Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thoughts on Gay Marriage, Part Four: Speaking the Truth in Love

So we've looked at the theoretical dimensions (Parts One and Two) and gotten into some of the practical side (Three). A major concern remains unaddressed: how do we interact with gays and lesbians who dissent from the traditional view of sexual morality, especially if they're partnered?

It is tempting to answer, "Why, the same way you deal with an agnostic, or someone who's sleeping with their fiance, or someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum from you." The fundamental problem should not be "How do I deal with this person who's a sinner?" because everybody is a sinner (okay, except Jesus and Mary, but they were cheating), and because -- as that list of alternatives implies -- the problem isn't as simple as people being sinners. Nor, despite the volumes of rhetoric thrown back and forth in the kulturkampf, is there much Scriptural ground for thinking of homosexuality as a uniquely bad thing. A departure from the fullness of the Catholic tradition, yes; but so is gossip, and refusing to give to the poor, and congratulating ourselves on the ways in which we're better than others. (This last sin being, paradoxically, more dangerous in exact proportion as we have more to be proud of.)

But I don't answer in quite those terms. To begin with, I think we need to think of every person as a person first: that is, as a living icon of Christ. One of the worst aspects of the Christian response to the gay rights movement has been to turn the queer movement into the enemy, and to turn gay Christians into mascots, instead of thinking of them primarily as human beings in the painful, lovely, and bewildering straits that we call life.

To take a concrete example, let's say you have invited a lesbian friend over for your family's Thanksgiving, and she wants to bring her wife along. A lot of Catholics would respond that a request to bring her partner should be refused, with the explanation that we can't approve of homosexual relationships. Others would say that bringing the partner is fine, so long as they will present themselves as simply friends, to set a good example for the children. That's understandable, right?

Okay; now try that same strategy with a friend who is divorced and remarried. Are you still friends?

People toss around accusations of homophobia against Christians and against the Church, and some of that is merely ornery, but much of it is just true. How many people would even consider treating a friend who was divorced and remarried in this fashion -- even though that is just as contrary to the teaching of the Church? That is a double standard, plain and simple. Or what about the question of whether people pretending to be something they are not is, in fact, a good example for children?

There is nothing Christlike about that kind of behavior. Indeed, it is the diametric opposite of what Christ did -- and it is precisely what the Pharisees did. Their charge against Him was that He was a companion of drunks, gougers, and whores. The Pharisees were the respectable ones. They were the ones who were scandalized by the company God kept when He came to earth -- or, as St. Thomas put it, the ones who scandalized themselves; the thrifty and scholarly observers of the Torah. The scandalous company kept by Christ doesn't seem to have been unduly confirmed in its manner of life by His presence: the political semi-criminals, the dabblers in witchcraft, the men who abandoned Him when He needed them the most. These, He called His friends.

I have read or spoken with a lot of homosexuals who have converted, or considered apostasizing but chosen not to*, or returned to the faith after a season of wandering; and to some who have abandoned their faith and not returned. Zero of those who became or remained believers did so as a result of having it made plain to them that they and those whom they loved were at best second-class citizens to Christians -- as for those who left, it was consistently a (though not always the) decisive factor. Melinda Selmys put it with biting clarity on her blog:

"This is a category of question that I've seen a lot of times, and it basically rests on the assumption that if we agree to do everyday normal things in the presence of people who are in gay relationships, that we are somehow sanctioning their relationships. The corollary is the belief that by refusing to participate, we send a clear message about the morality of same-sex relationships and we witness to the truth about homosexuality. When we refuse to get involved in the lives of LGBTQ people, we do send a very clear message, but the message has nothing to do with the truth. We send the message that we are bigoted homophobes who think that gays are icky. We send the message that Catholics don't want anything to do with those nasty fags, and that we're afraid that our children will catch homosexuality like a disease if they're brought into even the most casual contact with gay couples. We send a message that we really care a lot about hating the sin, but that we're not even willing to eat at the same table as the sinner."

So how do you interact with gay married couples? Be their friends. That is, if you would be their friends anyway, based on some common interest or experience; the way you're friends with anybody else. Purely missionary friendships, in my experience, show their inauthenticity pretty rapidly, and tend to cease to be reciprocated once it is shown. In the context of a mutually invested and respectful friendship, questions may arise; you can answer them when they are asked. As for the rest, if your life does not make your beliefs credible, your philosophy probably won't either. Gay couples need salvation -- but only in the same sense that you and I do.

*Me, for instance.


  1. Sort of O.T. but then again actually on topic in the essentials:

    "The very marrow of true contrition is this: that a sinner returns absolutely to God with all that he is inwardly and outwardly. That a man is wholly absorbed in trustfulness of God's goodness, that he ardently longs to possess him and him only, that he is resolutely determined to cleave to him forever in all love, that he has the purpose clear and distinct to do God's will alone to the utmost of his power: my dear children, this is what repentance essentially is". - John Tauler (this was in today's Magnificat).

    Yeah, I really go for those 14th-century spiritual writers.

    Any way I can send things like this to you for your blog?

  2. I ... don't actually know the answer to that question. Though you can certainly put them up, thusly. (I'm a semi-Luddite, less by choice than by incompetence.)

  3. Practicing Episcopalian here, so I have a bit of a different tradition I'm coming from. As someone who is gay, I appreciate the note about responding to a human being rather than just to a mascot. However, I would note that if any of my friends felt that my marriage was sinful, I'd have a problem with that. When people are truly friends, you can trust one another to point out things in your life that are causing problems. (For example, you might say, "Hey, Paul, you know whenever we talk politics, I hear you talking a lot about how bad the other side is, but I don't hear a lot about real issues. Let's really look at our politics and explain why we believe what we believe.")

    The problem with someone saying that my relationship is a sin is that it feels like a judgment to me. Everyone who knows me knows that my relationship is an extremely important part of my life, and it has served to help me become a better person and more faithful. I have had close friends who have pointed out that they think I'm sinning. I disagree, and often explain things as Justin Lee does in Torn. Sometimes, this is accepted and my friend has come to a different understanding or at least understands we follow different paths of faith. Other times, it was not and the friendship suffered. It suffered not just because we disagree (happens all the time) but because the root of the disagreement is a judgment of me, of my faith, and of my relationship.

    Their argument came down to, "Well, my faith says it's wrong and you're going to hell if you don't do something about it." (Not in those harsh terms--my friends don't talk like that--but that's the gist of it.) A friend who is unable to put themselves in my place and loads upon me a burden they would not bear themselves isn't really a friend.