On the Christian side, there’s often more than a smidgen of repugnant smugness in rejection of the gay lifestyle. Summed up in the slogan “pray away the gay”, Christian moral teaching is prescribed by some pastors and parents as if it were aspirin. Aspirin is no cure for wounded hearts.
On the gay side, there’s often a deep hostility towards “life-denying”, “nay-saying” Christian ethics. Gay writers sneer at the power of religion and regard it as a kind of brainwashing. That is just dumb. If faith changed geniuses like Augustine and Pascal, why can’t it work today?
What’s missing in this often vituperative clash is real people, not cardboard cut-outs but people yearning for love, meaning, transcendence and redemption from their own pettiness. This is what the deeply moving documentary Desire of the Everlasting Hills provides. In it two men and a woman relate with scarifying honesty how they turned away from a gay lifestyle towards the love of God in the Catholic Church.
No doubt their journeys will be perplexing to non-believers. One needs faith to appreciate the power of prayer, the Eucharist and Confession. But I suspect that any open-minded viewer will see that the stories of Rilene, Dan and Paul are genuine. They are not triumphalist “pray the gay away” narratives. Instead, all three of them acknowledge that ties to homosexuality linger within them and that they feel the pain of not having the comfort of spousal love. None of them has married and is beating the “ex-gay” drum. Instead, they report that they have found the real happiness they had been looking for over many years, even if they now are living celibate lives.
Rilene (no last names) is a 50-ish businesswoman who was in a relationship with another lesbian for 25 years. But even after she returned to the Church, she nursed her cancer-stricken former partner through her dying days. Dan is a big, beefy, cheerful artist who never felt strongly attracted to women and was drawn into a gay lifestyle by pornography and the internet. Paul is a former male model who miraculously survived the AIDS epidemic in New York and San Francisco and still lives with a former partner, but is celibate. None of them boasts of having overcome their inclinations.
The script of the film is very austere – mostly talking heads, interspersed with a few video clips and personal photos. What they have to say is funny, poignant and often startlingly deep. These are people whose suffering has given them wisdom.
One of the remarkable features of this film is its lack of rancour. Rilene, Dan and Paul all experienced love and loyalty in their gay lives. Despite disturbing excesses, they made real friends, even if they have stopped expressing that in a sexual way. Their past is part of them and they have learned from it with gratitude. They don’t pretend that they have everything figured out.
Desire of the Everlasting Hills was made by Courage, a Catholic organisation which ministers to same-sex attracted men and women. Its message is not psychological — sexual orientation change, but moral — chastity. The Catholic Church has no special insight into the origin of homosexual desire; what it does say is that sexuality has an intrinsic purpose, which is not pleasure but procreation. Any use of it outside of marriage (between a man and a woman, obviously) is wrong.
Controlling sexual desire out of the love of God is called chastity. Whether this is harder for the same-sex attracted, I don’t know. But it is hard for everyone. Ultimately, the claim of the documentary, or, rather, of Rilene, Dan and Paul, is that a chaste lifestyle has led to a happiness which they never dreamt of when they were living as gays.
Desire of the Everlasting Hills hasn’t surfaced yet in the gay media. When it does, no doubt it will be attacked and ridiculed as hate-filled homophobic religious propaganda. But it is something entirely different, a love letter. It reminds me of the stirring lines from the 19th century poem “The Hound of Heaven. by the opium-addicted derelict Francis Thompson:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years …
I hid from Him, and under running laughter …
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.