Writer Eve Tushnet, who says of herself that “being gay and Catholic is literally my job” has written a followup to her 2014 book Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. In her new book, she writes to other “gay Christians,” urging them to “come and see how the Lord delights in his gay children.” The thesis of Tenderness: A Gay Christian’s Guide to Unlearning Rejection and Experiencing God’s Extravagant Love,
is that God offers himself and his ardent love to his gay children, and he offers us as gifts to our churches and loved ones—but Christians have made it unnecessarily hard for gay people to trust in God’s tenderness. Thus even—especially—gay people who grew up loving God often need to rediscover him, uncovering his hidden, tender face.
In Tushnet’s eyes, the Church has not been a loving Mother to those she calls “gay Christians,” but rather a “mistress who holds us in contempt and punishes us mercilessly, arbitrarily, and forbids us even to speak what we’ve experienced at her hands.” She wrote her book, she says, with the goal of “alleviating suffering caused by injustice or silence and showing” to her readers “the beauty of the life Christ offers”; she wants to help them to “rejoice that [God] knows [them] as [they] truly are.”
As a repentant man who lived for a time under the deception that I was a “gay child of God,” I find Tushnet’s views mystifying and her harsh words about the Church unfounded. No doubt there have been some in the Church, who have, in the name of the Church, engaged in what the Catechism would call “unjust discrimination” towards people confused about their sexual identity. Yet as an institution, both in her teachings and in her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, the Church is not the cruel mistress Tushnet depicts. Tushnet claims each example she gives of suffering represent “thousands and thousands” of people, who she says have had their “lives distorted by shame and despair” and “false conceptions of God” at the hands of the Church.
And yet Tushnet gives no objective evidence to justify her claims; her examples are all anecdotal. Many of her stories are sensationalist. For example, Tushnet speaks of children who were beat up by their father after coming out. I don’t doubt that this happened to someone Tushnet knows, but arguing that this has happened to “thousands and thousands” is irresponsible and an exercise in catastrophism. I have been involved for decades in ministries for people who left the gay lifestyle, and I have never met anyone who was beat up by their father for coming out—though I’ve met men who were beat up by their fathers for other things; being beat up by deadbeat fathers is certainly not limited to children who come out. Nor can this be blamed on the Church.
Sadly, included in Tushnet’s list of sufferings visited upon “gay Christians” are many things which helped people like me leave the gay lifestyle behind. For example, Tushnet considers it a form of suffering when priests in the confessional say, “You’re not gay. You’re a beloved child of God.” In Tushnet’s eyes, this message is “that those two are opposite things.” For those who have fully converted to Catholicism and accepted all of the demands of chastity, which include both sexual abstinence outside of marriage as well as accepting what the Church teaches us about our sexual identity, those in the Church who told us our identity was as a beloved son or daughter of God helped us to follow the words of St. Paul who urges all of us to be transformed through the renewal of our minds by putting off the old man, which for us necessarily includes rejecting the world’s understanding of sexual identities. Additionally, Tushnet unfortunately holds scornful views of the ministries and books which helped us to find healing for the wounds which led to our homosexual desires, such as the books of Leanne Payne.
The majority of the suffering described in the pages of Tushnet’s book could only be considered a form of suffering if the Church’s anthropology was somehow flawed. Page after page of the “suffering” outlined by Tushnet is the result of her not believing or accepting what the Church teaches her and other “gay Christians” regarding their sexual identity. Thus it is self-inflicted. The story of the Rich Young Ruler is helpful here. Though he went away sad upon hearing the Lord tell him that he needed to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, the sorrow he felt as a result was not the fault of Christ. So too with most of the complaints Tushnet levels against the Church.
As a loving Mother, the Church says people such as Eve and I should be treated with “sensitivity, compassion, and respect.” Where legitimate forms of “unjust discrimination” or suffering have taken place at the hands of people in the Church, the Church must repent, and in Tushnet’s long list of grievances, there are, to be fair to her book, some examples of this sort of suffering. Most, however are examples of what the late Alice von Hildebrand would call “illegitimate suffering”, which she defines as “sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings–this is why they are unbearable.”
No wonder Tushnet and other “gay Catholics” see the Church as a cruel mistress. By choosing to embrace the false sexual identities of the world, they shut themselves off from the grace of God in that area of their life. Thus, they feel unbearably aggrieved when the Church doesn’t agree with them.
This seems to explain the disdain Tushnet has for the bishops’ teachings regarding homosexuality. In her first book, she wrote of being “furious with bishops who say dumb things about gay people,” describing how their statements on homosexuality “asymptotically approach…understanding at the speed of a dying snail.” In her new book, she says part of her goal is to “revive gay people’s trust in God—a trust our shepherds have too often damaged or even killed, but which our tender and good Shepherd can restore to life.”
Unfortunately, “gay Christians” like Tushnet have always seemed like lost sheep to me, who, once found, tell the shepherd who finds them that they really aren’t lost, since they think they know better than the shepherd where and how they will flourish. Tushnet’s disdainful view of the bishops is not surprising, when you consider this stunning statement in Tenderness:
I enjoy being gay. I love the communities my experience has given me; I love spending time with other gay people, especially other gay Christians. I love the insights this marginal, outsider experience offers—the queer perspective on contemporary American and Christian life. I love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. The world is full of beautiful ladies! What a joy. What a gift to notice it.
This is dumbfounding to me and to every other man or woman I know who has repented from their past life lived as gay men and women. We are under no illusions that “being gay” is in anyway good, as the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person makes clear when it speaks against those who give homosexuality “an overly benign interpretation,” or who view the homosexual condition as “neutral, or even good.” Tushnet told her readers in her first book that the 1986 Letter sadly isn’t “a jewel in the Church’s crown,” and said of the words quoted above that they are “especially unilluminating.” This is no surprise, coming from someone who claims to enjoy being gay so much.
For those of us who have repented of our “love of being gay,” we believe that the reason those words of liberating truth are unilluminating to Tushnet is because she appears blinded by her affection and attachment to the land of Sodom. She is stuck, like Lot’s wife, looking back with fondness at that sterile and unfruitful land, not realizing that it is nothing but the valley of the shadow of death. And yet from this stuck place, Tushnet, both in this book and in her first book (as well as at her blog and in other writings), sees herself as having a more global vision than the Church for what “gay people” really need from the Church.
She sees her experience as pioneering, exceptional, and unique, frequently saying of herself that when she entered the Church, “I didn’t know any other gay people who were willing to accept the Church’s sexual ethic. I didn’t even know of anybody like that.” (This is hard to take seriously, since the Courage Apostolate would have been on her radar with a quick Google search.) From that point on, her life seems to have been consumed with trying to fit her love of being gay within the Church—and believing that her time outside the Church as a lesbian helps her point the way forward for the Church.
From this position as a self-appointed expert on what she calls on her blog, “Gay Catholic What Not,” she frequently makes magisterial statements, such as in this book, when she states, “it’s typically easier for a gay person who grows up outside the Church to know God’s love than for a gay person who had a Catholic upbringing,” and contends that “
One wonders on what basis she makes these rather broad claims, but I think it stems from her choosing to still remain “on the margins” of her chosen queer life, instead of fully entering into the beauty of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and chastity. If she doesn’t see the Church as honoring the ways she wants to live out her “lesbianism,” then she’ll naturally see the Church as a hindrance to anyone else who grows up in the Church with homosexual desires. This, I think explains the following question she poses, which I found sad and absurd:
What if gay people were safer in our churches than in the secular world? What if we could find more ways to give and receive love within the Church than we do outside it? If this seems impossible, it only shows how far we have strayed from the path the Lord has called us to walk.
Tushnet, alas, due to her own professed love of “being gay” is blind to the truth that those she calls “gay people” are already safer in the Church than they are in the secular world. Those of us who have shed the false identity of being LGBTQ have found what she seems to be so desperately looking for: there are indeed more ways to give and receive love within the Church than exist outside of it.
The problem for Tushnet is that she wants to express her love as some holy form of “lesbian” love within the Church, whereas converts, such as myself, have learned that anything that is “LGBTQ love” is always a perverted and distorted form of love. That Tushnet isn’t able to see what we’ve found just shows how far she has strayed from the path the Lord has called her to walk. She needs to leave the halfway house she’s constructed of the Church on the outskirts of Sodom and Gomorrah, slough off the old man, and rejoice that God knows her as she truly is: a woman, whose sexual identity is created for motherhood, not lesbianism.
If Eve Tushnet doesn’t see God’s tenderness in that noble calling, then she cannot, I believe, possibly be relied upon to reveal God’s tenderness to anyone else.
Tenderness: A Gay Christian’s Guide to Unlearning Rejection and Experiencing God’s Extravagant Love
By Eve Tushnet
Ave Maria Press, 2021
Paperback, 224 pages
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