Just How Controversial Are Celibate Gay and Lesbian People?

December 18, 2014

This past Sunday, The Washington Post printed a story about the growing movement of celibate lesbian and gay Christians.  One of the leaders of this movement is Eve Tushnet, a convert to Catholicism who recently published a book on celibacy and friendship entitled Gay and Catholic.

Eve Tushnet

For the record, I have not read Tushnet’s book yet, but I have read other things that she has written and heard her speak. In some ways, I find her to be a very credible spokesperson for celibacy because, while embracing the orthodox Catholic position for lesbian and gay people, she never insists that everyone embrace this option.  She remains non-judgmental about lesbian and gay people who choose to be part of a committed sexual relationship.  Her primary form of argument is to explain why celibacy is a life-giving option for herself.  I applaud both her free decision to choose celibacy and the first-person way in which she addresses the topic.

The Post article seemed to be trying to search for a controversy in this topic.  For example, the reporter, Michelle Boorstein, seems to want to make it seem that celibate gay and lesbian people are not accepted by non-celibate ones.  She writes:

“. . . [T]hey are also met with criticism from many quarters, including from other gays and lesbians who say celibacy is both untenable and a denial of equality.

“ ‘We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,’ said Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry. Acceptance in exchange for celibacy ‘is not sufficient,’ he said. ‘There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.’ ”

I have been working in the field of LGBT Catholic ministry for over 20 years, and I honestly do not ever remember anyone ever disparaging someone’s free choice for celibacy.  I disagree that a perception exists that those “who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.”   It is true that many Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–perceive forced celibacy as a person’s only moral option to be not just inauthentic, but potentially damaging.  But that is different from people who freely choose celibacy as the way that will bring them most happiness and deepest connection to others and God.

Fitzmaurice’s statement that acceptance in exchange for celibacy is not sufficient is, however, a very important idea.  Celibacy should never be seen as something required for adults, and it certainly shouldn’t be an “admission ticket” for church participation.  I don’t disagree with Fitzmaurice here, but I do disagree with Boorstein seeing this part of his statement as an indication that celibacy is controversial.

Commenting on Boorstein’s article, Autumn Kunkel, writing at TheBGNews.com criticized this notion of celibacy as a requirement for acceptance into a faith community:

“. . . [T]here is absolutely nothing tolerant about someone saying, ‘I accept gays and lesbians as members of the Christian faith as long as they don’t have sex.’

‘This ideal, in and of itself, is homophobic and prejudiced. It’s dehumanizing.

‘It’s saying, ‘You can be an active member of this faith as long as you abide by special rules which no one else is required to follow.’

‘People who are born a certain way shouldn’t have to follow special rules just to be accepted. If they do, then they’re not really being accepted, are they?”

The controversy about celibate gay and lesbian Christians seems to come not from progressive Christians rejecting them but with conservative Christians being uncomfortable with their sexual orientation.   Boorstein quotes Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who while praising the option of celibacy, also is leery of self-identified gay and lesbian people:

“. . . Mohler said he believes that sexual orientation can change ‘by the power of the Gospel.’ He said he is not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer.”

The article notes that there has been more opportunity for people to come out as gay and lesbian people in their faith communities, and that this new social phenomenon has encouraged those who are celibate to be a part of those revelations.

Billy Hallowell, writing about Boorstein’s article at TheBlaze.comsees that the celibate Christian movement forces people to rethink their ideas:

“Consider that embracing celibate gays forces some to concede that homosexuality might not be a choice after all; likewise, it also forces some critics to abandon the notion that it’s possible to change one’s sexuality.”

Hallowell, however, also oversteps the evidence and tries to make it seem that sexually active gay and lesbian people are at odds with those who are celibate:

“The dynamic tends to also frustrate gays and lesbians who are fighting for a level of marriage equality that would allow them to be in same-sex relationships, while also participating in church communities. To these people, celibacy simply isn’t an option.”

Again,  I don’t know any gay or lesbian people who feel that sexual activity is compulsory.  Quite the opposite.  Having been castigated so long for their sexuality, lesbian and gay people are usually more accepting than others of a person’s freedom to live a sexual life that is most life-giving for the individual.

Celibacy, like homosexuality, is not something that a majority of people experience.  As a result, like homosexuality, it can often be misunderstood, and even railed against.  Let’s pray for a day when all people are comfortable expressing their sexual identities and life choices in both church and society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Bondings 2.0: Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

Bondings 2.0: Mandating Celibacy for Gay People Reveals Deep Incoherence in Church’s Teachings

 


CALGM Board Refuses to Sign Oath

June 24, 2012

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

The board of directors of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) has chosen not to sign an “oath of personal integrity” to Catholic teaching given to them by Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Ordinary of the diocese in which they maintain their national office.

According to National Catholic Reporter article:

“Declining the oath could result in Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., declaring the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, or CALGM, as “not authentically Catholic,” a letter to its members from the association president warns.

Sheila Nelson with CALGM members Myrna Ohmann and the late David McCaffrey

” ‘In good faith, we have done most everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church,’ president Sheila Nelson wrote to members April 5. ‘Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop. We have repeatedly, abundantly and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal.’ . . .

“Cordileone’s list of concerns with the association have included the omission of specific church documents on its website and publications; its use of the terms gay and lesbian; members’ statements deemed critical of the church; and the backgrounds, affiliations and public statements of both conference speakers and board members. . . .

” “That you would require such an unprecedented and extensive manifestation of our consciences suggests to us that, irrespective of our pastoral effectiveness, you wish to force an end to these, admittedly difficult, conversations. You will not be receiving any signed oaths from the Board members,’ Nelson wrote in a March 29 letter, the first informing the bishop of their decision.”

(The NCR article is rather lengthy but filled with details; if you are interested in learning more about this story, I suggest you read the article in its entirety.)

The NCR article noted that CALGM had already made several concessions to other requests by Bishop Cordileone:

“In an eight-page follow-up letter to the January meeting, dated April 15, 2011, the board sought to clarify questions about the association and its stance on several of the bishop’s concerns, one of which was its usage of the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ on its website and in its publications — a concern that ‘honestly surprised’ the board.

Arthur Fitzmaurice

“[Arthur]Fitzmaurice  [board member and resource director] said that Cordileone said during their Jan. 7 meeting that the terms weren’t in the church’s vocabulary, and were promoted by groups opposed to the church’s moral teaching.

“The board pointed out it in the letter that archdiocesan ministries in Los Angeles and Chicago use ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in their titles. In addition, the Oakland diocese has a page titled Gay and Lesbian Ministry’ under the family life ministries section of its website.

” ‘The average Catholic who identifies as gay or lesbian is not making a statement about their sexual activity, their political party, their views on same-sex marriage, or their “lifestyle.”… these terms are actually used to shift the focus away from sexual behavior (which ‘homosexual’ clearly evokes) toward the matters of orientation and identity, which are acknowledged by the Church,” the letter stated.

“The board agreed to ‘be more conscientious of our use of language,’ and to utilize Church language — ‘persons with a homosexual inclination’ — when presenting church teaching, and ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ when communicating with those to whom they minister. . . .

“Ensuing letters detailed the association’s progress in implementing Cordileone’s requests, including:

  • modifying website content to include specific church documents;
  • adding editorial remarks to opinions criticizing or inaccurately portraying church teachings, and stating CALGM did not share in them;
  • Using church language — “persons with a homosexual inclination” — when presenting church teaching, and “gay” and “lesbian” when communicating with whom they minister;
  • providing the bishop a copy of each newsletter before distribution to members;
  • Continuing the practice of providing the names of proposed speakers to the bishop of the diocese where conferences are held.”

Nelson noted the inappropriateness of the request for an oath:

“Nelson, in a March 29 letter, informed the Oakland bishop the board would not take his oath: ‘In the course of our conversations with you over the last year, we have endeavored to engage and respond to each of the concerns that you have raised about our pastoral ministry.’

“She continued: ‘Sadly, there always seems to be something that you say “confirms [your] doubts” about us and our work. … We have tried to gain your trust … We have tried to assure you that we are faithful disciples in parishes and dioceses doing the pastoral work of the Church …’

” ‘We hope you can understand, then, our confusion at the “Oath of Personal Integrity in Belief and Practice Regarding the Teachings of the Catholic Church.” Suddenly, the terms of our long conversation have migrated from the work of the Association to the personal lives of the Board members,’ she said.

“At the end of the letter, Nelson expressed hope that CALGM would continue a ministry she called a “tremendous value to you and our Church at a time when conventional wisdom would inaccurately characterize Roman Catholicism as “against gay people,'” adding, ‘For our part, we need you and your apostolic service to hold us in deep communion with the Body of Christ. We hope and pray that we can continue to minister with you in the Church we all love.’ “

Casey Lopata

Looking toward the future, Fitzmaurice and Casey Lopata, longtime CALGM board member and co-founder of Fortunate Families, had these thoughts:

“When asked how or if CALGM would continue its ministry should Cordileone declare it not authentically Catholic, Fitzmaurice stated that ‘the need for our ministry remains, and we will continue to do our pastoral work and will respond to opportunities for dialogue with our Church leaders.’ “

“Lopata said it would be ‘a real loss for the church” if CALGM could not continue its work.

” ‘If there’s not that visible association with this positive perspective for gay and lesbian people within the  church that is recognized by the church, the church would be much impoverished because of that,’ he said.”

Indeed.  CALGM has been a great support to many church ministers over the years and has provided great work in the field of LGBT ministry.  They have worked hard to maintain a dialogue with church leaders throughout their work.  The breakdown of dialogue here says more about the hiearchy’s adamancy than it says anything about CALGM’s loyalty to the church.  They are in our prayers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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