A challenge for abundant life
In a recent video battle against gay activist/sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins quoted an old headline: “Dan Savage Explains Why He Started ‘It Gets Better’ Project: ‘When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy,’ columnist tells MTV News.” Incredibly, Perkins used the image of that headline as part of an otherwise sound case against Savage.
There’s certainly a place for apologetics to counter Savage’s chronic mischaracterizations of Christianity – and for holding the anti-bullying icon accountable for his own serial bullying. Still, while calling himself an atheist and humanist, Savage has quietly considered returning to the faith of his childhood. And that MTV headline wasn’t a weapon to be turned back on an opponent. It was an opportunity to re-present God’s invitation to new and abundant life – an opportunity that we miss all too often.
Evangelical professor Wesley Hill shares with his deceased role model Father Henri Nouwen – founder of L’Arche Daybreak – both same-sex attraction and a commitment to celibacy. Like Nouwen, he has “desires for love, affection, companionship, permanent intimacy, life-giving community, a deep sense of belonging, a safe haven, a home. On the flip side, those desires, going unfulfilled, became wounds of rejection, alienation, and isolation.” In various ways, he asks fellow Christians: will you really be there for me?
Toronto Xtra! reporter Andrea Houston took her microphone to a rally against Bill 13, and asked a mom in the crowd, “What if one of your children came out and said that they’re gay?” “No they’re not,” came the response, “because I brought them up good. They’re good boys, they’re good citizens.”
Five possible problems here. One is semantic. My own vocabulary is Catholic; while yours may be different, most Christians opposing gay-straight alliances share some form of the following tripartite distinction: the person, made in the image of God, has intrinsic dignity; the same-sex inclination is disordered, but not sinful; and same-sex acts are immoral, not justified in any circumstances. Many who uphold traditional morality apply the term “gay” only when a person embraces both same-sex identity and activity; but an increasing minority of Christians committed to chastity also identify as gay – including Hill. And most LGBTQ activists use “gay” primarily to describe same-sex attraction. Perhaps the question posed and the question answered weren’t the same. Know your audience.
Second, pro-family parents – who can’t imagine rejecting their children – need to be aware of the numerous and egregious incidents of unjust discrimination carried out in the name of Christianity. For instance, at Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greenburg, Indiana, a toddler sang to cheers and a standing ovation: “The Bible’s right, somebody’s wrong. Romans one, twenty six and twenty seven; Ain’t no homos gonna make it to Heaven.” Was this the responsible education of children? Why was one passage of holy Scripture separated from the rest? Also, what is a “homo,” exactly? To avoid confusion, most faithful SSA ministries no longer use “homosexual” as a noun. There was no such concept when the Bible was written. The Bible tells us that same-sex acts separate us from God. Without careful instruction, struggling adolescents may conclude in isolation that people with same-sex attraction are already condemned. Why, then, abstain or repent from sexual experience? “I’m going to hell, so I may as well enjoy the ride.”
Third, diligent parenting doesn’t rule out effects of the Fall – chosen or unchosen. True enough that no gene has been identified for sexual inclination – but that doesn’t mean only family factors are involved. In his Christian appraisal of the data, Andrew Sodergren (now a psychologist) explains that same-sex attraction “arises from a complex, idiosyncratic combination of biological, experiential, and volitional factors.This process seems clearly divergent for men and women and likely differs from individual to individual among gays and among lesbians.”
Fourth, so what if? Hugh Downs once posed a similar question to Rev. Billy Graham. He answered competently, “Why, I would love that one even more!” Parents who let their children know, early and often, that they’ll love them no matter what (even if they should one day disagree with any child’s lifestyle) will be more trusted when and if their children have important matters to disclose. Houston was checking to see whether the mom would acknowledge the potential for rejection or express unconditional love.
Fifth, what are positive alternatives to LGBTQ communities? The official Catholic apostolate for persons with same-sex attraction is Courage (and EnCourage for loved ones); conferences and online support are available worldwide, but we don’t nearly have chapters in every diocese – and we’re supporting underserved non-Catholic Christians. Are you familiar with what your church offers for a member with same-sex attraction and for the family, whether or not the son or daughter chooses an alternative lifestyle? What can you and your leaders do to make sure enough support is in place? Can a same-sex attracted adolescent picture an abundant life in your community?
Author Christopher West explains, “if people know that you are with them in affirming that deepest yearning of the human heart – if they know that you feel that yearning too and are a true seeker of answers to life’s deepest questions – then we can begin a civilized conversation about what fulfills that yearning and what doesn’t.”
No point scored in the culture wars is worth obscuring the universal invitation to salvation in Jesus Christ. Let us hold fast to eternal truths – and be sure to express them effectively.
Theresa Yoshioka writes and speaks with her husband, former gay activist Alan Yoshioka, about the call on the whole Church for the pastoral care of persons with same-sex attraction. To learn more about Dan Savage’s relationship with the faith of his childhood, and how you can privately encourage his return home, please read “Don’t Quench the Smoldering Wick” at their blog, The Sheepcat.