Same-sex attraction: Read this before you risk your credibility.
I mentioned two weeks ago that Living the Truth in Love from Ignatius Press is an important book, and that I would have more to say about it. Having now read each of its score of theoretical, testimonial and pastoral essays, I am even more convinced that everyone concerned about the “gay revolution” should read them as well.
I learned something valuable from each one of this winning combination of writers, who possess personal, academic, therapeutic, medical and pastoral experience with same-sex attraction. But to my surprise the essay which had most to offer me personally was Jane Hallman’s “Do No Harm: Considerations in Supporting Youth with Same-Sex Attraction.” Hallman pointed out that young people who experience SSA are already likely to feel “different”, as if they do not “belong” owing to problems in their affective development. Therefore, if they experience anger and rejection as they try to discuss their difficulties with friends, parents, family members and other significant adults, it only exacerbates the problem. Hence her title: “Do no harm.”
In particular, common parental reactions, such as scorn and denial from fathers and “How can you do this to me?” from mothers, will almost inevitably alienate the child even further from a healthy affectivity. Instead, all who love the child must continue to accept him or her with love, including a continuation of habitual displays of affection, such as looking pleased rather than distraught when the child seeks to spend time with the parent. The focus needs to be on taking the child’s experiences seriously while maintaining a clear moral instruction which distinguishes feelings (which generally arise unbidden) from sins. This is the best context for other appropriate steps, such as counseling.
The Way Forward
There is no one best way for a same-sex attracted person to deal with his or her disordered affectivity. As with other disordered affectivities (including, really, all the inordinate attachments which constitute temptations in our lives), bringing them under control is largely a process of prayer, sacramental life, sound spiritual direction, helpful insights and encouragement from others, trial and error, sin, and repentance—all leading over time to self-mastery.
Sometimes God intervenes with a particular gift of grace which removes even the temptation that this (or any other) cross entails. This point is made by Robin Beck in her personal testimony entitled “Why Maintaining Biblical Language Matters.” She recognizes the importance of confidence in Christ’s ability to make of us a new creation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). At a certain point in committing herself to Christ, Beck experienced freedom from all of homosexuality, both “the behavior and the desire.”
But—again, as with other trials that come to us through God’s permissive will—most of us are not healed in this way, but through a patient struggle to conquer sin without completely eliminating temptation. For this reason, many will find Daniel C. Mattson’s witness more helpful: “Total Abandonment to Divine Providence and the Permissive Will of God”. There are also testimonies from Joseph Prever (“The Curse of the Ouroboros: Notes on Friendship”), Eve Tushnet (“In This Our Exile”), David Prosen (“Breaking Free”), Doug Mainwaring (“Married and Same-Sex Attracted: Are We Hiding the Light of the Gospel under a Basket?”), and Bob and Susan Covera, whose “From Pain to Peace” explains their journey as parents of a same-sex attracted child.
Incidentally, one fairly common thread throughout the book is the importance of the Courage and EnCourage apostolates, founded by Fr. John Harvey and continuing under the leadership of one of the editors, Fr. Paul Check. This apostolic work has helped many men and women deal with the challenge of same-sex attraction in accordance with a sound spiritual life and a true Christian anthropology.
What We Know and What We Don’t
New challenges invariably lead the Church and her members to a fuller and more accurate understanding of and response to the problems each challenge represents. In the present case, it has been necessary to explore the philosophical and theological dimensions of Eros along with the biological and psychological developmental factors that might incline a person to same-sex attraction. This need is addressed by the sections of Living the Truth in Love which deal with theoretical knowledge and pastoral care.
For example, Rachel Lu addresses the question of sexual identity in “Eros Divided: Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Homoerotic Love?”. In addition, although Bob Schuchts may be too quick to claim an almost miraculous process of healing in Christian therapy, his emphasis on “Restoring Wholeness in Christ” is clearly important to the kind of self-knowledge and spiritual growth which must be part of any healing process. Deborah Savage explains what she believes is “At the Heart of the Matter: Lived Experience in Saint John Paul II’s Integral Account of the Person”. My favorite natural law theorist, J. Budziszewski, explains how we can make important connections through “The Conversational Use of Natural Law in the Context of Same-Sex Attraction”.
Msgr. Livio Melina studies a much-contested issue: “Homosexual Inclination as an ‘Objective Disorder’: Reflections of Theological Anthropology”. There is even an essay on “The Healing Role of Friendship in Aelred of Rievaulx’s De spiritali amicitia”—a work which some of the witness essays mention as well—by Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R. All of these authors are impressively credentialed in their fields.
In the pastoral section (after learning from Dr. Hallman to do no harm), we find careful considerations of the psychological and medical aspects of same-sex attraction. Again, the titles are indicative. Timothy G. Lock explores “Same-Sex Attractions as a Symptom of a Broken Heart: Psychological Science Deepens Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity”. And Timothy Flanigan, MD details “HIV and Other Health Risks Associated with Men Who Have Sex with Men”.
Two essays map out the cultural background underlying the way we deal with same-sex attraction. Jennifer Roback Morse’s essay, “Understanding the Sexual Revolution”, explains what old hands have long known about the tactics used to break down traditional sexual morality, an analysis which will put things into perspective for those new to the struggle. Peter Herbeck insists in “Our Prophetic Moment” that only a strong and vibrant Catholic proclamation of the vision of Christ for the human person and human sexuality can possibly make a positive difference. Accommodation is deadly.
Edited, introduced and concluded by Fr. Paul Check of Courage and moral philosopher Janet Smith of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Living the Truth in Love not only covers many aspects of the subject but also permits the expression of a variety of slightly different (but always Christian) viewpoints on how best to deal with same-sex attraction—both personally and in counseling. As Janet Smith states in the preface, “We believe that some of the differences are matters of prudence, and others perhaps are more serious. We include different positions because we believe it is important that we remain in dialogue with those who share important foundational views.”
This actually makes the book stronger. Whether there will ever emerge a single paradigm for best addressing same-sex attraction by those who are morally committed to chastity as enjoined by Christ and the Church, it is clear at this stage that one size does not fit all in terms of successfully coming to terms with SSA and integrating it into a thoroughly Christian life. I found myself more indebted to some contributors than others, but let me say again that I benefited from all of them.
For those who are not otherwise genuinely expert in the problem of same-sex attraction (which is the vast majority of us), I would venture to say that, after the publication of Living the Truth in Love, it has become irresponsible to hold forth on this subject based on gut feelings. Do not risk your credibility! Before addressing same-sex attraction again, read this extraordinarily apt, fascinating and incomparably convenient book.
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Posted by: Jeff Mirus -
Oct. 16, 2015 6:13 PM ET USA
spledant7672: The book you mention is, I am sure, very good. But the one I’m most familiar with and can highly recommend as a starting point is the 2011 edition of Budziszewski’s What We Can’t Not Know.
Posted by: spledant7672 -
Oct. 15, 2015 7:39 PM ET USA
Jeff, you mentioned Budziszewski. Would this be the best place for someone to start with him? http://www.amazon.ca/Written-Heart-The-Case-Natural/dp/083081891X Thanks.