Prayer over the Offerings for the Assumption

Let this oblation of our devotion ascend unto thee, O Lord: and, at the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary assumed into heaven, may our hearts, enkindled with the fire of thy love, continually yearn after thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Omen of Charlottesville

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight …

—William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

✠     ✠     ✠

First things first: for Heather Heyer, killed while protesting in Charlottesville last week: Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon her. Amen. ✠ May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. ✠

Now then.

It should be, but isn’t, unnecessary to argue over whether the rally in Charlottesville was white supremacist. I can certainly allow that individuals who attended it, or who sympathized with its objection to taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee, were not. And yet—when the chosen symbols of the ralliers include swastikas, Nazi salutes, and such slogans as ‘Jews will not replace us’ and ‘Blood and soil,’ it ceases to be unfair to say that the people who chose those symbols are white supremacists. If you wish to persuade me that that rally was not white supremacist, you will have to explain what isn’t openly and horrifyingly racist to adopt the symbols and catchphrases of a perpetrator of race-based genocide. And while I have no wish to paint with a broad brush, I shall be bold to say that even people who aren’t racists themselves, but who are content to keep that sort of company for the sake of their political opinions, should ask themselves a few searching questions about those opinions.

Please note the Klansman at the lower left: this is not a man you should be comfortable next to, physically or politically.

Again, it should be unnecessary to point out that racism in any form at all is totally untenable for the Christian. One of the earliest difficulties in the Church was ethnic strife between Palestinian and European Jewish Christians, and the Apostles chose to solve it by creating the office of the diaconate, which was promptly filled exclusively by members of the racial minority.1 The single most important dispute in the first century was over whether Gentiles as Gentiles were eligible to become Christians, or whether they had to be Judaized as well; St Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than any other single author, spent half his career battling and denouncing that one idea, calling it not merely a mistake but a false gospel. The miracle of tongues at Pentecost exhibited the coïnherence of man as man, not as this race against that; and the coïnherence is displayed again in what professes to be a vision of humanity released from the limits and illusions of sin and mortality:

After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God.2

And white supremacism is, for the Catholic, an especially silly version of heresy. Not only because white is barely an ethnicity at all.3 But because we worship a brown Middle-Eastern Jew. When God chose to take on flesh and be born of a Mother, He chose to be born a Jew. If race means anything (which, no), Caucasians are, at highest, decidedly second-fiddle.

What, then, must the Christian be prepared to do in the times we evidently live in?

1. Call racism out for what it is, without making excuses for it. As a rule of thumb: any sentence about groups who employ white supremacist or neo-Nazi symbols and ideology that begins with the words ‘Not all of them were …’, isn’t really worth finishing. Even if it’s true that not all of them were, enough of them were. And it isn’t as though most philosophical racists are going to approach you on the street and proselytize with, ‘Have you heard about how white people are intrinsically superior?’ They’re going to start with something that sounds safe and plausible; and then keep pushing the line of what’s plausible a little further, and a little further, and a little further still. It’s what’s been happening for the last decade, whether intentionally or unconsciously.

2. Look for the good in your opponents. People don’t just wake up one day and think, ‘Hmm, say, what if from now on I were just awful?’ There’s nearly always a hurt or an unmet need or a misunderstanding at the back of it. The image of God is easily defaced, but it is hard to erase it completely. There are sociopaths and monsters out there; but they are exceedingly few, and I’ve found by experiment that some of the people most of us would dismiss as obvious instances of sociopathy are nothing of the kind, and that (a lot of) patient reason and kindness can actually reach them.

Looking for the good in your opponent for compassion’s sake is, I think, the best motive. It’s certainly the reason we are given in the Gospels. But there is another and more pragmatic motive. Since most people don’t get into evil for the lulz, they generally have a reason—bad or good, personal or principled, reflective or habitual. If you don’t understand that reason, you’re fighting blind. It’s nearly always the good in an evil thing that gives it its energy, not the bad; if you can’t find and appeal to that good, it’s going to be nearly impossible to combat the evil it’s energizing, except by destroying the evildoer, and we have laws about that.

3. Be prepared to defy the government. I’d hope that every Christian would take this for granted. The Church came into existence as an illegal, underground faith, and has always had a stormy relationship with the civil powers even when she had pride of place among them. If the government pursues a racist or nationalist agenda, whether by active injustice or by mere neglect, the believer has the right and the duty not to obey commands that support that agenda.

This is easy to write, and hard to do. But there’s a reason inspiring stories get told: sometimes, they inspire.

Your chair is never softer, your study never warmer, your prospect of the evening meal never more secure than when you read about the gulag: the epic agony of the gulag. And your lecteurial love for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn never more intense. ‘How much does the Soviet Union weigh?’ Stalin once rhetorically asked a team of interrogators who were having difficulty in breaking a suspect. He meant that no individual could withstand the concerted mass of the state. In February 1974 the Moscow Cheka served Solzhenitsyn with a summons. Instead of signing the receipt, he returned the envelope with a statement that began:
In the circumstances created by the universal and unrelieved illegality enthroned for many years in our country … I refuse to acknowledge the legality of your summons and shall not report for questioning to any agency of the state.
And, for that moment, the Soviet Union and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn weighed about the same.4

Will it come to that? I hope not. I don’t want to find out that I’m not as badass as Solzhenitsyn when there’s something depending on it. But it could come to that, and while we may fail out of weakness, we should at least know our duty, in case it ever needs doing.

Like this, but with more torture and less subtle homoeroticism.

4. Be suspicious of the media. Even if they meant well in every case, the media can’t even predict the weather. And everybody, even the well-meaning, has some sort of slant. It isn’t necessarily insincere or malicious or even secret. But every news source is going to be guided, to some extent, by what it expects or assumes to be true; and they all have a vested interesting in being attention-grabbing more than in being accurate—it’s how they get clicks and attract viewers and sell newspapers. And the more a source shares your preconceptions or affirms what you’d like to be true, the more easily it will hoodwink you, no matter what your political alignment is.

✠     ✠     ✠

1We know this because all seven of the first deacons have Greek names, indicating that they were of Hellenistic descent, i.e. they came from the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean rather than from the Holy Land, where the Jews still spoke Aramaic. For the story itself, see Acts 6.1-7.
2Apocalypse 7.9-11.
3I forget the source, but one of my friends recently reposted a very good mini-essay on why black pride is a thing but white pride isn’t. Namely, white pride is in one sense a thing, i.e., we have celebrations of Irish and German and Italian and Scottish and Swedish heritage, and so forth; because (to oversimplify) white people can trace their ancestry back thus, at least in a general way, sometimes quite specifically. Black people, by contrast, are mostly the descendants of slaves, and their family traditions were accordingly destroyed or distorted beyond all recognition; their shared experience as a minority in a mostly-white country is, for many of them, as much history as they have, and is an authentic history as far as it goes; celebrations of Ghanan and Congolese and Igbo heritage are lacking because they were taken away and destroyed, not because of some overarching blackness that supersedes those things. By contrast, white, voluntary immigrants to this country, even when they were despised by the elites, were able to maintain their cultural identity in an unbroken tradition. The (vaguely so-called) Native American peoples were able to do the same thing, which is why we still have things like Cherokee or Lakota or Hopi culture.
4Martin Amis, Koba the Dread, p. 59. (Koba was a nickname of Stalin. The Cheka was the ‘Emergency Commission’ of the USSR, i.e. a pack of bureaucratic thugs with the job of torture and judicial murder.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part VII

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

✠     ✠     ✠

This link will take you to Part VI, which also includes links to Parts I-V.

Throughout Dona Eis Requiem, I’ve touched on things that LGBT people need from Christians. To conclude this series, I’d like to make some concrete, practical suggestions. I’ve gone over those things that fall under the Works of Mercy (to pray for the living and the dead, to shelter the homeless, to comfort the afflicted), and some points of courtesy (in language and demeanor). Now, with those as the preparation, I want to turn to the realization of those guidelines.

1. Balanced preaching, including preaching against homophobia. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard a homily against gay marriage that did not include a reminder that it’s wrong to hate gay people. I have also never heard a homily against gay marriage that left me with the impression that the preacher liked gay people in the slightest. Not that I was sure he didn’t; but, apparently, love and respect weren’t important enough to merit more than a reminder. To put the same problem another way: though it would be at least equally orthodox, I’ve never heard a sermon about showing love to LGBTs that included a mere reminder of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

This matters for several reasons, one of them being the risk of scandal it gives to those outside the faith: a casual reminder sounds like saving face, not conviction. But it also matters because—if I may trust my own limited experience—the sort of person who listens to and tries to heed a homily, is not often the sort of person who needs to be told that the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage. They know that already. There are people who don’t know what the Real Presence is, or what infallibility is, or the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth, who can tell you that the Church is against gay marriage. Preaching to the choir is not only boring and useless, it carries a danger within it: that of reinforcing and exacerbating any homophobia, active or latent, that the choir has within it. If the message they hear is consistently heavy on political opposition and not at least equally heavy on love, love that doesn’t need to be explained in order to look like love, a distorted relationship between Catholics and LGBT people is likely to result. Homilies against arrogance and prejudice are as important as homilies against fornication and heresy.

2. Teaching on virtue, celibacy, vocation, and discernment. Last week I spoke with a priest who gave me a much better perspective on celibacy and vocation (not that I’m ready to embrace it, exactly, but I’ve got a less unhealthy notion of what I would or will be embracing). He brought up a question that I don’t think I’d ever considered before, that of why Jesus was celibate. The obvious answer is that, if He had had a wife, His principal love would have had to go to her: Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, forsaking all other? With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. That is an exact statement of His relationship to the Church. Marriage would have meant giving Himself totally to one person; celibacy allows him to make that total gift to humanity.

Moreover, every virtue, chastity included, is a positive quality rather than an exclusion of something else; it excludes sin as something that inhibits the positive quality, not arbitrarily. Chastity has to be not only believed but preached as the integrative, coïnherent self-mastery of soul and body together. And again, while a vocation can’t be forced, it’s also not exactly a choice in the conventional sense. It’s what you were made for, and, if freedom means the power to do what comes naturally (and sin, objectively speaking, is that which interferes with our natures, whether obviously or subtly), then freedom comes from obeying and pursuing your vocation, not from the opportunity to pick between options.

In the language of the monastic fathers, all prayer, reading, meditation and all activities of the monastic life are aimed at purity of heart, an unconditional and totally humble surrender to God, a total acceptance of ourselves and of our situation as willed by him. It means the renunciation of all deluded images of ourselves … Purity of heart is then correlative to a new spiritual identity—the ‘self’ as recognized in the context of realities willed by God. … What am I? I am a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have any meaning?1

All of which is genuinely great, and it explains a lot about celibacy. What it doesn’t do—and maybe no book or homily could do it—is give us content for living as celibates. Give yourself to God is a universal command, but we live in particulars, and have to fill the time somehow. Discerning our specific vocation as celibates can be difficult, confusing, and dreary, and being given the universal command over and over is, well, only so useful. Not being the Savior, how do I give myself to humanity-in-general?

This lack of content shows through in the language used to describe the four main states of life: marriage, priesthood, consecrated life, and ‘the generous single life.’ That phrase, at least to me, is soggy with afterthought. That doesn’t mean non-consecrated lay celibacy isn’t a real vocation; but I don’t think it’s unfair either to say that the Church has given little of her energy and time to any living and life-giving theology of what that is. Because, as it stands, it sounds just as negation-centered as defining celibacy in terms of not having sex. Doubtless each one of us has his or her own peculiar mission as a celibate; but we need guidance to find it, we need to be given tools to discern the concrete. General platitudes, however true, leave us as rudderless as we were before.

3. Speak and act against the oppression of LGBT people. For the American, this will above all mean the oppression of LGBTs in other countries: Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania all have laws against homosexuality ranging from restrictions on freedom of speech to the death penalty, and the cultures that undergird those laws frequently exhibit anti-gay violence. Speaking against that sets a good example, to those inside and outside the Church, and is consistent with the Christian teaching that all men are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity; and, more to the point, acting against it (Rainbow Railroad is one way of doing so) saves people’s lives. It’s no small thing to help a person escape a Chechnyan concentration camp or a Ugandan prison.

Navy blue: same-sex marriage legal
Cyan: same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized
Sky blue: same-sex civil unions legal
Pale blue: unregistered same-sex cohabitation
Grey: no recognition of same-sex relationships
Beige: restrictions on liberty of expression about LGBT issues
Yellow: same-sex activity illegal without enforcement
Orange: same-sex activity punishable by imprisonment
Deep orange: same-sex activity punishable by life imprisonment
Brown: same-sex activity punishable by death

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.2

4. Let us work alongside you. Christians are much given to telling gay people not to define ourselves by our sexuality. Well and good; but we kinda need you to cut that out, too. Let us be teachers, priests, therapists, soldiers, youth pastors. Of course a person with psychological problems or sexual addiction wouldn’t necessarily be cut out for such roles, but psychological problems and sexual addiction don’t really have anything to do with being gay. They’re abundant among heterosexuals. Reluctance to allow LGBT people a role in ministries and leadership is based either in ignorance of the facts about us—an ignorance which, sad to say, is commonplace among Christians—or in bigotry. And neither bigotry nor ignorance is helpful to the Church, or to the person discriminating, or to the one discriminated against.

Whatever our vocations may be, we must fulfill them, and if we don’t then both we and the Church will be deprived of a good that God meant to give us: quench not the Spirit. If our attempts to pursue our vocations are thwarted by our fellow believers, the consequences can be tragic. A repressed vocation is as dangerous as a repressed passion, for both, being rooted in our natures, will find other and perverted modes of expression if their natural growth is cut. This doesn’t mean you don’t weed the garden of nature, but, as the parable of the wheat and the tares hints, weeding should not be undertaken prematurely or hastily.

To sum up the series: love us; and take care to think out how to love us in ways that we will recognize as love. God emptied Himself, taking on the likeness of a servant.

✠     ✠     ✠

1Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, p. 46.
2I John 3.16-18.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Hast Thou Thus Dealt With Us?

It is the rarest thing in the world to hear a rational discussion of vivisection.1 Those who disapprove of it are commonly accused of ‘sentimentality,’ and very often their arguments justify the accusation. They paint pictures of pretty little dogs lying on dissecting tables. But the other side lie open to exactly the same charge. They also defend the practice by drawing pictures of suffering women and children whose pain can be relieved (we are assured) only by the fruits of vivisection. The one appeal, quite as clearly as the other, is addressed to emotion, to the particular emotion we call pity. And neither appeal proves anything. If the thing is right—and if right at all, it is a duty—then pity for the animal is one of the temptations we must resist in order to perform that duty. If the thing is wrong, then pity for human suffering is precisely the temptation which will most probably lure us into doing that wrong thing. But the real question—whether it is right or wrong—remains meanwhile just where it was.

—C. S. Lewis, God In the Dock, ‘Vivisection’

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

✠     ✠     ✠

Before I return to more regular content, I want to address a particular argument for Side A theology2 that, I feel, helps no one. Roughly summarized, it’s the argument from agony: how could God demand celibacy of gay people? It’s stated with great clarity and pathos by Constantino Khalaf on his blog.

The uncomfortable truth is that many gay Christians who can’t reconcile their faith and sexual orientation often slip into promiscuity. … Committing to someone of the same sex would mean committing to a life of unrepentant sin, whereas the ‘trip up’ involved in casual sex is an offense from which we can easily seek forgiveness. … Scripture and human experience reveal that celibacy is a gift reserved only for some. I implore our straight brothers and sisters to imagine being told you must permanently abstain from sex (not only until marriage, but for life), while in your hearts you don’t feel called to celibacy. Imagine spending years praying that God will either change your sexual orientation or numb your desires for intimacy. Imagine trying one therapy after another, often at severe emotional and financial costs. Imagine praying for just one thing, but the one thing you ask for is the one thing God continuously denies.

‘Well, Lord,’ you might say, ‘I’ve done everything I could to give up this need. If you won’t help me; if I’m on my own; I give up. If you’ve turned me over to illicit desires, then I’ll give in. Goodbye.’ This is tragic, and I can’t imagine it pleases God. In fact, I can’t think of a better example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a theology that, in its practical application, favors promiscuity over monogamy. ‘A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.’ You cannot build a healthy sexual ethic on just ‘don’t do it.’ Gay Christians have never been given a framework for God-honoring sexuality, and this is the reason why so many use sex less ethically than non-believers.3

I hope that anyone who reads this does have a pang of compassion: no matter the details of your theology, other people’s suffering is a tragic result of the Fall, and is rightly mourned. Further, it's absolutely true that a theology consisting merely in No is unlivable, and that the Church has made a fairly shabby showing thus far in terms of giving her LGBT children something more. And to dispose of one very bad counterargument, when he speaks of sex, I don’t think Mr Khalaf has the mere physical act in mind; the piece as a whole make it clear he is talking about erotic fulfillment, of which sexual intimacy is the crown; to go without that involuntarily, even if we think it’s morally necessary, is a terrible hardship. 

Nevertheless, the syllogism drawn by Mr Khalaf (and many others) from the data is gravely flawed, and there are sounder reasons to take Side A views. There are certain details which merit discussion in their own right—for instance, what the criteria of discernment are; does everyone feel called to what God in fact calls them to? or are there objective, ‘external’ touchstones upon which to make that judgment? Is the fact that God refuses something to the earnest suppliant evidence that that thing is, intrinsically, undesirable or unnecessary? or might He have other reasons for refusal? But I don’t propose to treat these other questions, because the chief argument here is the argument from agony. Would God really consign someone to a lifetime of self-denial with respect to eros? Would He allow—no, require—that kind of suffering?

I think the answer is a totally unavoidable Yes. And not just because I’m Side B: when, for a brief period some years back, I was Side A, I’d have given you the same answer. To say that God would not allow that kind of suffering makes a mockery of Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Lubyanka, Vladivostok, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Sirte. If these things do not make belief in a benevolent God untenable, unwanted and unhappy celibacy certainly won’t.

But would He impose that kind of suffering? Why? What for? Well—as hackneyed and unjustly applied as the topic usually is—we already know He does in the case of pedophiles. The two cases are extremely different: two women or two men can give meaningful consent, while a child can’t; and consent (that is, the intention of mutual self-gift, regardless of any attendant imperfections) is even more central to sex than procreation on Catholic premises, for sex that doesn’t happen to result in a baby need not be immoral, whereas rape always and necessarily is. But, as soon as we admit any case in which some person is simply not allowed to ever have the erotic relationship they most desire, full stop, the possibility of another such case emerges by the terrible force of logic.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to hold that there is in fact only one such case, or that there are multiple cases of this kind but homosexuality isn’t in fact one of them. Arguments about the meanings of Greek and Hebrew words are well and good; arguments about whether and how much ancient cultural expectations of the genders influenced sexual mores, and whether we ought to retain those expectations or modify them or reject them, are well and good; even arguments about progressive revelation are well and good. These deal in facts. But let us have none of the argument from agony, for there is no doctrine, no religion, no total view of the universe, that can eliminate the fact of agony. Only the Second Coming can do that. The Christian may espouse many things, but he cannot espouse the doctrine that obedience will never make martyrs, not when his God was martyred, in life and death. Perhaps the gay Christian need not crucify his erotic desires; but he will most assuredly have to crucify something, and it will be at least as appalling as the terrible call to unwanted celibacy. Take thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest …

If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor-camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

✠     ✠     ✠

1Vivisection is the practice of performing surgery on living animals for purposes of research, as opposed to the medical purpose of treating some ailment. Conservatives of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were for the most part horrified by the practice—for instance, Dr Samuel Johnson (of dictionary fame) wrote a severe denunciation of vivisection, quoted by Lewis near the end of this essay—while Darwinian scientists generally defended it. C. S. Lewis, though not an activist, was an unwavering opponent of the practice.
2If you don’t read this blog regularly or don’t travel much in gay Christian circles, Side A is a sort of nickname for progressivist theology on the subject of homosexuality: i.e., the belief that God blesses homosexual unions on the same basis as heterosexual ones. Whether and to what extent marriage is involved varies somewhat among different Side A theologians, though most of those I know of consider it just as necessary for gay people as for straight.
3From ‘Pious Promiscuity’ on Dave and Tino.

Monday, July 24, 2017

GCNow What?

It has been claimed here that forgiveness is a mutual act, but a disposition towards forgiveness is a necessary preliminary towards that act. The mutual act depends on two (or more) single dispositions; we are not excused from our disposition because our enemies refuse to participate, nor is theirs less holy because we will not admit it. He who will claim the supernatural must claim it wholly; its validity cannot be divided; like the Blessed Trinity Itself it lives according to its proper complex method, but it altogether lives as a unity … But if one of us does not wish to be? if we refuse coinherence? ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.’ If a man will be separate from the love which is man’s substance, he can; the ancient promise holds: ‘I will choose their delusions.’

… The labor towards our enemy, individual or national, is a continual duty—all Christians say so. Christian publicists indeed, in that as in so many other things, are apt to sound as if they thought they performed their moral duty merely by teaching it; it is easier to write a book repeating that God is love than to think it; it is easier, that is, to say it publicly than to think it privately. Unfortunately, to be of any use, it has to be thought very privately, and thought very hard.

—Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins

✠     ✠     ✠

I’m pausing my series for a moment to address some news. The Gay Christian Network and its founder Justin Lee recently parted ways, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’ between him and the rest of the board.

GCN is one of the few Christian groups that doesn’t take a specific stance on the morality of same-sex behavior. There  are progressivist groups in plenty, like the Reformation Project or New Ways Ministries; there are also a large number of traditionalist groups, like Courage and Spiritual Friendship. The only ones I know of that do not devote themselves to one side rather than the other are the Marin Foundation, which deliberately avoids all discussion of the issue, and GCN, which has sought to provide space for both sides.1 The effort to unite people of explicitly differing views in mutual respect, charity, and coöperation is a rare thing, and I’ve long been glad of GCN’s presence and especially of Lee’s work: regardless of his own firm Side A convictions, he has been an outspoken advocate for the Side B community, and especially insistent that we should have a home in the Gay Christian Network.

Now, I don’t claim to know what the irreconcilable differences between Lee and the GCN board are. I will go as far as to say that the decision not to disclose what those differences are, and the (I’ll be blunt) rather boilerplate statement of ongoing friendliness to Side B from the board, have me … less than reassured. Side B has been a minority at GCN for a long time; the bulk of the speakers and resources GCN offers are distinctly Side A; and a lot of Side B folks who used to frequent the community have withdrawn on account of hostility shown us by some Side A members, both online and in person. The fact that Lee is setting up a new project (Nuance Ministries, which, I love the man but, not gonna lie, I hate the name) is really exciting, but the fact that it seems to be doing exactly what I’d understood GCN was for is again worrisome to me for Side B’s future at GCN.

So, here, I’d like to do three things. First, to thank Justin Lee for the years of hard work that he has devoted, and is continuing to devote, to respectful conversation among Christians of differing beliefs. The integrity, kindness, and courtesy he’s displayed are hard to rival. I admire him.

Secondly, please pray for GCN: the board, the Side A members, the Side B members and ex-members. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m by no means ready to give up on an organization that has done me personally and many other LGBT people so much good; but I am concerned, even skeptical; and the mutual distrust, wounding, and bitterness between B and A is not going to go away quickly even if everything goes as well as it possibly can. Time, nerve, brains, and charity will all be needed if that rift is to be healed, and human beings have a knack for not spending those things wisely.

Lastly, I’d like to share something that Sarah of A Queer Calling wrote on the subject.

I don't have much to say about the recent goings on with GCN other than what I've already said, but I do want to point out something troubling I've noticed in conversations about the situation. It seems that within the social media discussions, people within one minority group have been more than willing to suggest that other minority groups should be excluded for the sake of greater inclusivity. I've also noticed a tendency to suggest that one group's concerns are real safety issues but another group's concerns are just discomfort, and that comfort should be secondary to safety. I'm concerned that we've reached a point where people believe that other people with different perspectives should come with trigger warnings, and that further marginalizing one minority to lift the voices of another minority is acceptable. That's a scary place for the conversation to be. A Friedrich Nietzsche quote comes to mind: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." All of us ought to take care when advocating for our own inclusion that we do not at the same time promote the oppression of those who are different from us.2

✠     ✠     ✠

1Though it originated at the (now defunct) site Bridges Across the Divide, the very terms ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ were originally popularized by GCN. I mean, to the extent that they are popular.
2It may be worth noting that Sarah has more particular, and more negative, views of the GCN-Justin Lee situation than I do (at least for now); what she wrote is, and was meant to be, of much wider application.