FSG: Faith, Sexuality and Gender

On the margins of orthodoxy

Gay Sex and Vocation 9 May 2008

Hitherto, I’ve tended to the view that an active gay sex life is not consistent with, or cannot be considered an integral part of, a – or the – Christian calling. That’s gay sexual activity, as opposed to homosexuality (or bisexuality, or transgendered-ness) itself. By contrast, in a very thought-provoking post, Anita Cadonau-Huseby makes a powerful case for considering that a person’s homosexuality (or sexuality and gender identity of any sort) is indeed a / their holy vocation and divine calling. On one level, I wholeheartedly agree with this view: if one genuinely is gay, or in my case bisexual and transgender, then this is how God intended you to be – what he is calling you to be as part of his calling of you into being through his Word of creation.

Where I worry about this is the way it conflates two meanings of ‘vocation’: 1) what God’s purpose was in creating you (he made you as a gay person, by design and not by accident); 2) what God is calling you to, and calling you to become, as part of your new life in Christ: the life of the Spirit, of faith and of service. I have no problem whatsoever with the former meaning. But can God be said to be calling gay persons to assume their gayness as a gift of the Spirit, as part of their very Christian charism, when he first calls them to become his followers and share in the life of grace? Gayness may well be a gift of God in a similar way as our bodies, minds and very life are his gifts; but are these things, and therefore gayness too, also correctly described as gifts of the Spirit in the same way, for instance, as the gifts of healing, teaching, praise or prayer?

Are these merely semantic distinctions? Is it legitimate for us, in this all-too human way, to separate out what constitutes a gift of Creation (our bodies or our gayness) and what constitutes a gift of Grace? In Christ, and in our sharing in the life of Christ through the Spirit, these aspects of our humanity and his divinity are united. How can we make a distinction between our old selves – including our homosexuality – and our new selves, reborn in Christ, when our witness to Christ can be true only when it engages all that is true and distinctive about ourselves as human beings, which cannot but include our sexuality? As gay, bisexual and / or transgender, if we do not bear witness to our sexuality and gender identity, can we still be true to our vocation and be a reliable witness to Christ?

And yet, it is nonetheless legitimate to ask: are our sexualities and gender identities themselves graces; or are they not rather just part of our nature as mortal, fleshly, flawed and sinful human beings, which God still chooses to inhabit in the love of Christ and the life of the Spirit; and which he uses as the instrument of his grace to others who are seeking him – manifesting the truth that he loves us and dwells within us no matter who or what we are?

If this is so, why then should it matter whether we choose to consider that gay sexual acts are sinful or not if, notwithstanding these, God still loves us unconditionally, and still works in us and through us to spread the life of his Kingdom? But it is important to know what sin is. This is because sin is that which attacks and potentially destroys the life of Christ within us, and diminishes our ability to hear God’s call, to seek his will, and to commit ourselves to following it completely.

By why should gay sex in particular be considered sinful, even in the context, say, of a loving, monogamous union between two Christians of the same sex, who see their sex life as a celebration and expression of their love, and as therefore affirming and manifesting the love of Christ for and in each one of them? Can it be seen as a vocation for two such people to ‘consecrate’ their love for each other in this way, just as conjugal sex is usually seen as validating and manifesting the union in Christ of a husband and wife – Christian marriage being traditionally conceived of as a calling? God may call gay people to be gay; but does this mean he calls them to gay sex? Does an affirmation of one’s gayness always have to involve the affirmation of one’s sex life? Does God’s creation of gay people as gay provide moral justification for gay sex – exclusively, or merely preferentially, within monogamous relationships having the character of a marriage?

So many questions. Who can be confident of knowing all the answers? (There’s another one!) My own view: that an active gay sex life cannot be an intrinsic part of the Christian vocation of a gay person. This is in contrast to heterosexual sex – but, in the Catholic view, only one particular type of heterosexual sex; not heterosexual sex of any and every kind – which is an intrinsic part of the vocation to sacramental marriage. Nor is gayness in itself a gift of the Spirit in Christ. Homosexuality (and bisexuality, and transgendered-ness) is part of our old life, our fallen nature; but so is heterosexuality and, therefore, all sexuality and gendered life. These things are signs of our continuing dependency and attachment to this mortal life and to our carnal bodies; to individuation, and to identification with and attraction for only part of the human totality; to division and incompletion in our lives and in ourselves. And, in its very incompleteness, transitoriness, and diversity of form and expression (loving and unloving; promising lifelong fidelity and failing to live up to it), sex is a manifestation of the fact that man and woman have not yet, in this life, attained the perfect unity and reconciliation that is in Christ.

But by the same token, while all sexual desire – gay or straight – holds within it the potential to fail to consummate the perfect (marital) union of man and woman, male and female, in Christ in whom / which, and in whose image, all human life is created; yet, at the same time – when lived as an expression of true, Christian love – desire and sex are always offered as a prayer for perfect union and, thereby, an act of praise of the human heart whose longing for Christ is inseparable from its bodily desire for another.

Not a perfect love: sinful, therefore – the love of sinners. But, in that, so very human; and so very much in the image of Christ: the lover of sinners.

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6 Responses to “Gay Sex and Vocation”

  1. deb Says:

    “…..This is in contrast to heterosexual sex – but, in the Catholic view, only one particular type of heterosexual sex; not heterosexual sex of any and every kind – which is an intrinsic part of the vocation to sacramental marriage. Nor is gayness in itself a gift of the Spirit in Christ. Homosexuality (and bisexuality, and transgendered-ness) is part of our old life, our fallen nature; but so is heterosexuality and, therefore, all sexuality and gendered life…”
    I think you made your whole point in just this comment. You seem to dance around with your words, but it would seem your main point is that all gendered life needs grace as we are all fallen from grace and only know within our human concept those things of the flesh. It sounds to me your thinking is from the place of not seeing our flesh as gifts of the Spirit but rather part of the over all gift of life. And that, the GLBTQ person is no more ‘gifted’ then the heterosexual person in that regard, so that all our sex acts can’t be considered products of the gift anymore then a heterosexual person can consider all their sex acts a special endowment of the Holy Spirit. I think your whold piont boils down to morals more then all else.

  2. reallytruly Says:

    that is incredibly well thought out and helps me frame my own thoughts, thank you.

  3. wep601 Says:

    Extremely thought provoking, but one I will have to read again to ensure I sort it all out. Sorting these types of issues out for oneself is hard work!

  4. John Says:

    @Deb,

    You’re right that I do see sexuality (including heterosexuality) and ‘gendered identity’ as part of our sinful condition in this life. But it’s not a black and white view: we’re sinners but we also love, and that love is divine even though expressed in an imperfect manner within us as sinners.

    Two consequences that flow from this view are 1) that it’s not true that heterosexuality is somehow intrinsically ‘good’ while homosexuality is by definition therefore always ‘bad’ / ‘evil’; 2) that the individual- and flesh-bounded character of sexual love always brings some element of selfishness / self-centredness into the sexual relationship and act: we choose to be with the ones we love in practice as much because this is what we want and ‘need’ (emotionally, physically) as out of a pure, selfless response to a divine calling. But this does not mean that, once committed to a person or persons (spouse, partner, family), we do not then have a sacred calling to love them as does Christ.

    This is true as much for gay as straight relationships of course – how could it be different? And just because traditional, straight Christian marriages are in theory open to conception and childbirth, this does not of itself make those relationships more holy or Christ-like. We’re all sinners; but the important thing is how we respond to Christ’s call to love one another. Christ alone knows whether, in conscience, we have responded as fully to his call as we might have done.

  5. […] Sexuality and Gender is a blog with many thought-provoking articles. I stumbled across “Gay sex and vocation” by accident. The author says, “Hitherto, I’ve tended to the view that an active gay […]

  6. Profoundly Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Profoundly.


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