LGBT issues are among the most contentious topics of discussion in the Catholic Church – and society at large. But for the estimated 1.3 million Catholics who identify as LGBT in the United States today, the questions surrounding the topic are not just theoretical – they’re personal. And some of those Catholics say the typical approaches within the Church fall short on both sides.
This week, Charlie Camosy spoke with Anna Carter, the co-founder and president of Eden Invitation, a movement for young adult Catholics who identify as LGBTQ. They discussed the challenges – both within the secular culture and the Church – for LGBT individuals seeking to live out the Catholic faith, and how Eden Invitation is aiming to help.
How would you characterize the Church's current relationship with, to use a problematic acronym, LGBT populations?
It’s difficult to characterize the relationship of “the Church” to LGBTQ people. The Church isn’t a monolith. Her institutions, apostolates, shepherds, employees, and influencers all have voices claiming to echo her intentions for LGBTQ persons.
We can’t seem to agree on how to equip LGBTQ disciples for holiness, especially those of us situationally facing a life of celibacy (notwithstanding the Church factions who don’t accept that as given). We can’t seem to agree on how to love people who adopt dissimilar sexual ethics and anthropologies. We can’t seem to agree if LGBTQ people are our brothers and sisters in need of love, or harbingers of a civilization-altering agenda. We can’t seem to agree on how an LGBTQ disciple should assimilate their queerness, or if they should grow past it. We can’t even seem to agree what “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” mean, and that’s in the Catechism!
One of the results is that most LGBTQ people I know struggle with feeling at home in the Church. Many young people of the “John Paul II” generation grew up with the Church feeling like family. Once you start questioning your sexuality and gender, it’s easy to feel like the “black sheep” no one exactly knows what to do with.
How does Eden Invitation mark a break from the status quo?
Eden Invitation is lay-led, discipleship focused, and doctrinally orthodox movement from LGBTQ Catholics (though we do have Christian members and ecumenical aspirations). This combination is new to at least the American Church—I haven’t done enough international research to know what’s out there globally.
Our founders, staff, and program volunteers are Eden Invitation community members. That means that our work is by LGBTQ persons, for LGBTQ persons. We engage our members in active communal discernment and frequently solicit feedback.
We believe that a purely apologetic approach isn’t sufficient. To put it a bit crassly, telling me “what not to do with my genitals” doesn’t tell me how to live my life. We focus on bedrocks of discipleship, including a dynamic prayer life, stewardship of the whole person (including chastity), intimate friendships, networks of community, and personal mission. All of this is done in line within the teachings of the Catholic Church—in the words of the mandatum, “what has been definitively proposed by the Catholic Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.”
Could you say more about what you call “the LGBT paradigm” and why it is so important to reframe the way we imagine and speak about the love we owe our brothers and sisters in this context?
There’s no one single definition of the “LGBT paradigm,” but we consider it in two contexts. One is the worldview promoted in a secular LGBT space—one that diverges from the Catholic approach to anthropology and sexual morality. The other is what mainstream Catholics generally think the secular LGBT space is promoting. A reframe is needed for the LGBTQ disciple in both spaces.
In contrast to the secular space, it’s important to reframe the “givenness” of our creation, mysterious though it may be, and the moral imperatives that come with that.
In contrast to generalized fear, it’s important to remember that every LGTBQ person is a human being. If we only approach sexuality and gender as problems to be solved, or agendas to be argued again, we miss people to be loved and evangelized. In either case, we need to go “beyond the LGBT paradigm” to encounter the human person in all they are—experientially and ontologically.
I don't need to tell you how difficult it is to address these sets of issues with young people today. What's your experience with how your approach is received by young people?
If you look at millennial-driven companies and marketing campaigns, you see some similar threads: community, whole person care, authenticity. These may be in the zeitgeist, but they’re also more completely true, good, and beautiful in our Catholic faith. These are things we’re doing instinctively as Eden Invitation! We draw a lot of people that feel they have nowhere else to go but outside the Church.
There are plenty of younger people who disagree with us. We tend to get two types of responses. One is typical of someone who has talked with our staff, or journeyed with us for a time. These people understand that we’re “queer disciples” too—people with LGBTQ experiences doing our best to do what we think is right. I’ve found that a lot of people who disagree with us still respect us in that vein.
We also have people who seem to have really negative associations with Christianity in general, and they project that onto our work without much personal engagement.
Where can folks go to learn more about Eden Invitation?
Eden Invitation is still small, and we’re primarily online. You can find us at edeninvitation.com. There we have community stories, blogs, and more information about our programs. If you’d like to connect, we have two contact forms. If you’re an ally, head to our “contact us” page. If you’d like to donate in solidarity with our mission or you just have a question, feel free to reach out!
The other form is through our community page. This is specifically for people with LGBTQ experiences who are looking to connect with us. We take personal encounter very seriously. For anybody who reaches out with an LGBTQ experience, we offer a video call. One of our community members will receive your story. That’s it! We’ll just listen to whatever you’d like to share about your life, friendships, and relationship with God. If you’d like to keep spending time with us, we offer online small groups and retreats. Once you’ve been exposed to the community in an interpersonal way, you can access the broader online community.