The other day the subject of conversion therapy (therapy intended or expected to change the patient’s sexual orientation from gay to straight) reared its head once more. I know so many people who have been deeply harmed by this kind of therapy; it damaged their trust in God, it distorted their relationship with their family, it left wounds they are still living with. It brought some of them to the brink of suicide. If that’s not your story, if it was helpful for you, I’m grateful that you were spared this. I hope we can agree that all therapists should be willing and eager to envision a good future for patients who stay gay.
Okay, but so, thinking about this stuff made me think again about why I talk so much about the Biblical models of same-sex love. Why do I always cram Ruth and David and John the Beloved Disciple into my articles?
After all, these Scriptural models are hardly the only forms of love available for gay people who wish to live in harmony with the Catholic sexual ethic. You could join an intentional community; you may have a religious vocation; you may lead a life that looks “single” from the outside, but is deeply embedded in the love of your friends, your family of origin, those in need around you; you may be an artist whose life is dedicated to showing children the joy of Creation and the Gospel (lol bracketing that I don’t actually know how Tomie de Paola navigated the intersection of his faith and his sexuality). And arguably all of these ways of love are more challenging to the contemporary economy, where so many governmental and corporate structures are set up to handle only love that comes in pairs of autonomous adults–the Game of Life, but you can stick two pink dolls in the front seats now. Arguably all of these other ways of love are more challenging to the culture that teaches us that love is a reward for the chosen few, a rare prize, something we can lose or lose out on, rather than an endlessly abundant gift of our tenderest and most faithful Lover.
And yet. When we know that Scripture offers models of same-sex love, our relationship to Scripture (and therefore to the divine Author of the Word) changes. In God’s Word there is more for us than “no.” There is guidance in how to express the longings for intimacy, love, devotion, commitment which, for many of us, have always been a part of what it means to be gay. Scripture reminds us that God has called people to become kin to another man or another woman; that He has made their intimacy and devotion a reflection of the tender love He offers us. People who have been taught that their loves and longings are absent from Scripture–and therefore not really love at all–can discover that God wants to educate their desires, not eradicate them.
The fact that it is gay Christians who have been the pioneers in rediscovering Scriptural and historical models of chaste same-sex love, and finding ways to live them out in our changed circumstances, suggests that gay communities have something to teach the churches. And it suggests that your individual experience of being gay may be leading you to discoveries and ways of love which you would not have encountered as a straight Catholic. Being gay may bring you a particular cross, and this too is a gift–but there may be, like, nicer gifts as well, of beauty and holiness and covenant love, and the delight in sharing insights and treasures with the whole Church.
The narrative of conversion therapy is that there is nothing God wishes you to discover in being gay. He only wants you to get out of that blasted land as fast as possible. (The way out, you’re told, leads through the Valley of the Shadow of David’s Bridal.) And the narrative which pushes people to seek out conversion therapy is that your sanctification requires a switch in the object of your sexual desires, from men to women or vice versa. To long to love and unite your life with someone of the same sex, according to this narrative, is a temptation and a distraction, not a vocation.
Scripture suggests another way. In Scripture we find the beginnings of an education in which you learn to live out your longing for same-sex love as God wills it: devotedly, chastely, intimately, sacrificially.
Not everyone marries, but marriage makes it sort of obvious that even an experience as tumultuous and disruptive as heterosexuality (speaking of King David) can be lived as a practice of peace: peace between the sexes, a reconciliation of the rupture made in Eden; peace in one’s sexuality, peace at last in the war within one’s members. And not everyone will experience a devoted, life-shaping same-sex love (though even some of Our Heterosexual Brethren and Sistren enjoy this blessing). But we have images of what this kind of peace looks like too. And knowing that this peace is possible, be at peace.