Overall, I loved Level Ground. By the end I was finally tired of yapping about Gay Catholic Whatnot, which I thought would never happen to me!, but it was a chance to meet many terrific people and see a truly extraordinary movie (which I’ll write about very soon). I’m slowly winding my way back toward having thoughts and opinions about GCW again; here are four. As always, worth what you paid for them.
1. Sins of Omission. So much of the “conservative” Christian world seems terrified of anything which might be misinterpreted as saying gay sex is OK. The fear is always, always that we might say something wrong, and not ever that our silence might itself cause despair, scandal, and loss of faith. My favorite variation of this approach is, “Well, I know what you’re saying, but other people might misunderstand.” I am pretty sure that ordinary people in the pews are already interpreting–and, I hope, misinterpreting–the huge echoey nothing they hear from their churches about gay or same-sex attracted Christians’ futures.
I know that I will say dumb stuff about this issue and mess up. So will everyone who speaks about it. The response to our acknowledgment of universal, unavoidable failure should be humble willingness to retract and at times repent, not unwillingness to ever act.
It’s often hard to know when you have something to say which is genuinely better than silence. There’s plenty of praise for silence in Christian history and literature. And I’m on record saying that we should all have fewer opinions! So my point is solely that there are huge dangers in silence and inaction as well, when what you’re silent about is actual people’s vocations and futures.
(Moreover, having only one answer is almost as bad as having nothing to say at all. Vocation and sainthood are very close to the opposite of one-size-fits-all.)
2. The Dialogue Monologues. Level Ground attempts to provide a “safe space” for dialogue, to the extent that that’s possible. I can see why LGBT life + Christian faith is an exceptionally tough subject for dialogue. It’s such an inflamed issue, so overpressured and hyperscrutinized and inescapably everywhere at top volume, with so much personal pain embedded in each story.
Still and all, I worry that we were all so careful not to hit one another’s bruises that we rarely touched one another at all. Moreover, people who do a lot of this kind of dialogue–because it’s their specific calling at this time in their lives–often speak as if this is the only right way to engage on painful religious questions. Sharing your personal story is good, making truth claims is bad. This ignores the many people who need a truth claim: Sometimes the best thing is to cry, “This is the path! Follow me!”
We need not only models for respectful sharing of life experiences, but also models for respectful disagreement–since at the end of the day, we do in fact disagree. At times I felt as though my Catholic faith was a gaucherie or an obscenity which must be hidden from the eyes of those it might scandalize.
But notice that I said “my Catholic faith,” not “my beliefs about gay sex.” This is the other reason I think mere sharing-stories “dialogue” is insufficient on gay Christian questions: It tends to make us think that our disagreements are primarily about homosexuality. But in my experience the deepest source of disagreement is authority. Which sources are authoritative for you, and when they appear to conflict, how do you rank or reconcile them?
Openly acknowledging our conflicting allegiances here–our membership in separated churches, our affiliation with divergent traditions–would shift the way we do dialogue. It mostly wouldn’t lead us to rational debate, since authority is primarily an aesthetic movement of love rather than a rational movement of adducing evidence. (Adducing evidence can be a part of how we come to trust an authority–that was a part of Leah Libresco’s conversion, for example–and reasoned argument aimed at clearing away misconceptions was a big part of my own conversion. But overall, authority is what we love, not what we understand.)
But openly acknowledging and discussing our allegiances might actually turn down the emotional volume a bit. My sense is that “I accept the Catholic Church’s authority in my life because…” vs. “I don’t accept it in this area because…” is a somewhat less-fraught framing than, “I believe and do my best to live out X about homosexuality” vs. “I believe etc not-X.” We’re no longer speaking about rules and generalizations but about the specific Church we love. Where do we obey? Where do we accept the familial bond of obligation, the humiliations (and feelings of alienation) which come with belonging but also the trust and commitment?
Anyway, I’d welcome your thoughts on these questions (and the other stuff in this post, obviously).
3. “Shame and the Reflex of Non-Recognition.” On a very different note, here’s a good post from Wesley Hill (quoting me) about the spiritual peril of the closet.
4. And A Queer Calling makes many important points on the “slippery slope” approach to physical intimacy.
In general I think this approach is a great example of how the same guidance can be received totally differently by people with different backgrounds and assumptions. Like, I respond pretty positively to the old-fashioned wisdom, “Use your judgment. But no French kissing.” My response is a wry grin and a rueful acknowledgment that a) Man is a rationalizing animal, and b) You are mostly not a special snowflake, and should probably knuckle under and accept the rules laid down.
But other people will hear the exact same guidance as a one-size-fits-all demand for constant self-centered scrutiny and fear of crossing a line–the old-fashioned line gives you no guidance until you’ve gone too far, you know? Nothing positive about how to be fruitful and intimate in celibacy. So… we’d all be a lot gentler on each other (and ourselves) if we realized that what illuminates the path for us may obscure it for others, even when we agree on what it means to follow Christ.
Or to put it another way, if you read the Sayings of the Desert Fathers you sometimes “catch” them contradicting one another–or even contradicting themselves! This is because ethical guidance really does differ from person to person: When to be strict and when to be sweet, in the Brideshead formulation; when to rest and when to push; when to be silent and when to act and speak.
Or, one final thing I think about a lot these days: It’s fine and even admirable to do theology based on acknowledging and caring for your own neuroses–as long as you accept that other people have equal and opposite neuroses, for which other theological vocabularies are needed.
And a bonus: AQC also has a post on “The Problematic Comparison of Homosexuality and Addiction,” which is something I’ve wanted to write about for donkey’s years. AQC’s approach isn’t mine, but then, I’ve only gotten so far as, “Please stop acting like being compared to addicts is super offensive. ‘We Are Respectable Homos’ is not a good look.” And then I realize I’m gettin’ all meta-Pharisaical again….