Section Three: The Challenge of the Future

As we reflect together on our experience as a lesbian and gay People of God and how to help one another grow as faithful disciples of Jesus, we recognize ways in which the Spirit leads us to a fuller experience of God's reign. This recognition is the basis of our hope, but it also contains challenges. Most important among those challenges are to accept responsibility for formulating a gay and lesbian sexual ethic, to develop the experience of Church that we have, and to continue to seek personal, communal, and ecclesial integration.

Sexual Ethics

We are working toward a profound assessment of our sexual expression within the context of our spirituality. Struggling with difficult questions — even with the lack of clarity and certainty is for us life-affirming. This is why we commit ourselves to wrestling with the unresolved questions in the light of Gospel values.

We believe we share a vital role in formulating a sexual ethic comprehensive enough to apply to all persons. Our part is to ensure that the lesbian and gay experience of sexuality and genitality is represented. We must speak of what we know, and we must learn together with our heterosexual brothers and sisters what Christ is teaching Christians.

We must continue to identify the values that are expressed or sought in the sharing of this life-affirming sexual ethic and to clarify them in the light of the Gospel. We invite gay and lesbian Christians to consider their experience and to correct or validate what we say here. Much of what we have shared about our experience and our convictions is not yet complete, and so we invite the members of our community to continue their exploration of sexual ethics.

We can tolerate diversity. Nevertheless, we must explore together and learn from one another about issues of justice and morality. That includes such areas of serious ethical concern as pornography, prostitution, sex with minors, multiple partners, anonymous sex, bondage and discipline, and how to have sex safely. We cannot shy away from controversy if we are genuinely trying to see Christ in the sacramental reality of our lives.

The authors of Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, a study commissioned by The Catholic Theological Society of America, identify seven significant values in sexual behavior which promote "creative growth and human integration." We offer questions based on these values with the hope that they may be helpful as we continue to seek growth as sexual Christians and especially as we discuss areas of controversy:

SELF-LIBERATING: Does it express one's authentic self and wholesome self—interest as a source and means of growth toward maturity? Does it enslave the self with bonds of compulsion and selfishness?

OTHER-ENRICHING: Does it express a generous interest in, and concern for, others' well-being? Does it coerce or violate another person or show cruelty?

HONEST: Does it express the real relationship that exists? Does it seduce and manipulate behind a facade of pretense?

FAITHFUL: Does it express a consistent pattern of interest and concern that can grow deeper and richer? Does it refuse to let intimacy grow?

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE: Does it express a realization of relationship to wider communities and of service to their interests? Does it contribute to an atmosphere of exploitation or depersonalization?

LIFE-SERVING: Does it express a willingness to share and promote life as well as fulfill one's own needs? Does it allow a relationship to become a mutual or shared selfishness?

JOYOUS: Does it express appreciation for the gift of life and the mystery of love? Does it weaken the other person's self-esteem or ability to enjoy sex and relationships?

A new pattern of sexual life is developing in our world, one that is more human and humane, in tune with people's experience. We want to help ensure that the new pattern is balanced with responsibility and recognition of the value of intimacy.

Being Church in the Lesbian and Gay Community

While many of us feel unwelcome in traditional parish communities, we do not pursue our Christian vocations alone. There are smaller communities of men and women who, united in Christian faith and worship, choose to be accountable to the Almighty together and consequently to each other. Together, as a People of God, we need to minister to one another and to pursue the ethics of our sexual expression, emerging as men and women strengthened in our faith, our commitment, and our love.

Dignity and the communities like us have been sources of faith and strength. They have made it possible for us to come together as gay and lesbian Christians and to realize that we are linked with believing brothers and sisters of all times and places. Together we discuss basic issues of faith and sexuality with our friends. We listen together to what God is saying. Together we minister to the sick, the needy, the lonely, the alienated, and to one another. We play together, cry together, pray together, and work together.

The Dignity community and others like us are experiences of being Church. Although generally organized on the foundation of shared sexual identity, these communities go beyond that single issue. They are a source of peace, healing, and reconciliation, signs of the Spirit's presence. They enable us to rediscover our own worth and to minister to one another and to the world. In them we have a grassroots experience of Church where we are able to realize and to express our responsibility to and for one another. We can together be agents, like Jesus, through whom the Spirit continues to bring good news to the poor and to set captives free (see Luke 4:17–21).

This is an experience of Church as a community of disciples where traditional barriers are taken down, where all are welcome and able to contribute. Our communities must provide this experience of living, liberating, and reconciling Church where Christians come together as equals, knowing that they are disciples of Christ. As Dignity we accept responsibility for one another and for Christ's work of justice and unity in the world. Together we strive to discern God's will and God's presence in the lives of all.

We acknowledge our deep human need for symbols and rituals and we celebrate the sacramental dimension of our lives in communal worship. We welcome new members into our community, including baptizing our natural and adoptive children. We continue to break bread in the name of Jesus. We forgive and seek forgiveness. We celebrate God's call to service through affirmation of those who are called to minister among us. We bless and console those who bless and console us as they face illness and death.

We need the affirmation and validation of a loving community when we make commitments to one another as couples. Through ritual, as witness to our unions, our community becomes a presence of grace and symbol of God's blessing. We commit ourselves to support each other in the continued celebration of our love. We also need to recognize and celebrate the choice of a single life style and to ritualize other significant moments of our lives. In our tradition, for example, loss and separation and break-up are rarely acknowledged and celebrated in rituals other than funeral and memorial services. Yet these are probably the moments when we most need the consolation that a loving gathering can provide.

Seeking Integration

We seek the integration of our sexuality and our spirituality. We seek the integration of women and men of all races and ways of life into our communities. We seek integration into the whole of society and into the Church of which we are a part. The basis for all this is the reconciliation that is God's gift to us in Christ and which makes us ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–20).

Our particular concern here has been the integration of sexuality and spirituality. We share with all Christians the life-long struggle to unify all aspects of our lives, including our genital expression, under the reality of the Christian Gospel and the values to which that Gospel urges us — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). The development and growth of these values is a life-long endeavor; there is no point at which we stop and say that we have all the answers or that we have done all that we can.

We are not the only people who seek to integrate their genital expression with their lived Christian experience. Our brothers and sisters who are bisexual face a similar, if not more difficult, challenge of integration. Yet this challenge is shared by all the People of God — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual. That shared challenge can be used as a means to end the segregation that exists among the People of God. It can help bring us together to become an expression of the true message of Christ — love in unity with each other and, through Christ, with God.

We must welcome into our communities all who seek this integration. In order to provide a context for integrating spirituality and sexuality and for promoting growth, we must root out from our midst whatever divides us. Racism, sexism, ageism, and any other ideology or practice that separates and alienates can have no place. We must learn to understand and respect ways that differ from our own. We cannot complain of societal and ecclesiastical oppression and then lay unnecessary burdens on one another. Furthermore, we must stand in solidarity with those who seek to eradicate all forms of injustice and oppression.

We meet together as Christians on the basis of our shared sexual identity, and so, in many of our communities, denominational boundaries have been transcended. Gay and lesbian Christians from different churches have been able to be together, respecting one another's traditions while acknowledging unity in faith and baptism. We must deepen this unity in fidelity to the Spirit of the Gospel.

We will continue to reach out to those who are alienated from the Church. We feel a responsibility toward those who have shared the faith and love of Christ but who no longer walk with us. We must show them understanding and compassion and the love of a God who cares too deeply ever to let go. We grieve especially for those who despair of God's love because they have not felt Christians' love and for those who have died without the Eucharist because they felt excluded from the Church.

We must reach out to those who cannot understand why we remain part of a faith community that seems to have no room for us. We must speak to them the Gospel message and show that the Church's truth is greater than its error. We have a special responsibility to lesbians and gays, believers or not, who, in whatever way, show in their persons the suffering Christ, especially those with AIDS. God's love for them must be evident in our concern and compassion.

Finally, we seek integration within our Church as Christ's gay and lesbian disciples. We offer forgiveness to those who have misjudged and hurt us, and we ask forgiveness of those whom we have hurt. As Church we commit ourselves to maintaining and strengthening the bonds of communion that unite us with all disciples of the Risen Savior. If we are united and live in peace, the God of love and peace will be with us (see 2 Corinthians 13:11).