July 27, 2012
One of the standard jokes is that if your mother is Jewish or Catholic, you are destined to a life of her making you feel guilty for everything. Well, my mother was neither Catholic nor Jewish and did not make her children feel guilty. She taught us right from wrong and when we did make the wrong choice, shaming us or making us feel guilty was never part of the final equation of learning a lesson. Only later in life did I truly appreciate her effective, gentile and sublime way of raising us.
Almost every prayer that is recited by Orthodox Christians includes some acknowledgement of our sins as well as asking for mercy and forgiveness from the Lord. For example, one of the most beautiful and simple prayers loved and practiced by Eastern Christians is the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Within this short, meditative prayer, which most likely dates back to the 5th century as practiced by the Egyptian desert fathers, a Christian reiterates one of the most basic teachings of the faith: we are sinful and must call upon Jesus, the Lord, for forgiveness. Aside from asking for forgiveness for the sins we know we have committed, sincere Christians also ask for forgiveness for sins that they have “committed unknowingly”. But what about asking for forgiveness for something that we have no control over? Why ask for forgiveness if we are not guilty of a sin? Why ask for forgiveness for something we did not do? Would one ask forgiveness for being left-handed or for going bald? Certainly not.
Is being gay a sin? Should I feel guilty for being gay? Should I be ashamed of being gay? For many years I struggled with these questions on a daily basis. The Church and society told me that being gay was a sin. The issue was especially front and center in the mystery of holy confession. Should I confess to being gay? Acknowledging my sharp and wicked words, my lustful thoughts and lack of charity were easy to acknowledge as sinful. But what about being gay? Over the decades, through much prayer, I came to acknowledge the fact that God created me as a gay man. I believe that God led me to this realization. And so, if God created me as a gay man, why see being gay as a sin? Why believe that being gay is something that needs forgiveness from God? Furthermore, to ask for forgiveness for being gay is indeed a very disobedient and prideful act. The idea questions the very act of God’s creation.
In Psalm 34:5 we find the following reassuring words: “Look towards Him and shine with joy; no longer hang your heads in shame.” Guilt is defined as committing an offense or crime and feeling responsible and remorseful for the act. Shame is defined as the painful feeling coming from the consequences of doing something dishonorable; it is something disgraceful. Christians should feel shame for either knowingly or unknowingly doing, saying or thinking something that is offensive to God, other people or ourselves. We are pained by our ignoble actions which might cause us to lose the grace (being disgraceful) and mercy of Christ. But for things over which we have no control, being bald, left-handed or gay, we should feel no remorse, no guilt, no shame. Instead we thank God for His creation: “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)
My mother never made me feel guilty for being gay and never shamed me because of who I am. Although it took a little bit of time for her to accept my homosexuality, she never wavered in her love for me. I pray for those who struggle with the question of why God made them gay. I empathize with those who struggle with the question of whether being gay is a sin. I have compassion for those who might feel shame for being gay. But I also hope that you will journey towards believing, knowing and experiencing that God loves you and “wonderfully” made you as a gay person.