Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Things and CMPL on being a "gay Christian"

Recently, First Things ran two articles by Joshua Gonnerman, a doctoral student at Catholic University of America (CUA), lamenting the struggles and extolling the virtues of being a "gay Christian." Gonnerman's commitment to living a chaste life while struggling with same sex attraction is commendable, but his arguments are not particularly convincing to Andrew Haines and Mattias Caro of the Center for Morality in Public Life. Haines, also a graduate student at CUA, is not persuaded by Gonnerman's "peculiar" language.
This basic theory of relational perspective and significance drives Gonnerman’s later explication of just why self-identifying as a “gay Christian” should make sense.

[T]here are many things I find valuable about my experience of being gay. Any number of studies indicate that there are real trends of difference between gay people and straight people, however difficult to define. Gay Christians are, perhaps, “called to otherness” as Elizabeth Scalia’s suggested on these pages in an article I consider one of the best things written on the subject. Her suggestion is that people with same-sex desire experience a kind of attraction that, when not concupiscent, is a gift to the Church—a sign of contradiction.

My otherness as a gay man is shared with other people, and we in our shared otherness make a community (community in otherness being an experience I learned to value in the churches of my youth, as we sang with gusto of being “a peculiar people”). Being a gay Christian does not mean one must be separated from one’s gay brothers and sisters or dissent from the teaching of the Church. The more people are willing to stand up and be counted, the more the rift between the church and gay people can be healed, and that’s a goal I, at least, feel the obligation to pursue.

I confess, that Gonnerman’s language, here, is excessively (to use his phrase) “peculiar.” What does it mean to say that “we in our shared otherness make a community”? What ever is “shared otherness”? And how on earth should we find it—presumably what he would call “a sign of contradiction”—to be a compelling reason for embracing something like homosexual attraction?

Indeed, poetic language shouldn’t be discouraged. But if Gonnerman’s argument holds up, it appears to be the differences that separate us—and not the common features that unite us—which “make a community.”

To be sure, the Christian gospel, and subsequently a Christian perspective on ethics and sexual morality, is founded upon the mystery of the Incarnation, and upon the seeming impossibility (or contradiction) of the Cross. But “signs of contradiction” (i.e., signs of the toll that sinfulness inflicts upon our nature) aren’t justifications for or the bases of authentic community. They’re instances of its breakdown; hardly the sort of thing we should be celebrating and seeking after to extoll.
Caro finds the current fascination with the "gay Christian" nomenclature disturbing because of its emphasis on the "acceptance" of a vague, and somewhat dubious, "identity" and a lack of appreciation for a very basic element of the Christian character.
It boggles me that in the discussion of the “Gay Christian,” various authors are largely ignoring the question of personal virtue and the community’s response to that, and instead attempting to focus the whole question on the acceptance of identity. (As opposed to Jones who seems to have little-to-no issues about an acceptance of her identity and instead yearns for a way to live out her ideals.) Of course, Christianity is all about identity, but it is about an identity in conformity with Christ, not one that is self-applied according to particular desires and interests. Virtue plays an integral role in this because in imitating Christ, we come to imitate His virtues, on both a human and supernatural level. It’s a theory of moral ecology baptized right out of Ancient Greece and Rome.
The basic disagreement between the authors may simply boil down to semantics. The term "gay Christian" is either acceptable or unacceptable depending on one's perspective and experience. The Apostle Paul, it must be noted, did speak of the Corinthian believers in terms which identified them with their past transgressions, homosexuality being one among many (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Such identification, however, was only for the purpose of exalting "the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God" who had "washed," "sanctified," and "justified" them. In light of this, the term "gay Christian" indeed sounds inappropriate unless it is used in the "peculiar" context of the cross and the power of the Risen Christ to save, deliver, and heal.