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Below are excerpts from the full conversation captured in the mp3 above. Click the audio link to listen to the audio. The audio includes a moving follow-up call from a fellow listener.
Father Dave: Let’s go to Jason in Boston, Massachusetts. Hello, Jason. Do you have a question for us?
J: Yes. I hope I don’t make anyone uncomfortable with this. I want you to know: I was raised in the Catholic Church. I had a Catholic upbringing. The thing is — I am a homosexual. My problem is that I’m juggling keeping my family and my faith because my whole family looks down on my sexuality and they believe that it insults God himself.
FD: So, you’ve come out to your family then, Jason?
J: I’ve come out. Yes. I came out when I was 16. There was this whole big argument about how homosexuality is wrong, is blasphemy — that I’m going to hell. I’m the scum of the universe. And so, now I’m confused about everything because I know who I am, but I don’t want to always believe that I’m insulting God and all the saints. And at the same time I don’t want to cut ties to my family. A few of my family members accept me, but the majority of them don’t.
FD: Well, Jason, I certainly hear the pain and the frustration in your voice. This is not easy for someone who is fairly young. And particularly for many people, family is very tough.
Today a lot of media attention is focused on the gay marriage debate, which brings a lot more heat to the situation — more heat than light, meaning not shining light on the truth but boiling things over. The Catholic Church joins in the debate over how we define and how we legalize marriage among different people, and the Church indeed has a stake in defining sacramentally what a marriage is. But I think — very unfortunately, Jason — that a lot of this has trickled down to your average church-going Catholic to mean that Catholicism is incompatible with someone who has a same-sex attraction. So let me be a fairly vocal and public voice to say that is not what the Church teaches. It is not what we believe Jesus or God wants: to have anybody, regardless of who they are, to feel completely excluded from God’s love. That’s the most basic teaching of both the Old and New Testaments — that the covenant that God has with humanity is for all of humanity. God says, “Absolutely I love you, no matter who you are.”
Yet there are standards of behavior: God in His justice can dictate how we interact with one another. And it’s true: it would be the responsibility of the community to hold me accountable when I’m exercising a bad habit of eating too much or talking behind someone’s back. So for the most part, Christians are coming at this from the point of view that they believe it’s the right thing to do — that we should hold one another accountable and say, “Hey, you’re not meeting up to this standard of behavior.” The problem is, Jason, when we conflate a bad choice someone makes with who they are as a person created in God’s image.
We could use the analogy that we don’t look at someone with a physical handicap — for instance a person in a wheelchair — and say, “God hates that person, or God is punishing that person.” But you know what? There’s been a time in the history of humanity when people did think that way. We now would see a distinction: God has created that person in his image and likeness, and yet they are not functioning “properly” or “normatively” in every way that God designed humans to work. But we don’t say that God hates that person or that person should be banished from the community. I think there’s a lot of that misconception now, particularly with people of a homosexual orientation. People tend to lump together what the Church has a right to say in terms of marriage or about sexual activity outside of marriage with God hating a person. These are not the same thing.
We’ve crossed the line when valid arguments about the definition of marriage spill over into, “therefore this person must immediately be judged or is automatically going to Hell.” That is absolutely not the teaching of the Church or the Gospels or Jesus Our Lord.
J: It’s refreshing when you say that ’cause I’ve been hearing the same hateful sorts of things and there’s some stuff that I agree with, and there’s stuff I find reasonable. I just don’t like being seen as some sort of monster … I’m myself. I’m who I am. I just happen to have a different sexual preference.
FD: What the Church teaches about those with that orientation — what these days we most often refer to as a “same-sex attraction” — is not that they are all damned by God, but simply that they are called to live a moral life through the virtue of chastity. In fact, we’re all called to live in chastity, whatever our station in life is. Chastity within a marriage means that the couple is not having sexual relationships with other people. Chastity for me, as a Catholic priest, means celibacy, that I don’t have a romantic or sexual relationship with any other person. The Church does not say, “We hate gay people and want to keep gay people out of our churches.” But the Church does, in all God’s justice, hold up this standard of chastity.
Now, a lot of people will say, Jason: “How can you kind of write off a whole percentage of the population and say that they can never have sex — they can never have a loving relationship?” The way the Church looks at it is this: there are people who, either because of how they’re born or because of something that’s happened during the course of their life, are not able to do certain things. I think most people would agree that the state has a right to tell, for instance, someone who is blind that they should not be operating a vehicle. So, the Church would say that because of whatever this is in you that is different, we don’t hate you because of who you are, but that necessarily certain actions should be restricted in your life (i.e., sexual activity). Few people would likely say, “Hey! It’s not fair that blind people can’t drive,” and I don’t mean to make it flippant or trite. But this shows that it’s reasonable to say that because of something that blind person didn’t choose — that either happened to that person or they were born with — that they are not allowed to do certain things because that wouldn’t be good for society. Now, you might say, “Well, of course I can see that. We shouldn’t be crashing cars, but…” But the Church’s theology of sexuality and marriage and relationships does, for us, make this the same sort of decision.
It’s still, I’ll admit, not an easy message to hear: that the Church says that for you, or anybody else who finds themselves with a same sex attraction, the only moral option is that of chastity. I realize how that can sound pretty limiting in terms of life or love or relationship. But I think, again, it’s that double standard. We say the same thing — that people should be chaste — to people who are heterosexual. And for whatever reason we don’t tend to have the same bias toward heterosexuals, to say hateful things. That’s the word that you used — that you’ve heard hateful things said to you by friends and family. So, for my part, as someone who represents the Church, I’m saddened about that and I’m sorry that you have experienced that.
Yet, I believe that the Church, in her wisdom, is wiser than either I can be, Jason, or you in your experience of your lifetime. So I put trust and faith in the wisdom of our 2000-year-old Church. And I think I heard, Jason, that you’re kind of struggling with that as well. You said, “I don’t want to get rid of my Catholic faith, but it seems like some people are pushing me to do that.”
J: Well, people do say that. And I’m raised Catholic: this is what I’ve dedicated my life to. It’s part of my identity.
FD: So, again, I would affirm that it is still your identity, and the fact that you are struggling with it and talking about it on a Catholic radio show, says to me that God is at work in you. So, don’t listen to those voices that say that God doesn’t want a relationship with you or doesn’t love you. Try not to let a few voices — even though they may be loud, and in your case voices that are close to you and mean a lot to you — speak out of turn for what Jesus’ voice is, for what the teaching of the Church is. And continue to try to hold these things in tension appropriately. And you may make mistakes, Jason. I make mistakes in how I hold in tension how God loves me and forgives me and the standards that he holds me to. We all do, and that’s the point: that none of us are perfect. Be honest with yourself and your family about that but continue saying, “I’m not going to walk away from this” … because I don’t hear you wanting to do that, and plenty of people in your situation, Jason, have chosen to walk away from the Church. It doesn’t sound like that’s what you want to do. Hang in there and continue to pray to God. Continue to learn about why the Church says what we say. Continue to hear from reasonable people — not people that say, “You’re going to Hell.” Because I can tell you right now, Jason, that is not the teaching of the Church: that because of who you are that you could go to Hell. That’s contrary to Christian theology.
J: That’s very different from what I’ve heard…
FD: Thank you Jason for your courage to call, and as you continue to work through your Catholic faith and your sexual identity, if you have more questions, that’s why we’re here on the Catholic Channel.
The Busted Halo Show with Father Dave Dwyer is on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Sirius/XM 129, Monday through Friday, 7:00pm to 10:00pm EST. Give us a call with your questions and comments: 1-888-3-CATHOLIC, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.siriusxm.com to get subscription information.
[Published on: September 27, 2012]