about some aspects of so-called reparative therapy, but that is for another time and post.
Label or description?
In any case this is why I believe we sell our actively LGBT sisters and brothers short when we do not call ourselves by the correct terminology. If we use inane expressions such as “that’s so gay” or, worse yet, call ourselves “queer Christians,” we are telling them essentially that we are at no different place in our journey than they are. Such self-identification may get our foot in the door occasionally, witness-wise, but it makes it overall at least more difficult to differentiate between our experiences and theirs. St Paul was a God-loving and strict Pharisee fundamentalist—but a Christ-hater. He called all of those involvements and accolades for being one of the elite religious of the day “dung.” My good friend Chris Kluwe of MN Vikings/NFL fame would likely have had an even more clear term for that, I am sure. I will refrain from printing it here though. Just as an aside, Kluwe by the way still has my utmost respect for standing in solidarity with the LGBT/SSA community, even though I now clearly disagree with some of his conclusions regarding so-called “marriage equality.” Nevertheless I call my years of “gay pride” exactly the same thing–dung. And no, I do not call actively LGBT people by such a term. They, like me, are precious people in the image of a wondrous and holy God. But, as in the beautiful (unfortunately out-of-print) book by David Morrison, Beyond Gay, I am at least, step by slow step, moving beyond that familiar world. And I want to take my actively LGBT/”gay” friends and family with me on that journey.
Thus here is where I differ from those who wish to be called “gay Christians” or “queer Catholics”—I do not think referring to myself as a “celibate gay Christian” is particularly accurate or truthful. I think it automatically transports me into a corner of the world I no longer belong to. It seems to me a lot like calling myself, as a close friend of mine who happens to have epilepsy, an “epileptic.” Clinically, both terms are accurate. But one says I am something. The other says I am a human person with something. And, again, words matter. One is a label, and the other is a description of an imperfect but real creation of God. One makes me sound like an “ex-con” and the other like a current and present member of the family of our Lord Jesus and His Church. Which would you like better if you were in my shoes?
Disorder or condition?
Lastly, I have heard the ghastly use of the term SSA of late by someone referring to same-sex attraction as the “SSA disorder.” Whether involved in the community or not, whether celibate or not, or even whether I term myself as “LGBTQ,” I might happen to be a doctor, lawyer, priest, minister, married or single, well-adjusted or poorly so. I get very disturbed when I hear or read such things as “for we know that the gay lifestyle leads to a higher risk of HIV, depression, substance abuse, and a generally lower life expectancy. To oppose the normalization of a lifestyle that leads to this degradation of the human person — specifically the same-sex attracted person — is no hate at all, but a love. Not a love most people want, but a desire for the good of the beloved nonetheless.” If by that statement you are referring to same-sex “marriage,” I would clearly agree. But if by it you mean let us go backwards a bit further as a society and, for “their own good,” let’s get those anti-sodomy laws back on the books and start screaming “faggot” to the next homosexually inclined person we meet, then I would just say hold up. Now. 50 years ago, or less, it was commonly considered “acceptable” to beat up “queers” or at least bully them mercilessly. I was there and lived it. Less than 30 years ago it was a very real question within the health care industry as to whether we should even treat those with HIV, since they “brought it upon themselves.” I can only say then, please quit treating diabetes or heart disease, which are often direct results of obesity, or cancer, particularly if caused by smoking, and a host of other diseases or conditions which are preventable but deadly. And for God’s sake do not waste our tax dollars on preventative health education. Let them read it on their own via the ever-reliable information superhighway. And if they fail to do so, slam the hospital door in their faces. Just don’t miss Mass on Sunday
So how does this fit with the misleading term “SSA disorder?” Quite easily in fact. If I as a human being am disordered, and I will concede that the wound of having SSA does include a “disordered passion,” so too are my non-SSA friends who undress every woman that they see while sitting by their wives in Mass or church, as well as the pastors (some statistics would say 50% or upwards) who have their occasional slippage into the world of pornography. And “porn” is not what it was when I was 14 and sneaked a look at some old Playboys found in the neighbor’s dumpster by my friend Marty. The most I ever saw at that time was the human body, but never in action as such. The fact that 10 year olds can now see actual sexual intercourse, neither hinted at nor suggestive of, but the real thing, including the climax, by the click of a button, should alarm us drastically. Do not call me “disordered” and then forget to include yourselves as part of the photo-op. We are all disordered in some way or another, and when the term was originally used in the Church it was quite clear that this was the case. When St Thomas Aquinas and Rome included that term, it was the overall passions of humans gone awry which they were referring to, not the modern Freudian or clinical definition of the word, used primarily in our day and age to mean that SSA is somehow just a bit more disordered than what the average person deals with. We already know we are a fallen people—so perhaps just look in the mirror if you think you are less “disordered” than I am.
So those are just some of the many reasons I am not defining myself as “gay” anymore. It does not mean I have been instantly or miraculously delivered from the “demon of homosexuality” or that I now can throw a football 100 yards. It indicates I am not demarcated by anything I was, or even still struggle with—whether weight, sexual lust towards either gender, gossip, or slandering of others. It states that, instead of being born a Capricorn, I was born again through baptism under the sign of the Cross. It means I am, and will be, a Catholic Christian. No more, and nothing less.
Below are some links which directly or indirectly relate to the article above:
The following are two very much opposing views on the topic by two NFL players, both whom I have met and happen to deeply respect, Chris Kluwe and Matt Birk. Beware of the rather “colorful” (but hilarious) language from Kluwe, and at the same time note the very respectful response from his friend and fellow former MN Viking Matt Birk.
I was utterly privileged this last week to have an article published in the Public Discourse page of the Witherspoon Institute. I was approached regarding this by Sherif Girgis and Ryan T Anderson, who, along with Dr Robert P George, last year authored an amazing, accurate, and concise study of the marriage controversy facing our nation and beyond, its relationship to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights and needs, and if what is commonly called “marriage equality” is indeed the answer or not. A link to this book is located at the end of this page, and I would highly recommend it to any who may not have read it or wish to learn more on the topic. Having said that…
The timeliness of their use of this article amazed me totally, as this very same week a potent new video, while not directly dealing with the marriage issue, was released which delivers a powerful punch in regard to the ever more visible need for the Church to effectively assist those of us from SSA (same-sex attraction) backgrounds to live our Christian (in my case Catholic Christian) Faith more effectively. Among other things, this video touches on many of the ways to reach out with realistic compassion towards those of us who at times have greatly struggled in integrating the Faith with our inner scuffles and sometimes severely wounded pasts, or even presents.
To me the two are one. They each represent the puzzlement and seeming contradiction that is me. In the article I attempt to present some practical ways to connect with SSA persons, and the video does the same thing but in different but complementary ways. Together, read and watched with care, they will show you who I am. This is the “me” you could not figure out before, and who at times has frustrated or disappointed many of you with my moments of anger towards the Church I love while yet wishing to follow her now and always. And I would point out that it is some of you on each side of this timely, thorn covered issue who have felt both the disappointment and even at times a betrayal as you observed my inner and outer tussles over the past few years. These two together will clarify much of that if you allow them to. I hope that you will.
I do not ask you to necessarily agree with the concept of a “Third Way.” In fact we may or may not ever see eye to eye on it and that is okay. But I have found it to be based upon what I believe is objective Truth, and the one perfect balance between the late Fred Phelps’ idea of railing against both the sinner and the sin, and the opposite extreme of promoting and imposing upon society the radicalism of the very real actively LGBT agenda which does not plan to stop until same-sex marriage is not only legal but promoted in every church, classroom, and nation. I believe that both extremes are real, and that each are impoverished in that they miss the very real concerns, fears and pains of the other “side.”
So, if you have ever wished to understand your brother, your cousin, your uncle, your friend, your co-worker, and your neighbor, all of who happen to be me, this is that most excellent opportunity to do so. The video is around 30 minutes, so get a soda or cup of coffee and take your time to absorb the many pieces of a story you may have never heard before. The article may take you 15 minutes, especially if you read it without skimming and I would implore you to do so rather than grabbing a sentence here or there away from the context of the rest. Too often today we do this in our blog-infested world, and sound-byte past the most important points in a story or article. Please do not do so this time around.
Thus I am asking for 45 minutes of your time. It is the only time I will ever do so, but I pray that every person I know and who claims to care about me will decide to do so. Your understanding of me would mean the world to me, even if we never agree on the topic. And your dialogue would be so very, very welcome. Please then grant me 45 minutes of your life—you may be surprised at what you learn, not just about me but about yourself, if you do. Thanks so much and God bless.
In case you do not know it, there is a great internet site out there by the name of “Why I’m Catholic.” It is a conglomeration of stories of those who either converted to the Church, in many cases quite unexpectedly even to them, or who returned after long or intense journeys away. Or in my case re-returned. And re-returned. And re-returned yet again. Essentially I have been converted, reverted, and rediscovered. Okay you get it. My walk has not been in all cases exactly perfect or consistent.
After I came back to Rome in the fall of 2005, my story was eventually (in the September 2008 issue) published nationally on the website www.catholic.com and in their tremendous print magazine, at that time called “This Rock” and now simply “Catholic Answers.” What some of you well know, but not all do, is that even after my “20 minutes of religious fame and flame” from then I went through a period of significant doubts and questions during the 3 year period from late 2010 to early/middle 2013, resulting all told in approximately 12 months outside the Church as such. It was not all at once, but mostly a few weeks or months here or there, and I believe that the longest period “outside the gates of the Eternal City” was 4.5 months. Each time I would rather (and increasingly so each time) sheepishly came back and each time planned to stay. But then further questions would arise and off I would go again, questing and questioning. And never quietly either.
I believe that now, by God’s grace, that period of doubt and second-guessing God’s work in my life is finally passed. Never perfectly, obviously, but I think I have profoundly realized that God’s purpose in bringing me back after 35 years was not my plan, but His. Period. The late great Etta James tells it far better than I can:
And at least a few of my friends, really several of you, have been extremely patient with me during that rather frightening and confusing period. One who has been so is Steven Lawson, a tremendous young man who has had his own times of confusion, and who began the website “Why I’m Catholic” in early 2011, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. My original story, although updated from when it had been in “This Rock,” was graciously picked up by his site and published there. And at least 21,000 folks have checked it out worldwide, besides the original thousands who had seen it on www.catholic.com.
Steven recently revived and re-launched this site, and I must say it is looking better than ever. The fact that this accomplished young man is the webmaster for one Matthew Kelly (yes, that Matthew Kelly!!!) should tell you something about his skill level, and the fact that he is using those great talents for God should speak to his character.
But just as St Paul needed a “St Barnabas” to bring help build his trust and credibility in the book of Acts, I too needed one to help at least begin rebuilding after my very public (and often contradictory) battles with the Faith I had never ceased to love. Steve has been that person to me in many more ways than one, and recently on his site began a series entitled simply “Struggles.” I was more than privileged to return to his site, this time as a “struggler,” and to present what the late Paul Harvey might call “the rest of the story” since my original journey back across the Tiber in 2005.
My biggest prayer for this article is that it may help heal some wounds which may still exist between myself and some of my very beloved Catholic friends who likely felt I betrayed (and perhaps I did but never intentionally so) the Faith, and to let you know I am not going anywhere again. Very simply put, as St Peter once said to our Lord, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Whatever fights or battles I have had or will yet have with my walk, the answer is in Christ and His Church. It is as simple–and difficult–as that.
So, if you have not checked out the “Why I’m Catholic” site, you are in for a blessing. And I have the somewhat dubious distinction of being the only person featured there twice, once with my original story and secondly with my “yes he finally came back to his senses” story!!! Perhaps it will be 25 minutes of fame after all. But far more importantly, I pray it will help some of you who, perhaps less loudly, have had some of the same internal battles as me, whether specifically the same or just doubts or questions in general. If you allow Him to, I can only say God will bring you through. He has done so for me. And is still doing so.
Please read and share both with whoever you wish, and, while numbers do not tell the whole tale, the recent “Struggles” story has, in less than 3 weeks, had over 1200 hits as well. I would love to say I am proud, but mostly I am just very, very humbled. And so very glad that God can take the rubble of our confused thinking and anger once laid at His feet and under His lovely yet blood-stained Cross, making sense of it once again even when I (or you) sometimes cannot.
One other person I would like to publicly thank as well is one Joe Heschmeyer, who is the primary writer of a tremendously successful Catholic blog by the name of “Shameless Popery” ( http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/). Joe is a unique young man in that he was a successful Washington DC attorney, pretty much brilliant intellectually, and one of the most authentic examples of Christian kindness I have experienced during my own idiocies and fallacious thinking. He is currently a seminarian besides, and I for one look forward to “Father Heschmeyer” when he emerges in a few short years to come. I in fact hope to be his first confession (you are truly in for it Joe lol!!!). Recently he wrote the following article on the issue of same-sex attraction, and quotes a “friend” in it–that friend was me. He did not know then that our mutual brother Steve Lawson was in process of using my story to launch “Struggles,” but he did know of, and offered to help with, my own battles as they were happening. And it was an offer that meant more to me than he will ever know. And he was not by any means the only one. The link to his site and that article are just below:
Even if he had not quoted me, I would surely have recommended this article as it is one of the kindest and most balanced on the topic out there. But the fact that, in one month, God gave me not one, but two “St Barnabas” figures is almost overwhelming to me. Actually it is. Totally. Why these young men would welcome me as a friend is actually beyond me, and those are not just words. It also restores my faith in God as well as His people, and reminds me not to give up on others who I too may be temporarily disappointed in, just as many were disappointed in me for a time.
I would love nothing more, at this juncture of life, than to sit back, quietly live my Faith, and never write or share about the ensuing battles again–but I cannot. Jesus once said we were not meant to “hide under a bushel basket” and He meant what He said. St Peter knew what it was to deny our Lord during a time of intense pressure and internal conflict, and I have to believe my battles, although certainly to a large extent my fault, happened for a reason too. If one person reading this finds out that they are not alone, and not beyond the doors of an ever-welcoming, however imperfectly, Church, then it will indeed be worth each one.
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…
Having been one who has been so very conflicted about the “marriage equality” debate at times, even recently with Minnesota becoming the 12th state to allow same-gender marriage, and on a personal note as one who happens to be both same-sex attracted (celibate) and a Catholic Christian, I just re-read the article linked above and did so with a different set of lenses than when I first perused it a few short months ago. These guys (Dr Robert P George, Ryan T Anderson, and Sherif Girgis) have done their research and homework thoroughly, and more so, share their views with deep clarity and honest charity, not just throwing tickling platitudes towards the actively LGBT community as many who believe themselves to be far more “tolerant” have done at times. Even if you disagree with them totally you cannot read this article or their well-written book without seeing and respecting that.
On an even more personal note, some of us from my background, me included, have at times allowed the intense hurt or anger which most of us with SSA issues at times feel towards Christians and a society which is less friendly than it would admit to “my kind,” to unfortunately cloud my vision of why the Church, as well as society, benefits from traditional marriage. Sherif clears most of that up in one writing here.
In short, and hence my second “mea culpa” in as many weeks, I unwittingly pushed aside personal conviction and went fully by a seductively emotional impetus, allowing it to derail me more than once while yet trying to remain connected to Church teachings I have at times not always fully understood. And doing that can be misleading, even to ourselves, or perhaps especially to ourselves. Plus it simply does not work. Without that admission my original “mea culpa” is incomplete at best. So there you have it. Mea culpa two.
Sherif Girgis and his co-authors expertly, and, in the best sense, somewhat cunningly, move past that in this article as well as in their book and moreover cause me to feel that I genuinely matter to them as a Christian brother and fellow human being. And as an equal. I would yet further add that I have had some personal contact with both Sherif and Ryan T Anderson via Facebook, and would be proud, actually very much so, to consider either of them real-time friends if the opportunity so allowed. While I have not had contact with Dr George, I am pretty sure I would feel much the same with him as well. Far from dividing and conquering, they have helped me to unify and reconcile my sometimes overwhelming and conflicting pulls on this matter, and that is a far larger conquest anyway.
In any case both the logic and conclusions shared here move beyond mere surface rhetoric, and when quietly attempting to tune in to my deepest intellectual honesty as well as spirituality (the kind one has when alone and staring into the mirror of heart and body at 3 am), the teaching of the Church and body of Christ as clarified in their writings have caused me to yet again dig deeper and to re-think this issue once for all. Ironically I have found myself arriving in a full circle back to what was my original position until I allowed some very real anger, fear, and inner pain to cloud my thinking and affect my overarching attitudes. In short they are right and I wasn’t.
And even shorter, it isn’t a matter or who gets to be right anyway. It is a matter of finding Truth and letting it take us where we must then go. And, as I said before, I am done fighting God on this topic or anything else for that matter. He always wins anyway.