Christian Brownshirts on the March!

Ron Belgau, a chaste gay Catholic whom I respect enormously, writes:

I saw your update about writing projects, so you’re welcome to put off a response to this for a while. I have to do enough juggling myself to be completely understanding of others’ need to juggle responses.

Anyhow, the subject line is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But if I wanted to focus on Christians behaving badly toward gay people on my blog, it would be trivial to do so.

For example.

Internationally, the problem is much more serious.

For example.

I could easily dig up more examples, both here in the US and overseas. But I’m not going to, because if I constantly dwelt on the most stupid, most extreme examples of Christian bigotry toward gays, I would lose my ability to relate to the majority of normal Christians who do not share those extreme beliefs.

It would also be trivial for me to create a blog where I regularly posted every example of black-on-white violence I could come up with, or every example of wealthy Jews being accused of financial crimes or whatever other negative thing I could find about wealthy Jews (I expect lots of blogs like this exist, but I stay away from them).

I really appreciate your recent pieces on Perry Lorenzo, as well as the posts referencing Joshua Gonnermann and my Pepperdine videos.

Al Qaeda represents, I am fairly sure, a much more serious threat than the “radical gay agenda.” They have historically done far more violent things, they have openly threatened much more violent things, and they have training camps training people to do violent things. But that does not mean that one responds intelligently to Al Qaeda by constantly reporting these threats as statements about Muslims generally. This is the approach of the rubber hose right, and it’s an approach that you rightly recognize as stupid and evil on a number of different levels.

There are unquestionably some very nasty gay people out there (as there are anti-gay Christians and violent blacks and crafty Jews and violent Muslims). But you don’t effectively understand a group, or how to interact with its more moderate members, by only focusing on the most extreme examples. It appears to me that Terrorism is much more than a matter of just a few bad apples among Muslims. But that belief is entirely consistent with thinking that we need to safeguard the civil liberties of Muslims, and insist that Muslims are innocent until proven guilty (while recognizing that a disproportionate percentage of them may be proven guilty when the investigations are completed).

I have no desire to defend anyone who issues death threats to Bristol Palin or smash church windows or threaten 14 year old girls with death or attempt to silence Spanish bishops. I don’t suppose you want to defend people who want to subject gays to the death penalty, or Catholic institutions who fire gays who uphold the Church’s teaching, or priests who incite attacks on peaceful gay rights protesters. But I don’t think that when I cite those sorts of examples, I am saying anything meaningful about Christians in general. And so I think it’s a problem to think you can say anything about gays in general by focusing on the worst examples of bad behavior.

As I say, I appreciate the fact that you are trying to show more balance, and appreciate the fact you have always been willing to highlight examples of faithful and orthodox gay Catholics. But continuing to highlight the bad examples as if they say something about gay people in general comes off in the same way as a blogger who regularly harps on the bad behavior of The Jews.

In Christ,

– Ron

Fair enough. This was the sort of feedback I was looking for, as was this over at Abbey Roads. Also this, from a reader:

In response to Mark’s: “That established, what *can* be done to say “There is a place in Jesus Christ for the SSA person and he is the real happiness and Yes you seek?”

I’m not sure if I can fully address this, but I’ll try to expand upon it. First, while a celibate gay man, I doubt my mind will ever be chaste so I don’t think I fully qualify for Mark’s call. Second, as for the “there is a place in the church for you” thing, I’m not sure that I believe that, even though I am part of the church. I want to believe it, and I’m celibate because I don’t want to go to hell, but it defies my experience with my fellow christians. My experience has been that because of my temptations, NOT because of what I do or don’t do, I am pretty much hated by everyone in the church. Yeah, I know that’s harsh but hear me out. I’m not claiming I’m hated because someone disagrees with me, or because they don’t approve of gay marriage. I’m stating as fact that from the personal experience of the speech and actions of christians, it is an inescapable conclusion that as a rule, christians hate gays. This is the part where someone is supposed to quote the catechism on homosexuality. My response is so what? To others, what you do will ALWAYS trump what you only claim to believe.

A word about identity: I call myself gay. I am NOT defining myself on the basis of the fact that I’m sexually attracted to men instead of women. I’m defining myself by what makes me different from you. From the time I became aware of my fellow believers talking about this, the message has been clear: “Gays are not worthy of anything but death. You are contemptible, you are disgusting, you are loathsome. Because of WHAT you are (not what your temptations might lead you to do) you should die. I want to kill you.” Now I’m sure that if they knew I was gay, they wouldn’t have said such things (at least in front of me), but I’m equally certain that it would be because of social embarrassment rather than a change of heart. The point is that everyone else in my experience, when they spoke of gays, defined it as the most important thing about us. The fact that it’s now become fashionable for christians to claim that calling yourself gay is “so narrow and limiting” would be funny if it weren’t so sickening. Who the hell do you think created and imposed that definition, in the first place? It wasn’t me. My part in it was believing it for far too long. My part was taking you at your word. Hmmm, what do you suppose that does to trust? Does thinking that, what people say about gays is what they’re saying about me, make me a narcissist?

So, while there’s a place in the church, even for someone as disgusting as me, it’s pretty damned lonely. Yes, Jesus is always with me. But he’s also always silent, and he doesn’t ever hold my hand.

Heard any good jokes lately? “You know what GAY stands for? Got Aids Yet?” “Hey, you know what AIDS stands for? Another Infected Dick Sucker.” I heard these in church, from an alleged grown-up!

What can you do? How about this: Don’t shit where you pray.


I would be interested in hearing from more SSA folks who are trying to live out their Catholic faith. I would like to *not* hear from all the heterosexuals who decided to fill up my comboxes with pre-emptive defenses/condemnations/ declamation on how evil the Church/gays are in the effort to establish their orthodoxy/gay empathy cred. If you are straight and feel an overwhelming need to weigh in here, please just don’t. I want to hear from the people who are most impacted both by the the Church’s teaching *and* by Catholic failure (including my own) to heed the Church’s teaching with respect to treating gay with the sensitivity the Church requires.

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  • Yes, it is a problem. No, it’s not just a problem for the gays. “Don’t shit where you pray” pretty much covers it. There’s a lot of different ways to hurt people reaching for Christ so they reject the Church. None of them are justified.

  • Ted Seeber

    I hope Andrion bothers to read the responses to this.

    Andiron, I suffer from high functioning autism. I know it’s not the same thing, but let me tell you, I have as little control over mental sin as you do, and for a long time before I was diagnosed and understood what was going on, I considered myself to be evil and going to hell for my actions and the thoughts I could not control.

    It took until I was in my late 20s to gain some level of control over my actions, and I’ve been fired for some of my obsessions over the past 10 years.

    Like most heterosexual men who have been exposed to pornography and the internet I struggle with chastity even within marriage. In addition, I struggle with gluttony and anger – not even reasonable anger, but PTSD related to the first 20 years of my life being told I wasn’t good enough no matter what I did.

    I got so bad after being fired in 2001, that I fantasized about going to Forest Park and shooting the windows of tall buildings at random. I was in a very dark place back then. It was the church that pulled me out.

    I last heard that a liberal Catholic wanted to kill me just last week.

    My wife, who also has some learning disabilities, and I were told by her Baptist grandmother never to have children, for fear that they’d turn out like us (and the one we do have, did).

    So you’re not alone. The problem with holding an ideal is that everybody falls short of it.

    • Peggy Hagen

      Speaking from the weird gray “undiagnosed” borderlands here. I may well be HFA myself; I am very certainly faceblind, which has led to no small amount of embarrassment over the years. ISTM that a lot of the same identity questions apply – cure the condition somehow, you cure the existence of the person with the condition.

      • Ted Seeber

        I see no cure for my condition- only good Drama classes that allow me to appear “normal” most of the time (if you ignore the holes in my skin from stimming, and stay away from getting me focused on one of the topics of my obsessions, and tell me your name when you come up to talk to me in a place I’ve never seen you before or when you change your hairdo, then I’m as normal as anybody else).

        Those looking for a cure for autism, are deluding either themselves or others for money.

    • Ryan C

      God bless you, Ted.

    • Andiron

      Thank you, Ted. Autism impacts how you interact with everyone, and can be socially debilitating. I’m sorry for your burden.

      Comparing yourself to an ideal may not be the best thing. “What do you want me to do today?” might be better.

      • Ted Seeber

        I don’t understand the difference. The way I see it, God always calls us to the ideal; it’s our own sins and broken condition that causes us to fall short. What He wants is always the ideal; thus the answer to what do you want me to do today is always to come as close to the ideal as you can, given the information you have.

        The Good News of the Gospel is that he will never, ever, ever judge you on the information you don’t have or can’t possibly possess even if it’s right in front of your face.

        That is the real meaning behind forgiveness- and the real reason that everybody, even the most horrid sinner you can possibly imagine, has the hope of salvation.

  • ds

    This post is excellent, brave and honest. Thank you Mark.

  • Dale Price

    When Catholics make the Church an unwelcoming place, those who most need her will go where welcome is offered. Even when that welcome comes with a too high–even fatal–price.

    There is no doubt that too many Catholics have been actively hostile to those with SSA. I recall Courage Man getting verbally abused in these parts a couple of years ago. Thank God he was strong enough to weather it. This is something for all of us to repent of, and to make reparation for.

  • Chad H

    I am a same sex attracted Catholic trying to lead a celibate life, and I have followed your blog for years, Mark. I echo Ron Belgau’s sentiments. How many times have I heard “hate the sin, love the sinner” as a summation of the Church’s pastoral approach? Probably a thousand. But, funnily enough, those words don’t make me feel loved. Maybe if I hear them a thousand more times, I’ll get the message… is that how Christian love works?

    Every homily I have ever heard that mentioned homosexuality was about why gay marriage is bad. Meanwhile, we, who are stuck in the No Man’s Land trying to actually live out the Church’s teaching, can’t hear ourselves over the shouting back and forth between the two gargantuan fronts of the culture war. I am hopeful about the discussion taking place at sites like—Lord, am I hopeful—but if the traffic there is anything like Joshua Gonnerman received in the comments at First Things last week… well, I’m just glad that, to quote Joshua’s recent post there, “my hope is not in this life, but in the life to come.”

    • Bob

      I am not weighing in, but asking a genuine question: How do you think a homily, or a conversation for that matter, that touches on SSA should talk about it helpfully?

      • Chad H

        I welcome a message that shatters the comfortable notion that gays and lesbians are outsiders, that they do not belong to Christ or in his Church, and that one needn’t empathize with their plight. I welcome a message that doesn’t just encourage me in my celibacy, but encourages extraordinary efforts by those who do not know this struggle and its loneliness to support me in it. And I welcome a message that is overjoyed by, rather than ashamed of, those who successfully live the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Can you envision an openly same sex attracted person being canonized? I can’t. Why is that?

        • Mark Shea

          Not openly SSA, but you can find some consolation in Blessed John Henry Newman.

          • Chad H

            Blessed John Henry Newman does provide a measure of consolation to me, both as a writer and an intercessor. I enjoy reading his sermons on friendship.

            • Chad – priests sometimes get guidance from their flocks…I don’t know your relationship to your pastor and priests, but maybe you should educate them on your lifestyle and how you are living according to Church teachings. SSM is clouding the dialogue out there right now too, so maybe that’s another reason.

              I echo the others who said that y’all are heroes. God Bless.

        • Ted Seeber

          I not only can envision such a thing- but some liberal theologians think there’s a rather famous one who wrote more than half the New Testament.

          • Stacy

            The idea that Paul’s “thorn” was SSA is interesting, and of course he’s vague enough on the topic that anyone dealing with recurring temptation can take him as a role model — but precisely because he doesn’t specify, he wouldn’t be openly anything. Openly an accessory to lynching and chief of sinners, I guess.

        • Kelley

          Chad… here is a homily one of the priests at my parish gave that is exactly like the one you described as something you would like to hear.

  • Amen to what Dale says. All I can say is that you guys who struggle with SSA and do your best to remain faithful to the Church are heroes to me. We all have our temptations and crosses, but most of us don’t risk being vilified, shunned and/or misunderstood regarding them.

    • Chris M

      The massive public push to normalize certain sins makes it vastly more difficult to resist them. Right now sexual sins are the big ones, whether it’s serial monogamy, homosexuality, polyamory, etc. Those of us who have a particular weakness towards those must not only fight the tidal wave of “hey, it’s perfectly ok! Don’t listen to that mean old out of touch archaic Church!” but also handle the guilting and pointing fingers from those who retain (or at least claim to retain) the moral standards to which we strive.

  • Robert

    Two things in particular that I have dealt with on a personal level are 1) overbearing, condescending, bordering on ridiculous, and in a way, false sympathy for my “affliction” and 2) being co-opted in an agenda by Catholics to somehow “prove” that those outside of the Church or do not believe/follow her teachings are clearly being unreasonable as if to say “I have a g*y friend who’s chaste, so ha!”.

    First of all, I am not a victim of my g*yness. Just because someone who’s straight can’t imagine what it’s like to be marginalized in a way that g*ys have been by the culture of the past AND the present, to have a part of himself, not just his behavior, so scrutinized that he MAY want it to go away and never have to deal with it again, doesn’t mean homosexuality is indefinitely marked by suffering. The Catechism says that it “may” present itself as a trial. I’m an overall happy, well-adjusted, and healthy g*y person. I don’t have some affected or deficient personality or way of thinking just because I’m g*y. It really makes no sense to have this type of condescension from more or less the same people who say “homosexuality is just like any other illness like alcoholism”, or, my favorite, “homosexuality is just like any other sin”. Never mind that the two previous comments are rife with fallacy and/or misconception, I don’t see anyone else with any trouble sinning or a disease getting THIS much attention.

    As for the second point, I’m not a talking point for chastity. No one is. If someone will rethink their position on chastity ONLY because they meet someone who’s chaste and g*y, I don’t think they’re that smart to begin with. One individuals life choice isn’t a reason to do anything. I appreciate that there are Catholics who are inspired by the way chaste, g*y Catholics live, but seriously, sometimes I feel like some weird, rare creature being gawked at because of the way some Catholics speak of us.

    That’s my $0.02.

    • Ted Seeber

      Then you need to read what I wrote above, and check out – neurodiversity activists in the autistic community deal with all of that and then some *every day*.

      The difference? We don’t have the political strength to force the American Psychiatrics Association to change the DSM to relabel autism as not an illness.

      • Richard Johnson

        Quite true, Ted. But on the other side of that sword, it’s not branded as inherently disordered by the Church, either.

  • Rebecca
  • Kirt Higdon

    So now it’s forbidden to refer to gays as brownshirts, but OK to refer to Christian brownshirts? If the word brownshirts is such a bar to effective communication, shouldn’t it be dropped altogether – except perhaps in reference to the originals?

    • Kirt: The brush paints in both directions. Mark clearly meant this for ironic -and poetic- illustration. Let it be, and recall his admonition at the end of his post.

    • Mark Shea

      It was a joke, son.

  • Roz

    The letter from a reader puts a huge tug on my heart. Now, being hetero, I will bow out.

  • Kelley

    “I would be interested in hearing from more SSA folks who are trying to live out their Catholic faith.”

    What is it that you want to hear? Do you want to hear how we are treated like outcasts? Do you want to hear how one of the first questions we are asked is if we are chaste? Do you want to hear about how we are constantly told how disordered we are? Do you want to hear about how we are constantly reading things in the Catholic media about how gay people are the enemy? Do you want to hear about how the Vatican approved ministry for people like me is a 12 Step model because it’s assumed that I have a s*xual addiction or a disease?

    Or maybe you want to hear about what the experience is truly like for someone like me that is gay and just doing my best to respond to the love of Jesus. How even though I hear these messages on a daily basis that I’m unwelcome in the Church I continue to be a devout Catholic… attending daily Mass… giving back to the community. Even though I feel like people are trying to push me away, I am holding on because I know what an amazing gift I have been given in the Church.

    It’s disheartening though. I have worked for years with homeless gay youth that have been rejected by their families and communities and end up on the street. I see what gay people go through… I have experienced it myself. What is really disheartening is that rather than reaching out in love to this population, they are demonized.

  • Kevin

    all i can say is that it is a very heavy cross to bear, and those of us called to bear it needs loads of prayers, true charity, and to be treat like human beings, no different from anyone else.

  • It’s hard. I count myself lucky — by the grace of God — that I got out when I did. And yet …

  • Unless people stop identifying as “gay” they will never know who they are supposed to be in heaven……the real person God created us to be.

    No one in heaven identifies as “gay.”