Melinda Selmys is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality. She surrendered secular lesbianism for Catholicism, and, according to reviews, the book charts her course from one to the other. I have not read the book, but I’m not here to talk about it anyway.
No, what I’m talking about is her article in the New Oxford Review, “Authentic Dialogue is Possible” (May 2011). The authentic dialogue is between Catholics and gays. Some of the article, I would suppose, is drawn from her book. The article may prompt me to read the book, maybe.
Selmys begins by giving a brief history of “homosexual politics in the Western world” to help us understand the sensitivity of today’s gay community to arguments against homosexuality. This will, in turn, help us determine what forms of engagement are not effective.
For one thing, if I understand her well enough to extrapolate, what the gay community has said is true: The same-sex behaviors Scripture condemns is not what LGBTQ folk experience. Cool your jets and let me go on a bit, okay?
Jewish antipathy toward same-sex behavior in the ancient world, according to Selmys, was based on a perception that homosexual relationships were abusive. Selmys describes Greek homosexuality as pederasty. Greeks openly praised love of boys, an older lover and a younger (preferably beardless) beloved. It was mentoring, with sexual dividends for the mentor. So when Seleucid Greeks erected a gymnasium in Jerusalem, recounted in Second Maccabees, Jews were right to be alarmed. The no-clothing policy at the gymnasium provided not only a way for the Greeks to easily identify practicing Jews by their circumcision, but also an opportunity for Greek men to ogle Jewish boys.
Homosexual behavior was also part of ancient Rome, but the Romans, being Roman, skipped the idealism and went straight for virile conquest. Homosexual behavior was tolerated, if one was the dominant participant. The passive role, a decidedly less than virile position, was filled by a slave or by a social inferior, or someone looking to move up the career ladder or someone too intimidated to snub the offer.
Christians inherited the Jewish antagonism toward same-sex behavior. “Sodomy was implicitly connected with sexual predation in the minds of the late Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Christians,” Selmys writes. “This needs to be taken into account when reading the vitriol that is poured out against ‘sodomites’ in the writings of early Christians”—St. Paul included.
Readers will recognize a central gay Christian contention. What Scripture condemns is pederasty and sexual exploitation. But the contemporary gay experience—said to be non-exploitative, mutually enriching, and increasingly monogamous—ought to be accepted as a normal alternative. This argument has found a ready hearing among some Protestant churches in North America, Europe, and Scandinavia, and it has no small part to play in places that have legalized gay marriage.
Over the course of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries homosexuality came to be viewed as a biological or psychological anomaly. What was once regarded as an unusually nasty sin became a pathology to be cured. This generated some genuinely horrific quack “cures,” like testicular transplants and electro-shock therapy.
Considering the violence inflicted on gays as a punishment for sin or an attempted cure, it’s not surprising that they reject both classifications of their behavior. They have adopted instead, Selmys says, a “homosexual identity” producing today’s gay subculture and a wider acceptance of the gay life. “[H]omosexual identity cements same-sex attraction”—an otherwise transient bit of normal human experience—“as a crucial element of personality.”
Seeking effective outreach to the gay community, Selmys looks to her own conversion experience. It wasn’t the intellectual arguments that converted her:
I could see that if you believed in a God who had designed the universe, and that the natural creation was a manifestation of His wisdom, and that sexuality was ordered and designed for the union of spouses and the procreation of children, then obviously homosexuality had to be immoral.
The argument made sense to her, if one believed in that sort of God, but she didn’t, not then.
It wasn’t until she encountered the love of Christ that anything actually changed. That was her ultimate impetus to leave her gay lover, something she would not have done for “anything less than the person of Christ Himself.” She describes a growing consciousness that her identity as a Catholic offered more spiritual security than her identity as a lesbian. It was this, no “reparative” therapy or exhortations to “pray away the gay,” that have given us a transformed Selmys with six children and one husband.
She concludes with a small homily for Catholics trying to engage the gay community: Accept the notion “there are real reasons why gays and lesbians choose to identify with their sexuality and that these reasons have to do with more than just sex.” “If the Church does not offer adequate emotional and spiritual support for people with same-sex attractions who wish to live out a full Catholic life in accord with magisterial teaching, then Catholic witness is doomed to failure.”
My understanding of her article may be far off the mark, but her piece does not suggest why identity in Christ trumps identity rooted to one’s sexuality. Nor is it suggestive of why one cannot be both Christian and gay. Sure, living contrary to the “natural creation” as she describes it is “immoral.” Yet the gay argument is exactly that—“natural creation” includes a “homosexual identity.” It would be immoral, contrary to nature, pretending to be straight. Selmys leaves me wondering if “homosexual Christian” is quite the oxymoron many believe. I cannot think this is what she means to say. But I’m not certain of what she is saying, exactly.
I understand the offense given to gays when the suggestion is made that homosexuality is a psychological trouble subject to remedy. I understand too the offense when I asked a gay acquaintance if she could not regard same-sex attraction as the result of living in a world fallen into sin, filled will all manner of inappropriate attractions. I was met with a stony “‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’–get off my case.”
If homosexuality is not the result of psychological formation, and if it is only a manifestation of a mulishly repetitive but harmlessly generic sin, what point is there in suggesting conversion? Is there any real harm in being gay and (likely, a liberal Protestant) Christian? She doesn’t make that case, not for me, however interesting her piece.
My college roommate, a good guy, was gay and now dead nearly twenty years from AIDS. I have had deep conversation with a lesbian pastor I like personally—though it was clear we were talking about two different gospels; hers was “justice” while mine fell into that stodgy old Lutheran category of “justification.” Best I can figure, she has been in and out of three relationships, including an early fling at straight marriage.
Selmys may be right that “gay experience” today is not exactly that condemned in Scripture, but the “experience” does not seem to serve anyone well, not my roommate, not my friend. I certainly would not recommend shock treatment for homosexuals and, honestly, I think there are worse sins than a gay couple seeking solace with each other. Still, I do not see how we can call gay men and women to conversion without giving an account of what is wrong about homosexuality.
Russell E. Saltzman is the mission development pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Gothenburg, Nebraska, and the author of The Pastor’s Page. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality
“Authentic Dialogue is Possible”
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