A New Essay At Crisis

There’s been a rather interesting exchange going on at Crisis about a group of folks one of their authors has dubbed the “New Homophiles.” I’ve had a very long association with some of them, that goes back nearly five years, when I became aware of some of their writing and thinking in the forums of the Gay Christian Network. A lot of their ideas didn’t make sense to me, and we had many, and frequent, discussions where we never were able to see eye to eye.

When one of them entered the public square speaking of being a “gay but chaste” Catholic, the discussion that had long been going on in the forums of GCN became public too. It’s now even more so.

This is my latest contribution to that discussion. The com-box arena is full of landmines. Be forewarned. (My spiritual director has guided me in not entering the com-boxes for the rest of 2014–but, oh, how I want to!)

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9 thoughts on “A New Essay At Crisis

  1. Hey Dan,

    I gave it some time to think about the questions, and I do still have some. So hopefully this is not too much of a debate for you.

    Anyway, when it comes to the issues that have objective truth solidified in Church doctrine but is often communicated in different terms from the subjective phenomenological experience of people, who decides how much linguistic deference to the subjective experience is proper or improper? It seems to me that you are accusing Mr. Belgau and the others of going too far in their language, that their speech does not ultimately point (correctly at least) to the objective truth of human sexuality. In this they way the talk is actually false, and therefore not pastoral. But by the same token, they would accuse you (e.g. http://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/01/28/ontology-vs-phenomenology/) of refusing to take seriously their commitment to only speak subjectively and phenomenologically and that the objective truth is only ever incarnated, quite messily and not at all logically, within human persons. So they take issue with the current pastoral approach of the Church because of its shortcomings. My question then becomes who is right. Are we stuck with a 28 year old document (side note: I know that is not actually that old when it comes to Church documents) if there seems to be legitimate criticisms of it? And (possibly my main concern) when there is so much substantial agreement between your two views, why is so much ink being spilled over this one difference? I don’t ask because I think the difference unimportant, but I do wonder if this distinction is really as essential as you make it out to be.

    • Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for this comment. I saw that recent post on phenomenology, but don’t find it convincing. I’ll address that momentarily.

      The overall question does seem to hinge on an assumption that the Church is failing in this area to evangelize. On what basis do they make that claim? Have you ever considered that? The irony in all of this is that despite their concerns over the evangelical effectiveness of the Church, they themselves have, well..been evangelized.

      People are coming into the Church constantly because of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality–because they don’t light fireworks announcing this fact doesn’t mean it’s not happening! I’m one of them. I was recently speaking on Catholic Answers and the last two callers called in telling me how the Church’s teaching brought them into the Church. One said specifically that Benedict’s writing was what brought her into the Church, while the second fellow said that the Church’s teaching in general. Note that Benedict was the author of the dreaded phrase about inclination that it is “objectively disordered.” Yup, that “dreadful” phrase actually contributed to her coming in–how can that be?

      I think of the guy I know who was a male model, had thousands of partners, and now is a faithful Catholic–because of Mother Angelica, and watching her when no one else was around. This conversion happened about three or four years ago. Or one of my good friends who was in a relationship with a woman for 25 years, and God wooed her back to the Church. Or the woman who wrote the book I Just Came For Ashes, who came back to the Church through the wooing of the Holy Spirit after she went into Church with a woman she was attracted to, “just to get ashes.” And then she encountered the wonder and beauty of God. All of these conversions have happened within the past five years.

      Wouldn’t you say that one of the core issues underlying much of the writing of the folks at SF is that the Church is failing at evangelization? I’m not buying what they propose, which will be an essay I’ll be writing soon, on how to evangelize a sexually broken culture. The normal path for folks living with unchastity is the path of the Prodigal Son, not comfortable and pleasing pastoral language. I do hope you consider the irony in their position: they seem to dislike the Church’s language, and think that it’s an impediment to people coming into the Church. Why did they then come into the Church? Were they recipients of some sort of irresistible grace? Do they have a seers stone to allow them to decipher the hidden code?

      Of course they don’t. What happens is that we are all naturally inclined towards the truth. That happened to them, despite them not liking the way the Church speaks about homosexuality. Have you considered that they are proof themselves that the efforts of the Church are succeeding? I read so many of their concerns and think to myself that the Emperor Has No Clothes.

      As to the phenomenology, one issue of concern for me is rooted in something my father always said to me: feelings are important, but they don’t always tell us the truth. It may be true that people feel and experience things, and in that sense, we can say that it is true that someone “feels gay.” But to base pastoral ministry on this phenomenon seems strange (which is more than I have time to get into here).

      I’ll close with what I found very strange about Belgau’s recent essay. He compares all of this to Galileo’s mathematical and astronomical calculations that we must live in a heliocentric world. What we know now, of course, is that Galileo was right.

      But it seems that we live in a day where with regards to sexual orientation, and at least in the eyes of the SF folks, we’re sort of moving back to a flat earth sort of world: let’s in fact focus on what we experience about ourselves, rather than what we can discern objectively and know to be true.

      This leads to all sorts of craziness, like a new book recently that came out about understanding sexual identity, where the author essentially describes the “terrain” of sexual identity that children are navigating, and gives ways for youth leaders to “find their bearings” in that terrain. There are graphics of compasses throughout the book, and at the conclusion of the book, I just scratched my head and wondered why on earth should the terrain of the world’s notion of sexual identity be the one that we enter into, particularly with children, and somehow observe them as they meander around in the dark. Isn’t it the role of parents and adults to say to children, “hey, let me show you the path…it’s not that way, it’s this way.” This is some of the nuttiness that I desire to write against.

      Why I write so much about this is in large part because of my love of the Church–and in part, because of Benedict’s concern for what he called “the ecology of man” which needs to be protected, which is inherent in our maleness and femaleness. I believe that part of the Church’s mission in the world in the 21st century is to rescue the world from mistaken notions about the sexuality of man. And I want to be a part of that great work.

      That’s all I have for now.

      • Hey thanks for the reply. It’s great to hear about those stories of people coming back to the Church because of Her proclamation of the truth. I knew these wonderful stories existed, but I’m still on the fringes of any real evangelism and so do not get to hear many testimonies. And for what its worth, I agree with you more than the SF crowd; there does not seem to be any room whatsoever for objective truth in their methods (which I find highly disturbing).

        Yet, I also see their point. I see that a proclamation of objective truth may in fact drive people away from that truth. I think about my own experience and how many times I have been a hair’s breadth away from walking away from that truth because the subjective experience was too much; in those situations the objective truth only felt like condemnation, not grace. What has kept me in the faith is not the truth, but people coming along side and helping me through difficult times. I am not sure how familiar you are with Protestant history, but when it comes to evangelism and missions we have too often made the mistake of using a one-sized fits all model thus doing much damage in our well-intentioned proclamation of truth. Now much good was also accomplished, and we would do well to remember that. But we must also mourn the damage and fix our mistakes as well.

        I think of a book called “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett. Its major point is that charitable actions need to be tailored to the community to which are given. In the situation of evangelizing those who experience same-sex attraction (or convincing them of a traditional sexual ethic) sometimes objective truth is not the first thing with which we should be concerned; sometimes it is unloving to lead with that; sometimes subjective needs need to be met before anything else can happen. I guess my frustration in this debate is that the internet is so public that both the people that need to hear the objective truth and people that need not to hear the objective truth are present. And Mr. Ruse’s articles presented this debate to a different subset of the Christian populace, and thus both sides need to have their say. But it seems that there is space for both to live and both to minister to different people.

      • Hi Ryan,

        Thanks for the reply. Here a couple of quick thoughts in response. Regarding objective truth: the fundamental question that arises in my mind when I consider the folks at SF is whether or not what they espouse is in alignment with objective truth. Their other critics have this same question. Therefore, to determine if their mission is actually pastoral, the question of how it aligns with objective truth is paramount. They would say that language is merely semantics, but their critics would say that language is how we understand the world around us, that words have both meaning and consequence. In the context of pastoral ministry then, would it be truly pastoral to have, say, a “LGBTQ” group in a Catholic parish? Based on the objective truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, their critics would say no.

        You say that the objective truth sometimes pushed you away. I would say in my case it did. I saw the truth, and it made me angry, and I turned my back on God. Is the great goal of ministry to avoid keeping people from turning their back on God? I don’t think so, and in God’s economy, sometimes what is necessary for salvation is actually a time away–and sometimes that running away from the Father’s house is because the children of the Father don’t like the objective truth that the Father says. We see that time and time again within the history of Israel, right?

        There are many, many occasions in the words of the Popes to the bishops of the world to “not avoid the hard sayings.” The Gospel reading this Sunday featured Simeon, prophesying about Christ that he will be a “sign of contradiction.” Christ was an affront to the world, and the Church will always be an affront to the world.

        Think of Christ’s words about marriage and divorce, where the apostles said, “it’s better not to marry if what you say is true!” Or the words of the Apostles on the body of Christ becoming bread: this is a hard teaching, who can accept it.

        Think of Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, “who went away sad.” Or the very curious line of Mark’s Gospel about Herod’s response to John the Baptist: “for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.”

        John didn’t mince words with Herod: he made it clear what the truth about sexual morality was–and this perplexed Herod, but he enjoyed listening to them.

        The truth is inherently what we are drawn to–we are made that way by God. If we are pushed away from the truth, it is because we have hardened hearts, and God hasn’t softened our hearts just yet. (That usually comes through suffering!) That was the case with me, and with so many of my other friends who became the “Prodigal Son.” The truth should always be shared in love, but to not share objective truth is the opposite of love: it’s cruelty.

        Now the manner in which this truth is shared must always be done compassionately. But to avoid sharing it, for fear of alienating people from the Gospel is a mistake. The US Bishops wrote in their statement on human sexuality that “we must also warn against temptation to respond to this need for pastoral compassion by weakening the demands of sound morality. Rather than compassion, this would turn out to be cruelty. We do this in the spirit of Pope Paul’s message to the American bishops on the occasion of the Canonization of St. John Neumann: “The most profound pastoral understanding, the deepest human compassion exist only in fidelity to God’s Word . . . (without this) our apostolic charity is incomplete . . . Understanding? Yes! Sensitivity? Yes! But supernatural sensitivity to the Christ and to His Cross and Resurrection.” And of course, at the very root of morality is nature of man, from which objective morality flows.

        But I have to question your assumption that objective truth didn’t keep you in the faith. You have had people come alongside you in support of that objective truth, but you could just as easily have found an entire world willing to come alongside you in opposition to that truth. It wasn’t merely that people came alongside you, was it? They came alongside you in support of that objective truth–and at the same time, that difficult truth that sometimes didn’t feel like grace, but rather felt like condemnation called to you for some reason, just as it called to Herod.

        As to your last paragraph, I do agree with you, but with this caveat: if those with a homosexual inclination recoil at objective truth, they have not been made ready by God to receive it. In that case, one loves them where they are, and waits for God to woo them. We won’t woo them by tickling their ears. That never works. I don’t fret over those who can’t hear objective truth, other than to pray for them, and to offer up what little sufferings I experience on their behalf. Brother Andrew used to say that when people came to him, asking to pray for souls, he’d say a quick little prayer, and go on his way. In the Soul of the Apostolate, the great book about evangelization and pastoral care says the most pithy thing I can think of when it comes to evangelization:

        “A short but fervent prayer will usually do more to bring about a conversion than long discussions or fine speeches.” I think the SF folks thing that “long discussions and fine speeches” that are somehow pleasing to the ear is the path to conversion. I don’t believe that making the teachings of the Church more palatable is necessary at all for evangelization, because man has no power, whatsoever, to bring anyone to God.

        What does bring people to God is an encounter with Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Part of that Truth is who we were made to be, and in that sense, I fear the folks at SF are actually doing a disservice to evangelization in their embrace of the sexual identities of the world, since it’s opposed to the true dignity and worth of the human person.

  2. My second question is specifically about the advice “not to come out.”

    I grew up in a church where there was complete silence about this issue, and it nearly destroyed me. I attend a church now where there is much love and healing for those with wounds from their experiences with same-sex attraction, but the leadership has given me the same advice to not make a general public-disclosure about my attractions. That is fine to a certain extent, but it still amounts to general silence. There are spaces where I can be more fully known, except in the places where it would do the most good to speak up. Silence is still the norm.

    I hate that silence; silence is dangerous. Silence encourages people to lie, to think that they are alone in this issue. When silence reigns, even the slightest negative comment about homosexuality becomes a poisoned barb in the heart. When I disclosed my attractions to the leaders at my church, I didn’t think it was a safe place. I went into that meeting 90% sure that I would be removed from my ministries; I thought it possible that I could be thrown out of the church. I didn’t do it because I thought it safe; I did it because I was desperate and couldn’t live with the duplicity anymore. Too many people with that desperation choose the other option and leave the Church. Silence breeds that desperation. So when I see the bishops’ counsel to remain silent, I question whether this is good and wise counsel. If you have the most loving, godly, true, and pastoral ministry to those who experience same-sex attraction, what good will it do if nobody comes because of the silence?

    • Hey there Ryan, these are good questions. I’ve actually wanted to address these, so thanks for bringing them over to my com-box. I don’t have anytime to address them right now–I’m out the door right now, and the rest of the afternoon will be spent clearing snow and then working, but I wanted to say thanks for posing these questions. I will say this briefly however before I run out the door: silence is indeed damaging. I went through that myself. However, it seems there is not sufficient discernment on the part of the folks at SF on the negative impact that “coming out” can inflict on folks too. This is where I see the counsel of the bishops as being more prudent and wise than the notion that “coming out” is more positive than avoiding “coming out.” I believe that “coming out” is usually a mistake for folks, and I’ll write some more about that when I have time. And notice: I do maintain that we can’t live alone in this. But more on this later.

      God bless!

    • Hi Ryan,

      On further reflection, this question of “coming out” is one I’ll wait to answer in an essay. I have been mulling over an essay on “coming out,” and so keep an eye out for something soon. I’ll post a link here too.

      Dan

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