Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Welcome or condemnation. . .

Eve Tushnet (born 1978) is a lesbian and a celibate Roman Catholic who is a well published author, blogger, and public speaker. Among other things, she has written for The American Spectator, Commonweal, National Catholic Register, National Review, and The Washington Blade.  She insists that she is a happy lesbian, free from guilt or shame, and yet she does feel constrained by her faith and believes that marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals, whose "relationships can be either uniquely dangerous or uniquely fruitful. Thus it makes sense to have an institution dedicated to structuring and channeling them."  Interesting, to say the least.  She is well connected.  Her father is Mark Tushnet, is a leading scholar of constitutional law and legal history who teaches at Harvard; her mother is Elizabeth Alexander, who directs the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Her sister Rebecca Tushnet is also a professor of law at Harvard Law School.  So her words have some impact. 

A while back in the Catholic Herald of London, she argued that the Church is facing a rather stark choice. Either the Church must accept out-and-proud gay men and women as they are or she must risk losing them to apostasy or suicide.  Ms. Tushnet insists that any efforts to help gay and lesbians to deal with unwanted sexual thoughts, attractions, and behaviors will fail and inflict serious harm on them. She says, “The alternative to conversion therapy is not a better psychiatric theory or a more traditional prayer regime. The alternative is offering gay people a Catholic future that does not depend on becoming straight.”  But what does this future look like?

According to Ms. Tushnet, the Church should support “gay Catholics who come out.” She points to the friendship of David and Jonathan as a model for gay Catholic relationships, believing such friendships for gays can be “as beautiful and committed as marriage.”  The presumption from Ms. Tushnet's own choice would be that such friendships will be everything but physically intimate.  Who knows how well such an offer might be received?  But she does represent a distinct challenge -- she and other self-described faithful Catholics who live by the teachings of the Church but at the same time are proudly and openly homosexual. They believe they have unique gifts and that they should bring these gifts to the Church to be used to enrich the Church's life and work. 

So the question that rises and is worth positing to others opposed to homosexuality is this:  is the Church able to accept gay and lesbian (and perhaps transgenders) who also agree to be celibate (supposedly the same status as any unmarried Christian person) or is there something intrinsically so corrupt about same sex attraction that it cannot be affirmed even when celibacy is?  Is attraction itself fluid enough to offer an option for those who want to change?  Or is the attraction so deeply formed in the individual that change is not possible?  Is it enough to promise celibacy or does the Church expect or require a change of heart?  And, in line with this, is the ultimate inconsistency.  Can we even expect celibacy of those who believe they are same-sex attracted when heterosexual Christians seems to ignore every call to refrain from sex outside of marriage and to give up cohabitation?

Of course, I disagree with Ms. Tushnet but at the same time I do acknowledge the challenge she has laid down.  In particular, I disagree with her claim that the failure of the Church to welcome celibate gays and lesbians is to make the Church complicit in their own choice of self-harm.  The world is so open to and welcoming of gay, lesbian, and transgender today that it is less likely such rejection would incite anyone to do much more than walk away from orthodox Christianity.  There is something to the fear that orthodox Christians may choose unorthodox churches who would welcome them as opposed to the Church refusing to accept their homosexuality even within the boundaries of celibacy.  Even so, it does present us with a few challenges.  How do we offer them a home among the faithful without at the same time accepting their homosexuality (celibate though they may be) or without singling them out for more scrutiny than we are willing to give to heterosexual sinners?

That should give us something to ruminate on for a while. . . 


A Hedgehog Among the Rocks said...

Pastor, you mis-characterize Eve and others like her when you use the phrase "out and proud." "out and not shamed" would be closer. For those of us who are gay and celibate, it is not a matter of being proud to be gay but, rather, trying to live without a constant sense of shame or self hate.

I have little time to deal with it this morning but, yes, the church's current attitude does indeed incite to self harm and worse. Those of us who are gay and celibate can not simply leave the church for a more welcoming gay community because our beliefs in the correctness of scripture will not let us. At the same time, rhetoric in the conservative Church against homosexuality has increased since 2009 without a compensating proclamation of grace nor Christians acting as if they do, in fact, want us. It is currently so bad that I now recommend young people who are attracted to their own sense under no circumstances confess it to their pastors as the result, regardless of the forgiveness he verbally offers them, is likely to be extremely negative in terms of their life within a congregation.

Overall, we are stuck in a community (the Church) that hates us while striving to obey God in one of the most difficult of ways, through celibacy and isolation. Think for a minute of all the stands conservative Christians have supported int he last 5 decades or so. How many of them were actually stands against a behavior (sex) and how many of them were stand intended to isolate individuals? The latter is overwhelming.

A Hedgehog Among the Rocks said...

I think I do have time to post one example of the "stands" Christians have taken and what I mean.

Currently we see a push to make conversion therapy illegal. Conservative Christians often oppose this. But do you know what you are supporting when you support conversion therapy. Apart from the fact it does not actually work, the current iteration of conversion therapy, reparative therapy, is highly Freudian in its approach. The fact is that Freudian psychology grew out a highly atheistic and evolutionary world view and that can not be separated from its use in reparative therapy. Not only is reparative therapy a huge consumer scam that eats a significant portion of a participant's finances, time and energy, but by arguing for its continuance, we are arguing for the support and spread of an atheistic/evolutionary world view among our own members. Do we really want to do that? Are Christians so repulsed by people who face a different temptation then themselves that they would support sending such a person to a farcical and anti-Christian treatment in order to make them more acceptable to other Christians? This is not a stand against sin. Conversion therapy is not aimed at merely assisting a person to obey Christ but at a futile attempt to change their temptations from one direction to an equally sinful alternative - heterosexual temptations. Is that really what we want to be doing?


John Joseph Flanagan said...

It is not so complex of an issue to require debate. We do not judge the person caught in the sin of serial shoplifting or adultery as needing a form of conversion therapy. We merely state what the word of God declares, that it is sinful and must be rejected. Sexual sin is indeed one of the most compelling of sins because it is tied to the psychological, biological, and physiological areas of humanity, and it is tied to emotional needs and attractions, but the word of God does not excuse us. We are to avoid it, gaining self control through obedience. Therefore, taking a pastoral view, not a condemnation approach, is the accepted way to deal with sin, the attraction of sin, the destruction it brings, and why we must never simply say we are victims of our own sinful preferences. By the grace of God, many have left the homosexual lifestyle or the promiscuity of heterosexual affairs, and conversion therapy was not used. It was a change of heart which made the difference, and the desire to please God, not self.

Pastor Peters said...

A couple of things. . .

Out and proud may mean different things in different contexts but here I simply meant that Ms Tushnet is not ashamed to be nor hesitant to proclaim herself a lesbian. A "happy" lesbian means to me that she has made her peace with her desires/orientation and is not about to be unsettled from that peace. She is out and she is proud -- not in the in your face kind but not ashamed either. It was not my attempt to presume anything more.

The idea of living with self-loathing is interesting. On the one hand, Christians ought to lament their sins and to lament the sinful inclination that makes the sinful path the easy one too often chosen. On the other hand, Christians ought also acknowledge that they are forgiven. Repentance is not a one sided focus upon the sin but a focus wide enough to also include the joyful acknowledgement that God has forgiven and restored the sinner.

The sins of the Church are many and may include isolating and abhorring the homosexual. For what it is worth, I count as close friends some who are homosexual and celibate. I am not without great sympathy for them and their struggle. They have not experienced the uncaring attitude some have from Christians and they have counted on the support of their Christian friends to endure over the long haul with something that they acknowledge is a wrongly ordered desire. They do not make everything about their homosexuality and they do not define themselves by it. For that matter, none of us should be keying into this aspect as a chief part of our identity. We are baptized children of God and this ought to be the primary focus of our identity as people. That is what has helped them more than anything else and it is what ought to be the focus of any baptized Christian who finds themselves where Ms Tushnet is.

That said, what I disagree with most from Ms Tushnet is the idea that her sexual desire remains front and center part of her identity, perhaps a pivotal part. I disagree with her that the rejection of the homosexuality by the Church is the reason for such self-loathing and the fact that some are prone to self-harm. I do not know of any Lutheran pastor (or any others except for a few on the internet) who preach and teach this in this pointed way or very often. We laud the family as divinely ordered without be preoccupied with condemning everyone else. In the end I try to speak to all in the same way -- in marriage fidelity and in singleness (whatever your orientation does not matter) chastity.

Finally, the Church as a community cannot afford to hate any sinner but neither can the same Church allow any sin a pass. The answer for sins lies in forgiveness -- unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. With that sin comes the desire and the effort to "go and sin no more." No matter who the sinner or what the sin, the response of the Church remains the same. Repent and believe the Gospel. If God were out to get us, He would have asked much more of us. Because He has bestowed His Spirit to shape our hearts' response, it is clear that He is not a vindictive or vengeful God toward those who confess their sin and believe in Christ.