In my first post, I identified one type of victim, the victim who becomes so through his or her own esoteric narratives. In my second post, I discussed the paradoxical nature of true freedom. In this post, I will discuss the implications of these previous ideas for todays “gay Christian victims.”
As a gay Catholic, I’ve experienced victimhood in a few ways, and each presents its own challenges. I’ve written before on my loss of a job opportunity within the Church for no reason other than my sexuality. I’ve also experienced the acute victimhood of one who has felt “doomed” by Church teaching to a life of isolated unhappiness, the life many gay Christians fear that faith demands, a life of so many cats (God, I hate cats…) and single-bedroom apartments and the timid observance of others making enduring bonds of love, while your own friendships dwindle away at the hands of new spouses and their children. I’ve had visions of my gay Catholic life as one doomed to loneliness.
Because of this, I have a disdain for the nonchalance with which some Catholics dismiss the marginalization of gay Christians. The inability to recognize the struggles of the gay Christian demonstrates not only a lack of empathy but also a remarkable lack of imagination. Indeed, if Christians actually imagined with an inch of depth the life of the gay man or woman committed to Church teaching, they wouldn’t need to exercise empathy. It would simply come upon them.
At the same time, dwelling on past or future marginalizations as a gay Catholic has done me little good. My experiences working with the poor and disabled, and also in the pro-life movement, have revealed to me how injustice lurks around every corner. It is simply a feature of human life which must be acted against but will never be entirely eradicated. So if I chose to “fix” or “call out” every injustice, I would live a life of pure reaction. And in doing this, I would embed my life within the narratives of injustice, rather than a narrative of creativity. I would become, like many activists, bitter and skeptical and annoying, full of demands for others and unable to create anything for myself . So I try to resist the urge to wallow in injustice.
“Doomed” by Church Teaching
I now recognize that I must move away from seeing myself as “doomed,” in any sense, by Church teaching. As a gay Catholic, I have seen the destruction wreaked by an inability or unwillingness to accept one’s condition. I’ve silenced others because of my own narratives of victimhood, narratives perpetuated more by my own insecurities rather than by external circumstances.
Through these narratives, I’ve resisted Christianity. The sense that one is “doomed” by a teaching of the Church says just as much about one’s interior life as it does about actual teaching. To have a sense of helplessness in the face of Church teaching—and to make out oneself as a victim to it—is to resist embracing it. Doctrine is meant to lead us to happiness, so to experience Church doctrine as shackles is not only to miss the point of doctrine, but to fail to follow it. If the path of truth leads to happiness, and I can imagine only unhappiness ahead, then I must be on the wrong road.
Only when I can reconceive of Church teaching as a pathway to joy can I truly embrace it. This path will involve struggle, as does any great journey. But to plant myself in the middle of the road and hold myself out as a martyr on a cross of doctrine is to (perhaps unintentionally) proclaim doctrine as an evil, and to exalt the self-indulgence of victimized wallowing. It achieves little more than putting oneself on a sort of spiritually pornographic display. I have a very hard time reconciling this with the vision of the Gospels. Such victimizing exalts the sense of “being trapped” over the gift of freedom. One might be better off (and more honest) as a pagan.
And so I have a distaste for the self-victimization of many gay Catholics, either as individuals or as a group. The problem with self-victimhood is that it can become a habit of being, a disposition of the mind that stays with you even when your contexts change (because, as I discussed in my first post, being a victim often feels good). And when those contexts do change, you feel a sudden need to find new ways in which you are a victim.
This prevents full moral maturity, since one’s decision-making becomes the dependent determinations of some external source. The tendency of gay Christians to make themselves out as victims avoids moral maturity and the obligation and opportunity to grow, change, and develop .
We are All the Problem
The above admonishments are not intended for non-gay Christians who might want to use them as yet another hammer to bludgeon their gay brothers and sisters into silence. Undoubtedly some will read this and want to share it, accompanied by a comment along the lines of: “Homosexuals should stop seeing themselves as victims!” Such a message perhaps intends to preach “the truth” to “the homosexuals.” But to those who have this inclination, I can only say that you are a significant part of the problem, and that such a response will do little to alleviate the problem and probably much to exacerbate it .
Rather, this message is intended as an admonishment of and encouragement for my fellow gay/homosexual/same-sex-attracted Christians, to rise above the feeling of entrapment in your circumstances, and to recognize that while you cannot control the world around you (including the hard-hearted persons who might have bludgeoning messages for you), you do not have to be a slave to it. You do not have to be victim of your circumstances.
I do not say this as an “other” who criticizes you from his pedestal. I say this as someone who has done–and sometimes still does–nearly everything I have criticized here. I am very much still on the way. Walk with me.
The Path to Freedom
Even if you cannot escape external circumstances such as unhealthy family contexts, abusive spiritual leaders, unwelcoming communities, or obnoxious Facebook posts, you can still respond with the internal freedom of love. You can act as your own moral agent. And in doing so, you can find a freedom that transcends the bonds that others may try to inflict upon you.
Likewise, we should reconsider our relationship to doctrine. Our spiritual lives change when we make the move away from “I live this way because the Church demands it” towards “I live this way because I believe in it, because I desire it, because it is beautiful and compelling, and I am more of myself because of it.” One involves fear, the other freedom.
I was recently asked whether I would live a different lifestyle if the Church changed Her teachings on sexuality. It struck me that with the latter disposition, the question doesn’t even make sense. I don’t choose the Church’s teaching on sexuality because She forces it on me. I choose it because I think it is the most compelling, freeing, honest, selfless, and radical way to live. And She doesn’t offer me this teaching because She wants to control me. She offers it because She wants me to be the most compelling, free, honest, selfless, and radical version of myself .
Such immense freedom takes time and effort to cultivate. And it involves reorienting our mindsets when it comes to understanding freedom. Paradoxically, freedom, as demonstrated by The Crown‘s Queen Elizabeth II, the autobiographical Anne Frank, the Jesus of the Gospels, and many others, comes first of all from accepting one’s state in life, from a willingness to live in the contexts which one does not choose and one cannot change. Only in this acceptance can freedom begin. True freedom is a feature of the interior life, rather than a consequence of one’s external circumstances. A princess can be enslaved, and an annexed teenager can be free.
Freedom is first of all given from God, and it can only come to fruition when accepted deeply within the self. But we fear freedom, because with freedom comes agency, responsibility, and culpability, both for oneself and for others. But the question is whether we, as Christians and as human beings, want to live as slaves or as free. I for myself choose the life of a free man. I will be no one’s victim.
More in this series:
- The Victim I: Who are the Victims?
- The Victim II: Anne Frank’s Paradox of Freedom
- The Victim III: The Gay Christian Victim
More on Catholicism and homosexuality here.
 Such activists live lives of pure distraction. It shouldn’t be surprising that a “calling out” culture flourishes in the social media age. We can now direct our computers to toss out “truth” like drones dropping bombs, isolating ourselves from the faces impacted by our words while we sit behind the safety of our backlit screens.
 And for others to treat us merely as victims is to infantilize us.
 Instead, you may share this post with the message: “I am sorry for the ways in which I have allowed members of the Church to marginalize gay persons, and I will seek ways to be a part of the change for the better.”
 I should clarify that when I say “Church teaching” on sexuality, I’m not referring to the prejudiced caricatured repressive nonsense presented by many “conservative” Catholics, which is mostly an elaboration of their own insecurities. Nor am I referring to the cliche and soupy anti-dogmatic evasions of many “liberal” Catholics. I am referring to Church teaching, that complex, dynamic, and attractive tradition of more than two millennia which includes but does not consist of articulated doctrines, and was as true in the first and twelfth and fifteenth centuries as it is today.