If the Catholic Church is casting a negative light on itself by opposing something that the culture has accepted as a norm, should the Church give up its efforts in opposing the homosexual lifestyle?
A caller posed me this question the other day on Catholic Answers Live, but we should think it through with further reflection.
To the question above, I answer no. Unfortunately, there are some Catholics who would answer yes. For example, Catholic author Joseph Bottum wrote in a 2013 article for Commonweal magazine:
Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the Church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.
A more recent example is Fr. James Martin, who in his new book Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity seems to suggest this approach.
There are many things we could say in response, but I offer four reasons why I think this approach is wrongheaded.
Let’s embrace Bottum’s view for argument’s sake. What are we to do then when the culture vehemently opposes other Christian beliefs? Are we to give up the fight in defense of those beliefs as well?
For example, much of the culture opposes the Church’s position on abortion with great fervor and sees the Church’s teaching as repressing the freedom of women. Should Catholics give up the fight for life lest we be viewed as repressive?
Suppose our culture adopts Norse mythology and seeks to bring into vogue the pagan deities of Odin, Thor, and Loki. Such deities may become so favored that the culture sees the Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity as a grave threat and mocks anyone who publicly voices such belief.
Perhaps denial of these pagan deities would even result in death. Should the Catholic Church cease to preach the reality of the one true God made flesh in Jesus lest it be seen as fanatical? I don’t think so.
No Catholic can reasonably embrace the logic embedded in Bottum’s argument, because it undermines the identity of the Church. As Pope Paul VI writes in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (14).
If the Church must be silent in the face of the culture’s opposition to its beliefs about human sexuality, then the Church, if pressured enough, would also have to be silent in the face of the culture’s opposition to any of its beliefs. No Catholic should be willing to draw such boundaries of cowardice.
Failure in love
Another reason the Church should not back off in its opposition to homosexual behavior is that doing so would be to give up on its love for those who struggle with homoerotic desires. As Paul Gondreau, professor at Providence College in Rhode Island, likes to say, “To teach the truth of the human condition and of human happiness is the most loving thing the Church can do.”
The Church’s opposition to sexual activity among members of the same sex is due to the intrinsic evil of such behavior, which cannot possibly contribute to authentic human happiness. Our good as human beings is tied to the general ends toward which our nature directs us (e.g., self-preservation, propagation of the human species, knowledge of the truth), and in particular to the ends of our capacities inherent in human nature, including our sexual desires. To use our sexuality in ways that actively frustrate the achievement of its natural end (procreation and unitive love) cannot possibly be good for us, even if it involves pleasure and emotion.
Now, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “We love someone so as to wish good to him” (Summa Theologiae II-II:23:1). But not only does love involve willing the good, it also involves actions to help those whom we love achieve those goods and to protect such goods from profanation.
For example, I must not only desire my wife and children’s good, I must do what I can to help them achieve it (e.g., educate them in the truth, write this article so as to support them financially, and provide them the emotional support they need).
Love also demands that I protect my family from that which threatens their good. It would be contrary to love if I remained silent in the face of an aggressor threatening the well being of my family.
Similarly, if the Church is to properly love those with homoerotic desires in imitation of Christ, then it must work to help these people achieve their good in the sexual arena, which necessarily involves protecting such goods from profanation. And since homosexual behavior is a profanation of the good of human sexuality, the Church can do nothing but denounce it and call those participating in it to conversion. To fail to do so would leave many in their misery.
Bigotry need not apply
Third, we can deny the premise of the argument, namely, that opposing the homosexual lifestyle casts an unnecessary negative light on the Church. Sure, it will not work in our favor if Catholics oppose homosexual behavior with mere emotion and a lack of charity.
But a calm and reasoned approach that explains the inseparable connection of the procreative and unitive dimensions of human sexuality can show that the Church is not guilty of what the culture often accuses it of: bigotry. The Church has a robust metaphysics of human sexuality, and I am convinced that if shared it can at least gain respect from those who strongly disagree.
I witnessed it firsthand when I presented the Church’s philosophical approach to human sexuality to a group of students at the University of San Diego. The professor who coordinated the event, who vocally supports the homosexual lifestyle, stated in correspondence that our “love and care for the students, as well as the logic of our arguments, were unequivocally apparent,” and that our presentations were “clear, engaging, and raised many questions for the students.” This is definitely a step in the right direction and a far cry from bigotry.
The two edged sword of truth
Finally, it belongs to the nature of truth to affirm and to deny. To say belief X is true necessarily implies that its denial is false. There is no way of getting around the negative aspect of truth.
For the Church to proclaim the truth about human sexuality—namely, its intrinsic ordering to heterosexual marriage—it necessarily involves the denial of certain behaviors that violate this truth, including sexual activity among members of the same sex.
But just because those who engage in such behavior view this teaching in a negative light (which is not surprising), the Church should not back off in its proclamation of the truth. If it were to do so we would lose sight of the good of human sexuality, which is too high of a price to pay.
What we in the Church can do to check ourselves is ask, “Is this negative light due to the truth itself, or due to the manner of presenting the truth?” We must always proclaim the truth, but we must do so in a way that helps others calmly think through the rationale step by step.