Editors’ Note: During our honeymoon, we've asked a few friends to write guest posts around the topic of faith and sexuality. This week we offer a reflection from a gay male friend who currently holds a “Side B” approach to his sexuality. For his privacy, we are not using his name.
During a recent conversation, a gay married friend asked me what would become of our friendship if I converted to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, two religious paths I am currently considering. As he rightly pointed out, those traditions deem his marriage to his husband immoral. His implication was that, if I adopted these beliefs, it may degrade and possibly destroy our friendship. But this need not be the case. As a gay man committed to celibacy, our disagreements over issues in theology (including moral theology) should be seen not as a barrier to relationships but instead as an opportunity for mutual growth and greater interpersonal fulfillment.
During my freshman year at a Christian college, it was clear that my fundamentalist theological paradigm could not account for a number of facts about the world, including much of the knowledge gained from the sciences and the existence of human and animal suffering that ostensibly serves no greater purpose. As a result, I began to seriously doubt my Christian beliefs, which prompted me to delve into philosophy and theology, especially epistemology (the study of how we know what we know).
Not surprisingly, my studies began with C.S. Lewis, and I was initially impressed with his moral argument for the existence of God. As most philosophy students quickly learn, however, naturalist thinkers of Lewis’s caliber invariably poke holes in arguments for the existence of God, including Lewis’s moral argument. Regardless, as my studies continued, I eventually concluded that Christianity can offer a defensible, intellectually rich, and beautiful way of viewing the world, and I remain committed to my faith for these and other reasons. However, my philosophical studies also produced in me an undeniable awareness of very compelling objections to Christian belief. Consequently, doubts about my faith are frequently on my mind. Rather than finding this problematic, I am in agreement with existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich that doubt is an “element of faith” rather than its opposite. Such doubts, coupled with learning about the major difficulties philosophers have encountered in establishing an epistemology that is impervious to legitimate criticisms, have led me to acknowledge the shaky foundation of many of my own knowledge claims, particularly on theological topics.
Regarding the theological question of whether gay Christians should marry same-sex partners, I have made diligent efforts to study this issue in a thorough and impartial manner, and I am not currently convinced of a gay-affirming theological view. However, in recent years, reasons to doubt my position have become more numerous and more compelling to me. In my twenties, I committed myself to celibacy primarily because I was convinced that Paul condemns homosexual acts regardless of the circumstances under which those acts take place. However, further studies have also led me to question whether Paul’s writings should be deemed dispositive on this issue. For instance, after becoming more familiar with the unmentionable details of the practice of slavery in 1st Century CE Rome, it is difficult for me to accept Paul’s writings as infallible moral guides given their validation of that practice. Additionally, I agree with leading New Testament scholars who hold that Paul attributed the etiology of homosexuality to idolatry in Romans 1, which in my view brings into question whether he sufficiently understood homosexuality to be making proclamations about its normativity.
On a personal level, these doubts about my theological position on this issue can be distressing. I am averse to being single for the rest of my life, and, in periods of loneliness and anxiety about an increasingly isolated future, the doubts foster anger, frustration, and hopelessness. Indeed, I often find myself wondering if I am enduring the struggles of perpetual singleness for nothing, but neither my doubts about this issue nor my awareness of the impossibility of indubitable theological knowledge have pulled me away from my commitment to celibacy. Instead, they only serve to exacerbate anxiety during the difficult times.
On the other hand, my doubts about Christianity and awareness of my limitations for acquiring irrefutable theological knowledge have led to improvements in relationships with those who are “other.” For instance, I recently participated in interfaith dialogue and peace work with Muslims. Unlike the teenage version of myself—an uncritical Christian who believed he had theological certainty—I was able to better understand them and respect their views because my communication and empathy were not stymied by the unfounded illusion that I uniquely possess veritable knowledge about the nature of reality. Similarly, admitting the uncertainty about my theology has allowed me to cultivate deep, meaningful relationships with affirming gay Christians and non-Christians in the LGBTQ community. Not only have I gained increased insights from these relationships, but the process of opening myself up to those with different views and entertaining the possibility that their views are correct has yielded some of the closest and most rewarding friendships I have had in my life.
For these reasons, when a friend expresses concerns about the longevity of our relationship due to developing differences between us on issues in moral theology, I do not agree that this signifies the end of our time together. On the contrary, I view it as an opportunity to remind ourselves that we share both the plight and the excitement of living in a world of theological uncertainties, and as fellow seekers we should be supporting each other as we strive to gain satisfying answers to theological questions. If we fail to do so, we may miss out on some of the greatest benefits human relationships have to offer.