I'm Gay, but I'm Not Switching to a Church That Supports Gay Marriage

With so many options for gay Christians, why stick with the Catholic church?
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Flickr / Jess Pac

When I became Catholic in 1998, as a college sophomore, I didn't know any other gay Christians. I'd been raised in a kind of pointillist Reform Judaism, almost entirely protected from homophobia; when I realized I was gay it was, if anything, a relief. I thought I finally had an explanation for the persistent sense of difference I'd felt since early childhood. This sheltered upbringing may help explain my sunny undergraduate confidence that even though I knew of literally nobody else who had ever tried to be both unashamedly gay and obediently Catholic, I was totally going to do it. No problem, guys, I got this.

Things look different now. I hope I've learned a few things about the dangers of sophomoric self-confidence: There are times when my relationship with the Catholic Church feels a lot like Margaret Atwood's ferocious little poem,

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

And I've met many other gay or queer or same-sex-attracted Christians, in all flavors of Christianity. I have several friends in same-sex marriages now, including one who had an Episcopalian church wedding with all the trimmings. I also have many friends who, like me, are trying to live in accordance with the historical Christian teaching on chastity, including its prohibition on sex between men or between women. We disagree (sometimes sharply) among ourselves on the best response to the growing cultural acceptance and political success of gay marriage; but before politics and even before culture, our response must be personal.

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As Liza Mundy's article "The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss" showed in the interview with Pastor Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist, and even more so with the Very Rev. Gary Hall of the National Cathedral, many Christian churches are beginning to integrate gay marriage into their theology. Their preexisting theology—not only on marriage but on creation, embodiment, and Scriptural interpretation—has begun to shift to match the new unisex or gender-neutral model of marriage. With so many more options for gay Christians, why stick with the fishhook? Here is an attempt at my own answer.

The biggest reason I don't just de-pope myself is that I fell in love with the Catholic Church. Very few people just "believe in God" in an abstract way; we convert, or stay Christian, within a particular church and tradition. I didn't switch from atheistic post-Judaism to "belief in God," but to Catholicism: the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, Michelangelo and Wilde, St. Francis and Dorothy Day. I loved the Church's beauty and sensual glamour. I loved her insistence that seemingly irreconcilable needs could both be met in God's overwhelming love: justice and mercy, reason and mystery, a savior who is fully God and also fully human. I even loved her tabloid, gutter-punching side, the way Catholics tend to mix ourselves up in politics and art and pop culture. (I love that side a little less now, but it's necessary.)

I didn't expect to understand every element of the faith. It is a lot bigger than I am. I'm sure there are psychological reasons for my desire to find a God and a Church I could trust entirely: I don't think I have a particularly steady moral compass, for example. I'm better at falling in love than finding my way, more attuned to eros than to ethics. Faith is no escape from the need for personal moral judgment; the Church is meant to form your conscience, not supersede it. There are many things which, if the Catholic Church commanded them, I think would have prevented me from becoming Catholic. (More on this below.) But I do think it was okay to enter the Church without being able to justify all of her teachings on my own.

At the time of my baptism the church's teaching on homosexuality was one of the ones I understood the least. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in a conversation with one of my relatives, who tried to figure out why I was joining this repressive religion. I tried to explain something about how God could give infertile heterosexual couples a baby if He wanted to, and my relative, unsurprisingly, asked why He couldn't give a gay couple a baby. The true answer was that I didn't understand the teaching, but had agreed to accept it as the cost of being Catholic. To receive the Eucharist I had to sign on the dotted line (they make you say, "I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches" when they bring you into the fold), and I longed intensely for the Eucharist, so I figured, everybody has to sacrifice something. God doesn't promise that He'll only ask you for the sacrifices you agree with and understand.

At the moment I do think I understand the Church's teaching better than I did then—but check back with me in a few years. Right now, the Biblical witness seems pretty clear. Both opposite-sex and same-sex love are used, in the Bible, as images of God's love. The opposite-sex love is found in marriage—sexually exclusive marriage, an image which recurs not only in the Song of Songs but in the prophets and in the New Testament—and the same-sex love is friendship. Both of these forms of love are considered real and beautiful; neither is better than the other. But they're not interchangeable. Moreover, Genesis names sexual difference as the only difference which was present in Eden. There were no racial differences, no age difference, no children and therefore no parents. Regardless of how literally you want to take the creation narratives, the Bible sets apart sexual difference as a uniquely profound form of difference. Marriage, as the union of man and woman, represents communion with the Other in a way which makes it an especially powerful image of the way we can commune with the God who remains Other. That's a quick and dirty summary, but it seems to me more responsive to the texts, more willing to defer to historical Christian witness, and more attuned to the importance and meaning of our bodies than most of the defenses I've read of Christian gay marriage.

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Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington, D.C. She writes for Patheos and is the author of a forthcoming book about vocational discernment for celibate gay Christians.

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