Recent months have seen a series of disheartening statements from clergy regarding same-sex attraction and homosexuality. Rather than shining the light of truth, many have clouded an already foggy area of debate over Church teaching. Some have even outright rejected centuries of moral teaching, as was the case with many German bishops in September.
Surrendering Language to the Culture
While others haven’t gone so far explicitly, their words have entangled our understandings of authentic sexuality with falsehoods of the world. Dissident priest Fr. James Martin notably asserted that in order to respect same-sex attracted individuals, the Church must adopt the world’s limited categories for identity.
“[C]ommunities have the right to name themselves,” he tweeted. “And usage changes as communities adopt new names. To use outdated and offensive terms like ‘same-sex attraction’ is the opposite of the ‘respect’ that the Catechism calls for,” he added.
Since when does the Church surrender language to the culture or, more importantly, embrace socio-political labels that distort the truth of identity in Christ?
Some have defended using the “gay” label, noting that it doesn’t nullify their identity in Christ. The Spiritual Friendship blog, for example, has attempted to clarify that the statement of “I am gay” is merely a way of expressing a phenomenological reality rather than an ontological truth. If that’s the case, why not use language that more clearly indicates experience over concrete identity?
The phrasing of “experiencing same-sex attraction” makes the most sense for pastoral settings. Baptism and conversion are ontological transformations whereby Christians disidentify with the world and its confining labels while becoming new creations in Christ. By contrast, to embrace the modern “gay” identity is to become of the world rather than merely in it.
Prioritizing Healing over “Inclusion”
It is sometimes unclear what exactly “Side B” Christians or “Spiritual Friendship” Catholics want, but they appear to believe in a sexual orientation that is both distinct from heterosexuals’ and yet worth pursuing through unique relationships like celibate partnerships.
Nate Collins, who leads the Revoice Conference, previously indicated as much when he told Christianity Today that same-sex attracted Christians desire relationships according to their orientation which, he says, “is not intrinsically sexual.” If it’s not intrinsically sexual, what is it? If it doesn’t result from disorder, where is it coming from? Collins engages in a similar diversion when he suggests that the core of orientation is “the perception and admiration of personal beauty.” He quickly references how God created humans to “recognize beauty in other image bearers.”
Side B Christians are also likely to cite David and Jonathan as models of same-sex affection that they — nevertheless feeling different desires — might follow.
Even according to Collins’s own framing of homosexuality, same-sex attracted men approach that affection and beauty very differently than heterosexuals do. How exactly are same-sex attracted men, in Collins’s view, perceiving beauty in a way that is distinct from the way those with ordered sexual proclivities do? If they are doing so in a non-erotic way, where are same-sex attracted men getting these unique but morally valid perceptions of beauty? The most obvious answer seems to be that these perceptions or affections stem, at least in part, from disorder.
God doesn’t create disorder, and man should not build upon inclinations that result from fallen nature. This accounts for the seeming incoherence of the idea that same-sex attracted men can sanctify their purported orientation. Same-sex attracted men should move towards the greater sexual wholeness that heterosexual men have, rather than try to carve out a unique identity with its own set of lifestyle choices. Healing, not “inclusion,” is the proper response to sexual brokenness. While “inclusion” is important via legitimate hospitality, current pushes for “inclusion” arguably hinder the pursuit of authentic sexuality by distorting authentic identity.
Endorsing a Worldly Distortion
Priests like Fr. Martin are unwittingly cruel. By encouraging worldly identities, they are setting same-sex attracted Catholics up for inner conflict, confusion, and a false victimhood that pits them against well-intentioned clergy trying to lead them towards healing. When you conflate this type of inclination with a worldly identity, it is natural to assume that both would be affirmed. How are same-sex attracted Catholics to confront the apparent contradiction of an “identity” that leads them to sin? Must they believe the Church, in its love, is telling them to deny a part of their identity?
Modern culture has, in certain respects, been more intellectually honest than some clergy in its inclusion of homosexual acts in this new-fangled identity. It is inescapable that the rainbow flag today, as well as historically, represents an endorsement of objectively sinful behavior. When Christians go to “pride” parades or a same-sex “wedding,” they are inevitably endorsing a worldly distortion of human nature and the acts that proceed from that. It is unclear, from an evangelical standpoint, why we should expect people steeped in those same modern distortions to see our presence in another way.
Worse, doing so encourages worldly limits on the infinite complexity and beauty of the human person. There is so much more to human experience — both Christian and non-Christian — than sexual attractions or what could ever fit into a political label like “LGBT.”
To be continued.