This lecture was given at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Baltimore on October 16th, 2016. The talk as written differed slightly from the talk as delivered, but not substantively. The final segment is a transcription of the Q&A session that followed.
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The talks I’m giving are on an intelligent Catholic response to homosexuality. It’s a highly charged topic, of course, not least because of a rush of gay-relevant events in the last few years—everything from the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage in 2015, to the horrifying mass shooting in Orlando this summer. It’s also a subject in which I take a special interest, if only out of vanity: I happen to be gay myself, and converted to Catholicism after I’d spent about a year in the gay activist scene, so that I know something of what it’s like to be on either side of the Tiber and of … I don’t know, San Francisco Bay, I guess.
Everyone here probably knows the basic outline of the Catholic doctrine of homosexuality: gay sex is wrong, something something Adam and Eve, an honorable estate instituted of God something something, be nice to people. I do mean to address the doctrine in more detail in these talks, but establishing the doctrine isn’t my focus, for two reasons.
The first is that I accept Catholic teaching on the subject, because I accept the Church’s claim to teach divine truth under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Since I assume I’m mostly addressing fellow Catholics, I propose to treat that assumption as common ground. There are others who dissent from that claim to authority; but trying to explain, here and now, why I do accept that claim would lead us astray from our subject.
The other reason is that this doctrine shouldn’t be the heart of the exchange between a Catholic and a gay-identified person. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; the moral law was made to benefit mankind, not mankind to fulfill the moral law. We can’t alter the moral law, because it’s a description of how human beings were designed to function, something that we have no power to change. But the well-being of actual people is the aim, not an immolation of their well-being on an altar to abstract principle. And that well-being is something more and other than simply obeying Catholic doctrine about sex.
Unfortunately, you might not be able to find this out by listening to some Catholics. I don’t think this is because Catholics in general are malicious or stupid—we have our share of bad apples like any other cross-section of the population, but in my experience, unadulterated malice and debilitating stupidity are rare. Far commoner, and at least as damaging, are stubbornness, misunderstanding, and mere lack of information. Nobody can prevent others from being malicious or stubborn; but I do think that it’s our responsibility as Catholics to build bridges between ourselves and those who may misunderstand, fear, or distrust us. Our Lord gave us the gift of himself, and told us to bring that gift to others; we can’t just sit back among our spiritual comforts and expect them to come to us. That certainly isn’t how any of us received him.
Bridge-building is desirable in many parts of society, but I think that building bridges with gay culture is especially important right now. However we feel about it, LGBT culture is popular and sympathetic with many Americans today, and the relationship between that culture and Christianity is a difficult and frequently hostile one. That makes it much harder than it needs to be for people to accept the gospel. And this isn’t only about gay-identified people: their friends and loved ones are going to stick up for the people they care about—as who wouldn’t? If we take St Paul’s words seriously, that We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, then we have a duty to do what we are able to, for the sake of reconciliation, up to and including asking forgiveness for the sins of Catholics in general against gay people.
The first thing to understand is the difference between the secular mindset of most gay culture, and the Catholic mindset we tend to take for granted. I’m not talking here about reverence for Scripture, or even belief in God, which many people on both sides share. I’m talking about an unstated, frequently unconscious, way of approaching life and the world that’s intimately connected to why we believe what we believe, and that tends to determine what we find persuasive.
The first principle that shapes this modern secular mindset is that whatever exists is the way things are. Here’s what I mean: let’s say you’re discussing the infallibility of the Catholic Church with a non-Christian friend, and he brings up the history of religious violence, like the torture of heretics and witches by the the Inquisition. You reply, while that was certainly horrible, the Church is full of sinners, and the sins of clergy don’t conflict with infallibility as theology defines it. Your friend gets seriously angry and calls that a cop-out. You are understandably left helpless, because what you said was true—what were you supposed to say?
This is where what exists is the way things are comes into play. As far as your friend knows or cares, the only meaning the word Church has is all the Catholics in history. What exists is how things are; ideas of how things should be might be nice, but they aren’t real. So if all Catholics, or most of them, or their important representatives, have done something terrible, then Catholicism (as they use the term) is responsible for it. So, when an apologetics-minded person tries to discuss the doctrine involved, it doesn’t look like philosophical argument: it just looks like denial, rationalization, whitewashing.
Catholics, by contrast, believe that—while what exists certainly does, uh, exist, and shouldn’t be ignored or whitewashed—what ought to be also exists. The world we perceive is real, but the ideal world is not just one of nice thoughts; it’s a world of objective realities. We normally reach those archetypal realities through earthly things, and in seven specific cases (the sacraments), the archetypes and the earthly things are in perfect union. But there’s no reason a non-believer should see the holiness of the Church simply by argument, any more than they’d have a vision of the Crucified Body in the Host simply by argument.
The point here isn’t to dismiss apologetics as useless, but to realize that meeting people where they are is a subtle task, one that apologetics can’t always do; and to realize too that the things which make conversation difficult can be deep, even unconscious. But you can’t meet someone where they aren’t, because they are not there. So you have to go to them.
Another guiding principle of secular modernism is the ethical principle of tolerance. This has become kind of a dirty word in some Christian circles, but the underlying idea is a pretty creditable one: to mind your own business and accept other people who are different from you. The way people apply that idea isn’t always wise or even consistent; but no idea should be judged by the idealism of its fan club.
The tricky thing here is that tolerance is often confused with conscience. When Catholics speak of obeying conscience, we mean something more rigorous and definite than what most non-Catholics mean by the word; they generally mean something close to tolerance. This isn’t as simple as a debate between well-formed consciences and poorly formed ones. Plenty of Catholics have seriously deformed consciences, and plenty of non-Catholics are heroically virtuous. It goes back to the principles of existence: the secular outlook begins with the world as we know it and tries to improve it, whereas the Catholic outlook begins with the world as it was designed and tries to recover it—even while knowing that no full recovery is possible until this world comes to a close.
A third characteristic of secularism is that its ethics tend to be based primarily on not harming other people. Again, there’s a lot to be said for that; not all, yet most of the Ten Commandments could be summed up that way. And again it goes back to that what exists is what is view of reality. Hurting another person causes quantifiable damage to the world. If a given action doesn’t do that, on what basis could we know it’s wrong? And if it isn’t wrong, or not detectably so, then mind your own business.
But the Christian approach is again different. It identifies the purpose and lasting joy of humanity with a much more specific ideal, and a significant number of things that don’t do obvious harm to others are still incompatible with that transcendent ideal. If we want to interact credibly and intelligibly with people outside the Church—whether they themselves are queer or not—we have to be willing to admit that our code of ethics isn’t always obvious, and that our primary goal is mystical union with the Trinity, not improved behavior.
I go over all of this, not to provide you with arguments to use on gay people or those who sympathize with them, but to give you tools to understand them better. Using arguments on people is kind of a creepy thing to do; getting to know them is preferable. And it’s usually only in the context of a genuine friendship, one that isn’t about winning, that arguments are actually helpful.
Now, in discussing homosexuality with people outside the Catholic faith, it isn’t only the underlying philosophies that produce misunderstandings. The words we choose can do the same. Usually this is because a word has an associated history that colors it; and at times, problems arise because a technical term in Catholic theology means something quite different in vernacular English. I’d like to pick out some of the more important problem-terms and explain something about their implications.
The words gay and lesbian are extremely problematic for many Catholics. They’re seen as charged with an approach to identity and politics that’s intrinsically hostile to Catholicism; as carrying with them a theory that makes sexual orientation an essential difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals—a difference as definitive as that between men and women.
There are certainly gay activists and thinkers who believe that. However, it’s never been the universal orthodoxy in the gay community that many Christians suppose. The only group of people that I’ve consistently found to understand the words gay and lesbian in this sense are—Catholics. Sometimes people are surprised by my being a Catholic, since it’s a terribly inconvenient creed for me; I’ve never met someone who was surprised about it on the grounds that I call myself gay.
Now, this idea of these connotations wasn’t made up out of thin air. Forty years ago, there was much more truth to the idea that the sentence I’m gay was political. Why the semantic shift happened, I don’t know, and it doesn’t ultimately matter. Words change their meanings over time: always have, always will. One Roman historian used the phrase ‘atheism and Jewish sympathies’ as a euphemism for Christianity; it made sense in context, but it’d make less sense today, given the Nicene Creed on the one hand, and the history of Christendom and the Jewish people on the other. The point here is that the actual meaning of the words being used is the important one. The first purpose of all language is communication. When we start telling other people what they mean by their words, we’re doing the opposite of communicating. Or, at best, we’re instructing them: but most people don’t greatly appreciate freelance vocabulary instructors.
On the reverse side of this discussion, we have the phrase same-sex attracted, which in many circles is a PC-for-Catholics expression for homosexuality. If the world were fair, that would be the end of the matter; regrettably, I have discovered by experiment that the world is not fair. Same-sex attracted still carries with it an ugly history of psychological and psychiatric abuse, dating largely to the fifties: everything from Behaviorist conditioning to electroshock therapy to gonadal transplants was tried, in an effort to cure what they chose to call, you guessed it, same-sex attraction. So it’s understandable modern gay people are not enthused about the phrase.
Another irksome word is homophobia. It must be admitted from the outset that, in its derivation, this is a terribly silly word—philologically it ought to mean fear of sameness. Then again, the word homosexual is a barbarism, mashing Greek and Latin roots together indiscriminately. The normal meaning of homophobia is irrational prejudice against gay people; and since that does exist, it isn’t unreasonable to have a word for it. It can be used as an unfair attack on Christian beliefs, but really that’s neither here nor there, since any word can be abused; the more so since charges of Christian homophobia are, all too often, justified. Even perfect orthodoxy doesn’t prevent cruelty or hypocrisy, and I personally know people who’ve been psychologically and physically abused, even thrown out of their homes, by ostensibly Christian families.
There’s a laundry list of other terms: queer, transgender, non-binary, etc.; the ever-expanding acronym is a running joke in the LGBT community. It’d be impossible to go into them all now. What I will say about them is: don’t assume you know what they mean. Not only are the terms sometimes less than transparent, they aren’t always used consistently even within the community; for example, queer was once a slur, but has now been largely ‘reclaimed’ and is frequently used in academic contexts. When in doubt, ask the person you’re talking to what they mean by a word.
By the way, I use the acronym LGBT—which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender—out of habit and because it sounds better than most of its alternatives. However, I don’t plan to address transgender issues in these talks. It’s an important subject, but it doesn’t entirely overlap with homosexual and bisexual issues, and I don’t feel competent to treat it.
A distinct, but related, problem lies in Catholic theological terminology. Like any science, theology has its own technical jargon, and that jargon isn’t necessarily clear to those without training in that science. Unluckily, Catholic theology has a great many terms that are also used in casual English speech, but that have different meanings for these apparently shared terms. Words like substance and infallible and indulgence all have quite different meanings in Catholic theological cant than they have in everyday speech. This isn’t to say that the language of theology should be changed; even if that were possible, the vernacular shifts far too rapidly for such a change to be of any real use. But the distinctions between the language of theological science and the language of the café or the Facebook post should be kept firmly in mind.
The phrase that’s probably caused the most grief comes from the Catechism, which refers to homosexuality as objectively disordered. It isn’t a likeable phrase; it isn’t a likeable thing. But it does mean something quite different from what people usually understand it to, and the distinction is important.
The impression it usually produces is that the Catholic Magisterium regards homosexuality as a kind of obvious insanity, since disorder in the Common Speech usually refers to personality disorders or medical problems; but that isn’t the meaning of these terms at all. This use of the word disordered comes ultimately from St Augustine’s doctrine of the proper ordering of loves; that is, how they should be related to each other. A disordered love is one that has, in some way, not been given its proper place.
The modifying adverb objectively is also widely misunderstood. It puts the contemporary listener in mind of objective truth or objective morality; but it’s meant to identify how the attractions in question are disordered: namely, with respect to their object. In other words, the phrase objectively disordered just means misdirected. That’s a far milder assertion than obvious insanity, which is what many people (Catholic and non-Catholic) very naturally suppose the phrase means.
Natural law is another Catholic commonplace that tends to produce more heat than light. In a generation raised on modern science, natural law is automatically assumed to mean the observed course of nature, which in this case would mean the behavior of other animals. And since an immense number of animals, from swans to giraffes, do display homosexual behavior, the idea that homosexuality breaks natural law is dismissed as preposterous—remember, what exists is what is. The idea that there’s an objective standard of morals probably won’t be dismissed so easily; for all the complaints of relativism made by apologists and moralists, one thing that’s struck me about my generation for the last several years is a profound revival of conscience. Admittedly, that conscience isn’t in accord with Catholic teaching in several important ways, but it’s not as far as many Catholics suppose; and in any case, a moral backbone is an admirable thing.
I wish I had more time to devote to the linguistic niceties, because it’s a fascinating subject, but there’s far too much to cover and a mere lifetime in which to do it. So let’s move on. I want to talk a little bit about queer history in the US, and the context it gives to LGBT culture today—and, therefore, to any Catholic ministry to that culture.
Modern gay culture has its roots in the mid-nineteenth century. The term homosexual was probably coined in the 1860s, and one of the earliest LGBT rights movements began in Germany in 1896. The outlook taken by many early advocates was medical: they regarded homosexuality as incurable, or a mere instance of natural variation, and either perspective was used to argue for a mild approach to homosexuality, especially the repeal of sodomy laws (which their opponents regarded as both intrinsically objectionable and as an opportunity for blackmailers). Interestingly, Catholics have had a persistent presence in the self-conscious LGBT community since its beginning: poets Paul Verlaine, Fr. John Gray, and Dunstan Thompson, sexologist Marc-André Raffalovich, novelists Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and Evelyn Waugh, and artist Andy Warhol all converted or reverted to the Catholic faith (save Warhol, who never left it). Hall was particularly notable for advocating better treatment for homosexuals.
In the thirties and forties, attitudes toward homosexuality became more hostile, largely due to the Nazi Party; several thousand LGBT people were killed in the Holocaust, and, since homosexual relations were a crime in most of the Allied nations as well, survivors of the concentration camps were sometimes re-imprisoned, regardless of time served under the Reich. This hostility continued into the post-war period, especially in the US, where the infamous Red Scare under Joseph McCarthy also involved an extensive witch hunt against homosexuals, who, McCarthy and others claimed, were vulnerable to blackmail and likely to be Communist sympathizers.
The fifties and sixties saw a slow gathering of the modern cause for LGBT rights. Above all, the police raid on the Stonewall Inn in 1969 defined the gay rights movement down to the present day. Irregular raids on gay bars had been a fact of life for much of the twentieth century, but this time, the denizens of the bar fought back, with enough force to spark gay rights movements all over the country. The lesson here being that if you must raid a gay bar, don’t do it the day after Judy Garland’s funeral.
This was followed in 1973 by the APA’s decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The decision was influenced by pressure from LGBT activists, but it must be kept in mind how little power they had at the time. The chief motive for altering the DSM lay in the studies of Evelyn Hooker and Alfred Kinsey, both of whom conducted extensive and well-controlled analyses of homosexual and heterosexual subjects, and found no correlation between homosexuality and mental disorders.
After the Stonewall Riots and the change in the DSM, the gay rights movement assumed the colors we’re familiar with today—though it does bear saying that there’s a broader spectrum within that movement than those outside it always see. The role of feminism and gender theories, an array of political causes, and even the fight for gay marriage, have all been controversial among LGBT thinkers.
Aside from a few heretical figures advocating a change in the Church’s teaching, direct interaction between the LGBT world and the Catholic seems for a long time to have been minimal. (I may be mistaken here—my reading on the subject isn’t exhaustive.) To date, the only Catholic ministry to LGBT people with the Church’s express approval is the Courage Apostolate, founded in 1980 by the late Fr. John Harvey, which operates on the model of a twelve-step group. I’m glad we have it, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and I think it can be fairly said that Courage hasn’t displayed an interest in building bridges between gay people and Catholics.
Meanwhile, the evangelical Protestant world saw several movements advocating reparative therapy. Because of their influence on Christian culture, a word on these theories, or ex-gay therapy, is in order.
Sigmund Freud believed homosexuality was a form of arrested psychological development; he considered it both harmless and intractable. Some decades later, psychologists Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi modified and expanded Freud’s theories. They asserted that homosexuality came from a failure to identify with the same-sex parent, creating a need for same-sex affection which became sexualized at puberty. This need might be reinforced by peer rejection, sexual molestation, or both. Moberly and Nicolosi claimed that fulfilling this need for same-sex affirmation, and conditioning the patient to socially normal gender roles, would dissipate homosexual attractions: Nicolosi in particular said that gay men should participate in sports, avoid artistic and musical pursuits, avoid women except for romantic and sexual purposes, and mimic the general behavior of heterosexual men.
The eighties and nineties saw a number of groups and ministries that employed reparative therapy. (Most of these groups were, officially or unofficially, evangelical Protestant. The Catholic Church has never condemned reparative therapy, but has also never endorsed it.) The largest ex-gay group was Exodus International, which operated from 1976 to 2013. Around the turn of the century, a series of scandals and public renunciations ruined the reputation of the ex-gay movement. Exodus closed when its head, Alan Chambers, announced that attempts to change sexual orientation were ineffective and frequently damaging; many similar groups followed suit.
This naturally brings us to the question of where homosexuality comes from. Are ex-gay theorists right? Are gay people ‘born this way’? Are there spiritual forces involved? Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
I don’t think the question matters much. It’s interesting. But no origin could make it right or wrong, and the Church’s only remarks on the subject (found in §2357 of the Catechism) express a cautious agnosticism about it. The available evidence suggests that homosexuality arises from a combination of environmental and biological causes; now that the human genome has been mapped, we can say with confidence that it isn’t simply genetic; but epigenetic factors, which are environmental qualities that affect how genes are expressed, are a current and pretty credible favorite. Given that homosexuality has proven intractable to decades of experimental cure attempts (ranging from the plausible to the silly to the horrifying), I think the question of origins can be safely shelved. After all, the only practical reason people wanted to know about it was so it could be cured.
Before I conclude this talk, I’d like to address some misconceptions about the gay community. To begin with, it’s often supposed among Christians that LGBT people are not only promiscuous, but downright predatory, or even have no sexual ethics whatever. It’s true that the gay community has a much more permissive attitude, and—to the extent that it holds a single ethical viewpoint—a much more relaxed standard of what makes a sexual act moral or immoral. But it does have a standard, which is twofold: first, intelligent consent, so that such crimes as rape and pedophilia are indeed wrong; and secondly, faithfulness to any agreement with a romantic partner—so, for instance, a couple could have a non-monogamous relationship, so long as they both agree to it. This obviously falls far short of the Catholic standard of sexuality, as it excludes the intrinsic unity of sex, fidelity, and fertility; but, however imperfectly, the intention of good will is preserved.
A more baffling misconception is the idea that LGBT people are opposed to the family and especially to children. I didn’t even realize there were Catholics who thought this, until I reviewed a talentless novel in which every gay character was shown treating the very idea of children with contempt. I have no idea where they got this impression of gay people. It doesn’t fit my experience, nor with the many gay people who are eager to adopt or engage in surrogacy. You could argue that the moral principles much of the community holds are incompatible with the good of the family; but that’s not at all the same as being deliberately opposed to it.
Part of the difficulty, I think, is that the popular image of gay culture is dictated mostly by the media: so, Pride floats on the news and the occasional movie scene in a gay bar. Certainly club culture exists, homosexual and heterosexual. But although the LGBT world intersects with club culture, it intersects with other and more boring cultures as well—which are, naturally, not put in the news or included in most art and entertainment. After all, the media makes money by drawing eyes, not by being accurate or representative; something that we as Catholics should know only too well.
There are a host of other misconceptions: as that we have disproportionately high rates of depression, self-injury, drug abuse, past sexual traumas, and so forth. There’s hardly time to say more about these notions than a grossly oversimplified They’re false. I’m sorry not to go into more detail, but I want to open the floor to questions for as long as possible—and if we run out of time, or you’d rather pose a question privately, feel free to chat with me after the ten o’clock Mass.
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John: So, Gabriel, my impression is—correct me if I’m wrong here—when Pope Francis said on the plane when he was flying back from wherever, ‘Who am I to judge?’ So that comment has been out there for, what, about a year now, maybe a year and a half. Now, my impression is that that opened up a whole new tolerance within the Catholic community. Are there facts that support that from your impression?
GB: I do think that it was a mark of something of a change in disposition; I think that change in disposition was already happening. There are a number of gay-identified Catholic authors, who are fully orthodox, who have been putting out excellent material for some years now: Ron Belgau, Melinda Selmys, Wesley Hill (who’s an Anglican) … shoot, who else was I thinking of? And their work, I think, has had a very, very good effect.
Matt: You mentioned this tension that exists when the Catholic community tries to talk to, you know, gay people, or homosexuals, about their—you know, you don’t convert them by doctrine so much. Say something about patience, I guess. Because it occurs to me that in any argument I’ve had—I’ve had arguments with people about abortion, and, you know—you never convince them in one argument. It’s something that occurs over time. So, how can we be patient with people, you know, who maybe we want to bring to the fullness of the faith, who are living in an objectively disordered—you know how I mean that—lifestyle. The idea of accepting their sinful behavior, or, what on the outside appears to be sinful behavior, because you never judge an individual person—but certainly there’s that objectivity. Tolerating that over time, which may be decades, to bring someone back. But it’s a difficult thing, when you see someone you’re close to, doing, living in a way that they shouldn’t be living, but tolerating that, with an objective that over time, you know, with patience, you’re gonna bring them back. Do you have any comments about that?
GB: It is very difficult, and I don’t think that I’m sufficiently sympathetic to the difficulty; largely because I’ve largely experienced the difficulty from the other side—‘What are people gonna think of me, are they gonna throw me out?’, that kind of thing. In consequence of that, I think I’ve often been insensitive to the plight of parents and loved ones who are put in that position. I have experienced something comparable, in that I am actually the only practicing Catholic in my immediate family. […] So, in that respect, I can understand it better. The thing that has helped me the most in practicing patience is something that my mother said to me once. I was looking forward to an unrelated conversation with a friend of mine, and I was feeling very nervous about it; and so I spoke to her, and almost the last thing she said in that conversation was, ‘Remember: you are not the Holy Spirit.’ And he is in complete control. And he loves everyone whom we love far better than we do or can. Our only job is to love them as well as we know how, and to pray. And he will do with that what he wishes, and he can be trusted to do literally everything in his power to draw people back into himself. Including us.
Frank: I look at religious sculptures in churches and art, Renaissance art—maybe the curator from the Walters could comment on this. When Jesus said, ‘All are drawn to me,’ he didn’t exclude anybody, so, you see the image of John next to Christ, and he’s not—in ancient Judaism, men always wore beards. So it’s very unusual for a man not to have a beard in any piece of art. So, whenever I go into a church I always see John without a beard, so … I think he might’ve been the first Catholic—effeminate, gay, whatever.
GB: It’s not impossible. I do think that it’s significant that we don’t know. And can’t.
John: In terms of the outreach here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I understand it’s safe to say St Ignatius here on Madison has a pretty extensive outreach program, but I don’t really know. Do you have any insight into that?
Kelsey: They do have a Courage and Encourage chapter. The pastor is Ray Harris, he’s the pastor of Holy Family, Randallstown. But he comes to the tribunal. I actually work with him. Great guy, really, really personable, so, he has the Courage and Encourage chapters, and if you have any questions, you can e-mail him at his archdiocesan e-mail, and he’ll get right back to you.
Noah: So maybe the war is over, and so there’s less of a sense now, but there had been a culture war, and so, in a war you feel like, ‘It’s kill or be killed.’ Like there’s a sense that, ‘These people are organized! These people are really moving! I’d better move to meet the onslaught,’ or something like this, and you feel this fear, or something, coming up. So, you know, how do we stay patient in light of a sense of being … ‘Aaaah!’, you know; or is there even an organized push that has happened or is still happening, or is that my imagination?
GB: Oh, it’s not your imagination. I mean, the LGBT movement is fairly organized, and it does have very concrete, specific goals. Insofar as the culture war exists at all, ‘kill or be killed,’ I think it is absolutely the Christian’s responsibility to be killed. That’s what the crucifix is. That is literally our central role model. Now, that being said, I think culture wars are a terrible idea; because, you know, we weren’t called to conduct a culture war—we were called to minister the gospel. And—you don’t do that with war. That’s not how the gospel works.
Matt: Tying in with Noah’s comment, something that—in fact, to one of the early comments you made in your talk, about language, that when we use terms like ‘objectively disordered,’ and all these theological terms that have clear meaning to well-formed Catholics—that’s the language we have to express our thoughts on things. And it may be miscommunicating, because they have different meanings in regular, you know, common speech, but a lot of times we don’t feel that the other side is trying to understand us when we talk about these things, either. That they’re not trying to learn: ‘What do you mean by objectively disordered?’ ‘What do you mean by well-formed conscience?’ ‘What do you mean by the intrinsic meaning of sexual relations?’ ‘What do you mean by all these things?’ They don’t want to hear it from us, but yet, I feel a lot of times that we’re expected to reach out—and of course, I mean, it’s part of being human, part of being a Christian, is trying to understand other people too. But … it’s nice when it’s both ways.
GB: It is; and, if it ever happens to be both ways in a particular case, definitely, be glad of that. Most of the time it’s not gonna be. And, that is for two reasons: one is that it’s not the sort of thing that most people are gonna want to hear; so, obviously they’re not going to go out of their way to hear something that they don’t like. And the other is that, most of the time, the fact that Catholic terminology isn’t transparent, is itself not transparent. Because of course, the terms that cause the most trouble are the ones that seem clear on the surface, because they’re using words that we’re all used to from the vernacular, from casual speech, but in a different sense. But since it just sounds like ‘the Common Speech,’ nobody thinks to question it. That being said, I think that to the extent that there’s an imbalance or an asymmetry in the relationship between Catholics and any non-Catholics, gay or otherwise—we just have to accept it. I mean, that’s kind of our job.
Noah: Building on Matt’s, are you ultimately saying that we should call them ‘the gay community’ and say ‘you’re gay,’ when we don’t really—we feel like that identifies too much, or defines the person more than, in our worldview, they would be defined by something that’s a small part, you know, essentially?
GB: I wouldn’t say that ultimately, because that isn’t the most important part of the conversation. I personally do prefer that, and I think that it’s more respectful and polite to address people as they prefer. I also think that the Catholic reservation about terms like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ aren’t necessary. I don’t think that they communicate that to anybody except Catholics, basically. That being said, I mean—you should always obey your conscience. If you have a serious moral objection to using a word, then don’t use it. I would urge you to examine that objection for its nature and origin; but as long as the objection is present—I mean, obey your conscience.
Kelsey: […] I noticed that you have a devotion to Edward the Confessor. In your dealings with other Catholic or Christian same-sex attracted people, is there—gay, sorry, lesbian—is there any saint in particular that you feel speaks well to people who are dealing with that, who are trying to take up their cross? I don’t know.
GB: There’s actually not. That is, there are particular saints that a lot of us happen to have devotions to, but it seems to be a coincidence or any effect of personality rather than a question of sexual orientation in itself.
Gabrielle: What about Saint John of the Cross?
GB: Oh, John of the Cross, I thought you said ‘Jonathan Rocks.’ I mean, I like John of the Cross. I can see why a given gay person would find him sympathetic. That’s as much input as I have on the subject, really.
Frank: I would nominate Saint Michael the Archangel, ‘cause he’s often depicted as androgynous, because he’s an angel.
GB: I suppose. Actually, speaking of John of the Cross, the Carmelites have treated me very well—John and Teresa particularly.
Matt: You know, I—in my life, when I’ve met homosexuals, I tend to view this issue from the point of view of any kind of moral issue. While it’s a temptation I don’t share, I share temptations to other things that are sinful, and—am I oversimplifying that perspective? Is that perspective an oversimplification of the issue? That it’s really just another sinful inclination—you know, some people are inclined to lie, some people are inclined to steal, some people are inclined to pornography, some people are inclined to all these other things. I have my own things. What—is it really that simple?
GB: I feel that is an oversimplification. To some extent, it is a temptation like any other: overdrinking, playing ‘Gather Us In,’ et cetera. The complication is that sexuality reaches into our being in a much subtler and more all-encompassing way than most other aspects of our self. And that’s true of homosexuality, heterosexuality, whatever. It doesn’t just affect the kind of lustful thoughts we’re apt to have, it affects the kind of relationships that we want. And not even just sexual relationships, although primarily those. So it has a very profound impact on the way we relate to people in general, and that can’t be reduced to simply a temptation; that’s a much more general way of experiencing the world.