The Church is a Whore, and I Am Her Gay Son

“The church is a whore,” wrote Augustine, “But she is my mother.” Too often, I have heard this quote used to say, “yeah, the Church is messed up, but family’s family. I can’t leave, even if I wanted to.”

I’ve often wondered if the people who so willingly fling this quote around have any notion of what It’s like to have an abusive mother.

I was raised in a Presbyterian ministry family – the son of two conservative pastors, and I have siblings and cousins who have also become clergy. Every part of my life, growing up, was connected in some way to Church and to faith. After high school I became a missionary for two years with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) and lived in full time ministry.

I had an intimate connection with the religious world, and many of its flavours: Anglican priests from Uganda, black gospel churches from the deep south, Appalachian Charismatic congregations with smoothe-talking preachers in three piece suits, and dirty, street-front churches where the homeless gathered to worship God.

I passed through it all as comfortably as if it was my own home. It wasn’t until I was in college, though, that I found a Church that took my breath away, that made me want to run down to the altar and be comfirmed as soon as possible, and that was the Catholic Church.

My encounter with Catholicism was a passionate love affair. For the first time in my life as a Christian, I felt like I had hit a golden vein of something authentic, and rich, and deep – oh, so very deep. I discovered Catholic art, and Catholic mysticism, and Catholic poetry, and Catholic prayers, and Catholic architecture. I encountered that 1,500 year period of history which, as a Protestant, I had never truly been taught.

Catholicism expanded my faith, my history, my heritage, my understanding of God. I found a tiny parish in my mountain town, ruled over by a large, gruff, loud priest who was a former drug addict and professional boxer. He preached about divine love, about a universal God, and about the mysticism of the Cross that penetrates into our everyday lives.

It was at this same time that I was coming to a very difficult and challenging realization: that my sexual orientation, which I had worked so hard for so long to ignore or change, would not be changed or ignored.

The more I struggled with my sexuality and the deeper into Catholicism I went, the more a terrible dissonance started to creep into my life: that somehow my experience, my life, my very mode of being was invalidated, was outside reality as it should be. No one said anything particularly harsh to me, and yet I felt it, like a suffocating smog.

I held to the Church’s teachings about marriage and sexuality, believing that I was called to a celibate life, and yet I felt deeply wounded by the life I had comitted myself to live. I raged against the Church’s ban on contraception, totally baffled as to why: I wasn’t a woman, and as a celibate gay man I would hardly ever touch the issue.

It wasn’t until a year or two later that I would realize that the Church’s teachings on contraception felt inherently dehumanizing to me as a gay person, because I could never procreate, my love could never bear an embryo and give it life. It mortally wounded me, and I didn’t even know why.

One by one, more and more wounds appeared. Doctrines that kept me up at night, more horrifying to me than anything Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft could ever conjure up. The child sex abuse scandal, and how the Church consistently blamed, protected, and lied.

The treatment of women, and – somehow making it worse – the defense of such treatment by proclaiming that the Church is pro-woman because they have Mary; as if honoring a woman only in an ethereal, spiritual way is any excuse for the diminishing of women in the institutional here and now. The treatment of gay people, the horrible coldness of the celibacy mandate, and the strident darkness of “trads”.

It was a week before my confirmation on Good Friday that, finally, I backed away. I couldn’t take it anymore. And the message I received – perhaps from myself, or perhaps from others – is that I was capitulating to sin, that I was a weak willed being, unable to take on the stern ordinances of my mother, the Church. That the sweet aroma of Christ was a stench to me. That I was inherently wrong and invalidated.

I hate the Church. I hate the Catholic Church, and I have come to hate so much of the wider, universal church of all believers. But I hate her because I love her. I hate her because she is a whore, and I am her gay child.

So often, anger towards Church is pushed down, silenced. “The Church is Whore, but she is my Mother.” She is a crack-whore who has abused children, who has fucked countless men and pimps for advancement and power, who is in bed with politics and big money, who hides and blames and lies as all the best addicts do.

She is a genius, that one. She makes pleas and manipulates and – as is the trick of so many addicts – makes it your fault.

Of course I’m angry, and I refuse to apologize for my anger – I refuse to hide it under a bushel. Because I believe my anger is holy, right, and the proper response to abuse.

And yet, dearly do I love her. Oh, how deeply I love her: the Catholic Church and the Church of all believers in the world. She is the circulatory system of my spiritual body, the lungs that have given me spiritual breath, the eyes that enable me to see Christ. I shall always love her – as I love myself – because I, too, am part her. And, against all odds, I’m not giving up on her, because I am her, and she is me, and we are Christ’s.

On the day I walked away from my confirmation, I walked away from the one Home I knew, and I’ve never found a home sense. I’ve meandered through churches and denominations in the four years since, many of them wonderful, but none of them with the enveloping warmth I knew in the Catholic church.

I’ve resigned myself, now, to the possibility that “home” is something I will never find in church in this life, but only in Christ. The closest that I come to home, now, is when I am wrapped up in silence – alone or with others – in the nakedness of absolute stillness and prayer. Then, and only then, do I begin to feel the warmth and peace that I once felt in the arms of Mother Church.

Anger need not be always be a weapon. I trust – and hope – that it can be a fiery cauterization, a white-hot tool of healing. When not used to attack and when not pushed down, perhaps – just perhaps – it can be used to transform and redeem.

21 Comments

  1. WOW….just WOW! As a recovering Catholic, who is SO in love with, and in Discernment for ordination in, the Episcopal church… this just blew me away. I will pray that you find where you need to be… it sounds like your soul yearns for a physical as well as spiritual “church”. I love that you are so self aware. I urge you to keep searching, and never settle!

    1. Dee, thanks so much for dropping by, and for your encouraging words. I’m still wandering, but I do hope to find a “home.”

  2. Greetings,

    This is an exceptionally well written piece. You have excellent writing skills.

    You also courageously let flow through you strong emotion. I admire that.

    All good wishes,

    robert

  3. Christ is perfect, the church is imperfect. I am not gay, but support LGBTQ in an evangelistic church that believes all LGBTQ are sinning. God called me to be a Pastor almost three years ago, and has blessed me with direction to be the light of love in my church which oftentimes seems a pretty dark place. All I can say is, God is on the move.

    1. Welcome! Thank you for your thoughts, and for dropping by the blog. Hope you enjoy what you read here.

  4. This “whoring parent” maxim, attributed to Augustine, always makes me bristle. To find it here – in a mix with your already raw emotions, your excruciating spiritual pain – turns it into a sharp blow to my heart.

    The living church doesn’t exist in static maxims. But, the brand of faith enshrined in this maxim is no museum piece. It’s alive and well, and it infects the living church.

    Look to our nation’s current political landscape for a horrible proof: At a rally, white men menacingly surround a 17-year-old Black child. They shove her around like a rag doll. They taunt her with disgusting slurs. The rest of the crowd does not stop the hateful spectacle. They approve of this cowardly assault on human dignity. They loudly cheer it on.

    A good number of these bullies and their fans self-identify as “evangelicals”. Along with many others around the country, they have a Bible-flashing ringleader. They’ve already crowned him their messiah-in-chief.

    They don’t rally around this messiah because he affirms any goodness in them. He has not won their devotion with rousing calls to experience the satisfaction of making life better for others. To the contrary, he earns his messiah-crown as homage for all his fantastic pledges to take care of their every material need. That crown is their payment forward for all the rewards he promises to lavish on them.

    Stephen, each time I go back to the narration of your search for a spiritual home, the image of that child – shoved around and pushed away – floods my mind and my heart.

    Where was “church” at that rally? It wasn’t somewhere else, far off from that ugly scene. Those bullies weren’t some church’s misbehaving children. Anyone watching and listening saw and heard the Gospel set on its head by those who claim to believe the Gospel. Those claiming to follow Jesus were turning the way of Jesus inside out. They were not acting apart from “church”, or only somewhat related to it. They are not associates with “church”… they present themselves as “church” members.

    Just before his passion, Jesus went to a hilltop. He looked out over the city and its people. And there he wept. He lamented their refusal to be gathered by him “like a hen gathers her chicks up under her wings”. And he recalled how those who professed love for God had once stoned prophets to death.

    Some of those martyred prophets had incited the fury of God’s people. Worse even than depicting them as whores…. those prophets had branded them as adulterers. It was to say that what God was offering them was not enough for them. They went off, left the household which God had provided them and scattered in search of something better.

    They would not be brought together. They chose rather to divide and break away. In one narrative, as Jesus weeps, he bemoans the turmoil of so much division and cries out: “This is taking place because you did not know the time of your visitation”. Soon after that, at the summit of Christ’s passion, the fruits of that visitation (Incarnation) would be made manifest. The Temple curtain, which had divided the people from God, would be torn in two: the revelation of how “heaven unites with earth” in Christ.

    Those who break away, the adulterers, undertake a desperate search for what has already been handed to them. They push and shove and climb over one another to grab what is already theirs. In their blind campaign to beat others to salvation, the “time of their visitation” happens beneath, over and all around them, unseen by them and unknown to them.

    This is the age-old tragedy of the fiction that contorts the divine madness of God’s prodigal love into a deserved prize, a hard won reward. Those deluded by this fiction often embrace a further deceit that logically flows from it. They imagine themselves appointed to check the credentials of others, to determine where the prize is deserved and where it has yet to be earned.

    Dear friend and brother Stephen, I share all this to come to a point to urge you never to conceive of yourself as an exile from the household of Jesus. You are not relegated to go from pillar to post, knocking on doors, desperately hoping that some generous person within will grant you entry. You are not destined to search for an unguarded breach where, like a stowaway, you can avoid scrutiny and sneak unnoticed into the household of Christ.

    Do not resign to being banished to a mirage, to the concoction of a “christ” that is the hallucination of those who “do not know the time of our visitation”. Our Christ is God with us, not apart from us… Our Christ is God who chooses us before we make choices, who loves us before we make a move to love, who bonds with us, wildly faithful and relentlessly in love with us even as we are still imperfect and unfinished.

    The household of Jesus is your home right now. You knock to enter at the invitation and by the authority of Christ. Those who live within know well that the place is their home by the same grace as it is your home. They don’t take you in only for you to listen, and learn and to be cared for.

    You are there also to be heard and to teach. You are there as one who needs, but also as one who is needed. In line with the approaching liturgy of Holy Thursday – you are not “allowed in” only to be served, only to have your feet washed… but you are affirmed in your own abilities to serve, gratefully received as one who has many ways to be one more foot-washer among us and for us.

    When the Cardinals gathered with Pope Francis in Synod, he exhorted them to say everything that was in their heart “with parrhesia”. It is a word with roots back to the persistent barking of watch dogs that doesn’t cease until it is acknowledged. “It is necessary,” the Holy Father urged them, ” to say everything that in the Lord one feels should be said, with human respect, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and receive with an open heart what the others are saying. Synodality will be exercisede with these two attitudes.”

    I want so much to be here for you, Stephen. And I must also tell you frankly and humbly how much I need you. I want to extend a gentle hand to soothe your pain. I want to open my heart to help hold your anger. And I must let you know openly how you teach me to live wounded and how you inspire me to love through my own angers.

  5. i’m trying to piece together a sentence about how this made me feel and i can’t get what my heart feels into words, so:

    beautiful. tragically spot-on. you killed me here:

    “So often, anger towards Church is pushed down, silenced. “The Church is Whore, but she is my Mother.” She is a crack-whore who has abused children, who has fucked countless men and pimps for advancement and power, who is in bed with politics and big money, who hides and blames and lies as all the best addicts do.

    She is a genius, that one. She makes pleas and manipulates and – as is the trick of so many addicts – makes it your fault.

    Of course I’m angry, and I refuse to apologize for my anger – I refuse to hide it under a bushel. Because I believe my anger is holy, right, and the proper response to abuse.”

    i was raised half catholic and half cruz/huckabee/benny hinn/franklin graham-type evangelical, extremely fundamentalist, pentecostal, repressed, sheltered. paranoid, at times unhinged, charismatic evangelical.

    so yah. what you said.

    just…thankyou.

    #CryingWhileTyping

    1. Thank you so much for connecting… your sharing is very moving to me. I have little to add, other than that I understand, that we are walking a shared journey. Be blessed, my friend <3<3<3 Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart with us.

  6. God this is absolutely beautiful, and at the same time deeply painful. Thanks yet again for voicing the inner turmoil that I live.

    “that somehow my experience, my life, my very mode of being was invalidated, was outside reality as it should be. No one said anything particularly harsh to me, and yet I felt it, like a suffocating smog. I held to the Church’s teachings about marriage and sexuality, believing that I was called to a celibate life, and yet I felt deeply wounded by the life I had comitted myself to live.”

    1. Hello Stephen Lovatt. Your book looks good, and I agree with you that the ordinary magisterium is mistaken regarding sexual ethics. But do you deal with the very real problem of living in a community where most of the leaders are toxic toward your very being? I suppose one may simply ignore them, but doesn’t that become crazy-making after a while? Even this pope (wonderful in most ways) has called same-sex marriage a trick of satan, and I really don’t care to live within a communion where my identity and any potential relationship are likely to be demonized. At least in my Lutheran Church body, most bishops are gay-friendly and most congregations are welcoming. Apart from a few Jesuit parishes, one might be hard pressed to find such actual affirmation in the Roman Church. I am not the writer of the article, but I have no wish to live in an environment where I have to defend myself with constant intellectual gymnastics. How does one emotionally survive as a gay Roman Catholic?

      1. One gets used to the sociologiocal tension. It is easier for me than most as I was acclimatised to living on the outskirts of a community that condemned me before I self-identified as gay. This is because I am an an enthusiasic adherent of the pre-Vatican-II liturgy and for fifty years this was condemned as almost wicked and those, like me, who valued it were condemned as “Protestants” and “Rebells” for not simply obeying the Vatican and conforming to the norm; but rather criticising the Vatican – and popes P-VI and JP-II – for adopting policies that were destroying the Church.

        Hence, I was used to the idea that “The Vatican is seriously mistaken about a very important issue” long before this became personal. The first issue was not about ME as a human being, but about the Church’s worship (and catechesis) which is an important matter, both academic abd pastoral; but not about my nature as a sapient and conscious creature of God. Although the Vatican condemned people like me (until B-XVI more or less said that we had been correct all along) it was only our beliefs and judgements that were condemned, not the very constitution of our souls. Nevertheless, to be an adherent of the Church’s Traditional Liturgy was very normally portrayed as one of the most terrible offenses against the Church.

        I do not have to defend myself with intellectual gymnastics. The case in favour of being a ga Catholic is quite clear and simple. It is homophobic Catholics who have to engage in intellctual gymnastics. If you don’t believe me, read my book where some of the “intellectual gymnastics” of valious leading conservative theologians are highlighted and critiqued.

        Also, I long ago came to the conclusion that there was no reason to listen to priests and bishops going on about sex and gender issues (which are not a large focus of the Gospel and do not feature at all in the Creeds of the Church) when they typically can’t preach an orthodox sermon on either the Trinity or the Incarnation.

        The only real problem with being a gay Catholic is that one is not allowed to play any formal leadership role within the Catholic community. I was involved as a key founding member of a Byzantine Catholic (UGCC) parish in Cardiff (Wales) and on the way to being ordained deacon, but was stripped of all offices (including “choir master”) when the RC Archbishop (who had no jurisdiction over me!) found out that I was gay and publically opposed the official teaching of the Vatican regarding homosexuality.

        This means, ironically, that I put most of my energies into working for justice for Catholic homosexuals, I guess this is an example of “unintended consequences” on the part of the RC Archbishop and also of God’s provdence.

        1. ‘The only real problem with being a gay Catholic is that one is not allowed to play any formal leadership role within the Catholic community. ‘ – This is quite a big problem. Not so much from the point of view of leadership = power, but from the point of view of vocation, as you discovered when you were denied ordination to the diaconate. And pursuit of a vocation, often begun before one is fully aware of one’s sexual orientation, then leads to one being caught up in the power structures of the Church which are oppressive and homophobic. And full of gay men.

          1. I agree. All I would add is that a perception that one’s vocation is being frustrated is not a reason to leave the Church; but only to seek another way to do God’s will.

    2. Stephen, thank you so much for responding. I will certainly be sure to look into your book and website.

      I am glad we can all share in this journey, painful though it may be.

  7. I understand totally what you are saying, if I may presume to say that without arrogance. One of the most tragic things is that we gay men are so often just looking for acceptance, so desperate for it, that we seek it in the very places, like the Catholic Church, where we can never get it. Sure we are accepted as long as we play the game: but it is not real acceptance. It is not unconditional acceptance (no matter how much they say it is), and that is the only acceptance which counts, quite frankly.

    1. You are painfully right on this. We look for home in places where we will never fully be at home. It is often because of conviction or family that we go to those places, which makes it all the more heart rending when we cannot fit.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting.

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