After the Third Way…

This piece was originally published at Spiritual Friendship on May 6, 2014.


… there’s a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh…

A rather remarkable video has been making the rounds lately. “The Third Way“, produced by Blackstone Films, features the voices of gay Christians who have accepted their sexuality and have sought to live according to traditional Christian teachings. The video navigates between two poles often presented for gay Christians: either repress sexuality for Christianity, or give up Christianity for sexuality. A “third way” is presented, in which the speakers come to love and accept both parts of themselves, seeking to live chaste lives of integration, rather than a fragmented choice.

I’m hesitant to criticize the video or its producers. I found it to be a rare piece, in which the teachings of the Church are presented in their full integrity, while at the same time allowing for honest narratives about how real people relate to these teachings. I suppose I don’t particularly want to offer criticism at all, perhaps just a further elaboration, and my own (very limited) contribution to the narrative of what it means to be a gay Christian.

I had shared with some friends concerns that The Third Way tends towards a narrative of homosexuality in which its roots are found in childhood neglect or abuse. I’m not at all denying that such roots can be found in such experiences. I’d only like to point out that, for many of us, this narrative can be confusing, for ourselves and for our families.

One gay man has written how this narrative encouraged him to defy his parents, making this particular “gay narrative” into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy for unhealthy behavior. In blaming an unhealthy relationship with his parents for his sexuality, he began to use his sexuality as a justification for defying his parents:

My parents were surprised at how the [reparative] therapy blamed them for my condition… [but] I was happy to defy my parents. Whether the grievance was that my curfew wasn’t late enough or that my parents didn’t give me enough money, I had a trusted authority figure validating every perceived injustice. Any complaint became evidence of how my parents had failed me.

I fear that, because of  this “distant parent” narrative, some gay men and women, resentful of their sexuality, will also come to resent their parents, whom they perceive to be the source of their struggles. I also fear parents resenting themselves because of this. And I also fear children and parents taking this paradigm too seriously, retrospectively interpreting past experiences as abuse or neglect, experiences which wouldn’t be considered so except for the child’s sexuality.

One of my own fears in coming out to my parents was that they might blame themselves for my sexuality. Of course, I discovered that they are much wiser than I considered them (a constant discovery as I have become older), and the concern was never raised. The truth is, I have wonderful parents. They’ve always given me their unconditional love, more than I have either deserved or asked for.

I’ve also never been abused. I actually had a very trauma-free upbringing, and I look on my past with fondness. I do recognize that many gay men and women were abused as children, and I’m open to the possibility that this abuse had lasting affects on their sexualities. I’d just like to point out that this isn’t my narrative, and people shouldn’t assume it to be so for others, simply because of their sexuality.

Of course, for more narratives to be known, they have to be talked about. Here, Melinda Selmys places a challenge for many of us:

The producers of the The Third Way actually weren’t going out of their way to present that narrative – it’s much more that they found it hard to find people who were willing to be interviewed for the project, and most of the people who were willing were either reparative therapists, or were folks for whom the standard narrative fit. Fair enough. People who honestly had bad experiences with their families of origin should have the right to tell those stories, and if they’re the only ones who stand up, they’re the only ones who stand up.

But even if we don’t hear every story, it’s important to understand that the history and experiences of gay people are just as diverse as anyone else’s. The “gay lifestyle” is just as diverse as the “straight lifestyle”, and the Christian “third way” for gay and straight Christians seeking chastity is really comprised of many ways and histories.

I’m reminded of an exchange between journalist Peter Seewald and the future Pope Benedict XVI:

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?

Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .

One thought on “After the Third Way…

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