September 12, 2013

Why are we so close-minded about homosexuality?

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

I am so tired of people who want to pick fights with my faith being unable to cite it accurately.

Last month New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill banning homosexual conversion therapy for minors. Almost every article covering the story featured Mr. Christie’s Catholicism, as if it were directly relevant to the facts. It isn’t, as the Church has no official stance on conversion therapy.

The Governor injected religion into the story when his office released, in addition to a formal signing statement, an excerpt from an interview he’d given to CNN. In that interview, asked whether homosexuality is a sin, Gov. Christie replies in part: “Well my religion says it’s a sin…. but for me, I’ve always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual.”

Blaaap! Wrong on both counts.

First, the Church doesn’t consider it a sin to be homosexual. It’s not sinful to be tempted by something. Having feelings of same-sex attraction therefore is not in itself wrong. The Church teaches that acting on those feelings is wrong, just as it teaches all sexual activity outside of faithful man-woman marriage is wrong. All of us, gay or straight, are challenged to live chaste lives.

Nor does the Church have a position on how people come to be homosexual. The Catechism of the Catholic Church number 2357 says “[homosexuality’s] psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”

This happens to be exactly what the American Psychological Association thinks. In the same statement the Governor cites to justify his conversion therapy ban we read:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles….”

In other words, no one knows how same-sex attraction comes to be. Governor Christie may think he does, but he’s relying on…actually I don’t know what, since science doesn’t back him up. If he just means he doesn’t think anyone chooses homosexual feelings, he’s on the same page with the Church. In number 2358 the Catechism says most people experience same-sex feelings as “a trial” rather than something freely chosen.

Can we leave the Church out of it then, since the Governor’s flat wrong about what it teaches?

As thinking people we might nevertheless ask why, if neither he nor the APA knows how or when homosexuality develops, they can be so adamant in insisting conversion therapy can never work? Since the APA’s own statement shows that our psychological understanding of homosexuality is in its infancy, it seems close-minded and anti-intellectual to shut down an entire line of academic and medical inquiry.

Which brings me to another thing I’m tired of: assuming that all homosexuals think alike and can be represented by one point of view. You rarely hear, for example, about the Courage chapters all over the country, or from the growing number of men and women who are “out” about their same-sex attraction but take joy in Christian discipleship.

They write, often searingly, about what having same-sex feelings is like, and the pain caused them by unthinking church communities and boorish Christians. They’re equally unsparing on the emptiness of the lifestyle the culture is selling them, though, which puts them among the most interesting cultural critics of our time. They challenge everybody! Especially interesting is their exploration of what friendship means at its deepest level, and how the hyper-sexuality of our culture threatens this vital human relationship.

Here are just a few such writers to explore:

· Melinda Selmys. A former lesbian, now married with children, she’s author of Sexual Authenticity.

·  Eve Tushnet. Earlier this year the Atlantic published her essay, I’m Gay, But I’m Not Switching to a Church that Supports Gay Marriage.

·  Steve Gershom writes with unstinting courage about his experiences. He thinks conversion therapy helped him, even though it didn’t change his orientation.

· Spiritual Friendship is a group blog exploring the fact that while Christian discipleship is costly for everyone, it is not simply a “no”, but a yes to something rich and beautiful.

For everyone who wants to understand what the Church actually teaches about homosexuality, I can’t recommend enough Fr. John Waiss’ Born to Love. Written as a conversation among a priest, some parishioners and their gay friends, it’s the most sensitive, respectful, and pastoral treatment of this topic I’ve seen. It blends Church teaching, the latest research and debates you will recognize from real life in an easy-to-digest, profoundly Christian, and deeply hopeful approach.

Thinking of sending one to Governor Christie!

Rebecca Ryskind Teti is Operations Coordinator for the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business & Economics at CUA, though the opinions are her own. This column is modified from an earlier version that first appeared in Faith & Family  magazine.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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