Homosexuality is an issue that, still today, divides the Church. Many congregations and ecclesial movements are struggling to strike the balance between fidelity to the truth and ‘loving all people.’ Some groups have even come forward and stated that living the gay lifestyle isn’t sinful. I recall listening to a radio interview that Rob Bell (author of Love Wins) gave where he stated that the Christian family needed fidelity and not necessarily heterosexuality. Statements, such as the ones made by Rob Bell and the like, are undoubtedly spot on from a pastoral standpoint. The Church and all Christian movements need to open wide the doors to all people and meet them in the midst of their journey. But what about the theology? What is the objective truth concerning the topic of homosexuality? The primary question that remains is simple: Is Christianity changing its teaching?
One of the perks of Catholicism is our Magisterium: the teaching office that serves the authority of Sacred Scripture and Tradition (not the other way around). In the current landscape of Christianity you will come to find tens of thousands of ecclesial movements who all claim to ‘have the answer’ while, simultaneously, offering the world conflicting answers. It can be confusing and you have to ask yourself “Who can I trust?” Personally, I trust the apostles and their successors or the Roman Catholic Church, as it is known today. Who to trust is a question that haunted me and literally drove me into the arms of the Catholic Church. In all honesty, I was so fed up with conflicting and contradictory statements of faith that my alternative to giving Catholicism a try was to leave Christianity behind altogether. God had other plans I suppose.
A few months ago, a close friend of mine who lives far away began to text me. We tend to text each other periodically to catch up and stay in touch. I was getting ready to head into work and my phone began to go crazy; I pulled it from my pocket to discover four text messages sent in rapid succession. This was it, a moment I had long-anticipated, he was coming out of the closet. This didn’t come as a shock to me; I knew all this information for quite some time. I made sure to never talk to him too much about it because I know coming out is an important event and it had to happen at his discretion. After telling me all the details of his current situation the series of texts ended with: ‘Do you still want to be my friend? I will understand if you don’t.” Recalling the words of the Holy Father, I simply replied, “Who am I to judge?” and went on to reassure him that we would always be friends and something like this had no bearing on our friendship. What might have been a big dramatic moment was resolved with love and understanding.
I imagine that, considering my religion and how vocal I am about those views, my friend was expecting some form of rejection. Understandably, many people who deal with homosexual (or even bisexual, transgender, etc.) tendencies put themselves out in the open with full anticipation that Christianity will turn its nose up at them. History has supported this notion. Christianity does not have a spotless track record regarding this topic. After our conversation another question began to creep into my mind. I wondered, “But, do you want to be my friend?” This might seem like an odd question at first but allow me to explain.
In an act of trust, my friend made a huge confession and staked the future of our friendship on something he had to tell me. Perhaps, he had reached a point in his own journey where he desired to weed out the people who are insincere from his life. The missing component from the conversation is that he never inquired as to what I believe regarding homosexuality. He wanted acceptance; not doctrine. As a Christian, and as someone who seeks to be authentically so, I am obliged to accept everyone. Christ did command us to love our neighbors. What I need my friend to understand, and what Christianity needs to world to understand, is that there is a difference between acceptance and affirmation. This falls into that whole “love the sinner and hate the sin…” sort of thing. While I am in no position to make a blanket statement regarding the official position of each and every Christian denomination, I can tell you what the Catholic Church teaches. I can tell you the truth, not a ‘view among many’, but the objective truth.
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. – CCC 2358
Right out of the gate, the words ‘objectively disordered’ seem to draw out the most controversy. This discussion would do well to make clear that ‘objectively disordered’ does not mean that anyone is a freak or an outcast or that this particular inclination is cause for exclusion. Disordered, at least in the sense that it is mentioned in the Catechism, refers to the misdirection of one’s own sexuality. Engaging in lust, pornography, fornication, and even masturbation are all considered to be ‘disordered’. No one group is being singled out by this seemingly harsh language. In fact, the Catholic Church has made clear that the inclination towards sinful behavior, concupiscence, isn’t sinful in and of itself. What does this mean? Being gay isn’t a sin. Struggling with sexual sin isn’t a sin. All of these aforementioned predicaments are signs of our fallen nature; the human condition. As humans, made in God’s image, we are called not only to master our environment but to also master ourselves and our sinful desires. The successful mastery of our sexuality is called chastity.
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift. – CCC 2337
If being gay isn’t a sin then why does Christianity make it into such a divisive topic? The reality of this issue goes far beyond the realm of theological debate. When we talk about homosexuality and all disordered sexual tendencies we are dealing with issues that have the potential to define people in the court of public opinion. Sensitivity is absolutely necessary. Speaking the truth is, as well. Therefore the theological truths must not be neglected. Sexual sins are not sins because of anything related to appropriateness. Love is always self-giving and never self-seeking. Our sexuality, then, directs itself to the complementarity of the other. “Male and female he created them…” Man cannot give to man what woman can give and vice versa because the two are complementary. Man and woman were made for one another. I understand that for many, this argument seems very dated and arbitrary to the direction of the ‘equality’ discussion going on today. Fortunately, truth and love are not directed by the rising and falling tides of cultural trends. If you are still reading this, I am writing this because this truth needs to get out. We are all called to Chastity; to live chastely. Gay, straight, whatever… No matter what cross we bear or what sinful struggle has come upon us; we are greater than these struggles. God has made us for more. Sexuality will never define the man or woman; rather, we are called to define the role of our own sexuality in our lives. God created and defined sex. Homosexuality, lust, pornography, masturbation, fornication, and the like are sins simply because they are not what sex was made for.
“God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image… God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.”
“God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them”; He blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply”; “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.”
Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. – CCC 2331-2333
To my friend I would say “You’ll always be my brother. Here’s the truth on the matter, it’s what I believe. I’ll always be your friend. But… Do you want to be my friend?”