single adults

Young, gay and faithfully Catholic

Gay activist Dan Savage went straight for the jugular in his recent remarks on bullying at a national conference for high-school journalists. The problem, he said, is the Bible.

To state the matter in terms that can be used in family newspapers, the sex-advice columnist repeatedly proclaimed that the Bible contains far too much bovine excrement.

"People often point out that they can't help ... with the anti-gay bullying, because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans, that being gay is wrong," said Savage, in an Internet clip that went viral.

The key is to ignore the bovine excrement in the Bible "about gay people," he said, the "same way we have learned to ignore ... the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore ... the Bible about all sorts of things."

For serious Christians, it's hard to list all the errors and unfair accusations in Savage's broadside, according to Joshua Gonnerman, a doctoral student in historical theology at the Catholic University of America. For starters, it's impossible to dismiss the "prime document of the Christian faith," which is "inspired by the Holy Spirit."

Christians must insist, he added, that Savage was "no less wrong to dismiss traditional sexual morality. On this point, scripture and tradition always have spoken with one voice, and the churches cannot, in good conscience, reject that voice. The traditional sexual ethic is the only possible antidote to the rampant commodification of human persons in contemporary culture."

The twist is that he made these arguments in a First Things essay entitled, "Why Dan Savage Was Right." In it, Gonnerman identifies himself as a "Christian who is committed to chastity," who embraces Catholic teachings on sexuality and who happens to be gay.

The point Savage got right, he said, is his claim that church leaders rarely offer serious responses to gay community concerns, such as the bullying of young gays or people who are perceived to be gay. Most religious leaders act as if they want gay people -- including believers -- to simply go way.

"The whole issue is constantly talked about in a culture wars context, instead of in a pastoral context," said Gonnerman, in a recent interview. "Instead of being a pastoral issue in the lives of real people, homosexuality is handled as an us versus them issue. ... Gay people must be treated as members of the family -- not just pushed aside."

It is widely known, and often discussed, that the Catholic catechism teaches that homosexual acts are "acts of grave depravity," "intrinsically disordered" and "contrary to the natural law. ... Under no circumstances can they be approved."

While Gonnerman accepts these teachings, he is convinced that pastors also need to underline the catechism statement that gays are "called to fulfill God's will in their lives." Through chastity, true friendship, prayer and the sacraments they can "gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

Part of the problem, he said, is that in "far too many parishes there hasn't been a sermon on Catholic social ethics since the Second Vatican Council." It's time for people in the pews to "hear more about divorce, premarital sex, infidelity and contraceptives. ... Homosexuality isn't the only issue we face these days."

Meanwhile, many pastors assume the primary goal of ministry is to fill giant parish parking lots with minivans. While families are important, said Gonnerman, one reason so many Catholic leaders can't "find something to say to gays other than 'no' is because they don't know what they want to say to single people -- period."

Rather than seeking anonymity in large churches, Gonnerman thinks many singles -- gay and straight -- should join smaller parishes. In that setting, a higher percentage of the faithful will know who they are, as individuals, and thus learn more about their lives, beliefs and struggles.

Most of all, someone must be willing to help Catholics singles wrestle with questions about what God wants them to do with their lives, he said.

"You can't just tell people to carry their cross," said Gonnerman. "You can't have a vocation that's defined as 'no,' and that's it. There has to be more to life than not getting married and not having sex. At some point, the church must help us ask, 'What are your gifts? What is your calling?' "

'Animal House' with crosses?

After years of single life in New York City, Dawn Eden knows how to study the crowd at a social event.

She knows how to let her gaze wander from man to man, while a voice in her head whispers, "That one's handsome," "That one's with someone," "That one's too old," "That one's got a wedding ring," "That one looks too interested in the man he's speaking to."

Eden heard that voice a lot during her years as a rock-music writer, back when she knew the music scene, knew the hot musicians and knew the score -- in every sense of that word. Then she converted to Christianity and her beliefs about love and marriage turned upside down.

The irony, said Eden, is that many clergy seem to think it would be a good thing if singles kept playing the spot-the-hot-date game in church.

"I am not an expert in church singles groups because I am not a connoisseur of them," said Eden, author of a controversial book entitled "The Thrill of the Chaste." The title betrays her work as an award-winning tabloid headline writer, as does the book's pushy subtitle, "Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On."

While doing online research into the Christian singles scene, Eden found a New York group that was promoting an "Extreme Charity Pub Crawl." Then there was the ski-retreat invitation that told young believers to prepare for fellowship in the hot tub.

This isn't what singles need from churches at Valentine's Day or any other day, said Eden, 38, who currently works as an editor at the New York Daily News.

"My church life got so much better the minute I stopped trying to look for someone to date at Mass," she said. "I mean, it isn't a good thing if people learn to look each other over at church the same way they look each other over in a bar."

This is not the kind of woman whose work usually shows up on shelves in Christian bookstores.

Dawn Eden Goldstein was reading the Bible by the time she was in second grade, witchcraft books by fifth grade, had her bat mitzvah at 13 and wandered into agnosticism shortly thereafter. Later, her encyclopedic knowledge of '60s pop landed her a steady stream of jobs writing album liner notes and magazine profiles.

Then, in 1996, a rocker introduced her to the books of the Christian apologist and journalist G.K. Chesterton. It took time for Eden's grasp of the New Testament to trump her knowledge of the Kama Sutra, but one thing led to another and she eventually became a modest, chaste, but hip Roman Catholic.

Changing her lifestyle was hard, she writes in her book, because she "had dutifully followed the Cosmo rule, which is also the Sex and the City rule and really the Universal Single-Person Rule in our secular age: 'Sex should push the relationship.' This rule can also be expressed as, 'We'll talk about it in bed.' "

The logic of this doctrine convinces many women that men can be forced into lasting commitments "through the persuasive force of your physical affection. It forces you to follow a set of Darwinian social rules -- dressing and acting a certain way to outperform other women competing for mates." In the end, said Eden, she realized that her strutting self-confidence wasn't real and that "you can't transform a pair of $14.99 Fayva slingbacks into a pair of $600 Manolo stilettos with a mere coat of paint."

If church leaders truly want to reach out to women and men who are looking for an alternative to that lifestyle, said Eden, they must realize that the last thing single adults need is a singles ministry that turns "your church basement into a sort of 'Animal House' with crosses."

What congregations should do is rally single adults around worship, prayer, books, the arts and service to others, she said. Then friendships and relationships can develop out of activities that strengthen the faith of those that choose to participate.

"You really don't have to dumb things down for us," said Eden. "There are plenty of ways for single adults to get less church if that is what they really want. Why not talk to some of your young adults and ask them what they really want. They may want more church -- more faith -- not less."