How We Make Our Decisions
We ask ourselves not only how our spirituality and sexuality relate but also how we make ethical decisions regarding the physical expression of our sexuality. As we reflect together on our resources and criteria for making decisions, we discover that we frequently agree on the general criteria, the values we want to live by, even though we differ on the motivation for using them and the conclusions reached in applying them.
What resources have we been using to make decisions that will be responsible and Christian? Our primary resource, because of our isolation, has been our individual experience and reflection. Health concerns influence our sexual decisions because of possible consequences to ourselves and others. Reading and prayer, traditional resources for making decisions, are next in importance. Most of us regard other traditional resources - scripture study, advice from confessor or spiritual mentor, formal religious education - as less helpful. Most of us have not found official teaching on sexuality at all helpful in making decisions.
Although we agree that a sexual ethic centered solely on procreation in the context of heterosexual marriage is not relevant to our experience as gays and lesbians, the criteria we use for sexual decisions are not so easily identified. We say that we respond to Christ's call to be loving when our primary concern is for the quality of our relationships. The values on which we base our relationships come through clearly: mutual respect, caring, compassion, trust. understanding, and generosity. What emerges from our experience and reflection is an emphasis on persons and on actions that further personal and spiritual growth. We hear a call to an intimacy in relationships that links sexuality and spirituality. It is a call that Christians identify with Jesus, who challenged the disciples to love God totally and to love all others as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). It is a call that Christians recognize as the ongoing presence of the Spirit.
Generally, we seek relationships that are whole and not just the expression of genital sexuality. Most of us almost instinctively reject sexual activity that is selfish or manipulative, that harms or exploits. Some prefer to reserve sexual lovemaking for one person in the context of a lifelong commitment, and many regard lifelong fidelity in a monogamous relationship as the ideal to strive for. Other couples have remained faithful to one another while allowing for some sexual expression outside their relationship, and some attempt completely open relationships. Others of us are sexually active as singles, either because we choose to be single, or because we have not yet found a companion. Some of us abstain from sexual activity for a variety of reasons.
What motivates our use of these criteria? Some base their decisions on values that they believe contribute to a good human life. Some base their decisions on what they see as God's will for them. Some base their decisions on how they identify as disciples of Jesus. Whatever the motivation and rationale, the actual criteria differ very little.
Most of us have said that we developed decision-making criteria ourselves, but, when we discuss them together, we find that our faith in Jesus Christ and our identification with the Christian community strongly influence our lifestyles as lesbians and gays. We recognize wrongdoing and sin in our sexual activity when we realize that we have violated our personal convictions or that our relationship with God has been harmed. Social convention and Church regulations have little impact. Our understanding of sexual ethics thus seems to be centered more on character and personal values than on rules.
Diversity of sexual and genital behavior is more visible and more openly discussed in the gay and lesbian community than it is among heterosexuals. We differ among ourselves in evaluating some of these practices. As we discuss them together, we are challenged to recognize the quality of each relationship and to find within it the presence of God. In doing so, we find that we can come to a greater understanding of sexual rituals that are not part of our own lovemaking. We see this as a valuable way of continuing to learn from one another and to care for one another.
As Catholic lesbians and gays we have struggled to affirm our place in the divine plan for salvation. We have emerged from our struggle strong in our faith, respectful of the human person, tolerant of diversity, supportive of the struggles of others, and strongly committed to seeking justice for ourselves and all our sisters and brothers.
Our struggles are not yet finished. We must continue to speak frankly of our experience as gay and lesbian Catholics in order to live and grow in Christ while helping others. We have often been too much in awe of the Church as institution to speak. We have listened to Church officials - sometimes abiding by their restrictions, sometimes rejecting them. Sometimes, like children seeking a parent's approval, we have asked our leaders to change their positions and accept us. Too rarely have we gone further.
Fear makes us hesitate: fear of publicity, fear that greater visibility will cost us what we have gained, fear of further reprisals form Church authorities, fear that what we say will divide us. But greater fears have been overcome, and we are the better for it. To remain faithful, we must go further.