Responses to Responses on Ex-gay Stuff (Celibacy, interpreting the Vatican, etc.)

Quoth Noli Irritare Leones :

On the one hand, I do tend to default to assuming that people are struggling sexually, they weren’t meant to be celibate.

I think in a lot of cases this is true. I think most people are supposed to be married. I think far more people should get married than actually are. I don’t think everyone is cut out for celibacy. I think that Paul guy was onto something when he wrote to those people in Corinth on the subject.

But I just worry that for too many evangelicals, this idea that if you’re struggling you weren’t meant to be celibate is a driving force behind bad theology and worse decisions. On the one hand it is taken by some pro-gay Christians to mean that gay people who don’t enjoy celibacy should form same-sex partnerships. (i.e, “I am struggling, so I am not supposed to be celibate. I am not interested in hetero marriage. Therefore, I should enter into a gay relationship, regardless of those other verses. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can muster. If it is better to marry than to burn with lust, then surely it must be better to be in a committed monogamous same-sex relationship than to struggle so precariously, right? Even if it’s not “God’s best” for me.”) On the other hand, it is taken by certain exgays and their allies to mean that God absolutely WILL change anyone who’s having a rough time with celibacy or will miraculously take aware their sexual desires, which I think fosters a whole range of false expectations and resulting disappointment or worse.

What we need to remember to balance all of this, I think, is that God’s commands are His enablings. We need to trust, as Augustine prayed, that God will grant what He commands. When we see commandments and moral teachings in Scripture, we don’t need to ask, “Gee, am I really cut out for all that?” If He commands it, by His grace He will strengthen us to do it if we seek to obey. It may not be pretty, but it will be possible. We need to embrace strenuous spiritual struggle as part of life. I do not believe that God will call someone to celibacy if they are absolutely incapable of it. But I think we all far underestimate what we are capable of with the grace of God working in us. It’s kind of like exercising, when you’re running or doing situps or whatever and you’re feeling like you’re at your limit, and you think, “I absolutely cannot do any more!” But if you have a friend encouraging you and pushing you onward, you find that you can often do a lot more than you thought you could. Our limits are rarely where we think they are.

******

From And Also With You:

Where things get tricky is with her comments on the ex-gay movement as a Protestant phenomenon. First, she characterizes the recent Vatican document on homosexuals in seminaries as declaring that “homosexual attractions are necessarily a manifestation of spiritual and emotional immaturity.” I’m not sure that the Vatican document says that; on the other hand, I’m not sure it isnt true.

Perhaps I’m erring in the conclusions I’ve drawn. I must admit that I do not read many Vatican documents, nor am I as up-to-date on Catholic discussion of homosexuality as I might be.

But it seems to me that the logic of the statement was: A certain degree of maturity is necessary to be a priest. Therefore, men with non-transitory homosexual attractions should not apply for the priesthood. Now, there’s a missing premise needed to make the argument make any sense, and that premise is: Men with non-transitory homosexual attractions lack the necessary maturity. I don’t know how else to read it. I’ve read the statement several times. I’ve read a few commentaries on it and discussions of it. I understand that this topic is soooo last December, so I’ll refrain from posting abundant quotes to support my interpretation. But that’s how it looks from this outsider’s vantage point. If I’m missing something that I should be getting, I’d be grateful for explanation, either via the comments or email to disputedmutability (at) yahoo (dot) com.
I don’t object so much to the Vatican’s decision to bar gays from entering the priesthood, given the circumstances. But my own opinion is that the real reasons for doing so, the possibly legitimate reasons, have nothing to do with this Freudian stuff. Readers of this blog will soon discover (if they haven’t already) how deep my antipathy for that stuff goes.  To elucidate my position a little bit, it’s not that I deny that parental issues or other environmental factors may play a role.  For all I know they might.  What I do deny, with every fiber of my being, is that persistent homosexual attraction is conclusive evidence of stunted development.  I say this not because of myself, but because of others.  I have known people who through therapy and/or spiritual practice have healed whatever issues they may have had, and yet remain as same-sex attracted as they ever were.  And besides that there’s the fact that I’ve never really noticed much of a correlation between sexual orientation and maturity of any sort.

18 Responses to Responses to Responses on Ex-gay Stuff (Celibacy, interpreting the Vatican, etc.)

  1. Well, as I pointed out, I agree (having been an evangelical Protestant for 20 years) that the big problem is that Protestants have no meaningful theology of celibacy.

    I think the point I was trying to make in re: the Vatican document is that it was not intended to be a comprehensive statement of pastoral theology on homosexuality, but to address a very narrow issue, namely, SSA men as aspirants to the priesthood. It does not, for instance, address single SSA persons who do not feel called to the ministerial priesthood, or married persons who nonetheless experience some ongoing degree of SSA.

    While I’m sure you’re familiar with them, the best documents on the broader subject are:

    The letter by Pre-16 from 1986:
    http://www.dignitylosangeles.org/ratzltr.htm

    Catechism 2357-59:
    http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a6.htm#2357

    The recent statement of the Catholic Medical Association:
    http://www.cathmed.org/publications/homosexuality.htm

    As far as the connection between emotional maturity, SSA, and suitability for the priesthood, while I don’t think it is always wise to draw a strict parallel between homosexual attractions and heterosexual ones, here I think it can be instructive. The Vatican has stated that those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not be admitted to the priesthood. It proposes that those who have overcome transitory SSA issues will demonstrate this by three years of celibacy and a conscious rejection of gay “culture” and identity. But this is not a bad rule of thumb for those with heterosexual attractions; it would only be reasonable that any candidate for the priesthood would have shown the ability to live a celibate life while in seminary (if not before), and that he should not support immorality in the “straight scene,” so as to suggest that he feels there is nothing wrong with pre-marital or extra-marital sex.

    In other words, he should show that he is capable of being celibate and that he does not openly support homosexuality—nothing new here. Now, is it possible that such a person could still have some degree of SSA, and still be emotionally mature? That is a huge question. I think one idea that helps me in thinking about that is differentiating between homoerotic needs/desires and homo-emotional ones. Can this hypothetical seminarian practice chastity in mind and heart, yet still have emotional needs and desires targeted toward other men, AND still be emotionally mature? I personally think so, though I know a lot of Catholics (and probably some Protestants) who would disagree. I also realize we are dancing on the edge of the Freudianisms that you abhor, but for me, this has typified the process of my own healing (and, again, that “healing” is not the same thing as the “change” evoked in the Exodus/Love Won Out world, of which I was once a part).

    Hope this makes sense. Like I said, I think we’re mostly on the same page.

    Every blessing,

    Frank

  2. Yeah, I’m mulling over a further post on celibacy, and how to balance my sense that most people don’t belong celibate, and yet some people may have to struggle with it. Maybe in a few days, and I’ll link you when I have it.

  3. Frank,

    Thanks. That is helpful. I’m familiar with the links, but it’s been a while, so they probably all bear re-reading. Unsurprisingly, I prefer the first two statements over the CMA’s. :)

    I understand there’s been considerable debate among gay Catholics about whether or not demonstrating an ability to live celibately and without identifying with the gay community is sufficient to pass muster according to the Vatican statement. My own impression, as well as the impression of my Catholic friends and acquaintances, was that the answer is no–that one must be free of significant homosexual attractions, not simply able to live with them celibately. But I could be mistaken here, and I am certainly in a far worse position to understand what is going on in the statements than any of those faithful Catholics, so I should probably shut my big mouth. :)

    And I think I should revise my feelings about the Freudianisms a little. For those who find them helpful, I wouldn’t want to deny anyone any tools that work for them. I’m glad they’ve proven valuable to your healing, and I’m curious to know how that differs from Exodus-style “change”. I get a bit distraught when they’re pushed on people who don’t seem to find them helpful though. I’d rather see the Freudish stuff presented as a possible model, and if people think it clicks with their experience, fantastic. I’m just uncomfortable with it as a one-size-fits-all sort of deal.

    dm

    p.s. Thanks also for your confirmation of the problem with evangelicals and celibacy. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who felt that way. :)

  4. I try very hard not to assume that my experience is normative for men with SSA (not to mention women). And while I had the “classic” (to SSA) upbringing with a detached/abusive father, I don’t know if that was the key experience for me. For one thing, my brother does not have SSA. So, I think it more significant that (a) I had a different kind of temperament, one more sensitive than my brother’s, which caused to me react to the abuse in a certain way; and (b) I was introduced to homosexual behavior early in puberty by a peer. So, all of this is still Freudian, but what I am trying to say is that I do not see a 1-to-1 correlation with father issues and development of SSA.

    And I think that partly answers the question you ask about the difference between “healing” and “change.” While it’s become kind of a cliche in the ex-gay world, the idea that “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness” has been true in my experience. That experience has been that as I have found healing of my emotional wounds (of which father issues are one, but not the sole, area needing healing), I have seen a diminishing of both emotional dependency on and sexual attraction to men. However (being quite candid here), I have not developed a raging heterosexual libido. I have some degree of OSA, too, but I have not seen that as “developing” as I have dealt with my SSA, but more being “uncovered” as both the emotional and sexual junk is cleared away. It’s hard to describe whether one kind of attraction is “stronger” to me than the other, as they feel completely different.

    So the distinction I am trying to make is that many Protestant ex-gay ministries push the issue of change (that is, developing a strong OSA while controlling SSA), and end up causing despair if members don’t develop raging heterosexuality. Interestingly, I think this is a strength of the CMA piece:

    “For a Catholic with same sex attraction, the goal of therapy should be freedom to live chastely according to one’s state in life. Some of those who have struggled with same-sex attractions believe that they are called to a celibate life. They should not be made to feel that they have failed to achieve freedom because they do not experience desires for the other sex. Others wish to marry and have children. There is every reason to hope that many will be able, in time, to achieve this goal. They should not, however, be encouraged to rush into marriage since there is ample evidence that marriage is not a cure for same-sex attractions. With the power of grace, the sacraments, support from the community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve the inner freedom promised by Christ.”

    Peace,

    Frank

  5. ‘It’s hard to describe whether one kind of attraction is “stronger” to me than the other, as they feel completely different.’

    This kind of resonates with me. Well, not completely different, and I think I’m leaning more toward the opposite sex than the same sex, but I do have the sense that each attraction is stronger in different ways, and on different occasions, rather than a sense of always being more strongly attracted to the opposite sex in every way. (And I don’t see this as a problem, since it’s not incompatible with my living faithfully in the heterosexual marriage I’m actually in.)

  6. Anonymous says:

    And, there is always the ex-gay solution of marry heterosexually
    AND have gay relations with the understanding that, “OOPs, I just wasn’t healed yet” to comfort one’s falls and slippages.

    If one can believe it within oneself, that really is not a bad way to go and rationalize things.

    It sure beats celibacy, that’s for sure!!

  7. Ah, but Anonymous, if we’re going to be that cynical about it, they can always aim to be celibate and have the same number of “OOPS” falls and slippages. And, unless you’re bi enough that the heterosexual marriage is actually hot, celibacy would seem to win.

  8. Anon says:

    My “cynicism” is borne out of reality — ex-gay ministry reality. Testimonies read, individuals spoken with over 4 years time. Should the down-lo phenomenon just be ignored in the name of, what, hope? Apparently many think so.

    My point in commenting was in reevaluating, albeit in a tongue in cheek way, the issue of what is really that bad about a down lo lifestyle *especially* if you can sincerely couch it under “I am in the process of healing” whether that is factual (ie. orientation change) or not.

    And unless you engage in premarital sex ( which although many Christians ignore the injunction although the Bible says it is a no-no) perhaps even on a fairly frequent basis, how does one know if one is bi enough? Of course there are those who didn’t, started out well, and then revereted. It’s a crap shoot any way you look at it.

    As far as celibacy winning, for truly asexual individuals (who by the way do exist) yes, I would say celibacy is a win. But the point of this thread was that most people *need* to get married, etc… So yet again, this all hits a dead end.

  9. I was pretty much attracted to some people of both sexes before I ever did anything sexual with anyone. But, yeah, I agree with you that there are very few people for whom celibacy is a really desirable option.

  10. [...] Disputed Mutability had a response to my response to her on celibacy, which got me back to thinking about celibacy again. For various reasons, celibacy in general, in whatever form and for whatever motive, fascinates me. But I found I couldn’t put all my thoughts into one coherent post, so instead I’ll try several. Here’s the first one, and perhaps the one that most directly responds to Disputed Mutability’s post. She writes: But I just worry that for too many evangelicals, this idea that if you’re struggling you weren’t meant to be celibate is a driving force behind bad theology and worse decisions. On the one hand it is taken by some pro-gay Christians to mean that gay people who don’t enjoy celibacy should form same-sex partnerships. (i.e, “I am struggling, so I am not supposed to be celibate. I am not interested in hetero marriage. Therefore, I should enter into a gay relationship, regardless of those other verses. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can muster. If it is better to marry than to burn with lust, then surely it must be better to be in a committed monogamous same-sex relationship than to struggle so precariously, right? Even if it’s not “God’s best” for me.”) On the other hand, it is taken by certain exgays and their allies to mean that God absolutely WILL change anyone who’s having a rough time with celibacy or will miraculously take aware their sexual desires, which I think fosters a whole range of false expectations and resulting disappointment or worse. [...]

  11. [...] It’s celibacy day here at Noli Irritare Leones. Last post of the series, inspired by Disputed Mutability’s remark that But I just worry that for too many evangelicals, this idea that if you’re struggling you weren’t meant to be celibate is a driving force behind bad theology and worse decisions. [...]

  12. Hi Anonymous,

    I’m not quite sure what your point is. That some people on an exgay path screw up? That some live hypocritical double lives?

    “If one can believe it within oneself, that really is not a bad way to go and rationalize things.”

    It sounds terrible to me. When one is single, “falls” and “slippages” are damaging to one’s walk with God; when one is married, they not only do that but in one way or another they end up damaging the marriage and the family. I don’t think falls are ever a trifling “oops” sort of matter.

    “It sure beats celibacy, that’s for sure!! ”

    I would take celibacy with God in my life over a wild sex life without Him in a heartbeat. From a worldly perspective, maybe it makes no sense. But from a Christian perspective, the joys of knowing Christ, of walking with Him, trump anything this ephemeral created world has to offer. If our love for any created thing rivals our love for Christ, it is only because we have failed to pursue Him and seek Him and know Him as we ought. This may sound stupid to you, but I believe it with all my heart.

    “But the point of this thread was that most people *need* to get married, etc… So yet again, this all hits a dead end.”

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to as hitting a “dead end.” Also, I think “need” is a tricky word, and one that is far overused in our ME-ME-ME-I-NEED-I-NEED-I-NEED culture. So I wouldn’t say that people need to get married. What I would say is that I feel that many heterosexuals aren’t getting married (for one reason or another) that should be getting married. And I would say that if you are struggling with celibacy, and have the opportunity to marry a suitable mate of the opposite sex, then you should probably go for it. For those whose situations (whether it be absence of heterosexual attractions, or inability to find a suitable partner, or a special calling from God that makes marriage unwise, or something else) do not permit that, I believe that God will grant them the strength to live faithfully and celibately in their situation, if they desire it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It was unclear to me that it was “heterosexuals” who should be getting married but aren’t. I am guessing you are referring to the “live togethers”.

    And, yes, in print it does sound horrible, living on the down-lo. But we can pontificate all we want: that IS how many”ex-gays” live. Should we deny that reality in lieu of what, a more comfortable, less messy faith?

    It is hard for me to imagine that so many ex-gays did not desire faithfullness in their marriage that they merely wanted “wild sex lives”. Many settled with partners in monogamy after leaving their marriages. I guess some would define that as “wild”. I don’t.

  14. Hi Anonymous,

    I don’t just mean the “live togethers”. It just seems to me that in general, many heterosexuals (including evangelical Christians in certain circles) tend to postpone the possibility of marriage or treat it as entirely irrelevant, whether out of a fear of commitment, or general immaturity, or some other reason.

    I think you’re reading way too much into my statement about how I would prefer celibacy with God to a wild sex life without Him. But for the record, I do think monogamy (gay or straight) can be pretty wild. I know my monogamy is. :)

    Regarding the down-lo phenomenon, I’m interested neither in pontificating nor in denying reality. This blog is about sharing my journey and my reflections on that journey. The down-lo experience, thankfully, is not part of my journey. So I guess I really don’t have much to say about it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    So…gays whose attractions don’t change should be thankful for celibacy — which is a legitimate (at least Biblically stance) but straights should be “responsible” to enter into sex lives, children, what? I mean, I don’t get your point. Why shouldn’t a straight man or woman who is not married, whose focus can be on the Lord as the Bible says be chastisted for not marrying? This sounds hypocritical.

    And I am glad you have “arrived”, but do you need to flaunt your “wild sex” life to gay Christians who may be sacrificing in obedience to the Lord with celibacy — a sacrifice that you may never fully understand over a lifetime (think Henri Nouwen)?

    This “in the middle” site is sounding more and more “ex-gay” and Exodus. Have you considered changing camps? It sounds like you already have. I honestly do not see how you are “middle of the road” — so I will probably refrain from posting here. Thanks for letting me express my thoughts — I appreciate that you at least answered.

  16. Hi Anonymous,

    I’m not referring to those who believe they have been called to celibacy. and have prayerfully chosen that path. I explicitly said above that I believe that that is a fine reason to be celibate. I just don’t think that most people in our culture who put off marriage indefinitely or treat it as irrelevant (including, but not limited to, the “live togethers”) are motivated to do so by a passion for God. As I said above, I think many are motivated by immaturity or a fear of commitment. Perhaps also in some cases a fear of relinquishing one’s autonomy to some degree. These are the things that concern me, not a desire to focus on the Lord. The Reformers almost five centuries ago were worried about men and women choosing celibacy out of spiritual pride, so they could prove their holiness and giftedness and self-control, so they could feel that they were better and more godly than their married peers. But I don’t think in our day and age that that is the biggest problem.

    I agree that I will probably never fully understand the sacrifice that some homosexually-attracted Christians may make, pursuing celibacy out of obedience throughout their lives. With different journeys come different sacrifices and different blessings. I try to be respectful and sensitive to those who may be struggling with great difficulty right now. I guess I doubt that my making a single, off-hand, humorously-intended remark referring very generally to my sex life in a comment thread counts as “flaunting.” (But I welcome input from my celibate readers on this point.)

    From time to time on this blog, I do make references to the joys of my marriage to my husband. This is not intended in a flaunting or gloating sort of way. It is simply about me speaking the truth of my experience. There are a lot of anti-exgay lies swirling around out there, claiming that all exgay marriages are fraudulent, sexless, loveless, and miserable. In the midst of those untruths, I choose to speak my truth. (Just as when I was a young gay person, surrounded by anti-gay lies, I would speak up with the reality that I had experienced, the truth of my life. ) I pray that God will help me to do so with a greater faithfulness, clarity, and humility than I do now.

    I think a reply to your last comment–about the position of my site and what direction it’s moving in–deserves a post of its own so I can make things clear to others as well. So I’ll be posting on that shortly. You’re welcome for the opportunity to express your thoughts.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The problem or challenge as it were with all of this “change” issue is that in many cases it is anecdotal at best. With the use of the pleismograph attached to a man’s body, there may be *some* indication of actual change or no change. I bring this up not to be graphic but to point out the reality that for those wishing to research or study change the best we have to date are these studies — many of which seem to contradict one another, do not follow up over years time to see if change “holds” (a big issue), etc… Perhaps that is why there are so many skeptics — that the testimonies — many of them do seem to be of dubious quality because of the extreme recidivism rate of “ex-gays”. Why in the world would they *want* to go back if they were enjoying such “wild” monogamous sex lives with their spouses? It doesn’t make any sense.

    Having said that, I do not dismiss your own path. This is your blog after all and you should share your truth, elsewise what is the purpose? I just wonder if you are trying to *universalize* your experience to all ex-gays as in your path would be workable for all who followed it. I completely appreciate your assessment of “reparative therapy” and other “cures” that Exodus seems to accept carte blanche. OTOH are you possibly doing the same with your path, ie. putting it on the back burner — the gay identity which was one of your steps, refusing to identify as gay etc… as the path to heterosexuality? For I have known others, too, who did just that and still couldn’t arrive at heterosexual feelings.

    As far as the Reformers are concerned (and I don’t mean this as dismissively as it will sound) — what they were “worried” about has very little impact on my life or the lives of many gay Christians. Just because some straight Christians of centuries past were smug and self-righteous about their celibacy, does not mean that gay Christians who have no genuine desire for straight sex are following in their footsteps. Maybe they (the gay Christians) don’t want to leave a disaster trail of heartbroken spouses and children.

    I mentioned Henri Nouwen because of the positive, profound impact he had on so many Christians’ lives. And, yet, how sad that in the midst of his blessing the world, he was afraid to “come out” or share his orientation as he chose celibacy. Maybe he really wanted to have a partner, but took up his cross instead. Maybe he had this as his thorn in the flesh. But, sadly, we will never really know the depth of his spiritual journey with this aspect of his life because of shame — that from the church universal toward gay people.

  18. Hey Anonymous,

    I don’t mind if people are skeptical about exgay stuff. I just mind when they get dogmatic about it, insisting that it’s impossible. In my opinion, the truth of the matter is that none of us really understand sexuality all that well yet. All we have is anecdotal evidence, on all sides.

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about regarding “extreme recidivism rates” though. From what I’ve seen, exgay recidivism is comparable to that of other difficult life struggles. But again, given that we’re dealing with anecdotal evidence, different people’s anecdotes and perceptions can vary wildly.

    Certainly, people have varying experiences. Which is why I often say “for me”, “in my own life”, “personally”, etc. I can assure you I don’t universalize. :) I’ve been on the receiving end of enough people’s universalizing to be quite reluctant to do it myself.

    Sigh. I think our celibacy discussion is going in circles. If you’ll look at what I wrote above, you’ll see that I specifically said that I don’t think that the concern of the Reformers’ time is a big problem today. And you’ll also see that I am specifically talking about heterosexually-attracted people. I am not criticizing predominantly same-sex attracted celibates. I think it is generally wise for people without signficant heterosexual attractions to pursue celibacy, although if such a person wanted to pursue marriage in complete honesty with their spouse, and in total commitment to marriage as a lifelong covenant, I think that could be a God-honoring path as well. As long as both parties were crystal clear about what they were getting into.

    I must confess that while I’ve heard of Henri Nouwen and know a bit about him, I’m not all that familiar with his work. Could you recommend a couple of good books of his to start with? It sounds like you’ve been deeply blessed by him.

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