Part 2: Is Gay Really OK?
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 14, 2015)
The following is the second in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
It has been said that there are three kinds of social groups.
The first kind, called the "Bounded Set," is characterized by strict uniformity of belief and behavior. Individuals must fully conform to clearly established social boundaries if they want to remain "in" rather than "out" of the group. The result can be a highly unified, but also oppressive community, driven as much by fear of ostracism as by dedication to a common vision.
The second kind, called the "Fuzzy Set," is just like it sounds: the complete opposite of the Bounded Set. Here individuals have the widest latitude, because the requirements for being part of the group are extremely vague, and often minimal. The result is a lack of unity and common direction, as individuals are left to decide for themselves what it means to be part of the group.
The third kind of social group is the "Centered Set." A friend of mine once described it like this:
What is important in the Centered Set is the center that people are aiming for. In a religious group, the center might be defined as "becoming like Christ." There is a boundary around the group's values, for it is trying to help people grow in a certain direction. ... As they begin to point to the center, they are accepted as members right away. They belong. This means they are welcome along with their addictions and their problems. The hope and belief in the group is that a certain level of wholeness and healing will come as people follow their heart to the faithful center.
Although I did not have the language to articulate it at the time, this was the principle that guided me, as a young Anglican pastor, facing the predicament that my main altar server, Ted, now had a gay partner (see the first article in this series for the back-story).
Parishes should be "centered" communities. This means that even though parishioners will manifest a variety of moral, spiritual, and psychological ills ("We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way" Is 53:6), as pastors we should presume the best about their intentions, and about their efforts to overcome these problems. We should generally treat everyone with tolerance, patience, and prayer — as long as they are not openly unrepentant, of course, or causing scandal. That could easily undermine and arrest the overall journey of the whole parish community to the "fire at the center," so to speak: that is, to true sanctity, faithfulness to God, and authentic love. This is especially true for those in leadership positions in the parish, since the pastors, and those who serve at the altar or on the parish council, are the ones actually leading the People of God to the center.
Anyway, back to my own story. As an Anglo-Catholic, I believed that God's Holy Spirit had clearly revealed the truth of His loving plan for us through Scripture and the ancient Fathers regarding wholesome human sexuality. So, I met with Ted and told him that, given his present homosexual partnership, as his pastor, I could not let him continue to serve at the altar. By doing so, he was, to that extent, setting a poor example and acting as an obstacle to our common pursuit of authentic Christian chastity and full trust in what God has revealed. He was still welcome to come and worship with us, but serving at the altar is a leadership role, and that was no longer possible in the circumstances.
Of course, Ted strongly disagreed. He said he felt "rejected." I told him that I held him to no higher or different standard than anyone else in the parish, including myself in this regard. As Anglo-Catholics we were all supposed to be encouraging and helping one another on a lifelong journey toward the perfection of charity, which includes authentic chastity, and there are a whole multitude of sexual detours that just won't get us there (adultery, fornication, and masturbation, for example). It is one thing to fall into sin, then repent and get back up and try again, with God's help. That's why we have the confessional. It is another thing to adopt our brokenness and sin as our identity and as a lifestyle — and then ask the parish community to tacitly affirm it.
I wasn't telling him all this, I said, because I rejected him, but rather because I loved him and was concerned about the path he was on. I knew it was not one that could lead him to true fulfillment and peace of heart. I said that we need to pursue a life of authentic love as God has revealed that to be through His Son and His Body the Church. That's the only way that true peace of heart and deep joy can be found.
Ted consistently misunderstood me to be saying that I thought his homosexual orientation was a "choice." I didn't say that. I was talking about what he was doing with that orientation, not about its origins. But the most poignant moment, which I will never forget, was when he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, "You think this is a choice? What person in their right mind would ever choose to live like this!"
I looked around the room at his apartment. He was wealthy. He had a steady partner. He lived in tolerant, ultra-liberal downtown Vancouver. He lived on the edge of Stanley Park, one of the most desirable urban residential areas in all of Canada. To live like "what"? Like "this" — like a homosexual. And I also knew here was yet another guy with a broken, wounded relationship with his own father.
It was Ted's poignant heart-cry that finally propelled me to try to get to the bottom of all this. (Clearly, as an Anglo-Catholic priest, I was not going to be able to avoid the issue!) After many years of research, and after my conversion to Roman Catholicism, too, I came to see the profound wisdom of the Church's teaching on same-sex attraction and homosexual relationships.
It's all summed up in the Catechism, entries 2357 — 2359:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Notice that the Catholic Church makes a distinction between homosexual "acts" and the homosexual "inclination." In most cases, people are not responsible for their given psychological and biological condition. In the short run at least, they "can't help being that way"; they are only morally responsible for their voluntary acts. Thus, it is not precisely accurate to say that homosexuality is a "sin;" homosexual erotic acts are sinful, but it is not a sin to find oneself attracted to people of the same sex.
Nevertheless, the condition, or "inclination," is still not a good thing. The Catholic Tradition definitely looks upon it as a "disordered" state (Catechism, 2357), for it inclines people toward homosexual acts. Yet this, too, can easily be misunderstood. By viewing the inclination as a disorder, the Church does not mean it is a "psychosis," or that the person who has this condition is "crazy." It does not mean that the individual with same-sex attraction cannot form real friendships, or cannot have genuine affection for his or her relatives, or cannot be an honest, hard-working and effective employee, or that homosexuals are automatically at a very high risk of being pedophiles. Thus, it is not surprising that the gay couple in my neighborhood is generally friendly and kind. What is needed for friendliness and kindness is not immediately at stake when someone adopts a gay lifestyle. That is not the area of their life where the problem initially lies.
The Catholic perspective is that homosexuality is a disorder because it stems from brokenness, a wounding of the human condition. In that sense it is "unnatural." In other words, it is not what our Creator intended human nature to be in its whole and healthy state. As a result, someone who lives out a gay lifestyle will inevitably find that it does not lead to true fulfillment and peace of heart. There may be a temporary release of tension when the person "comes out" and admits that they are gay, and it is better to be honest with oneself than to live in fear and self-deception. But again, in time that person will realize that giving in to that inclination and engaging in homosexual erotic relationships only leads to spiritual emptiness. One form of self-deception has simply replaced another: Now the person is deceiving themselves that God made them gay and that they can find peace of heart, deep happiness, and even sanctity, by being "who they are." But that is not who they are. The fact is, we are all people "in recovery" in one way or another, sinners-not-yet-fully-cured. Whenever we fail to see what our Lord really made us to be and would have us become, we are stifling His healing, sanctifying work within us. There can be no deep joy, no peace of heart, and no perfect love down that pathway.
Next Week: Trust in Jesus, and Homosexual Sainthood
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.