Part 16: Love and Truth Go Together
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 18, 2016)
The following is the sixteenth in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
Perhaps the underlying problem with Christians "affirming" same-sex attraction is their failure to make a clear connection between "love" and "truth." For example, the back cover of Peter Fitch's book, Interpreting Toward Love, says that sometimes "the heart can be a better [moral] theologian than the brain." But this is misleading: the attempt to privilege either the heart or the head in moral discernment is a dangerous mistake, since both are essential. As Jesus said, we are to love with "all our heart, soul, mind and strength" (Mk 12:29-31).
Moreover, like most "liberal" Protestant and Catholic writers, Fitch utilizes Jesus' Golden Rule (Mt 7:12) as his guiding ethical principle. The trouble is that the Golden Rule — a call to empathy — cannot be, and never has been, the leading principle of Moral Theology. As Catholics see it, the Golden Rule is only one aspect of Christian moral discernment, and cannot be primary, because of its potential "disconnect" from truth.
Consider the following example. Suppose a bunch of drunks are sitting on a park bench and one of them, moved by the Golden Rule, thinks to himself: "Whatever I wish that others would do to me, I should do to them; what I wish these guys would do for me would be to buy me another drink; so in the spirit of the Golden Rule I am going to buy them all another round of drinks myself!" What is wrong here? Empathy has been divorced from truth. For true love is not just to empathize with another, but to seek the good of the other. In this case, what is really, objectively "good" for those guys in the park is not another round of drinks, but, perhaps, a few nights in the rehab clinic! Authentically to seek the "good" of others, one has to be able to see clearly that the truth really is about what actually is "good" for them. Otherwise, even with the best of intentions, one can do them real harm.
On the basis of articles 1-14 in this series, I submit that Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and human Reason (philosophy and the sciences) all indicate that living as a practicing homosexual does not lead to integral human flourishing; rather, it means wandering into a moral, spiritual, psychological, social, and medical minefield. And people who really love each other do not lead each other into minefields! Catholic author Jason Evert sums it up in his book If You Really Loved Me (p. 132):
If two members of the same sex are mutually attracted and they love each other, they will do what is best for each other. They desire union because of their love, but love desires more than a temporary physical union; it desires the good of the other. It desires heaven for the person and will encourage him or her to embrace the virtue of chastity.
Several times in his book, however, Fitch states that chastity is an impossible moral standard for homosexual men and women to attain. All it means, he says, is that they are "condemned" to "celibacy and enforced loneliness" (p. 58). Fitch shares the story of evangelist Tony Campolo in this regard. According to Campolo, the "overwhelming number" of homosexuals who sought his pastoral counsel over the years would say to him: "It won't work for me. I've tried. I've prayed. I've gone to Pentecostal churches. I've done everything. I've gone to counseling — nothing's worked" (p. 100).
I am not quite sure what "nothing has worked" here means. If it means "I haven't been fully healed of my broken sexual orientation," then I have no doubt that is true: full healing of this affliction seems to be about as rare as full miraculous healing of cancer, which means it happens on occasion, but certainly not in the majority of cases. But if it means, "I can't live chastely; it's just too hard because I get too lonely," then I don't think that is true at all. The loneliness that single people experience is indeed sometimes very hard to bear — but daily living with a spouse can be hard as well. After all, marriage is two people with original sin, yoked together for life, and often sanctifying each other like sandpaper smooths out wood! Most marriages are very hard at times — sometimes for long stretches of time. But of course, as the saying goes, "the grass always looks greener under someone else's cross."
Kevin DeYoung comments on the celibacy option, and its roots in the teachings of St. Paul, in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?:
But isn't celibacy a gift from God that he grants only to some Christians? That's one of the most popular arguments from the revisionist side. Paul said he had a unique gift, but others didn't, and those who didn't were supposed to marry rather than burn with passion (I Cor 7:7-9). So how can we ask those without the gift of celibacy to live a life God has not called them to? ...
[But] what about the single Christian woman who never finds a husband? Or the godly man whose wife is paralyzed at thirty years old, making sexual intimacy an impossibility? Did these believers choose celibacy? ...
When the single person, however, embraces the advantages of being single and the gospel opportunities unique to singleness, this is considered [by St. Paul] a charisma given by the Spirit for the edification of the Body [of Christ] (pp. 113-1150).
I have come to believe that if Christ leads you to a single and celibate life, He will provide the degree of healing that you need for the journey and the sanctifying grace to enable you to flourish in faith, hope, and love. It is not only those called to religious vocations who are called to celibacy. People can be led by Christ along that pathway for a variety of reasons: homosexuals, lifelong single people, even married couples facing difficult medical circumstances.
I know a married couple who, for the past 18 years, has been called by Christ to live as brother and sister because the wife developed a life-threatening liver disease that would make another pregnancy a death-sentence either for her or her unborn child. But Jesus is faithful: he gives the couple the grace to live in chastity and to do this for love of him and for each other. They just need to continue to keep their hearts open to Him in trustful surrender. No, it is not impossible: It is just called "the way of the Cross," which is also the way to sanctity.
To make the journey, however, this couple has to seek out all the means of grace that our Lord has for them. With all due respect to Rev. Campolo, I just do not believe that Pentecostal churches have the full resources to handle such situations. Christian homosexuals need more than just prayer and counseling. They need sacramental Confession and the fullness of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church. They need the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. They may need the help of the Catholic support group called "Courage" as well (more on that later in this series).
Overall, the discussion of "love" in Fitch's book (as in gay-affirming Christian literature in general), is all rather discouraging. Our Lord needs saints in the midst of the world, now more than ever, and in our heart of hearts that is what we all long to be, because it is what we were made for. Instead Fitch seems to be telling us how impossible it is. For example, the Christian ideal of chaste love for homosexuals, he says, "stacks the moral cards quite heavily against the poor people who have to try to reach for a perfection they can never attain" (p.33).
Really? Does God call people to impossible states of life, or give impossible commandments? Doesn't He pour out graces in abundance to enable us to live out His good commandments? Why can't we trust that He will provide for us the grace that we need?
Several times in his book, Fitch seems to pour cold water on the ideal that Jesus set before us: that we can actually love the Lord our God with "all" our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:29-31). For example, he wants to interpret our Lord's words in Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect" in terms of "maturity" rather than perfection. But Catholics would call this a distinction without a difference. To become fully "mature" in Christ is precisely to attain that perfection of the virtue of charity (caritas, agape love) to which our Lord calls us in His Two Great Commandments.
Fitch also endorses Lewis Smede's statement that "people have to do the best they can with what they have been given," as if the "best they can" involves moral compromises on homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception, and Lord knows what else (a shallow, consumer-lifestyle? Neglecting to care for elderly relatives?). On the contrary, we are called to offer our brokenness completely to Christ, and let ourselves be completely transformed by his love.
Of course, it will not happen all at once: we are all "in-recovery," sinners not yet fully cured, and sanctification is usually a lifelong process. But with the help of His healing love and His sanctifying grace, we can draw so near to full "maturity" in love, even in this life, that as St. Paul wrote, we can be "changed into His likeness from one degree of splendor to another" (2 Cor 3:18).
This is our deepest heart's desire, and it is all possible — as long as we do not endlessly justify our moral compromises as "the best I can do," or take our identity in our brokenness because "I am what I am," and "I'll do it my way, not God's." We may or may not be eternally lost if we take these detours from the way of authentic love — thank God there is a Purgatory! — but if we persist on our detours, we will at least impede all that our Lord wanted to do in and through us, and we will never really become the great saints that He intended us to be.
Next Time: Love is More than Tolerance
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.