I gave this talk at the Revoice conference on October 8, 2021, in Dallas, Texas. Visit www.Revoice.us to learn more about Revoice and the conference.
Good morning! For those who may not know me, my name is Gregg Webb. Im the first of four Greg(g)’s speaking at Revoice this year so get excited! This is my fourth Revoice and I am overjoyed to be here with you all today. You likely will see me running around with my camera snapping photos throughout this weekend. Please don’t hesitate to say hey! I have been around Side-B spaces for close to a decade now and have been deeply honored to get to know so many of you over those years. During the time I’ve spent in various Side-B spaces I’ve often felt that I somehow wasn’t good enough to be Side-B, or that my convictions weren’t strong enough, especially when I compared myself to great Side-B thought leaders like Wesley Hill, Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet, Nate Collins, and many others. There is a part of me that even feels that I don’t really belong here today speaking to you all, that I haven’t written enough, spoken enough, or been somehow good enough to stand up here as an example of what it means to be Side-B. The theme we were given for this first session was discipleship in the Church, which is not something I have felt I’ve been particularly good or faithful at. So today I want to talk to you not from some place of expertise, or especially great faithfulness, but from my own brokenness and messiness and offer you some of the same comfort and hope that has reassured me over the years.
Growing up in the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a service called Matins or Orthros that is called to be prayed in the morning, especially in preparation for the eucharist. At the beginning of this service there are six psalms that are called to be read aloud. Those of us who grew up going to Matins, and often reading them aloud ourselves are quite familiar with these six psalms and find ourselves drawn back to them regularly. As I have been preparing for this time together today, I was drawn back to one of these six psalms, Psalm 38.
2009 was a turning point in my life. At the end of 2008 almost no one knew that I was gay, or “struggled with same sex attractions.” However, by the end of 2009 I was out to my parents, my priest, my roommate, and also discovered another same-sex attracted friend. My home was safe, my dorm room was safe, my spiritual community was safe, and I was no longer quite so alone in my struggle. The stage was set for the walls of my closet to fall away, and by the end of 2010 I was writing publicly about my experience as a celibate gay man. After 10 years, the closet now seems remote and distant, the ghost of a past life lived through the lens of near constant fear. My secret is no longer my secret, my shame is no longer my shame, and my loneliness not quite so lonely.
The closet allowed me to believe fundamental lies about myself and my relationship with others. The closet told me that I was un-loveable and that my shame and self-hate was justified. In the silence of my closet I believed the lies that I told myself, and the echo chamber of my fear was deafening. When someone told me, “I love you” I knew they couldn’t really mean it. They couldn’t mean it because they didn’t know that I was gay. I believed that nobody could love me because I was gay, so therefore their love was contingent upon my secret being secret. Most of these lies had no basis in reality, but in the closet you can easily mistake shadows for monsters. Everything becomes distorted in the dim light and you believe that outside the closet is scarier than the darkness you’ve surrounded yourself with. Read More
Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community
I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced…
Part 2: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Heart
The second time I fell in love was with a new friend I met during my last year in St. Louis. I’ll call him Brad. This time, I wanted to learn from my last experience and decided to dive head first into the feelings and try and embrace them as best I could. My friends and counselors had been showing me all the ways I had grown callous and dismissive toward my emotions, and they encouraged me to try a different approach than repressing them. I was threatened by my feelings, and so if they didn’t make sense, or if it seemed pointless to feel them, I would try and reject or repress them. As the wiser voices in my life knew, though, rejecting and ignoring them only made them fester. This time I…
Part 1: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Myself
How do you live with heartbreak when you were never supposed to fall in love? What happens when you fall in love with a friend and you don’t want to ruin a friendship? How do you find the goodness in loving someone even if those feelings are, at some point, also romantic? I still don’t think I really know the answers to these questions, although the circumstances of my life seem hell-bent on teaching me. Heartaches and heartbreaks have taught me about myself, about myheart, and about my community. These are lessons I’m slowly learning, and I hope that in these ramblings maybe you too will find some semblance of an answer. At the very least, you’ll find something that you can empathize with, because at some point, gay or straight, heartache and heartbreak happen.
“Most often, the rehashing and restating of the Church’s concrete theological positions grate against me. It pains me not because I personally disagree with its conclusions; rather, I find it lacking in practical advice or teaching that actually helps make sense of the life I’m called to live. Discussions around celibate relationships, committed friendships, life in community, sexual abstinence, and many others just don’t happen. I’ve found the Church leery of engaging in these gray areas for fear of somehow failing a test of “Orthodoxy.” Simply even engaging with the lived experiences of queer people in the Church is dangerous, or has the possibility of contaminating what is seen as “pure” theology.”
The recent debate surrounding an essay by Giacomo Sanfilippo has yet again reminded me of a the importance of dialogue surrounding sexual minorities in the Orthodox Church. I’m not an expert in the theology of Florensky so I will leave the theological particulars to Sanfilippo and other theologians. I do have experience though in how the Church discusses sexual minorities and interacts with the LGBT community. I have read a few critiques and seen several posts by Orthodox writers and clergy reacting to the post on “Conjugal Friendship.” Most seem to be reading into his essay or assuming the worst about it and lamenting what they see as just another attack on the Church’s steadfast commitment to the traditional sacrament of marriage. I would like to take this opportunity to offer a few reflections on how we as a Church can better discuss the various paths available to sexual minorities within the Church rather than Sanfilippo’s specific content or that of his critics.
What I took away from Sanfilippo’s essay was less the specific arguments or case he makes for developing an Orthodox theology of Same-Sex love, and more the fact that he is attempting to find paths of living for sexual minorities within the church. As both a gay man and an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I wrestle daily to try and figure out what I am called by my church to surrender and to give up. I am constantly reminded of all that I am asked to forsake at the Church’s request of fidelity to its, and my own, understanding of same-sex sexual expressions. I don’t need to be reminded that the path my heart most naturally is inclined towards, that of pursuing a husband and a family in a same-sex partnership, is not available to me. I don’t need to be reminded that I am called daily towards chastity and celibacy and to remain steadfast in following all that the Church teaches related to sexual intimacy. I know these things all too well and those battles within my heart rage continually. I need no reminders of these battles or allegiances.Read More
It has been a difficult season for me. I’ve been transitioning cities, working through heartbreak, living with nearly constant heartache, beginning the long-term career job hunt, and learning to live life without the basic structure provided by classes and coursework. Many of my friends are also struggling through difficult break-ups, divorce, depression, addiction, and […]
I don’t know what to do about homosexuality. What I do know, however, is that what I have written here is my understanding of what God and Christ would have us do, according to the scriptures, sacraments, and saints of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps I am wrong in my understanding of Christianity and Orthodoxy. Perhaps Orthodoxy is wrong in its understanding of God, Christ, and humanity. Millions of people, heterosexual and homosexual, certainly think so. Whatever the truth, and whatever God’s will for us creatures, I live with the constant awareness that I will answer for what I have written here. I will answer before God. And, in a sense even more terrifying, I will answer before Sharon Underwood and her son, and my friend, and all who try to make sense of life in this world, and to do what is good and right for…
A common critique of celibate gay Christians is the perception that we attempt to swap out romantic intimacy for friendship. Instead of having same-sex romantic partners we simply have spiritual friends and too often are seen as playing a semantics game. I believe though, as do many of my fellow side-B Christians, that friendship was never meant to take the place of the intimacy that comes about in romantic relationship. Much of what we do is an attempt to celebrate the beauty and benefits of friendship as a good in and of itself and not as a new outlet for romantic and sexual desire. Friendship and relationships in general are not some equal alternative to marriage where finding the right partner becomes finding the right best friend. Friendship inherently makes room for not only the “other” in relationship but for others. I have quite a number of friends who I…