Delivered January 23, 2004 at Georgetown University, sponsored by the Washington, DC Courage chapter and the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus.
The Love that Does Not Count the Cost
A Biblical Reflection on Same-Sex Attraction and Christian Love
I would like to begin by thanking Fr. Tom Morrow, the Georgetown Knights of Columbus, and the Washington, DC Courage Chapter for doing the work to make tonight’s presentation happen.
I also want to thank all of you for coming. I would like to add a special word of welcome to those of you who are skeptical about or hostile toward the Catholic vision of human sexuality. I thank you for coming to listen, and if you do not find my words convincing, I hope you will at least understand more clearly why I find the Catholic vision attractive.
I’d like to begin with a story about a friend of mine. In his mid-teens, he ran away from home and checked into a hotel, where he planned to commit suicide, because he feared that neither his church nor his family could accept him because of his same-sex attractions. When it comes to talking about homosexuality, a lot of Christians forget to speak with charity. Like the Pharisees, they bind on heavy burdens without lifting a finger to help.
But in that hotel room, his heart torn by the fear that he was hated by God, hated by the Church, and condemned to a life of misery, he picked up the Gideon Bible and began to read. He read a lot, he cried a lot, and eventually, he found solace in God’s love, checked out of the hotel, and headed home.
God’s word is powerful. The Apostle John tells us that “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the Angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, good will towards men.” When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection, His first words were, “Peace be with you.”
Mahatma Gandhi once observed, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians, for they are so unlike your Christ.” Or as Flannery O’Connor put it, “the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.” Yet O’Connor also believed that “the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world that we are coming to endurable.”
So that we may approach this controversy in a more Christ-like spirit, I’d like us to pray together one of the Church’s most famous prayers for peace, which you’ll find printed on the back of your program. Mother Teresa, whose life gave Gandhi’s India the witness of a Christian who truly was like her Christ, used this prayer in her famous address to the National Prayer Breakfast a few years ago, when she challenged our nation’s leaders to look to Christ for the answer to the question of abortion.
“Everything begins in prayer.” This was one of her favorite sayings, because she knew that we can do nothing without Christ at work within us, and we cannot have Christ within us if we do not spend time with Him. And so let us stand, and open our hearts to Christ through the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen…
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
In 1960, Karol Wojtyła (who was elected Pope John Paul II in 1978), argued that, “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.”
In order to explain Christian teaching about homosexuality, I am going to divide my talk into three main sections. First, I want to talk about what I’m going to call the Christian meaning of human sexuality and discipleship. Second, we’ll examine the Scripture’s teaching on homosexual acts in light of the broader meaning of human sexuality. And third, I’ll offer some practical advice for how those with same-sex attractions can live the Church’s teaching, and also offer some suggestions for how everyone else can offer support.
Christ died for you and for me, and for the 16-year-old kid in a hotel room contemplating suicide because of his homosexual attractions. And it is this Truth, of Jesus Christ crucified for the sake of sinners, which Christians must lift up before the world.
When Mother Teresa spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, she was not ashamed to speak of the One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: “Jesus gave His life to love us and He tells us that we also have to give whatever it takes to do good to one another. And in the Gospel Jesus says very clearly: ‘Love as I have loved you.’ Jesus died on the Cross because that is what it took for Him to do good to us—to save us from our selfishness in sin. He gave up everything to do the Father’s will to show us that we too must be willing to give up everything to do God's will—to love one another as He loves each of us. If we are not willing to give whatever it takes to do good to one another, sin is still in us. That is why we too must give to each other until it hurts.”
Mother Teresa’s speech is remembered for her uncompromising defense of the unborn child. But Mother Teresa understood that abortion does not stand alone: like the Pope, she knew that it is impossible to build a culture of life without building a culture of chastity.
In our culture, love has come to be identified with eros (sexual desire), a word which does not appear in the New Testament. When Christ and the Apostles speak of love, they usually speak of agape (self-sacrificing love) or less frequently of philia (friendship). “It is my prayer,” the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians, “that your love (agape) may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). Love is not merely an overwhelming burst of emotion: in God’s plan love involves the whole person—heart and mind and soul—and is guided by the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Is the Church too obsessed with sex? I often hear this complaint, and I even have been known to utter it myself. But before we rush to condemn the Church for “obsession,” I suggest the following experiment. Tomorrow night is Saturday night. Flip your television to the channel with the highest ratings. Count how many times sex appeal is used, whether in commercials or in the programming. Then, on Sunday morning, go to Mass, and count how many times the priest mentions sex in his homily. Compare.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But no one is entitled to their own facts. And the fact is that our culture is in no position to accuse the Church of being obsessed with sex.
On my way to a recent speaking engagement, a boy and a girl in the seats next to me spent the entire flight looking at pornography. He checked out the beautiful models, while she asked him for advice on which poses he thought sexiest.
One does not need to be a Christian conservative to see the problem with this. Naomi Wolf observes: “The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up… that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy. The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman. Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness.”
And the saddest part of the story is that from snippets of their conversation, I discovered that these two were students at a Catholic university, heading home for the Thanksgiving break.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:18-20).
Why does defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit matter?
God’s law is a kind of annunciation. It tells us what, by the grace won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross, we are to become. But, like the virgin birth, it is not something we can achieve on our own. When the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son, she replied, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel did not tell her that she was just going to have to try harder. He simply replied that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And Mary did not count the cost, but replied, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). And in the temple, the prophet Simeon prophesied part of that cost: “A sword shall pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35). That prophecy came true as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, watching her Son being made “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10).
We do not need to pretend that chastity is easy, for in our fallen human state, the purity of heart demanded by Christ is impossible—as impossible as the virgin birth. But what is impossible by human effort is possible for God. It is by relying on God’s grace that we gain the strength to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC #2359). But sexual sin is the grave matter of mortal sin precisely because it defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit within us.
It is also grave because, as the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians, the sexual union of a man and a woman in marriage is a “profound mystery” which points us to the union of Christ and the Church (5:32). This is the reason that throughout Scripture, idolatry is likened to adultery, and vice-versa.
The book of Genesis reveals three basic elements of God’s plan for human sexual love. First, complementarity: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27); second, procreation: “God blessed them, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:27); and third, union: “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Jesus Himself points back to Genesis and says that marriage is no mere human contract: it is God who joins the man and woman together, and “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). But God’s plan for human sexuality has been marred by human sin, which has hardened our hearts to love. Instead of loving each other without counting the cost, lust constantly tempts us to use each other.
This temptation, however, is not honest: when sin speaks to us, it does not advertise itself as sin. In the garden, the serpent told Eve that if she ate the fruit which God had forbidden, she would not die, and she would become like God. Exchanging God’s truth for Satan’s lie, Eve ate the fruit. She did not become like God, and she not only died, but passed death on to all her descendents down to the present day. This is why Christ called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Sin always exchanges God’s truth for a lie. I saw this powerfully illustrated in a public debate a few years ago. I was invited to the University of Rochester to defend the traditional Christian teaching on marriage in a debate with the founder of an organization called the Gay Christian Network.
He pointed out that most Christians are willing to bless remarriage after divorce, even though the Bible says that those who remarry commit adultery, because they think that it is unreasonable to demand lifelong abstinence from those who are divorced. We recognize lifelong heterosexual marriage as the ideal. But in the case of divorce, many Christians think that remarriage can be an acceptable response to a difficult situation.
In the same way, he argued that the “Gospel response” for Christians would be to bless same-sex unions, even though the “letter of the law” in the Bible might forbid them.
I agreed with him that if we reject the Bible’s teaching on the matter of remarriage, we are on shaky ground when we appeal to the Bible to condemn gay relationships. But when I said that I we should follow the Bible both on remarriage, and on homosexuality, he accused me of being an un-Christ-like Pharisee, of putting the Law ahead of the Gospel, and of lacking pastoral sensitivity to Christian couples in difficult situations.
The real difficulty, which I did not see until later, was that it was the Pharisees who believed in divorce, and Jesus who forbade divorce and remarriage. In short, my opponent had set up a standard of “Christ-likeness” according to which the words of Christ Himself were “un-Christ-like.” Even more troubling, the position which he said was based on “grace” and not on “law” was in fact exactly the position that the Pharisees advocated, and which Jesus rejected.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in order to justify divorce, he had invented a Jesus very different from the One whom the Apostles preached, the martyrs died for, the Fathers expounded, and the Church worships. In place of Christ revealed in the Scriptures, he had embraced a phantom—a phantom who agreed with the Pharisees more than with the Word made flesh, but who agreed with his own culture and desires more than anything else.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.” On the other hand, “Costly grace,” Bonhoeffer says, “is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake the man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ for which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.”
Where does God’s grace meet the Christian struggling with same-sex attraction?
There is no question that the Church’s proposition to the same-sex attracted person is costly. But it is still very much grace. C. S. Lewis once observed: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And according to the Catholic Church, “As in every moral disorder, 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.”
Let’s talk about that word, “disorder.” It’s controversial.
Here’s what usually happens. A Catholic begins to recognize that he is struggling with same-sex attraction, so he opens up the Catechism, looks for homosexuality in the index, turns to paragraph 2357, reads the phrase, “intrinsically disordered,” and freaks out. “The Church is saying that I’m mentally ill!” he says. “Why is the Church so down on me?”
Cardinal George recently observed, “The Church speaks, in moral and doctrinal issues, a philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms. Our language is exact, but it does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation. It can seem lacking in respect. This is a pastoral problem and a source of anxiety for me.”
Part of the problem is that few Catholics know enough about what the Catechism says about human sexuality and the disorder due to sin to be able to place those words in context.
Paragraphs 1606 and 1607 talk about how disordered heterosexual desires damage marriage. Paragraph 2351 says that sexual pleasure that is “sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” is “morally disordered.” 2352 calls masturbation “intrinsically and gravely disordered.”
When the Church speaks of human sexuality, She has in mind the order God created in the beginning, and when She speaks of disordered acts or desires, She means anything which in some way contradicts that order. Everyone in this room has disordered sexual desires, and the vast majority of us, myself included, have engaged in disordered sexual practices. You may easily feel, as I do, the impossibility of Christ’s command, which forbids not only adultery, but even lust in the heart. But welcome to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus did not preach the Sermon on the Mount as a reasonable minimum standard of behavior which anyone could reach if they just tried hard enough.
He preached it to reveal the radical nature of His call to discipleship. Trying to fulfill the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount through merely human efforts is like trying walk eastwards down the aisle of a westbound airliner. And the discovery that we cannot live the life demanded in the Sermon on the Mount is the first step towards the radical surrender to Christ’s grace so that we may be lifted on the wings of the Holy Spirit.
The Church teaches that “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.”
The Church’s teaching that homosexual acts disordered should never in any way obscure the dignity of the person made in the image of God, either in our estimation of ourselves or of others. Obscuring the dignity of the person is a very grave error. Fr. Harvey, the founder of Courage, draws a crucial distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt recognizes that I, God’s child, have done something inconsistent with my new Identity in Christ. It leads to repentance and a renewed commitment to live in Christ. Shame, on the other hand, “is the feeling that I am no good, I am worthless, and I cannot control my behavior.” Fr. Harvey argues that this shame is at the root of all sexual compulsions, which means that efforts to shame those with same-sex attractions are actually counterproductive for the growth in Christ and in holiness.
This brings up the important subject of role models. Those who choose to embrace the world’s vision will find an abundance of role models, whether in the media, in the schools, or even in their own parish, for many parishes today have no shortage of publicly proclaimed dissidents.
But those with same-sex attraction who choose to live a life of chastity will have the greatest difficulty finding any role models at all. Here, the Church’s teaching is almost always presented in the abstract, without in-the-flesh-models. This silence leaves many of those who struggle imprisoned in a self-hatred and shame which makes it much more difficult for them to grow in their relationship with Christ and find fellowship in the Christian community.
This shame is based on a false understanding of Christian discipleship, which does not recognize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but that all can be justified freely through Christ’s grace (cf. Romans 3:23-24). The solution to this false shame, however, is not to “exchange the truth of God for a lie” and redefine the meaning of human sexuality. Rather, the solution is to accept the grace of Christ, which not only removes our guilt, but more importantly sets us free from sin.
“If you love me,” Christ says, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This is why the Apostle Paul says that those who reject the command against homosexual acts “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (cf. Romans 1:24-27).
Since God’s power and deity are revealed by His creation, the Apostle Paul says that the human race is “without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:20-22). But when we turn back to the creation account in Genesis, what is one of the most obvious truths present in the creation? That God created human beings male and female.
Even as a very hormonal teenager dealing with same-sex attraction, I could see that there was an obvious “fitness” to heterosexual relations which did not exist for same-sex relations. This was very frustrating, since I was not drawn to the female form at all, and powerfully drawn to the male form. Yet there it was.
The Apostle Paul continues: “When Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
The Church’s teaching was very difficult for me to embrace; but I knew that to justify a gay relationship to myself, I would have to blind myself to a truth that was written on my own heart, however much I did not like to find it written there.
When the Catholic Church calls homosexual acts disordered, She echoes the logic of the Apostle Paul, who points us to the order which God has inscribed in His creation, in the male and female symmetry our bodies, and in our hearts. But She calls homosexual acts disordered, as she calls many other acts disordered, because She calls homosexual persons, like everyone else, to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
I suspect that many of you are thinking that this is all very well, but is sort of like sending recipe books to Africa instead of rice. The recipes may be very good, but they aren’t much help to those who don’t have the ingredients to make the dishes. In the same way, even if we accept the logic of the Church’s teaching, and admit that it is the logical conclusion of the New Testament, we still know that no amount of effort on our part is going to enable us to reach the goal the Church demands in the name of Christ.
So what’s the point of telling us God’s law if we cannot obey it?
Actually, it is a very important point, and it brings us to the very heart of Christian discipleship. I have argued that sexual sin is a very important issue, because the sexual union of man and woman in marriage is a sacramental sign of Christ’s covenant relationship with us. If our sexual unions depart from God’s plan, they no longer point us to Christ, but instead point to a false god. Because same-sex unions lack both the complementarity of male and female and reject the procreative structure of heterosexual union, they cannot in any cases be approved.
But as important as sexual sin is, it is not the most important sin. The real root of sin is pride. Pride led Satan to rebel against God, and pride tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in Eden. Pride is the greatest of the seven deadly sins, the great enemy of the Christian life.
And it is pride that resists the recognition that I am a sinner. If guilt recognizes that I have acted in a way inconsistent with the image of God in me, pride says that God must be made in the image of my acts and desires. Guilt hurts because when I feel guilty, the axe is being laid to the very roots of my sinful nature: my proud assertion that I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul, that I, and not God’s law, will determine what is right for me.
Christ said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and simply to recognize God’s law, even if I fail completely to obey it, divides the deadly sins against themselves within my heart. Because as soon as I admit that chastity is good, every sexual sin strikes a blow at my pride, my delusion of my own righteousness. Even if I make no progress in chastity, the repeated acknowledgement of my failure, leads to an ever-deepening humility, and the recognition that my salvation can only come from God.
The cost of discipleship is high. Bonhoeffer said, “When Jesus calls a man, He calls him to die.” And Mother Teresa said, “I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because He can be very demanding—sometimes.” As a teenager trying to confront the conflict between God’s law and my desires, there were certainly many times when I did not feel like smiling at Jesus, even when I accepted the demands of obedience.
This conflict came to a head in my late teens. My closest friend and I had a close bond due to our shared interest in flying and our shared Christian faith. As time went on, my feelings for him became more and more romantic. I fought this, both because my friend was strongly opposed to homosexuality, and because I believed that it was against God’s law. But then I began to suspect that he, too, probably had a crush on me. Hugs turned into occasional hand-holding, and hand-holding led to cuddling. I remember once watching Out of Africa snuggled up on the couch, with my head resting against his chest, listening to his heart and dreaming about one day going to Africa with him and flying around seeing all the beautiful scenery from the movie.
This naturally set up an intense internal conflict within me, and I believe within him, as well, although we never discussed it, because discussing it would have meant admitting that our feelings for each other had something to do with homosexuality. I had long conversations with God about this, attempting to explain to Him that all my happiness was tied up in making this relationship work out and that He just had to see things my way. I spent lots of time trying to figure out arguments for why maybe the Bible didn’t mean what folks said it meant.
But God more or less made it clear to me that friendship was good and healthy, but anything more was verboten. And in any case, this complicated combination of guilt and fear of God and each other kept us from anything beyond the sort of innocent affection described above.
Looking back, I see that the good that came from that relationship was due to our friendship; the romantic tension only introduced emotional drama which got in the way of the friendship and gave us a lot of baggage. But at the time, I often thought God was a spoilsport, standing in the way of my only shot at happiness.
But it was not so, though I only began to realize how much God’s law had protected me a few years later. The spring of my senior year in college, I went to a party sponsored by the GLBT group, held at a house off campus. It was not unlike most weekend parties at the UW, except that the couples slipping off into the back bedrooms lacked gender diversity.
I didn’t really like the atmosphere in the house, so I went out in the backyard and sat down at a picnic table with a group of guys. After a while, the conversation got around to the subject of their first sexual experience with another guy. In most cases, the first experience was some sort of one-time “experiment” with a friend in high school. When the question got around to me, I said that I actually didn’t have a first time-experience to relate. They pressed me with more questions, and I ended up telling about cuddling while watching Out of Africa.
One of the guys (whose first experience had involved fooling around with another boy in the high school drama club) sighed and said, “I wish I’d had something like that.” Then for the rest of the evening, they peppered me with questions, demanding to hear more stories from the year or so that my friend and I had been in whatever sense together.
St. Augustine says that God gave the law for the education of desire. However much I disliked God’s law in my teens, struggling to obey it brought me closer to the fulfillment of desire than my friends’ disobedience. And continuing to obey it has taught me much more.
Above all, it has taught me, as it taught St. Augustine, that “You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are ever restless until they find rest in you.”
My love cannot save anyone from sin and death; only Christ can. Therefore, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). 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. Human love is only really love to the extent that it helps the beloved to fulfill the great commandment to love God. Therefore, if I truly love someone, I will not even risk involving them in a sin which Scripture says can keep them from eternal life in the kingdom of Heaven.
Today, one of my closest friends is another same-sex attracted Christian. I have not kept track of hours, but I believe I can truthfully claim to have spent more hours praying for him than we have spent communicating with each other. When we do spend time together, we are very respectful of each other’s boundaries, not because we are cold or rigid or uncaring, but because we care too deeply for God and for each other to mess up the agape and philia that we share by giving room for eros to push its way in and corrupt love with lust.
True friendship is based on my desire for my friend’s good, not on what I hope to obtain from my friend. True friendship involves choosing to do what is best for my friend, not seeking to fulfill my own wants and desires. Above all, true friends will draw each other into the Good News of Jesus Christ.
John Paul II calls that Good News the Gospel of Life—of human life here on earth and of eternal life in heaven. One of the encouraging trends in the modern world is the increasing desire to defend human dignity and human life. For example, the movement to abolish the death penalty is based on the belief that life is so precious that even murder does not justify taking life. Others, recognizing the danger of executing the innocent, have argued that we cannot even risk killing an innocent man.
The idea of risk is important, because human knowledge is imperfect. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I felt very confused about what God really wanted for human sexuality. I could read the arguments that God forbade homosexual activity, but wonder, “how can I really be sure?” It was all very confusing. I felt the same confusion about the arguments about abortion. I could see that if a child was a human life than it was wrong to kill, but how could we know for sure when life begins?
Yet confusion does not justify inaction. If many would abolish the death penalty because it might result in the death of an innocent man, how much more ought we to ban abortion, even if we are not certain that the unborn child is alive, because human life is too precious to risk? And even more, though we may be uncertain about the Christian sexual ethic, we ought never risk our own and our beloved’s eternal life for the pleasure of the moment.
We choose every day to embrace the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ on Calvary, or to embrace the lie that has echoed down the halls of history since Eden.
I have made the second choice often enough to be able to assure you it is a dumb idea.
But if you try to face this choice with no more than the strength of my arguments, or my reassurance that the second choice won’t do anything for you in the long run, you won’t find it easy to make the right choice.
I am a human being, fragile and frail like each of you. The better you know me, the better you will know this. At most, my arguments can bring about the sense that the Church is probably right—to get you to take a risk on Catholic truth. But Christian theology calls faith, hope, and love the supernatural virtues. No human argument, no human choice can produce them: they can only be infused by the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us.
Mother Teresa exemplified the supernatural virtues. Since her death, we have learned a great deal that we did not know during her life. The most amazing thing we have learned is that during her entire public ministry, she was experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul: she received no consolation, no reassurance; she lived day in and day out in the darkness, with nothing but naked, supernatural faith. Hers was truly a love that did not count the cost.
The beautiful simplicity of the saints bears witness to the splendor of this surrender to Christ. But the “dark night of the soul” through which the saints must pass bears witness to the difficulty of this surrender. It is not the work of a moment, but must go on, day by day.
“I am convinced,” writes Henri Nouwen, “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.”
Yet the Apostle John reminds us that “we love because God first loved us.” It is only by opening ourselves up to God’s love, His grace, and His forgiveness, that we are strengthened to make great sacrifices for Him. When you struggle with sexual temptations, don’t focus on trying to fix yourself; when you are tempted, pray for God’s strength to resist. If you fall, don’t despair: Christ will forgive you seventy times seven times. Simply confess your sin and pray for the grace to go on, then press on towards Christ without looking back.
There will be days in this discipleship of grace that you will not feel like smiling at Jesus; yet these difficult days teach us compassion for others when they feel hostile towards Jesus and His commands. Because He has been gracious and compassionate to us, we should not condemn others when they struggle and fall.
The most important witness any of us can give for the Gospel does not come from waving signs or shouting slogans or passing Constitutional amendments. It does not even come from speeches like this, though I thank you for listening to me. The true witness to Christ comes from the quiet fidelity of our daily lives. As St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words only if necessary.”
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so send I you.” Then He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). The peace of Christ comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and our hearts are purified to receive the Holy Spirit through having our sins forgiven. The Apostle John assures us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Church always holds out the invitation to enter the peace of Christ.
But Reconciliation alone does not give us the strength we need to live the Christian life. It is a powerful medicine to cure sin; but we also need spiritual food to strengthen us. Jesus says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). In the Eucharist, the Church always offers the food that will fill the heart that hungers and thirsts after righteousness.
G. K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian faith has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and been left untried.” Because we Christians often give up on living like our Christ, Gandhi and many other men and women of good will are turned away from the Gospel. So let us all pray for each other, that we will love Christ without counting the cost, and love our neighbor with purity, grace, humility, and truth.
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 ]