Two Short Gay Catholic Whatnot Notes: An Apology (Mine) And Possible Specifics (Yours)

LOL what a terrible title.

Okay, so I did a couple speaking engagements last week, including one at the Catholic University of America (go whatever their mascot is! Doves?). At CUA I got a couple questions which I didn’t think I answered well, and which are general enough that I think it makes sense to say something about them on the blog.

One guy connected my general support for Pope Francis’s call for the Church to apologize to gay people with something I said in this Atlantic piece: “I even loved [the Church’s] tabloid, gutter-punching side, the way Catholics tend to mix ourselves up in politics and art and pop culture. (I love that side a little less now, but it’s necessary.)” So he basically asked, Is there anything in the Church’s political participation around gay rights that you think should be repented and apologized for?

I don’t know that it’s my place to tell other people what to repent, but I can say what I do regret and am sorry for in my own political participation, which is that I was really, really naive about the context in which Christian opposition to gay marriage took place. If you’re growing up in the church, it’s not just that your pastor might rant about gay people destroying the fabric of society. It’s that even if the people around you say, “We oppose gay marriage,” or, “We defend marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” that is almost certainly the only thing they will say about your life.

I didn’t think (enough) about what it would be like to have such an intense, inflamed political question constantly discussed in churches which offered no vision of their gay children’s future. I think it would be only natural to ask oneself, sitting in that pew, “You guys will defend marriage, okay, fine–but what in my life, what in my love, are you willing to make sacrifices to defend?” And that question will only arise if you’re an unusually self-confident person; the more common question, I think, was just, “Why am I so messed up that I can’t get with the program here? Is it that God really despises me and has no future for me unless I fix myself somehow?”

Over time I began to see how the absence of visions of gay people’s vocations and future had made my own life harder and been really devastating to a lot of people’s lives and faith. But I didn’t really connect the dots on what advocacy for marriage as the union of man and woman meant in the “Lava” world, in the world where marriage is the only publicly-honored way to make another adult your kin, in the churches which no longer recognize any Christian forms of same-sex love and which refuse to ask what gay people can teach them, what gifts we can offer.

So, in terms of amends I am not sure what there is to do other than what I spend a lot of time doing now, trying to recover holy forms of love for gay people and encouraging our churches to listen to our voices. But if people have other suggestions I will consider them.

The second question came up more than once at CUA and is a question I get a lot, basically a young person saying, “I’m not gay but I really want to help! What can I do to love and welcome my lgbt brothers and sisters?”

And my unhelpful answer is always that there’s no one answer, you have to listen to the people around you, etc etc. Which is true enough: I don’t know that it’s helpful to think in these categories, “How can I love [people in category X]?” But as I continue to re-read my motivational interviewing textbook I notice that when someone has a vague ideal of positive change, they suggest you ask them for specifics. An abstract description of change suggests some motivation for change, and is therefore encouraging, but it is less likely to lead to action if there’s no specific content, no “next right thing.”

In the book I offer some specifics, or pathways to figuring out which specific actions you should take. So like, if you speak positively about gay people, you may get a reputation as someone it’s safe to come out to. Or if you consider friendship a form of life-shaping love, when you do the whole early-adulthood thing of living with your friends you may want to be open about the fact that you see sharing a home with a friend as a possible life path, not a stage to pass through. (It’s a life path which, although this is really complicated!!, can coexist with marriage.) You can go back to your former high school or college and talk to students or guidance counselors or chaplains to try to get a sense of whether the school is a safe and nurturing place for lgbt students–and a place where they can imagine a future within the church. You can also seek out places where people are suffering because of their sexual orientation and make sacrifices for them: volunteering with homeless youth is one way to meet lgbt people, she said dryly. You can even, if you are not the kind of person who overthinks things or tries to deploy your compassion as a way of achieving other goals, contact local lgbt youth or religious groups and just ask them what they think you can do to serve. Be upfront about your beliefs, don’t do or support stuff that goes against your conscience, but ask if there’s something they would suggest for you.

So those are some starting places. For the actual lgbt/same-sex attracted people reading this, I will note that I get this question a lot and what it means is that there are a maybe-surprising number of people out there in the pews who want to support you but don’t really know how. Consider giving them some hints! I don’t know, I never want to tell people to come out or to be more open about being gay at church because there really can be severe consequences, but sometimes there are more open doors than you realize.


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