Letter from a reader of Soufully Gay

Peter Savastano has given me permission to excerpt a bit from an email he sent me today:

You and I have a lot in common. I have studied astrology for over 25 years (Tropical, Sidereal, and Hindu). I have also studied the writings of Ken Wilber for at least 12 years, on-and-off, and I have been a student of Zen meditation since 1980 (I am 56).

Like you, I was raised Roman Catholic and I even tried my hand at monastic life back in the early 70s, first as a Trappist and then as a Little Brother of the Gospel (based on the vision of Charles de Foucauld (no, not Michel Foucault, though I adore MF). I also lived at the Catholic Worker in NYC for a brief respite between monastic orders (yes, struggling with coming out as a gay person isn’t a straight path, as I know you know, so I often had to leave the monastery in order to attempt to deal with my sexuality in a more conducive setting).

I too have tried to hang on to my Christian (Catholic) roots in whatever way I can, but often only by a thread. One of the ways I managed to do that over the years, minimal as it is, is by being involved with the Quakers, though the Quakers never seem to quite hit the g-spot of my heart in the way I long for their view to do so.

These days I am avidly reading the writings of Rudolf Steiner (Have you tried your hand at him?). His spiritual vision really speaks to me (perspectival as it as, but then again what view isn’t?). I have also been drawn from time to time to esoteric forms of Christianity. Essentially I have had to learn, as it seems you have too, to make my way in the world of Spirit trusting solely in my inner guide or the inner Christ, or Buddha, or whatever I seem to call it presently. I also have a great interest and attraction to shamanic healing and I have taken quite a few workshops on shamanic techniques.

Yes, I am a hodge-podge of spiritual searchings, longings, practices, the way of most gay men, I have come to believe and accept, since no tradition will seem to have us without some concession of our beings to their authority structures and rigid dogmas and doctrines.

I am currently making my way through KW’s “Integral Spirituality.” Gosh, I admit this is a very long winded way of introducing myself to you. Please forgive me for going on and on.

 

At any rate, my purpose for writing is to thank you for “Soulfully Gay” and for “Until” and “Integral Christian.” Your book was a true boon to me at a time of great suffering and inner darkness. I only recently finished it but didn’t want to let too long go by before I wrote to express my gratitude and appreciation to you…

The role of conservative religionists in fighting homophobia

Note: The following post is reprinted from Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, Spirit, a book available as an inexpensive ebook or a print-on-demand paperback from Lulu.com. It was first blogged on my now-defunct blog Rising Up on January 9, 2006.

I don’t usually write about the antigay messages of conservative religionists. Everyone knows religious traditionalism and antigay bias go hand in hand, so it’s not exactly a man bites dog story.

But it’s nice to be able to occasionally find examples of religious conservatives pointing out another conservative’s antigay bias and offering constructive corrections. While it’s not exactly a heartwarming tale of conservatives losing their bias to soothe my liberal heart, it does speak to the ways that individuals can make a small difference by speaking out.

A popular Roman Church priest tells his parish that he’s gay but celibate and abides by the Roman Church’s teaching. So conservative Roman Church blogger Mark Shea opines:

But as a layman, I am no more interested in the fact that he is a celibate SSA [person with same-sex attraction] guy than I am in knowing whether the guy in the pew next to me made love with his wife last night. It’s not information that concerns me and it’s not information that my kids need to be subjected to in a homily. Priests who use the homily as a chance to engage in True Confessions like this seem to me to be engaging in a none-too-subtle form of narcissism.

There the traditionalists go again—always making the attributes of the previous developmental stage of egocentrism the preeminent bugaboo of our age, and then misinterpreting higher-stage responses from that warped perspective. Shea’s remarks prompted a comment box reply from Courage Man, a conservative Roman Catholic struggling with same-sex attraction:

Assuming the complaint is “Too Much Information,” then the proper analogy to the guy in the pew next to you would be the priest saying he abused himself last night. At the level of personal disclosure and specific information, the priest is doing nothing more than the guy in the pew next to you does by wearing a wedding band or introducing “my wife.”

Excellent point! Now to hear this comment from a typical gay man would be expected, but to hear it from a conservative Roman Catholic is most encouraging. I advocate the approach of combating homophobia in social institutions by using strategies grounded upon divergent rationales. Among religiously conservative institutions, that means arguing against homophobia by challenging bias without necessarily challenging the orthodoxy of the institution.

If a church teaches that homosexual sex is sinful, then religious conservatives can avoid challenging that assumption while focusing on other areas such as combating negative stereotypes and double standards. Persons who self-define as “ex-gay” or “living with SSA” are among those religious traditionalists leading the way in this sort of important transformative work. Their internalized homophobia and alienation from the mainstream gay culture buys them invaluable credibility in the eyes of the leaders of the institutions where change from within is most desperately needed.

A STEAM-based perspective to fighting homophobia within conservative institutions must include and strongly encourage the ameliorative efforts of folks like Courage Man. We must encourage people to take the little steps at correcting bias when they happen upon it in ordinary life. If mainstream gays don’t like where conservative religionists like Courage Man are coming from, that’s our problem, not theirs. Although conservative views of homosexuality may be repugnant to those of us who see the world from a more complete lense, serious change in religious institutions cannot happen without religionists on the inside doing what they can to discourage homophobia given the limitations of their institution’s strictures. Folks like Courage Man who are closer to the belly of the beast are in a far better position to effect positive change than most of the rest of us.

P.S.: April 2007. As careful readers of Until will notice, this blog post used to be distributed as part of a “free sample” of my ebook Rising Up. As of today, I have discontinued offering the free ebook sample on Until. The reasons are too numerous and dry to bother enumerating at this time. Suffice to say that readers who want the content from the sample chapters of my book can (a) spend a few bucks to buy the ebook or book, and/or (b) search the Internet archives (you know where to look for those, don’t you?).

The role of conservative religionists in fighting homophobia

I don’t usually link to the anti-gay writings of conservative religionists because there’s so much homophobia the sheer volume of potential posts would just be crazy. Besides, everyone knows religious traditionalism and anti-gay bias go hand in hand, so it’s not exactly a dog bites man story.

But it’s nice to be able to occasionally find examples of religious conservatives pointing out another conservative’s anti-gay bias, and offering constructive corrections. While it’s not exactly a heartwarming tale of conservatives losing their bias, it does speak to the ways that individuals can make a small difference by speaking out.

A popular Roman Catholic priest tells his parish that he’s gaybut celibate and abides by the Church’s teaching.

So popular Roman Catholic blogger Mark Shea opines:

I think this priest means well… but as a layman, I am no more interested in the fact that he is a celibate SSA guy than I am in knowing whether the guy in the pew next to me made love with his wife last night. It’s not information that concerns me and it’s not information that my kids need to be subjected to in a homily. Priests who use the homily as a chance to engage in True Confessions like this seem to me to be engaging in a none-too-subtle form of narcissism.

This prompts a comment box reply from Courage Man:

… Assuming the complaint is “Too Much Information,” then the proper analogy to the guy in the pew next to you would be the priest saying he abused himself last night. At the level of personal disclosure and specific information, the priest is doing nothing more than the guy in the pew next to you does by wearing a wedding band or introducing “my wife.”

Excellent. Now to hear this latter comment from a gay man would be expected; to hear it from a conservative Catholic is an encouraging sign. I advocate the approach of combatting homophobia in social institutions using strategies grounded upon divergent, even seemingly contradictory, rationales.Among religiously conservative institutions, that means arguing against homophobia by challenging bias without necessarily challenging the orthodoxy of the institution.

If a church teaches that homosexual sex is sinful, religious conservatives can avoid challenging that assumption while focusing on other areas such as combating negative stereotypes and double standards. Persons who self-define as “ex-gay” or “living with Same-Sex Attraction (SSA)” are among those religious traditionalists leading the way in this sort of work.

An integal perspective to combatting homophobia must include and encourage the ameliorative efforts of folks like Courage Man. Little steps at correcting bias when he happens upon it in his life. His views of homosexuality as a sin may be repugnant to those who see the world from a very different lense. But serious change in religious institutions cannot happen without religionists on the inside doing what they can to discourage homophobia given the limitations of their institution’s strictures.

Update: A second example of conservative Christians fighting homophobia in their own ways, these evangelicals writing on the Vindicated blog, who have engaged in an unusually thoughtful exchange about bringing the gospel to gays in new ways. Of course, to engage in bald generalizations, their core theological mindset is strictly of the mythic/rationalist sort typical of people who routinely write things like “God is good and sin is bad, so of course God despises sin, and most people believe this.” Still, there are encouraging signs. At a simplistic level, there’s talk of alternatives to using words like “despise,” because they are perceived as hurtful. There’s frank admission of the hypocrisy of evangelical churches in dealing with gays. And most promising yet: a call to develop a theology that allows for monogamous, committed same-sex relationships as “God’s Plan B.”

Now if only I could believe these were mainstream sentiments among evangelicals and not some sort of liberal fringe. In any case, from my perspective, it’s still shameful homophobic bullshit that has no rightful place in spirituality. But not everyone is there yet. We all start somewhere in the spiral of development, and these mythic/rational-level religionists are still at an immature stage in their thinking about homosexuality. Still, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.