The Closet, the Cage, the Cost and Caring

One thing I never expected nor understood when I was 15 or 16 and chose celibacy as the path by which to deal with my attractions to other guys was the true price of that choice.

There was, of course, no one to talk to about being gay and celibate. The church handled the topic of homosexuality in such a way that anyone who had chosen that path remained closeted and, therefor, unavailable to teens of my generation to mentor us through the same choice. We had to figure it out on our own. For me, the only way I found to maintain celibacy was to strictly limit friendship. On the one hand there was the simple equation of temptation. I could not be friends with girls, could not be the GBF, because, not being out, girls sometimes wanted more from a friendship than I could give and did not understand or were hurt when I could not give them more. And, since I was attracted to boys, friendships there also created problems of sexual tension and temptation for me, temptation for sins of the mind, at least. At the same time, I learned early on that you can’t draw a clean line between sex and human relationships. When I allowed myself to have human relationships, such as friendships, even when I chose guys I was not attracted to, it made me desire something deeper and more permanent, something akin to marriage – but with a guy. Opening myself to human connections simply opened the flood gate to desiring more, much more, than I could permit myself and maintain celibacy. So, I quickly learned that if I wanted to maintain celibacy I had to forgo close friendships. I had to learn how to keep people at arms length, or even just a bit more.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought. The average man only lives 72 years or so. I figured I just had to be faithful and alone until I died and then I would see God and at last have a friend in Him who was called “Friend of Sinners.” I even comforted myself by imagining that God might give me a hug when, at last, I saw Him in heaven. I could do without close human contact and hugs and stuff because, in the end, I knew love was coming. I just had to wait out this life. So, starting at 16 or 17, instead of celebrating my birthday as another year of life, I celebrated as one less year I would have to endure before I could finally have a real friend and I subtracted one more year from the total of 72 I would likely have to endure.

What I did not foresee, however, was how strongly the trust of God’s love is linked to the experience of human relationships. Somewhere along the line, having avoided all human contact and hugs except those that are socially required, I lost the ability to remember what hugs were like. Somewhere the ability to remember what friendship was like, what human contact was like, just trickled away. And along with it, I stopped being able to imagine God hugging me or, frankly, giving a crap about me. I lost the ability to conceptualize what it could mean that God loves me. Jesus calls Himself our friend – but I don’t remember what a friend is like. I currently have two friends, a married couple. We get together twice in October every year and maybe once or twice in the intervening months. I don’t even recall how to make friends beyond that anymore. I am not sure I even remember what was like to want friends. Does this mean I no longer have faith? I don’t know. All I know is that I have no ability to conceptualize God looking at me with anything other than disgust and contempt. You can say all day long that God loves us but I no longer have anyway to understand that concept. You might as well try to describe colors to a person born blind.

Recently, the New York Times had an article “It’s not a closet, it’s a cage” in which a few gay priests spoke of how lonely and scared they are. It sounds like they are much like me. The have given up friendship and love for the sake of obedience – and they found that they are isolated and alone. I guess my experience is not so unusual.

But what was really scary was the response of so many conservatives to the article. Now not one of those priests said anything about wanting to change the church’s teaching on marriage or celibacy – and, given that it was the New York Times, had any of them mentioned such I thing, I suspect it would have been clearly pointed out in the article. The New York Times is not exactly a conservative paper. Nor was it clear, as many conservatives seem to assume, that these priests wanted to come out publicly to their congregations. Yes, some may have wanted to “come out” to everyone in general and were wanting to form a “positive gay identity.” But over all, it sounded more like most just wanted to have friends, they wanted someone to talk to and to relate with where they did not have to be scared they would be seen as child molesters or worse. But the primary response for conservatives is “we don’t care.”

It has, in fact, been that blatant. We don’t care. So what if you are lonely, we don’t care. So what if you are scared, or have no one to talk to, we don’t care. Just do your job and shut up. In fact, even if you are not a priest and just a same sex attracted lay person, don’t tell us about your life – we don’t care.

The church presents a nasty double bind. In these same conservative blogs and responses the authors are clear in calling homosexuality “disordered desire” and “sin.” The bloggers drew a clear demarcation between straight and gay. Yet, if we who are same sex attracted mention our situation, we are scolded for “identifying our selves by our sexuality.” The church calls us to repent and feel remorse that we are “disordered.” Yet if we mention the consequences of repentance and remorse, that we are lonely, that we are unsure of God’s love, that we are scared; we are scolded for putting our identity in our sexuality.  It is a lose lose situation. The church creates a gay identity in our children and then condemns us for identifying as gay, even when, and sometimes especially when, we have done all we can to remain faithful and repent live in remorse. And, frankly, I don’t see this changing for the simple reason that most Christians simply don’t care. This is the most damning thing about all this. Christians really just don’t care. There is no longer any ability to see the plight or cost to a person who has chosen obedience. And it is this inability to care – to offer the simple friendship and Gospel that would allow a person to put their identity in Christ – that has moved our society toward gay affirmation. Throughout my life this truth has been clear. The primary mover of our culture toward the acceptance and affirmation of gay relationships has been the conservative Church and its inability to care. When a kid has tried everything to be faithful and paid thousands of dollars to some orientation conversion program that did not work and put himself through loneliness and self loathing to remain faithful and the Church does not care, that kid will go where he is wanted and where people do care. When parents find out their kid is gay and have done all they can to find support and help in their Church only to find out the Church does not care about their son or daughter, they will go to people who do care.

Does this mean I will leave the Church or seek same sex romance? No. The Bible is true. I can’t and won’t fight truth. Does it mean I am angry at Christians? Sometimes yes. But most of the time, not really. I have hated myself for so long and it has been so long since I have been able to imagine God as even a casual friend that I no longer care how the Church or God feel about me. I don’t really care anymore whether I go to heaven or hell. I still have the ability to be very very lonely but I no longer have the ability to desire friends. Like the Church, I just don’t care, at least not about what happens to me.

But if Christians want to have any influence, if the Church is to have any impact of society or any ability to present the Gospel then Christian will have to learn to care. It is going to have to matter that the cost of obedience is loneliness and the Church is going to have to care enough to offer friendship and compassion to those who pay that price, to do what can be done to make that cost a bit less. The proper Christian response to an article like that in the NYT would have been to say, “Look, it’s not a good idea to come out to your congregation because it would make you, rather than Christ, the center of attention in your ministry.  But it is no wonder you feel trapped and lonely.  So what can we do to help gay priests and gay Christians in general fell less isolated, less lonely and less scared?  What can we do to help make the cost a little less?  What can we do so you don’t have to lose faith in order to be obedient?”  The Church is going to have to learn to care.