Suppose that a prominent secular gay organization, hoping to better understand and respond to pro-family Christian groups, sent a reporter to interview Heidi Fleiss, the former Hollywood Madam, in order to get her perspective on why men and women want to marry and start families, and to gain insight on why some of them try to make marriage and family policy a major political issue.
I would think that most of us would recognize this as one of the least intelligent strategies available for understanding what motivates pro-family Christian groups—something more worthy of an article in The Onion or a Saturday Night Live skit than a serious article by activists who hope to affect social policy.
However, on Wednesday, Life Site News published an interview with Joseph Sciambra, a former gay porn actor, escort, sadomasochist, and Satanist. The interviewer, Peter Baklinski, asked Joseph:
Your experience with homosexuality is absolutely terrifying, especially when you relate the kind of sexual acts that were forced upon you and that you forced upon others. What you related of your experience seems quite alien from anything having to do with the political push for gay “marriage”. From your experience on the gay scene for ten years in the 90’s, what do you think is really behind the push for gay “marriage”?
Joseph’s experience not only seems quite alien from that of the men and women who support same-sex marriage, it is quite alien from their experience. For that reason, he is an extremely unreliable source of information.
Joseph’s response to his attractions to other men was to become a sex addict, a porn actor, an escort, a sadomasochist, and, eventually, a Satanist. John Corvino’s response was to settle in with his long-term partner, Mark, and write books about the ethics of homosexuality and marriage.
As it happens, I had dinner with John last night, and we got on the topic of how his beliefs evolved from being a Catholic discerning a vocation in the Capuchin Franciscans to being a philosophy professor who supports gay marriage. I consider this approach—asking a person who actually embraces the position I am interested in understanding—a more reasonable and reliable way of figuring out why they believe what they believe.
Joseph Sciambra used to identify as gay, and John Corvino still does. Judging by their last names, they both have Italian heritage. But the similarities basically end there. Imagining that interviewing Sciambra would be a good way to understand what is “really behind” the efforts of advocates like Corvino demonstrates a depth of ignorance that is, quite literally, unfathomable.
Like Heidi Fleiss, Maggie Gallagher is heterosexual. But if a gay activist wants to understand Maggie’s motivations for defending marriage by opposing same-sex marriage, it would be much more sensible to talk to Maggie—as John Corvino has done—than to imagine that an interview with Heidi Fleiss would be the best way to understand get inside Maggie’s head.
This approach demonstrates a deep ignorance, on the part of Peter Baklinski and the editors at Life Site News, of what the lives of same-sex attracted men and women are like. Some do have experiences like Joseph’s, but most do not.
Let us return to imagine the scenario in which a secular gay organization tried to interview Heidi Fleiss in order to understand people who support traditional marriage, because Fleiss is straight. When Christians learned of this interview, it would seriously damage the credibility of the gay organization in question in our eyes. But it would also do an enormous disservice to the members of the organization itself. If they want to respond to the arguments of defenders of traditional marriage, like Maggie Gallagher, they need to understand them. If their understanding of her positions doesn’t even rise to the level of caricature, they are not likely to be very persuasive in responding to her.
Some gay activists may point to this article and claim that by spreading false images of what all gay people are like, Life Site News is contributing to prejudice against gay and lesbian people (and they’d be right). But the bigger victims of this article are the Christian readers of Life Site News. The more disinformation they are fed about the advocates of same-sex marriage, the more likely they will be to support political and cultural strategies which are either ineffective—or counterproductive.
We face a political and cultural environment in which it is very difficult to defend a Christian understanding of love, marriage, and human sexuality. If we hope to have any success in persuading people of the truth of the Christian vision of the human person, we need to be responding to the actual objections of people who disagree with us.
This sort of article is self-defeating. If Life Site News cares about defending a traditionally Christian understanding of human sexuality, they will pull it down and substantially re-write it.
I want to be clear: I am not saying that it is wrong for Joseph Sciambra to tell his story or for Life Site News to publish an interview that tells his story. He has a dramatic conversion story, and it may offer hope to many people who have become as deeply mired in sin as he was.
There is a difference, however, between telling his story and telling it as if it is the story of every gay person, or as if his experience gives him a unique qualification to understand the motivations of people with radically different stories.
Same-sex attraction is only one of many different aspects of a person. Sciambra and I are both same-sex attracted, but in my teens, I chose to be celibate, and in his teens, he was drawn into pornography, promiscuity, and later prostitution, acting in porn, and Satanism. As the social scientists would say, sexual attraction isn’t the only variable in this equation.
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
The only way to understand Sciambra’s story as a universal template for everyone who is same-sex attracted is to embrace exactly the reductionist view of sexual orientation that the CDF condemns here.
Like any dramatic conversion story, Sciambra’s story can be inspiring and worth sharing. But if it is shared as a universal key to understanding the lives of gay and lesbian people, we all lose—and the biggest losers are social conservatives who are trying to understand and respond to the sexual revolution in modern culture.