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This essay was originally written in 2003, in response to the planned protests of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings in Washington, DC by Soulforce, a pro-gay group. Edited slightly to remove references to the original protest, it still provides a good overview of some aspects of Catholic teaching related to homosexuality.

Chastity and Freedom

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches that “homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, ¶7).

When I first began to contemplate the idea of giving up any kind of homosexual relationship, I could not see the call in any terms other than that of the cross. Indeed, I felt (perhaps erroneously, and certainly over-dramatically) that martyrdom would be easier, because at least if you were thrown to the lions, it was over quickly; with celibacy, you had to go without sex for years and years and years. But this is to be expected: because Christ was crucified and laid in the grave before He rose again, Christian discipleship necessarily starts with dying to self. The resurrection to freedom, joy, and love cannot be separated from the crucifixion of the sinful self.

In Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyła (who became Pope John Paul II) wrote: “Although it is easy to draw up a set of rules for Catholics in the sector of ‘sexual’ morality the need to validate these rules makes itself felt at every step. For the rules often run up against greater difficulties in practice than in theory, and the spiritual advisor, who is concerned above all with the practical, must seek ways of justifying them. For his task is not only to command or forbid, but to justify, to interpret, to explain.”

Most Catholics do not know what exactly the Church teaches about human sexuality. And many of those who do know what the Church teaches do not understand why those teachings are true. Therefore, it is important to understand what it is that the Church teaches, and to recognize that while the Church’s commands begin with the crucifixion of sinful desires, they also point beyond self-discipline to self-donation in love.

All Catholic teaching begins with the two Great Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”; and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). In our culture, however, love has come to be identified with eros (sexual love), a word which does not appear in the Greek New Testament. When Christ and the Apostles speak of love, they speak of agape (self-sacrificing love) and of philia (friendship).

For the same-sex attracted Christian, as for any Christian, loving God (and experiencing His love) is of first importance. But loving God means more than just saying “I love you.” “If you love me,” Christ says, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And sexual purity is essential to Christian discipleship, as both Christ and the Apostles emphasize (Matthew 5:27-30; I Corinthians 6:9-20). Nevertheless, obedience to the commandments never gets in the way of authentic, Christ-centered love—obedience to God only strengthens and deepens human love.

The Catechism warmly commends friendship, teaching that “the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship… Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion” (¶2347). When David mourned his friend Jonathan’s death, he said, “Your love (agape) to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (II Samuel 1:26). Some of those who have bought into the world’s vision of sex use this verse to argue that David and Jonathan had a sexual relationship. But in fact, David and Jonathan’s friendship shows that love can be deeply meaningful without eros.

In Psalm 19, David meditates on the beauty of God’s commands. “More to be desired are they than gold,” he says, “sweeter also than honey from the comb… in keeping them there is great reward.” In keeping God’s commands, we fulfill the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.

The Great Commandment teaches us to love God before everything else because God is the source of all life, the foundation of all goodness, and the fountainhead of all love. “We love,” the Apostle John teaches, “because God first loved us” (I John 4:19). It is only as we deepen our love for God—and as His grace creates in us a clean heart and puts a new and right spirit within us (cf. Psalm 51:10)—that we are able to love our neighbor as Christ wants us to.

If I truly love another person, I want only the best for them. However, the very best thing for them is to draw closer to Christ. My love cannot save anyone from sin and death; only Christ can. For this reason, the Apostle Paul tells us that we should count all things as loss compared with knowing Christ (cf. Philippians 3:8-11). If I help another to draw closer to Christ, I am doing them the greatest good possible; if I help to pull them away from Christ, I am doing them the greatest possible harm. Therefore, I know that all my friendships should be guided by the principle, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

It is easy to make human love into an idol, to think that with the perfect relationship, life will be perfect and filled with love and bliss. This is the message of our culture and Hollywood. But it is false. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outwards together in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through union in the same high effort.” For Christians, that union can only come in the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). But this unity in friendship cannot be understood simply as sublimated eros: it is the fruit of agape love that blossoms after eros is crucified.

God forbids homosexual activity (cf. Romans 1:24-27; I Corinthians 6:9-11; I Timothy 1:10; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13) because it turns away from the order of nature created by God. Because I love God and desire above all else to draw into perfect union with Him, because I love my friends, and desire for them to taste more fully the joy of union with Him, I will not embrace desires that turn against God’s plan for human sexuality. For in doing so I would exchange agape for eros, God’s truth for a lie.

What is the Christian meaning of sexuality? Genesis 1:27-28 teaches that God created human beings “in the image of God” and “male and female,” and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis 2:24 adds that when a man and a woman marry, “the two become one flesh.” Jesus quotes both of these verses in Matthew 19, saying that it is God who joins the man and woman together, and “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Meditating on marriage in Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul quotes Genesis and calls the union of a man and woman in marriage a “profound mystery” that refers to the union of Christ and the Church.

Because of this “profound mystery,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith argues that, “To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living” (CDF, 1986, ¶7).

In a letter sent to the all of the bishops of the United States on October 12, 2003, Joe Murray, the head of the Rainbow Sash Movement in the United States, writes “It is unfortunate that our Catholic leadership often focus on same-gender sex when they think about homosexuality, [for] to do so is to miss the point of the larger context of the relationship. It is to dehumanize and depersonalize gays and lesbians, caricaturing them only in terms of their sexual activities rather than seeing them as whole persons with lives that include more than sex.”

This is not the Church’s teaching at all. If Joe Murray had studied the Church’s teaching more closely, and with an open heart, he would have read: “The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life” (CDF, 1986, ¶16).

Immediately after saying that homosexual acts do not fulfill the Gospel’s call to self-donation, the Vatican writes, “This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent” (CDF, 1986, ¶7).

The leadership of the Church focuses on homosexual acts because it does not object to anything that involves genuine love between two men or two women. The Gospel calls all human beings to love, and the Church has no objection to love that is expressed in accordance with Christ’s commandments. Even where, through ignorance of the commandments, or through human weakness, love has become contaminated by lust, the Church continues to believe that the stain of sin does not entirely blot out the good fruits of love.

A year ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. Conversations with his doctor tended to dwell on the subject of cancer, not because the doctors wished to dehumanize or depersonalize him, but because they wanted to deal with the disease which threatened his life. I cherish the friendships I share with other men; but homosexual desires do not help me to deepen those friendships in Christ—in fact, such desires can be a significant obstacle to developing healthy, Christ-centered friendships. The more that I let go of those sinful desires, and offer them up to Christ on the cross, the more I am set free from them and enabled to love God and love my neighbors as Christ calls me to love. I appreciate what the Church does to aid me in freeing myself from disordered sexual desires, and encourage Her bishops, priests, and lay leadership to do more to foster ministries faithful to Church teaching.

The Church objects to those sinful desires for the same reason that my friend’s doctor objected to the malignant cells in his stomach: because they threaten life—cancer threatens the life of the body, sinful desire threatens the life of the Spirit. There is no doubt that the Church’s teaching on chastity is difficult to live, and requires difficult sacrifices. But—and this must be said, although I fully understand how difficult it is to hear and controversial it is to say—the Scriptures do not just say that sexual sin is a sort of social faux pas. The Scriptures teach that sexual sin—whether heterosexual or homosexual—can lead to eternal destruction (cf. Matthew 5:27-30; I Corinthians 6:9-11). I do not say this to condemn anyone: but the warning must be given. Christ knew far better than I how difficult His words would seem to many of those who listened—and He, the incarnation of love, still said what He said.

Why would Christ say such difficult words? Because He wants us to set us free.

Most of us have an deficient idea of freedom. We want to be free from external restraint. But freedom in Christ is, above all, freedom from sin, and freedom to embrace the good that God calls us to. Chastity—like all virtue—is difficult for all of us, because our desires are at odds with God’s will. Therefore, we believe that freedom would mean being free to follow our desires. But paradoxically, true freedom is the freedom to follow God’s will, because it is in God’s will that we discover perfect love.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, virtue is “perfection of a power.” God has given us various powers, including sexual powers. However, power is morally neutral: it can be used for good or evil. And after the fall, original sin has twisted our powers away from the goals for which God created them. Our sexual feelings, especially, easily lead us into sin.

Many people have an idea of virtue that is wholly negative: virtue only tells one what not to do. But true virtue is positive: it teaches us how to use the powers God has given us to our fullest potential. Henri Nouwen writes, “I am convinced that a community which feels called to do a most difficult task, which asks for great sacrifices and great self-denial in order to do the work of God which is obvious and self-evident, will have no problems at all in finding people who want to join in the challenging enterprise. He who promises hard work, long hours, and much sacrifice will attract the strong and generous, but he who promises protection, success and all the facilities of an affluent society will have to settle for the weak, the lazy and the spoiled.”

When I first contemplated chastity, I could see it only as a cross, and as the denial of my desires. And while that side has not completely disappeared, I have also found that it opened the door to much deeper intimacy with God, and to more rewarding chaste friendships with others. Chastity perfects my power to love others, and to love God. It also surrounds me with others whose powers to love are being perfected, whose affection for me grows out of agape, not selfish desire.

I can easily understand the resistance that many feel to the Church’s teaching on chastity. Like the cross itself, chastity is a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to many, but to those who have embraced it, it reveals the power and wisdom of God, and points us towards heaven.

 

Articles and Essays:
In 2003, Justin Lee, the founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network, invited me to write an essay defending the traditional Christian belief that homosexual activity is wrong, and that gays and lesbians who are unable to marry a person of the opposite sex are called to celibacy. Justin wrote a companion essay arguing that God blesses gay marriage. Justin has made the two essays into a prominent GCN feature called the “Great Debate.”
For the Summer 2004 issue, Notre Dame Magazine planned to do a special issue focused on homosexuality and the Catholic Church. They invited me to contribute an essay describing how I came to accept Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Rather than focusing on theological arguments, they asked me to focus on telling the story through my own journey and experiences. The whole package won the 2005 first place Press Award for “Best investigative writing or analysis” from the Catholic Press Association. This is a somewhat revised version of the essay. Click here for the original version on the Notre Dame Magazine website.
In late 2002 and early 2003, there was an ongoing controversy in the letters section of the New Oxford Review over the editors’ use of the word “fag” in an article. With encouragement from several members of Courage who were deeply frustrated with the exchange, I wrote this essay, which was published in the June 2003 issue of the New Oxford Review.
This essay was originally written in 2003, in response to the planned protests of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings in Washington, DC by Soulforce, a pro-gay group. Edited slightly to remove references to the original protest, it still provides a good overview of some aspects of Catholic teaching related to homosexuality.
Also written in response to the Soulforce protests, this essay examines prejudice against gays and lesbians, and attempts to provide a Catholic Response.
Speeches and Presentations:
This is the keynote speech I gave at the January, 2007 Gay Christian Network Conference in Seattle, WA. It voices frustration at the ways that gays and lesbians are sometimes treated by Christians, and focuses on the importance of obedience to God, even in the most difficult circumstances.
If you knew nothing about human biology, you could listen to most of our debates about abortion and never realize that men are involved in any way. We talk about the woman’s body, the woman’s right to choose. We in the pro-life movement talk about the unborn child’s right to life. But what about the father? In this speech, delivered at the March 25, 2006 Symposium on Life Issues at St. Monica's Catholic Church, I looked at the role of men in building the Culture of Life.
On January 22, 2006, the Knights of Columbus invited me to give a brief reflection at a memorial service for the unborn, held at Mt. Angeles Memorial Park to commemmorate the 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.
On November 3, 2005, the Philosophy Club at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette invited me to debate Dr. Rick Swanson on the question: “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?” I do not have a complete transcript of the debate; however, I have made my opening statement available here.
On January 23, 2004, the Washington, DC chapter of Courage and the Georgetown University chapter of the Knights of Columbus invited me to speak at Georgetown about Catholic teaching and homosexuality.

[The responses in this section were originally written in response to questions I received from friends or others. Before posting them here, I edited both question and response in order to enhance clarity and readability.]

Letters:
Question: In God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door, Alan Chambers writes, “This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is” (218). Would you be willing to identify as a “gay Christian”? How do you think such an identity relates to the arsenokoitai of whom Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 6? [ Read response ]