A Second Response to Crisis Magazine

(Sorry, Ron, for stealing for your title)

We’ve written a lot here at SF about Crisis Magazine’s profiling of the “New Homophiles” over the past couple of weeks. I think a lot of the response is because this is the closest that we’ve come to direct engagement with the people that tend to cause us frustration: the people who seem to be responsible for behaviours that we would characterize as “homophobic.” For me, at least, there’s always a hope of being able to engage in constructive dialogue both with the LGBTQ community, and also with those within the Christian community who struggle to be able to present an even remotely charitable response to homosexuals. In one of Ron’s earlier blog projects he used the image of a bridge, and I always thought it a very beautiful image for what it is that we try to do: we are attempting to make of our lives, our thoughts, even our bodies a bridge connecting the Christians church with LGBTQ people.

The response that we’ve received from Crisis shows us that, at least with some people we still have an awfully long way to go. Today Ron tweeted a link to the forums at Suscipe Domine, which you shouldn’t read unless you have a deep desire to go home and cry into your oatmeal. (As you can see, I’ve included the link in order to help you in this project. Please consider offering up your tears for the GCN conference this weekend.)

The discourse at Suscipe Domine is more extreme than the com-box at Crisis, but in the same vein. The question that I think we need to consider is how can we be more effective in reaching these people? We spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring the gospel more effectively to LGBTQ people, and that really is super important, but it’s also important to ask how we can help homophobic Christians to be more welcoming and supportive of their queer brothers and sisters.

One of my long time friends and correspondants is an older Catholic with SSA. She regularly thanks me for the work that we do here at Spritual Friendship, and encourages me in my own work, but she also admits that she has a lot of trouble getting her head around the things that we say. She talks about the difference between the generation of SSA people who have grown up in the post-Stonewall world, and the generations that preceded us.

For a lot of older Christians homophobia is normal, and even good. I remember listening to the Bishop’s sermon at the 2012 Courage conference where I was a speaker. He talked about how much the world had changed since he was young, and specifically spoke with a kind of weird nostalgia about how he had known a “queer” man in seminary – and how that man had known that there was “something wrong” with him. To the bishop in question the decrease in wide-spread internalized homophobia amongst modern same-sex attracted people was a cultural tragedy that needed to be mourned. For obvious reasons I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of Catholics who grew up in the years prior to ’69. They’ve talked about how they feel queasy, or even violated, if they see images of same-sex couples making out. How uncomfortable even the idea of gayness makes them. It seems that the Christian Church, for many years, really did achieve the program that Plato dreamed of in The Laws: it made homosexuality as unthinkable, and as viscerally repugnant to most members of society, as incest.

I’ve really struggled a lot with these reactions. To me, the sight of two men kissing is just a non-issue. I frankly feel more turned-off by condom ads than by gay couples getting it on in the movies. My reactions to homosexuality really and actually are intellectual rather than visceral. I am able to say with complete honesty that my reservations about gay marriage have to do with a concern for the definition of marriage and not with any kind of homophobic response to gay sex.

But I really do think that for a lot of Christians this is a kind of intellectual posture that is assumed for the sake of public discourse. I’ve seen way too much evidence that the basic charge of homophobia is justified in a lot of cases: sure, the intellectual reservations exist as well, but they exist alongside a gut-level sense of revulsion towards the idea of same-sex intimacy.

Dealing with this issue is not simple because it interacts on a basic level with the mechanisms that allow for the functioning of conscience. As Joseph Ratzinger observed, the conscience is not so much as oracle as an organ. Like reason the conscience is trained and educated through the practices of socialization. This includes conditioning that causes us to feel uneasy about doing wrong, and comfortable or uplifted about doing right. Obviously the simplest form of this conditioning is a parent or other authority figure’s approval or disapproval of our behaviour. Over time, as we are punished or rewarded we come to feel a sense of guilt or shame for behaviours that are wrong (even if we are never caught) and a sense of inner security and self-worth for behaviours that are good (even if we are never lauded.) This basic mechanism of conscience is fundamentally good – even essential for building up a coherent society.

The problem is that conscience isn’t magic any more than reason is. A person can be taught to have a lax, or lazy conscience: a conscience that doesn’t react to specific evils; or a person can be taught to have a scrupulous or oversensitive conscience: a conscience that responds to neutral or non-sinful behaviours as though they were bad. The original education that a conscience receives is very deep seated and extremely hard to uproot – as evidenced by adults who continue to scrupulously, and even neurotically observe rules that were enforced during their childhoods even if they rationally know that those rules are completely arbitrary or even wrong.

In the case of homosexuality, a lot of older people (and also younger people raised in extreme religious communities) have been conscientiously conditioned to see not only the behaviour but even the inclination as sinful and repugnant. For example, in the 50’s homosexuals were explicitly portrayed as evil, predatory, and possibly murderous monsters who would pull the unwary and unsuspecting in their traps. Homosexuality was understood as a form of dangerous mental illness, and the person who suffered from it was understood in much that same way of most people today would conceive of a paedophile. As is easily observed if you read a lot of right-wing press, many of these memes are still alive and circulating – and for people who have been conditioned by them the idea of a “chaste, Christian homosexual” is a really hard swallow.

I think that thinking about this in terms of our own reactions to paedophilia can help to make the resistance of people in this position a little easier to relate to. If we think about it hard enough, and engage in genuine compassion, it’s reasonably easy to see that there have to be a lot of people out there who have paedophiliac tendencies through no fault of their own. It stands to reason that a certain percentage of these people conscientiously avoid acting on their desires. Some of these people are almost certainly saints. But unless we know such a person intimately, that isn’t a comfortable idea. The word “paedophile” conveys a whole host of meanings, most of which are associated with practices that we find gut-wrenchingly abhorrent. Excavating the person from beneath that word is an act of charity that most people would never even think to engage in.

This is, however, what we are asking of people who have been conscientiously conditioned to view homophobia as a just reaction to homosexual sex. For them, the words “gay” and “homosexual” have the same kind of emotional baggage. I’m not saying that this is good, or that it’s right, or that we need to just accept that as it is. I’m saying, rather, that in responding to people in that position we need to be aware of the difficulty of what we are asking. We must ask it – and it is certainly the duty of Christians to extend this charity. But we must ask it in the recognition that for many it is a hard saying, and we must be patient and forgiving with those who find it hard to accept.

Melinda SelmysMelinda Selmys is a Catholic writer, blogger, and speaker. She is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism and she blogs at Sexual Authenticity. Melinda can be followed on Twitter: @melindaselmys.

34 thoughts on “A Second Response to Crisis Magazine

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  2. Melinda–this post has admittedly left my head spinning, and so I ask the following question in hopes of clarifying whether or where we might find some common ground:

    Does the Catholic Church teach that the objective act of two men “making out” is an intrinsically evil act, or not?

    It seems to me that the answer to this question will either validate or invalidate some of the content of your post….

    • Jim,

      I think we’re more likely to find common ground if we start with questions like “Does God will the salvation of people with same-sex attractions?” and then move on towards questions of “How can we practically make the salvation offered by God more accessible to gay people?” A lot of the questions you ask come across as being the kind of questions that we would ask if we were a bunch of straight people having a board-room meeting about the problem of same-sex attraction with an eye to making sure that we could substantiate all of our conclusions relying primarily on Vatican texts in order to achieve a pure precise and rigorous moral vision. But Pope Francis has been pretty clear that these are the wrong sorts of questions:

      “This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church”


      “Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”


      “When I insist on the frontier, I am referring in a particular way to the need for those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them artificially, out of their context. You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious…When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighborhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it.”

      Francis elaborates on these themes in Evangelii Gaudium, and at least for me this approach to moral solicitude forms the core of my perspective. I think we would make better headway if we started from premises like these.

      • Thank you for the reply–and while the words of Pope Francis are instructive and helpful, the words of St. Paul–“test everything; retain what is good”–more aptly describe where I am coming from, and perhaps at this moment they describe the interest of others as well, folks who may be seeking a clearer starting point for understanding the overall “project” to be found here under the rubric of “spiritual friendship.”

        While I know that your approach tends to focus squarely on personal subjectivity and narrative, I’m approaching this more from the both/and (both objective truth and subjective experience)–in order to minimize the “phobic” (e.g. from the Crisis comboxes) responses to the approach to homosexuality being offered here at SF, there must be some attempt made to place SF squarely upon the objective orthodoxy of Catholic teaching. If one does not do so, then those who already have “phobic” baggage, so to speak, will have even less reason to tweak their own views and won’t have the capacity to carve out a distinctive–and orthodox–niche for the SF project as compared to other approaches to homosexuality that are clearly heterodox.

        I think SF has to be responsive to questions of objective morality in order to reach the point at which Catholics of good will can start paying due attention to the “narrative” of being Catholic in the context of homosexuality. And, as the mention of men “making out” or kissing helps illustrate, right now there is a lot of ambiguity regarding what human choices fall within the prohibition against same-sex activity and what human choices do not. In my view, that type of clarity ought not be left to chance discovery in the context of narrative, but instead must become part of the framework from which the narrative is considered.

      • I think that’s all well and good, Jim, and I appreciate you keeping things level-headed here…but if at the end of the day the problem boils down to them insisting that some sort of homophobia is necessary for “orthodoxy” when it isn’t (probably flimsily invoking and vastly over-extending the significance of their beloved “Dogma of Objective Disorder” promulgated in 1986) then there is really no way to have the sort of foundation they want on THEIR terms.

        The best answers we probably have, have been given recently by Pope Francis: “If someone is gay and seeking God, who am I to judge?”

        Austin Ruse certainly seems to be taking it upon himself to be judging people who are gay but seeking God.

        The basic point of contention seems to come down to, not whether the traditional moral propositions of the Church regarding sexual acts are to be affirmed, but merely as to whether “homosexuality” in ANY sense (even the most broad) can be responded to with an attitude that is anything other than some brand of negative.

        We can debate until the cows come home about how (for example) “attraction” is a rather multivalenced concept, or how sexual orientation refers to a socially constructed identity and mode of subjectivity that is not at all reducible to or essentializable as a lust for same-sex sex acts…but that doesn’t seem to matter to them. They accuse this of being “muddying the waters,” and “confusing the terminology,” and “obfuscation”…just because they apparently can’t (or don’t want to) wrap their heads around nuanced experiential and sociological and psychological realities that don’t fit neatly into tidy Scholastic compartments that would allow them to draw the bee-line from “gay sex is immoral” to “the ideal world would see the raising of gay consciousness reversed” that they apparently want to on account of this consciousness-raising making them uncomfortable.

        It just seems pretty clear that it is them who try to construct arguments that don’t ultimately work over-extrapolated from doctrine to try to justify their gut aversion to gay-anything and their use of the “gay agenda” as an Enemy in the culture wars and scapegoat. If Christ were alive today, I’m absolutely certain “the Good Gay” would be a fitting analogy to “the Good Samaritan”

      • Mark–thank you for your comment. I would like to ask something about Pope Francis’ comment: How are we supposed to know whether someone who is gay is “seeking God”? And what does “seeking God” ultimately mean?

        Isn’t a gay person who is “seeking God” also supposed to “test everything” and retain what is good?

        And, yes, isn’t the issue at hand whether it is accurate or fitting to consider to be “good” the effects of something understood by the Church to be intrinsically disordered–same-sex attraction?

        As I (and presumably others) see it, there are significant questions to be considered before one should conclude that being “gay” (that is, identifying as one experiencing “homo-eros” rather than “eros”) directly affords a person a unique platform for certain other positive personal traits. Likewise, lots of dialogue should be happening about what it really means to “sublimate” homo-eros rather than resist it entirely, as we are called to do with other intrinsically disordered impulses. In other words, the authentic Catholic view of “eros” and chastity requires more of each us–gay or straight–than mere physical-sexual continence.

        These are aspects of the “Crisis” conversation that really should be amplified and not ignored, as I see it.

      • Jim,
        You seem to be assuming that the writers at SF haven’t “tested” their gayness in order to discover whether it’s worth holding on to. The primary way in which such a test takes place is in the heart: the external philosophical dialogue can be useful in some respects, but ultimately it’s a matter of performing an interior experiment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I really tried for a number of years to take the kind of approach that you seem to be advocating: “complete resistance” towards everything queer or gay within myself. The fruits of this practice were ultimately spiritually poisonous. That’s why I moved, very slowly, very carefully, prayerfully towards the model that I now espouse. From what I know of other SF writers this kind of interior, conscientious testing is something that we all do, and that we continue to do regularly. It’s because we’ve made that test that we’ve started asking questions like “What good things in my personality do I stifle/lose if I’m not at peace with my sexual identity?”
        Yes, we should “test everything” and retain only what is good, but in matters this personal it’s impossible to test anything without giving at least some credence to the subjective accounts of those actually experiencing the phenomenon in question. That’s why I refer to Francis’ comparison between the lab and the frontiers. This is not a problem that can be taken home and tamed, it’s not something that can be adequately tested in the theological laboratory.

      • Melinda–I have no doubt that folks at SF are engaging in significant interior discernment on these issues. But at some point the subjective narrative must be measured against objective moral criteria. This is especially true of any attempt to establish within the Church a dialogue seeking to–objectively–“retain what is good” for the sake of the *common* good. And that common good involves both gay and straight.

        People in the Church rightly ask “what is ‘gayness’?” And there are important aspects of such a question that move us well beyond the personal and into the practical.

        For example, if we can agree that the sexual impulse that I’ve been referring to as “homo-eros” is part of the “gayness” you refer to, then it seems vitally important to consider whether “gayness” is an *effect* of “homo-eros” or is a phenomenon that exists “alongside” homo-eros, since (though I realize you may disagree with this but…) the mind of the Church makes clear that homo-eros is intrinsically disordered.

        So, in one case, if “gayness” is an effect of homo-eros, it would seem to be a consequence of an intrinsic disorder and therefore it would be untenable to be supportive of “gayness”.

        On the other hand, if “gayness” is a phenomenon arising *alongside* homo-eros but not its consequence, then it would seem the approach to sexual identity which you are espousing would be better aligned with Catholic teaching on human sexual identity.

        Based on what you have recently said on this subject, it still seems to me that you are proposing “gayness” as an effect of homo-eros and thus rather openly asserting that homo-eros is not something to be “resisted” but instead merely re-directed. Is this a fair assessment? Or can you correct any errors in it?

      • Jim,
        Let’s leave the term “homoerotic” aside — the Church doesn’t use it and it seems to be causing more confusion for you than good. Let’s use “homosexual inclination,” which is the Vatican’s term. By this term the Vatican means the desire to engage in homosexual sex acts. I think pretty much everyone at SF would agree that we think the homosexual inclination is something that arises as a result of gayness, not gayness something that arises as a result of the homosexual inclination. So your second analysis (“if “gayness” is a phenomenon arising *alongside* homo-eros but not its consequence, then it would seem the approach to sexual identity which you are espousing would be better aligned with Catholic teaching on human sexual identity”) is the correct one and this is what is being proposed.

      • Melinda–please cite the “Vatican” source for your definition of “homosexual inclination”–in which it is defined in such a way that it refers *only* to what you have said–“the desire to engage in homosexual sex acts.”

        I daresay you won’t find such a definition because it does not exist in the reductively physicalistic context in which you place the term. And herein lies the crux of the issue: you seem to propose that the Church’s objection to homosexuality rests exclusively upon physical same-sex relations, which effectively *dissociates* the physical acts from the full spectrum of disordered homo-eros.

        And I don’t think I’m “confused” on this point, Melinda. In fact, it leaps off the page of the Catechism in its explanation of *why* physical same-sex behavior is wrong: Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered because “they do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (CCC 2357).

        The “sex act” is wrong, Melinda, because *complementarity* is lacking in both the sexual and the *affective* dimensions of the persons of the same sex.

        So, in one sense, we agree–the desire for sex acts arises from something within “gayness”–and that something is the “homo-eros” that is an impulse that does not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. But we seem to disagree about homo-eros falling under the *same* prohibition as same-sex sex acts fall under. You instead limit the application of “sexual inclination” to mean the physical, when the Church clearly points to the lack of *affective* complementarity as being disordered, too.

      • Sure, let’s look at what the Catechism says. “Homosexualitas relationes designat inter viros vel mulieres qui sexualem experiuntur allectationem exclusive vel praevalenter erga eiusdem sexus personas.” Clearly the word “relationes” here cannot refer to any kind of relations between people who experience “sexualem allectationem” towards the same-sex – otherwise we would have to arrive at the ridiculous conclusion that homosexual men are not allowed to have relationships with their fathers or their brothers. What is being referenced here is sexual relations, as the context makes clear. Let’s move on to the section that you’re quoting when you say that it “leaps off the page of the Catechism.” “Actum sexualem dono praecludunt vitae. E vera complementaritate affectiva et sexuali non procedunt.” The referent for the second sentence of this quotation is to be found in the first sentence, and it is “Actum sexualem,” not “tendentias homosexuales.” The discussion in this section is about the sexual and affective complementary proper to sexual acts (actum sexualem). There are innumerable acts that human beings engage in that don’t proceed from “complementaritate affectiva et sexuali” — playing Chess, for example — but such acts are not required to manifest the complementarity proper to sexual acts in the same way that dogs are not required to manifest the rationality proper to human persons.
        Because of the confusion that can arise from a decontextualized reading of the word “relationes” several Bishop’s councils of the English speaking world have clarified this passage:
        “To the extent that a same-sex attraction is not freely chosen, there is no personal culpability in having such an inclination. Nonetheless, when oriented toward genital activity, this inclination is “objectively disordered.”” — Pastoral Care to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction, CCCB
        “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered.” — Cherishing Life, CBCEW

      • Hi, Melinda–I think I must not have made my point clear regarding the Catechism. I totally agree with you that the CCC is referring to “relations” based upon “sexual attraction” that occur between persons of the same sex. These “homosexual acts” referenced in the CCC are clearly of a physical-sexual nature, and they are wrong in part because they don’t proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.

        My point is that we can and should ask “what else in in the realm of homosexuality does not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity?” Because, if the physical sex acts are disordered because of this lack, then *other* aspects of homosexuality that manifest this lack or arise from it will *also* be disordered.

        And this is where an examination of “homo-eros” enters in.

        The homosexual “inclination” we’re referring to is an impulse that arises because of concupiscence–it’s eros gone awry. The Church continually distinguishes between the *immoral* sex act arising from it and the *disordered* impulse that it is precisely because, as an impulse, or as a “temptation”, same-sex attraction is initially “pre-volitional,” so to speak–it has not yet engaged the will. Like any temptation that does not engage the will, it’s disordered but not immoral as long as the person’s will does not succumb to the temptation.

        But this means that, once the will chooses to act under the influence of “homo-eros,” the will is saying “yes” to a disordered impulse instead of saying “no” to it. And any “yes” to a disordered eros is a “no” to an authentically ordered eros.

        Thus, once we admit there is an “affective” complementarity required for eros (and not just a “physical” complementarity), we can’t separate the “sex act” from the rest of the spectrum of “homo-eros”. We can’t merely sublimate homo-eros but must engage the will to say “no” to it.

        JPII’s Theology of the Body gives a vivid description of how we are all called to the kind of purity of heart that involves discerning which impulses are conducive to purity of heart and which aren’t.

        In this light, whatever “spiritual friendship” might mean, it cannot incorporate any of the impulses of “homo-eros” into it without sacrificing genuine chastity and purity of heart.

      • Jim,

        There is a particular affective and sexual complementarity that is proper to sexual acts. It is required only in the case of sexual acts. Your attempt to extend that into other areas of human life is not indicated by the Catechism, and it is explicitly contradicted by the Bishops of Canada, England and Wales.

      • Hi, Melinda–you wrote:
        ****There is a particular affective and sexual complementarity that is proper to sexual acts. It is required only in the case of sexual acts. Your attempt to extend that into other areas of human life is not indicated by the Catechism, and it is explicitly contradicted by the Bishops of Canada, England and Wales.****

        Respectfully, I agree with the first part–yes, there is a particular complementarity proper to sexual acts–but emphatically deny the second–no, this complementarity is most definitely *not* required *only* in the case of sexual acts. The complementarity to which we are referring is eros itself.

        And it’s emphatically not reducible to the merely physical sexual act by a man and woman. Eros involves the authentic gift of self that can only take place between a man and a woman (complementarity), according to the mind of the Church.

      • Jim,

        You can repeat yourself until you are blue in the face. You said that I couldn’t substantiate my position using ecclesiastical authorities. Then I did. Then you continued to insist on your position without dealing with the fact that I just demonstrated that your position is not substantiated by the actual documents. To me it looks like you have a dogmatic belief that is based on your personal understanding of Church teaching (not on the actual teaching itself) and you are not willing to reconsider that belief regardless of the evidence that is placed before you.

      • Melinda–I believe you are mistaken in your assessment of what you say you proved from “Vatican” sources. My specific request was regarding the limiting of “inclination” as referring exclusively to the desire to engage in homosexual sex acts. And none of the sources you provided offer such a definition of homosexual “inclination”. You have focused primarily on “relations” versus “inclination,” seems to me.

        I am sorry we seem to be talking past each other a bit–but my belief is based squarely on the Magisterium’s understanding of “eros” as expressed in the work of JPII and Benedict. Eros is not reducible to genital sex acts, and thus I do not likewise believe one can reduce the disordered “homosexual inclination” to an exclusive reference to desire for homogenital sex acts. I’m not seeing it reduced in this way in the sources you’ve offered.

      • “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered.” The phrase “in this particular and precise sense only” would seem to substantiate my claim that the Church intends Her characterization of homosexuality as “objectively disordered” only in “the particular and precise sense” that it is disordered in so far as it leads to homosexual sexual activity. I don’t know how any ecclesiastical authority could possibly be more clear in reducing the definition to the desire for homogenital sex acts.

      • Hi again–okay, so you’ve repeated the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales statement, which is as follows:

        ***“In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered.” ***

        Three things: 1) The BCEW is obviously not the “Vatican”. 2) Bishops’ conferences simply don’t possess universal magisterial authority and only possess *particular* magisterial authority in their own dioceses if a text gets unanimous approval from all episcopal members. 3) Even so, this phrasing still does not make a claim that the homosexual inclination *exclusively* refers to the desire for homogenital sex acts.

        Rather, I would point to the fact, again, that “sexual activity” is not a phrase that automatically reduces to that which is “homogenital”. I would also point to the phrase “can lead to” as indicative of a “continuum” of choices that precede deliberate homogenital sex acts.

        Let me try a different approach: let’s talk instead about the *heterosexual* “inclination” and how we should define it.

        What’s an inclination? A pre-volitional impulse in the human heart, so to speak. So, if we adopt your approach and define *heterosexual* inclination to mean–exclusively–the desire for genital sex acts with a person of the opposite sex, then we end up with a rather absurd proposition when considering *other* aspects of heterosexual intersubjectivity: for example, the desire for a husband to hold hands with his wife or even kiss her would fall *outside* the definition of “heterosexual inclination” since those are not genital sex acts.

        What should one call something clearly arising from sexual *attraction*–like holding hands and kissing one’s wife–if we can’t call it a “heterosexual inclination”?

        Seems to me that the same must hold true for the “homosexual inclination.” We’re simply talking about sexual *attraction*, not exclusively genital sex acts.

        Similarly, it would be like saying that the “adulterous inclination” would refer exclusively and *only* to genital sex. If you experience and will other sexual attractions to a person not your spouse and act on them, your approach would force the conclusion that such acts are not themselves part of the “adulterous inclination”.

        No, Melinda–I’ll stand fast to the idea that “homosexual inclination” refers to the full spectrum of disordered sexual *attraction* arising from “homo-eros” and not exclusively to homogenital sex acts. The full spectrum of acts arising from disordered “homo-eros” is implicitly present in every magisterial prohibition specifically against homogenital sex acts.

        And I say so *not* with any specific aversion to the homosexual inclination–but only to be consistent with what I say about the *heterosexual* inclination.

      • Jim,
        You can’t hold fast to whatever you like. My point is simply that if my interpretation is in line with the interpretation of the Bishops of England and Wales and also in line with my own local council of Bishops (I’m Canadian) then it falls within a reasonable spectrum of orthodoxy. This is an area of legitimate theological disagreement.
        That said, the reason that I hold my position and not yours is very simple. I know somewhere in the neighbourhood of forty gay/lesbian/SSA/trans Catholics who are trying to live in accord with the teachings of the Church. I’ve seen how both models play out in reality. In my experience, the model where people view their gayness as wholly disordered and “resist” it doggedly in all of its manifestations seems to tend to produce lives that are characterized by extreme loneliness and isolation and that are excessively focused on struggling with temptations to lust. I can think of at least one case of a woman who is so dedicated to this struggle that she literally has no room in her life for anything else and she is unable to form strong relationships but she is paranoid that relationships will lead to lust. It’s not just that this approach reduces a human life to an endless repetitive and depressingly unrewarding battle, it also doesn’t actually work. The people who I know who are succeeding in chastity are the ones who have figured out a way of expressing the affective and aesthetic dimensions of their homosexuality in non-sexual ways. The ones who are focused on resisting and eliminating their desires are continually ‘struggling’ with porn, masturbation and other forms of unchastity. To me, the proof of a philosophy is in the living. The arguments are secondary because Truth is not a system of rational propositions: He is a person. Nor is He known exclusively through the Reason, but through the heart. (cf. Lumen Fidei.)

      • I feel like a high schooler sitting in on a conversation with a group of grad students, and I’m coming at this from the denominational wild west (as an evangelical type). But, as a Christian who is celibate and who happens to be gay, I have much in common with many of the authors here, and their writings are challenging, so I stick around – and usually the comments don’t even make me want to #headdesk, so there is that. However, the direction of this thread compels me to ask for clarification, because the practical application of this isn’t adding up.

        Jim’s general thrust leads me to believe that he sees it as not just a matter of gay intercourse or lust being sinful, but the attraction itself being problematic (sinful?). Frankly – and as a 27 year old I stand on the shoulders of the experience of many before me – the attraction doesn’t go away or “sublimate” (I thought that’s what dry ice did) for a majority of gay people, even for ones who wish it would. This is where cold, hard reality inclines me to agree with Melinda’s view. If the Catholic Church shares Jim’s view on this matter, it’s clear that there’d be no room for me there. Of course, there are numerous Protestant churches who view celibate gayness as being practically as inappropriate as promiscuous gayness, so it’s not as though large swaths of evangelicalism seems to be making much space for people like me, either.

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  4. I think it would be a serious mistake for two men to “make out.” “Making out,” it seems to me, is foreplay, I think it’s a mistake for anyone who cannot licitly consummate their relationship sexually to “make out.” This means not only two men, but also unmarried straight couples. With this said, however, I’m unsure whether this is because french kissing outside of marriage is a very near occasion of sin, or if it is because it is, itself, intrinsically evil. But I would definitely stay away from it. Making out certainly isn’t an appropriate expression of spiritual friendship.

    • Ron, I think you’ve got it exactly right, but Melinda brought up “making out” in the context of distinguishing between gut reactions and reasoned moral evaluation. Jim Russel was asking for such a moral evaluation, which Melinda didn’t see fit to provide because, as she states, there are other questions to be asked first.

      Melinda’s point about gut reactions is an important one. For many people, especially people of older generations, displays of homosexuality– and two guys making out in a movie theatre is a great example– elicit disgust and revulsion, but for many others, whatever they might think intellectually, that gut reaction just isn’t there. My reaction to two guys kissing in public is the same as my reaction to a heterosexual couple doing the same thing– thanks, guys, I’d rather not be a part of this intimate moment, take it someplace else. As opposed to “OMG it’s two guys kissing!”

      How do these gut reactions relate to conscience and moral truth? That is a very difficult question, but that’s the discussion we need to have.

    • Hi, Ron–just finished reading your latest post “Confusion at Crisis” and want to point to the above as a potential example regarding clarity and orthodoxy: and, again, not engaging in a “gotcha” here, but rather want to create an opportunity for you to speak to such a question without ambiguity.

      Part of my confusion with the “making out” and “kissing” question alluded to in Melinda’s piece is that there is in my view a lack of clarity in your statement above regarding whether something like this–“foreplay”, if you will–falls under the Catholic prohibition against same-sex sexual behavior, which is considered intrinsically evil.

      You are clearly against it and don’t consider it appropriate for spiritual friendship, but your reasoning for being against it seems to put this behavior in a slightly different moral category than the category of other more…”serious”?…forms of same-sex sexual behavior noted by the Church to be intrinsically evil…can you elaborate?

      • I’d suggest that things aren’t so simple, Jim.

        The Church’s teachings on moral matters have, since at least early modernity, ultimately been framed in an “internalistic” paradigm rather than claiming to condemn mere events or arrangements of bodies in the external world (Foucault talks about this, I believe).

        So, for example, “touching another man’s genitals” cannot be roundly condemned. It matters why. If you’re a doctor, a urologist, it might be perfectly appropriate. Rather, the condemnation is ultimately of manifestations of lust, not of acts defined “mechanically.”

        Which is not to say bodies don’t matter. But they matter as objects of the will.

        Is gay “making out” wrong? But then Id ask: what if we’re talking about two straight actors simply going through the motions for a movie role, with no movement of passion internally? I’m not convinced that would be morally problematic in any sense.

        But then there is a continuum. Acts deliberately provoking physiological orgasm are almost certainly immoral outside the marriage act because then there is a mismatch between the pleasure and the object it is supposed to be the pleasure OF. But then I wonder: what if someone is unconscious, under anesthesia, and doctors are provoking that reaction in a purely physiological way, with no conscious phenomenon? Is that really a question of morals?

        And when were talking about lower grades of arousal, things become more unclear. There is not a clear line between when arousal is “sexual” or not. There is a famous psychological experiment where men on a rickety high bridge were asked to rank a girl’s attractiveness compared to men on solid ground. The men on the bridge ranked her consistently higher; the explanation was that they had misinterpretted their fear-arousal over the heights with attraction. But then is this really “misinterpretation”? It is perhaps a misattribution of causation objectively, but in the subjective sphere maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe circumstances can truly be said to always inevitably influence and contribute to our attractions and subjective judgments like that.

        The point being, when desire becomes lust is something people have to negotiate subjectively. There can be culpable insincerity and inauthenticity here (“oh, this kissing is just like what some cultures do to express affection; that erection is unrelated!”) but I think everyone realizes more or less when an intimacy has crossed the line into a territory that does not live up to the reality of the situation. But it’s a mix of internal motives and external circumstances.

        Two men seeking to get off are beyond the threshhold certainly, but where the line would be drawn between a pat on the back and orgasm…is really more a question of boundaries, passions, and even how social expectations of intimacy. In a world where everyone made out with everyone, there might be no problem, because then the “tension” at play, socially, might be so low as to make the act perfunctory and not terribly exciting or pleasurable.

        So the Church can define certain “extreme poles” but in between gets more subjective

  5. I think you’re missing the point, Jim.

    The question is about the nature of visceral emotional reactions to these things.

    I remember a while back there was a big discussion about the pastor who encouraged invoking the “yuk factor” or “ick factor” to help win the culture-war over homosexuality.

    In truth, this doesn’t seem a terribly good approach.

    Yes, our passions should grow to be such that sin comes to naturally be unappealing to us, maybe even positively distasteful. To us personally and individuals. But it is unclear that the “ick factor” or the sort of self-righteous judgmentalism one sees in the comments actually function in a “moral” manner like this at all, phenomenologically speaking.

    It is unclear what exactly the paradigm is for this reaction, the true “deep structural” causes and motivations. Is it truly sincere and pure rational moral outrage (which can be visceral as well as intellectual)? Or is it more a sort of aesthetic disgust based on stigma and taboo rooted in socialization into late-capitalism’s “American Dream” heteronormative nuclear-family model? Or perhaps a feeling of uncomfortableness based on how seeing such a thing threatens ones own identity?

    Threatens in terms of deconstructing gender scripts one has deeply invested one’s sense of self in, or as a sign of socio-political change that throws ones own privilege into question, or in terms of raising complicated questions about the nature of desire and love and subjective life whereas a conformist hegemonic 1950s normality allows one a sort of shallow naivete and simplistic categories?

    And even if it is moral outrage…does it really make sense to feel “outrage”? I tend to associate “outrage” with questions of external justice and rights. But morality (good and bad, virtuous or vicious, holy or unholy) is a broader category than just justice and rights (which narrower category some call “ethics”) and it is not clear that anyone’s rights are being violated by unchastity, so does “outrage” or anger really make sense? On whose behalf? On behalf of “the children” who are going to be “confused” by living in such a world? I’m not sure it works that way (or that it’s a good thing when it does; social pressure doesn’t necessarily truly internalize principles) but even if it did, I wouldn’t be inclined to view the openly unchaste as causes, merely symptoms.

    At most, I’d think the response would be a sort of pity or concern. Anger and contempt seem totally misplaced, as if people are merely being upset by change or by the fact that the world isn’t the comfortable Pleasantville with easy certainties and clear boundaries that they’re used to, and that the new order requires negotiations and navigation of much complexity and different visions. The attitude of the younger generations seems to be more: even if I think you’re misguided, it’s not really my place to care or take it personally as if it is somehow an affront against me or effecting my sense of emotional peace or stability.

    And maybe we’ve lost something, maybe it’s decadence. But maybe we’ve also gained something, or can interpret the diversity of visions of the good-life as a testament to freedom and the maturity of our society to tolerate such diversity and allow everyone to seek the Good on their own terms rather than feeling that it needs to be imposed by some rigid social enforcement.

  6. Regarding: “It seems that the Christian Church, for many years, really did achieve the program that Plato dreamed of in The Laws: it made homosexuality as unthinkable, and as viscerally repugnant to most members of society, as incest.”

    I think you’re giving Christians too much credit for the creation of this reality. Which is fine, really, as Christian circles are about the only place where you’ll see people admitting to this sort of disgust. I don’t think, however, that Christianity was the *source* of these reactions. Rather, it was the pervasiveness of Freudian ideas about homosexuality that created the picture of the homosexual male from the 50’s that you alluded to. A lot the ideas of the “wrongness” and “deviant” nature of homosexuality came from how it was psychologized in the late 19th and early 20th century. These ideas would eventually filter down to the churches, but that’s not where they originated.

    • There’s also the fact that lots pf homophobia is found among straight men who have no particular moral motive at all, but rather a sort of machismo that sees homosexuality as threatening and gender transgressive but also lauds, more or less openly, heterosexual conquest and prowess.

    • Alexander,
      I think that there’s a possibility of understating the degree to which Christian morality influenced the development of the psychopathologization of homosexuality during the period in question. There are some pretty homophobic rants from churchmen that go back well before the development of modern psychology, and some of the most virulent anti-gay persecutions predate the psychological models. It’s also important to consider the fact that in Protestant countries homophobia was often closely linked to anti-Catholic sentiment: homosexuality was seen as a Catholic vice, and monasteries/seminaries were construed by Protestant pundits as homosexual brothels. There was a certain amount of public discourse that really dwelt on the “disgusting” sodomitical practices of Catholic clergymen in order to fuel the persecution of Catholics. I think it likely that this particular variant of politically/religiously motivated homophobia influenced American cultural perceptions of homosexuals via Protestant groups that fled from persecution in Europe long before Freud et al. came on the scene.

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  8. I would ask Jim Russell about the friendship between David and Jonathan. I get the feeling that from what he posts, he would view the friendship as originating from homoerotic impulses and therefore immoral. But, the bible clearly does not condemn the friendship. What would his explanation be?

  9. Sure–Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

    This is the kind of love that 1 Samuel says David and Jonathan had for each other–each loved the other “as himself.”

    This is also the kind of love that Jesus says we are all called to.

    This is agape. It is not eros. The love between David and Jonathan that David said was more “precious” than David’s experience of love “for women” was agape.

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