Why the Defeat of DOMA Gives Me Queer American Pride

flagsWhen I think about the progress of marriage equality in the U.S. this year, I cannot help but feel proud, and grateful, to be an America.

My girlfriend is not a U.S. citizen. She’s Brazilian and attends college here on a student visa which expires when she graduates. Before DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down a year ago, I’m not sure we would have been able to stay together in the States and get married.

Now that our rights are the same as opposite-sex couples, the federal government will recognize and honor our union and allow my girlfriend to stay in the country with a marriage visa.

That being said, our marriage still won’t be easy. The struggle towards full equality continues, but today I want to focus on what we’ve gained.

As my girlfriend once said, “I am really thankful for what I have, not for what I don’t have.”

I wrote a poem and wanted to share it with you today. Please share it with anyone who feels overwhelmed by the darkness of this world. Sometimes we get distracted by the negativity around us and we don’t see the good. But God brings light to the darkest places. Continue reading

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Are “Homosexual Acts” Sinful?

In humble prayer, I approach this blog post despite my own fears. But in trust and obedience to God, my love, here it goes.

Homosexual sex can be a sin, but so can heterosexual sex. Neither is inherently sinful. Sin does not come from our actions but in our intentions behind our actions. Allow me to explain through experience:

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Much to my surprise, I fell in love my best friend, a fellow woman. When I told her with wet red eyes, she responded with true friendship. “Rach, I thought you were going to tell me someone had died or something! You don’t have to be worry about me. This doesn’t change how I feel about you, honest to God. You have taught me so much about friendship this year. I’m not going anywhere.”

Although she said she could not reciprocate love for me in the form of physical intimacy, I did not love her any less. What wondrous new love this was for me—something truly unconditional. I thought, “This is the healthiest love I’ve ever felt.” But before the thought had a chance to settle, I grabbed it and tried to smother it. I lay awake for hours that night, disgusted that I could call these feelings healthy. I was confused at my disgust because I always supported the LGBT community. If it wasn’t wrong for them, why did I think it was wrong for me?

The next morning, I remember stepping in the shower and thinking, “God, it would be so much easier if I were just dead and did not have to deal with these feelings.” God scolded me with hot water and slapped it in my face. He washed me, purified me, and quenched my thirst. When I turned off the shower, the noise of my mind was silenced and all was quiet. I stepped out of the tub and vowed never to turn back to that place.

I allowed myself explore why I thought this love was healthy. I processed it they best way I knew how—writing. I wrote this:

“In the past, my physical attractions to men have been greedy and lustful. It was not about love. Now, I see it less as something that I want to receive and more of something I want to give… I want to show her that I trust her with all of myself, the good and the bad, the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future.”

I could not define that kind of love as sin. The devil does not have dominion over love. The devil was tempting me with suicide, not sexual attraction.

About a month after I told my best friend I had feelings for her, God sent me to a Bible Camp for a week of scripture reading with other college students. It certainly was not my idea. I thought I was far too fragile to be trapped in a room with Evangelical Christians reading the Bible that I they used to condemn me. But I trusted God to take care of me.

We read through the first half of the Gospel of Mark. Homosexuality was never specifically mentioned in the scripture. Instead of condemnation, I found a lot of affirmation. As Christ said,

“Whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer… It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7: 15-20).

Jesus went on to list things that defile including fornication and adultery. I sat by a creek to process this passage. What was God saying about sex? As I watched the water, noticed its clarity. As I listened to it dance, I realized that God was saying that what makes sexual acts sinful is the evil intentions behind them. The acts are actually made clean by God and beautiful as this water, but we make them murky by bringing our dirty intentions to it.

Although I never physically acted on my attraction to my friend, I could not say that act would have been inherently sinful. It could be sinful if I touched her without her consent or tried to pressure her into becoming physical. Even if she did consent it could become sinful if we used each other for selfish gain. But just as God blesses a married husband and wife when they honor each other through sex, he blesses a committed same-sex relationship when they honor each other through sex.   

Sex can be sinful if it comes from a place of lust. Love that is unconditional, selfless and pure is not sinful. May Christians recognize that same-sex relationships are not any different than opposite-sex relationships; they both face the same temptation for evil and potential for good.

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For more posts like this, please read my blog “Christian Bidentity” about my experience as a bisexual Catholic woman.

NFP and the Elephant (or the babies) in the Room

Disclaimer: Since people are bound to make assumptions about my sex life based on anything I write below, I find it necessary to state upfront that I am in no way opposed to Natural Family Planning — my husband and I incorporate it into our own marriage. What I AM opposed to is other people thinking they have the right to make sexual choices for all people, and for all couples, especially when the reality of this particular choice is very often glossed over or misrepresented.

When I was in college, I told my mom that when I got married, I wanted to practice Natural Family Planning. My mom said, “Good luck with that — that’s how we got Jessica.” Although my parents deeply love and would never express regret over any of their children (some of whom were more “planned” than others), my mom’s message to me was clear: If you plan to practice NFP, plan to have a baby.

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What’s the body got to do with God?

stteresa-ecstasyof-gianlorenzobernini-500I was talking about the body last week at a Halloween party.  A friend had asked me, “If God is transcendent, how are our bodies important for connecting to God? Can’t we just use our reason? Maybe even emotion?  What’s the body got do with it?”  I was surprised by my reaction.  My gut instinct was to aggressively defend the sacred nature of the body–I’m a feminist! Feminists care about bodies! I must salvage the body! Instead of simply pouncing on this genuine friend with my feminist enthusiasm, I began to explore the origin of his question. “Haven’t you experienced God through physical ritual and practice? Through spiritual disciplines of fasting or feasting? Maybe through sexual desire even?”

“No. Not really.”

Hmmph. For some reason, instead of charging back with those pent up imperatives, I began to think about how I came to take for granted the seemingly obvious role of the body in my spirituality. Was this rooted in my Catholicity–in my belonging to a faith characterized by the standing,  kneeling, eating, drinking, singing, and moving around of the Sunday liturgy? Or was it simply a personal reaction to all the body-bashing I find in Catholic sexual ethics?  Was it an outgrowth of the Church’s social teachings about the goodness of creation and our affirmation of embodied life?

I brought these questions with me as the school week started.  On Tuesday nights, I gather with a few other first year students at the Harvard Div School to discuss primary texts written by Christian mystics. While a number of tangental topics arose, as usual–prayer, scripture, liturgy–the mystics kept bringing me back to these questions of the body. Continue reading

“Sexual Ethics: Even on Catholic campuses, hookup sex prevails”

See article online at http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/1072

This article by Kris Berggren from National Catholic Reporter -May 30, 2008-caught my attention not because it is offering information that I didn’t already know anecdotally, but because there is now solid research that demonstrates what I have been arguing in theology classes and papers for six years.

Donna Freitas, a Catholic theologian and assistant professor of religion at Boston University, has written a new book: Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses based on a nationwide study of students at secular and Christian institutions. What she found was “except for some evangelical colleges where a cult of purity exists, there is little difference between public, private and Catholic colleges and universities in the ‘hookup culture’” that is…“where students seek sexual experiences with a variety of partners outside of relationships.” Still, guilt and regret prevail with 41% of students being “profoundly upset by their own behavior,” but no one seems to be addressing these dual issues from an informed and realistic stance. The fact that casual sex is as prevalent on Catholic campuses as it is on public and other private institutions points to a larger cultural trend: The Church’s influence is waning and the hierarchy refuses to do anything about it other than preach outdated messages that few agree with or find meaningful for their own lives.

Over the past century in the U.S., we have watched religion lose its hold on the way most people act (at least in their personal lives), and we now live in a society where popular culture directs people’s actions far more than their religion’s ethical and moral codes. I am preparing to graduate from my second Catholic university, and at both schools have watched administrators and theologians stick their heads in the sand and believe that sexuality related issues (casual sex, rape, sexual assault, abortion, STD’s, etc…) are not present on their campuses. The mentality seems to be either “if we ignore it or chose to be ignorant about it, then it doesn’t happen,” or “We’re not talking about sex (except in regards to NFP), we’re Catholic!”

At many Catholic schools, sex education is completely non-existent and as a result, many planned parenthoods and other agencies offering free or low cost STD and pregnancy assistance are flooded with Catholic college and university students. They can’t go to the campus medical/health centers because there are no contraceptives to be found, or the students are fearful of being judged. These issues that could be addressed in a pastoral and loving manner, in the spirit of Christ, instead find alternative (though not the best) remedies elsewhere. This turn to the secular just exacerbates the divorce of religion and personal morality, thus making the Church more out of touch with people’s lives than it already is. Where will it end? When church buildings are nothing more than museums and theater houses like they are in Europe? We must address these issues realistically and pastorally.

I’ve been designing a parish model for elementary and middle school comprehensive sexual education that would include parents teaching their kids (let’s break the taboo), to be followed up with sex and rape education in high school and at the beginning of the college. Does anyone know of a bishop who would let me pilot it in their diocese? Doubtful…

Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.