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 aims to examine Catholic teaching about prejudice towards homosexual persons.
Catholic Response to Prejudice against Homosexual Persons
“It is deplorable,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith writes, “that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law” (CDF, 1986, ¶10).
Chesterton once observed that there are two things, and two things only, which can guide human minds in forming judgments: dogma or prejudice. The response of the Catholic Church, as represented by its documents and official statements from senior leadership has been clearly consistent with Catholic doctrine and teaching on the meaning of human sexuality.
However, the Church distinguishes the legitimate moral judgment that homosexual acts are wrong from an illegitimate prejudice against homosexuals, a prejudice which is still respectable among many Christians.
For example, the Anglican Communion seems about to experience a serious schism over the ordination of Gene Robinson as the communion’s first openly gay bishop, and over the communion’s growing acceptance of same-sex unions. Like all orthodox Catholics, I agree with Anglican conservatives that the ordination of Gene Robinson is evidence that many Anglicans are turning away from Christian revelation and the message of the Gospel. And I agree that it is impossible for the Church of Christ to confer God’s blessing on a homosexual relationship. To the degree that it embraces such false blessings, it ceases to be the Church of Jesus Christ.
But bad fruit does not generally fall that far from the tree. For decades, the Anglican Communion has harbored bishops who openly questioned the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, and the authority of Scripture. Anglicans not only (contrary to Christ’s command) allow divorce and remarriage; they even have a form of blessing divorces. What, then, is one to make of a conservative Anglican who was willing to remain in communion with heretics and apostates, and can stomach quite large quantities of heterosexual sin, but suddenly decides to break communion over Gene Robinson and the advent of same-sex unions? It is not Ecumenical to speak too harshly of one’s separated brethren. But I think it is fair to say that a man who could maintain communion with Bishop John Shelby Spong cannot claim that his primary motive for schism in the Gene Robinson affair is doctrinal purity. There is surely an element of prejudice and hypocrisy.
And it is not difficult to find much more obvious examples of prejudice. When I was in college, there was a controversy on campus involving whether or not one of the Bible Study groups on campus could exclude practicing homosexuals from leadership positions. During the controversy, there was a meeting of a group of Christians at which the subject came up. A prominent Evangelical pastor said, “I have no problem with gays in leadership, as long as the first thing they do is lead themselves and their faggotty-assed friends right out of my church.” And this man is not from the fringe. He wrote a book published by a prominent Evangelical publishing house, which I have seen on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.
At the 2003 Courage Conference, protesters affiliated with Dignity, the Rainbow Sash Movement, and Soulforce joined to protest the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Some friends of mine and I went out to speak with the protesters, hoping to understand where they were coming from and why they objected to Courage. We weren’t trying to win a debate. At one point, we joined them in singing some hymns. We were trying to reach out with Christian love to them, and that meant trying to establish some trust. I believe that it was more important for them to see Christ’s love in our actions than for us to quote all the right paragraphs from the Catechism to condemn homosexual acts.
One of the messages we heard over and over again concerned hypocrisy: heterosexual couples live together before marriage. The vast majority of Catholic married couples use contraceptives. The leadership in most parishes looks the other way as this goes on. Yet the Church continues to refuse to grant recognition to gay marriage.
Sometimes, the hypocrisy is even more obvious. I have encountered quite conservative Catholics who say they would rather have a heterosexual son or daughter living in sin than a homosexual son or daughter living a chaste life. This can only be prejudice, because Catholic doctrine says that heterosexual fornication is a mortal sin, while a chaste homosexual is living in obedience and grace.
However, some not simply argue that there are lots of prejudiced Catholics (an argument which may or may not be true). They argue that Catholic teaching itself promotes violence against gays and lesbians. Although I do not deny that there is violence against gays and lesbians, the argument that it is caused by Catholic teaching seems weak to me. No one thinks that Biblical teaching against fornication contributes to violence against college students who cohabitate before marriage. Nor would anyone argue that when the Catechism calls masturbation “intrinsically and gravely disordered” (¶2352), the Church is encouraging violence against teenaged boys. There is thus more going on in prejudice and violence against gays than just Catholic moral teaching.
A personal story may help to cut through this kind of rhetoric and focus on the realities of prejudice against homosexuals. Last Fall, I was out for a stroll around one of Seattle’s suburbs with a friend who has stereotypically gay dress and mannerisms. As we walked along, we passed a group of teenage boys hanging out around their cars, listening to rap music. As we walked by, one called out, “hey faggot!”
This is, of course, the sort of incident which Soulforce would blame on the “climate of hostility” created by traditional Christian teaching. But before accepting this claim, we ought to analyze it for a moment. No Catholic document encourages either beating up or verbally taunting homosexuals. In fact, as I quoted at the beginning of this section, the Catholic Church has, with the full weight of magisterial teaching, condemned this kind of behavior directly and explicitly.
So let’s start off with a healthy dose of common sense. These kids were dressed like they had just stepped out of a clothing commercial on TV, and were listening to rap music. Quite a few rap lyrics do encourage attacks on homosexuals.
Not only so, but the whole culture promoted by the entertainment industry is highly sexualized. In theory, therefore, it is a culture which should welcome homosexuals’ desire to fulfill their sexual longings. In practice, however, if teenage boys are never encouraged to learn sexual self-discipline, but are instead encouraged to yield to their every animal instinct, they will naturally fear homosexuals, because they will expect homosexual males to pursue them with the same aggressive attitude with which they pursue females. A culture of hedonism is therefore almost certain to become a culture of violence.
If Catholic teaching really promoted violence against those whose sins it condemns, it would be necessary to beat up everyone on the planet: for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What is much more plausible is to say that those who engage in “violent malice in speech or in action” against homosexuals are operating out of pre-existing prejudice, not respect for Catholic teaching.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the Catholic Church does not seek to control people’s lives. In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II says that “the Church is committed to freeing herself from every purely human support, in order to live in depth the Gospel law of the Beatitudes. Conscious that the truth does not impose itself except ‘by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power’ she seeks nothing for herself but the freedom to proclaim the Gospel” (¶3).
Catholics seek to proclaim the truth about human sexuality, and to speak out against public policies which would distort the truth. The Church (following God’s revelation) calls homosexual activity a serious sin; but she calls violence against homosexuals a serious sin, as well, and speaks out against both.
Catholics should not seek to limit others’ freedom. We should seek only the freedom to proclaim the Gospel, confident that whoever hears the Gospel and obeys it will be able to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (Catechism, ¶2359), and will discover that the way of the cross is the true road to eternal happiness.
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.
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.]
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 ]