“Gay but Chaste” Is Not Enough for a Faithful Christian Witness
The ‘Gay’ Crucible and the Catholic Church, Part Two
[For part one of the series, go here.]
When smelters use a crucible to remove contaminants from metal they know that the more junk they remove, the harder it is is to find the last bits of unwanted junk. That’s the irony. The purer your material becomes, the more stubborn becomes the task of hunting down the last, still-dangerous impurities.
So it is with the Catholic Church’s experience in the “gay crucible.” In the last decades of the previous century, much effort went into fighting the immorality of “doing,” but the question of identity, of “being,” was set aside. Yes, certain bishops’ documents would say that identifying as “gay” falls short of the “norm,” but since “being” a person who suffers from same-sex attractions isn’t sinful (temptations don’t equal sins), step one was to keep the faithful from committing the sin of homosexual acts.
The first and most spiritually powerful Catholic organization in this effort is the international organization Courage. It had modest beginnings in 1980 in New York under the guidance of its late founding director, Fr. John Harvey, a saintly and iconic figure. Courage was enthusiastically endorsed by Pope John Paul II, and now has more than 100 local chapters worldwide. Fr. Harvey never wavered in according those with SSA their full dignity as human persons in God’s sight. As part of that, he refused to treat them as people who were defined by their most persistent and painful temptations.
In his 2007 Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, Fr. Harvey gives an insightful response to the key question:
I notice you use “same-sex attraction” rather than the popular terms “gay” or “lesbian.” Is this intentional?
Yes. I avoid using the terms “gay” and “lesbian” for good reason. An individual is more than a sexual inclination. An individual is a person, a creature made in the image and likeness of God, with intelligence and free will, destined for eternal life, and when baptized, a brother or sister of Christ. To refer to him or her as a “homosexual” is to reduce that person to a sexual tendency. A human being is far more than that in the mystery of his or her personhood.
The terms “gay” and “lesbian” are an even further reduction of a person’s own wondrous complexity. Those who refer to themselves as “gay” or “lesbian” regard their sexual attraction as the most important mark of their identity. Whether one is born this way or not does not matter to such individuals. They claim, “This is the way I am and always will be. …”
All three forms of self-identification — homosexual, gay, and lesbian — fail to describe who one really is as a person. Far from being a merely academic question, how you regard yourself as a person has much to do with how you see yourself and how you set your personal goals for the future. Your self-image greatly influences your behavior.
Not every response by Catholics, even by clergy and bishops, was so well-grounded as Fr. Harvey’s. Indeed, some pastoral documents issued in the 1970s and 80s made dangerous concessions to the gay “identity” project. They allowed that same-sex partners might remain together as a couple as long as they avoided sex; they suggested that being gay brought with it certain gifts that were lacking among “straight” people; they fully embraced the ideology of “orientation” and the labels “gay” and “lesbian”; they claimed that prejudice against gays and lesbians was a worse sin than homosexual behavior was; or they almost seemed to apologize to the world for having to grudgingly comply with the Church’s teaching against same-sex acting out.
We ought not to be surprised that these same themes have persisted and that our contemporary challenge is not merely opposing the dissent of the 1970s that accepted gay sex, full stop. We must now engage the emergence of the “chaste, gay Catholic” in the Church.
The Chaste, Gay “Spiritual Friendship” Project
The most organized and vocal contingent of such Catholics arose from the Gay Christian Network, which comprises “side A” Christians, who fully affirm the “being” and “doing” of homosexuality, and “side B” Christians, who affirm the “being” but not the “doing” — hence the label “chaste” or “celibate” alongside “gay.”
Among the “side B” folks are Catholic Ron Belgau and Anglican Wesley Hill, who co-founded the “Spiritual Friendship” blog site, a self-described “ecumenical conversation among Christians identifying as gay,” which in the last five years or so has risen to some prominence in both Protestant and Catholic circles. While such “side B” Christians should be commended for agreeing with the perennial Christian prohibition against homogenital sex, I don’t think they’ve grasped the whole of the truth of the Christian understanding on human sexuality.
As philosophers and theologians know, a mistake buried deep in your premises will have long-term, serious consequences. Put bluntly: How plausible is it to believe that God made you a certain way, with sexual attractions that you have accepted as unchangeable, while holding on to the judgment that acting on these attractions would be sinful? To believe that God “made” you gay, with overwhelming feelings He will never allow you to act on? Today our culture screams at us from every medium — including our nation’s highest court — that sexual “diversity” is a sacred good. Believers everywhere call the historic Christian teaching into question. When a person’s commitment to chastity rests on such a shaky foundation, at some point, it’s likely to bend and even break.
Not Just What You Do, But Who You Are
Initially, I was encouraged by these writers who professed their commitment to chastity. But then I looked more closely, and became concerned. For about three years, I’ve had both private and public exchanges with several of the Catholic contributors to “Spiritual Friendship.” They have to be engaged virtually one-on-one and not as a group, because there is no common “platform” among them, other than their commitment to gay identity and chaste continence. I’m simply not convinced that these writers are presenting a fully Christian view of the human person and God’s plan for us. I’ve written more extensively elsewhere regarding the particulars of my concerns with various “Spiritual Friendship” contributors, as has Austin Ruse at Crisis Magazine. There are some core objections that can be mentioned here, but only in passing.
First, most of these writers affirm the “gay” identity. This is part of the problem and not part of the solution, because it obscures our full identities as children of God, as man and as woman. This question is at the core of “being” and should not be lightly set aside.
Next, some do not consider the “eros” of same-sex attraction to always be an objectively disordered inclination, despite what the Church teaches about the nature of human sexuality and the nature of “eros-love” in its divine and human expressions (see Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” for more insight).
Some writers argue that specific “gifts” arise from being gay. Some defend the legitimacy of chaste, gay “couplehood”; some push for Church-blessed “vowed friendships” between gay couples; some suggest family bonds can be forged by such friendships rather than through marriage; some set aside one of the very foundations of Christian moral teaching — natural law — as not essential to the conversation.
None of these are trivial claims. So it should come as no surprise that the more widely known these writers have become, the more necessary it has been for the Catholic Church to put their thinking to the test in the trial-by-fire.
We’ll explore these matters in more depth in Part Three.