Interesting Piece by Melinda Selmys

She is a chaste and faithful same sex attracted woman who has become a Catholic and chosen to pursue heterosexual marriage.  She writes here on how to speak to (and about) homosexuality.

But Mark, you’ve been plenty critical of gays too.  Sure.  I write defenses of the Church’s teaching against militant gays who attack it.  But I’ve also written repeatedly on same-sex attracted people who live faithfully according to the teaching of Jesus Christ.  So my posture with respect to homosexuality is to defend against attacks from that sector and highlight, where possible, examples of SSA folk who demonstrate discipleship.

What I tend to avoid is telling SSA people what they need to be doing.  Why?  C.S. Lewis explains it all for you.  He tells us in Surprised by Joy that he never commented on two sins: pederasty (rampant in the school he attended) and excessive gambling.  That was because they were two sins to which he himself felt no temptation and since he always resented it when the officers gave moral lectures to their subordinates on matters they themselves were not struggling with, so he refused to do it himself.  He then goes on and tells us that if we are wondering about all the other sins he does comment on in places like the Screwtape Letters, the answer is “Yes.  I have been tempted to all of them.”  Elsewhere he says, “My heart–I need no other’s–showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”

The reason I don’t hand out free advice to homosexuals is that I have never been tempted to homosexuality.  I also don’t hand out free advice to heroin addicts for the very simple reason that I have never been tempted to drug abuse, particularly with any drug involving (brrrr) needles.  Lewis remarks, in a way that will scandalize Pharisees, that his failure to be tempted in the area of pederasty and gambling probably signals the lack of some corresponding virtue.

“What!” the Pharisee squawks, “What could possibly be virtuous about pederasty?”

Well, nothing.  Just as there is nothing virtuous about excessive gambling or heroin addiction.  But since sin is disordered love, there is some love there which, rightly ordered, would be virtuous, such as noble friendship (now often taken for pederasty even when it is only friendship), or the courage to take risks (which is what excessive gambling and even the person experimenting with drugs perverts).  In Lewis’ case, I think his immense capacity for rightly ordered friendship precluded a homosexual temptation and his (self-confessed) cowardice made him too timid to be tempted to gambling.  I suspect my own ineptitude for passionate friendships and loves has rendered me immune from homosexual temptation.  I have a lot of acquaintances, but few deep loves and friendships.  It’s something I would love the Holy Spirit to change in me, particularly with regard to friendship.  I have a deep longing for true friendship.  I suspect that part of the reason I both spend time on the web and find it so intensely frustrating is that I am looking for friendship in a place where it is not to be found.

Anyway, I think Selmys’ piece is interesting because she is speaking heart to heart with SSA persons who, like all the rest of us, long for Christ whether they realize it or not.  She can do that because she’s been there.  I can’t do that because I haven’t.

  • Robert

    Friendship is more easily found over a pint than online…just saying. :)

    • Alan

      just saying? why did you add that?
      you aren’t saying, you’re writing.

  • Justin Martyr

    Where do you think the Church is getting it right with regard to practical ministry for people with SSA? Selmys seems implicitly critical of Courage, but I am unaware of any other group.

    • Mark Shea

      You’re asking the wrong guy. Ask somebody who is SSA.

    • Theodore Seeber

      If you’re unaware of any other group, you really need to check out Dignity, which is kind of the left wing cafeteria Catholic version of Courage (and while not approved by the Vatican, it can be a useful first step towards joining Courage, for it encourages gays to be monogamous according to the same rules married homosexuals should be- for life and one love. I know a few members of Courage who *were* members of Dignity before their partners died of AIDS).

      • Mike64

        Wow, “being monogamous for one life and one love,” really, really is a left wing concept???I never knew that!

  • kenneth

    I support her right to live by her conscience as I do gays who want to marry. Chastity might be a viable option for her. I wouldn’t marry someone in her position for all the confiscated Euros in Cyprus though.

    • Jon W

      Chastity might be a viable option for her.

      I assume you meant celibacy? Chastity is always the viable option for everyone all the time. Though Lord knows I have a hard enough time living that out as a single straight guy.

  • Jake

    I too struggle with forming deep friendships. I’m sure there are many factors, but part of it is probably that my interests and passions are so varied that I find it nearly impossible to find someone who can share in all of them with me.

    Let’s kill our respective birds with one stone and just be friends, Mark :-)

  • Art

    Mark please, please, please do not take this the wrong way. I am not trying to argue the issue but trying to understand the logic here. When you said the following:

    “What I tend to avoid is telling SSA people what they need to be doing.”

    In what context are you talking about? Doing what exactly?

    “The reason I don’t hand out free advice to homosexuals is that I have never been tempted to homosexuality. I also don’t hand out free advice to heroin addicts for the very simple reason that I have never been tempted to drug abuse…”

    I have had this logic thrown in my face as a Catholic in regards to the priesthood and counseling married couples. It sounds like this, “How can “YOUR” priest, who is a single man, provide advice to a struggling married couple, when he himself is not married?!”

    My argument is, “A doctor can not have a disease and know how to cure the disease.”

    Just trying to understand the logic here and how it differs.

    • http://rayontremblant.wordpress.com Robert

      A doctor has gone through years of education to understand the proper function of the human body and is best suited to give out actual diagnoses and treatment options to patients. Mark’s point is unless you have dealt with the matter first hand or you have some authority to actively give someone advice (which is NOT the same thing as the work of mercy: gently admonishing the sinner) on homosexuality, or really anything else for that matter.

      Another thing that is really off-putting is the assumption that, when it is made known that someone experiences sexual attraction to the same sex, the person needs to be talked to or ministered to concerning sin or addiction or psychological well-being. Many of us are normal, well-adjusted people like you who are simply working out their salvation in fear and trembling and aren’t trying to reach out for some sort of “healing”. It’s this unnecessary and, while I believe it is not often done in the spirit of condescension, somewhat condescending attitude that perpetuates the stigma of attraction to the same sex that we (that is, those of us with said experience) are trying to get away from.

      • http://rayontremblant.wordpress.com Robert

        Woops, didn’t finish my thought. Let me fix that:

        Mark’s point is unless you have dealt with the matter first hand or you have some authority to actively give someone advice (which is NOT the same thing as the work of mercy: gently admonishing the sinner) on homosexuality, or really anything else for that matter, you shouldn’t hand out advice.

        It isn’t an unreasonable conclusion to which one can come and it’s actually quite prudent.

        • kenneth

          Mark’s advice is dead-on in this matter. Being a priest, or a doctor, as often as not, is not about “curing” anyone of anything. It is very often about helping someone to live with whatever condition they have as best as they can. Their insights from book knowledge or observation of others is not without value. But they are in no position to tell their clients how to live their lives with a condition they know nothing firsthand about.

          • Jon W

            While I agree with some aspects of this, kenneth, and certainly we should avoid a kind of typically American attitude that demands all ills be perfectly fixed in this life, I will say that I have been eternally grateful for what the ministry of my priest has helped cure me of (or, at the very least, put me on the road to recovery).

      • Theodore Seeber

        “A doctor has gone through years of education to understand the proper function of the human body and is best suited to give out actual diagnoses and treatment options to patients. ”

        And a priest has gone through the same years of education to understand the proper function of the human soul, and is best suited to give out actual diagnoses and treatment options to sinners.

    • Cinlef

      I think another danger, that Lewis was getting at in his quote is that condemning a sin that one feels no temptation for whatsoever (and homosexuality is probably the most common instance of this) is dangerous since it makes one especially vulnerable to spiritual pride. The temptation for me to think “Thank God I am not like this publican” (cf Luke 18:11-14) is far more pronounced when I’ve never felt the temptation oneself.

      • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com Beadgirl

        “condemning a sin that one feels no temptation for whatsoever (and homosexuality is probably the most common instance of this) is dangerous since it makes one especially vulnerable to spiritual pride. ”

        Yup yup yup. And if we are not careful, we end up demonizing our fellow human beings.

      • Cheri

        Matthew 7:3 comes to mind: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” I can run around noticing other people’s sins to my heart’s content. Much easier than thinking about, confessing, and trying to overcome my own sins.

        Mark, lately your work is helping me a lot. Thanks.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com Robert King

      There are different kinds and levels of “telling someone what they ought to be doing” (or, for that matter, not doing).

      For example, I’m perfectly happy telling anyone and everyone that they ought to be loving God and loving their neighbor. That’s something we all ought to be doing. But it’s also a bit abstract and a bit general.

      Then there’s an abstract but more specific kind of advice: a doctor, who has studied a disease in the abstract, advises a patient to take a certain medicine; or an orchestra conductor, who knows music but not every instrument, tells the cellist that he is flat on a certain note.

      And then there’s the concrete and specific advice: a fellow patient tells you how to make the medicine taste better; or a fellow cellist tells you how she overcomes the flat-note problem.

      So in moral problems, it is necessary to give the abstract and universal advice: do good and avoid evil. “Experts” may give abstract specific advice: same-sex attraction is a temptation, and same-sex intercourse is a sin. But only one who struggles with that temptation is really qualified to give the concrete practical advice on dealing with the temptation; this is where I (and I think Mark) decline to advise beyond my personal experience.

    • Mark Shea

      If I were a skilled or trained pastor it would be different, for the reason you state. I don’t want treatment for my ear infection from somebody whose had an ear infection. I want treatment from somebody who’s been to med school. I have not been to med school for the human soul. I’m not a trained pastor or moral theologian. So I shy away from giving pastoral advice to people about things I don’t know about. I’ll pop off about things I found helpful in my own struggles with sin. But I won’t hand out free advice about sins to which I feel no temptation and have not struggled with.

  • Mark R

    I remember vividly Lewis’ commenting that he would not go into “phillipics” against enemies he never meant. I love that rhetorical term and thanks to Lewis I use it occasionally.

    • Dustin

      Is a “phillipic” something different than a jeremiad?

  • http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/ Terry

    She’s a very intelligent woman. I find her writings interesting and persuasive. It seems to me she regards LGBTQ as an identity in itself. In correspondence she once told me she advocates a gay spirituality – that was in response to my saying that I think she advocates a gay spirituality. Gay Catholic activists, also advocate as much.
    Queer Catholics are now being listened to of course, it is always good to listen to one another.
    I’ve never been happy with a gay identity… I’m just a man.

  • Guest

    The spam filter doesn’t seem to like all the sexual terms so hopefully my shorthand labels will make sense.

    What exactly is Ms. Selmys’ definition of the acceptance she thinks so many Catholics are lacking? I read her piece and I couldn’t figure it out. I think the Church has made it abundantly clear that SSA is not a sin. Sin comes from acting on the attraction. Is she calling for acceptance of the sin of hom*s? I hope not. In the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that He wants the sinning to end even as He forgives. If she means extending forgiveness for the sin, as forgiveness is extended for all forms of sin, then I would agree. That doesn’t mean that living in sin, by hom*s and heter*s alike, should be accepted or tolerated publically by a parish community or individual Catholics.

    I also wonder what she means by calling herself “qu*er” vs l*sbian, which label she later uses to refer to the type of s*x she gave up. Does she consider herself a hom*? It seems to me that if she can go from l*sbianism to a heter* marriage I think she is more appropriately a bi-s*xual – which is clearly a choice since a woman can forsake female lovers to commit to a heter* marriage the same way a woman can forsake all other men to commit to one husband and vice-versa. There really is little difference in the choice and the committment and I think bringing SSA into it makes it seem more difficult than it is, and asks for more special empathy than it really deserves.

    I believe the term hom* should more appropriately refer to SSA that is as immutable as heter* and is not something one needs to seek to change – only to live with celibately. Other forms are choices that largely reflect an attitude of hedonism/licentiousness and can be overcome with grace and perhaps psychological help the same as any other sinful temptation.

    • Amy

      Guest,

      With all due respect, I suspect that you have never sat down and had a serious conversation with someone struggling to reconcile their feelings and inclinations, indeed, their self-identity, with their desire to follow God. You are very naive if you think they don’t encounter many “good” Catholics who treat them as a lesser level of human or their attraction as a particularly disgusting level of sin.

      • Guest

        With all due respect you would be wrong. I am very empathetic toward people with SSA and the difficulty of living a celibate life. And the vast majority of Catholic people I have met and had any occasion to discuss this topic with harbor no prejudice against someone simply having the orientation. If prejudice is encountered it is most likely a homosexual lifestyle that is being objected to – and that is my point – as Catholics we must not support someone in their sin, regardless of orientation.

        One of the things I tried to point out however, is that bi-sexuality is a choice, not an immutable SS orientation, and managing SSA in that case is little different than managing an attraction to someone of the opposite sex when one is married. In other words, you shut it down before it gets started – period – and there is no need to make a big deal out of the SSA aspect of it.

  • Andrew

    Kenneth, I disagree. Theology of the Body is one of the most profound “manuals” for us married people….written by a man who wasn’t married to a woman and who was without so-called “experience”. I do completely believe that a priest can and should (especially if inspired the same way JPII was with TOB) tell their “clients” how to live their lives, even if they know nothing first hand. This is one of the biggest lies that our modern society has tricked us in to believing – hence the shouts I hear when I say I’m pro-life “BUT youre a man, and you’ll NEVER have an abortion firsthand!”

    Mark, while I totally get what you’re saying here, I also have my concerns….

    I mean, I totally get that it would be tough for someone not tempted by Heroin to talk to Heroin addicts….but I guess I’m just concerned about how we are supposed to approach this.

    I happen to disagree, and frankly, not sure there are enough people who struggle with SSA who are willing to put themselves out there and “teach” others or tell them “what they should do”.

    I know that there are some, just not many right now….and therefore, we’ve gotta do something. I have no idea what that is….I just think that there’s gotta be a different answer.

    • kenneth

      It’s fine for a priest or whoever to offer to someone “here’s what our faith says you should aspire to, and why.” I would question the validity of a theology which presumes to tell an entire class of people that they were predestined to forgo normal human intimacy, but that is neither here nor there. I don’t live by it and as long as it’s not enforced in civil law, it makes me no never mind.

      But assuming the couple, gay or straight, accepts the priests authority on the what and why, he still has absolutely nothing credible to say about the “how”, the day to day struggle of a path he has never walked. He can offer moral support and say “I think your actions should be informed by (fill in the blank).” He can’t say what that person should be feeling or tell them “if you just suck it up and do x,y, and z, it will all work out.” He can’t credibly do so any more than I could instruct a woman on how to get over a miscarriage.

      If an SSA person is not bullied or cajoled into living according to Catholic doctrine, and does so out of their own free calling, bully for them. I wish them well on a tough journey. I do think it’s unethical for them to marry heterosexual partners, however.

      • Guest

        “But assuming the couple, gay or straight, accepts the priests authority on the what and why, he still has absolutely nothing credible to say about the “how”, the day to day struggle of a path he has never walked.”

        Seriously? I can’t imagine who is better qualified to speak to a SSA person about a celibate life than a celibate priest who lives it everyday. The arguments one hears against expecting SSA persons to live celibately is that it’s impossible or unfair or too hard or not a choice one wants to make. But the witness of priests and single people and widowed people and people with ill spouses who live it day in and day out puts the lie to almost any argument that it can’t be done. People don’t want to hear that truth.

        • S. Quinn

          Touche! Well played!

      • Jon W

        I would question the validity of a theology which presumes to tell an entire class of people that they were predestined to forgo normal human intimacy

        It doesn’t. At most, it implies that not everybody gets to share deep sexual intimacy. That’s not “normal human intimacy” as though there was something necessary to any flourishing human life that was missing.

        • kenneth

          That will carry some water for me if you can tell me that you are spending your lifetime doing without this trifling thing based on other people’s presumptions of what you were called to do.

          • Jon W

            You don’t get to decide what you’re called to do, disregarding any practical situation you find yourself in. The men who stormed Omaha beach didn’t do that because they felt an inner call. The circumstances demanded the sacrifice. People who have parents with Alzheimers or a spouse with cancer don’t get to decide whether they feel “called” to take care of those people. They just are called. Being called isn’t a matter of what you, personally, want to do. “Perhaps you were brought to this position for such a time as this.”

  • Brandon

    I suspect my own ineptitude for passionate friendships and loves has rendered me immune from homosexual temptation.

    This indicates that you fundamentally misunderstand both friendship and sexual attraction.

    • Mark Shea

      Or that you have badly misread me.

      • Brandon

        That seems unlikely. Your writing seems to suggest that if only you were better at friendship, you might be sexually attracted to your friends. If you believe that, you don’t understand friendship well at all. Being very close to a friend has nothing to do with physical attraction. I think you have a confused idea of what friendship even is if you believe otherwise.

        • Mark Shea

          Uh, no. That’s not what my writing suggests.

          • Brandon

            Uh, yes. That’s what you explicitly said in the quoted text, that it’s your ineptitude at friendship that keeps you heterosexual. Talk about “disordered”.

            • Mark Shea
              • Brandon

                No, what’s tedious is pretending that what’s in your plain text doesn’t mean what it says. I suppose you could acknowledge that it was a bit of a nonsensical statement, but that’d require a bit of integrity. Much easier to pull a Gish Gallop than stick to a point, after all.

                • Mark Shea

                  Gish Gallop? Because I documented my actual views on friendship? Does everything always have to be cast in the tropes and jargon of the Pharyngula cult?

                  • kenneth

                    I thought I was pretty well plugged into the angry atheist world, but even I don’t get that reference!

                    • Mark Shea

                      Google “Gish Gallup”. It’s a Pharyngulism for “baffle ‘em with bullshit”. Like all religious groups, Pharyngula has its own inside jargon, some of it useful, some of it a way of avoiding listening to those outside the cult. Labeling something a “Courtier’s Reply” for instance, is a way of saying, “I don’t want to know anything about how somebody I disagree with defines their own specialized terminology. So theological concepts I refuse to try to understand will be dismissed as meaning what *I* insist they must mean and anybody who tries to correct me and tell me what they actually mean is offering a Courtier’s Reply.” It’s an interesting laboratory of groupthink over there.

                      One thing that angry atheist sects almost totally lack is a mechanism for appreciating how much the dynamics of fundamentalist sectarianism applies to them, because they imagine that, as atheists, they are totally immune from the social dynamics that animate other religious groups. Sooner or later, it is to be hoped that some smart cookie in their number will swallow his pride and start analyzying online Evangelical Atheist Fundamentalism for what it actually is: a particular virulent form of American Fundamentalism. That will be fun.

                    • kenneth

                      Criminy! I thought Scientologists had all the cool but pretentious neologisms. I think I liked it better when I was just a “Suppressive Person.” Maybe I need the Pharyngula Rundown!

                    • Mark Shea

                      What’s funny, of course, is the attempt to export the jargon into situations have nothing to do with what it was coined for. So somehow I am Duane Gish, dreaded Creationist, because I produced a bunch of links documenting my actual views on something. Because “Christian and documenting a point with evidence” equals “Duane Gish” in this person’s mind. When you live in a hermetically sealed epistemological bubble, jargon is the quick way of dismissing a point. It’s how Fundamentalism (that is, Evangelical Atheism) works.

                    • The Next to Last Samurai

                      Hello? I’m sorry, I can’t come to work today; I have a bad case of the galloping Gishes..

                    • Guest

                      How about pharyngulitis? It’s the deep throat cousin of pharyngitis.

  • Chad H

    Melinda wrote a follow-up talking about what she means by “acceptance.” http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/04/02/what-i-mean-by-acceptance/

    • Mark Shea

      Seems reasonable to me. Prudence means dealing with reality as it is, not as we wish it were.

  • J.C.

    From her article: From this perspective, the LGBTQ community is no different from Corinth or Athens. There’s no reason to expect the native population to be pre-catechized, to have laws that correspond with the Mosaic code, or to know the fundamental principles of the faith. The key is to discern which of the idols we can use as St. Paul used the altar to the unknown god in the Areopagus, to figure out which pagan poets and philosophers we can quote in order to speak the gospel in a new way. It’s mission territory, not lost ground.

    Well said. Not directly related to Mark’s musing’s on the article, but this is a crucial point to understand.

    This may be a stretch, but it makes me wonder about the wisdom of Vatican II in calling for a reform of the liturgy and complete reorientation of how the Church presents herself—not an impossible change of her received teachings, of course, but in the presentation. Now, I love the Traditional Latin Mass and find my day-to-day experience of the Novus Ordo to be nearly unbearable (even though the latter was my initial liturgical experience of Christianity as an atheist). But the symbols of a triumphant Catholicism are—like the Church’s understanding of homosexuality—largely incomprehensible to a modern world dominated by modernist thought. At one point those signs of triumphant Catholicism (such as her liturgy) were bulwarks against heresies such as modernism; then, later on, they only served to mask the deep infiltration of modernist thought into her faithful and leaders; and now they are odd remnants of a time long past except in scattered places where they have been preserved and rediscovered by modern men—like those places she hints at in the article. But were the conciliar fathers attempting to strip everything down to make it accessible or at least plausibly comprehensible to the Areopagites of today, to a people no longer “pre-catechized”—and, in fact, anti-catechized by a modern mode of thought suspicious of any claims to truth and unable even to recognize beauty? What empty altar have they latched onto? Was this what they were doing—or are the rad trads right and the animating spirit of the conciliar age is mere iconoclasm and self-loathing? If the former, the fathers’ ambitious experiment is slow to catch on. And as someone attached to the older form of Triumphal Catholicism, I confess myself to be bewildered by the entire effort.

  • Theodore Seeber

    What I’m failing to see in all this is why we treat a same-sex attraction any different than we treat the attraction of a married heterosexual for a woman who is not his wife, or the attraction between two teenage heterosexuals who aren’t ready for marriage.

    I know there are 1000 paragraphs about “sins against chastity” in the CCC, but only 3 of them deal with homosexuality, and I don’t see any reason why our advice to the SSA individual should differ from our advice to anybody else on the subject of chastity.


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