Given the volume of unhelpful literature published on the topic of homosexuality and Christianity, I should perhaps not have been surprised to find Dale O’Leary’s latest piece at Crisis Magazine distinctly unimpressive. I did expect, however, that an article entitled “Homosexuality: A New Approach is Needed,” would at least attempt to articulate an approach that was actually new, instead of simply regurgitating the pop Freudianism and New Age psychobabble that forms the standard conservative Christian approach to gay issues.
The central pillar of this approach is that homosexuality is an “attachment disorder” brought about by failure to identify with a same-sex parent. This failure is invariably presented as the fault of the parent. In a much older article published by Crisis, which, again, falsely bills itself as offering “a new approach,” we read the following:
Aardweg notes that most homosexuals report lack of masculine influence from their fathers, ranging from lack of involvement in the child’s education to open hostility … Bieber found that 75 percent of his sample described their fathers as detached and 45 percent described their fathers as hostile … Aardweg quotes homosexuals’ descriptions of their relationship with their fathers: “My father was interested in my brother and not me”; “My father was a weak person; he was frequently ill”; “I only met my father on Sundays when he was not working… for me he was no more than a visitor.”
I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of gay men who failed to bond with their fathers, and I don’t doubt the truth of the claim that many (perhaps the majority) of homosexuals who enter psychological therapy have had a troubled childhood. After all, everyone who enters therapy—gay or straight—does so as a result of a mental or emotional disturbance which can very often be traced to childhood causes. Certainly, in specific cases where the fathers of gay sons have been poor parents, repentance and healing needs to occur. But to extrapolate from the experiences of homosexual therapy patients to create a general theory of homosexuality that “blames” parents for their child’s sexual orientation is gravely irresponsible reasoning which says more about the hidden assumptions of those doing the extrapolating than it does about either gay and lesbian people or their (often devoted and loving) parents.
It is even more irresponsible, and frankly bizarre, when these petulant psychological theories that blame all of the world’s problems on parents are “baptized”—as they frequently are—by the same conservative Christians who, on any other day of the week, are busy promoting traditional marriage, family values, and the command to “honor your father and mother.”
A prime example of this was Fr. Derek Lappe, a Catholic priest and pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton, Washington. Fr. Lappe denounced the decision of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to cease discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation—a decision accepted by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. He then publicly endorsed the ex-gay junk science of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), which, despite the name, is not an official apostolate of the Catholic Church, saying: “we are going to redouble our efforts to create a community that is supportive of happy, healthy holy marriages. In our marriage preparation, we are going to try to get women to stop marrying such loser men who will never be capable of being good dads and husbands, and vice versa.”
Fr. Lappe billed his rant against the BSA’s decision to welcome same-sex attracted boys as a defense of “the truths about sexuality and humanity that are revealed to us, first of all by natural law, and confirmed in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Catholic Church.” Yet his lengthy letter includes zero scriptural references, zero references to any work by any moral theologian or any Catholic natural law philosopher from any period of Christian history, and zero references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church or any other magisterial document ever issued. Naturally, it does include a lengthy citation from a CMA pamphlet, the opening gambit of which is to blame homosexuality on “alienation from the father in early childhood, because the father was perceived as hostile or distant, violent or alcoholic.”
It’s true, of course, that some gay men had fathers who can only be described as “losers.” Some of them were hostile, distant, or—what is worse—altogether absent from their sons’ lives. But many heterosexual boys have the same problems in their home life. The crisis of fatherhood in our culture has reached such proportions that it is now a national problem that the current President has felt the need to address frequently, in strong terms.
At the same time, many gay men also have wonderful fathers. In particular, many gay Christian men have had fathers who have taken their sons to church every Sunday and instructed them in the faith, as well as having spent years working to ensure their sons had food, shelter, medical care, and money to pay college fees. To stigmatize these fathers as “loser men” simply because their sons turned out to be attracted to other men’s sons cannot be interpreted as anything other than calumny.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that divorce “is a grave offense against the natural law” which “introduces disorder into the family and into society” (2384-5). If this is what the Church believes about the gravity of rupturing the marital contract, voluntarily entered into, how much more severely should we judge the rupturing of gay children’s flesh-and-blood relationship with their parents by Christian endorsement of highly dubious Freudian psychology which blames fathers for their sons’ homosexuality, poisoning the latter against the former.
When Alan Chambers announced the decision to shut down Exodus International, one of the many sins he repented of on behalf of the organization was the shaming of parents by blaming them for their child’s sexual orientation. Perhaps those Christians who are tempted to dabble uncritically with modern atheistic pyschology would do well to contemplate the biblical blessings attached to honoring parents, and the curses attached to dishonoring them.
Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society.