The other day, the subject of conversion therapy (therapy intended or purported to change the patient’s sexual orientation from gay to straight) raised its head again. I know so many people who have been deeply hurt by this type of therapy; it damaged their trust in God, it distorted their relationship with their family, it left wounds that they still live with. This brought some of them to the brink of suicide. If this isn’t your story, if it was helpful, I’m grateful you were spared. I hope we can agree that all therapists should be willing and eager to envision a good future for patients who remain gay.
Okay, but then thinking about this stuff made me think back to why I talk so much about biblical models of same-sex love. Why do I always cram Ruth, David, and beloved disciple John into my articles?
After all, these biblical models are not the only forms of love available to homosexuals who wish to live in harmony with Catholic sexual ethics. You could join a intentional community; you can have a religious vocation; you can lead a life that seems “single” on the outside, but that is deeply rooted in the love of your friends, of your family of origin, of those in need around you; you can be a artist whose life is dedicated to showing children the joy of Creation and the Gospel (lol parenthetically I’m not sure how Tomie de Paola navigated the intersection of her faith and her sexuality). And arguably all of these ways of loving are more difficult for the contemporary economy, where so many government and corporate structures are set up to manage only the love that comes in pairs of autonomous adults – the game of life, but you can stick two pink dolls in the front seats now. Arguably, all of these other ways of loving are more difficult for the culture that teaches us that love is a reward for the chosen few, a rare prize, something we can lose or lose, rather than a gift without abundant end of our most tender and most faithful Lover.
And even. When we know that Scripture offers models of homosexual love, our relationship to Scripture (and therefore to the divine Author of the Word) changes. In the Word of God, there is more to us than “no”. There are tips on how to express the desires for intimacy, love, devotion, commitment that for many of us have always been part of what it means to be gay. The scriptures remind us that God has called people to become parents of another man or another woman; that he made their intimacy and their devotion the reflection of the tender love he offers us. People who have been taught that their loves and desires are absent from Scripture—and therefore no real love at all—may find that God wants to nurture their desires, not eradicate them.
The fact that it was homosexual Christians who pioneered the rediscovery of scriptural and historical patterns of chaste homosexual love, and find ways to live them in our new circumstances, suggests that gay communities have something to teach churches. And it suggests that your personal experience of being gay can lead you to discoveries and paths of love that you would not have encountered as a straight Catholic. Being gay can bring you a special cross, and that’s also a gift – but there can be, like, greater gifts too, beauty and holiness and covenant love, and the pleasure in sharing ideas and treasures with the whole Church.
The narrative of conversion therapy is that there is nothing God wants you to experience by being gay. He only wants you to get out of this cursed land as quickly as possible. (The exit, you are told, is through the Valley of the Shadow of the Bride of David.) And the narrative that drives people to seek conversion therapy is that your sanctification requires a change in the purpose of your sexual desires, from men to women or vice versa. Desiring to love and unite one’s life with someone of the same sex, according to this account, is a temptation and a distraction, not a vocation.
Scripture suggests another way. In Scripture we find the beginnings of an education in which you learn to live out your desire for same-sex love as God intends: devoutly, chastity, intimately, sacrificially.
Not everyone gets married, but marriage makes it pretty clear that even such a tumultuous and disruptive experience as heterosexuality (speaking of King David) can be experienced as a practice of peace: peace between the sexes, a reconciliation of the rupture made in Eden; peace in its sexuality, peace finally in the war between its members. And not everyone will experience dedicated, defining homosexual love (although even some of our heterosexual brothers and sisters enjoy this blessing). But we also have images of what that kind of peace looks like. And knowing that this peace is possible, be at peace.