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Discussing Homosexuality is a Delicate Matter

Homosexuality should not normally come up in discussions about marriage reality if one stays focused on the “sole institution that unites children with their mother and father.” That is another way of saying marriage between a man and a woman that reframes the discussion. Complementarity and conjugal acts are already understood in the phrase, so one can avoid getting into extraneous topics such as parenting outcomes, quality of sexual acts, homosexuality and other things not particular to marriage reality. Just stick to the question, “Do we need a civil institution that is specifically geared to unite children with their own mother and father?”

However, when delicate questions of sexual ethics and homosexuality come up, it is good to be prepared to address them charitably and avoid traps that lead to misunderstanding, conflict and alienation. Our goal is to witness the Gospel in ways that lead people to Christ.

First, let’s take a step back for a fresh look at sexual ethics focusing on what is common rather than what is different.

Remember, sexual attractions whether between a man and a woman or a persons of the same sex are not sinful. We have no control over attractions. The common problem for everyone is how to respond to them.

Only disordered acts, which the Church defines as acts that by their nature are closed to life, are sinful. With all of the focus on homosexuality, people are often surprised when they consider that disordered acts are not exclusive to same-sex couples. However, there is little discussion about disordered acts between men and women inside or outside of marriage leaving many to presume they are OK. They are really not.

From the perspective a person experiencing same-sex attraction, what is the difference between the same kinds of sexual acts between a man and a woman and people of the same sex. They have a point. Using reason alone, what makes one OK and the other not? Is it any wonder why persons who have adopted an active gay or lesbian lifestyle feel discriminated against or picked on when we single them out for committing acts that are not particular to homosexuality? Is it not the objective to encourage everyone to adopt chased lifestyles for their own sake?

This paradox is not a secret, a least not for people who identify as gay and those who sympathize with them. Considering this, it is understandable why the phrase, “We are all sinners but God loves everyone just the same” sounds so disingenuous, patronizing and hypocritical.

The “Gay” Identity Problem

However, there is an inherent problem that people who take on a gay or lesbian identity have that other sinners do not. When we are aware of sin we usually do a pretty good job of trying to hide it whenever possible. When we fall into habitual sin, we all tend to rationalize it and lose our awareness of the sin as Scripture continually reminds us. A problem arises when a person takes on an identity associated with a particular sin and expresses pride in it. This makes the sin more difficult to overlook and can be the source of distraction for others.

Think about how people would respond if a man took on an identity of a womanizer who habitually takes advantage of and uses women for their emotional gratification. While the sinner may be unaware of the sin and its consequences, taking on an associated identity would distract most people making it difficult to recognize God’s infinite love for that person even in his sinfulness. It can have a serious impact on how we relate to and love such person.

Taking on an identity associated with a sinful sexual behavior is like wearing a sign that says, “Kick me, I’m a sinner,” and it is easy to fall into the temptation to do just that. However, dealing with the distraction and our ability to respond in love is not the problem of the sinner, but is our challenge to overcome.

The Church provides the following guidance on dealing with persons who take on sexual identities: “Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, … challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well.” That was not from Pope Francis, but the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) in audience with Pope St. John Paul II in 1986. He went on to say,

… 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.[1]

Reject Cooperation with Lies — Protest

Taking on a gay or lesbian identity is a lie, because the person is much more than an identity. That is reality! Remember, the attraction is not a choice but the identity and lifestyle are choices. Conversion comes about when the person recognizes a higher calling and rejects the identity and sinful behaviors.  That is common for all of us.

Therefore it seems that being directed toward the good of the person would require affirming the person, separating the choice of identity or behavior from the person, and encouraging alternative choices that lead to the person’s eternal destiny. In other words, just because someone takes on such an identity does not mean we have to cooperate with the lie. Is it not better to affirm the person rather than the identity?

I have decide to stop cooperating with this lie by working to discipline myself to stop using the words “homosexual”, “gay” or “lesbian” as a personal identifier — i.e., a gay or gay man, a lesbian, a transgendered person, etc. In fact, there are only persons in the eyes of God. Instead of using those terms, it is more accurate to simply refer to “a person who has adopted a gay or lesbian identity.” Avoiding repeating the lie is a difficult habit to break, but I am determined to do it as a protest because I know the person is much more that that identity.

In addition to witnessing that a person can never be reduced to an identity, it helps me remember each persons is a magnificent unrepeatable manifestation of God’s love, and avoid the distraction caused by the identity that implies certain behaviors or personal sin. We must reject repeating lies and witness truth, even when it goes against the prevailing culture and the language it uses.

When Pope Francis made his famous remark, “Who am I to judge,” he was really expressing his way of avoiding distraction and seeing the person as God sees him. In reality, we really don’t know how Christ will judge, do we? I find St. Francis de Sales advice for the pursuit of personal holiness from Introduction to the Devout Life particularly helpful. He suggests following Christ’s example on the Cross,

Again, our Crucified Saviour, while He could not wholly ignore the sin of those who Crucified Him, yet made what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance. And so when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what compassion we may for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives we can find, as ignorance or infirmity.

Are we never, then, to judge our neighbour? you ask. Never, my child.[2]

Fraternal Correction

The goals discussed this far are to affirm the inviolable dignity of person, reject reductionist identities that are used to erroneously define persons, and avoiding the distraction that sexual identities cause us and inhibit our ability to love. But some might ask, what about our obligation to confront the sinner about the sin?

For some reason, there seems to be a greater interest in confronting people over homosexual sins more than any other sin, including other sexual sins. How do we confront people over cohabitation? How about sexual relations outside of marriage? How about disordered acts between men and women? Perhaps it is because the sin of Sodom strongly condemned in the Bible as one that cries out to heaven for vengeance. However, there are four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance: murder, sexual sin, unjust wages, and afflictions to widows and orphans. What do these sins have in common? St John Paul II seemed to draw them all together in Christifideles Laici #37.

The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person’s origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a “child in the Son” and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the Creator of the individual.[3]

Reducing a person is to an object of use for pleasure, creating an experience of intimacy for self, or personal gain is a serious sin. We know this. Why do we resist being used or objectified so strongly when we are aware of it.

Before publicly or privately admonishing a sinner, remember how much we all hate being corrected for our sins- even minor ones. Discussions about personal behavior or sin falls under the Church’s guidelines for fraternal correction, which must be handled with great discernment and charity, lest we risk alienating the person and undermining their receptivity to Christ’s saving love.

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[1] Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 1986. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

[2] St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, “Hasty Judgments,” Part III, Chapter 28. http://www.catholicity.com/devoutlife/3-28.html

[3] Veritas Splendor, St. Pope John Paul II, 1993. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html