More Kind, More Demanding: Seeking the Way to Witness on Same-Sex Marriage

This is an apology, but not a retraction. My most recent post—confessing to mixed emotions about the Supreme Court’s decisions on same-sex marriage—seems to have created as much confusion in my readers as there is in my head.

Some people are concerned that I personally believe what I said I feared: that my Church sees homosexual persons not as sinners, but as sin itself. I know that’s not Church teaching, far from it. But it is, in my experience and observation, all too often Church practice. And there’s a reason for that, rooted in the incredibly difficult task, in the instance of homosexuality, of “loving the sinner, hating the sin.” In no other case do we so utterly presume the sin based on the very presence of the person. Unmarried heterosexual individuals having sex, heterosexual married persons having affairs, adults committing child abuse—all of these and many other sinners of every stripe can and do sit in the pews (and even, we know to our sorrow, minister at the altar) and receive Communion and are welcomed, because the presumption is that they are good. We know most heterosexual couples, even Catholic couples, live together before marriage, but do we assume every single adult in the parish is fornicating?

There is also the attitude shared by many Catholics that homosexuality is itself an immoral choice of “lifestyle,” even though Church teaching is clear that the causes of homosexuality are not understood. This attitude reveals itself in statements like “there can’t be gay marriage because there’s no such thing as a gay person,” or in so-called reparative therapy.

I believe my Church professes the dignity and worth of every human person, and the potential for every sinner to receive the grace of reconciliation and the strength to walk the lifelong journey of conversion. I just don’t think we have found a way to say that to people who are homosexual, let alone heterosexual persons who are unmarried (including those vowed to celibacy)—a language that speaks to our worth in God’s eyes, our capacity for holiness, our longing to bring all people into joyful communion in Christ.

That very lack of language on my own part has caused many readers to dismiss what I wrote as catering to sinners, and to dismiss me as not truly Catholic.

For my lack of clarity, I am deeply regretful. But I hope we keep trying for the right words, the right actions to let Love grow. In the meantime, I want to offer links to the words of two writers who have said it so much better than I, with a Tip of the Cowl to My Friend the Hermit for both these gems.

Writing at First Things, Ron Belgau calls attention to two scriptural models of “Condemnation, Forgiveness, and New Life”:

7. If we are to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world, we must approach others with the same compassion and kindness that Christ showed the woman taken in adultery (though at times we must also speak with the boldness and unflinching courage with which he opposed the proud and hypocritical religious leaders of His time). We must speak with humility that recognizes that we, too, have sinned, that we cannot cast the stone at others’ for their sins, even if those sins are judged more disreputable than ours in the eyes of society. And we must show the gentleness and patience with which God responds to all of our sins.

8. This is not a “liberal” call for tolerance of sin. The surprising thing about the teaching of Jesus and Paul is that they are both much kinder and much more demanding than the scribes and Pharisees. In His teaching about lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and His teaching about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-12), Jesus presented a very demanding call to holiness.

What a wonderful reminder to be ambassadors of Christ who are at one and the same time “both much kinder and much more demanding” than the scribes and Pharisees! We will never have the chance to witness to the demands of the Christian life if we do not have the radical kindness to reach out to those in need of what we have to share!

And at the USCCBlog, Sister Mary Ann Walsh writes with her usual practical wisdom about how, in this and every other case, listening and speaking are gateways:

So, like it or not, the fact is that my obscenity-spewing caller is a brother in pain, just as the sweet mother struggling with her daughter’s lifestyle is a hurting sister. So too are the legislators and judges who weigh the issues that can form the culture and affect our lives. The Church needs to minister to them all.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to turn back once we’ve set our hands to the plow. Me, I’m taking that to mean that as we do the work it takes to Let love grow, we need to cast aside the distractions the Tempter throws in our path by way of exaggeration and bias. That means remembering that the street theater and purposefully provocative sexual anarchy often on display in Gay Pride celebrations today is no more an accurate characterization of all homosexual persons than the Friendly Atheist‘s portrait of the Church as a criminal child-rape ring is an accurate characterization of who we are. That there are blasphemous LGBT folks and abusive clergy covered up by cowardly bishops are both facts, through the most grievous fault of the perpetrators themselves and to the sorrow of all.

Pray that we do not let the extremes of sin outshout the depths of our kindness or the authenticity of our witness.

  • lmo

    If I am not mistaken, nowhere does the Catechism of the Catholic Church speak of loving the sinner and hating the sin. The Church teaches that God loves the sinner, in the midst of his/her sin. Catholics should emulate this love, which offers mercy and never condemns.

    Also, Catholics need to get a clue about our own individual sinfulness. If we are to witness to the Church’s teachings on love and marriage, our sense of our own personal sinfulness should always go before us.

  • Jenkins Minor


    Loving you as a friend, disagreeing with you on many points of theology, I say again: Brava for honest and courageous thinking and writing. Nicely written, nicely reasoned.

    Today at St Paul’s we had the readings for our Patronal Feast of SS Peter & Paul. And we heard this: Jesus said (3 times, yet), “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “You know I love you, Lord,” cries Peter. And Jesus said: “Feed my sheep.” Not “nail them sinners.” Not “judge which sheep are the worthy ones.” Just: “Feed my sheep.”

    Or, you know, Let Love Grow.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I have problems seeing the wolf attacking the flock as also being the sheep.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I am very close to many homosexuals, though I am a heterosexual in what I consider a sacred union. This is the third time I attempted this kind of union with a mate. The father of my children had my marriage to him annulled with no input from me. He had taken the sacred out of our marriage while I was married to him, even though we were married in the Roman Catholic church. I suspect that this is not what his annulment request portrayed.

    I have been greatly saddened by the lack of dignity afforded to my friends who are in committed same-sex commitments as partners. Many of them I have known for years, and I have never discussed with whom they have sex. It is none of my business. I also have married friends, who, without my asking or wanting to know, have told me that their marriages aren’t monogamous, but they enjoy the dignity of the word marriage.

    When we refuse a path to dignity to any group or person, we create toxic shame. They continue to act out their shame in an effort to make it feel normal because they, and the people they surround themselves with, are all doing it. Responsible commitment and compassion are ways to express the dignity of bonding, with or without sexual intimacy, for the good of others, something that the church doesn’t understand.

    I laughingly say to my friends who object to “homosexual” marriage that if they want to see less homo-sex, they need to promote same-sex marriage. Any of us who have been married with children know that marriage and children is the surest way to reduce the amount of sex a couple has.

    All that being said, I am happy that my children are not in same-sex family situations simply because i know how much it would further complicate the already complicated life of marriage and child rearing by shrinking their communities of support. They both live in the Bible belt of the southern United States of America.

  • Julia Benson

    I did not find your original post confusing at all! I read a post by a faithful Catholic who is struggling with how to respond and communicate about this issue. I for one appreciated your piece and would like the dialogue to continue!

  • DM


    I also, even with your always humbling honesty and delightful insight, find myself confused and disappointed by your recent posts. I think you miss several profound differences that color how even the most faithful and loving Catholic might speak to their personal, not political or spiritual, response to what is going on today.

    This is a complex topic to be sure. Traditional pre- and post-marriage relationships as practiced today certainly have not lived up to Christ’s call. That model is just a corrupt as what we do with the most vulnerable in our society and how much we value ‘gold’ over ‘giving’.

    But to speak to you about one of your main points of separating the sin from the sinner.

    It is the conduct of this gay/lesbian segment of our society in the public square that makes it very difficult to see those persons in the same light as non-married heterosexuals who engage in pre-marital relations… of married heterosexuals who fall prey to the temptation of an extramarital affair… or to those who engage in the horrific actions related to child sexual abuse.

    In other words, do those persons take these sins, in an ‘in your face’, self-identifying way into the public square and loudly, force-ably and, in some cases, belligerently seek government/societal approval? Do we have ‘Adulterer Pride Day’? Do we glorify the lifestyle of sexual predators in movies and on TV?

    By no means do I believe that even a majority of gay people march and flaunt their lifestyle in the faces of society nor is it all who scream at the Church as being ‘bigots and haters’. But is is a large and loud enough presence that it makes it very difficult for those of us who do love the person and not the sin to find a demarcation between person, lifestyle, choice and sin.

    I don’t see adulterers, fornicators, murderers, predators parading in the public square demanding ‘rights’ to live as their relativistic norm dictates. (Except, perhaps, in the pornography industry; and who of us thinks that is just another acceptable lifestyle we should ‘love into tolerance’?)

    To much that is given, much is expected. Certainly we must love all our brothers and sisters. But even St. Paul would courageously and firmly admonish the most ashamed and sinful among us to follow the Light of Salvation.

  • hazemyth

    Your second to the last paragraph implicitly (though accidentally) likens Gay Pride celebrants with child rapists (as comparable misrepresentations of their respective communities). Even granting that the sexual displays at Gay Pride are sinful, that’s not really so comparable. And it’s kind of a bad start at trying to formulate better outreach to gay people.

  • Paul Adams

    The very use of the term “same-sex marriage” gives away the store. Such a thing is a physical impossibility unless we accept a fundamental redefinition of marriage as something other than the Church teaches and different from what has been understood as marriage in every time and place until 13 years ago. The key issue is whether such a redefinition (and so rejection of Church teaching) can be justified and what its cost is for children (whose interests are being ignored and subordinated to the feelings of adults), civil society (when marriage becomes whatever the state says it is), and religious liberty.

    • tehsilentone

      ^ what you said.

      with divorce / remarriage
      with interracial marriage
      with mixed religious marriage

      all are legal and protected

      such a plague

  • raymond

    “There is also the attitude shared by many Catholics that homosexuality
    is itself an immoral choice of “lifestyle,” even though Church teaching
    is clear that the causes of homosexuality are not understood”

    The sins of heterosexual are not worsened by nor mitigate the sins of homosexuals.

    Stop trying to minimize the immorality of homosexual behavior.

    This is it. I’m finished with following this blog. I can get the same crap from the mainstream media and I have better things to read.

    • tehsilentone

      there’s this implication in your post, that homosexuality is a more deadly sin than other sins.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Same sex attraction is not sinful. Same sex *acts* are sinful. Same sex marriage is now, and forever will be, an ontological impossibility due to the lack of ability to consummate the union.

    The problem comes in when you add love to marriage to get something that is for the married people instead of for the children they will have together.

  • zai

    “There is also the attitude shared by many Catholics that homosexuality
    is itself an immoral choice of “lifestyle,” even though Church teaching
    is clear that the causes of homosexuality are not understood”

    Hey guys, let’s calm down (I think i am speaking to one individual more than the rest of you guys). One problem with language is that is sometimes fails to be as exacting as we need. What I think was being expressed in the above sentences is that we often tend to consider the person with the homosexual/bisexual orientation is an immoral choice of “lifestyle.”This contrasts with understanding that the orientation itself is mysterious in how it comes to be (and will always vary greatly) and that the person is not CHOOSING it. Choice only enters the mix when it comes to acting on one’s impulses. Possessing desires is not really a matter of choice, but what you do in regard to them is.

    That said, I think the point of this post is found here: we are to be “both more demanding and much kinder.” If a friend of ours, who is an LGBT individual, finds the beauty that is the Church and wishes to join we are duty bound to make sure that they know that things will have to be given up and to bear their struggle with them as they do the same with us. We are one body and we must care for one another. The same applies to those outside of the Church, but they wouldn’t recognize our moral jurisdiction. The first approach should be a loving kindness and, as hearts change, providing knowledge of the demands of Our Lord and Our God. Those in the fold, that have trouble extricating themselves, need to go to confession often and we need to pray and strive with them.

    As catholics, we should be well aware that the transformation found within Christ is not an instant fix to everything. Some things may change more rapidly than others and everyone is different in what they will have the most trouble with. That does not mean that they should not be welcome (if they are clearly striving for the mark). We constantly need our medicine and exercise to rid ourselves of whatever besets us and when we lose those things we will find something far greater.

  • Sven2547

    Kindness starts at home. Even here on Patheos, I’ve seen blog postings (not just commenters, but the columnists themselves) abandon any semblance of acting like their opponents are decent human beings. People who support marriage equality clearly must be agenda-driven, sinister, and evil:

    Is the secret motivation behind gay marriage a plot to destroy marriage? I’m not sure that matters. In the final analysis, it might as well be their agenda, since it will be the result of re-writing marriage laws to pretend that there are no differences between gay couples and a man and a woman. This entire movement is based on this absurd lie.

    What I’ve seen reminds me of the sub human creatures, taken over by a virulent disease in the film I Am Legend. The once human beings live like zombies in a half life–hiding by day and coming out on the rampage at night ready to kill and devour anyone who is still uninfected by their horrible disease.