Section Two: Living and Growing as Sexual Christians

TAKING RISKS

Spiritual growth contains the responsibility to take risks. We risk when we speak and act without the encouragement and support of the wider community of faith. We risk when we state our experience despite those who reject it. We risk when we deepen our understanding in faith of that experience. We risk when we discern the truth of that experience even though the truth may challenge us to deal with our own differences and prejudices. Only by taking such risks can we commit ourselves to a fuller life as lesbian and gay Christians.

Engaging ourselves wholeheartedly in the process of spiritual growth requires us to accept the challenge of being sexual as responsible Christians. That not only entails acknowledging the discrepancy between official Church teaching and our own experience as gay and lesbian Christians but also includes the responsibility of forming our consciences as Christians. Only then can we be free from sinful structures - including those of our own making - and thereby faithful to the Christ whose disciples we are.

The struggle for justice and peace is not limited to seeking equality for sexual minorities nor to developing a whole and healthy sexuality and sexual ethic. We recognize that these are partial manifestations of God's reign. Yet they are particular tasks we accept as lesbian and gay Christians. As members of Dignity, we have committed ourselves to the struggle for justice in the Church and in society.

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The Challenge to be Sexual

In our culture individuals are often reluctant to relate sexuality and spirituality to one another or to discuss questions of sexual ethics because such discussions frequently deteriorate into condemnations and prohibitions. Explaining how we understand and use key terms in this document may therefore be helpful for the discussion we hope it will encourage.

SEXUALITY is the human ability to be attracted to one another and to enter into relationships by which we receive and give life.

GENITALITY is that aspect of human sexuality by which we, as bodily beings, use our sexual organs to give and receive pleasure as part of the expression and creation of union and intimacy. Genitality is not simply a biological function but is a component of human intimacy.

INTIMACY is that experience of comfortable closeness in which individuals lower their barriers and enter into each others' lives through acts of trust, respect, affection, and love.

SPIRITUALITY is the way we experience and respond to God's call to grow personally in relationship with God and others. Spiritual growth itself involves integration, a process of achieving wholeness. For Christians the source, model, and context for this growth is Jesus Christ.

ETHICS is the analysis of decisions as to their rightness or wrongness; it is also the assessment of the values upon which those decisions are based.

SEXUAL ETHICS deals with decisions and values in the area of sexuality and genitality. Since ethics serves spiritual growth, an authentic sexual ethic requires as its foundation an integration of spirituality and sexuality, an element that has been missing from the Catholic Christian experience.

PERSONAL INTEGRATION is the process of becoming aware of the various components of one's life, examining them in the light of available knowledge and experience, and accepting them as one's own. All this, for Christians, is to allow the Spirit to fill our lives ever more fully so that Christ may be revealed in us and we in Christ.

The traditional understanding of sexuality and its genital expression has often been fragmented and limited. Our own experience suggests a sense of wholeness. Sexuality and its genital expression are indeed multifaceted. It is communication and intimacy. It is fun, and it is vulnerability. It is ritual. It is power, and it is tenderness. The dimensions of sexuality's tremendous potential lead us, almost inevitably, to risk the uncertainty and fear of ongoing exploration. What we know and realize may hold other facets of meaning and expression yet to be discovered.

As we continue to deepen our understanding, we realize the challenge is not to explain or defend who we are. It is to understand ourselves as graced and our sexuality as a gift. The further challenge is to discover how to cherish this gift with gratitude and to enrich our lives by a genital activity, or an abstinence from activity, which respects individuality and reveals the presence of God in our lives as Christians.

Basic to this challenge is the need to experience our sexuality and its genital expression as a sacramental encounter with our Creator. In such playful, enriched, and graced moments, we experience our God as close, active, and all encompassing, present in and through the other who loves and is loved. We recognize that dishonesty or selfish holding-back in these moments distorts the activity and disrupts our deeper relationship with God. Experiencing sexuality and genitality as a sacramental encounter with God is at the heart of a fully Christian sexual life.

We emerge from a flawed tradition that often dichotomizes body and soul and consequently separates sexuality from spirituality. In the past, Church officials have taught that we, as gays and lesbians, had made a free choice contrary to nature. We were told that our attraction to members of our own gender was a refusal to accept God's will for sexual union. Now Church officials admit that our sexual identity may not be the result of deliberate choice. To some extent they distinguish between sexual orientation and genital activity. Yet they still insist that our sexual identity is an objective disorder, a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil, and that any genital expression of it is absolutely forbidden.

This we cannot accept. We see sexuality as an intrinsic, integral, and essential aspect of our human personhood, not a separate one. We reclaim our sexuality and its genital expression as intrinsically good.

We are not alone in regarding official teachings on issues of sexuality as not in touch with human experience. At the core of official teaching on sexuality is the prohibition of any genital expression of sexuality outside marriage and of any genital sexual expression within marriage not open to procreation. This ethic increasingly is regarded as irrelevant and unacceptable by heterosexuals, both those who are married in the Church and those, like the divorced, the widowed, the handicapped, and the single, who are sexually disenfranchised.

Scholars have shown the inadequacy of an ethic that regards sexual intimacy essentially as an agreement to procreate. Vatican Council II implicitly acknowledged this inadequacy when, in speaking of the purpose of marriage, it refused to subordinate mutual love and companionship to the procreation and education of children (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 50).

We believe that we remain fundamentally sexual at all times, whether we choose to be genitally active or genitally abstinent. We find that the more sexuality is integrated into the totality of our lives, the more joyful and peaceful is its genital expression. Thus, we are Christians both at prayer and at play. We are equally the temple of the Holy Spirit when we worship and when we make love.

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Forming Christian Conscience

We have a responsibility as members of the Christian community to seek common understanding and communion in that which makes us Christian. We therefore reaffirm the primacy of the individual conscience and accept the responsibility for its continuing formation in community. From that attentiveness to conscience and its continuing formation in community emerges a shared ethic.

We use the word "conscience" in several ways, corresponding to the various dimensions of conscience. Broadly, conscience is our experience of responsibility as we exercise our freedom. One dimension of this is our attraction to what is good. Another dimension is the body of knowledge and values we use in making our decisions. A third, the most practical expression of conscience, is the personal, considered judgment that individuals have to make on what they ought to do or not do. Christians see themselves making this judgment in the gracious presence of God as they seek to be like Christ.

Such attention to conscience and its formation is important if we indeed claim to remain Catholic while disagreeing with Church authorities. The Catholic tradition neither identifies nor separates authority and conscience: since both authority and conscience depend upon God, neither can dominate or ignore the other.

In the Catholic tradition, "authority" refers to the sources presumed able to give instruction on God's will; e.g., scripture, tradition, Church officials, various experts, and collective human experience. Authority is always presumed to have insight into God's will because it represents the accumulated wisdom of the Christian people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Yet authorities can obviously disagree on how the Spirit is guiding God's people. They can also make mistakes in identifying the movement of the Spirit. Thus, according to Catholic tradition, individuals are not only free to go against authority's recommendation but also morally required to do so if they have responsibly concluded that it is mistaken and that dissent, in theory or in practice, does not violate others' rights or endanger the common good. As Vatican Council II stated, "Deep within conscience humans discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves but which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For humans have in their heart a law inscribed by God. Their dignity lies in observing this law, and by it they will be judged." (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 16).

Forming conscience goes deeper than decisions or knowledge and values. It reaches to the heart of how we become the persons we are and want to be. A formed conscience consists of the freely made commitments and the freely established loyalties by which we shape character and become virtuous. For us as Christians it means that we do not live without a model or in isolation. We commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and we remain loyal to the community of faith, in which we are caught up in the mystery of Christ.

We strive in Christ who lived and died and rose to include us in a communion so filled with life that we are called members of the Body of Christ. We accept the Christ who is vulnerable and sensitive. We experience the Christ who promises and comforts and consoles. We rely on the Christ who liberates and supports and heals. We commit ourselves to the Christ who is ever faithful and truthful and open. We live the Christ who loves and sustains and fulfills life.

The story of Jesus' life and death shapes our vision as Christians. We are challenged to live as Jesus lived and do what he did (see John 13:15). Jesus discussed scripture with others and challenged interpretations which contradicted his own insights. Jesus shared his faith and prayer with many different people. By conscience he judged his actions and he concluded how God wanted him to act. Through these means, both personal and communal, Jesus envisioned and then lived according to that vision in order to realize God's reign.

We form conscience in community, not in isolation, and so we must reconsider and reclaim the resources that the community of faith has found helpful over the centuries. When we study scripture together, we grow in knowledge and wisdom. When we seek each other's counsel, or when we identify individuals whose lives reflect holiness and commitment to the Gospel, we test the validity of our individual reflections and find that they become stronger for having been challenged. When we, as People of God, engage in dialogue over questions of ultimate meaning and when we worship together, we reflect on our experience and find communal wisdom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has anointed us (Constitution on the Church, 12).

Forming conscience is the lifelong process of becoming like Christ. We are called to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34). That is always more than we are capable of doing, but that is no reason for discouragement. As we renew our own determination to live as Christ, we realize and accept the reality of the imperfect, the partial, the human.

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