Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Message to a Young Man of Integrity

Thom is a young man in Ohio who maintains a blogsite entitled Ad Dominum.

I visit Thom’s site fairly regularly and have discovered that we have certain things in common. For instance, we are both drawn to the beauty of nature, are involved in anti-war activism and other forms of progressive social activism, and have the same taste in T-shirt messages! He comes across as someone I could definitely sit down with and have a long and interesting conversation over a cold beer (or a glass of good Australian wine!).

As Catholics, Thom and I also struggle with our Church’s stance on gay sexuality and its expression. Yesterday, Thom posted a very personal reflection about his journey from the Apostolic Pentecostal church of his childhood and youth, through his time with paganism, to his discovery and current involvement with Roman Catholicism. I greatly admire Thom’s brave sharing of what has clearly been, at times, a very difficult and painful struggle.

I was particularly moved by the following experience that he shares:

Countless, tearful hours were spent in secret trying to “pray away the gay.” For anyone who has ever engaged in this spiritual activity, you know that it is an exercise in futility.

Thom also talks about the fiery evangelical preacher from his youth who would “preach and scream . . . while leaping about in the front of the church.”

“It didn’t matter what he happened to be preaching about,” recalls Thom, “he always managed to sneak in ‘the gays.’ Or, rather, ‘faggots.’”


One thing I’ll say about the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric, it’s certainly more sophisticated (what with its terms like “intrinsically disordered” and its appeals to “Natural Law”) than the crap Tom had to endure. Still, it’s crap nonetheless. It’s also demeaning, disrespectful, and potentially demoralizing - and Catholics such as Tom, myself, and countless others know it. Furthermore, we have to live with the pain of this awareness everyday. Indeed, contrary to what the Vatican insists, it is not our “same-sex attractions” that is the “cross” we bear, but the pain and oppressiveness of the Church’s intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt teachings on homosexuality.

I posted a lengthy response to Thom’s June 3 reflection on his blog, a reflection that he aptly entitled “Integrity.” Yet because of the limitations of Blogger with regards to length of comments and number of links that can be included in a response, not everything I wanted to say and share came through. So I’m posting it here on The Wild Reed – for Thom and for all gay Catholics struggling with the Church’s latest shift to a reactionary and exclusionary position with regards to human sexuality – and homosexuality in particular.

_____________________________________


Dear Thom,

You certainly are a man of integrity.

Thank you for sharing your journey (your ongoing journey) with such honesty. It’s a powerful testimony and will, I’m sure, inspire and be of help to others.

I’ve thought, prayed, and written about many of the issues and questions that you raise. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts and direct you to some of my writings.

Much of what you reflect upon and write about is to do with what it means to be Catholic. I appreciate your questioning and exploration of this important question. I also appreciate your willingness to address the difficult issues around sexuality and spirituality. You are correct in your observation that the institutional Church is fixated on sex. I agree with author Eugene Kennedy when he says that this obsession is rooted in the Church’s own “unhealed wound” around sexuality.

The “Theology of the Body,” that Clayton [of The Weight of Glory blogsite] recommends is certainly something of which you need to be aware. It gives a good insight into the current thinking of the institutional Church on the issue of sexuality. Accordingly, it is extremely limited and non-reflective of many people’s experience of the sacred in their lives and relationships. Personally, I prefer the “Wisdom of the Body” as explored and articulated by folks like Evelyn and James Whitehead and Joan Timmerman.

Also, theologian Luke Timothy Johnson has written a helpful critique of the Theology of the Body. It can be found here. You also may find the writings of Joseph O’Leary of interest, as well as Daniel Helminiak’s thoughts on the “non-negotiables of human sexuality”.

Clayton, of course, is correct when he says that “there is a place for every human heart in the Church established by Christ.” Leaving aside the question of whether or not we can say that Jesus actually founded a Church at all (Hans Küng’s scholarly thoughts on this matter can be found here), I think it’s important to remember that for many of us (Catholics included) this “Church established by Christ” isn’t limited to Roman Catholicism. What we ultimately are part of is the Mystical Body of Christ. This to me is the most wondrous and important thing to hold on to. And as Dorothy Day said: “That the Mystical Body includes only the Roman Catholic Church is heresy. The Mystical Body is the inseparable oneness of the human race.”

Thom, judging by the integrity and compassion you embody, and your openness and willingness to search and journey, I believe you’re very much held in God’s loving and transforming embrace. Your questions and struggles are holy endeavors, leading you ever onwards on your journey. Many gay people have been lead away from various forms of organized religion, and as you’ve observed, sometimes it’s for their (our) spiritual survival and continued growth that they move on.

The Roman Catholic Church is driving away its gay members – and now more so than ever. In my work I often talk to people – gay and straight – working within the Church. The situation is becoming intolerable for many. One can easily despair, but then I look around (from Holland to Minnesota) and see amazing “underground” Catholic communities arising and flourishing. The hierarchy may well be abandoning us, but the Spirit stays with us and leads us on.

My prayer is that you remain trustful and open to this Spirit – wherever it leads you. And that you’ll continue sharing your journey on Ad Dominum.

Peace,

Michael


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Answer to a Troubled Liberal Catholic
Better Late Than Never
One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church

10 comments:

Ray from MN said...

"Countless, tearful hours were spent in secret trying to “pray away the gay.” For anyone who has ever engaged in this spiritual activity, you know that it is an exercise in futility."

Countless, tearful hours spent trying to pray away anything is an exercise in futility, I would bet.

Man is a social animal. Other than a few hermits and writers, most of the advances in sanity and society came from working with family, community, church, company and other groups.

Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone."

The Gay Species said...

" Still, it’s crap nonetheless. It’s also demeaning, disrespectful, and potentially demoralizing - and Catholics such as Tom, myself, and countless others know it. Furthermore, we have to live with the pain of this awareness everyday."

The above comments, coupled with the "countless, tearful hours" comments, raises several questions, all beginning with: Why? Why submit to agonizing self-torture? Why yield to "demeaning, demoralizing" institutions and beliefs? Why choose "pain?"

The overt masochistic observations are not only painful to read, but almost terrifying for their intentional masochism. We have choices, and it is biologically aberrant to choose pain willingly, knowingly, deliberately.

To seek suffering? To placate demoralization? To accept demeaning? I appreciate the candor, but do you?

Michael said...

"Countless, tearful hours were spent in secret trying to pray away the gay"

This is a very powerful statement, which really resonates for anyone who happens to have a homosexual orientation. It may at times seem like an exercise in futility, to try to convince God to change our nature. Almost any gay or lesbian person would be able to identify with the experience. Why wouldn't they? The Church tells them that they are dis-ordered by nature.

Even if a homosexual condition is not purely genetic, such a condition forms in children well before the age of reason. This attraction is not freely chosen. Self consciousness of the condition really depends on the ability to refrain from complete repression of sexual desire. Can you believe that God requires that some people - but only some people - completely repress the gift of sexuality for the duration of their life? It is impossibly difficult for such a person to function in the world, with the advice offered by many in the Church today. It's an impossible burden for most.

The problem in the Church is not so much that it preachs against homosexuality, it's that it rarely addresses it at all, certainly not in an honest manner. Our homosexual children are left on their own - not condemned, but not affirmed, embraced, or guided. The Church is basically doing nothing to address the needs of all of it's children. Gays and lesbians are being written off today. I remember the release of the US bishops Always Our Children, and the hope that it offered, and the subsequent furor. Those of you with children - you are able to offer your straight daughters and sons open doors to worlds of opportunity, depending on your child's abilities and needs. Are you able to offer your gay and lesbian children the same open doors? Your straight daughter and son is able to freely choose a mature sex life in the context of a lifelong sanctified marriage. But your gay and lesbian child is required to face life bravely with no sexual expression whatsoever? One is required to live a life of chaste celibacy because of the way that one is wired sexually? Ironically, today, many in the Church want to preclude the possiblity of a young man or woman living a life of chaste celibacy in the consecrated religious life. It makes no sense.

I so appreciate Thom expressing his honest feelings. I will keep praying that the Lord will make clear a path for this young man, as the Church so needs him. --Michael

Ray from MN said...

The problem in the Church is not so much that it preaches against homosexuality, it's that it rarely addresses it at all, certainly not in an honest manner. Our homosexual children are left on their own - not condemned, but not affirmed, embraced, or guided.

I might state that I don't believe that the Church's heterosexual "children" are given much guidance that they accept either.

When the Church issues its instructions to heterosexuals with respect to chastity, marriage and contraception and even abortion, for the most part, they are ignored.

The Church does have programs for homosexuals and it includes chastity. Would homosexuals be willing to accept that?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Ray,

The problem with the Vatican's "program" for gay folks is that, in it, "chastity" is alwaysand only equated with celibacy. (This is problematic for the vast majority of gay people. Also, this equating of chastity with celibacy isn't the case with heterosexuals.)

As you know, chastity and celibacy are two different things - except, in the Vatican's view, if you're gay and Catholic.

I believe it's possible for a gay person to express their sexuality in a chaste way, i.e., with purity of heart. Chastity doesn't necessarily mean a life of celibacy - either for gay or straight people.

Peace,

Michael

The Gay Species said...

Micheal,

Your fallacy of over-generalization that all men, facing their homophilia, wherein, "countless, tearful hours were spent in secret trying to pray away the gay" is simply untrue. It may be your experience. It may be an experience shared with Thom and others. But it is not an experience all homophiles experience. Not even close.

Granted, we may not understand that the "passing phase" did not pass, but once accepting the fact, I've never cried over it, prayed to be otherwise, and I can speak of other gay men who never entertained such issues, Beloved among them.

The reason may be that we did not owe the gods an explanation for disappointing them. My experience suggests strongly that those without religious indoctination have few issues with being homophile, but may have issues with how homophiles are maligned by the Church, the New Testament, and the Hebrew scriptures.

I know eleven of twelve gay men, the product of homophobic Jesuit education, that accepted themselves quite well, and even allowed "time" for their Traditions in their lives (one guy, would wrestle for years, solely because he put the Church's stance above himself, and insisted homophilia was wrong until the Church changed its tune, working within Dignity and frustration).

When people choose false beliefs, and then suffer from those beliefs deliberately, there must be a "payoff" in this masochistic behavior. Part of it must stem from a poor self-esteem, in which the sick sinner theme takes root, rather than self-analysis and introspection, challenging false assumptions and beliefs.

In a general observation, these stories suggest that "religion" is more noxious than helpful. Spiritualism is not vulnerable to doctrinal claims of incredible statements. Religion, which requires one's life be seen through "its" prism, rather than spiritualism, which invites the immanent into oneself, are radically opposite approaches, and perhaps explains why "ex-gay" movements still persist. Their sexuality does not "fit" religions' structure into its "truth." The facts are our judgments make true/false decisions, but the reified Truth is nowhere to be found. Only "obedience" to those who demand it, and to those who submit.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Whoa! Hold on a minute.

Where and how do I "over-generalize" about the experiences of gay men spending "countless, tearful hours . . . in secret trying to pray away the gay"?

They're Thom's words and they moved me. Period. Where exactly do I state (or even imply) that this is the experience of all or most gay people?

I'm sure there's some truth in your observation that "those without religious indoctrination have few issues with being homophile." Okay. But given our society and the unfortunate way religion is generally expressed and experienced within it, I would argue that the majority of gay folks have had to deal in one way or another with various levels of religious "indoctrination."

Thom's was quiet extreme, and I think it's amazing that he's come through it the way he has. But again, I'm not sure where you're seeing me imply that all gay people experience what Thom experienced and/or dealt with it the way he has.

You write: "Once accepting the fact [of being gay], I've never cried over it, prayed to be otherwise."

Well, that's my experience, too! And from what I can gather, it's Thom's as well. So I'm not sure what the issue is here. Is it that we were raised in homes and communities where religion played a role? That we had to struggle to move beyond being defined and constantly weighed down by the "crap" that these religions spout about homosexuality? Is it because I haven't completely abandoned religion and spirituality?

Maybe future installments of "In the Footsteps of Spring" will better explain where I'm coming from.

Yet even if you don't ever agree with me or understand where I'm coming from, I want to know that I welcome your comments and appreciate you sharing your perspective.

Peace,

Michael

The Gay Species said...

Micheal,

Unless your response was mispunctuated, you wrote:

This is a very powerful statement, which really resonates for anyone who happens to have a homosexual orientation. It may at times seem like an exercise in futility, to try to convince God to change our nature. Almost any gay or lesbian person would be able to identify with the experience. Why wouldn't they?

Now read my reply.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Okay, I see now the misunderstanding.

The "Michael" you're referring to, Gay Species, isn't me, but another Michael who left a comment here.

My comments always begin with "Michael J. Bayly," hyperlinked to my Blogger profile.

Hopefully the other Michael will read this and respond to your concerns and questions.

Peace,

Michael

The Gay Species said...

Whew! I thought a miscue. I assure readers that "pray the gay away" has not been a dominant experience I've known, although the "ex-gay" movement (with or without Evangelical continuation) was often over discontent of a perceived "gay lifestyle," and today continues only to please someone else.