Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gay and Catholic, Part I: Gaystation Two

MORE   What’s to be done then?
NORFOLK   (With deep appeal)  Give in.
MORE   (Gently)  I can’t give in, Howard—  (A smile)  You might as well advise a man to change the color of his eyes. I can’t. Our friendship’s more mutable than that.
NORFOLK   Oh, that’s immutable, is it? The one fixed point in a world of changing friendships is that Thomas More will not give in!
MORE   (Urgent to explain)  To me it has to be, for that’s myself! Affection goes as deep in me as you think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that’s my self.
—Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, pp. 121-122

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I’ve written a good deal about how hard it can be to be a gay Catholic—more specifically, one that accepts the Church’s teaching about homosexuality. Why I accept that teaching is a question I usually waive, not because it isn’t important, but because (1) it isn’t usually my direct topic, (2) many of my readers are traditionalists themselves and don’t require any explanation, and (3) it’s painful for me to think about.

However, I’ve found I do my best work when I’m willing to be vulnerable. And plenty of my readers aren’t traditionalists; often enough, because the reasons they were given for the traditional belief were badly reasoned, or their treatment at the hands of traditional believers was horrible, or both.

I don’t know whether to hope to persuade any of my readers of the Catholic view. Anyhow there’s a considerable list of beliefs I’d sooner persuade them of than this one: being Side B isn’t the heart of my faith, and it shouldn’t be the heart of anybody else’s. But I do want to analyze what these beliefs about sexuality are, and why I believe them, hoping that others will find the analysis helpful. If this series does no more than clarify my own convictions to people who still disagree, I’ll be glad of that.

To put things in context, a quick run-down of the Christian views of homosexuality.1 The terminology of sides, though inexact and a bit silly, is nevertheless useful enough to serve as a rough outline, so I’m using it. Sorry about any nuances that get lost. The perspectives taken in our culture can be classified in four groups, which I’ll call Sides A, B, X, and Y.2 What follows are some gross oversimplifications of these views that’ll do to get us going.

Look, it was hard coming up with a title, okay?

Side A is sometimes called the progressivist or pro-gay interpretation of Scripture. Its essential stance is that being gay is a morally neutral part of who we are, just like being a heterosexual is, and that Christians can entirely embrace a gay identity. On this view, sexually active gay relationships are as open to God’s blessing as opposite-sex ones—generally with the same limitations that opposite-sex relationships are supposed to be under, like abstention before marriage, monogamy, &c. The passages of Scripture which seem inconsistent with this view—nicknamed the ‘clobber passages’—are regarded by most Side A theologians as having been misinterpreted, and as referring to something other than the kind of divinely-sanctioned gay relationships they affirm.3 Matthew Vines, Julie Rodgers, Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Held Evans are contemporary examples of Side A thought.

Side B is a more traditional view. It tends to agree with Side A that simply being gay (as distinct from having gay sex) is morally neutral, and most Side B people think that identifying as gay is perfectly fine: coming out, calling oneself gay, going to see Wicked, you get the idea. However, it doesn’t say this because it considers gay sex and straight sex morally equivalent; it takes the long-standing Christian view that marriage is, of itself, between one man and one woman, and that sexual intimacy is only for marriage. Since two women or two men are, by definition, not the kind of pairing a marriage can happen between in this view, sexual intimacy between them is wrong. Being only or mostly attracted to the same sex, on Side B premises, is therefore a misfortune; but it isn’t a sin and shouldn’t be treated like one, nor should gay people be treated like second-class citizens. Having gay sex, on these premises, would be a sin, but not necessarily a very serious one: it might be very serious indeed if, say, you’re cheating on your wife—but that’s primarily because you’re cheating on your wife, not because you’re doing it with a dude. Several Side B authors (notably Melinda Selmys) are specially concerned with the maltreatment of LGBTs internationally, e.g. in Russia and Uganda, and with widespread prejudice against trans individuals here in the US. Wesley Hill, Eve Tushnet, Anna Magdalena, Joseph Prever, and Ron Belgau are instances of Side B writers.

A popular4 oversimplification of Sides A and B is that Side A believes in gay marriage, while Side B believes gay people should be celibate. It’s quite true that most Side A people hope to marry, and most Side B people expect to be celibate, but it isn’t cut and dry. Side B Christians don’t automatically rule out the possibility of heterosexual marriage; we just don’t expect it, since, you know, we’re not really into that genre of genitals. If God did something weird with us, and/or introduced us to a very exceptional person, we might enter into a heterosexual marriage, and a few of us have done; but we don’t anticipate it the way straight people mostly anticipate getting married one day (and we certainly don’t want ourselves or others like us to be pushed into such marriages, a chronic failure of the ex-gay movement).

And conversely, being Side A doesn’t necessarily mean you plan to get married any more than being straight does. God can call people to celibacy apart from any question of sexual orientation, and believing gay marriage is a good thing isn’t the same as believing it’s what God has planned for you. For that matter, being at peace with your sexuality is just as important—maybe even more so—if you’re going to attempt a celibate life, and if a gay marriage would be equally innocent and good, it is by definition healthier to enter a celibate vocation with that knowledge.

Moving along, Side X. This is ex-gay thought, or SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts). The basic outlook is that same-sex attraction, far from being morally neutral, is a mental disease or even a sin, and that the Christian is responsible to try to change it. Any kind of gay identity, including using words like lesbian and gay and being public about one’s orientation (if it isn’t heterosexual), is typically rejected by Side X: regarding oneself in a different light is considered just as important as a change in attractions, if not more so. Ex-gay views are decidedly out of favor. They seemed fairly popular fifteen and twenty years ago, even in the press; but news of embarrassing lapses on the part of ministers, and of sickening, abusive disciplinary practices towards those who came (or were forcibly sent) to them for help, led to a justly soured image. Not many Side X figures remain in the public eye, although Anne Paulk, Joseph Nicolosi, Robert Gagnon, James Dobson, and Joe Dallas are associated with the movement.

Finally there is Side Y. This is a term I’ve coined, to denote those who consider homosexual attractions a bad thing, but at the same time don’t necessarily advocate orientation change. This may sound like a bizarre halfway house between Side X and Side B, and I’m a little wary of Side Y myself; the borders between X and Y can be porous. Some groups, like Courage,5 are formally Side Y while allowing space for Side X. Others, like Harvest USA, are Side Y and specifically disclaim orientation change. The essential character of Side Y, I think, is that it disclaims gay identity: insofar as one’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences deviate from the normal heterosexual pattern, they are to be simply opposed, and normally, shared with others only to gain the needed support for living with this—not disease, maybe, but certainly condition. Their accent tends to be on being a new person in Christ, without reference to sexual orientation as an element of identity. Daniel Mattson, Rosaria Butterfield, Fr Paul Check, Matt Moore, and Pope Benedict XVI probably all qualify as examples.6

And me? I’m Side B, and I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I’d far rather be Side A, only I can’t be. Not because the Catholic Church forbids it: she does, but that isn’t the decider for me. It’s because I’m convinced that Side B is the truth. Catholicism does come into that, but my assent to Catholicism is a reasoned assent (even if other people don’t agree with my reasons), not an arbitrary one; and it is my allegiance to the truth that is, to me, inviolably holy. Could I be persuaded something else were true? Sure. But as long as I’m convinced of this, I must be honest with myself and others about the fact; and if I’m right about matter of fact here, then people who don’t believe it, however sincerely, are in that respect not fully equipped to deal with spiritual reality.

William Blake, Jacob's Ladder, 1806

If you told me I could make Side A true by chopping off one of my fingers, my only question would be, ‘Which one?’ But reality doesn’t work that way. It’s just there. Believing this theology that I so hate is an inner conflict that costs me wrenching pain; but lying to myself about what I do and don’t think is true would be a violation of my whole being. I can live with suffering, but not with deliberate, self-willed corruption of my integrity. It’d be cutting off, not a finger, but my head.

But why?

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1For a variety of reasons, there’s no good phrase for this. Many gay-identifying Christians (I among them) don’t much like being called homosexuals, not because it isn’t true—it is so true, girl—but because the word has a vaguely clinical sound (while phrases like same-sex attracted have not only a clinical sound but a clinical history, and an ugly one); on the other hand, many Christians, especially Catholics, object on philosophical and cultural grounds to the word gay, and alternatives like queer are no better or even worse. The word Christian is also inevitably ambiguous: I use it in the sense of those who profess the faith of the Nicene Creed, as a decently historically grounded point of reference, but many Jesus-centered faith traditions that consider themselves Christian are not Nicene: the Mormon, Unitarian, Jehovah’s Witness, and Christian Science traditions (among many others) are all non-Nicene, and, whatever one’s view of the pale of orthodoxy, they are certainly explicable only in terms of Christianity.
2Side A and Side B, terms popularized by the Gay Christian Network, originated at the now-defunct site Bridges Across the Divide; they equated roughly with their current use. Side X for ex-gay views was formed on analogy with these—I think this took place on the discussion boards at GCN, but the history of such an intuitive phrase (given preëxisting side terms) is surely untraceable. Side Y is my own coinage, meant to fit with the other terms.
3There are Side A Christians who simply dismiss the Bible here. I’m not concerning myself with this perspective, because it is in my opinion a very weak version of Side A. I for one, if I’m going to bother with being a Christian at all, will do so only with an authority I can rely on, and I rather think a lot of other people feel the same. The strong version of Side A is that which takes the authority of Scripture seriously, as Matthew Vines does for example. Therefore, it’s the only kind I want to spend time discussing. There’s something faintly distasteful about attacking the weakness of an opponent’s argument; if you can’t take down the strong point, not much else matters, does it?
4Well, popular among the sort of people who like to talk about this stuff on the internet. Which is admittedly a larger number than I’d have anticipated.
5To date, Courage Apostolate is the only Church-sanctioned Catholic ministry to same-sex attracted people (their terminology). I’ve had a long and uneasy non-relationship with Courage: they’re perfectly orthodox, and they stop short of directly endorsing SOCE, but their online statements have tended to be extremely off-putting to me, even when they aren’t flat-out false in their depiction of the LGBT movement. While I was in college I wanted to find a chapter and couldn’t—or rather, the closest chapter was a state away—and my enthusiasm to spend time with the apostolate in person has only declined. Make of all this what you will.
6Note that saying somebody espouses a position doesn’t mean they’re gay (or whatever) themselves. In describing Fr Check and Pope Benedict as Side Y, I’m not speculating on their own sexual orientations, of which I know nothing; I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by Side Y.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Five Quick Takes


I’ve been taking some time off the interweb, to help me relax into the Paschal season. It has helped a good deal. I had my first really pleasant Easter in several years (big holidays often trigger loneliness for me), and I took a few more days off than usual—sleeping until I’m done is quite a treat in itself. (They don’t really tell you what being a grown-up is like, do they?)

I am working on a new series, on why I am Side B; but since that involves dealing in such strong and frequently painful emotions, it felt super weird to post it on Easter Sunday! So I’m just doing some quick takes, and one thing I wanted to share was this really lovely prayer from the Vigil last night, the blessing of the Easter fire from which the Paschal Candle is lit:

O God, who, through thy Son, hast bestowed upon thy faithful people the fire of thy brightness: we beseech thee that thou wouldst sanctify this new fire to be profitable to our service: and grant unto us, that by this paschal feast we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires, that we may with pure hearts and minds attain unto the feast of thy eternal brightness; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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I’ve seen a number of particularly good articles on trans issues lately: a topic about which I’m considerably out of my depth. I’ve written a little about it, as a sort of observer, but I don’t feel competent to deal with the psychological or theological ramifications of trans experience. Of course, in one sense, I don’t have to, not being trans or genderqueer myself.

But on the other hand, all men (including women) are of one blood, and that goes double for my fellow Christians—not a few of whom, such as Anna Magdalena, Aoife Assumpta Hart, and Lindsey of A Queer Calling, are trans. I can’t not care about my brothers and sisters; if they’re human, they matter. And, in caring about them, I need to be prepared to frankly admit my ignorance: if I don’t know something but pretend that I do, the best case scenario is that I’ll get laughed at by people who know what they’re talking about, and the worst case is that I’ll seriously hurt someone who’s already confused and scared. Not worth it.

But there’s nothing like the horse’s mouth, especially when the horse is articulate and intelligent.1 The aforementioned Anna is on my blogroll at The Catholic Transgender, as is Lindsey (with his partner, Sarah) at A Queer Calling. Magdalene Visaggio (not to be confused with Anna Magdalena!) blogs at Sex, Death, & Revolution, though admittedly her posts are a little intellectually heavy for me—she is a theology student; Aoife2 can be found at AoifEschatology, as well as on Twitter. And last, but not least, the inimitable Melinda Selmys (whose recent horror collection Against Nature was a creepifying delight) has done several posts on her Patheos blog, Catholic Authenticity, addressing trans issues.

1I just finished rereading The Horse and His Boy, okay?
2Pronounced EE-fah.

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Speaking of difficult subjects about which I’ve read articles I liked (now there’s a pickup line!), a friend of mine posted this piece from Christianity Today about one Daryl Davis, a black man who has made a point of befriending and learning about white supremacists. This has, not infrequently, led to their repenting their diseased ideology. From the article:

Davis goes to Klan rallies. He has invited Klansmen to his home and visited them. He calls some of them ‘friend’ even as they call him inferior. … Davis met the daughters of an incarcerated Klan member at the airport and drove them to the prison so that they could visit their father. Eventually the man’s family noticed that none of the man’s Klan colleagues were serving or loving them as much as Davis was. Their ideology of hate collapsed in the face of undeserved compassion.

‘When something bothers me, I try to learn about it,’ Davis told me in an exclusive interview … Part of what makes him so effective at talking to the Klan is that he has read every book he can find on the subject. He asks questions. He gathers information. He listens. Often, it is readily apparent that he knows more about the Klan, its history, and its practices, than does the person with whom he is dialoguing. ‘I never set out to convert anyone’ … Through a mix of diplomacy and Socratic questioning, he will sometimes see a racist begin to think about his ideology rather than simply proclaim it. Eventually, ‘they end up converting themselves.’

Read the whole thing here, and/or, for a more fuckword-laden parallel story from an ex-neo-Nazi’s perspective (sorry if I just spoiled all your future Christmases with the best present ever), go here.

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Writing is super fun sometimes, you guys. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery when you suddenly see the solution to a plot or character difficulty, and it’s artistically right and you know it’s right—there’s hardly any feeling like it. There are periods where it’s just a long, rough slog, sure, but the sweat of thy brow is included in pretty much anything worth doing. And as C. S. Lewis was fond of noting, a faint ache in the joints after a good day’s hike can be a positive pleasure: likewise here. I recently worked out an important, and significant, change in the plot of the novel I’m currently working on, the sequel to Death’s Dream Kingdom. Or, I don’t know, interquel, since it’s to be a trilogy, because of course it’s going to be a trilogy.

I won’t lay it out in detail, since I don’t want to turn the blog into a spoiler landmine; but I will say that it gave me a feeling sort of like one I got while working on the first book. I came up with the basic image from which my vampire novel grew in 2010, and sketched out some scenes, culminating in a first draft, over the next year or two. Then I did a plot treatment, complete with a dorky outline like they teach you to do in middle school; and only at this point did I say to myself, Geez, this story about undead superpowered cannibals has a lot of death in it.

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I am gradually coming to the conclusion that it is John Donne, more than William Shakespeare, who deserves the title of the finest poet of the English language to date. Reading Shakespeare is a pleasure, but reading Donne is an intoxication. His wit—his power to play on words and also, as it were, play on thoughts—is superior to that of any author I have read; hardly any author even approaches him, save Gerard Manley Hopkins (in sound) and G. K. Chesterton (in significance). Consider the dazzling weave of this poem3—and don’t just read the words; read them aloud, savor the sensuous pleasure of the tongue and the ear in reading.

Till now, Thou warmd’st with multiplying loves
Two larkes, two sparrowes, or two Doves,
All that is nothing unto this,
For thou this day couplest two Phœnixes;
Thou mak’st a Taper see
What the sunne never saw, and what the Arke
(Which was of foules, and beasts, the cage, and park,)
Did not containe, one bed containes, through Thee,
Two Phœnixes, whose joyned breasts
Are unto one another mutuall nests,
Where motion kindles such fires, as shall give
Yong Phœnixes, and yet the old shall live.
Whose love and courage never shall decline,
But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.

They did, and night is come; and yet wee see
Formalities retarding thee.
What meane these Ladies, which (as though
They were to take a clock in peeces,) goe
So nicely about the Bride;
A Bride, before a good night could be said,
Should vanish from her cloathes, into her bed,
As Soules from bodies steale, and are not spy’d.
But now she is laid; What though shee bee?
Yet there are more delayes, For, where is he?
He comes, and passes through Spheare after Spheare,
First her sheetes, then her Armes, then any where.
Let not this day, then, but this night be thine,
Thy day was but the eve to this, O Valentine.

Here lyes a shee Sunne, and a hee Moone here,
She gives the best light to his Spheare,
Or each is both, and all, and so
They unto one another nothing owe,
And yet they doe, but are
So just and rich in that coyne which they pay,
That neither would, nor needs forbeare nor stay;
Neither desires to be spar’d, nor to spare,
They quickly pay their debt, and then
Take no acquittances, but pay again;
They pay, they give, they lend, and so let fall
No such occasion to be liberall.
More truth, more courage in these two doth shine,
Than all thy turtles have, and sparrows, Valentine.

3The poem is An Epithalamion, or Mariage Song: On the Lady Elizabeth, and Count Palatine Being Married on St. Valentines Day, which seemed a little prohibitively long for inclusion in the main text. The stanzas chosen are the second, sixth, and seventh.