Recently, the Catholic cable channel, EWTN, aired a program with the Rev. Paul Check, the executive director of Courage, a Catholic organization dedicated to helping same-sex attracted Catholics who desire to live according to the teachings of the Magisterium live celibately and, thus, find peace and happiness. While Rev. Check’s psychological and theological assumptions about homosexuality were as disdainful as any other conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant, he made one point that those of us who view homosexuality as a precious, naturally non-procreative gift from our heavenly Creator ought to consider: nouns, and sexual identity labels in particular, have their limitations in the spiritual realm. Amen to that.
Though religious conservatives like Rev. Check may never see homosexuality, like this writer does, as God’s natural offering to men and women who desire sacred, naturally non-procreative sexual union, that does not mean these conservatives don’t have anything to offer human sexual progress, and progressives like myself: namely, people who have no hang-ups about the human body and sexual desire, but who wish all people would stop denigrating the lives of others, including their sex partners, and especially our unborn baby brothers and sisters.
The question must be asked: Does the establishment LGBT community, and for that matter the very concept of sexual orientation itself, provide men who are engaging in sinful homosexual activity any off-ramps for their sin? Save acts that are illegal, is there any act between two consenting adults of the same-sex that the ad hoc, collective secular magisterium of LGBT-ism would consider sinful? Sexually unsafe, for sure? But sinful? Don’t hold your breath on that one.
Consider the case of a man, perhaps a Catholic or Protestant churchgoer, who feels not an ounce of love or romantic affection for other men, and who has zero internal respect for the sanctity of same-sex sexual intimacy between two men, despite his intense fleshly desires. He engages in impulsive, dangerous sexual behaviors with any willing male sex partner that crosses his path. Would the ad hoc secular “Bishops of LGBT-ism” ever suggest that such a man, who has not even a minimal feeling of brotherly love for his sex partners, is engaging in sinful, lustful conduct? They might refer him to a safe sex workshop, for sure, or if he is a genuine sex addict, to a professional sex addiction counselor. But would they refer him to a group to help him deal with his lust and repent of his sins? Again, don’t hold your breath on that one.
For sure, defining lust can be more difficult than we often give the task credit for, and arguably even more so when dealing with a naturally non-procreative form of human sexuality – homosexuality – as the ethical concern for a potential third person, an innocent baby, does not enter the sexual-ethical framework. But should the absence of that procreative possibility somehow lower one’s threshold for what constitutes homosexual lust?
Internationally-renowned author and spirituality columnist, Rev. Ron Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest, has a very positive view of human sexual desire and its role in the cosmos, so I sought his take on what separates holy sexual desire from just plain old lust. As Rolheiser explains it, “A vigorous sexual desire is sign of health. When it isn’t there, invariably, it is because of depression or unhealthy repression, and the person walking around without sexual desire is less than fully human. You, me, and everyone else, should be jumping out of our skins most moments, aflame with sexual desire. It’s the driving force at the deepest level of reality. Powerful sexual feelings and fiery, earthy desire are a sign of health.”
So what could that possibly mean for the same-sex attracted men that Rev. Check of Courage is dealing with, many of them having engaged in impulsive, unsafe, destructive sexual behaviors with other men? They too are certainly “aflame with sexual desire,” and yet it would stretch credulity to ever associate their behaviors with health – physical or spiritual.
As Rolheiser sees it, the definition of lust is “When we in some way act out on that desire in a way that doesn’t fully respect another person or fully respect ourselves. It’s not earthy feelings that constitute lust (sexual desire is earthy and that earthiness is in fact inextricably connected to soul) it’s acting out on those feelings in a way that somehow violates someone else or ourselves that makes for lust.”
Unfortunately, notwithstanding the expansion of same-sex marriage equality and same-sex coupled households with white picket fences all across the land, there are still many men in our society whose homosexual behavior patterns are all about lust: not a shred of love, affection, or physical regard. Thus, as strongly as I disagree with Rev. Check’s theological and moral outlook on homosexuality and its divinely-orchestrated role in the cosmos, and as much as I hope he will one day change his views to account for holy sexual relations between men, he and his organization are doubtless filling a void: providing abstinence-based Christian ministry to men who, for whatever their individual reasons, are not in the state of heart that is so necessary for loving, nurturing and ethical sexual expression between two men to take place. By no means does that mean that the entire beings of these particular men – including their hearts – are junk, or incapable of touching the hearts of others. But it does mean that they are not in a life position to use their homosexuality as a source of love and caring.
Instead of taking umbrage at a group like Courage, which has the full endorsement of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Christian men and women who deeply value the sanctity of loving homosexuality, and who want to see it protected, should always – like flight attendants at the beginning of each flight – be prepared to point others to the exits when need be.