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March 27, 2008
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"Beyond Gay" by David Morrison
His journey from gay activist to chaste Catholic.  [Amazon.com]

Courage
Catholic apostolate that ministers to those with same-sex attractions and their loved ones.

NARTH
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

Touchstone Magazine
A Journal of Mere Christianity

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FINDING THE STRAIGHT PATH

Christians can change the way same-sex-attracted men and women experience Christianity. There is a middle way between the extremes of condemning both the acts and the people tempted to them on the one hand and abandoning any sexual standard at all on the other.

Finding the Straight Path

Better than newspaper headlines or sound bites on my radio or television, the best way for me to gauge the ebb and flow of battle in the societal war over homosexuality has been to open my daily mail.

Over the last nine years of my quixotic life as a former gay activist turned Christian it seems as if every group directly involved in sparring over the issue, from militantly gay and lesbian to conservative Christian, has written to ask for my money to use against the other. On days when missives from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority shared the same small cubbyhole, I marveled that my mailbox did not explode from having such haranguing prose confined so closely together.

Thus from my left hand a gay and lesbian group pleads for my cash to save the country from power-hungry and already powerful fundamentalist ministers who would criminalize same-sex attraction and whose hate-filled rhetoric encourages the murders of gays. While, from the right hand, a conservative Christian ministry pleads for my money to help them save the country from immoral gay activists out to pervert the country's youth and force Christians to be silent about homosexuality and hire homosexual people to teach in their schools.

I do not mean to trivialize the struggle over how we view homosexuality or same-sex acts, or to dismiss the work of those who speak for marriage in the public square. As a Roman Catholic, I accept completely the church's teaching and I fully accept, as one who has buried 18 associates to AIDS over the years, that departing from these ideas brings consequences.

The Monsters

But the way we speak of them brings consequences as well. In their mailings, each side faces a monster. Each side uses many exclamation points in their letters. Both sides seek to protect my life or my values against enormous evil. Reading them together can leave me feeling a bit like one of the unfortunate Northerners who married into Southern families (or vice versa) before the Civil War, and I am struck at how wide the gulf is between these icons and the actual people they are meant to represent.

According to my most trusted statistics, and I admit I try to limit my errors to the side of under-counting, approximately three million Americans have a predominant sexual and romantic attraction to their own sex. Accounting for their parents, a reasonable number of siblings, other family members and friends, it is sensible to suppose for at least 12 million people living in the United States, every sound bite and headline, every charge and countercharge, reminds them of the battle swirling around someone they know and love.

Most of the three million, in my experience, are not gay or lesbian activists and do not publicly identify themselves as gay or lesbian. Most of their family and friends do not identify themselves as someone with gay or lesbian friends or family members. Many of them are Christians, or have been Christians, or have family and friends who are Christians. They constitute a unique pastoral challenge and, if they are not Christian already or if they have left the faith, a significant mission field as well.

But in both these realities, as people in need of both pastoral care and the gospel, Christians have badly failed them. In that failure we risk contributing to the loss of their souls and of discovering one day that it would have indeed been better for us to have been cast into the sea wearing millstones around our necks than to have acted as we have towards them.

Gail's situation is not that unusual among the same-sex-attracted men and women who often correspond with me. A student at a large, predominantly conservative Christian university in the United States, Gail recently wrote me about the difficulty she would confront if she asked the support of her fellow Christians in her struggle to refrain from acting on her same-sex attraction. "It has been my experience in Christian circles that telling gets you into more trouble than keeping it to yourself," she wrote.

"Suddenly the people you tell act as if you are stricken with the Black Plague of the thirteenth century. Some don't know what to say to you. Worse, others that used to be your best friends may not want to have anything to do with you. Still others may doubt your faith in Christ. [My advice to anyone thinking of disclosing would be to] pray really hard for discernment before you decide to tell any other Christians about what your struggles are."

Almost Trembling

Experiences like hers, and of thousands of other men and women, make me treasure my apparently singular experience at Trinity Church, a small Episcopal church in northern Virginia into whose company I drifted in the days immediately following my conversion to Christianity.

When, after six weeks of anonymously attending services, I first went to the rector and told him of my life of gay activism and my conversion to Christ, I did so almost trembling with anxiety. After all, I knew what many Christians think of gays and lesbians. I half-expected Nicholas to throw me-politely, since he was an Anglican-out on my ear. But he didn't.

After courteously listening to everything I had to say, he turned to me and said: "David, if you need me to affirm what you do in bed, I cannot, because I think that is sin. But if you need me to affirm you as a brother in Christ, I can do that, because anyone who welcomes Christ is welcome here." And he, along with his wife and family, and many other families at Trinity, meant it. Their love for me, a seemingly rock-solid gay activist, even as they disputed the immorality in my life, gave me a lasting lesson in Christianity's depth and reality.

Although most of the parishioners, steeped in Evangelical Anglicanism, possessed a thoroughly Christian identity and a solid disapproval of sexual expression outside of marriage, many of them, particularly those who went out of their way to befriend me, also knew a great deal about acceptance, compassion, and deep friendship. Including me in their bake sales and car washes, family reunions, Bible studies, and other mundane activities even as they knew I was a gay activist, appears such an insignificant thing. But allowing me to be a part of their day-to-day lives forced me to reevaluate the little box of prejudice into which I had previously placed "Christians."

Looking back, after eight years of seeking to live chastely as a Christian, I believe my time at Trinity represented a turning point in my early Christian life. While I had accepted intellectually the claims of the historic Christian creeds and experienced a deep emotional conviction of Christ's reality and love, Christianity's doctrines and disciplines remained merely concepts. It was the witness of the Christians at Trinity Church that put flesh onto the bones of biblical phrases like "love thy neighbor" and "seventy times seven times."

Christ had answered me when, in desperation over the emptiness of my life, I cried aloud for him. But it was the Christians at Trinity who made his presence in my life a daily reality and, in turn, provided the witness I needed to abandon even gay pornography and any lingering backward glances for the fleshpots of my former nights.

Sadly, most men and women living with same-sex attraction have had experiences more akin to Gail's than mine. Many leave the active practice of their faith, and their silence both impoverishes us and bears witness to our stony hearts.

Changed Christians

But it does not have to be so. Christians can begin to do things that will change the way same-sex-attracted men and women experience Christianity. There is a middle way between the extremes of condemning both the acts and the people tempted to them on the one hand and abandoning any sexual standard at all on the other.

First, Christians who stereotype men and women living with same-sex attraction as gay, or even worse as "gay activists," need to stop. They should distinguish between being attracted toward sexual activity with one's own sex and actually performing such activity or advocating its wider acceptance. The former is a departure from the created order but not in and of itself a moral failing, while the latter receives the established Christian opprobrium gleaned from Scripture, tradition, and natural law.

Currently, as far as I know, only the Roman Catholic Church explicitly includes such an understanding in its Catechism, but I am convinced that Christians would introduce more people with same-sex attraction to Christ if they adopted this discernment. Making the distinction between act and temptation would allow more Christians to understand same-sex temptations in the context of all temptation, both sexual and non-sexual, that they face.

No longer, as happened in the lives of several friends (former Christians), would Christian pastors be able to label same-sex acts as the "worst sins" or the people tempted to them as the "worst sinners." Even Christians continuing to accept the witness of Scripture that sodomy is one of the sins that cries out to heaven for vengeance must admit that it remains there as part of a group and not singled out as our worst possible failing.

Adopting the Catholic understanding of the matter would also permit Christians to stop mimicking gay activists in their definition of human beings by their sexual attractions. To put it bluntly, there are no "gays" or "lesbians." There are people who feel some degree of attraction to their same sex and who choose to identify themselves by those attractions, but they are still men and women and they cannot (morally) be reduced to their sexual natures.

Reducing the human person to the sexual might make good fund-raising copy, but it is subtly pernicious in that it moves the discussion away from the sinfulness of acts, of which participants can repent, to that of temptations, for which moral responsibility is much harder to define.

Talk About Sex

Second, Christians, including pastors speaking from the pulpit, should talk more openly and often about sex and include sexual sins among those against which we battle and often need the support of other committed Christians.

Men and women struggling against committing homosexual sins, or having family members who struggle, often face not only the specific stigma of same-sex attraction, but also the stigma of having a sexual struggle generally. This makes all struggles against sexual sins, but particularly those of same-sex attraction, more difficult to face.

A friend of mine who struggles with same-sex attractions confided recently of a charismatic prayer meeting he attended at which a woman had the temerity to pray for her "gay son." "I don't want to hear that," said the woman leading the meeting, clapping her hands over her ears. "This is supposed to be about prayer and peace-none of that other stuff," she said.

Now I am not advocating that Christians broadcast their personal struggle to all their fellow parishioners. What I am suggesting is that, as happened recently in one parish I know, ministers speaking openly about sexual sins can free individuals in parishes to do likewise. When the minister from the pulpit talked about the realities of adulterous temptations—that King David's temptations are alive and well in many lives today—he gave several in the congregation the courage they needed to approach other Christians they already knew for help in fighting these temptations.

Along these lines, Christians can admit that heterosexually attracted people, including Christians, have a problem with sexual sins. Some Christian married people struggle against same-sex attractions, others lust for sexual partners outside their marriage, others have problems with pornography and masturbation, and still others face emotional troubles in their marriages. Silence about these problems does not make them go away, and in the case of same-sex attraction, an inability to get support in the struggle only makes it worse.

Christians often underestimate the ways our neglect in addressing this area can compromise our Christian witness, feeling that "the world" does not look closely at what happens in the Church. But a friend's frustration, a social worker living chastely with same-sex attraction in the West, indicts our complacency. It infuriates him to hear other Christians attack homosexual sin and homosexuals so vigorously when so many of them remain silent on divorce.

"In the course of my practice," Justin says, "I see far more people—including kids—who suffer from the after-effects of divorce than I have ever seen suffering from same-sex acts." We compromise our witness to the gospel's powerful joy and truth when we appear to care more about the sins to which others are tempted than our own.

Not All the Answers

Third, more Christians could admit that we do not have all the answers, or even most of them, to same-sex attraction.

We do not definitively know what causes it and we cannot eliminate it completely in every case, or even the majority of cases. Unless they are careful to welcome people struggling with same-sex attraction, churches that parade so-called ex-gay men and women as examples of an almost Arcadian family life can send a message that they consider proven heterosexuality a condition for membership, when such change is not open to all.

Even Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a longtime proponent of reparative therapy and a founding member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), admits that at best one-third of reparative therapy clients achieve a complete diminishing of their homosexual desires. Another third experience some change, and the last third no change at all. Christians must ask themselves what message of hope, what message of the gospel, do we have for those other two-thirds?

In my book Beyond Gay, I defend reparative therapy, mostly because I believe same-sex attraction can and does diminish by degrees over time and can diminish to negligibility with the help of a good therapist. But it does not do so in every case and God does not condition our eligibility for heaven on the kinds of temptations (including sexual ones) we face.

Christians need to recognize that all of us struggle against temptations and powers that would keep us from heaven if they could, but over which we are committed to victory. Some of us will struggle against same-sex attractions-and may do so for all our lives. Others will struggle with heterosexual lust or pride or sloth or anger-and may do so for all their lives.

We need to have space for all of them in our lives and churches, ensuring that no one feels rejected because of the particular temptations he faces. "Thank God I finally made it here," said one exuberant friend after coming into the Catholic Church from a very legalistic group. "Finally I don't have to feel guilty over things I cannot control."

Christian Ambivalence

Fourth, Christians need to resolve their ambivalence about single people generally. One of the bigger problems faced by men and women living Christian lives despite same-sex attractions is discerning our role within our churches. Churches today are extremely oriented toward supporting families and couples, which they probably should be, but surely there is something else single men and women can do for the Church than be shunted into a room to mingle with other single men and women?

Christians need to realize that marriage is a vocation given to specific single people and that not everyone will be married. Some will have celibacy as a gift, but many others will have it as a struggle. The unmarried have a role to play in the Church that needs to be discerned. A few years ago the US Catholic Bishop's conference hoped to jumpstart that discernment process by proclaiming a Day of Jubilee for single men and women in the Church.

Finally, Christians who wink at or approve of same-sex acts, or refuse to call men and women living with same-sex attraction to live the gospel more deeply and truly, need to repent for their unfaithfulness. Loving someone does not mean we love and accept his sins. The easy claim that love justifies all, for example in a same-sex relationship, cannot be countenanced.

As I can personally attest, the loyalty, honesty, tenderness, encouragement, and compassion that make up a long-term loving friendship can be had without acting out sexually. In my own case, these things grew even stronger after my then partner and I stopped the sex, and we might never have known such friendship if Christians at Trinity had not been willing to lovingly call me to stop.

Christians need to keep in mind that our struggle is not as much with the people espousing the bad ideas of the gay rights movement as with the ideas themselves. Flesh-and-blood men and women, people with needs and fears and hopes, stand behind the bogeymen icons of fundraising screeds.

By being honest about our failings and our lack of knowledge, and by treating men and women with respect no matter what their temptations, Christians can begin to make Christ present to people he wants to save.

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January 7, 2004

David Morrison is a writer and editor in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to writing about homosexuality, identity, and faith, he has covered human rights abuses and population control in the developing world. Morrison is the author of Beyond Gay (Our Sunday Visitor Press, 1999).

This article was originally published in the September 2001 issue of Touchstone Magazine. All rights reserved.

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READER COMMENTS
10.30.05   The Triumph says:
Thank You for your article.I am a devout catholic.I love the catholic faith and all it offers Gods children.I beleive Jesus reached out to those in need with love, and touched the wounded ,not with hard mean spirited words,but with love, that kind of love that transforms lives. The kind of love that could say to a woman caught in adultery,"your sins have been forgiven,go and sin no more." Powerful life changing love. The catholic church needs more priest who are willing to make that great sacrifice of love,to reach out in faith and draw those who are in search of Gods love and immerce them in Jesus's mercy . When I talk about my struggles with my hetrosexual or homosexual catholic friends who are livng chased lives,I am always brought bac k to a conversation I had with My mother.Her words to me were "This is your cross,you must love your cross,and never take your eyes off the One who died upon it." If God would ask me "John,you can either keep this cross or give it back to me,but if you carry it for now,and offer it to me,you will be glorifing The Father",I would say, "Yes Lord,and what else would you have of me."My job as a christian is to accept divine peace,to live it and spread it.

10.17.05   learning says:
I've just read your post on Straight Path, and it answered a lot of questions. Although I still have many, many, more.I'm a Christian, but not a very good one at that either, but I'm trying to find answers there also. Your post made a lot of sense, and it should be a guild for a lot of pastors and those who hate.I hate gays, I hate homosexuals. However, God says to forget hate, forget judgment, forget judging others period. How can I respect others, when I don't respect myself?I'm getting older, but I want to learn how to accept others, no matter who they are, straight, gay, or other wise. If I was at a friends school I would be pulling both ways. One to support and another to condemn. Boy, what a life I have led, so stupid, so anti-Christian, and so unworthy of what Christ taught. Now I would have supported her or him. I can't live their lives for them, but I can show Christ love, and this I didn't do before, not in the right way.I wish I could find someone on line to talk to who is gay and a Christian, so I can learn from them as to how to look at them as human beings, and not as pieces of a improper sex act. After all they are just think how much I could have learn, and never did. This is another area that I have been so wrong in. What do I have to fear? I guess I have the same fear as a gay person does, maybe. Rejection, judgement, closed minded, hate factor, but wouldn't be better to reach out to each other, and be able to set down and talk as human beings, and accepting each other as fellow human beings, fellow Christians, and open up and accept each other as such?Years back I went through a course in college that discussed the issues of Human Sexuality, and we moved on to the subject of gayness. We had several gay men come in and give a talk about what it met to be gay, how their lifes were effective by their orientation, and lifestyle of the gay community.No one ever asked question of none of these men, including myself. I felt sorry for them-like they really needed acceptance by me-what a laugh, but maybe it would have been a chance to look at them as humans, and not a pervert. Another word that is hateful, and I have used myself, but never should have, but no longer use.Well, enough of me, just enjoyed your post so much, that it really made me think, and I think Christ presented it to me, because I was searching for understanding. I'm glad that he took me here to have a better understanding of gayness, and hopefullly a better understanding of accepting each other in all our weakness.Thanks, and may God Bless you all, each and every one! < + >

01.12.04   sem says:
David,Prayers to you and others who struggle with SSA. One of the hardest aspects you must face is the opposition by those who feel they have to defend their own SSA as their right. As far as fellow-Christians go– I will keep my eyes and ears open to ways to help those in the Church relax a bit and put SSA in a proper context. Pray that I speak up when the speaking-up’s good.Lust is a complex issue. There are two different aspects of lust that I think need to be separated. First: the mind-set that allows lust to thrive. The opposite of that mind-set is genuine love and tenderness. The second aspect of lust is the behavior itself. The opposite of that behavior would be repression and discipline, right? I think we have allowed “repression” to become a bad word in this society. My dictionary says: “repress - to keep under control.” That seems reasonable, but this doesn’t fit in with this culture’s self-issued license to have unlimited freedom as long as we spout off that great bs disclaimer: “as long as no one’s getting hurt.” We know it’s bs because humans (for example, pedophiles, adulterers, and pornographers) can rationalize away someone else’s hurt along with anything else under the sun. Without God, we are incapable of either the genuine love or the self-discipline required to avoid sinning and hurting others.I read a passage the other day that struck me. It’s from The Holy Way: Practices for a simple life by Paula Huston: “I’ve made an interesting, if painful, discovery: the path to simplicity runs right through the middle of me...Most of the clutter, in fact, has turned out to be internal rather than external, a result of the kind of person I am rather than the time and place in which I live.” So, as screwed-up as our secular culture is– we can’t gloss over the fact that the fault lies mostly within us self- complicating humans. God is never bothered by clutter and complication. He simply is. He simply does. I do think we need to internally seek this simplicity. Since lust is a human complication– it is at most a common element of sexual sins, but not a cause. No, complications always have a simple starting point. All sin has a simple starting point. Looks like we’re back to the ultimate beginning-- original sin. We either fail to subject ourselves to the Almighty, or we out and out tell Him “No.” Therefore, the simplest way to be an example for others who are in pain and living dangerously is to share our “yes.” We acknowledge that we are subject to God, and that without him we are nothing.Yes, living and loving more genuinely is a powerful example. Peace, sem

01.09.04   David Morrison says:
Sem, while I am not a pyschologist or a member/spokesman for NARTH, I think your intuition is on track. Not all men who have seen a degree of same sex attraction diminish to negligibility are going to see an increased desire for women generally. Frankly, the men who have seen their SSA diminish are probably never going to be the guys who post up girlie posters in their lockers at work. Folks who have done this, fallen and love and gotten married, at least that I know of, have done so by befriending the woman first, then falling in love with her, then moving into marriage and having kids if any are coming.I think as far as fighting lust goes we do that not by trying to argue against it but by showing people something better and living out genuine love. The opposite of lust is not repression or suppression, the opposite of lust is tenderness, mother love, the love that sees and values us not for what we can give or represent at that moment but for who we really are, warts, hang-ups and anxieties all.I am not an expert so I don't know about to about genuine pedophelia which is the sexual attraction to the pre-pubescent as opposed to simple lust for the teenaged young person. While the activities would seem to be lustful, there is seemingly more going on there with the attraction than mere sex. You are absolutely right about the complexity. For example, there is a common fallacy to call sexual contact intimacy, when in reality, particularly in the hook up scene, sexual expression can be a way of forstalling intimacy. When two men meet and go to bed with another within that same evening and have sex, in a sense they have put each other into the safe slots of object and objectifier. The real work of intimacy, the really dangerous stuff about being honest and showing vulnurablity and taking risks and compromising and listening...all that relationship stuff gets lost when the point is the fast orgasm(s).

01.09.04   sem says:
My thanks to David Morrison for writing this article. I applaud your honesty and thoroughness in your approach to the discussion of this very specific cross that you bear with such grace and dignity. It is so true that all of us non-married persons must bear the same call to chastity. I had heard previously that homosexuals could convert; but was always afraid that if I looked into it I would find some very non-loving, ghastly-brainwashing something going on. But then I saw an interview on tv (EWTN’s The Journey Home) with an ex-homosexual who is now in a loving heterosexual marriage. And then after that I read what you posted here in response to “This is My Body.” So it was wonderfully eye-opening to hear about his and your journey. It also affirmed what I already knew : God’s grace really is limitless. You informed me a step further by speaking of Dr. Nicolosi and NARTH’s work. Question: When you report that "one-third of reparative therapy clients achieve a complete diminishing of their homosexual desires", does this mean that that group experiences desires for the opposite sex? Or is that a different statistic? It is so true that you pointed out that all persons who suffer same-sex attractions in all the differing degrees need to be every bit as welcomed into the Church as all of us other sinners.Placing same-sex attraction within the classification of sexual sin, along with adultery and pornography, helps to place all of these in their proper context. They are sins of lust. Lust is disordered, by its very definition (Not in the secular world, though). How do we promote chastity and purity in a culture that sees nothing wrong with lust? How do we expose lust as the disordered evil it is? This next part might cause some fur to fly. I have witnessed horrible arguments when well-meaning Christians attempt to place pedophilia in that grouping, also. Since non-Christians (and too many Christians, as you noted), view homosexuality, adultery, and pornography as barely even semi-sins (wink, wink); then they understandably freak when pedophilia is also placed within that same group.However, isn’t pedophilia a gravely disordered lust? The only reason in my mind that would require its placement in a separate category is the fact that it involves minors (minors are non-consenting participants); and therefore has sadly even graver consequences. But any attempt to remove this sin from this category is to also say that adultery and porn does not cause grave consequences. If I am guilty of a false dilemma, or other fallacy, then please elucidate. I also know that adultery, and all these sins are never a simple matter. They are a complicated whole of many single choices stemming from either lengthy, medium, or no thought processes. So yes, they have differences. But isn’t lust a common thread in all of these sexual sins? Isn’t lust the sin in common? For that matter– oughtn’t we include so-called casual sex, also? Peace, Prayers, and Blessings,sem

01.08.04   Godspy says:
Christians can change the way same-sex-attracted men and women experience Christianity. There is a middle way between the extremes of condemning both the acts and the people tempted to them on the one hand and abandoning any sexual standard at all on the other.

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