Joshua Gonnerman recently wrote a provocative piece for this column, “Dan Savage Was Right.” What began as an advocacy for the Church to become family for the homosexual community soon became a discussion of the validity of Gonnerman’s matter of fact description of himself as “a Christian who is committed to chastity and who is also gay.” His piece went viral within the Christian blogosphere, and as a result, Gonnerman wrote a follow-up piece, “Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian.”
As all Catholics in English speaking nations have learned since Advent of this liturgical year, words matter, for they convey reality in matters of revelation and reason. By adopting “consubstantial” in the Creed—admittedly an awkward term and one quite absent from common usage—the Church conveys a fundamental truth about Jesus’s identity in the Holy Trinity in theologically precise ways.
I too am a Roman Catholic, living with a homosexual inclination and committed to chastity. But I do not identify as “gay.” Rather, I say that “I live with same-sex attraction.” Like “consubstantial,” it is an awkward phrase, nearly absent from common usage. I refuse to identify myself as gay because the label “gay” does not accurately describe who (or what) I am. More fundamentally, I refuse to use that label because I desire to be faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church.
In 1986, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the “Pastoral Letter on the Care of the Homosexual Person.” In it, we read:
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
With confidence in the Church, I embrace this teaching about my identity in the same way that I have accepted the word “consubstantial” in the Creed. I accept all of the words of the Catechism concerning who I am in nature and in grace. I take no umbrage at the phrase “objectively disordered” and feel no shame that it truthfully describes my sexual desires. I view my same-sex attraction as a disability, in some ways similar to blindness, or deafness, and I view it with the same hope communicated by Jesus about the man born blind: It has been allowed in my life, so that God’s work would be made manifest in me (cf. John 9:3). In the words of Tolkien, I view it as my personal “Eucatastrophe.”
I think it is a mistake to view homosexuality as a gift, in and of itself. Those who identify as gay speak of the great gifts that supposedly flow from their homosexuality. But of course, any goods that are supposedly unique to homosexuality are common to man, and all that is good in man is the result of being made in the image and likeness of God. My career in the performing arts is not even indirectly caused by my same-sex attraction, but instead because God is the creator of music and beauty. I believe that great good can come as a result of living with this disordered inclination, but it only comes when I acknowledge it as a weakness, and in response, fall to my knees before the good God who looks upon me daily with “a serene and kindly countenance,” and comforts me with the words “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”