When spiritual forces suffocate our children

Matthew Vines identifies a hidden menace that exists within communities that preach “submission to God” as the necessary condition for the salvation of lesbians. For myself, it was in reading Hillary McFarland’s book, Quivering Daughters (2010), that I realized just exactly what this menace is. McFarland summarizes her thesis in just a few lines:

For many wives and daughters, the Christian home [and the Christian church] is not always a safe place. And through spiritual and emotional abuse, women who [subordinate themselves to their husbands in all things and] become “the least of these” . . . experience deep wounds that only God can heal. But if living “God’s way” caused this pain [for women], why should they trust Him [Her] to heal it?

These words could apply just as well to the “anti-gay gospel” preached within the church in which Matthew Vines was raised. If he had submitted meekly to this “gospel,” then his resistance would have been broken, and he would have completely submitted (“Not my will, but thine be done.”). And while this “anti-gay gospel” promises him eternal life in the world to come, his whole existence in this world would be menaced by the incessant fear of God and the reoccurring realization that being gay condemns him to a life devoid of an intimate partner who holds him when he is afraid, who heals him when he is wounded, and who goes with him wherever God might lead.

This is why the personal spiritual journey of Matthew Vines is of critical importance. After his father approved of his six-page summation of his biblical research, Vines took his discoveries and presented them to the elders in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in his home town. He met privately with many of the church members as well. And here is what he discovered:

Despite my best efforts and the support of my family and some of our friends, our broader church community proved unreceptive to my message. Months of grueling, emotionally draining conversations with church leaders and members produced next to nothing in terms of progress. So eventually I left, dejected and depressed, but also determined to make change. Several months later, I found a church in town that was brave enough to offer me a public platform to speak about the issue. . . .

Notice here that Vines didn’t think that he should stay in the hope of slowly wearing down their resistance. Nor was he tempted to just give in, to acknowledge the superior insights accumulated in his church tradition, and to get on with the task of trying to make peace with the realization that sexual intimacy would never have any sanctioned place in his life.

Matthew Vines’ entire family deciding to leave their church as well. They didn’t do this in anger or in frustration. They did it because they wanted to express, first and foremost, their solidarity with their son or with their brother. They also did this, I would conjecture, because they were increasingly suspicious, thanks to the insights of their son, that there might be something drastically mistaken in the traditional Bible interpretations and that the “anti-gay gospel” was indeed destructive The psychological and spiritual harm that falls upon children.

Matthew Vines identifies a hidden menace that exists within communities that preach “submission to God” as the necessary condition for the salvation of lesbians. For myself, it was in reading Hillary McFarland’s book, Quivering Daughters (2010), that I realized just exactly what this menace is. McFarland summarizes her thesis in just a few lines:

For many wives and daughters, the Christian home [and the Christian church] is not always a safe place. And through spiritual and emotional abuse, women who [subordinate themselves to their husbands in all things and] become “the least of these” . . . experience deep wounds that only God can heal. But if living “God’s way” caused this pain [for women], why should they trust Him to heal it?

Matthew Vines at risk of a spiritual death

These words could apply just as well to the “anti-gay gospel” preached within the church in which Matthew Vines was raised. If he had submitted meekly to this “gospel,” then his resistance would have been broken, and he would have completely submitted (“Not my will, but thine be done.”).  And while this “anti-gay gospel” promises him eternal life in the world to come, his whole existence in this world would be menaced by the incessant fear of God and the reoccurring realization that being gay condemns him to a life devoid of an intimate partner who holds him when he is afraid, who heals him when he is wounded, and who goes with him wherever God might lead .

This is why the personal spiritual journey of Matthew Vines is of critical importance. After his father approved of his six-page summation of his biblical research, Vines took his discoveries and presented them to the elders in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in his home town. He met privately with many of the church members as well. And here is what he discovered:

Despite my best efforts and the support of my family and some of our friends, our broader church community proved unreceptive to my message. Months of grueling, emotionally draining conversations with church leaders and members produced next to nothing in terms of progress. So eventually I left, dejected and depressed, but also determined to make change. Several months later, I found a church in town that was brave enough to offer me a public platform to speak about the issue. . . .

Notice here that Vines didn’t think that he should stay in the hope of slowly wearing down their resistance. Nor was he tempted to just give in, to acknowledge the superior insights accumulated in his church tradition, and to get on with the task of trying to make peace with the realization that sexual intimacy would never have any sanctioned place in his life.

Matthew Vines’ entire family deciding to leave their church as well. They didn’t do this in anger or in frustration. They did it because they wanted to express, first and foremost, their solidarity with their son or with their brother. They also did this, I would conjecture, because they were increasingly suspicious, thanks to the insights of their son, that there might be something drastically mistaken in the traditional Bible interpretations and that the “anti-gay gospel” was indeed destructive to the spiritual and psychological well-being of Matthew. By extension, they might have conjectured that if the “anti-gay gospel” is poisonous to their son, it would follow, as the night follows the day, that this “gospel” would be toxic to other youths wrestling with their sexual orientation as well. Here is how Vines masterfully expresses this in his own words:

Could it be true? Could it really be that this holiest of books, which contains some of the most beautiful writings and inspiring stories known to mankind, along with the unparalleled teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, also happens to require the emotional and spiritual destruction of sexual minorities? For any of us who learned to love the Jesus who called the little children to him, whose highest law was that of love, and who was a fierce defender of the downtrodden and the outcast, this simply did not seem possible.
Thus, the suspicion was that the teachings of Jesus invalidate the “anti-gay gospel” and that, in the case of homosexuality, false teaching has distorted the biblical texts such that “Scripture is used to manipulate. God is used as a weapon.”

Personal story of a straight-A Catholic college student

One late night at the end of her sophomore year of college, Jackie sat in her parked car and made a phone call that would forever change the course of her life. An attractive sorority girl with almond eyes and delicate dimples, she was the product of a charmed Boise, Idaho, upbringing: a father who worked in finance, a private­ school education, a pool in the backyard, all the advantages that an upper-middle-class suburban childhood can provide – along with all the expectations attendant to that privilege.

There was a standard to meet,” Jackie says. “And I had met that standard my whole life. I was a straight-A student, the president of every club, I was in every sport. I remember my first day of college, my parents came with me to register for classes, and they sat down with my adviser and said, ‘So, what’s the best way to get her into law school?’”

Jackie just followed her parents’ lead understanding implicitly that discipline and structure went hand in hand with her family’s devout Catholic beliefs. She attended Mass three times a week, volunteered as an altar server and was the fourth generation of her family to attend her Catholic school; her grandfather had helped tile the cathedral.

“My junior year of high school, my parents thought it was weird that I’d never had a boyfriend,” she says, “so I knew I was supposed to get one. And I did. It was all just a rational thought process. None of it was emotionally involved.”

After graduating, Jackie attended nearby University of Idaho, where she rushed a sorority at her parents’ prompting. She chose a triple major of which they approved. “I remember walking out of the sorority house to go to Walmart or something, and I stopped at the door and thought to myself, ‘Should I tell someone I’m leaving?’” she says. “It was the first time in my life where I could just go somewhere and be my own person.”

In fact, it took the freedom of college for Jackie to even realize who her “own person” was. “Growing up, I knew that I felt different, but when you grow up Catholic, you don’t really know gay is an option,” she says. “I grew up in a household that said ‘fag’ a lot. We called people ‘fags,’ or things were ‘faggy.’” Her only sex-ed class was taught by a priest, and all she remembers him saying is, “‘Don’t masturbate and don’t be gay.’ I didn’t know what those words meant, so I just hoped to God that I wasn’t doing either of them.”

When Jackie got to college, the “typical gay sorority encounters” she found herself having didn’t seem to qualify as anything more than youthful exploration; she thought all girls drunkenly made out with their best friends. By her sophomore year, she was dating a fraternity brother but was also increasingly turned on by a friend she worked with at the campus women’s center. “I was just playing it off as ‘So maybe I’m just gay for you – I mean, I don’t have to tell my boyfriend’ this kind of thing,” she says. “I knew what I wanted, but it was never something I ever envisioned that I could have on a public level.” And yet, as her friendship with this woman turned physical and their relationship grew more serious, Jackie saw her future shrinking before her: a heterosexual marriage, children, church and the knowledge that all of it was based on a lie.

“I honestly thought my whole life I was just going to be an undercover gay,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief.

For better or worse, that plan was never to be. Toward the end of her sophomore year, Jackie got a text message from one of her sorority sisters who said she’d been seen kissing another girl, after which certain sisters started making it clear that they were not comfortable around Jackie. (“You’re living in the same house together,” she says, “and, of course, to close-minded people, if somebody’s gay, that means you’re automatically interested in all 80 of them.”) Eventually, she went before her chapter’s executive board and became the first sorority girl at her college to ever come out, at which point she realized that if she didn’t tell her parents, someone else would. “I was convinced somebody was going to blast it on Facebook.”

So while Jackie hoped for the best, she knew the call she was making had the potential to not end well. “You can’t hate me after I say this,” she pleaded when, alarmed to be receiving a call in the middle of the night, her mom picked up the phone.

“Oh, my God, you’re pregnant” was her mom’s first response, before running through a litany of parental fears. “Are you in jail? Did you get expelled? Are you in trouble? What happened? What did you do?” Suddenly her mom’s silence matched Jackie’s own. “Oh, my God,” she murmured in disbelief. “Are you gay?”

“Yeah,” Jackie forced herself to say.

After what felt like an eternity, her mom finally responded. “I don’t know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child,” she said before hanging up.

As soon as the line went dead, Jackie began sobbing. Still, she convinced herself that her parents would come around and accept her, despite what they perceived to be her flaw. As planned, she drove to Canada to celebrate her birthday with friends. When her debit card didn’t work on the second day of the trip, she figured it was because she was in another country.

Once back in the States, however, she got a call from her older brother. “He said, ‘Mom and Dad don’t want to talk to you, but I’m supposed to tell you what’s going to happen,’” Jackie recalls. “And he’s like, ‘All your [credit] cards are going to be shut off, and Mom and Dad want you to take the car and drop it off at this specific location. Your phone’s going to last for this much longer. They don’t want you coming to the house, and you’re not to contact them. You’re not going to get any money from them. Nothing. And if you don’t return the car, they’re going to report it stolen.’ And I’m just bawling. I hung up on him because I couldn’t handle it.”

From that moment, Jackie knew that she was entirely on her own, that she had no home, no money and no family – and that this was the terrible price she’d pay for being a lesbian.[i]

A woefully tragic story that ends well

Woe to those Catholic households where, despite the best-laid plans for coordinated indoctrination, a child confesses having “homosexual inclinations.”  A mother known to me, let us call her Gloria, had a son of seventeen who confessed to such inclinations.  Upon hearing this, Gloria passed through many stages of grief.

First, angry denials: “No child of mine could possibly be gay!”  And threats: “Remember your teaching, son.  Sexual sins are always mortal.  Repent and confess them to a priest or, God forbid, you will go straight to hell.”

Second, there comes bargaining with God: “God, how could you have permitted this?  I have been a faithful believer and have supported your true Church all my life.  What must I do to get this unwanted sickness in my child’s life reversed?”

Thirdly, some months down the line after Gloria’s ceaseless prayers and novenas did not get the miracle she wanted, self-doubt emerges: “Where did I go wrong?  Or my husband?  Or his teachers?”

Then, her son leaves home and travels over a thousand miles away: “For the first time, I can breathe freely without my mother continually hounding me and prying into every aspect of my private life.”

With her son’s absence, Gloria becomes emotionally fragile.  She breaks down in tears multiple times every day and, invariably, whenever anyone asks about her son.  She seeks therapy.

Then she unexpectedly finds great solace in a support group of parents of homosexual children.  For the first time, she hears from parents who have arrived at the point where they accept the sexual orientation of their children.  She is horrified initially, but then she comes to realize that this acceptance enables parents to return to a supportive relationship with their children after a horrible period filled with harsh judgments and heart-breaking estrangement.

As a result of this realization, Gloria begins to avoid her parish priest entirely because she no longer wants to hear “any judgments he might have regarding the conduct of her son.”[i]  Gloria gradually stops going to her parish church entirely because she cannot tolerate the “self-righteous pity” expressed by certain “busy-bodies who are praying for Tony’s (not his real name) conversion and return to the Church.”

Tony writes a letter of a few pages each month.  At the end of three years, he writes a long letter describing how he met Joe, “a courageous and sensitive young man,” and how, over the course of time, they gradually became great friends.  Then Tony describes how they gradually became lovers and how they finally “pledged their undying love to each other.”  Then, for the first time in years, Tony acknowledges that he sorely misses his mother and, “if and only if she would agree to accept him as gay and to bless the love he has for Joe” then both of them would want to explore how they might visit for a few days right after Christmas.

Gloria is ecstatic!

At this point, Gloria tells me that she is ready to accept her son “just as God created him, no more and no less.”  This readiness came from her association with members of her parents support group.  As she became more and more at ease with their positive assessment of homosexuality, she at the same time became resentful of how the teachings of the Catholic Church had pitted her against her own son.

“Even before his leaving,” she said, “I should have been blessing him every day and assuring him that I will be there for him in whatever path God calls him—whether as a gay or as a straight.”  To this very day, she cannot understand how “bishops and priests teach us that loving our Creator and loving our neighbor are the heart of Jesus’ message and then, twisting this beautiful message, they go and teach my son that his deepest desires for intimacy are ‘disordered’ and that love-making between same-sex partners is always[ii] a mortal sin.”  In fact, she tells those who sympathetically hear her whole story that “those parents [in her support group] who seldom went to church taught me more about the depth of God’s love than all those Catholics who went to church every Sunday and firmly believed that Tony was destined for an eternity in hellfire.”

 

[i] At this point, Gloria completely distanced herself from the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuals.  In fact, she deeply resents the fact that her parish priest had set her against her son’s homosexuality and against any same-sex union that he might try to make for himself.

[ii] While some moral theologians sometimes say that sins against the sixth and ninth commandments deal with “serious matter” and, accordingly, infractions result in a mortal sin.  Even in classical moral theology, however, the conditions for committing a mortal sin always require, subjectively, that the person “recognizes the seriousness of the matter and then goes ahead and does it anyway.”  In the case of homosexual acts, however, even Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledges that those naturally inclined to such sex acts are less culpable than those heterosexuals who do the same thing while being emotionally repulsed by the act.

Furthermore, when two women use sex to express and celebrate their mutual love, they frequently do not see this as sinful at all.  In fact, they often engage in sex because they judge what they are doing as “love-making” and experience their mutual sex as a “source of grace.”  Cardinal Ratzinger would intervene here saying that, due to the fact that the procreative aspect of sexuality is missing, there must always be a degree of moral guilt.  Such a judgment, however, would follow from Ratzinger’s essentialist thinking and his attempt to define a universal rule used to evaluate heterosexual acts.  Furthermore, even in the case of a venial sin, one must judge the action as a minor deviation from what God expects.  Something which is regarded as a “virtuous deed” cannot subjectively be “a sin” at all.  Here again Ratzinger’s disordered thoughts on homosexuality bring him to conclusions which conflict with classical moral theology.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Related Videos and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

Related Videos:

  • Mary McAleese, Irish Catholic Mother who Goes Up against the Church to protect her gay son, 24-minute video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7laFwqGIvE
  • Stephen Fry, a British actor, who happens to be gay, offers this critique as part of the public debate in 2009 on the topic: Whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world,’ 20-minute video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SJ6AV31MxA[ii]
  • What Would You Do?: Son comes out to Mormon family, 7-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnY_V4X1C8M
  • Phil reacts to a father devastated when he found out that his son Zach wants to transition to biologically become a woman, 5-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6AQ_85U7Q0

~~~~~~~~~Please remember, if you are an LGBT teen in need of help, the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY can help you.

[i] The story continues at https://www.rollingstone.com/
culture/culture-news/the-forsaken-a-rising-number-of-homeless-gay-teens-are-being-cast-out-by-religious-families-46746/

[ii] Interested persons can find a shorter version and commentary here: http://www.thebodyissacred.org/body/obsession.asp

 

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