This is a sensitive topic, and it’s a post I’ve been mulling over in my head for a long time. My closest male friend in college was gay, and I loved him. We spent many a lazy afternoon together drinking margaritas on the patio of our favorite Mexican watering hole, singing Tim McGraw karaoke and enjoying the endless sunny days Boulder, Colorado had to offer. The last time we spoke, it was to meet for drinks when I introduced my now husband to his then boyfriend. We shook hands, we laughed, we played pool, and we never spoke again.
That was almost 8 years ago now, and I think about him from time to time and go over the slow drift that pulled us apart after college. I wonder if there was some way we could have kept going forward, he living an openly gay life which I never once condemned him for, and me a practicing Catholic, married with a vanful of kids. I don’t know that we could have done anything differently, either of us, to keep things on track, but it hurts my heart to think about what we left behind because of seemingly irreconcilable differences.
I know that part of what caused the drift was his knowledge that my position on homosexuality was immovable. That much as I loved him unconditionally, I would never affirm him in his lifestyle choice. We both smoked at the time and while it was enjoyable, we both knew we should quit – tried to quit together, several times – because we knew the pleasure came at too high a cost. I am not drawing a moral equivalent between homosexuality and smoking, only pointing out that the tension between human desires and cravings and what is actually good for the human person is as old as humanity itself.
The final time we saw one another, I think we both recognized it as such. As much as we practiced kindness and respect for one another, what he wanted from me was compete acceptance of his homosexual relationship, and that I could not give. It simply wasn’t enough that I greet his boyfriend with friendliness, that I shake his had warmly and laugh with him over vodka sodas. He wanted more. And I don’t blame him. The differences that drove our friendship apart are heartbreaking, but they remain irreconcilable.
All of my love and kindness weren’t enough, so long as they fell short of total acceptance of their relationship.
Why, some of you may be asking, couldn’t I just get over myself for the sake of our friendship and tell them that I was happy for them? Why rock the boat so hard someone had to fall overboard?
I guess the answer is twofold. First, we never actually had the “I don’t approve of your lifestyle but I love you unconditionally” talk. We didn’t have to. He just knew. Without my explaining a single thing, he understood that I was Catholic, and that the same morality that precluded premarital sex and marked me out so singly at 1 am down on Pearl Street was the one that informed my view of homosexuality. He also knew I loved him like a brother. He felt the irreconcilability of our opposing positions, and it hurt him. It hurt me, too. But while my other roommates never forced me to choose between accepting their IUDs and sleep-over boyfriends and them, he did.
And thus we come to the real difficulty with the age we inhabit: Anything short of total acceptance is insufficient, and agreeing to disagree no longer seems agreeable enough to remain on one another’s Christmas card list. Or, in a more modern twist, to remain Facebook friends. Because that’s how it played out in real life. With the single click of a button, I was banished.
He wanted not only friendship, but tacit approval. He wanted me to change my moral position to suit his, to jettison my code of ethics and to adopt his own. Because it is uncomfortable to know that someone you love doesn’t approve of what you’re doing.
Just ask the family with 6 kids who gets ridiculed and chastised by extended family for going overboard in the procreation department. Ask the chaste, 32 year old female staffer on Capitol Hill living the single life in a sex-drenched social scene. Ask the young guy discerning the priesthood – and a life of celibacy – at a public university, regularly raked over the coals by his progressive sociology professor for colluding with an archaic patriarchy.
It is difficult to maintain your core values in the face of criticism, rejection, and hostility. It is even more difficult when real, live friendships are on the line. But what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?
This scenario will only become more common as homosexuality becomes more widely accepted, and gay marriage becomes the law of the land the world over. Christians cannot run from the issue. We have to face it, head on, with clarity, charity, and utter humility. The time for polite private disagreement and crossing one’s fingers it doesn’t happen “in our family” has passed. It will happen. Because homosexuality is being advanced in public schools and universities and embraced by popular culture as a new, essential value. And those of us who refuse to recognize – to wholeheartedly embrace – this new value, will be made to suffer the consequences.
And that’s okay.
It is okay to suffer for your beliefs. Actually, if we aren’t suffering for them, I wonder if there might be something not quite right, as the Lord Himself flatly states in John 15:18.
So I want to wrap up with a charge and a challenge. The first is to know your beliefs, to read deeply and pray intensely into the issue, and to search the Scriptures and the documents of the Magisterium to know what you believe, and to be ready and willing to explain it and defend it. If you are struggling with the Church’s position on homosexuality – or anything else for that matter – then it is your responsibility to inform and then reconcile your conscience to the Truth. There have been numerous issues over the 33 years I have lived as a Catholic that have stopped me almost in my tracks. And my response can only ever be to question, to challenge, to study, and finally, to accept with humble obedience even when I do not understand.
The Church’s teachings are the teachings of Christ. If one of them is a sticking point for me, then it’s me who has to move. Not Him.
The second challenge I have is this. Do you have a friend, a neighbor, or a relative who is gay? Do you keep the relationship at arm’s length, hoping the difficulty won’t rear it’s inconvenient head? Are you being authentic in your love for this person, or are you intentionally keeping it surface level to keep the peace?
Don’t do that.
If there’s one thing I wish I could do over with my lost friendship, it’s that we talked more openly and more intentionally about that elephant in the dorm room. I don’t know that it would have changed the outcome, necessarily, but I think I’d wonder less about “what if?” and I know that part of what held me back was cowardice. Was wanting to keep things agreeable, friendly, light.
But look where that got us.
I hope he knows how much I loved him, and how much I love him still. And that no amount of disagreement between us had to end things. If he called tomorrow, we could pick right back up. I know a great margarita place just down the street, and we could talk for hours.
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