Mark Shea on “Defining Oneself by One’s Sexuality”

Over on his blog, Mark Shea attempts to answer a reader’s question about LGBT people “defining themselves” by their sexuality. After recognizing that some people (heterosexuals included) do, in fact, make their sexuality the most defining characteristic of their lives, there is a difference between acknowledging one’s sexuality and being defined by it:

We should, however, be cautious about assuming that simply because somebody frankly acknowledges that they are gay that they are making it the central fact of their life.  I know any number of gay folk who live in fidelity to the Church’s moral teaching, but who don’t shy away from saying frankly that they are gay, that their appetites are what they are, and that this does not mean they have to indulge those appetites.  I think this is simply being honest, as when an alcoholic says frankly that he has a disordered attraction to alcohol or a glutton is frank about his tendency to desire to eat too much.  I think that some Catholics, uncomfortable with so much as hearing aboutthis particular disordered appetite can be swift to shush all discussion as “defining oneself by one’s sexuality” in the way a teetotaling fundamentalist tries to declare all discussion of alcohol sinful.

I think this is unwise since it communicates to the faithful homosexual that it’s not enough for him to be obedient to Holy Church.  He has to repent even his temptations.  The Church does not tie up for us the heavy burden of guilt for our temptations, only our sins.  Indeed, the Church tells us that when we meet the challenge of our temptations with obedience we are being virtuous and our Father is pleased with us.  No small part of why homosexuals get the message that God hates them is this curious double standard, reserved only for them, which says that when a heterosexual resists the temptation to commit fornication or adultery, he is a heroic saint, but when a homosexual successfully resists temptation he is still guilty of feeling tempted and must not speak of it lest he incur the charge of “defining himself by his sexuality”. I think that is a perfect formula for inducing despair in the homosexual who genuinely wishes to follow Christ.

24 thoughts on “Mark Shea on “Defining Oneself by One’s Sexuality”

  1. Well it’s a good start. Now we need to work on moving them towards an understanding of Gay that is not reducible to a particular form of “temptation,” at least not anymore than being poor but wanting a nice car is a “temptation” to steal, or being angry is a “temptation” to kill…

    • Hmmm – he was defending the reputation of man who had died. that hardly counts as some kind of ringing endorsement of “chaste gay couples.”

      It is, in fact, a proper application of Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment “…to explain everything in the kindest way.”

      • Matt–here’s how Shea explained it in the kindest way in October 2013: ****….“It is possible (and I have seen it done) that gay people can live celibate, chaste, and devout lives–and do so in a “partnered relationship” that is centered on Christ.”….****

        It’s not like I wouldn’t be pleased if I were wrongly interpreting the data, but I don’t think I am…

    • What is wrong with that? The same thing happens with divorced and remarried people who reconcile to the Church – after reconciliation they live as brother and sister yet continue to share house and home. I’ve encountered such situations frequently.

      Two men or two women can and do change their living situation and remain together as friends, if and when they seek reconciliation with the Church and commit to living a chaste lifestyle. That’s done frequently, usually with older people, such as the example Mark wrote about. Perhaps Mark could have worded it differently, rather than a fulfilling non-sexual relationship he could have simply called it friendship, companionship.

      If I remember correctly, the surviving friend may have used terms such as partner or given indications they were a ‘couple’ yet my understanding was the men lived a faithful life in accord with Church teaching. They identified as gay as one might expect if they were known as gay men for the greater part of their lives. Non religious friends and neighbors likely considered them a couple as the obituary in the paper probably indicated – it doesn’t mean the two men were endorsing same sex marriage or were engage in same sex sexual activity.

      That said, there is no prohibition against such friendships, the Church calls all people to holiness and to live chastely.

      • I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, Terry. I thought you were a critic of the New Homophiles, yet you are practically writing New Homophile apologetics in this thread now…

      • Horptaod’s comment is a good example of the problem with buying in to Austin Ruse’s culture war mentality: You are either on team New Homophiles or you are on team Crisis Defenders. There is no longer room for nuanced disagreement.

      • I’ve read through Terry’s NH related articles, and if Terry is really conceding everything he says above, it’s unclear to me where any substantial disagreement remains anymore. He’s endorsing gay love and gay relationships, just not the sex. Is his only problem with calling them “gay” or admitting they are, in spite of recognizing that ” Non religious friends and neighbors likely considered them a couple,” that it “looked and quacked like a duck.” Is the issue at stake to deny any analogy between same-sex relationships and heterosexual ones? What is really at issue if Terry can admit everything above? At least Jim has a clear and consistent homophobic position. But I’m not sure what Terry’s problem is at this point if he can admit the praxis he describes above (and praxis is mainly what matters). Just semantics??

    • It’s unclear what your objection is even to, Jim, other than the phrase “gay couple.”

      Are you objecting to two gay men who recognize each other as attractive being best friends And roommates and the most important people in each other’s lives, spending the plurality of their time together, sharing a bank account, spending holidays at each other’s families, and having an understanding that they’ll always be there for each other, pre-eminent in priority?

  2. Ugh another one comparing us to alcoholics or gluttons. I guess it is a step up. He isn’t comparing us to murderers or pedophiles.

  3. Unclear, Mark? Perhaps this will help.

    Would you think it objectionable for a married man like me to choose to become “best friends and roommates” with a woman I find attractive? Any objection to me referring to her as the “most important person in my life” even though I’m married to someone else?

    Any objection to me spending most of my time with her, sharing a bank account, spending holidays with her family and also with my wife and kids, and having an understanding that she and I will always be there for each other, pre-eminent in priority?

    Hey, it’s not at *all* sexual. Why couldn’t I have maybe three or four such “friendships”? Such a friendship clearly is entirely unrelated to my marital relationship with my wife…

    • Jim, I believe that’s called “living as brother and sister,” and divorced-and-remarried people whose true spouse is still alive often do it.

    • Hi Jim,

      I think what you proposed (or what you are aiming for) is very different than Mark’s, the most obvious difference being a mono-amorous (for lack of a better term) in Mark’s illustration (two friends who are committed to each other, and view each other as the most important person in their lives), and a poly-amorous relationship in yours (viewing the “sister” as the most important person in your life while being married).

      So I would say your line of reasoning would only object to the “poly-” part, not the “gay-” part of the “couple living together”.

      That said, based on obvious temptations, I would find it extremely hard to recommend two people who are attracted to each other (either romantically or sexually or both) and aren’t married ecclesiastically to be living together and sharing each other’s lives, though again, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of this happening. (For example, if they truly had self control, or in the instance of divorce-and-remarriage, as Mark outlines.)

      To recap: being best friends and roommates are always bad if you’re already married to someone else, but if you aren’t, then it depends.

  4. According to the Church, all those divorced-and-remarried people living as brother and sister really ARE still in a marriage with the original spouse. I don’t know if it’s “loving” anymore (obviously something has broken down) but the Church does not seem to see it as an absolute breach of faithfulness or chastity (and besides, in this case we’re talking about gays who don’t have some “original” spouse to worry about)>

    • Mark–Could you please respond to this: So you have no objection to the idea that I could “live as brother and sister” with a woman while at the *same* time being in a loving marriage with my wife?

  5. I’d probably find that pretty weird, Jim. I see it more as a situation that would make sense if you were already separated and civilly divorced from your original sacramental spouse, as usually seems to be the case in such situations.

      • See my response to your “six questions” on Crisis.

        In short, though: because “best” is a superlative, and so you usually can have only one “best” friend at a time. It is very hard to try to give the plurality of your time to two people equally, and if you have two people competing for “priority” then neither one is really a priority unless one definitively trumps.

  6. I find Mark Shea’s comment on this issue really helpful. I have often struggled with the argument presented to me by Christians that I should not label myself as “gay” because it either means then that I am centering my core identity around it, or believing that sexual orientation is something genetically fixed and unchanging. I finally settled on describing myself as “gay and celibate” two years ago after deciding that although I couldn’t possibly know exactly where my feelings of same-sex attraction came from, I shared many things in common with men who did call themselves gay (unremitting same-sex attractions, and also in my case, certain “feminine” aspects to my personality). Before I accepted the label I would get frustrated with people that either reduced my sexuality to simply one form of temptation and say I was no different from others who experienced other forms of temptation (e.g. heterosexual lust, or gluttony), or assume by default that I was quasi-heterosexual and fail to understand that the lifestyle challenges I faced were quite different to theirs. It feels much more comfortable to say to people, “I’m gay and celibate, let’s talk about it” than worrying that simply using the word gay is tantamount to somehow endorsing a sinful pattern of behaviour.

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