Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One Woman Deals With Sexual Disorders

I read a series of posts called Unwrapping The Onion. It is actually a conversion story of a different sort. A woman starts out Christian but then ends up atheist. I always say I love conversion stories. I actually liked this one too. She goes the wrong way in some respects but she is actually trying to discern important truths about herself and the world. I pray she keeps discerning and arrives at the fullness of truth.

The story starts out great. Her and her husband are conservative evangelical Christians. He is a pastor. They are exploring becoming Catholic. They already believe contraception is immoral. What could go wrong? Well, her husband becomes convinced he is really a woman. She had had some degree of same-sex attraction. So after much research and reflection he gets surgically altered to look like a woman. They present themselves as a same-sex couple.

So where do things go wrong? A lot of the issues come down to the bad theology of the evangelical church she was raised in. Certainly their teaching on homosexuality other gender issues was poor. They condemned same-sex attractions as evil in themselves. They had a lot of strange theories about how such desires came to be but they all had one thing in common. They were evil.

As bad as that was there was a deeper error. That is a bad theology of suffering. She was able to learn the Catholic teaching on homosexuality. That sounded better to her. But she still had the notion that God should heal what is disordered in you and deliver you from suffering. Sometimes God does that but not all the time. Often God wants you to live with a disorder and endure your suffering well. Like St Paul's thorn in the flesh. He wants it removed but God just said, "My grace is sufficient." It seems like the tradition she and her husband were raised in did not believe that.

So at a practical level they were doing the right thing but expecting that over time the disordered desires would go away. When they didn't they wondered whether those desires were disordered at all. That led them to wonder whether God existed. I mean if He really got their sexuality all wrong then how do you make sense of that?

But why should disorders go away? If someone is blind does that mean they should have their sight restored in time? It is a bit like the Why Won't God Heal Amputees website. The idea that good people should not have to endure hard suffering for a long time, at least not for the rest of their life. This is not just bad theology. It contradicts much human experience. The best counter-example to this is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the ultimate good man who suffered terribly. Now theologically you can argue He is a special case but there are many, many examples of good people suffering big time for a long time and for no obvious reason. The answer Catholicism gives is radical. Suffering, when it is done well, can have meaning in its own right. It can be united with the suffering of Christ and become powerfully redemptive.

I think grasping this would have at least given them another option to consider. Maybe God has given these desires to us as a cross we must carry. Part of that cross is that some methods of reducing the suffering are available but are not morally permissible. What makes it harder is you might not fully understand why it is immoral. Some of this might get better over time. Your husband might learn to express his feminine impulses within the church's moral framework. Certainly your understanding of the church's teaching on sex and gender matters can improve and deepen over time. But the hard part is the desires very likely will not go away. There is always the chance of a miracle but it seems far more likely that you will just have to walk with this for the rest of your days.

The good news is that God promises to give you the strength to carry any cross He gives you. You look at some of the really hard crosses people have. I mentioned physical disabilities. There are mental disabilities. There are sexual disorders like pedophilia. Some people are born into countries where there is war or famine. Some Christians are jailed or even tortured and killed for their faith. Then you can have any number of these things happen to your family and friends. Life can get pretty hard. Where does your cross rate? Does it seem like the hardest one to you? Maybe that is why it is yours. Trust God. Suffer well. Be not afraid. Know that He is with you through it all.

I am not saying she would not have chosen atheism (I assume she self-identifies as an atheist now because she is on the Patheos Atheist Channel). I pray that they will eventually choose the hard Catholic road. They have made it more difficult by having surgery but it is never to late to repent. The road they are on is not easy either. Her last post is about more issues with depression. I think they have 4 kids. You pray that they are able to find a place of peace with God and with themselves at the same time. I have no idea how I would have done with the challenges they face. Lord have mercy on them.


  1. This post makes me very sad. I wouldn't say that if you hadn't posted a link to it on Melissa's blog, not only because I wouldn't have read it, but because this is your space and it would feel sort of rude to come over here and argue with your most core and sacred beliefs without at least reading a lot more of what you have written. But you did post the link, and that suggests you're open to a conversation with people who don't come anywhere close to agreeing with you, so: this post makes me very sad.

    It is just so sad to think of people choosing to see the world as you do, of choosing to treat one's potential for happiness and wholeness and love as a burden. Of course one must live with what cannot be changed and make as good a life as possible with that suffering. Of course that suffering can, at times, have good effects. That does not mean that any bad or hard thing must be bourn when it is possible to change it without harming anyone. Melissa and Haley have harmed no one (yes, their families of origin have felt pain around it, but that is primarily because of their choices about what to believe, not because of anything inherent to what their children have done). They have worked carefully and thoughtfully to come to beliefs and lives that do not do them unnecessary harm. The beliefs they grew up with did them harm. Your beliefs, if they shared them, would do them harm by denying them the opportunity to seek happiness. I know you believe that harm is necessary. I'm reluctant to argue with you about that, because I know you believe there are factors involved which simply don't exist in my mind. I don't think either of us is likely to convince the other and I accept that. However, the main point I got from your post is that you think Melissa and Haley are good and thoughtful people who have made mistakes and that, though you hope they'll change, those mistakes, and thus the very basis of their current lives and identities are sad and tragic. I just want to say that that sadness doesn't go only one way. A lot of us who are agnostics and atheists see sentiments like yours and are ourselves very sad for the people who believe them and make their choices based on these beliefs. Not necessarily for you individually, that would feel presumptuous to me, but for people like Melissa and Haley would have been had they chosen your beliefs.

    I would also like to point out that Melissa's last post was mostly about one particular "issue[] with depression:" that for her at least, it seems to be a burden she cannot completely banish, whether through prayer or through medicine, but that by finally accepting that there are tools to deal with it besides prayer, hope, will-power, and self-reproach, she as been able to make depression a much more manageable and less all-encompassing aspect of her life. For that, I applaud her. You say "the road they are on is not easy," and that's true; most people's roads are not easy. But just as Melissa has taken action to make depression a smaller burden for her, Haley has taken action to make her relationship to gender and to her body less of a burden for her, and I also applaud her for that.

  2. I replied in a new post