If they took an honest look at our lives, what would they find?
Pope Francis insists he is not one to judge, but does the Catholic Church have anything to say about gay people’s desires, beyond that they are intrinsically disordered? The contention that queer lives can be reduced to our inability to procreate has consequences that are real and measurable on millions of LGBTQ Catholics and the Church as a whole. Catholicism has rarely shied away from looking for the good in people or cultures. If they took an honest look at our lives, what would they find?
My mom used to tell a story she heard at some big Christian conference. One day at dawn a tiny bird with yellow wings flew to the top of a towering mountain and landed on its very peak. She peck peck pecked a few times at the summit and then fluttered away. The next day, at the same time, she returned. Several jabs at the peak were made, and again she flew down to the valley below.
Imagine how long it would take that little yellow bird to destroy the mountain, bit by bit, returning every morning to peck away the very top for a few moments, until only dust remained.
That, my mother would say, is not even one day in heaven.
It was meant to show how wonderful and, well, eternal, our time with the Creator with a capital “C” will be. How blissful, how beyond our comprehension must be this great treasure that awaits us.
The other side of the story subtly implied for us, the sincere and devout, was that no eternal day in paradise would pass without an equally eternal time in hell. While the saints rejoiced, blissfully ignorant of the tiny bird’s endeavor to raze the mountain, the damned would watch in torment as its completion would not make even one day of their misery.
The stakes of the Christian life, we knew, were high.
Metaphors like this were meant to inspire. To galvanize both our devotion and our fear.
I was taught as a Catholic that the highest form of just action was doing what was right out of love for God. But that in the hierarchy of morality, doing the right thing out of fear of hell could also qualify. Giving to the poor because you so love the Lord was best, but doing so because you feared eternal torment if you did not, was technically a lesser good as well.
Sometimes I would come across topics of morality where the Church’s line of thinking felt confusing or even backwards, and the flutter of that little yellow bird on her way up the mountain would echo in my mind. I might disagree, but what if I’m wrong? Think of the consequences. Think of eternity. If the Church or the Bible or even just our leaders have spoken clearly, definitively, why risk hell merely because I don’t understand?
A lot of Christians who sit on the fence about their gay brothers and sisters think this way. Somewhere deep down they feel like they might have good reason to disagree, but authority is authority and eternity is eternity. What is some pain here on earth compared to the perpetual misery of hell?
So often when I share my misgivings with the Church’s position I get told by my non-affirming friends, I’m glad this conversation is happening.
You bring up some interesting points.
I am for you.
They want me to make it to heaven with them. They genuinely do. But they aren’t willing to risk supporting all of me for fear of what it could cost either of us. After all, their I-am-for-you’s fall just shy of actual support and imply, what if you are wrong?
But there is another question which never gets asked in return - what if we are right?
What if my hugs are not empty and my kisses not inherently corrupting. What if my “I do,” means something just like yours? What if that which you have always assumed was so disordered about me is actually according to a plan after all?
What if we really are just as much capable of falling in love and raising up healthy families as you?
For someone who is unsure, who has been raised or at least thoroughly involved in the kind of circles where same-sex relationships are met with eternal fear, both what-if’s propose a kind of Pascal’s Wager. Some kind of unknowable, which would be a worse outcome? response.
Except, one isn’t unknowable.
You can, in fact, get to know us. See our lives and judge for yourself. By our fruits you shall know us.
When I started sharing my story online and writing about a need for change, almost every single one of my old friends from church disappeared. One person messaged me to tell me maybe we could talk, but mainly that they were sorry I was so angry. A surprising number messaged me to actually come out themselves. But most just moved on.
When I brought my then-boyfriend (now-fiancé), to a wedding at my old parish, everyone was polite, but no one asked us about our relationship - about us. They asked about his job, they asked him about living in Seattle, they asked me about my job, they asked me about living in Seattle. I know enough about my hometown to know folks love talking about a new relationship, but there was never an attempt to get to know us or catch up beyond a surface level. Never a question that could have just as easily been directed at a celibate person. It was as if our relationship didn’t exist in that space.
I realize just being at a Catholic wedding as a gay couple is a big step for a lot of people. When we received an invitation with both our names on the card I was plenty anxious about attending together. Nightmare scenarios of being cornered by folks who had confronted me before played out in my mind for weeks.
The wedding reception, thankfully, was a joyful and conflict-free affair. We laughed, we danced, we made an emergency run to the drug store because Tex-Mex will always be the forbidden fruit of lactose intolerance. We might have been a glimpse into just how disordered or how blessed relationships like ours really are, but no one there would know. Since I came out, no one from the Church has bothered to look.
If there is something evil about us being two men in love, could you point it out? Because I could easily identify the evil, the rotten fruit of my life before. I kept it hidden, but that doesn’t mean it was not there, stewing beneath the surface. The days I would drift listlessly into depression. The stench of pride that followed me as I tried to out-church anyone and everyone lest they catch a whiff of my real secret. The dull ache of nothingness that tempted me the night I almost drove my car into oncoming traffic like a weightlifter maxing out their last rep and finally letting go to the clang of metal on the cold floor.
Celibacy is a beautiful and timeless gift, but when it is forced, not chosen, what are its fruits? In official teaching the Church lists same-sex attractions as morally neutral, but in practice, it treats them as an embarrassment, a burden best kept hidden. No one knows which men who married women, which priests and religious brothers, which guy from the church who never got married is actually affected. That secret keeps our ability to judge the consequences of enforced celibacy far out of reach.
But as more and more gay Catholics enter into relationships and attempt to stay engaged in their faith, the Church is offered a great opportunity. It can attempt to examine for the first time, with an open mind and heart, what are the fruits of our relationships? Queer Catholics already all around you are willing to show you our lives if you are willing to look.
And when you do, what if instead of condemning our relationships and instead of ignoring them, you got to know them? Invited us into your lives in a way that allowed you to see us beyond a wedding every few years? Asked real questions about our relationships and celebrated where they are working?
Here is a question for anyone who is skeptical of what they might find. Is it a good thing when my fiancé and I fall deeper in love?
And yes, let’s be good Catholics and specify that we are talking about agape here. Life-affirming, sacrificial, self-giving love.
I used to love meditating on the image of a elderly couple sitting on a bench together in the park. No need to talk, just enjoying one another’s company and the intimacy that only a whole lifetime spent together can bring. What if several years into our relationship we are laying the groundwork that leads to moments like that?
Or if we are getting better at anticipating each other’s needs? What if our instincts for a tit-for-tat, who-has-been-the-most-unreasonable or sacrificed more scorecard started to fade away? If we continued to genuinely give to each other without counting the cost?
Could you celebrate that?
What if we adopted? I know you want every child to have a mother and a father. But there are so many in the world, in this country, that have neither. Would you rather they grow up with no parents than have two of the same sex? Do you fight single folks adopting with the same zeal you do a same-sex couple? How do you know what kind of parents we would be if you won’t let us try?
Decrying the abortion rate while denying the millions who are still fighting for the right to adopt and raise a family is a great way to make the rest of us skeptical about the sincerity of either position. Ten states still allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to place and provide adoption services to LGBTQ children or parents. Only nine out of fifty have laws prohibiting discrimination against foster care based on sexual orientation.
St. John Paul II called children the crown of a marriage. If that’s true, could you celebrate it in us? Even if it wasn’t perfect in your mind, could you see any good in it?
Taking the time to see the good, it is a deeply Catholic instinct, and it will take getting to know us - to see us as more than just attracted to the same sex.
That is something I will insist. I am more than just attracted to men. I desire stability, safety, intimacy. I want to care for my beloved. To celebrate with him in his triumphs and to mourn with him in his pains. Work through our disagreements and challenge each other to become better, holier. I want to give my whole life to him. And if God wills it, to give our lives together to the life of a child we could not conceive but would be honored to raise. A family.
What if I am actually capable of love, but was never given the chance? Given a potential for fruitfulness but told I was rotten. Made whole but only ever shown the ways I was broken?
If you imagine all the stereotypes of gay people you despise most, do they match what might happen if you convinced someone capable of marriage that they were actually not? That God on high despised the idea. That they were an abomination. What kind of person might such beliefs create if they were internalized during the most formative years of a child? What would be the fruits of that?
What if the staggering rate of LGBTQ suicides is in good part because we have never lived a day without knowing the whole world thought we were intrinsically disordered?
What if the demonization of queer individuals and the mythical “gay lifestyle,” exists because so many have come to fear and hate some false idea of our lives. Some world where we are an inversion of you - made for all the same things, just incapable of them.
Reducing queer people to an inability to naturally procreate and our relationships to an attack on the Church and the foundations of society is certainly the kind of dehumanization which our faith normally stands against. And one thing that has born itself out repeatedly is queer people of color will always bare the worst outcomes of such rhetoric.
What if that hatred and fear in our society is only growing because good folks like you refuse to look at our lives and actually see what is good in them?
Think about it for a moment. If you wanted to really get to know a gay Catholic in your community, where would you go? We are fired when working at Catholic schools or parishes. Doxxed and demonized when we speak of our lives in public. My fiancé and I know better than to do anything which might give us away as a couple at Sunday Mass or a weeknight parish event. We never hold hands or use touch to get the other’s attention. Our sign of peace is more austere than a Carthusian monk.
If hatred is rooted in fear and fear is rooted in, forgive me, ignorance, are you willing to let us into the life of the Church a little more. Into your lives?
And what if a long time ago something caught root in the Church that was never meant to be there? Something saying our love was no good. That our desires for marriage are an affront to the institution. That our willingness to raise the parentless kids is a threat.
This is, of course, a big question, one that a Church which develops is capable of discerning. But even if no advances are necessary, the Church will never be able to honestly affirm its current position while LGBTQ Catholics remain in the shadows. As long as teachings remain rooted in abstractions and not the actual lives of its members, the Church will own a doctrine set adrift and unmoored from truth.
Would you be willing to lash the barque of Peter to our tiny vessels and see for yourselves whether we match the monstrous abominations of tales told at sea?
But if you are not willing, if you insist our desires for love and family are evil and our only recourse is to live a life of celibacy, I’ll ask you now the question I’ve been asked all my life - what if you are wrong?
What would be the consequences of that?
And that little yellow bird, spending day after day in an attempt to destroy that mountain - how long do you think it would take before the mountain destroyed her? If all the world told her she was incapable of life like them, that her role was to scratch that stone all the way to ground, how long would she last? And if you found her at peace in the valley below, slowly healing from the years spent throwing herself against the rock, would you let her show you she was capable of more?
Image credit: The Knot