A First Response to Austin Ruse

Pope Francis

Last week, Crisis Magazine published a critical profile of my writings by Austin Ruse.

Over the last few days, I’ve spent some time thinking about Ruse’s article and following the comments on his Crisis articles. I’ve also been reading some of his other writings about homosexuality and the reactions he’s triggered in the gay press. (I would not recommend this as a way of spending your Christmas holidays.)

In the midst of all of this, I’ve tried to figure out what to say in response that is charitable and likely to move the conversation forward.

Ruse presents himself as deeply committed to Church teaching on this question. And if we limit the message of the Church to “gay sex is an abomination,” there is no question that Ruse communicates this teaching clearly, with emphasis, and with a certain joie de combat.

However, in an interview published in America Magazine last summer, Pope Francis said:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

It seems to me that Ruse has a very solid grip on the sinfulness of the homosexual act. On this, he and I are agreed.

He hasn’t convinced me, however, that he has grasped the need to consider the person, or the need to accompany them, starting from their situation. And it is painfully clear that he has not effectively communicated that necessity to many of the readers who show up in the comment boxes on his articles at Crisis.

(The preceding paragraph could easily have been worded much more strongly—see, for example, Matthew 23:1-4, where you find some of the most violent language Jesus ever uses—but I am trying to give Ruse the benefit of the doubt.)

I will say more about the specifics of Ruse’s argument soon. But for now, I want to point back to the Apostle Paul’s great hymn to love, with its message which is sorely needed, I think, when confronting this kind of conflict.

After addressing himself to the problems raised by an astonishing variety of sin and dysfunction in the Church at Corinth, including homosexual acts, the Apostle Paul suddenly shifts gears, and says, “I will show you a still more excellent way”:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

That seems like the right place to start thinking about these questions, the place where Pope Francis has directed us to start.

I will address the specifics of Ruse’s criticisms in more depth in the near future.

Ron BelgauRon Belgau is completing a PhD in Philosophy, and teaches medical ethics, philosophy of the human person, ethics, and philosophy of religion. He can be followed on Twitter: @RonBelgau.

16 thoughts on “A First Response to Austin Ruse

  1. Pingback: A First Response to Austin Ruse » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  2. Ron, Thanks for your thoughtfulness and care for others amidst what is a rather rough attack.

    I suspect Ruse’s approach is not worth your energy, which is richly and generously offered to us in your own work. I think of spiritualfriendship.org as a parable of sorts. You can’t force people to ask what a parable means; even Jesus offers them as a mercy. Mark 4 among other texts indicates that we cannot and should not explain everything to everyone. What you are doing with your life is, in our context, a parable. Jesus didn’t get nice reactions to his parables, either, or an appreciation for all that was being held back.

    Maybe his post will lead others to actually read you and others at this site. Then it would bear good if unintended fruit. Peace.

  3. Austin Ruse: “Can we accept them on their terms? I do not know.”

    Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? They shouldn’t be marginalized.”

  4. These kinds of discussions are perfectly fruitless because they always boil down to “we’re better than you because we’re straight”.

    No matter how much they may qualify that argument by saying that it only applies to one aspect of our humanity and that in every other respect we’re their equals, there’s still a negative value judgment taking place. They still judge us on what they regard as our “sexual brokenness”. So they still see us as “less than” and not therefore worthy of the respect they enjoy as “normal” or “normative” or whatever word they use to describe their feelings of superiority and condescension.

    That’s the basic disagreement that no amount of dialogue can ever resolve. Whatever they say, I’ll continue to feel treated like a second class citizen. And whatever I say, they’ll continue to regard me as disordered and unnatural.

    What is the point of dialogue between two mutually exclusive viewpoints? Unless one side caves in to the other, the conversation can only foster animosity and hostility. Isn’t it more honest to acknowledge the basic conflict that separates us and be open about the fact that no compromise is possible and that it’s a fight to the … not physical death, one hopes. But at the very least, the effective extermination of a principle.

    Whenever I talk to conservatives, which isn’t often, my resolve to defeat their agenda grows stronger and stronger because victory really is the only option. If their arguments gain any kind of foothold or traction in wider society, I could very quickly find myself in the same situation as the LGBT population of Russia or Uganda. Self-preservation and the preservation of others like me demand an aggressively defensive posture. God helps those who help themselves, doesn’t He?

    • Stephen, I want to give another possible alternative to your response. I was raised in a conservative Catholic home (with Baptist influence, as my mother was a convert.) I was sheltered and naive. I had never (knowingly) encountered anyone with homosexual desires. While I would never have posted anything hateful in a combox (I would not expect people to really hear what I was saying) I had a gut level aversion to the whole area. At the same time, I knew that response was not good. I also believed that people who dealt with homosexual desires would be free of them if the turned to Jesus. (It would perhaps require extra prayer for healing and counsel. I didn’t really think about it much.) I had zero category for people living as faithful Christians and still dealing with these desires. It never occurred to me that someone would still deal with the desires after coming to God.

      If face to face with an individual, I would have been uncomfortable, but responded as lovingly as I could. (I’m not sure how loving that actually would have been.) If reading an article like Austin Ruse’s I would have been worried that the goal over here was to muddy the waters and somehow confuse the moral issues. I also would have been very uncomfortable and possibly responded badly because of the gut reaction I mentioned above.

      So what changed? First, a friend’s brother “came out”. Not long after that, he moved across the country to live with his boyfriend. This made it personal, as I supported her. It also confirmed my previous thoughts on the subject. He rejected everything he had been taught about God and became a self described “gaythiest”. He loudly derided his family for not loving him because they didn’t support his decisions. (He has since reconciled with them.)

      Then, a few years later, I was being courted by an amazing and wonderful man. At a certain point in the relationship he told me that he had a strong sexual attraction to other men (and to women). There was much more to it, and I didn’t really understand everything. To make a long story, um less long (this is already too long) we have now been married 9 years. He is still an amazing and Godly man and he still struggles with this. I also have a much deeper understanding that temptation is not sin (something I struggle with for myself).

      Sorry, this was really long. I mostly wanted to say that it is easy to not “get” this if it’s not personal. It does not excuse many of the hateful things said, but maybe it makes it easier to be merciful and forgiving.

      • Priscilla,

        As a “new homophile” (I like this new term in spite of myself) who grew up in a conservative Protestant home, my general experience with anti-gay and dismissively hetero-normative comments (sometimes from family and friends) is that they come from a place of ignorance, even if said with good intentions; and they usually hurt a little because they fail to consider me as a person. As I’ve “come out” and been more open about my experience, I find that people begin to consider my experience with a little more nuance and I have a platform to push back and ask for that consideration like any other brother or sister in Christ. I’ve been fortunate to never encounter base animus in my spiritual community and I hope if I ever do that I will have grace to handle it well and will have the support of my community.

  5. Matt, yes, my point exactly. I think that understanding is best gained through personal contact. The problem is that my (admittedly not well thought through) belief that homosexual desire was something that would be healed by honestly coming to Christ was reinforced by the little exposure I had. Both gays in the media and my friends brother either were non-christians or were in the church loudly (and often rudely) demanding that teachings be changed to accept their lifestyle. I had ZERO exposure to men and women honestly trying to follow Christ in humility and obedience. SF and the like would have been a totally foreign idea. I would likely have been suspicious and uncomfortable.

    I would like to say that I came to understand things after my soon-to-husband’s revelation. It wasn’t that simple. He was still coming out of some stuff and I figured that as he got more freedom from that this “same sex junk” would also go away. It didn’t occur to me that this wouldn’t be so because it was entirely foreign to me. It takes time for ignorance and misunderstanding to give way to understanding.

    • My experience has also shown the same principle. I grew up hearing all sorts of ignorant and judgmental things about gay people, with no awareness that a Christian who was trying to be obedient to Christian teaching could be gay. When I started coming out, I saw a lot of people’s attitudes transformed.

      Although I’m as frustrated as anyone else about the sorts of things that happen in comment sections, I always have to remind myself that the reaction has been drastically different among people who actually know me.

      This is also what’s pushed me to be so open. I want to be part of the way God works to make things better for those who come after me. I’ve found that being really open is an effective way to facilitate that. And like Matt, I know that if I do face negative reactions, I have a supportive community behind me to help me deal with them.

  6. Pardon me for going off-topic, but there something that I’d like to do. If possible I would like to write a message for whoever is in charge of this ‘blog. I strongly believe that you and all the other contributors are beginning an important work of building bridges and I’d like to talk with you about possibly writing to Pope Francis. I don’t seem to see either a post mail address or an e-mail address for contacting the people who curate and contribute to this ‘blog.

  7. Pingback: Confusion at Crisis | Spiritual Friendship

  8. Pingback: Confusion at Crisis » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  9. I think its best to avoid taking too seriously the comment boxes of online articles (says the commenter as she comments in a comment box). Too often the most extreme thoughts come out in those boxes from individuals who don’t have to speak face-to-face. Engage in discussion with the article writer, but avoid diving into comment boxes for your own health and well-being.

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