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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Judgment (A Poem)


When the Son of Man shall come in glory, and all his angels with him,
Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations:
And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand,
But the goats on the left, because of the smell.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,
‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you
From the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye spake to me of fasting:
I was thirsty, and ye gave me ascetical lectures:
I was a stranger, and ye told me how to get home:
Naked, and ye reminded me of the sanctity of property:
I was sick, and ye forbad me to be a tedium to my neighbor:
I was in prison, and ye were just judges and noble juries.’
Then the righteous shall answer him, saying,
‘Yea, Lord, all this and more we know,
For verily, inasmuch as we have done unto the least of these thy brethren,
We have stored up our love only for thee.’

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand,
‘Depart from me, into the Consuming Fire prepared for you:
For I was an hungred, and ye spoiled me:
I was thirsty, and ye plied me with wine:
I was a stranger, and ye took no heed to your state in life:
Naked, and ye coddled me:
Sick, and in prison, and ye rewarded my errors.’
Then shall they also answer him, saying,
‘I knew thee, that thou art a hard man.’

And these shall go away into the Consuming Fire:
But the righteous into all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

An Open Letter to Archbishop Aquila

Then Fear said: I am Pity that was dead.
And Shame said: I am Sorrow comforted.
And Lust said: I am Love.

—Algernon Charles Swinburne, A Ballad of Life

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To the Most Reverend Samuel Aquila, Archbishop of Denver;
from Gabriel Blanchard, a layman of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter.

I trust Your Excellency will excuse my boldness in writing to you, despite the fact that we have no personal acquaintance, and that I am no one in particular ecclesiastically speaking. Yet I write nevertheless, hoping against hope that Your Excellency may read it and consider what I have to say; and, additionally, with the more ordinary hope that others may read it and get some good out of it.

Last month’s event ‘Gender Matters,’ as Your Excellency doubtless knows, drew criticism from gay activists and sympathizers, not least because of its prominent featuring of Andrew Comiskey and his ministry Desert Stream, generally classified as an ex-gay organization promoting reparative therapy. The opening remarks that ‘the power and authority of Jesus Christ can heal any wound, forgive any sin, heal any disorder, if we truly put our faith in him,’ especially taken together with the caution that ‘the healing may not be immediate,’ certainly suggest SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) to anyone familiar with the literature of the ex-gay movement.

I am familiar, since I was involved in the ex-gay movement in my teens, trying to rid myself of a persistent and almost exclusive attraction to other men that (I was told and believed firmly) was inconsistent with a Christian life. Though they seemed productive at the time, and though I most certainly needed counseling for a host of reasons and profited by it accordingly, my attractions finally proved intractable. Nonetheless, this did not alter my beliefs about Scripture; and when I was received into the Catholic Church a few years later, I embraced the whole of her teaching, including her teachings about chastity and marriage and homosexual sex. Without feigning any degree of heterosexuality, I confessed, and confess, the Catholic belief that God made marriage for one man and one woman to unite as one flesh, and that no other kind of union can licitly include sexual intimacy.

I offer this apologia, because I want to establish my complete orthodoxy as the ground of the following. I affirm the whole of the Catholic faith, including §§2357-2359 of the Catechism. Speaking thus as a son of the Church, and as a sheep to a shepherd, I implore Your Excellency to reĂ«xamine SOCE and to disassociate the Archdiocese of Denver from it.

There are many reasons to do so. My own fruitless experience of SOCE says something; given my familial relationships and some experiences of abuse (even though my same-sex feelings predated the abuse, not the other way around), I should have been an ideal candidate for change, since I fit their mold so perfectly, but no change was effected. Even so, the primary negative of my experience was that it wasted so much time. There are those who have been involved in ex-gay ministries for years, decades even, and come away with stories that alternate between the ludicrous and the nightmarish; there are deep scientific and theological flaws in the whole ex-gay substructure; and SOCE is, after all, entirely unnecessary for any person to lead a virtuous life animated by the Spirit of God.

Samuel Brinton, the son of Baptist missionaries, attempted SOCE for two years, beginning at ten years old when he realized he was attracted to other boys rather than to girls and confided in his parents. The counselor to whom he was taken tried such techniques as aversion therapy: specifically, freezing or burning the child’s hands while displaying pictures of men touching. Twenty years later, he remained sexually attracted to men, but so terrified of physical contact with them that he could barely contemplate a friendly hug. He was also plagued by ongoing psychological issues such as thoughts of suicide, which, according to a 2009 study released by the APA, is almost nine times more common among people who have been through conversion therapy.

Matthew Shurka and Michael Ferguson, two other men who went into SOCE programs, report other toxic techniques. Shurka was forbidden to interact or even speak with his mother and sister for three years, on the ground that they were ‘feminizing influences,’ and was prescribed Viagra at the age of 18 to facilitate sexual intercourse with women—which, far from diminishing his same-sex impulses and despite his achieved popularity with other men, left him depressed, gaining weight, reluctant to leave the house, and abusing drugs. Ferguson was encouraged to cultivate rage against his parents, whose flawed upbringing methods (he was told) were responsible for his homosexual attractions; the notion here was that a sufficient degree of anger would allow him to break his attachment to his parents, and realize the heterosexuality they had effectively suppressed in him. And these are normal practices and narratives in the ex-gay world—the late Dr Joseph Nicolosi, head of NARTH (which Desert Stream recommends), told his male patients that their sexual desires came from flawed family dynamics, and that healing involved socializing with other men and trying to cultivate interest in typically masculine pursuits like sports, and to avoid the interests and company of women except for intercourse.

Love In Action (a ministry which no longer exists—solely because it has adopted the name Restoration Path) was founded in 1973, three years before Exodus International. However, one of LIA’s founders, John Evans—who is conspicuous by his absence from the ‘History’ section of Restoration Path’s current website; such omissions will become a theme—dropped out of the organization after his close friend and fellow member, Jack McIntyre, committed suicide when he could not change his orientation. John Smid, who ran LIA from 1986 to 2008, eventually dropped out of the ministry as well; in 2011 he stated publicly that he did not know of a single case in which someone had experienced a change from homosexuality to heterosexuality. 

Similarly, Exodus, which had been the biggest ex-gay organization in the world (serving largely as an umbrella group), was shuttered in 2013 by its head, Alan Chambers, a self-professed ex-gay man. In the apology that he issued upon closing down the ministry, Chambers too stated that he did not know of any successful cases of SOCE. This was a man who left an active gay lifestyle behind for the sake of Christ, married a woman, and devoted his career and his whole reputation to Exodus. He was not a man uninformed, prejudiced against ex-gay efforts and groups, or merely flowing with the times. He was personally, professionally, and theologically invested in SOCE. He wrote:
Our ministry has been public and therefore any acknowledgment of wrong must also be public. … It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. … 
I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. … And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid … They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes that they would go away. … The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this. 
Friends and critics alike have said that it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. … I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite—or worse. … I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.
These examples are not exceptional, Your Excellency. They are not statements that no person experiences some fluidity in their attractions, nor that a same-sex attracted person could never sacramentally marry someone of the opposite sex and lead a happy, holy life. These things are rare, the latter particularly so, but they do happen. But the history of these groups—including Desert Stream specifically—is not one of changed sexual orientations. It is a history of fruitless efforts culminating in resentment and despair, of psychological and physical torments, of promises broken, of double lives and clandestine abuse, and of perhaps the second-grossest scandal to the world that Christianity has produced in our age.

Turning from the sorry long-term results of most ex-gay ministry to its theoretical basis in theology and medical science, we may look to NARTH, which as noted before is suggested on Desert Stream’s website as an additional, specifically psychotherapeutic, resource. In addition to criticisms from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Psychological Association, and the revocations in 2011 and 2012 of its right to provide continuing education credits to therapists and of its tax-exempt nonprofit status, NARTH’s theory of the development of sexuality is not accepted by the broader medical, psychological, or psychiatric communities (in this country or abroad). Furthermore, the APA has declared that the practice of SOCE—the entire purpose for which NARTH exists—has shown no sound experimental evidence of working, and notes that some patients have later claimed to have been harmed by NARTH and its therapies. According to this APA document, studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s (when SOCE were still fairly mainstream) showed a high correspondence between these efforts and such negative effects as anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

The theory that ex-gay organizations usually advance of the etiology of homosexual attractions is that young men, growing up with an emotionally distant father and an overbearing mother, form an unmet need for male-male intimacy and an unduly feminine self-concept, usually exacerbated by peer rejection over ostensibly un-masculine traits. In puberty, this need becomes sexualized—a development that may be accompanied by same-sex sexual abuse and concomitant confusion—and attraction to men rather than women develops accordingly.

Now, there is no doubt that family and peer dynamics, and even a history of abuse, can influence a person’s sexual experience. But as a general account of the origin of homosexuality, this theory is quite useless. To begin with, plenty of heterosexual men share many or all of these experiences without developing any sexual interest in other men; conversely, there are many homosexual men who lack one or more of these supposedly key elements in the development of homosexual interest. Nor, to my knowledge, is there an explanation provided by any prominent SOCE advocate of why an unmet need for male intimacy should consistently be transformed into sexual attraction at puberty. After all, everyone experiences unmet needs and grave wounds in childhood, without necessarily looking to sex as a solution once we discover it. (This relates to the fact that many claims of ‘father wounds’ and the like in SOCE literature are phrased so generally that they amount to being Barnum statements: assertions that most people, on a casual reading, would tend to say were true of themselves.)

When we turn to female homosexuality, the argument becomes even muddier. Explanations of lesbianism from SOCE proponents include: a distant mother and an over-identifying father, mirroring the explanation for males; an abusive father and/or a timid, complacent, or complicit mother, leading to a loathing of men and a longing for authentic female intimacy; an experience of sexual assault from a man, causing fear and hatred of men and a compensatory turning to women; or an experience of sexual assault from a woman, prompting self-blame, curiosity, and experimentation. The explanations of lesbianism multiply to the point that almost anything seems apt to cause it. One begins to think that the explanations do not explain!

The point here is not to discredit, still less to embarass, individuals who personally report a change in their attractions; some people do experience natural fluidity, or find a single person who does not match their normal pattern of attraction but with whom they find a deep and lasting connection. The point is, these things cannot be compelled, cannot be reduced to a psychological technique, cannot be ‘prayed away.’ And organizations or individuals that claim to be able to deliver people from homosexual attractions are, at best, making a claim that hasn’t been demonstrated, and at worst is flatly false.

These therapeutic approaches are not only based in a theory of the origin of homosexuality that the professional mental health community does not endorse; the rhetoric that accompanies them is profoundly misleading, and frequently very damaging to young people. Take the banner saying that Satan delights in homosexuality. How many adolescent Catholics, perhaps just discovering same-sex feelings, saw that banner and thought, I am so disgusting I make Satan happy, or The Church doesn’t want me because I feel like this, or If I ever fail I’ll go to hell, or I can never tell anybody what a monster I am? Did Your Excellency stop to consider this? The shame, terror, and hurt that phrases like this—phrases practically never used of other sins at least equally grave—cause in young people is neither healthy nor holy. How many parents, frightened by the prospect of the devil getting his claws into their children, have pursued this line of thinking to the extreme, resorting to transgressions of privacy, threats, rejection, physical abuse, even expelling their children from their homes, in a desperate attempt to get them to ‘repent’ of something they never chose? These concerns are not alarmism; these things happen. I know young men and women who have been disowned or beaten, who have attempted suicide or cut into their own flesh. Hatred and violence directed at gay-identified people are not rare phenomena, nor harmless ones, as we learned all too bitterly in Orlando in 2016, and language like the language on this banner emboldens them.

Furthermore, the language of ‘healing’ and ‘victory,’ though rarely spelled out in so many words, all but invariably means ‘becoming heterosexual’ in the ears of those listening to this rhetoric. The speakers do not spell it out, because they know very well that homosexual desires do not simply go away—but rather than honestly acknowledging this, they continue to imply a radical change in attractions and ‘leaving homosexuality behind.’ Yet if challenged, they admit that a change in self-concept is what they really meant all along, and that there will still be ‘residual’ interest in the same sex. Which prompts two questions: first, what this ‘healing’ is of, if it is not of homosexual desire; and second, why they did not make themselves clear in the first place.

The frank, sorrowful renunciations of men like John Smid and Alan Chambers show that ex-gay ministers did not make themselves plain at first, because they have quietly moved the goal-posts: forsaking an orientation change that they realized they could not alter by effort, in favor of a new frame of mind that could be accomplished in an afternoon. Not that it would make anybody’s life easier if it were so accomplished. Call same-sex attractions what you will, the difficulty of living chastely with them will be much the same; save that, if one has to be secretive and dissemble and evade authentic discussion of one’s real feelings, that added burden may well break the proverbial camel’s back.

I beg Your Excellency: reconsider, investigate, and break off the archdiocesan connection to these so-called ministries. They will hurt your flock. I am speaking from my own experience; I am speaking from the experience of friends; I am speaking from the bulk of the psychological and psychiatric professions, who have rejected SOCE. The deliverance promised by these groups is a lie. The grace of chastity is possible, and the hope of glory, and strength to carry the crosses God gives us all. But that is not what these organizations have to offer; they are concealing a history of tears and even of blood, shed over a sexual orientation our Lord neither commanded nor promised. Please, Your Excellency, seek the truth and find it. Many hearts are depending upon you.

Of your charity, pray for me; I have prayed for you, and shall. The Lord be with you.

Gabriel I. M. Blanchard
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