Many Christians fear LGBTQ issues. They just do. And while I don’t know all of the nuances of this fear for other Christians, I’m intimately familiar with the insecurities running through American Catholic Christianity. How do I love someone without compromising Church teaching? How do I challenge others without being unnecessarily judgmental or condemnatory? How do I create spaces for mutual, open, and honest exchanges with someone whose experiences and perspectives differ from mine?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions. We can only truly answer these personal questions at the personal level. But, for my Catholic friends (or for friends of friends) who struggle with the fact that I’ve decided to be in “a relationship” with another guy, I suggest considering:
1) Reading my blog. Also check out my book on these questions. I write because I want the Church to be able to explore these questions from an insider’s perspective. I also write because I sometimes tire of having the same conversations over and over again. (I’ve heard every possible rephrasing of: “How do you reconcile your faith with your sexuality?”) Our conversations about these questions can be more productive if you know some of the groundwork for my thoughts first. If you want to talk, consider some reading.
2) Trying to set aside your presumptions. Just because I’m gay doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a Democrat. Just because I’m in “a relationship” doesn’t necessarily mean I promote same-sex marriage. Just because I hold a guy’s hand (or kiss him) doesn’t necessarily mean we’re having sex, or that we plan to. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily not mean any of those things. But try to get to know me, rather than your expectations for me. Yeah, I know how “everyone else” might view or live out these questions. But I’m not “everyone else.” I’m me.
3) Trying to be empathetic, but not equating empathy with understanding. Yeah, you may be able to contemplate some of the difficulties associated with losing a job over your sexuality. But you don’t have to look at that hole in your resume every single time you apply for another job. I appreciate your empathy. Do try to imagine what it’s like to be me, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your hour of empathetic exercising means you fully comprehend my experiences.
4) Not assuming that my struggles are harder than yours. The gay Catholic thing is hard. But everyone struggles. You have difficulties that I can’t fully comprehend. My struggles are “special” and unique because they are mine and mine alone. But yours are “special” and unique for the same reason. You don’t need to patronize me for being gay and Catholic. I’m not better or worse off than you simply because of my sexuality. I’m not a “hero” for being gay and Catholic, and I shouldn’t have to be. Every life has a narrative of struggle. Every person’s suffering is a veiled mystery. We can see beneath the curtain only when we’re welcomed under it.
5) Not assuming I have all this figured out. I’m sure I’m wrong on all kinds of things when it comes to these questions. But all I can do is my best with what I’ve got. I’ll share my experiences. But my decisions and lifestyle and perspectives aren’t going to work for every gay person. (I do not recommend dating for everyone.) And some of my choices haven’t worked for me in the past. (I sometimes wonder whether my life is largely a series of unveiled self-delusions.) I’ve been wrong before. I may be wrong in the future. But don’t fault me for trying.
6) Talking with, rather than at, me. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is believing that the arguments we find compelling are the arguments others will also find compelling. Especially when it comes to sexuality, we tend to use words that are projections of our own experiences, rather than inquiries into others’ perspectives. So Christians often speak in the general direction of gay people, rather than with gay people. To discover what your gay friend may find compelling in Christianity, you can’t just speak at him. You can’t just listen to him. You have to dialogue with him over an extended period of time. You have to get to know him.
If you speak without listening, you run the risk of saying things that make Christianity less attractive and compelling to him. You risk simply projecting your own vanity and vain ideas about faith on others, rather than evangelizing in the vulnerability of friendship. On a related note, your impersonal Facebook arguments about “natural law” often make Christianity–and natural law–less attractive to others. And I say this as someone who affirms natural law.
7) Knowing that these conversations are sometimes hard for me, too. It takes effort and discipline for me to stay charitable, honest, and faithful in these conversations, and I sometimes fail. I ask for your patience, forgiveness, and kindness as I navigate these questions. It’s a struggle. But let’s struggle together.