Jesus Loves Gay Men and Women: An Interview With Joseph Sciambra
The Stream: Could you please remind our readers of your own story of finding God? Of what His grace rescued you from.
I grew up as a Catholic. But my education in the faith during the 1970s and 80s proved to be marginal at best. I knew a lot about social justice issues, but nothing concerning personal morality. For the most part, I thought those issues should be determined by our personal conscience. Therefore, it wasn’t difficult to walk away as a teenager. At the same time, I was also very anxious about my own identity. Since I was a boy, I often felt estranged and isolated from men and my male peers. I longed for their approval and friendship. But I remained an outsider. Therefore, when I went away to college, I almost immediately found a sense of belonging in the “gay” male community. It was the height of the AIDS crisis. But I willingly took the risk in order to end my loneliness.
I spent years trying to escape the pervasive sense of sadness through a series of sexual relationships. Then I realized that I was still essentially the same lonely little boy. In the midst of my disappointment, I wanted the suffering to end. I wanted to die.
But Our Lord Jesus Christ offered me one last chance. The possibility of healing. I was so desperate that I took it. Since then there have been many difficulties that I encountered along the way to recovery. But I always take solace in the love of Jesus Christ, who took pity upon me. I am eternally grateful, for I knew many who died so young. At least I have these years in which I can share my small story about God’s mercy and compassion for us all.
Building Bridges to Nowhere
The Stream: As someone who has experienced a conversion, how do you feel when you read about the “outreach” efforts of people like Fr. James Martin? Of evangelical churches that claim to “welcome” gay people? All without asking them to refrain from sin.
These outreaches and ministries are offering a false sort of compassion. In their desire to appear merciful and tolerant, they have abdicated the truth. Many of these ministries are often administered by partnered or “married” homosexuals. They don’t even bother giving the appearance of fidelity to Catholic teaching. An example would be the ministry of “Out at St. Paul” located at St. Paul the Apostle Church in the Archdiocese of New York. For example, in 2015, “Out at St. Paul” launched a video series titled “Owning Our Faith,” in which several LGBT parishioners shared their thoughts. One “gay” man said:
I think what’s interesting is that the Catholic Church probably thinks that it is accepting of gay people, because its message is ‘gay people exist and we should love them and not discriminate against them.’ But because the Church also tells gay people essentially that they need to be celibate, what the Church is saying is ‘you cannot live fully. You can be gay but you can’t live that life.’ And so that inherently is discriminatory.
A “married” same-sex couple believes:
If we leave it, if we abandon the Church then it’s never going to change. So we have to continue living here, being an example and encouraging other people to be that example because that’s what’s going to change the Church.
These statements are the hallmark of almost all such LGBT ministries. They claim that Church teachings are discriminatory and need to be changed. The means by which this change will take place? Through the patient but forceful resistance of gay men and women and same-sex couples who stay in the Church in order to pressure the hierarchy.
These groups reprimand the Church for its supposed intolerance towards homosexuals. But they strictly limit access. They will only invite speakers who confirm their viewpoint. In those parishes where LGBT ministries exist, Courage chapters are never allowed. [Courage International is a ministry that supports its members in living chastely, – Ed.] When I lived in the Castro District of San Francisco, the gay neighborhood, I had to travel across town to attend Courage meetings. The parish within walking distance explicitly forbade the establishment of a Courage chapter.
In those ministries perhaps there is a slight embarrassed recognition of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. But there is also an overwhelming belief in the theory of “gradualism.” In other words, these ministries first welcome everyone into full communion with the Church. Then somehow spontaneously — conversion will follow. But the reality has not played out that way. In my experience, those “gay” men and women who are in a relationship with someone of the same-sex never hear a challenge. These ministries fear that they will offend them. Hence, everyone remains comfortable in his present situation. No one moves towards a radical or even a subtle change in his life.
Ministries That Help and Ministries That Harm
The Stream: What kind of outreach/ministry did you find most helpful personally?
Right now, the best ministry in the Catholic church for those with same-sex attraction is Courage. I first became acquainted with Courage soon after I left the homosexual lifestyle in 1999. Before that I’d encountered a series of enabling priests. They wanted to comfort me with the thought that “God made me this way.” They thought the best scenario for my life would include a monogamous same-sex relationship. At the time, I was extremely physically ill, and not interested.
Courage was a revelation. I finally met other men who shared similar experiences of devastation as “gay” men. While an out and proud “gay” man, I often commiserated with my other LGBT friends about the difficulties I experienced. But none of us ever looked beyond the present. And, although our childhoods were often remarkably similar, we didn’t think about that — we just claimed that we’d born gay. At Courage, not all the time, but on occasion, conversations would include some incident from someone’s past: a memory of an unloving father, a boy who mercilessly teased, or an experience of molestation. Then, I began to think about myself and being homosexual in a completely different way. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to be this way. Maybe I spent years looking to heal myself or to escape the suffering I couldn’t endure or even think about.
The Stream: You had met people involved with a very different ministry, Dignity, before that, hadn’t you? Can you compare the spirit you encountered there, and contrast it with what you saw in Courage?
For the most part, those men and women who become influenced by these ministries are of good heart. They instinctively sense a pervasive lack of the transcendent in the often materially obsessed “gay” culture. They want earnestly to connect in some manner to a reality that is greater than themselves. Unfortunately, the leadership in these ministries usually understand the Church’s teachings, but willfully reject them. Making matters worse, they then try to convince others that the Church is wrong and will eventually change. In contrast to Courage, these groups regard the option of chastity as homophobic and discriminatory.
As a result, the focus of these groups often takes the form of political action and maneuvering in order to facilitate an eventual change in Church teaching. But Courage rather humbly and modestly accepts the same teachings as the inspired truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This creates a very different “spirit.” From my experience, there is an overwhelming sense of anger and entitlement within Catholic LGBT ministries — a grudge that the Church has a history of rejection towards homosexuals and owes them an apology. In Courage, there exists an almost Marian submissiveness to the will of God.
The Stream: Do you think that the “welcoming” approach proves more respectful of the dignity of fellow sinners with a particular temptation, compared to that of Courage? Or less? And why?
In no way can anyone claim to uphold the dignity of an individual if he is also helping that person to remain in a sinful life or even the occasion of sin. While we cannot act as anyone’s keeper, to openly promote a message contrary to Church teaching while insisting that it’s actually the true message of Christ, is both deceptive and disrespectful. It does not accord the LGBT community the choice to make their own decision based on the actual facts. Like the “Prodigal Son,” they have the right to accept church teaching or reject it. But they should base that decision on the truth not on pure emotionalism, self-deception, or willful misrepresentation.
The Stream: Can you please talk about the outreach that you yourself are doing now? You posted some photos on Facebook of your interactions with people in the drag lifestyle. Can you talk about that?
At least three times a year, I outreach to the LGBT community in San Francisco. I take t-shirts and signs that feature the URLs for my website: jesuslovesgaymen.com and jesuslovesgaywomen.com. And I attend the various “Pride” events and street festivals. I hope to somehow begin a conversation with any individuals who see the signs and want to talk with me. While the message sounds gay-affirmative, the content on the site offers a completely different perspective than what someone would hear from a typical LGBT ministry. Sometimes, after these events are over and everyone goes home, I get emails from those I met. Some did indeed take a look at my sites. They often write back that they disagree with my point of view, but they appreciate my willingness to reach out to them.
What I most enjoy about these outreaches is just talking with the members of the LGBT community who attend. Despite their often outlandish appearance, these children of God were once someone’s little boy or girl. When I see them, I often see myself — and I can feel their pain buried under a costume or under layers of makeup. Sometimes though, their anguish is literally on the surface — in their desperate willingness to expose their flesh. This is most often the case during the Folsom Street events which primarily cater to the BDSM community. Here, men and women submit to public ritualized beatings and mortifications that strangely resemble the martyrdom of the Saints. But there is no redemption here in their suffering. It is pointless.
Yet, I believe no matter how hopeless anyone’s life appears at the present moment — that same life still has immense worth. I was once one of them. I cannot show them any less compassion or mercy than Christ has shown me.
How to Minister to Friends and Family
The Stream: What would you advise Christians who struggle with this because they have friends with same-sex attraction? How should they reach out? What’s the proper balance? Is it comparable to having a friend with untreated alcoholism, or is that a bad metaphor? Can you suggest a better one?
The LGBT identity is like no other. You can’t compare it to alcoholism or porn addiction because those issues are not an identity. Theoretically, someone could have a conversation about alcohol or porn addiction with someone who had that problem. The person affected could conceivably separate himself from the critique of alcohol or porn and not take it personally. It’s almost impossible with homosexuality. The person’s identity is wrapped up in the action. In other words, if you are critical of homosexual activity, I’d feel that you are in some way denigrating or marginalizing my very being — who I am as a person. This makes conversations difficult. Therefore, a person who wants to reach out to someone that identifies as LGBT needs to start from a place of concern for that person. That you are only interested in them — in their happiness, health and safety.
With men as opposed to women who are same-sex attracted, the conversation will be somewhat different. “Gay” and bisexual men still have astonishingly high rates of HIV infection. There are also now antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea. So there needs to be a level of urgency that perhaps will not take place when speaking with a “gay” woman. Again, this conversation needs to start with you articulating your concern for someone’s well-being. This will hopefully put him at ease and allay any fears that you simply want to condemn him. You need to listen.
Yet some make the mistake of only listening. But at some point you do need to make the truth known. Before that moment arrives, I recommend that people become informed. There are wonderful books on the subject: The Truth About Homosexuality by Fr. John Harvey; A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi; and Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay by Daniel Mattson. Any of them will help you to understand some of the possible causes of same-sex attraction. And, depending upon your previous knowledge of this person and his family background, you will be able to ask some of the right questions. Especially with a young man, you should ask about his relationship with his father. This could open up an opportunity for profound vulnerability. Or the person could completely shut down.
When you do share your feelings about acting out on homosexual desires, most likely the person will cut off contact with you. He will perceive your beliefs as inherently bigoted and discriminatory. Nevertheless, remain steadfast, for it’s possible that you are the only individual in this person’s life who told him the truth. Regrettably, in order to remain in touch with someone, family members and friends will oftentimes capitulate or remain completely silent. But one day, perhaps the person you loved enough to tell the truth will reach a place of extreme desperation and decide that just maybe there exists something for him beyond sexual identity. And he will reach out to you. For me, that was certainly my parents.
Where to Learn More
The Stream: Please tell us about your book, Swallowed By Satan.
I wrote it in 2012, during the build-up to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Then, I noticed a trend in popular culture to totally remake the image of the “gay” male. Growing up in the 1970s, I always saw homosexuality as a sort of symbol of sexual liberation. This was probably most explicitly realized in The Village People. But after the horrors of AIDS, “gay” man were reimagined as the suffering victim or martyr. Think of the film Philadelphia with Tom Hanks.
Then the debate became dominated by same-sex marriage. It seemed that the majority of gay men and women were more than ready to settle down and conform their lives to a “heteronormative” model. Any discussion concerning sex or sexuality seemed to be missing. Therefore, in my book, I wanted to remind everyone that a vast and hard-to-navigate sexual landscape awaits young gay men. The possibilities are endless and often dehumanizing. For those who frequently remembered a not too distant childhood filled with loneliness, the ability to immediately partake in sexual activity with numerous men in order to gain love and friendship, is immensely attractive. I thought, through my own memories, I could reveal how “gay” male sex doesn’t magically get rid of old wounds. It actually makes them worse.
To learn more about it, please visit www.josephsciambra.com.
The Stream: Anything else you’d like to add here, please do.
In the current climate within the Church, there are various voices which seem to speak in authority and claim to rightly understand the true nature of God’s plan for those with same-sex attraction. Some say you were just born that way and you need to make the best of it. But God didn’t create you with a desire to love that is forever linked with an attraction to the same sex. Yes, our same-sex attraction is something that remained out of our control when were children.
But as adults, we can make the decision to act upon our desires or practice restraint. If we choose the latter, the process will be much easier if we come to understand why we have these desires in the first place. While the journey to discover the cause of our homosexuality is a tough one, and we may never fully know, it’s one we must all take — for our life depends on it if we are ever to find true and lasting peace.