Last week, a reader sent me an email and wrote a blog post in response to my recent post, The Church Is a Whore, And I Am Her Gay Son. The person in question is named Andrew, and is connected with Courage – the official Roman Catholic ministry to gay people. You can read his full post here.
While I genuinely appreciate Andrew taking the time to reach out to me and respond to my post, I also thought that I would take some time unpacking his statements, because they bring up some ideas that I find particularly frustrating when it comes to the topic of gay people in the church.
The crux of his post has to do with what he believes to be a misunderstanding of celibacy:
What people don’t realize is that having celibacy as the primary objective, is tantamount to jumping on a life-long roller-coaster and merely “white-knuckling it” until you die. With “celibacy” as the primary goal, all you can do is hang on for the ride that you are “destined” for, for your entire life. The problem with this is that it doesn’t give a person the opportunity to get off that ride; it doesn’t permit people to see beyond the ride itself.
The pursuit of celibacy in this way is aimed at behaviour suppression instead of what the Church is inviting us all into, which is the transformation of heart on account of our love of Christ (which of course will open us to growing deeper in virtue). Again, the “gay people should be celibate” way of thinking is focused on behaviour, while the Church is really calling us to focus on the state of our hearts, and our openness to growing in the fullness of virtue.
In other words, if you make it about celibacy, then you are doing it wrong. Instead, your life should be centered around pursuing a life of virtue, following God, etc. It then follows – it follows as the night the day – that I didn’t do this, because it all fell apart for me.
The assumption here is that, because my vocation to celibacy fell apart, I wasn’t focused enough on virtue and God, and that I simply need to retrace my steps and try again with a clearer focus.
This argument is misguided and, ultimately, profoundly hurtful. Andrew is concerned about the focus on celibacy chasing people away from the Church, and he can add this line of reasoning to the pile of things that does just that.
I’ve heard it too many times in conversation with conservative Christians: “if you simply prayed more, if you simply had a better community, if you simply focused on virtue instead of on celibacy, if you made service your focus instead of sexual ethics, if you focused on vocation rather than right and wrong…”
There is an endless array of variations and reframings, all of them underscoring two core messages: “you failed,” and “start over.” This is particularly invalidating for those who did set their life on such higher goals, and who therefore feel deeply unheard by the Church.
I eventually came to the conviction that celibacy was for me because I was pursuing virtue. It emerged organically from my ongoing journey with Christ, and not as a single-minded mandate. I also simultaneously kept an open view of my sexuality, knowing that God could always bring a woman into my life, but till then, I was called to chastity and celibacy.
I wanted to follow God with my whole heart, mind, body, and soul. I wanted to be holy as He was holy. I spent years – years – trying to discern how to live my life. I had lived in a space of suspension for all of my late teens and the first half of my twenties, submitting my life and sexuality to God on a daily basis.
I struggled, I prayed, I studied. I examined every option, and it was all in the name of virtue, and obedience to my God.
I remember the day I encountered the full conviction of God to live a celibate life. It was 2012, and I was house sitting for a week in July, taking the time for silent retreat and reflection. I was outside the house smoking a cigarette, when suddenly everything clicked into place.
I saw – I saw in a way I had never seen before – that affirming gay marriage was a profound deception, and that God was calling me to sacrifice, for him, a gay marital life. I knew that life with a woman, while possible, was unlikely, so I saw clearly and with conviction that a life of indefinite chaste celibacy was ahead of me.
It broke my heart, but I obeyed. And I trusted – I trusted that God would show me the way. I trusted that God would provide a path, and provide some joy.
To make a very long story short, it ended in a train wreck. It ended in falling in love with a man, and then both our hearts being horribly broken as our lives and convictions could not be reconciled. No amount of theology or doctrine or spiritual comfort could penetrate the veil of my grief.
It ended in a psychotic breakdown. It ended in acting out recklessly, sleeping with a myriad of men. I became uncontrollable, my depression and grief driving me nearly insane. It’s a long story, one that I hope to explore more fully at a later point.
It was, at the end of the day, a few miracles and my commitment to virtue that forced me to re-evaluate my life. I realized that allowing myself to be gay and partnered was a holier life than the life I was living, and that I needed – desperately needed, as Adam needed Eve – a partnership with another man.
Fortunately, I have found that partnership. Perhaps, some day, I will tell the story of the complex theological transformation that led me to this point, but it would take pages, and for now I can simply say: the transformation was a necessity for my survival.
I will not, for a single moment, tolerate the notion that I lived with a lack of trust, or that, in changing my views on gay marriage, I was acting out of cowardice. It took great trust to walk this journey and it took great courage to make so many hard decisions: the decision to commit myself to celibacy because I was convicted to do so, and then the choice to walk away and choose another life.
Every step of the way, I have had to set my eyes on a God who is higher, more merciful, and more understanding than myself. Our capacity to hear God is, at best, a broken mechanism, and it can often lead us astray – it can lead us into destruction, no matter how convincing the voice and how sound the reason behind it may seem – but I have done my best to walk the whole journey with integrity.
The moral here is that just because something did not go according to plan does not mean someone did it the wrong way or with the wrong “focus”. The more the conservative Church sends this message, the more it will mortally wound gay people of good faith.
We have no right to reframe other people’s stories to fit our narrative. The sooner we stop and rest in the dissonance of one another’s stories, the sooner the Church will find reconciliation on this issue.