As someone who struggles with same-sex attraction yet remains a practicing Catholic, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the “gay Catholic world.” It’s a small world (after all), consisting of a handful of us who have tasted the worldly wisdom on homosexuality, found Christ, and decided He’s worth the suffering, struggle, and sacrifices necessary to be chaste.
A few weeks ago, my browsing took me to a blog by a woman who had been a practicing Catholic just a few years ago, but who calls herself an atheist (after a brief stop in one of the more liberal, enlightened branches of Christianity). On her blog, she detailed coming out to friends. While most offered a nonchalant, “Cool!” it seems that she got a more tempered response from two faithful Christian friends, who said: “I love you anyway.” This response prompted a thoughtful post about why the “anyway” troubled the woman, who believed that one word negated the previous three.
So much of what she wrote represents the prevailing attitude today and it needs to be addressed. Especially since so many Christians have been cowed into accepting that you can’t believe homosexual acts are wrong AND authentically love a gay person. To that end, here’s my open letter to my (formerly Catholic) gay sister.
Fifty, 30, or even just 10 years ago, if you or I had shared with faithful Christians that we are attracted to women, and they responded with, “I love you anyway,” we would have considered ourselves blessed. But today, such a statement troubles you because it “suggests there’s something wrong with being gay.”
And you’re right: there isn’t anything objectively wrong with being gay. Neither of us do anything wrong in our attraction to women. But we both know that’s not what you mean. What you really mean is, “They think there’s something wrong with me having a sexual relationship with another woman.”
Well, DUH. What exactly did you expect? These were, according to you, avowed Christians. Are you really surprised you didn’t get their full stamp of approval of you living as a lesbian?
Your reaction illustrates what I’ve known for a long time: that most self-identified gay people today don’t want tolerance, but moral approval. It’s not enough for Christians to say, “To each his own” and let others live in freedom. It’s not enough to go on as before, with Christians treating their out-of-the-closet friend the same as always. No, today Christians are expected to actively celebrate homosexuality or we’re branded a “hater” or “bigot.” We must support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples or we’re against “equality.” (Never mind that gay marriage opens the door to every other kind of union based on “feelings,” including some very unpalatable “marriage partners” who WILL demand their place at the table.)
Not only that, but you’ve bought into the lie that you’re only able to truly love someone if you laud their every action, no matter how much you believe it’s wrong or believe it’s harmful to them. Your Christian friends are supposed to think it’s just fantastic that you’re now living as a lesbian and if we don’t, then we hate you and most likely primitively fear all gay people. There’s no middle ground anymore for people of wildly divergent belief systems to live in respect and peace…now, we must all AGREE about what’s morally good and bad, too.
Oh, I get it. It’s okay to disagree with your behavior, but being gay is who you are. And since being gay is intrinsic, then anyone who doesn’t believe it’s an awesome, beautiful thing to live out must be rejecting you as a person. “I was born this way,” you say. “It’s a natural part of who I am. So who are you to say you love me ‘despite’ this part of myself?”
Maybe your attraction to women is actually innate. Maybe you were never attracted to men and always attracted to women. So what? My husband was born with a fierce, intense personality…a close friend was born with different brain chemistry…my teen daughter was born anxious, as evidenced by pictures of her as newborn with her face clenched tightly in sleep. These innate “orientations” are no less intrinsic to who they are than homosexuality is to you; like your homosexuality, they’re natural and not morally wrong per se. These folks just are who they are.
But here’s the rub: my husband and friend and daughter all accept that these intrinsic parts of themselves can be destructive and they work to master these parts of themselves. They certainly don’t celebrate them or expect others to; my husband isn’t a “proud rager!” and you won’t see my friend in a parade shouting, “We’re here, we’re bipolar, get used to it!” As mature people, they understand that just because something is a natural part of their makeup doesn’t automatically mean that giving free reign to it is in their best interest. Being “born that way” doesn’t ALWAYS translate to “something to be celebrated.”
But maybe you didn’t really expect your Christian friends to celebrate your homosexuality; maybe you just wanted them not to condemn you. “I love you anyway,” they said. Which as far as I can tell, is exactly what Christ says to us. He sees us in all our brokenness and says what your friends said to you. We need to give up this false idea that authentic intimacy—real love, if you will—is based on understanding, because it’s not. Authentic love is based on acceptance. And that means warts and all—the real warts and yes, even those flaws that other people just think I have. (Like being too pushy, which I most definitely am NOT.)
In saying they love you “anyway,” your Christian friends offered you that acceptance, just as God does. Your friends didn’t proselytize you or demand that you convert back to being heterosexual to remain in friendship with them. It’s wrong to ask others to go beyond forbearance of our idiosyncrasies and (dare I say it?) faults and accept as good everything that we think, do, and even are. What an impossible, unreasonable standard to have of our friends, to demand that they think everything about us is just grand—or they can’t possibly love us with the authentic, self-sacrificing love of Christ.
What you really wanted was for your Christian friends to be so moved by the fact that you, you!…someone they know and care about is gay, that they would embrace all of you—including your life as a lesbian—as morally good. But did you ever consider how disrespectful it is to your friends to expect that kind of response to your news? You basically expected them to abandon their moral convictions so you could feel better about your decision to live a certain way. As my husband tells our daughters, anyone who expects you to sacrifice your moral values in the name of “love” doesn’t have a clue what love really is.
Such as view of friendship is self-serving and immature. I eat meat…lots and lots of meat. And I’m pretty sure I can say that my the desire to eat meat—and the act of eating it—are simply part of my makeup. I’ll never be one of those people who go bananas over salad; eating flesh is just who I am. Yet I can’t imagine demanding that my vegetarian-for-moral-reasons friends laud me eating meat as a condition of friendship. Or worse, complaining that they don’t “really love me” if they won’t declare my carnivorous habits morally good.
I said before that love is based on acceptance, not understanding. Let’s go one further: we don’t love people because they engage in morally good behaviors (as we define “good”), but because they possess an intrinsic dignity, a dignity that no behavior (good or bad) can increase or diminish. We may never understand one another—does anyone really, this side of the veil?—but we can recognize and honor that dignity in one another. We can accept each other, even the parts who may not like, which is the basis for all true intimacy.
You said that your Christian friends’ statement that they love you “anyway” troubled you. I submit that says more about you than it does about them and their love for you. I’ve been blessed with friendship from atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, and even Swedenborgians(!). Every one of these friends held that I was living immorally (by their code) in one way or another: I drink coffee, worship what appears to be bread and wine, and eat animals. I knew they disagreed with me; they knew I knew they disagreed. But because we accepted one another, we didn’t nitpick the friendship. We afforded each other the freedom to be wrong, but supported and helped and suffered with each other “anyway.” That’s love and it’s the real deal, even with an “anyway” tacked onto the end of it.
Yet even if one of these friends had rudely chastised me for doing something they fervently believed was not only wrong but harmful to me, I wouldn’t have been troubled by it. Their rudeness would have bothered me, but not the essence of their criticism. Why not? Because I’m secure that I’m doing nothing morally wrong by drinking coffee, eating animals, and worshiping Jesus under the guise of bread and wine.
The only time another person’s disapproval bothers you is when you suspect they may be right…we’re most defensive when we know we’re doing, but want to convince ourselves we’re right. If you really are a “proud lesbian” who’s absolutely sure she’s on solid moral footing, then your Christian friends’ responses would never have troubled you. In fact, they could have offered a far darker and uglier response and at best, you would have felt pity for their misguided rudeness.
The fact that so many of my fellow gay sisters and brothers can’t be satisfied with “I love you anyway”…that they can’t abide anyone even thinking homosexual acts are wrong…that they are willing to shout down and crucify anyone who subscribes to the traditional Christian beliefs about sexuality and marriage (Mozilla CEO, anyone?)…these things confirm for me that “God’s laws are written on the hearts of men.” The United States today is decidedly gay-friendly; every significant area of influences from the media to academia to corporations will applaud your decision to live as a proud lesbian. In the end, though, it’s that voice we can’t escape—the still, small one in our soul—that convicts us “anyway.”