2014 was a landmark year for LGBT rights in the United States as marriage equality grew rapidly and polling showed record high rates of acceptance. In the church, Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops opened up discussions of LGBT issues which were unprecedented. And along the way, conservative Catholics have strongly resisted each new development.
For the good of LGBT people and the good of the church, a new approach is needed going forward, says columnist for The Week Damon Linker. He writes:
“I have also made the case that opposing gay marriage is not prima facie evidence of anti-gay bigotry. I still believe that — though a recent egregiously anti-gay article in the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis is enough to inspire some doubts.”
Linker’s article was a response to recent publicity gained by lesbian and gay Catholics who choose celibacy which, in their opinion, helps them conform to the hierarchy’s articulation of Catholic teaching around homosexuality. Bondings 2.0 has covered this topic, which feature figures like Eve Tushnet and Joshua Gonnerman. Linker rightly suggests that conservative Catholics would treat celibate gay people as “heroes or saints” for adhering to church teaching and acting counter-culturally.
However, that is not always the case as the Crisis piece by Austin Ruse reveals. Setting aside Ruse’s ad hominem attacks against Tushnet and Gonnerman, he suggests these “New Homophiles” are wrong in serious ways. According to Linker, Ruse thinks they are wrong for the following reasons:
“First, they affirm a gay identity. Second, they think that this identity gives them distinctive spiritual gifts. Ruse thinks both assumptions are false, because they treat homosexuality as something fixed or given, and even as something positive in certain respects. The truth, for Ruse, is that homosexual desires are the problem — and they shouldn’t be granted any from of validity. On the contrary, they should simply be overcome, transcended, cured. Like a disease.
“This is nothing new. Variations on this view have been espoused by anti-gay bigots for a very long time. But that doesn’t make it any less grotesque. Especially for a Christian.”
Linker criticizes those Ruse and others like him for forcing lesbian and gay Catholics into a “stark choice…leave the church for good or somehow make their homosexual desires vanish. Exile or erasure.” This position forces LGBT Catholics to meet a higher standard than their heterosexual counterparts, while contributing to poor theology which ignores “a mountain of scientific evidence” and many experiences. Linker concludes:
“That’s why Tushnet and Gonnerman irk Ruse so intensely — because despite their manifest devotion to the church, and willingness to endure the deprivations of celibacy for the sake of their faith, they nonetheless insist on treating their homosexual desires as givens that may possess a particle, a grain, a tiny scrap of dignity, rather than as traits that deserve to be denied, explained away, or consigned to oblivion.
“In the end, the problem for Ruse and like-minded Catholic conservatives is that homosexuals refuse to disappear…
“If the Catholic Church hopes to avoid seeing the gates of hell prevail against it, it will have to follow their example — and make abundantly clear who the real ‘bad Catholics’ are.”
I would add that Ruse and other Catholics who treat homosexuality so disparagingly that lesbian and gay Catholics who do not choose celibacy but remain faithfully committed to the Catholic Church provide the same powerful witness. Their lives, their relationships, their families, and their existence in our faith communities challenge the anti-gay elements within the church at least as much as those who choose celibacy do.
Further, violence and discrimination due to one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is an all too prevalent reality in our world, even in places where legal equality is expanding. Whether celibate or not, LGBT Catholics are wonderfully present in our church and our world, and Catholics must find newer ways in 2015 to extend a welcome and provide opportunities for dialogue. I affirm Linker’s point that the institutional church must clearly condemn voices like Ruse that are viciously anti-gay, even if differences remain about legal rights or affirmation of same-sex relationships.
If you are interested in Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of the debate around celibacy and homosexuality in the Catholic Church, click here.
Also, if you have not already done so, take a moment to vote for the best and worst Catholic LGBT stories of 2014 by clicking here. The results will be forthcoming before the New Year!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry