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.”
15 Replies to “An Open Letter to My Gay Sister”
“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.”
Bad analogy. Loving someone of the same sex need not be “destructive” and is not a fault the way your husband’s rage is. Your husband should not be proud of his rage but this woman should be immensely proud of her self for being honest about her sexuality. “I love you anyway” is unkind because there is no “anyway”.
I’m coming from the same place as your first paragraph, and I just want to say, amazing article. Very good points, and sensitively written without muddying the waters. Good work.
While one cannot be held culpable for an innate homosexual inclination, “being gay” is an objective “wrong”:
“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” (Letter to the Bishop of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 3. §2.)
Furthermore, Christian charity demands more than an admission of love in the face of homosexual inclination. It requires a recognition that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” (CCC 2359) and the courage to insist that the tempted live such lives.
Love requires the admonition of sin, and unrepentance in the face of such admonition is unacceptable.
Bill, I would like to support the author in her use of that analogy, because as Christians, we do believe that living an actively homosexual lifestyle is destructive to both partners and, as the author noted, our whole society. Anyone who remains in unrepentant sin risks their eternal happiness. When you love someone you want the best for them. As Christians, we feel that the best thing available is the love of God. A loving relationship with God requires knowing Him and will lead to a natural result of wanting to serve Him and others. Compassionate honesty is not the same thing as bullying or bigotry. It is merely the desire to share the best that we have with those around us. When others aren’t willing or able to accept it, we are left with the option of just loving them anyway.
While I do agree with you that the “anyway” may not need to be said, I disagree with your statement that there is no “anyway.” While it isn’t always vocalized, there is always an “anyway.” My brother is an emotional train-wreck, but I love him (anyway). My wife spends too much time on frivolous entertainment, but I love her (anyway). My husband is terribly impatient, but I love him (anyway). Every relationship where there is anything approaching true knowledge of another person’s character requires us to love beyond the “anyway.”
Bill, I know we may never see eye to eye on this, but I do truly wish the best for you (anyway).
Thanks for this.
Great article! It is interesting to me that the only way homosexuality has advanced in our culture is by hiding what it really is and what homosexuals do in their “love-making.”
I remember when my babies played in their dirty diapers and spread feces all over crib, wall, sheets, and themselves. I taught them it was dirty and could make them sick. “Don’t do that!” When I changed their diapers I gave them a toy to play with to keep their hands away from their bottoms. We stress washing hands after using the bathroom. Mixing up the reproductive and excretory systems is unhealthy.
Fifty years ago there were two venereal diseases. Now there are over twenty. That’s what happens when people play in poop and spread it around. Let’s pray for our confused brothers and sisters who are looking for love in the wrong places.
I think you missed the point, Bill. What a great article — very well-articulated.
This is so incredibly well written–I have it bookmarked for the next time I am accused of being a “hater”!
Thank you for so beautifully articulating our Catholic teachings on this incredibly relevant and sensitive topic!
Excellent, eye opening article. I very much enjoyed it!
Thank God for Purgatory!
When Henry VIII infamously committed adultery, the counselor he admired and trusted more than any other politely refused to sign a document affirming that the king was not an adulterer, which roiled the king tremendously. For holding fast to his faith, Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More was executed by his friend the king. Saint Thomas said “I love you anyway, your royal highness” – and for refusing to condone sexual immorality he was murdered.
My only concern with this approach is that it seems a little demeaning to “love someone anyway,” as that statement denotes a hint of superiority, not intentionally necessarily, but if someone said that to me I would say to drop the “anyway” and just love me. Loving a person does not mean accepting every decision or lifestyle choice that they make. It just means you still treat and keep them on equal terms, and I think particularly for the person with SSA this is crucial, as many of us have fought enough with “loving ourselves anyway” already. Behind everyone who pushes “PRIDE” is a old set of tapes in our head that were there first, and those tapes say “shame and disgust.” Towards ourselves. So I think that we just have to be careful not to accidentally shame others in our process of reaching out to them. Disagree, yes. Try to understand, absolutely. But it is not our place to add shame to people who already walk paths we do not understand, and which they may not themselves understand. So I definitely basically agree in principle with much of the author’s premise but might just reword that statement slightly. The purpose is to win back the person, not the argument. God bless!
I got so far as to reading your, “being gay is comparable to being bipolar, a raging temper, or anxious””. You obviously have no understanding of psychology… particularly abnormal psych. I am a devout, practicing Catholic… and this makes me very sad. Love your sister for all that she is – Imagine what it’s like to live like her.. in a family like yours. You don’t have to “approve” of her “lifestyle” – you just have to love her. And do some research, please.
I would encourage you to read to the end of the article so that you can understand the full scope of that comparison. It’s one thing to make a judgment about the article if you’ve read it in full…it’s another if you stop at a certain point and make judgements based on half of the entire article.
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