Straight Talk

17 May

I am truly blessed with many fond childhood memories. I had a loving father and mother and many other family members who cared deeply about me.

Even so, my dominant reality, at least during my school years, was that I was a fat kid. I was relentlessly teased, pushed around, and called names, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. By the time I hit adolescence, I was filled with rage, rebellion, and negative feelings about myself. In my late teens I finally started to get a handle on my weight, but ever since I’ve considered myself in “recovery,” always in need of vigilance lest I return to the nightmarish girth of my youth.

I realize that homosexuality and obesity are two very different conditions, but there are some important points of similarity. For one thing, I know from experience how bullies on the playground (some of whom don’t change their stripes as adults) prey on kids who are different, so I can sympathize with those who have been mercilessly persecuted because of their not-so-hidden sexual identity struggles.

Leaving aside the bullies, there are several typical responses to the fat kid. Some disdainfully point out the obvious (“you’re fat”) and what should happen (“you need to lose 50 lbs.”), but through word and attitude communicate indifference (or worse) to the poor guy’s situation. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who want to offer an easy way, who want to make the child feel good about being fat.

While my built-up defenses might have suggested otherwise, and I didn’t always respond favorably to constructive weight-loss suggestions, deep down I wanted to change. I appreciated efforts–even seemingly unsuccessful ones–to reach out to me. The people who cared most about me offered diets, changes in lifestyle, and fitness regimens to help me escape an unwanted condition. They offered a plan which typically involved hard work and discipline. Even more, they offered hope.

Homosexual persons need a similar message.

Bible Basics

We all know about the dissent that has plagued the Church in recent decades, contributing mightily to the contemporary “crisis of faith” that has occasioned the upcoming “Year of Faith.” Some point to problems in the revised liturgy–both in itself and, more credibly, in the way it was initially implemented. Others point to problems in moral theology ushered in by Fr. Charles Curran and his colleagues. But I think underneath this is a crisis in Scripture scholarship, which today has led to a certain agnosticism and skepticism about God’s inspired Word.

This is true when it comes to the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual activity. One frequently hears, for example, that contrary to Church teaching (cf. Catechism, no. 2357), the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity but inhospitality. Of course, we also hear that Our Lord’s multiplication of loaves was not a miracle, but an important lesson on sharing.

Let’s look at just one of the several passages on homosexuality in the Bible:

“Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

First, note that there are actually two words in the Greek that are combined to form the word “homosexuals” in the above translation: malakoi (literally, “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females”) and arsenokoitai (literally, “males who take other males to bed”). Despite persistent attempts to relativize or explain away this passage, what St. Paul is saying here is beyond reasonable dispute, and it’s entirely consistent with other biblical passages on the subject and two millennia of Church teaching.

Second, St. Paul is writing here to baptized Christians, some of whom used to engage in one or more of these serious sins. Even though they have now been “washed” (that is, baptized), they are still prone to commit these sins and, if they want to inherit the kingdom, they must not return to such sinful ways. (By the way, this is one of a host of passages that dispels the “once saved, always saved” error we often encounter today.)

So, those who engage in homosexual acts are expected to walk away from that lifestyle, and in fact people even in St. Paul’s time were apparently able to do it, with God’s grace. Surely it can be a long, difficult road that can at times involve relapse, but contrary to the persistent lie that some people are just born that way and unable to restrain themselves, it is indeed possible and necessary to decisively turn away from such a lifestyle.

Finally, there are many sins listed in this passage. While we might not experience predominant same-sex attractions ourselves, we are inclined to a host of other sins, and for ourselves eliminating those sinful areas of our lives has to be the first priority.

Still, there is good reason to single out homosexuality for special mention. While many forms of immoral conduct are rampant today, they are nonetheless considered wrong and utterly to be avoided. We don’t celebrate “drunk driving month.” We’re not required to give our employees sensitivity training so that they can be more understanding of the internal conflicts of adulterers. When we condemn corporate crime we’re not called “greedophobes.” We don’t congratulate sneak thieves who “come out of the closet.”

When it comes to homosexuality, though, we are getting bullied and tricked into moving from decriminalization to societal recognition and institutional legitimacy.

Uncommon Valor

Fundamentalism is a significant problem today, but for the most part, fundamentalists stand outside the Church waiting to pounce on the unwary. Contemporary apologists such as Karl Keating and Pat Madrid have done a terrific job of arming the faithful against such attacks and transforming them into fruitful opportunities for dialogue and evangelization.

Homosexuality poses a more internal threat. It has effectively scaled the ramparts of the Church castle. If we deny the deleterious effects of homosexuality on the institutional Church, we have stuck our heads in the sand. We need repentance, purification, and grace, and we need heroic leaders–clerical and lay–who are willing to take on this beast.

Sexual impurity, even among seemingly devout, practicing Catholics, has weakened our defenses and compromised our witness when it comes to any sexual morality issue. In particular, Internet pornography has made substantial inroads in our culture and is destroying families. I urge men who struggle in the area of sexual addiction to seek assistance today.

Several years ago, the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People reported, to no one’s surprise, that over 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse were male, and of these the vast majority were postpubescent. While all categories and types of abuse are deplorable and tragic, the significant increase of homosexual activity involving teenaged boys (and the accompanying episcopal misgovernance) beginning in the 1960s is what really turned this situation into a full-blown, front-page crisis.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to examine the complex causes of the scandal and offer possible remedies, though one obvious part of the solution has been not to accept seminary applicants who openly identify themselves as homosexual. Rather, the point is that the entire Church, beginning at the top, more than ever needs to be spiritually ready to proclaim the truth about human sexuality in the face of the ungodly push for same-sex marriage–a push now led by our President.

Getting Personal

The Catholic Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and thus possesses the fullness of the truth. So, while other Christian communities have part of the truth (and often do more good with their portion of the truth than we do with the fullness), the strength of the Catholic perspective is that it’s inclusive; it captures the big picture. In the area of homosexuality, the Church doggedly insists upon a both-and: absolutely love the sinner, and absolutely hate the sin. One without the other misses the mark.

The vast majority of Christians surely affirm the need to love the sinner and the need for a compassionate approach. Without all the pastoral resources of the Church (especially Confession), however, the message can be a little strong on hating the sin, which is right, but incomplete. I think that’s an especially important consideration today. Try criticizing somebody’s work, or cooking, or opinion, without that person taking it, well, personally.

Homosexuals often define themselves–selling themselves short in the process–in terms of their sexual preference, so telling them that their conduct is objectively disordered and sinful, without all the pastoral charity the Church can muster, predictably isn’t going to go over well.

On the other hand, a significant segment of the Catholic Church (though not in her official teaching) has softened on the “hating the sin” part, buying into modern scholarship and rampant secularism and relativism that call into question the longstanding biblical and traditional condemnation of homosexual activity. Without that key aspect of the truth, loving the sinner loses its authentic, salvific meaning and degenerates into a spineless gospel of tolerance.

I remember a time as a young adult when I casually referred to myself as being fat. At the time I was a starving law student and the thinnest I’d ever been in my life. The person I was addressing said, “Leon, what are you talking about? You’re not fat.” It struck me then how deeply I associated myself with my tendency toward obesity, as though it would always define who I am.

Our society has largely lost its sense of the intrinsic worth of the human person, so we tend to define ourselves through external, secondary characteristics. That is never good, but it’s especially tragic when those with same-sex attractions define themselves as “gay.” Once they are so defined, they give up hope of ever being anything else, and so through force and illusion they strive to change their environment–including the laws of society–to accommodate their lifestyle.

In the face of this, we must be ambassadors of hope and mercy, not wimpy enablers. Woe to us if out of silence or misplaced tolerance we allow homosexual relationships to take further steps toward becoming the legal equivalent of marriage. As St. Paul urges, “do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9).

The above article is an adaptation of a piece originally published in the May-June 2004 issue of Lay Witness magazine. Old issues are archived at www.cuf.org/Laywitness/index.asp. I reproduced the article here, given President Obama’s recent public endorsement of “gay marriage.” Persons who are struggling with same-sex attractions are encouraged to look into the Courage apostolate, which admirably brings together the truth about the human person, the compassion of Jesus Christ, and the pastoral resources of the Catholic Church.

6 Responses to “Straight Talk”

  1. Kathy Baker May 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    So you are saying that they can change? Because after all you lost weight and “changed”. Really Mr. Suprenant? Could YOU change your sexual orientation?

    • Kate May 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      The position I have most commonly seen from within the Church is that, although individuals may not be able to change their sexual orientation, they can change their actions. I, as a heterosexual person, can choose whether or not to have sex, say, outside of marriage. People who are homosexual can make that same choice. To suggest otherwise is the same as suggesting that teenagers are somehow so hormone-driven that they simply cannot resist having sex with everyone they meet. Both assumptions lessen the dignity of the person and their free will.

  2. Leon Suprenant May 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Well said, Kate.

    Kathy, as I noted in the article, the reference to obesity was merely by way of analogy. Any analogy can be taken too far or used in a way not intended by the author.

    What I did say in the article is that God calls those who are currently engaging in homosexual acts to definitively walk away from those actions. Sins can become habits (i.e., vices) and even addictions, making it difficult to change behavior. But God’s inspired Word says it’s possible, and He gives us the grace to do it.

    We all have the “orientation” to sin because of our fallen human nature. The technical term is concupiscence. We will take our “orientation” to sin to the grave with us.

    As for same-sex attractions, or what we might call a “homosexual orientation,” I did not get into theories regarding its causes and the possibility of “changing” one’s orientation. I know of people who have done it, and I also know professionals in the mental health field who help people overcome this disorder. As you know, our secular society no longer wants to call homosexuality a disorder, so there’s less incentive for one to make the effort to change orientation.

    Still, it’s fair to say that same-sex attractions can be deep-seated and often not easily overcome once they’ve taken hold. I understand that that can be a significant suffering. In that regard, all of us have physical, mental, psychological, and relational crosses in life. Some last but a short time, others we’ll always have. Because of the Cross, these sufferings, while painful, have redemptive value and must be seen as God’s way of drawing us to Himself (see Colossians 1:24 and CCC 2358).

  3. Kathy Baker May 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    We will have to agree to disagree. I do not believe being gay is a sin and I don’t think these children need any more officials from our church saying that they are damaged goods and that they are unacceptable and need to change. There are too many now taking their lives. And this is after they are coming to people like you for help.

  4. Leon Suprenant May 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Hi Kathy, it depends what you mean by “being gay.” If you mean engaging in homosexual sex, you are disagreeing with 2,000 years of Christian teaching, and not simply with me. If you mean “having a homosexual orientation,” then you’re right, that’s not a sin.

    Children don’t come into the world “gay.” But even if they did, they’re not “damaged goods,” but rather beloved by God. We have to be able to distinguish between the person, who is loved and lovable, and the person’s sinful behaviors. It’s not doing anyone any favors to let them wallow in serious sin without letting them know that God loves them and calls them to something better.

    When it comes right down to it, we all “need to change.” We call it conversion–turning away from sin and toward the Lord. It’s like Our Lord with the woman caught in adultery. He was very loving, compassionate, and pastoral to her–and we must emulate those qualities. Yet He also gently yet firmly admonished her to walk away from the sin in her life. We all need to hear Our Lord’s voice and turn to Him with all our hearts.

    And btw, the orientation is not a sin. But since it leads to sinful homosexual acts, wouldn’t it be a charitable thing to assist in the healing of this orientation, assuming it is possible for that person?

  5. Mark August 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    You never cease to amaze me with your knowledge and thoughfulness. I have read and shared this particular post often since I first read it. May God bless you!

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