Keeping the faith

Susan Haarman

Christian Eichenlaub, a College of Communication junior, is the picture perfect Catholic university student. He participates in community service through Easter Seals. He loves his family. He’s a straight A student on scholarship. He’s a practicing Catholic. He serves as an acolyte for the student Masses at Gesu. He’s considering the priesthood.

Eichenlaub is gay.

Differing religious denominations are divided on the issue with the Episcopal church recently ordaining a practicing gay man and the Catholic Church’s release of documents urging local leaders to ban legislation that would allow for same-sex civil unions.

The conflict is showing repercussions in the faith lives of homosexuals in the United States. Some recent statistics from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a support organization, have shown that nearly 45 percent of openly homosexual individuals reject a form of religious faith for a period of time at least some point during their lives.

Eichenlaub seems to be in the minority. He says that he “absolutely” believes in God.

“I started dealing with (being gay) my junior year in high school,” Eichenlaub said. “I came out to a friend who was studying overseas in February of my junior year.”

Eichenlaub came out to his family shortly after his mother passed away in July before his senior year of high school.

“My family was incredible about it,” Eichenlaub said. “They were sad, but only because it meant I was going to be faced with a harder lifestyle.”

Eichenlaub said a desire for honesty pushed him to come out.

“Ultimately I could not stand lying to my father,” Eichenlaub said. “I did not like what it was doing to our relationship.”

Eichenlaub said his family has rallied behind him.

“My sister is amazing,” Eichenlaub said. “She started a (Gay/Straight Alliance) at her high school and she gives presentations to teachers in the area about language that should or should not be acceptable in the classroom.”

Eichenlaub’s father let him know that he was still going to hold him to the the same morals as before.

Although Eichenlaub’s family did support him, that could not be said for everyone else in Eichenlaub’s hometown of Traverse City, Mich. Eichenlaub belonged to a Protestant youth group called Faith Reformed that did not take kindly to homosexuals.

“They made it very clear that (being gay) was not acceptable,” Eichenlaub said. “I thought that it was two separate issues and I never brought it up at meetings.”

After Pastor Les Wiseman found out, Eichenlaub says he started an argument with Eichenlaub and informed him he was not welcome anymore. Eichenlaub decided he did not want to fight the decision or go to a place where he would be unwelcome.

However Eichenlaub wrote a letter to the group defending his lifestyle.

Eichenlaub said the experience strengthened his faith.

“I started going to church more at my Catholic parish and getting involved there.”

Eichenlaub said a pivotal moment in his faith journey and coming-out process came when he was on a service trip to Ontario, Canada, with Faith Reformed. While there, the group brought in a charismatic preacher who held a service. During the service, the participants were invited to “offer up the gifts of the Spirit.”

“I walked up to the altar and I just thought, ‘God, I know this is who I am. I don’t think you would make me miserable. I offer all of this, all of myself and my sexuality up to you. If you want I will fight this if necessary and if you want me to,'” Eichenlaub said. “Then I just felt wave after wave of chills and there was an overwhelming feeling of peace and it felt like someone was holding me. That’s when I knew that was God’s way of saying, ‘You’re OK.’ I walked away from the whole experience feeling very much at peace.”

Eichenlaub started doing extensive research on homosexuality and ethics.

“I came to the conclusion that God would accept me and who I dated and I never again questioned that,” Eichenlaub said.

Despite the Catholic Church’s strict teaching on homosexual relationships, Eichenlaub said he is glad to be at a Catholic campus.

“Coming to Marquette has really helped,” Eichelaub said. “I did not know there were so many theologians who did not agree with the teachings of the Church. It has really made me think critically and examine this even further.”

Eichenlaub said he does not agree with the teaching of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium on the issues of sexual morality of homosexuality.

Another complication in Eichenlaub’s life is his current consideration of the priesthood. Eichenlaub started tossing around the idea about a year ago after spending time with Marquette’s Jesuits.

There have been rumors, though, that the Vatican might soon come out with a mandate forbidding gay males from being eligible for the priesthood.

“If the Vatican did come out with a statement expressly forbidding gay priests that would conclude my discernment,” Eichenlaub said. “As much as I can disagree I am not willing to disobey on that level. It is just sad to think that my discernment might get yanked out from under me like that.”

Eichenlaub does recognize that his faith makes him a minority among minorities.

“I would say 85 percent of the gays that I know have let go of religious faith because they feel like it has abandoned them,” Eichenlaub said. “I think my faith was deep enough that when I came out that I did not ever believe who I was or what I was doing was wrong. I still do not understand how something so beautiful and intrinsic as how you love someone is wrong.”

“I am being who I am,” Eichenlaub says. “I feel like I’ve been a tool for educational justice and that’s what I want to be.”