I will begin by saying that it is fair for Sarah and Lindsey at A Queer Calling to point out the many places in which they address issues relevant to non-celibate members of the LGBTQ community. I made no reference to these, for which I apologize. I was and am aware of their support in the arenas they list.
The discussion so far:
- The original: Our Celibate Gay Agenda
- My response: Stories are Never Just Stories: a response to “Our Celibate Gay Agenda”
- Their response: Shifting the Conversation Is Not Silence: A Response to Maria McDowell
I am also aware and deeply appreciative of Sarah and Lindsey’s hospitality through our personal communications, and am glad that A Queer Calling does all it can to be hospitable in an inhospitable environment. I am 100% sure I would be welcome at their table with them, in their home. I would be delighted to swap stories and enter with them into their daily prayer life. Until that prayer life broadened to include their parish. At that point, the hospitality of their home broadens to include the hospitality of their larger household, their ekklesia. Whether we like it or not, their priest may be required by the rule of his church to include or exclude me based on whether or not I am sexually active. Since I do not know their church or their priest, the invitation to pray with them corporately will inevitable be fraught with anxiety and grief: will I or will I not be allowed to eat with my friends at their ecclesial table?
This is why comparing the moral question of whether or not gay sex as always sinful (not just a discrete act of intercourse which would require the kind of delving they want to avoid) to declawing of cats is trivializing: we do not deny the table of Christ, the medicine of immortality, the Eucharist, based on what we do or do not do to a cat’s claws (my cats have claws, and they go outside. Sorry birds). As long as churches have strictures on sexual behavior there will be questions about such behavior. Indeed, some of these strictures are good: incest, pedophilia, coercive sex (in or out of marriage), polygyny. These are all areas of life that where what it means to support a person is inextricably tied to what we think and what we say regarding his or her beliefs and decisions. Not all of us are in a role which requires us to be privy to such details, or to make decisions regarding them, but it is not difficult to imagine such situations.
More importantly, Sarah and Lindsey have made their personal decision public. It is the public declaration of a private practice that makes their blog such an important contribution, in large part because it transgresses the very neat lines we hope to draw around biological sex, sexual activity, and affinity for the other. But their public declaration also makes them safer, at least in a context where it is sexual intercourse not only orientation and affinity that excludes. I say ‘safer’ because while they may eat at their eucharistic table (I assume), they may also be ostracized in every other way by a community who has no idea whether to invite them separately or together to the church potluck or a ministry meeting.
What strikes me is the individualism reflected in framing sex as a personal decision, hardly something unique to A Queer Calling. Sexual behavior is a personal decision, private and not to be asked about. This is the mantra of our age, both within and without churches. Aside from the fact that this does not reflect the history of Judeo-Christian morality in which sex is very much a public and corporate concern, framing it this way avoids the corporate impact of supposedly private decisions. While I wish (very much!) that LGBTQ lives were not reduced to the single question of gay sex, the fact is that my ability to share the eucharist with Sarah and Lindsey is, at this time and this place, utterly dependent on this question. The eucharist is a corporate event, the event which reveals that the corporeal is already social. The gatekeepers to this event, for some of us, are clergy who themselves represent and speak for the body as a whole. When a clergy-person decides to include or exclude, she or he is doing so on behalf of all of us. There is nothing personal, that is, individualistic, in this practice. It is a corporate decision which shapes who we are as ecclesial beings. According to the Orthodox theologians Alexander Schmemann and John Zizioulas (who are often perceived to be in quite different camps), our being as individuals starts with our ecclesial, eucharistic selves. How we treat people at our table, and whether we allow them to eat with us or not, says a great deal about who we think they are as persons, and perhaps even whether they should be persons as they are, or whether we think they even are persons.
Thus my grief and anger at silence. Silence on this pesky question of gay sex is complicity with the status quo. In churches of a supposedly liberal sexual ethic, this complicity results in confusion about, scorn towards and inadequate support of intentional celibates (gay or straight). In churches with conservative sexual ethics, there is sometimes simply not room to be anything other than straight. These are both problematic situations. The irony is that I suspect liberal churches can be educated. Indeed, reconsidering family and community to include and provide support for a much wider range of relationships than the fantasy of a nuclear family has been a hallmark of Queer theology. Affirming celibacy that does not also reject sexually-active persons is a small jump given the vibrant work of queer theorists (see, for instance, a short but interesting interview of Sarah Cornwall). The very ‘liberality’ of such churches allows us all to eat at the table which is, I think, a precursor to understanding one another and our differing vocations. The jump for sexually conservative churches (and I should register here that using the terms liberal or conservative is fairly vague, and perhaps simply a cipher for accepting or rejecting of gay sex, and does not remotely reflect a sufficient scope for sexual ethics) is much larger since the definition of a sexually conservative ethic seems to be all about gay sex.
When Sarah and Lindsey ask, at the end of the original post, “Have you ever considered the possibility that the discussion … could be making celibates less and less welcome” it seems to me that they are asking for solidarity, a way that all of us can engage in the conversation such that it supports all our various vocations. They are asking that all of us waging this battle stand with them in their effort to be known and loved as celibate LGBTQ Christians. But solidarity must go both ways, and wishing that stories were just stories in a world where stories are used to include and exclude is not solidarity. Solidarity is corporate, and our participation in organizations which corporately exclude limits our solidarity. This is true whether we are buying coffee or chocolate that was traded fairly, wearing clothes manufactured by children, or participating in a eucharist at which our friends cannot join. Sometimes, these compromised participations seem, even are, unavoidable. I simply don’t believe that it is possible to live without compromise, and we each must choose our battles, weighing the pros and cons of our decisions. When non-celibate, committed LGBTQ Christians are excluded and those who see the fruits of the Spirit in their life together say nothing, offer no public support, we are making a compromise.
The fact remains that silence on this issue allows some of us to be excluded and others included. Sarah and Lindsey are rightfully asking that their vocation, and their need to be known and loved, be supported by the wider LGBTQ community. But they are also asking for this in the context of acceptance in their own church community. Side-stepping a conversation on the crucial issues which make or break the participation of non-celibate LGBTQ persons by comparing it to declawing cats, or reducing it to an private decision (on which they are very public) does not offer to others what they are asking of others. Being asked for solidarity without receiving the kind of support non-celibate LGBTQ Christians need in order to be welcome is hard to swallow. It is not a mutual exchange, and that is difficult to bear.
Given the cost of speaking out, the divisiveness of the issue, I don’t know what offering solidarity on the part of A Queer Calling might mean (I hardly think that starting every post with an affirmation of one position or another is necessary or even interesting. As a matter of fact, it would bore me) given the cost that comes with solidarity. I do think it requires honestly facing the reality that stories about LGBTQ lives are not simply stories but ways of welcoming or excluding. As Amaryah Shay reminds us, the third way is often an illusion that minimizes the destructiveness of one position over another.
So, I am not asking that A Queer Calling become a champion for non-celibate LGBTQ christians. I am not even asking that my many silent friends who see no harm and perhaps great good in committed, non-celibate, same-sex relationships speak up in their churches. I am not asking that my clergy friends who are horrified at the ways same-sex persons are treated jeopardize their jobs by speaking up or even communicating known sexually active and committed LGBTQ persons. There is a permanent cost to speaking up that may be too much to bear at this time.
What I ask is that we do not pretend that we are not always engaged in a compromise, and that compromise has consequences. At minimum, we should grieve a situation which seems to pit distinctly different ways of knowing and loving diverse persons against one another, such that it is very difficult for to publicly affirm the position of the other because the cost of such solidarity to our daily lives might just be too high.