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Revoice Reflections: What sustains a “Side B” position?

One question hanging over my mind throughout this year’s Revoice Conference was: What exactly sustains a “Side B” position? For those unfamiliar with the term, “Side B” refers to the Christian view that God created sex for marriage and that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. To put the question another way: How do we make sense of the many people who have been deeply and publicly committed to the Side B position but then eventually left it?

As I have observed participants come in and out of this position over the last ten years, I have become less and less surprised by those who have left it. The changes made sense, in light of the preceding perspectives and behaviors. At the same time, changes of belief aren’t easily reducible, and they don’t all share one predictive characteristic. The reasons for abandoning a position are as diverse, personal, and unique as the reasons for coming into a position. There are as many reasons as there are people.

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What do bishops want from gay Catholics?

Several years ago, an American Archbishop flew me and a handful of prominent gay Christians to his diocese to consult ahead of the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis. Most of us had done graduate studies in theology or philosophy, and all of us provided perspectives coming out of a “traditional Christian sexual ethic.” At the very least, we affirmed marriage as an institution between a man and a woman and that sexual activity is reserved by God for marriage. Unlike some Catholics affirming such an ethic, however, we also used the words “gay” and “lesbian” when describing our personal experiences.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but we were asked to keep the meeting confidential. The way in which many Catholic circles discuss homosexuality is carefully circumscribed and heavily scrutinized. All of us knew that if certain influential voices in the diocese discovered our meeting they could derail it. In a controversy between a Bishop’s invitation and a public outcry, we were not confident the invitation would prevail. So few outside of those directly invited knew about the meeting. It has never been publicly acknowledged.

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The Shakespeare Requirement: A Review

If you love the life of the mind and not the modern university, this novel is for you. I picked up Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement because I had fallen in love with its predecessor, Dear Committee Members. Schumacher’s previous novel consists of a series of letters of recommendations (“LORs”) from Creative Writing Professor Jason T. Fitger, each one more ridiculous than the last, which eventually weave a story of love, heartbreak, hope, loss, and professorial frustration. I was surprised when the series of LORs made me cry. So I had high hopes for The Shakespeare Requirement, which picks up Professor Fitger’s story a few years later.

Professor Fitger has become Payne University’s English Department chair, and he must fight off the Economics Department’s slow encroachment upon English’s resources. The evil Economics chair wants to do away with the humanities, and to save English, Fitger must rally together an assistant with a foster pet preoccupation, a T. S. Eliot scholar with a miniature donkey hobby farm, a Shakespearean with unbending principles, and ten other ragtag department members. Meanwhile, Fitger’s ex-wife is dating the dean, and a freshman named Angela struggles to make the transition from a very traditional Christian home to life at the University. You couldn’t ask for a better cast of characters.

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The Best American Poetry 2018: A Review

Dana Gioia does not fawn over esoteric poetry. He wants and writes poetry that his parents would like, or that might affect anyone crossing the street. And we find such poems in “The Best American Poetry 2018,” for which Gioia served as editor. Within the collection, we all can enter Brendan Constantine’s The Opposites Game when he writes: “The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.” And Hieu Minh Nguyen’s B.F.F. is so populist that it was originally published on Buzzfeed. Gioia does not believe that poetry should exist in an aristocratic or academic bubble. He writes in his introduction:

“Thirty years ago the typical young poet taught in the university. Today’s new generation is more likely to be living in a big city and employed outside of academia.”

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The Talk: Gay and Catholic

I was recently asked to speak on a corporate panel on intersectionality, focusing on “The Talk.” The Talk is a video released by Procter & Gamble, exposing the hard truths black mothers have to share with their children. While preparing, I asked myself: “What is ‘The Talk’ you would give to young people like you?”

The “me” here is a gay Catholic deeply embedded in the Catholic community, a gay man who always wanted to be a Catholic school teacher and who tries to be active in the life of the Church. This is The Talk

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Revoice a Year Later: New Reflections on Community

Community is intrinsic to our Christian calling. Christians have never been collections of autonomous individuals, but have always been a people, a network of relationships in an economy of salvation. Members of my tradition, Roman Catholicism, believe that “it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather as a people who might acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 9). God comes to us in communities, from his liberation of the Israelites, to the gift of Mary and John to one another before the Cross, to Christ’s self-revelation to the women after his Resurrection.

The Love of Christ

At the 2018 Revoice Conference, I shared my experience of community. As the Psalmist says, how good it is for us to dwell together in unity (133:1)! At the height of Christian love is not simply self-gift but the shared life of communion. Christ did not teach that the greatest love is to lay oneself down for another, but, more specifically, to do so “for a friend” (John 15:13). “μείζονα ταύτης ἀγάπην οὐδεὶς ἔχει, ἵνα τις τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ θῇ ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ.” The height of Christian love is a specific self-gift, an agape for a philos, a love for one whom the Greek text might understand as a companion or partner. This relationship perfects the philos of Aristotle and the amicitia of Cicero, both of whom treated the true friend as “another self.”

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A Survivor Speaks: What Catholics Have Said to Me

This post was originally published at YArespond.

As part of our ongoing discussion series, YArespond hosted a clergy abuse survivor to share her perspectives and experiences. We focused particularly on the question, “What are things Catholics told you that were helpful or harmful on your journey towards healing?” Since her abuse, she’s returned to the Church as a passionate Catholic, though her perspectives have changed as a result of her experiences.

She told us about the shame she experienced when considering opening up about her abuse. She worried that she might be at fault, that her abuse might make her a bad Catholic, and that others might judge her. Eventually, she decided to share it with a priest she had known for many years. When reflecting on why she told him, she said, “I knew he would tell me the truth and I knew he would love me unconditionally.” And he did.

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Benedict vs. Francis vs. Vatican II: In Benedict’s Recent Words

In my previous post I discussed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter to Bavarian clergy on “the Church and the scandal of abuse.” I explored the value of theological exploration in responding to human problems, and I gave some answers to the question of what theologizing might have to do with the abuse of children.

As part of that post, I argued that we should keep in mind the context of Benedict’s piece. He’s writing specifically for German clergy. Thus, laypersons and lay Americans might struggle to understand and relate to the historical and socio-cultural underpinnings of his ideas.

Another bit of context comes out in the piece itself. Some interpreters read Benedict’s piece as a criticism on the Second Vatican Council, and on the Francis papacy as well. They politicize successive papacies and try to give historical accounts of a “Golden Age” of the Church, particularly the Church in America. Some read Benedict’s papacy as superior to Pope Francis’ and the pre-Conciliar Church as superior to the Church after the Second Vatican Council. Benedict himself challenges these accounts.

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It’s ok to be wounded on Easter

One of the hard things about the death of Christ is that it’s not really clear whose fault it was. Was it the Jewish leaders who sought to suppress a charismatic man who challenged their vision of the Jewish religion? Was it Pontius Pilate who abandoned his duty to administer justice by “washing his hands” of the execution of an innocent man? Was it Adam and Eve who initiated the narrative of fallen man? Was it us?

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