Ron Belgau delivers lectures, publishes essays and letters and generally enters into very public debates supporting the Biblical injunction against homosexual acts. In fact, he studied ancient Greek for two years in college to better understand his faith but also so he could better understand a single Greek word, arsenokoitai.
There are two lists in the New Testament that prohibit homosexual acts. 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy both provide a list of prohibited behaviors including what the original Greek calls arsenokoitai.
Most Bible translations make it clear this refers to homosexual acts. Belgau points to his New Testament Greek lexicon: “one who lies with a male as a female, sodomite, homosexual.” However, some make the claim that contemporary Greek scholars don’t know what the word really means and therefore could very well mean something other than homosexual acts. Those making such claims are generally advocates for a Bible-centered approval of same-sex sexual relations.
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Belgau writes, “The fact that some Greek scholars reject this interpretation should come as no surprise; there are scholars who argue that God is not the Creator, or that Christ was not born of a virgin, or that He wasn’t the Son of God, or that He did not rise from the dead.”
Belgau points to a text in Leviticus, “You shall not koiten [lie with] and arsenos [a man] as with a woman; it is an abomination” and says it is not at all confusing what both Corinthians and Timothy are getting at.
Among many interesting things about Ron Belgau is that he does this as a celibate gay Christian. He is one of the leading lights of the New Homophiles. Belgau knew two things from a tender age, that he was attracted to other males and that the realization of that attraction was not in God’s plan for him or for anyone like him. And he is a virgin in every way.
It should be pointed out once more that the language used to describe Belgau and his colleagues—gay, homosexual, same-sex attracted, etc—is fraught with difficulty. There are nuances, definitions, and understandings that can make the head spin. Belgau and Chris Damian have both gone on at length about the difficulty of such terms. They have spent many years so finely grinding their arguments that a German lens-maker would be jealous. So it should be understood that whatever terms you and I would use, to them, are likely insufficient and even wrong.
The New Homophiles also want you to know that they do not all agree on everything. There are nuances within this group of friends and none of them claim to speak for the others, only for themselves. Still, they can be recognized as a group, a school of thought.
Here is the question they grapple with. What is a young man to do who senses in himself an attraction, however that is defined, for other men. His life is further complicated by the fact that he believes in God and in His Church.
There are many roads he can take. He can reject his religious beliefs and dive headlong into the gay life style. He can try reparative therapy and become heterosexual. He can stay Christian but reinterpret scripture so he can have sexual relations with men. He can reject his gay identity and work privately with others in living chastity according to the Church. Or he can dedicate his life to apostolic celibacy, understanding his sexual orientation as a gift, and try to change church teaching that would not approve of gay sex but allow greater acceptance of men and women attracted to the same sex.
Much of this kind of debate takes place at the Gay Christian Network (GCN) where many of the New Homophiles first met and started deepening their understanding and honing their arguments.
Part website, part meeting place and support group, part rolling and rollicking debate society, GCN was founded in 2001 and “dedicated to building bridges and offering support for those caught in the crossfire of one of today’s most divisive culture wars.”
Belgau was one of the first twelve members of the GCN web forums, and Joshua Gonnerman, whom I wrote about two weeks ago, is currently the “Side B Support Leader” at GCN.
You likely do not know what “Side B” refers to. It is part of the main divide at GCN, between those who hold that God allows for married sexual relations between those of the same sex (Side A) and those who believe God only allows sexual activity between men and women married for life (Side B). There is a third group, one that does not seem to be officially recognized at GCN, known as Side X, ex-gays who have rejected any gay identifier and sought forms of therapy to change their orientation. Both Side A and Side B are largely skeptical of conversion therapy.
The New Homophiles are all on Side B. In the GCN debate, these would be our guys. But are they our guys?
Belgau is prominently featured on the GCN site in something called The Great Debate, which pits Side A against Side B. His interlocutor is his long-time friend, the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee.
Belgau is very impressive in his defense of traditional Catholic teachings on sex and marriage. He writes, “It is true that too much attention to the niggling details of sexual rules can distract us from what Bible passages about sexuality have to say about God. But it is also true that failure to take seriously the truths the Bible reveals about human sexuality will progressively blind us to the truths the Bible reveals about God, leading us to embrace another Gospel, alien to the one revealed in Scripture.”
Belgau says he tried for years to put a “spin” on what gays call the “clobber passages” from Levitcus, Corinthians, Timothy and Romans that reject homosexual acts so that he would be allowed to “embrace a gay relationship.” But in the end he found “that my conscience clobbers my pro-gay arguments.”
Contra the mindless mantra of the marriage equality movement, Belgau does not believe all love is equal, that “love is love.” He writes, “But because love is the heart of the Gospel, Satan always tries to fool us with counterfeits of true love. Against these counterfeits, the Apostles and Prophets warn us again and again. God is love, and so nothing that is against His will can be love. He only approves of certain kinds of love, but punishes His people for loving idols, foreign women in the case of Israel, foreign deities, multiple wives, money, sexual love between close relations (incest), etc.”
Coming from James Dobson this would be called hate-speech.
In 2007, Belgau gave an at times very funny and often very moving keynote speech at the annual GCN national conference (the next one convenes in Chicago later this month). He relates the gut-wrenching story of coming out to his Baptist minister who proceeded to launch into a long tirade about the abomination of “AIDS, the gay lifestyle and anal sex.” Belgau told his Pastor about his intention to be celibate and the Pastor began a new barrage about the evils of celibacy.
Yet another pastor said to a Bible-study group Belgau attended that he was not opposed to gay leadership in student Christian groups “as long as the first thing they do is lead themselves and their faggoty-assed friends right out of my church.”
Given these experiences, which the New Homophiles want us to understand are not uncommon, it makes sense they would want something new and welcoming from the Church.
There is much to admire in the work of Ron Belgau and his friends. They are brave and learned and eloquent. They challenge those of us who may have been less than kind on this topic and certainly challenge all those Catholics who have sullied Church teaching on marriage.
But they are also confusing, too. They seem to want to obfuscate the meaning of words. Step into the stream of what gay means or homosexual means or same-sex attraction means and you find you step with them into a fun house mirror. It seems to me that the truth of things, including the meaning of words, ought to be clear, precise, even simple. Confusion is the sign of something else gong on, perhaps something troubling.
And then there is the ongoing tsunamic assault.
Many of us, particularly those with young children, grow weary of the near constant barrage of gayness we are subject to. We see Kinky Boots at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and men getting married at the Rose Parade in Pasadena. We cannot even watch cooking shows without taping them in advance and having the pause button ready in order to avoid yet another gay back-story. We wonder how someone’s sexual or affectional desires are in any way our business. Yet they are made to be our business.
And here comes a group of committed Catholics calling themselves gay yet celibate and demanding not just our attention but a change in Church doctrine that would allow for who-knows-what as they tend to be quite unclear about how that change would look. It would probably include some kind of affirmation or even celebration of gayness.
They want to be out and proud. The Boy Scouts always had gay members, but the change in policy now allows them to be out and proud. This seems to be what the New Homophiles want, to be out and proud. Is it good for them to want to hang on to the gay identity, even if it is third, or fourth, or twelfth in their interior taxonomy?
Is it good for them to hold onto an identity that is disordered? Is it good for the Body of Christ?
I must admit to going back and forth on the topic of the New Homophiles. Apostolic celibacy is a great good. The struggle to be faithful Catholics is a great good. Trying to identify with Christ is exactly what we are all called to do. Spiritual friendship could be a good thing though I worry they envision something like Charles Ryder reading scripture with Sebastian Flyte.
Can we accept them on their terms? I do not know.