Confusion at Crisis

Austin Ruse isn’t sure what to think about me, which is ok. I’m not sure what I think about him, either.

A few days ago, he published a piece about my writings in Crisis Magazine. In the first, and by far the largest, part of the piece, which was based closely on what I have actually written, he took a very positive tone, recognizing that I have written a lot that unequivocally defends Catholic sexual ethics.

I appreciate his attempt at giving my views a fair shake. And, since the piece came out, Spiritual Friendship has had about 10,000 more page views than I would have expected based on past readership. So I’m glad that at least some of those who read his pieces in Crisis came over to check out what we had to say. I hope that they got a clearer picture of what we’re up to.

After spending most of his piece discussing the parts of my writings he agrees with, Ruse first alleges that my friends and I obfuscate the meaning of words. (I’ll return to this point more directly in an upcoming post.) But after chiding us for causing confusion, Ruse then launches into the most confused part of his piece.

Many of us, particularly those with young children, grow weary of the near constant barrage of gayness we are subject to. We see Kinky Boots at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and men getting married at the Rose Parade in Pasadena. We cannot even watch cooking shows without taping them in advance and having the pause button ready in order to avoid yet another gay back-story. We wonder how someone’s sexual or affectional desires are in any way our business. Yet they are made to be our business.

He calls this a “tsunamic assault.” I can only say that if this is a tsunami, then the heterosexual revolution in our culture in the last few decades is an asteroid impact.

I’m not a Catholic parent. Last fall, however, I was out shopping with my sister (I hate shopping, but she has two toddlers and it helps if there’s someone around to help her herd them through the stores; sometimes, this duty falls to me). We happened to be looking at Halloween costumes (to get an idea of what we were seeing, this is what Google produces if you do an image search for “female toddler Halloween costume“).

Some of those pictures just show cute toddlers dressed up in innocent costumes. But far too many of them show little girls already dressed and posed in ways that sexualize their self-image long before they understand what is happening to them.

Female Toddler Halloween Costumes

This got my sister started on a rant. She’s trying to raise two very young daughters in a culture which starts training girls to become sexual objects as toddlers. And, to put it mildly, she doesn’t like what the culture is doing to her daughters.

And that’s just what is happening with toddlers. If I started talking about Hugh Hefner, Hustler Magazine, sex in popular music, on television, in the movies, premarital sex, no-fault divorce, I could go on forever. But I don’t actually think that angry rants about the sexual revolution, whether about gay sex or straight sex, really do much to advance the gospel. I would rather make sure that whatever I say about sexual sin—and I certainly am willing to speak clearly about the dangers of sexual sin—is rooted in love for the person I’m talking about.

When a Catholic magazine profiles a heterosexual Catholic who works to promote Church teaching on chastity, they don’t spend the first two thirds of the article praising them for their fidelity to Church teaching, and then suddenly start lumping their subject in with Hugh Hefner, just because their subject happens to be attracted to the opposite sex.

I understand and appreciate how difficult it is for Catholic parents to raise children these days. I fear for my nieces in the world they are growing up in. But I think most Catholics recognize that the most effective way of promoting Church teaching on chastity is having compelling examples, people who are striving to follow Catholic teaching who can talk about the challenges of chastity in a thoughtful and realistic way.

When it comes to Catholic teaching on homosexuality, Spiritual Friendship is, as far as I know, the most prominent example of gay and lesbian Catholics who are committed to the teaching of the Catholic Church talking about how to live that out, either in celibacy or marriage.

If Ruse thinks that his style of culture war rant is more likely to win young Catholics over to Catholic teaching than our thoughtful discussion of our experiences, I can only ask my reader to think back to their own youth, and ask whether they were more drawn to people who spoke honestly about the challenges of chastity, or more drawn to those who ranted about the evils of the sexual revolution.

I don’t know what Kinky Boots is, and I’m afraid to Google it (though I am amused to learn that Ruse seems to be better informed about some parts of gay culture than I am). If he finds it natural to shift gears from talking about my work to talking about Kinky Boots, then it is very difficult for me to know how to start an intelligent conversation with him about his disagreements with our approach.

I defend Catholic teaching on sexuality. Some of Ruse’s challenges, regarding language or being open about sexuality, are interesting questions that Catholics need to address (and I will address them in upcoming posts).

However, the ease with which Ruse slides from talking about the writings of a Catholic who defends Catholic teaching on homosexuality to Kinky Boots suggests that he has a tendency to confuse a temptation to homosexual acts with homosexual sin, and to confuse both with the person tempted.

If Ruse slides easily from discussing my writing to discussing Kinky Boots, despite more than ample evidence that I believe in no uncertain terms that gay sex is a sin, it comes as no surprise to me that he is confused by some of the things I have written. But the problem, I think, lies more with his preconceptions than in my writings.

And this is what, ultimately, makes his post so difficult to respond to. He accuses me of being unclear. But then he writes as if I am, perhaps, much closer to Kinky Boots than I am to Orthodox Catholicism. It is hard to know how to go about clearing up his specific confusions about language and approach when he seems to be confused at such a fundamental level. It is even more difficult to know what to say, given that when he pays attention to what I actually say, instead of to his fears about the “gay agenda,” he recognizes that I say very orthodox things.

I will say more about his more specific criticisms soon. But the semester is about to start, and preparing for new classes takes priority over arguments on the Internet.

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 “Confusion at Crisis

  1. Kinky Boots is an award-winning Broadway Musical about a shoe factory which avoids going out of business and laying off its employees, by producing fancy custom footwear (including high-heeled boots) for drag performers. The show was nominated for 13 Tony awards last year; it won two, including Best Musical. The message of the play,as I understand it,is that people should accept each other for what they are, rather than stereotyping them. So, Austin Ruse’s message in the excerpt above, is simply that he doesn’t want his children to view *ANY* public evidence that that gay people exist. He’s not equating you with gay porn. He’s equating you with a non-judgemental larger society which doesn’t condemn people merely for who they are. Its even worse than you thought, in other words. Very sad, indeed.

    • Yes, this idea that no one should even know that gay people or a gay culture even exists is troubling. Yes, it’s a vision of the good life that orthodox Catholicism would say is misguided…but the solution is to prevent children (and, apparently, not just children; many of the commentors seem personally uncomfortable with the “barrage” of gayness they are apparently confronted with daily) from even knowing that alternate visions exist? Where is the “ecumenism”? Really, a different philosophy is sort of like a different religion. Are we afraid that people will leave Christianity merely for knowing that Islam or Buddhism or Deism or Taoism exist? Or is it as simple as saying “Those people believe that sort of life will lead to salvation/happiness/fulfillment. We have some common ground, but we ultimately believe they’ve got some things wrong or less-than-optimal”?

      It sounds like beyond just rose-colored-glasses, Ruse imagines the Church as a great big fortress edifice, a cathedral with rose-colored stained-glass windows to filter out knowledge of otherness and brokenness in the world. Except, ironically, that much rose-colored glass is actually pretty gay…

  2. Gail, if your assessment of this particular piece from Ruse is accurate, then God help everyone whom he is undoubtedly repulsing from the Gospel. In a spirit of charity I shouldn’t pubicly go into much more detail about my concerns.

  3. The very well written blog ‘Confusion at Crisis’ strikes me as being particularly attentive to a very important part of Judeo-Christian teaching: it matters how we live!
    I couldn’t agree more with Ron that those who live the life God has assigned to us that have made a lasting impression on me. After all, Jesus himself took disciples with him for 3 years … that they would learn how to ‘walk in the footsteps of the Lord.’ And He criticised those who would talk but not live rightly.
    Living matters … then and now!

  4. It boggles my mind that faithful people like Ron are criticized at all. We should be helping each other carry our crosses. “He who leaves x,y,z relationship for my sake will gain a hundred-fold in this life and the next, with persecutions.” You, fellow Catholics/Christians, are the hundred-fold. Should the persecutions also come from you, or the outside?

    • I don’t have a problem with thoughtful criticism that is aimed at pushing toward providing the best pastoral care possible. I don’t think my answers are so good as to be beyond criticism, and I welcome constructive criticism that helps us respond to the problem more effectively.

      But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

  5. Perhaps there would be no need for ‘yet another gay back-story’ if the extent of homophobia and sinful actions against the gay community were not and present in society as they are.
    What bothers me about the type of thinking that was presented at Crisis is not that it deems homosexuality unacceptable, but that it condemns a subculture along with a sinful action. If more of the Church would approach homosexuality and the LGBT community as they do missions work in foreign cultures much of the pain, disagreement, and resulting minute numbers of gay Christians would be avoided. Ministry to the LGBT community should be view with as much compassion and understanding for LGBT culture as ministry to Muslims, Hindus, etc. Negating or insulting the feelings of a gay, lesbian, or transgender individual is no more successful in bringing about the gospel than negating the feeling of any heterosexual non-Christian.

  6. I haven’t commented here before, though I love your blog.

    But I made the mistake of clicking over to the Austin Ruse article and I was rather sickened. It seemed he was putting the “culture war” over people … as if it were more important to never hear the word “gay” than to help people do good and avoid evil. The comments (oh yes, I read them! What a mistake!) were some of the nastiest, most hateful things I’ve ever read … and I don’t understand how one Catholic could launch such vitriol at another.

    The one rational, rather than emotional argument, that people had seemed to be based on the idea that you “catch” being gay by hearing that there are people who are. I just don’t buy that. Is it so very tempting that even knowing it exists is going to turn our kids gay? I don’t think so. And the real-life experience of many is that they had these feelings long before hearing of anyone else who did.

    I have two sons. If either of them ever comes out to me, I’d much rather be able to say, “Look at X. Look at Brother Y. Look at Miss Z. See how many wonderful people have the same struggles you do, and stay with the faith? You can do it too,” rather than, “Don’t tell anyone ever or you’ll infect them with your disease.”

    How can people treat each other that way? I just … I can’t. God bless all of you on this blog for being a true Christian witness.

    • “The one rational, rather than emotional argument, that people had seemed to be based on the idea that you “catch” being gay by hearing that there are people who are. ”

      Maybe some human sexualities work like that. Those of us who experience a ‘fixed’ sexual orientation (probably the vast majority of us) tend to ignore the concerns of those who experience more situational desires. I have met one or two guys who do appear to act sexually in conformity to social expectations – and are ‘confused’ by the idea that they should define their own sexual identity.

  7. In all fairness to those who are responding in a homophobic manner to Ruse’s article are responding less to what is said here at SF and more to the spin he puts on things.

    In his first article he chose language like “exceptionalism” and “pride” to describe SF. In is more recent article he continues to interpret the goals of SF as seeking to be “out an proud.” Words like these are guaranteed to make people react. People begin to see us through the lens of the “gay pride” movement. Such language ascribes to SF some kind of ulterior motive. In fact, he even blatantly connect Sf to the “constant barrage of gayness we are subject to.” He accuses SF as seeking change in doctrine when I have never seen any of the writers here seeking to change doctrine. The only thing I have seen is the plea to apply doctrine correctly and evenly. (for instance, I don’t think any writer here as ever said that homosexuality is not “disordered.” What I have seen among writers is a plea to understand “disordered” in a proper theological manner and, perhaps, to rephrase theology in a clearer manner.

    It seems Ruse almost went out of his way to place the goals of SF within a very negative context for his readers. The concept that we have not been treated like other believers in spite of our faithful obedience to God’s Word and are simply seeking to be treated in a Christian manner by our brothers and sisters in Christ is buried under the implication that we seek to be “out and proud.”

    I’ll be honest, I don’t think continues dialogue with a person who intentionally twists others’ words and pretends to be able to read minds to declare that we want to be “out and proud” is going to be particularly productive. Especially having now read some his past writings. I would say continued dialogue with him is essentially a lost cause. It is pretty obvious he is not willing to be accurate nor correct in what he says and is willing to twist others’ words to fit his own agenda.

    • As a minor clarification, I think the answer to “is homosexuality disordered” would be more commonly “depends what is meant by ‘homosexuality'”

      Ruse apparently considers such nuance “seeking to muddy the waters and confuse terminology” however. And yet it is a very nuanced question! I suspect some of these people are just reacting against the umcomfortable revelation that the gay orientation construct (as something other than a reductionist “lust for same-sex sex acts” specifically) makes explicit: that there are homoerotic undercurrents latent in even straight male interactions, that the world of attraction and desire cannot be easily reified and objectified, but are often a profoundly ambivalent space (at least by any “objective” standard) with categories relying on differences in degree but not nature requiring interpretation that is highly subjective.

  8. Sometimes it seems like I’m fighting for the recognition (permission?) that I exist – I am gay, and celibate, and a Christian, committed to orthodoxy – and yet that’s not enough for many… Do people like that believe that I can ever live with a clean conscience? If they had their way, my sensitive conscience would drive me to despair.

    Thankfully, my depression & thoughts of suicide have never escalated to action – but for those gay Christians who especially wrestle with suicidal thoughts, this could be quite damaging :-/

  9. You should be more charitable towards Ruse! The “gay agenda” folks are winning hands down. Personally, I doubt – minus the imposition of Sharia law – if it can be diverted. Not long before souls like Ruse will be in the minority (by that, not in population ratios but in cultural influence). The same hold for the Church with the Doctrine Development vanguard sniffing out the coming victory in those quarters. Soon you will be adding another letter to that famous string, “CQ” for Celibacy Questioning.

    In the near future Ruse may need some hand-holding.

  10. Pingback: A Polêmica entre Austin Ruse e os New Homophiles | Framboise & Grenade

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