Hundreds gather to support L.G.B.T. Christians and affirm church teaching

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It is not often that the works of C. S. Lewis and Tony Kushner resonate with the same group of people.

Such was the case, however, at the controversial and much-anticipated Revoice Conference held at the end of July. The conference drew nearly 500 Christians who came together in an ecumenical gathering “to support, encourage, and empower gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”

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The conference could mark a turning point in conversations on L.G.B.T. issues within the broader Christian Church. Eve Tushnet, a keynote speaker and author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting my Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, said in an email after the conference: “When I became Catholic, I didn’t even know of any other gay people who were trying to live in harmony with church teaching. To be in a crowd of hundreds of us was amazing.”

The recent Revoice conference was unique in its approach to L.G.B.T. issues within the Christian community. 

As Ms. Tushnet indicates, the purpose of the conference was not to lobby for a change in Catholic teaching.Rather, as Johanna Finegana exclaimed in a pre-conference event, “We declare that something is more valuable than the kind of sex and romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity should change and shape your whole life.”

The conference was unique in its approach to L.G.B.T. issues within the Christian community. Conversations provided a bridge by both assuming traditional teachings on sexuality and affirming the dignity and unique experiences of L.G.B.T. people. (At one point, St. Augustine and Audre Lorde were cited in tandem on Christian approaches to sexuality.)

Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship and professor of Biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry, captured this dynamic when he spoke about the parable of the woman at the well. Recalling his own experiences of shame as a gay man, he noted, “Jesus heals this woman’s shame, but he does not do it by rewriting the rules on morality and adultery.”

Participants challenged cultures within the church that breed suspicion, repression and shame for L.G.B.T. individuals.

The conference also provided a platform to learn from other openly gay individuals. For Ms. Tushnet, “The most significant and unique aspect of Revoice was that it gathered several hundred L.G.B.T. or same-sex attracted people, who accept a fairly difficult and countercultural path of obedience, and let us loose to pray together and learn from one another.”

The conversation swims against not only the secular culture, which affirms same-sex marriage, but also challenges cultures within the church that breed suspicion, repression and shame for L.G.B.T. individuals.

Multiple speakers remarked on the maligning of teachers, pastors and writers for coming out even when they promoted the church’s teachings on celibacy. They noted that conversations within the Christian community on homosexuality come almost exclusively in the context of sin and condemnation while there is more that animates gay people’s lives than struggle to avoid sexual sin. As Mr. Hill noted, “Same-sex love and gay identity is not reducible to the sin God forbids.”

Many at the conference see the Christian community polarized between two camps: one that affirms queer culture and rejects church teaching on sexuality, and another that affirms the church’s teaching and rejects all of queer culture. Attendees are seeking a middle ground.

Many at the conference see the Christian community polarized between two camps. Attendees are seeking a middle ground.

Speaker Grant Hartley said, “The church has failed to view queer culture missiologically…. Christian engagement with it should be one of critical enjoyment and appropriate wariness.” Mr. Hartley explained, “Rather than combing through and analyzing which parts are to be rejected, redeemed or received with joy, Christians have often discarded the virtues of queer culture along with the vices, leaving culturally connected Christian sexual minorities torn between two cultures, two histories and two communities.”

Mr. Hartley noted that some queer literature and poetry, as well as the L.G.B.T. community’s experiences of marginalization and “chosen family,” can all find resonance within the Christian tradition.

Jack Bates, in a talk entitled “Coming Out in the Shadow of the Cross: Queer Visibility as Redemptive Suffering,” lamented the experience of L.G.B.T. Christians who lose jobs, friends, family, credibility and church support after coming out.

“Queer Christians are called to stand in the place of Job,” he said. “In the midst of our suffering, God still invites us to respond like Job: Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Some attendees believe Christian teaching on sexuality is more likely to be received if coupled with a more robust notion of love, desire and friendship.

This response was on display at Revoice as hundreds of Catholics, Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants gathered twice daily for praise and worship and spoken prayer. “I was wiping away tears as we were singing together in praise of God,” Ms. Tushnet recalled. “I knew how many people in that church had spent their lives in crowds of people praising Him, never knowing any other gay people who shared their convictions. That night they got to worship in a crowd of people who knew them, who understood where they were coming from.”

Unfortunately, this kind of experience is rare for many L.G.B.T. individuals. As Mr. Bates noted, “So many of us pursue God with all we can muster and find our mental health, our bodies, and our lives so broken in ways our faith communities don’t prepare us for or help us with.”

Some attendees believe Christian teaching on sexuality is more likely to be received if coupled with a more robust notion of love, desire and friendship, a deeper theology of celibacy for lay Christians and a more serious appreciation of community.

Johanna Finegan noted, “Our present conceptions of community and friendship are extremely impoverished. We are so used to overwhelmingly valuing marital and romantic relationships over friendship, and directing our energy into nuclear family units, in a way that doesn’t leave much left over for those outside.”

The impoverished sense of love is felt also in the church’s inability to adequately welcome and speak to L.G.B.T. individuals. According to Ms. Tushnet, “So many gay people grow up thinking God is an arbitrary and cruel master, that Love Himself doesn’t love them or do elight in them, that their sexual orientation separates them from Him and makes obedience impossible.”

She hopes for a church better equipped to communicate God and his love to gay people, where “they begin to know God as he truly is: the one whose eye is on the sparrow, whose blessings are poured out on those whom others condemn, mistrust or despise.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim Donovan
2 months 2 weeks ago

I'm glad that this group of L.G.B.T. people gathered as a caring community to counter the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage within our society and by many within the church. As a gay man, years ago I had sex with men, regretted my acts, and received forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I understand that Jesus violated three laws regarding the woman at the well. First, she was a woman. Also, she was a Samaritan, a group traditionally despised by the Jews. Finally, by asking her for a drink, Jesus would be ceremonially unclean by using her cup. Wesley Hill noted feeling shame as a gay man, which I also experienced being often called a vile term. I agree that Jesus healed the woman's shame but not by "rewriting the rules on morality and adultery." I sympathize with Christians who have been maligned by some even though they promoted chastity. While I grew up at a time when there was frequent condemnation of homosexuals by many in the Church and society, I'm fortunate that I now have a sense of consolation being a chaste friend of a gay man.
I agree with Mr. Hartley that the experience of the "gay community" as being marginalized as a group is wrong, but can be seen as the need to welcome the strangers in our midst. I agree with Johanna Finegan that while marriage and romantic relationships are good, that a space for friendships among gay people must be encouraged. Finally, I agree with Eve Tushnet that God's_blessings ",are poured out on those whom others condemn, mistrust, and despise."

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

Finally!

Anthony Noble
2 months 2 weeks ago

As Jesus and St Paul state, celibacy is a gift from God that must be discerned and entered into voluntarily. Both gay and straight individuals have discerned this gift, such as priests and nuns, and are responding to God's call in a virtuous manner. However, gay men and lesbians, who are born with their orientation, are not catagorically made to be celibate. This is a distortion of Jesus' teaching of celibacy, which is discerned and entered into voluntarily and not imposed on anyone.

Gaymen and lesbians have suffered grave pain and discrimination from the Church and society that results to anguish, guilt, and unhealthy relationships, such as anonymous sex. As Jesus teaches, "Judge a tree by the fruits it bears". There are many loving, monogamous gay marriages that are raising healthy and happy children and contribute to their communities. The Bible doesn't address the gay orientation as we now understand it and I recommend reading "God and the Gay Christian", written by a devout Christian who sees the Bible as the Divine Word of God. The Catholic Church needs to revisit its official teaching on gay people as it has done with slavery. Whatever harm the Church perpetrates against the LGBT community from now on, since the truth about the positive nature of the gay orientation has been established, will lead to God's punishment.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

But CHASTITY, a theological virtue that has many forms, is enjoined upon all Christians. In the future, the challenge for the Catholic Church is going to be to define a way in which the same-sex-attracted can live lives that are characterized by a form of chastity that is adapted to their God-given sexual orientation. Frankly, I do not see how it can be done without accepting some kinds of unions that are not defined in the same terms as Catholic Holy Matrimony (impossible for gay folk, since indissoluble Roman Catholic marriage figures the consummation of Christ's "marriage" to His synagogue on Golgotha). First, it is necessary to remember that "chastity" is not "celibacy," and that "chastity" for heterosexual folk is perfectly aligned to connubial sexual relations. Church-approved same-sex relationships do not necessarily have to be put in a rivaling position with "indissoluble" Catholic Holy Matrimony, but they probably DO have to assume that the ideal relationship for gay Catholics is one that strives for chastity and the replacement of genital sexual contact by "spiritual friendship." Fascinatingly enough, the existence in the past of such Church-approved relationships--sanctified by rituals solemnicized with reception of the Eucharist, in churches--is documented by Alan Bray, in his book, "The Friend." Bray's research uncovered tombs and funereal effigies almost everywhere in Western and Eastern Europe in which noblemen were buried together with interfacing heraldic designs fashioned after those borne on the conjoined tombs of husbands and wives. When Montaigne wrote in his "Travels in Italy" about seeing the celebration in Roman churches of rituals binding members of the same sex, he was mistaken in assuming that he was seeing dissolute Italian "sodomite" heretics mimicking marriage; instead, he was witnessing something quite traditional in medieval and Renaissance Europe. This can be revived for practicing Catholics who are same-sex-attracted; it is "not good," said God in the Garden of Eden, "for man to be alone."

A Fielder
2 months 2 weeks ago

Robert, didn't Augustine, with his negative view of heterosexual sex, say something similar about heterosexual marriage? Are you sure that chastity is a theological virtue, and not a cardinal one, like temperance? Also, I think you have the symbolism of Christ's marriage to the Church backwards. Marriage is the metaphor used to describe Christ's relationship to the church, Christ's relationship to the Church does not describe marriage, otherwise we would have to bring back plural marriages. The Church is not a human being which can consummate a human marriage. Literalizing a metaphor can be very dangerous. But we do agree that gay relationships should be encouraged not discouraged. Thanks for sharing the note about ancient evidence of same sex relationships and church rituals to bless them; very interesting, indeed!

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

See Brad Pitre's book "Christ the Bridegroom" for the importance--and the Jewish theological underpinning--of recognition of Christ's spilling of His own blood on Golgotha as transformative of consummated Christian marriage. A very important aspect of Christology would have to be addressed and modified, in order to institute "gay marriage" as a sacrament. Frankly, I don't think it can be done in the modern context, and moreover I think an aspiration to "spiritual friendship" is an aspiration toward something much more skillful in creating a mature spirituality.

Anthony Noble
2 months 2 weeks ago

For Catholic gay men, chastity equals celibacy so this argument is moot. Holy Matrimony needs to be open to gay men and lesbians in the Church. The metaphor of the mystical marriage of Christ to the Church is a metaphor and not a practical guide for humans in terms of marriage. I looked at Alan Bray's book, The Friend, and he does not exclude a sexual relationship between "the friends" in question - in a diary of one of these friends, the sexual nature of the relationship is explicitly written about. I would also rely on Montaigne's impression of what he described as a same sex marriage ritual since he was there rather than biased speculation 100's of years later. I agree with you that God said that it is "not good for man to be alone" so that gay men need to marry other gay men.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

"...For Catholic gay men, chastity equals celibacy so this argument is moot..." One does not forfeit one's sexuality when one refrains from acting upon it, and one may do so for reasons of committed same-sex love. (Take a look at Hanya Yanagihara's recent celebrated novel "A Little Life," if you doubt that.) You're right that Bray does not exclude a sexual relationship between a few of the "friends" he writes about. However, he also makes it very clear that their friendship is of far greater importance to their lives than their sexual needs, and that the Church of that period recognized that by not prying into the physical character of their relationships--that, instead, it celebrated their devotion and loyalty to each other.

Anthony Noble
2 months 2 weeks ago

Hi Lewis,
I know you are trying to meld gay people with existing Catholic teaching and you are coming from a position of Christian love, but your logic doesn't hold up. Loving, marital sex is one of the greatest gifts that God gave to humanity and is a glimpse of heaven. To condemn this opportunity to an entity catagory of people who are innately gay removes the option of engaging in this gift of God. It's akin to condemning post-menapausal and sterile straight people from refraining from sex and limiting their affection to kissing and hugging since they cannot procreate. A person cannot voluntarily be celibate if the choice is not given.

You state that "their friendship is of far greater importance to their lives than their sexual needs". Well, I hope the same applies to straight couples - while sex is an important part of marriage, it would be unChristian if a marriage is based more so on sex than anything else. You comment on the Church not prying into the physical part of friends entering into the Church ritual described in Alan Bray's book, though this results in a de facto acknowledgement of a closeted gay relationship. I read "A Little Life", which is a novel, and the reason why the main character didn't want to have sex was due to unrelenting trauma due to repeated rape beginning as a child; his love interest continued to have sex with other people. This is not relevant to the issue of same-sex marriage.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

"...this results in a de facto acknowledgement of a closeted gay relationship..." No, it doesn't, because the rite of "sworn brotherhood," as described by Bray is PUBLIC, celebrated IN CHURCH, and marked by PUBLIC reception of Holy Eucharist. In Hanya Yanagihara's novel, Willem, Jude's lover, refrains from initiating sex because he loves him deeply and comes to understand that sexual relations would cause further traumitization. I call that "chaste" because it is self-sacrificial. Willem doesn't really want to have sex with anyone other than Jude, and eventually renounces sexual activity altogether, because, as anyone with a heart knows, sexual contact with anyone but a lover is deeply unsatisfying.

Anthony Noble
2 months 1 week ago

Hi Lewis,
I mention de facto acknowledgement of a closeted gay relationship because while a public ritual was held, the Church did not pry into the sexual relationship that could exist - on par of "don't ask, don't tell". I suggest rereading some parts of "A Little Life", Willem and Jude began a sexual relationship but stopped when Willem found out that Jude wasn't enjoying it due to past trauma. Jude told Willem to have sex with other people but not to tell him about it. Willem then had emotionless sex with multiple partners. This was obviously not chase. The larger issue here is that this relationship in the novel really has nothing to do with gay marriage. In gay marriage, 2 loving men who able to engage in sex should be able to do so within a Church marriage. Many women who have been raped have the same reaction that Jude had to sexual activity. Some respond to therapy but sadly some husbands become frustrated and divorce their traumatized wives. I suggest reading Jack Olson's "Son" the true account of a serial rapist and the real, devastating effects on these raped women. As a man, it was the first time I truly felt the horror of these experiences and I actually threw up more than once. I'm convinced that rapists should get life without parole.

Robert Lewis
2 months 1 week ago

"Gay Marriage" as a sacrament of the Catholic Church, placed in the same position as the sacrament of "Holy Matrimony" is impossible for theological reasons, having to do with the close similarity between what happens in the sacrament, and what happened on Calvary. The fact that some gay Catholics and their allies advocate for it, when they can have something else, is ample illustration that most American Catholics--including those who oppose any public ecclesiastical recognition of the unique charism of same-sex-love--haven't the slightest understanding that the sacramental marriage of the Catholics is "intrinsically" different from what the majority do in America. The heterosexual marriages of the Protestants and the secularists in America are really NOT "traditional Christian marriage," as "traditional Christian marriage" was defined for the thousand years antedating the Reformation. The acquiescence to divorce of the so-called "reformers," was part and parcel of the heresy of "salvation by faith alone," as defined by Luther. Their marriages are "companionate" and eminently "dissoluble," because--as Luther puts it in his "Table Talk"--the Lord "gave us that command with His tongue far in His cheek"--because, Luther is implying, man's "concupiscence" renders him unable to refrain from divorcing a wife. What Luther is thereby saying is that that the Lord (become a kind of "jester God," in Luther's formulation) gives man that command in the Gospel of Matthew, in order to "convict" him of his sin, and demonstrate his need to "throw himself upon the blood." Let me put it to you bluntly: from the traditional theological understanding of orthodox Christian marriage, what is entered into in America by both Catholic and Protestant couples is nothing more than a heretical parody of what Jesus Christ instituted at Cana, and consummated on Calvary. Not too long ago, Pope Francis himself implied as much, when he suggested that almost all modern marriages were defective, because, as he suggested, the vows are made by both of the partners, with one eye cocked over the shoulder, looking for reassurance to the institution of divorce.
Also, I think that your interpretation of the relationship between Jude and Willem in "A Little Life" demonstrates that you don't understand the extent to which chastity--like almost everything else in life--is a process, rather than an absolute state. Willem's behavior GRADUALLY tended toward self-sacrifice for Jude, whom he loved more than anybody else in his life. He GRADUALLY gave up sex for Jude, even though he had been, from his teenage years, sexually voracious. I do, indeed, call that a kind of acquired "chastity."

Anthony Noble
2 months 1 week ago

Hi Lewis,
I agree with you that the sacramental nature of marriage has been mitigated to negated in our society. In our disposable culture, people discard things considered no longer serving their needs or an inconvenience in their lives - from out-of-date clothing to out-of-date spouses. However, this issue is the same for straight marriages as well as gay marriages. And the mystical nature of marriage also applies to both straight and gay marriage. Traditionally, the Church has placed straight couples onto sacramental symbols of marriage but theologically speaking, there is nothing to prevent a gay couple to be referenced in the mystical union of Christ as the bridegroom to the Church. Regarding the subject of "A Little Life", the crux of the problem is how a loving relationship deals with a sexually traumatized partner, which applies to raped wives as well. This issue is separate from the typical experience of marriages, straight or gay. 0

Tracy Winston
2 months 2 weeks ago

Something doesn’t sit well with me about blessing “queer culture.” Upholding the immorality of homosex is a good start, but then why try to reconcile the irreconcilable and saddle church teaching to an acceptance of “queer culture”? Queer culture has evolved around an accommodation of sin: homosex. It is a group whose common denominator is “we have homosex.” It’s not a group whose common denominator is “we turn to the love of the Father in our struggle with sin.” Such a group already exists: they’re called Christians! Now I don’t have a problem with a group of Christian alcoholics who band together for support IN TURNING TOWARDS CHRIST AND AWAY FROM THEIR DESTRUCTIVE HABITS, and indeed such a group also already exists for people within the church struggling with the same-sex attraction cross. It’s called Courage. Read “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay” by Daniel Mattson. Christ doesn’t want us to build a “culture” around our wounds or our destructive tendencies. He wants us to build a culture of healing and health. OF COURSE this means if the most effeminate, “queer,” “camp” or “flaming” person came in contact with a member or officer of Christ’s church, he should receive Christ’s welcome - full of love, full of an acceptance the LGBT community will never acheive through legislation, full of a piercing, tender cast of the eyes that says, “You, as a male, are made in God’s image and likeness. All your yearning for masculine symbols and parts is your yearning for your own masculine identity in Me. Leave your boat in the sand and seek other shores.” Those who experience Christ’s gaze (directly in their hearts and as mediated by loving, strong, Orthodox but non-judging men) do not want a residual presence of “queer culture” in their lives. Their only culture is rediscovering the fatherhood of God.
Peace to all.

A Fielder
2 months 2 weeks ago

Tracy, I think you misread Anthony’s post? I realize you already have a firm opinion, but I recommend thinking more about gay relationships than gay sex. The reduction of an intimate and committed relationship should not be reduced to the merely physical. Also, faith can only be transmitted through culture. To think that the only authentic culture is the Christian one, is to completely misunderstand how important culture is, even as all cultures can be enhanced (not obliterated) with the gospel.

Tracy Winston
2 months 2 weeks ago

The news in this article is that a group exists who want to fuse church teaching (as it stands) with queer culture. A Fielder and Robert Lewis are coming from a point of view beyond the news here - they want church teaching to change. They obviously don’t agree that homosexual acts are immoral. And they see relationships that are homo -erotic, -romantic, and, yes, -sexual as life-giving / to be affirmed / wonderful / on the right path.
Someone made the distinction between gay relationships and gay sex. Of course there can be love and care and genuine reflections of Christ in any person’s relationship with any other. But a relationship that includes gay sex has all that goodness hampered by the sex. If you want to highlight the goodness of “gay relationships,” it’s certainly despite the sex. The real satisfaction of the craving for male intimacy comes from brotherhood, non-sexualized, but deeply loving and gender-affirming.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

"...They obviously don’t agree that homosexual acts are immoral..." What is a "homosexual act"? If you mean genital sex, I agree that it is not spiritually skillful, and that it falls short of the kind of sexuality that is. However, kissing, hugging, embracing--especially where there is an agreement to refrain from genital sex--absolutely DOES qualify as "chastity," just BECAUSE there is the self-sacrificial aspect of disciplining one's lust for the sake of the other. What Tracy Winston doesn't understand and doesn't want to understand (blinded by homophobia?) is that most of what s/he would characterize as "homosexual acts" simply are the same kinds of intimate embraces that brothers and sisters and parents and children exchange--especially in middle and old age. Again, as said in the Garden of Eden, "it is bad for man to be alone."

A Fielder
2 months 1 week ago

Tracy, consider this proposal from a pragmatic point of view. Encourage gay men to marry, keep the disciple of celibacy. Some people will be elated when gay men self-deport themselves from the priesthood, eventually. Some other people will be equally pleased the the church has finally started to do justice to gay and lesbian people. Everyone wins! Except of course the laity, because the sacramental well will run dry; many people have no idea how reliant the church is on its gay priests who have been coerced into celibacy.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

This won't spark a turning point in Christianity ... most Christian denominations have accepted LGBT relationships and marriage ... Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. The idea that there is something wrong with gay relationships is a dying idea.. The Catholic church has attracted a lot of self-hating LGBT people, but now that society and Christianity are evolving on the issue, this should be less of a thing.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

Crystal - I think you have it backward. Every denomination that has gone down this road is dying, demographically speaking. They have left Christianity behind, on this and many other teachings, and are dying before our very eyes.

Vince Killoran
2 months 1 week ago

It seems like an inherent contradiction to support LGBTQ Christians and call these brothers and sisters "objectively disordered."

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

Vince - I think you miss the point. It is the homosexual acts (principally genital), or the firm desire for the acts, that are objectively disordered, not the people. The people could only considered themselves "objectively disordered" if they define themselves by the acts, which no one should do, but which unfortunately many do today. Following scripture, the Church says every act of intentional masturbation, or intentional contraception, or premarital/extramarital sex, etc. etc. is sinful. By your standard, a heterosexual could claim "an inherent contradiction to support" them because of any of these teachings. While I don't accept every concept or principle proposed in this article, I greatly admire those who are going down this path of righteousness and pray God will reward them for their sacrifices.

Crystal Watson
2 months 1 week ago

Separating people from their desires and actions is just a way of judging people without having to take responsibility for that judgement. People are what they feel and do - how would we know what kind of person Jesus was if we didn't have his words and actions to show us?

Tim O'Leary
2 months 1 week ago

Crystal - it is judgmental in the extreme to equate people with their temptations or their sins! Many of our desires are intrinsically disordered - that is what concupiscence means. Jesus said that even desiring adultery was itself a sin "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Mt 5:28). McCarrick had intrinsically disordered desires, and was acting on his desires. But his desires were not him. Even he can still be saved. But, repentance of past desires and actions is essential.

ron chandonia
2 months 1 week ago

When an ecumenical gathering can garner positive reviews from both AMERICA and FIRST THINGS, something important must be happening.

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