Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I Mean By Acceptance



I posted a review on the First Things web-site of Michael Voris' FBI: Homosexuality, and it's raised a few hackles in the com-box. My basic thesis is the Voris' production is not really an effort in evangelism or apologetics, so much as it is an expression of grief over the loss of America's Christian identity. I point out that grief is a process which ends in acceptance, and that you can't really move on and start building a new life – or a new evangelization – at any of the earlier stages of grieving. So long as Catholics are still deeply upset, angry, and horrified at the widespread social acceptance of homosexuality, and remain in denial about the fact that gay marriage is going to be a political reality in the very near future (as it already is in my home country), there's no way of effectively preaching the gospel to homosexuals.


It's just not reasonable to imagine that a gay audience will be able to relate in any way to a production in which the advance of LGBTQ rights is seen as an attack on the foundations of civilization, or where pictures of same-sex couples in uniform embracing on the pier are supposed to produce a reaction of shock horror. It seems an obvious point, but practicing gays find the idea of gay sex appealing, not appalling. The fact that Voris, and many conservative Catholics, seem to consistently miss this in their attempts to “evangelize” the homosexual community suggests that we're dealing with a serious psychological blind-spot. I'm suggesting that this blind-spot is the result of Catholics being unable to see past their own pain in order to really reach the heart of LGBTQ folks. Voris promises to grapple with the suffering that same-sex attracted people face, but the truth is that what he deals with is the suffering that he faces as a result of other people's homosexuality. He projects his own pain onto LGBTQ folks, and assumes that the same things which would bring him relief would also bring relief to homosexuals. Alas, if only it were that simple.

I am also suggesting, however, that Voris' feelings are completely legitimate. A lot of people in the First Things com-box seem to be in a similar heart-space to Voris, and that's fine. It's reasonable. It really is all right to grieve. I'm not getting up on a pedestal here and saying “Hey, you should be just like me. I've accepted the way that the world is, and I'm a better person for it.” No. I'm not grieving the loss of America as a Christian nation because a) I'm not American, and b) I have no concept of what it's like to live in a Christian nation. That doesn't make me more mature, or a better Christian, it just means that I'm in a better psychological position to understand why something like Voris' presentation is totally counterproductive. People who feel like Voris' presentation is rational, compassionate and truthful don't need to gird up their loins, pull themselves together, and accept the breakdown of society in order to better reach out to the LGBTQ community. They need to give themselves permission to take time out to grieve.
This is something that I had to deal with myself when I made the decision to talk about my own experience. There was a long period, several years, during which I felt a kind of weird psychological compulsion to get out there and warn people away from the gay community, but at the same time I was consistenly frustrated with my efforts. It all just seemed futile, like preaching to the deaf. I didn't really understand what my mistake was until after OSV accepted the book proposal for Sexual Authenticity. I wrote my first draft, and my husband panned it as total crap. He said it was inauthentic. I realized that what I was coming up against was a whole series of internal resistances that had to do with unresolved grief. I hated the person that I had been as a young woman. I wanted to ritually put her to death in the public sphere in order to psychologically distance myself from her as a means of escaping from my own feelings of shame and my anger against myself.

That meant that suddenly I was on a dead-line to deal with a lot of intense psychological pain. There was a date when I supposed to hand in a manuscript, and I couldn't produce a manuscript worth handing in until I'd worked through my personal issues. I had to go back and look at my former self in a more realistic way, to try to see her as Christ did, as someone who was worth paying for in blood. I had to get past my own negative self-stereotyping, to see past the fact that I had been confused, atheistic, occasionally nihilistic, frequently narcissistic, suicidal, self-harming, self-isolating, and unbearably intellectual proud. This involved two very difficult things. The first was to go back into my memories and to identify with this creature that I had come to loathe in order to unearth the qualities which made her beautiful. I had to try to remember what it was that made me fall in love with my girlfriend, and to see in that a desire for genuine communion with another human being. I had to accept that all of the ugly and erroneous philosophies that I had embraced over the years had represented an authentic deep-seated desire to know and live the truth. I had to pick through the psychological slag-heap of my past in order to reclaim all of the bits of my authentic identity that I had cast off in my anxiety to become a “new creation in Christ.” That was hard because it meant reconciling with the fact that the enemy which I saw in the larger culture, the gay agenda, the mass media, the pro-choice movement, and countless other pet bugaboos of the Christian-right, was actually me. Also, it means recognizing that my enemies were actually beautiful people, beloved of God, seeking the Good, the Beautiful and the True as earnestly and imperfectly as I do myself.

Secondly, it involved recognizing that I still am all of those negative qualities that I wanted to project into the past. My confusion, doubts, depression, self-loathing, intellectual pride, and prickly resistance to human love are not black relics of a dark past. They are present realities. I really am, as St. Paul says in th second chapter of Romans, no better than the people that I want to judge.

What I mean by acceptance, then, is this process. It's not a political thing - accepting gay marriage, or accepting the homosexual agenda in the schools, or any kind of simple superficial ideological stance that a person can take up or put down at will. I mean a difficult psychological project which involves grappling within one's own heart to get to the point where it is possible to look at the “militant homosexual activists” who are undermining Christian marriage, attacking the Church, corrupting the youth – however you want to see it – of being able to say “these are people after my own heart. My brothers and sisters. We are the same.”

18 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. Insightful as always, eloquent, and charitable. It's convicting, too: I'm fairly stuck-up about my resignation to the collapse of the "Christian America" experiment, but you rightly point out that being in a better position to handle something does not mean that you are better as a person.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I didn't think it needed clarifying from the first things piece, but your thoughts are still quite welcome.

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  3. thank you for this, melinda. as someone who tries to live my Catholic faith and also having close family members and friends who are homosexual, i've long felt that the tone in much of the Catholic media these days have lacked a certain aspect of charity--and i think it's the very thing that you've identified as "acceptance." would you describe as "acceptance" what Jesus was doing when he ate and drank with people, regardless of their current state in life? i'm inclined to think so.

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  4. Admittedly, I tend towards the feelings and thoughts of Michael Voris. However, I agree with you wholeheartedly that most (if not all) of us try to resolve each other's problems without first looking into ourselves and see the same demons (or at least similar ones) at work.

    I have been searching my soul for some time lately, and it is a daily struggle. There are days when I simply loathe myself ... and others where I feel that I am at least close to being lovable. I have yet to come close to seeing myself as Christ sees me.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Chris

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  5. I appreciate this, and your other writings, so much. I am a convert to Catholicism, and am committed to chaste celibacy. I also spent most of a decade before my conversion committed to gay rights activism, and fruitlessly seeking the right girl.

    I haven't taken a strong public stand supporting the Church's teachings among my many friends who have known me since that time, and assume I'm still a part of it. If I did, I would be open to charges of "self-hatred" and of being a "hater" generally.

    I haven't revealed much about my past in my parish. I don't really want to deal with dissenters who would encourage me to "speak truth to power." Nor do I want to deal with vitriol from the people who love the sinner, but don't see that using words like "vile, disgusting, revolting" makes it hard for me to see that.

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  6. Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I just came across some of your posts today. Excuse me if I raise questions that you may have answered clearly on other occasions. I only have a few comments/questions to make.
    I have struggled with acceptance in this area - same-sex relationships. But more so accepting the intolerant attitude that comes with condemning these relationships and inclinations as disordered. Not an easy thing to tell a gay or lesbian person. At least not for me. Unfortunately too easy for some. But for all the love and compassion we must show gay and lesbian people, for the stage of acceptance we must reach, are we not as true Catholics required to be intolerant? What comes after acceptance if not right instruction? The judgment that the behavior and inclination is disorderly can't be ignored. It's a difficult belief to have and express publicly but is it not the Church's belief?

    Steve

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  7. Hey Steve,

    There are times and places to talk about a person's most intimate life decisions. Generally, LGBTQ people are intolerant of being told that their relationships are disordered because this comes from people who haven't earned the right to say it. It's like, say that your friend has become engaged to a divorced woman and you believed that the marriage was immoral and would be a total disaster. Broaching that would be difficult and require delicacy and understanding (and probably a lot of beer). Even then you'd almost certainly meet with serious resistance and you'd have to be very gracious and humble about it if you wanted to keep the friendship. If the person in question was merely an acquaintance and not a close friend, it would be impossible; they would rightly tell you to mind your business. Gay relationships are exactly the same. We earn the right to speak up and be heard by first demonstrating that we have genuine love and friendship to offer. Then, if it's appropriate and if the other person is willing to receive your advice as a trusted friend, it can be become possible to speak the truth in love.

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  8. Thank you for your perspective on this. It's been a tough week of trying to figure out how to process the national debate. I also think it is important that we recognize that there is a difference in discussing the national, political debate on an intellectual and legal level from discussing the intimate details of being gay or lesbian with loved ones or friends. Perhaps I am off base, but I think of it like this: There are appropriate, charitable and valid ways to discuss the impact divorce and remarriage has children on a national level. Citing studies, etc. But that conversation is very different than approaching a friend getting a divorce and trying to offer your perspective on their individual situation (kind of like your example above). I think, though, that the emotions in the US are so charged right now on all sides regarding the same-sex marriage debate that we're having a hard time discussing this charitably on the macro AND micro level. It's just a mess. ~ S

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  9. Thanks. I just don't think a lot of devout Carholics or Christians appreciate how hard a thing it is to hear that one's sexual orientation is disordered. It's unlike any other affliction. It goes much deeper than other forms of sinful behavior. It's like telling someone there very eyes or ears are sinful.

    Steve

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  10. Melinda,

    With all the blasting of memes on facebook regarding the same-sex marriage debate, I'm been trying to find an intelligent and loving way to help people understand the Catholic position. I have tried to see how faithful Catholic homosexuals have looked at the issue. While I have come to understand how some of our language can be seen as offence, I'm still not sure if I know how to express Catholic teaching in a way that is loving. In particular, it seems that in a lot of the discussion there is a blurring of the distinction between sexual orientation, sexual practice, and political activism. I can see how this can be offensive. Although in fairness, it does seem that this blurring comes from both sides of the debate and yet only one side is accused of bigotry.

    Consider this, suppose that you wrote an article on your blog addressing a moral problem among heterosexual men: viewing of heterosexual pornography. (Of course, you could have written about homosexual pornography, but suppose you focused on heterosexual porn for the sake of argument) Unless you went out of your way to paint all men with the same brush, I wouldn't expect such an article to offend me. I wouldn't take such an article to be an attack on men or on heterosexuals. Nor would I object that a homosexual female has nothing of relevance to say on the topic.

    So I suppose that my question is, outside the problem of painting every homosexual with the same broad brush, is there anything else I should know as I try to communicate Catholic teaching on this subject with love? Is there any blind spot I may have as a heterosexual that might come across as offensive? Is there any reason on a practical level that the Church teaching on homosexuality must be dealt with differently than other sexual moral issues? Why does it seem that when we, as Christians, speak of sexual morality for heterosexuals (much of which is rejected by our culture) there isn't much outcry, but when we speak of temptations faced by homosexuals, it feels like we are trying to carefully ride an elephant through an antique china shop.

    I also wonder if you could comment on this burring of the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual practice. It seems to me that those on the left politically tend to blur the distinction quite often. It seems that well-intentioned Christians often follow this lead and come across as bigots. "Being gay is wrong" can be heard from the lips of many traditionally-minded Christians. A chaste homosexual isn't even on their radar screen, but neither is it on the radar of the left.

    Brian

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    1. Hi! Thanks and sorry for taking so long to reply on this. It's thoughtful and well articulated :)
      There does have to be a double standard. Christians are expected to behave with Christian love and compassion, whereas gay activists kind of aren't. That "turn the other cheek" mentality is hard to swallow, but I think if we concentrate on the fact that we are supposed to allow our speech to be graced, to come from the Holy Spirit and not from ourselves, then a lot of that feeling of frustration is alleviated.
      In terms of how to speak about it, the most important thing is to listen. I think that a lot of the reason why homosexuals get so offended so quickly is that they often feel that they're being talked at or talked past. I think the example of an article on heterosexual porn is a good one: if I wrote such an article, and I wrote it as a Catholic blogger who generally understands sexual sin, probably few people would be seriously offended. If I wrote it as a feminist (I used to march on porn shops shouting "Porn is the theory, Rape is the practice" during Take Back the Night rallies) the reaction would be different. People get really offended. If there was a widespread movement to shame and castigate porn addicts, and a recent history of abusive medical practices to "cure" it, and the group I represented potentially had the political power to seriously impact the rights of porn addicts...well, you can see how it would get hairy. And obviously if I wrote a feminist article in which I said that all men see women in a fundamentally pornographic way, that would be offensive too.
      I think the 'elephant in a china shop' effect is basically because you're dealing with a group that is hurt. So you have to be delicate, the same way that you're delicate around someone who is recovering from a serious injury. The only way to know what will hurt, and what won't, is to listen and ask. "Is this okay?" Just that simple question, "Do you want to talk about this? Is it okay?" is often enough to make people feel like they're being respected. You feel differently about something that you've chosen to hear than about something that is being pushed on you. But I think the most essential thing is to make it a give and take dialogue, to actively listen, and to listen to understand rather than listening to refute.
      w/r/t the blurring of the distinction between action and inclination...that probably requires an entire blog entry. I'll try to put one together in the near future.

      Cheers!

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  11. Melinda, you are amazing!!! Thank you!!

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  12. Thank you! You have such great insight. Thank you for sharing.

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  13. Thanks so much for your insight Melinda. I really agree with your observations about Voris' video, and the words you have written here.

    Interestingly, Voris made this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0sILSapUUc) about Catholics with homosexual attractions, and I saw it before I was aware of his recent "FBI investigaton". I really found his words to be full of compassion and empathy.

    I was wondering what you thought about this other video? I wish he could have spoken the same sensitivity in the FBI video.

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  14. 'So long as Catholics are still deeply upset, angry, and horrified at the widespread social acceptance of homosexuality, and remain in denial about the fact that gay marriage is going to be a political reality in the very near future (as it already is in my home country), there's no way of effectively preaching the gospel to homosexuals.' That doesn't follow. Soz.

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    1. It's not a logical proposition, it's a psychological observation. There may be a few isolated individual Catholics who are sufficiently able to compartmentalize their feelings that this will be untrue in very specific relationships with a small handful of gay folks. As a general pattern, however, you can't effectively preach to people who you view primarily as your political enemies.

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  15. Melinda,

    I really wish I could hug you. Maybe that sounds corny or trite, but I mean it. As you've shown in your latest critiques here, you understand this topic with a depth and a compassion that few others share - even those Catholics involved in evangelization of LGBTQ folks. Thanks for all you do, please keep going. God Bless.

    -Nick

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  16. Melinda, I grew up around the same time as you but in a different galaxy as it were, in an extremely Christian culture. Your blog identified a feeling I hadn’t been able to figure out before: grief at the collapse a Christian nation. The post-Christian culture of modern America still seems as foreign and threatening to me as the Soviet Union must have to my parents. I feel an immense revulsion at this juggernaut that rolls inexorably over what I love. It hurts so much to realize that it really is dead that I’m actually sobbing as I write this. I believe you when you say you don’t have any concept of a Christian nation. I also understand the hatred and anger expressed by people who do. We feel threatened in our very identity. It feels as though someone wants to take who I am away from me. That is why we react with so much anger. It hurts to realize that this is dying. But you’re right that our need to grieve is a separate thing from evangelizing. Thanks.

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