That headline is too cute by half, and I know it, but given all the First Things columns I’ve written trying to wonder-out and puzzle-out and anticipate the subject of Modern Concepts in Sexuality (and where and how the Catholic Church’s teachings soar or fall flat, largely depending upon how they are taught), and the recent Supreme Court DOMA decision, it does seem like for any story I read — about anything — I read five touching on an aspect of homosexuality and faith, and most especially, gay marriage.
It is the issue of the age, and for the church, one that will challenge her standing as both the taproot and centering pole of Christian teaching. The world wants a confrontation, even if the church does not, and it can only end in one of two ways: either it will move the church to change a most fundamental (and very mystical) teaching in order to suit the times — and thereby send the message that “truth” really is a relative and changeable, not eternal, thing — or it will create a chasm between the Roman and orthodox churches (both small-o and large) and the world that will bring about a time or serious persecution and suppression.
I’m not alone in thinking this way:
SULLIVAN: It still allows every state to make their own decisions.My worry is that there will be an overplaying of our hand, and that people will try and force this more quickly than we really should. What I’m proud of so far is that we have done this the right way. We have done this state by state. We’ve done it legislatively, we’ve done it through arguments, through that kind of — what the founders wanted us to do. Make our case bit by bit, persuade more and more people and move that forward.
SULLIVAN: . . .And I don’t want anybody’s religious liberty, I want that to be defined as maximally as possible. We do not threaten and we should never threaten the conscientious beliefs of those who disagree with us, but we should welcome their freedom because it’s our freedom too. And so I’m very concerned, actually, that we may become intolerant of people who believe homosexuality is still sinful. And we have to — we have to live by …
ZAKARIA: You want to be tolerant of their intolerance?
SULLIVAN: Yes. Because I think in the end that’s the only way to solve it.
Anyway, a great deal of what I’m reading is eye-opening for me. For instance, I never actually understood that some people, upon learning that a family member was gay, actually tried to “pray the gay away” until I read this tragic story, which caught my eye as it passed through my twitter feed with the note: “there are so many errors here, but rather than point them out, let’s just pray for this family in their pain.”
Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person.
I agree, there are lots of errors — enough to offend gay sensibilities, Christian sensibilities alike. And I agree, pray — this article had to be difficult to write. And it made me really grateful that, as Terry notes, here, the Catholic church does not seek a change in anyone’s orientation.
Personally — and I’ve taken some flack for this, particularly at First Things — I’ve never gotten the idea that homosexuality is a thing that can be or is meant to be “changed.” As five year olds, our little gang included a boy who was daintier than any of the girls; as I grew up, family members came out. It was just the way people were: different. I guess to my way of thinking — and I don’t write as any sort of authority on anything — it always made sense that being created differently meant being called to live one’s own office (not a “better” or “worse” office, by the way, but one that is as difficult as any other) and discerning God’s purpose. God’s meaning in our lives is the rub. At its core, it always seems to be about surrendering to the mysteries of love by plundering its depths in all of the surprising, difficult, self-abnegating and never superficial ways God allows, because they are the means by which he reveals himself to us, including by the great — and counterintuitive — revelation of the cross.
Interestingly, while attending a Catholic media conference that followed hard on the DOMA ruling, so many faithful, obedient Catholics with whom I spoke expressed two hopes: first, that the church can find a better and more effective way to communicate that her teaching — seen by the world as nothing but hate and bigotry — is rooted in that counterintuitive, mysterious love, and then that the church can develop a means of recognizing love as love, and then teaching it to flourish within the mysteries of agape.
The second hope may actually answer the first.
Reading that will shock many, I know, which is why most of those conversations seemed to require a drink-in-hand.
An unsigned piece over at American Catholic addresses the issue with poignancy and insight:
When rage meets rage, the Devil has met his goal. . . How can we be proactive and not reactive? A simple insight into the general Catholic response to the “problem of homosexuality” lies in parish life. When one thinks of ministry that involves “family life” how quickly do we think of homosexuality? Not very quickly, I’d imagine. Why isn’t homosexuality considered a part of family life ministry? Homosexuals have families, are apart of families, and parents often have a hard time dealing with the revelation that their son or daughter is homosexual. It’s a family issue. So why do we hardly talk about it?
It’s a good question. A few days ago I got this email, which suggests to me that we feel insecure about how to talk about it:
I have read the Catechism several times in regards that we are to treat homosexuals as other people made in the image of God. This I completely understand.
The thing I am having difficulty in is what do I do in the future if I meet a same sex couple who are “married” or want to be. Do I say to them that this is wrong? How do we show that we are just not giving in by being friends with them and that is it? I have been struggling on how to act like a Catholic on this. I do not just want to [acquiesce] and be told to accept it but I have not read anything on how we respond to homosexuals that are in a relationship.
Not being a scholar, I did my poor best to answer:
Think it through step-by-step: Scripture is clear that Christ is the judge, not us. He makes clear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love takes primacy over judgement because, once again, Christ Jesus is the judge, not us. It seems to me, then, that our charge is to love everyone, including our gay friends who have taken this step; love them first as people, as created creatures of God. If we cannot do that, then there is no hope that they might become amenable to hearing one word about Catholic teaching, or considering it fully. If we always start first with love, not judgement, we cannot go wrong. Another way to think it through is to ask ourselves: what would Benedict do? What would Francis do, if they were introduced to a same-sex couple? Does anyone think that, in meeting them, either of these popes would be anything but gracious and loving to them? Does anyone think they would pull back, and begin to preach at them?
No, they wouldn’t. They would treat the couple just like anyone else they were being introduced to, because on the most fundamental level, they are just like anyone else: faulty, flawed, weak, self-interested children of God, in need of mercy, and doing the best they can with as much grace as they’re ready to accept. The same could be said of any of us.
And after meeting either pope and being seen and loved as such children, don’t you think that couple might be more open to pondering deeply the messages of the gospel and the teachings of the church?
We are living in a complicated era, where distortion, misdirection and euphemisms are the rule, not the exception. Love is more powerful than any of those things; love can cut through them. The English have a saying: “begin as you mean to continue,” and it seems to me simple love must be the anchor we must throw out first, and then rely upon as the world and the church come face-to-face in this tsunami-sized clash of fundamental understandings.
And too, at some point, we’ll have to wrap our minds around the idea we’ve adopted, as a society, that attraction must always (and quickly) become focused on physicality — what Frank Weathers calls “The Idol of the Orgasm” — and the other idol, the idol of having our every desire instantly met through rationalization. Their combined worship has shortchanged all of humanity, whether we are gay or straight.
We submit to that shallow idol so quickly that companionship, real intimacy and other depths of love often go unexplored to our great detriment. Idolatry is destroying us.
Mark Shea: Interesting Letter from a Celibate Gay Reader
Frank Beckwith: Anthony Kennedy in Plato’s Cave