The Kiss of Peace: Liturgy to Free Us from Our Isolation

The way we pray not only reflects but also shapes what we believe about what it means to follow Jesus. Lex orandi, lex credendi is the old slogan: The law of prayer is the law of belief. Therefore if a movement within the Church hopes to contribute to Christian community and theology, at some point this movement will find ways to embed itself in the liturgy.

Gay Christians who accept the historic Christian teaching on sexual ethics are a movement. (I'm going to call us “celibate gay Christians” from now on—that's sloppy, since some of us are married, and anyway “celibate” is often used with narrower meanings than just “sexually abstinent and not expecting or planning to marry,” but if I try to use precise language we'll be here all week.) What can we contribute to the Church's liturgical life, Her communal worship?

First of all, we can bring friendship back into the church. Friendship is one of the most common, intense, and intimate vocations for celibate gay Christians. At different times and places, Christian communities have found ways to honor and beautify their friendships by uniting them to the friendship we all have with God. (“No longer do I call you slaves... but I have called you friends.” CK) Alan Bray's touching historical study The Friend is the classic introductory text here. Bray found descriptions of friends vowing to care for one another and one another's families, and these vows were often sworn on the church porch and sealed when the friends received the Eucharist together. The friendships became a part of the church's architecture, as well, when vowed friends were buried together, in graves whose markers are startlingly parallel to the grave markers of married couples.

I personally think vows of friendship are both beautiful and practical, and I hope they will be revived. I like that they're not a vow of exclusive relationship: The friends typically were married themselves, and friendship became a way to unite families. Friendship in Jesus' life flowed out from the particular (his friendship with John the beloved disciple) to the universal, rather than setting up a competition between insiders and outsiders. Interlocking networks of friendships, marriages, godparenthood (another quasi-liturgical way in which adults form kin outside of sexual relationships), mutual aid, and service to those in need eventually bind together a whole parish, like a complex molecule.

But there are many other ways of honoring friendship and other overlooked vocations within our worship. At Catholic Masses there will often be a special blessing for a specific group: moms on Mothers' Day, for example. Throats are blessed on St. Blaise's Day and pets on St. Francis's feast. Why not blessings for friends on St. Aelred's feast day (January 12)? Prayers for godparents, for those who pour out their lives in service to others, for single parents, for adoptive parents, for those caring for relatives: Any or all of these can be woven into the prayers of the faithful, where we specify our needs.

Words are great, don't get me wrong, I pray words a lot. But we worship with our whole bodies. We kneel, prostrate, open our mouths or lift our hands to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And so I wonder if one other thing the nascent celibate gay Christian movement might look at is a revival of the Kiss of Peace.

Some of you are saying, “What do you mean, 'revive'? We kiss all the time in our church!” You guys are the best, keep doing what you're doing. In far too many churches “Greet one another with a holy kiss” has been replaced by “Smile awkwardly at one another over a clammy handshake.” Returning to actual kissing might have two effects.

First, kissing fellow believers (on the cheek or cheek-adjacent air, people—I'm not telling you to swallow somebody's tongue for the Lord) reminds us that Christian faith isn't a list of rules. It's a love affair. The rules and commands flow out of God's love for us and our desire to worship him. We are united in ecstatic love of God.

Second, in many Western countries we've sexualized all physical intimacy. Chris Damian just gave a paper at Notre Dame's groundbreaking “Gay in Christ: Dimensions of Fidelity” in which he pointed out how some translations of the Bible have John reclining “next to Jesus” rather than against Jesus' breast. We've made physical touch the exclusive property of sexual relationships, and so, unsurprisingly, we starve for it. We all need to be touched, to know that our bodies are viewed with love and welcome. Gay Christians, who have often felt so much shame and exclusion from the church because of our bodies' desires, may especially need this reassurance... but shame about our bodies is a pretty universal human experience.

Men are especially afraid to show physical affection for other men, unless it's got plenty of disclaimers—that weird hug where you lean in from practically the next county over. This fear sometimes fuels homophobia; it definitely damages men's friendships.

Kissing at church would also make me intensely uncomfortable. I'm not suggesting we kiss more because I like kissing—to the contrary, I am often tempted to fake a cough so I can get away without even shaking hands. But I am willing to offer up my personal awkwardness in order to bring about a more tender, welcoming, unashamed church. Peace be with you.