Andrew Sullivan in Church

Written by Andrey Slivka on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

"Well, I should say,"
piped the neat elderly little man, talking about Andrew Sullivan. The small
fellow peeped up wide-eyed and earnest from scarf and loden coat and spectacles,
a furry mammal. "I should say that what the fellow has to say should be
contemplated with great seriousness!"

Stares, blinks–then
scurries off prim and furtive and solo, a spooked parishioner Mr. Mole lost
to the branch-rustling acorn-scaled streets of the West Village.

So this past Friday night
was likely the first time in God knows how long that a Catholic church was filled
to the gills with a bunch of queers. The occasion: the devoutly Catholic Sullivan
lecturing on the topic "We’re Here: Homosexuals and the Catholic Church,"
as part of the St. Joseph’s Church (you know it–it’s the white-columned
neoclassical place down there on 6th Ave.) lecture series. And Sullivan, plump
(this is reassuring in an HIV patient), tieless, striped-shirted, emphatic,
blond-bearded, face creased with a good-natured exertion as he notelessly spoke,
after genuflecting toward the altar on his way toward the mic.

("Did you notice that
genuflection?" laughed the garrulous Father Tos, introducing him. "Would
that more of us…" etc.)

Anyway: Natty guys in suits;
the odd wiry, balding dude in leather and earrings; a couple punk-looking kids,
possibly lost, possibly not; fat guys; skinny guys; guys who could pass for
suburban fathers, and others who never could. But at any rate men who had been
motivated by their compunctions to dedicate a Friday evening to figuring out
where they stood in the church’s cosmology–even while straight Catholics,
untainted by any urge toward abominable and unnatural lust, were free to get
ready for dates, drink beer, watch tv, smoke pot, etc.

Sullivan blocked out ideas
with his hands.

"Homosexuality itself
is not simple, but any expression of it in sexual terms is a moral evil. This
is the paradox that we Catholics are required to understand." Pause as
he thought, his hands raised as if he were going to hold them painfully to his
temples. "So let me understand."

The crowd flowed over into
the lobby. Guys stood alone with deep expressions on their faces, their coats
open, hands jammed in pockets. An autumnal loneliness filled the place.

Sullivan’s method toward
justifying his religion is to actually read the texts in question, at
a level of rigor at which their at-once damning and redemptive difficulties
become evident.

"It is only intellectually
honest," he said, "to say that, in its totality, the Bible is quite
clear about sexual [contact] between two people of the same gender." But,
he noted, homosexuality is "not the only forbidden thing in the Old Testament."
In Leviticus, he pointed out, there exist "injunctions with the same force
about eating shellfish." And there are injunctions "with regard to
mixing different fabrics in the same piece of clothing. Those also are…‘abominations.’
But yet we do not see the religious right coming to Bloomingdale’s. That
would get the homosexual community up in arms. Or maybe it would take Barneys."

Laughter, but strained laughter:
"‘It’s not who you are, it’s what you do,’ as Patrick
Buchanan once said to me on live television. God love him."

But everyone seemed to have
too much at stake here to laugh too much. This surreal Friday-night church convocation–church
without stolid wives, without shabby genuflecting fatherly burghers, without
rosary-torturing matrons, without little girls sliding under pews in white patent
leather–from which Sullivan was loosing upon the world good thoughts, which
would almost certainly be ignored, for the time being, by jackasses and fundamentalists.

"What we are doing
here tonight, talking in this church, is not a heterodox or rebellious
act," he said. "This is what we are enjoined to do."

People looked humble, as
if they were waiting for something to happen. There was evident in the air the
low-grade apocalypticism–things have to change, but they might not, at
least not tomorrow–of the political-cell meeting.

Themes of Sullivan’s
talk: natural law, longing, wholeness, justice, complementarity. A conversation,
then, that unfolded with a Thomist vocabulary on a plane of sophistication that
99 percent of Catholics never have to bother concerning themselves with. Some
of the central questions of the Catholic philosophical tradition, ignored by
the majority of the unself-conscious laity, but meditated upon tonight by a
group of homosexuals, kind of as if their spiritual lives depended on it–the
lost boys of the Catholic church.