Honesty about sex is difficult to achieve when the discussion takes place in a group. People are too eager to score debating points and afraid to lose face. My counterpart in a debate about same-sex attraction spoke about the hatred that he said had killed Matthew Shepherd. I replied, “Surely you know I don’t hate you. I love you. I want to spend eternity with you in heaven.” After the debate was over and the camera was off, he thanked me, saying that he could tell I did love him. I was glad. But he didn’t concede that on camera.
Perhaps the hardest part of conversation is giving a gentle and truthful answer to challenges that emerge from pain and anger.
A male friend who experiences same-sex attraction might say, “You reject me because I'm different from you.” But he is not different; he is a man, like me, who suffers temptations, like me, even if somewhat different temptations than mine. I affirm his manhood. If I think he is able to hear me, I might mildly ask whether it is possible that he is the one who rejects the challenge of the Other – of the complementary sex.
He might say, “You are demeaning my dignity.” I insist on his dignity. Every person is an image of God. But we are working from two different understandings of what upholding his dignity requires. Though I want to lift it up, I think he is harming it.
He might say, “You don’t respect my love for my partner.” I honor all love and friendship. The issue is not whether two people of the same sex can be loving friends; the issue is whether sexual intercourse improves every kind of love. Unthinkingly, we often speak as though it does; but would it improve the love of a teacher and student, a father and daughter, a brother and sister? Of course not; it introduces an alien and distorting motive into such relationships. In the same way, it introduces an alien and distorting motive into the friendship of two men or two women.
He may say that “Gay is just as natural for some people as straight is for others.” But the meaning of natural inclination is not what I happen to desire. It is what I am made to desire. Each sex is made for its polar counterpart.
He may say “I was born this way.” Certain behavioral predispositions really are latent from birth. For example, it is well-established that some people suffer the misfortune of a genetic predisposition to the abuse of alcohol. But this doesn’t make drunkenness naturally good for them; it merely means they will have to work harder than other people to resist the temptation. Good friends will encourage them to do so.
This seven-part series on “Nature, For and Against,” adapted from my chapter in a book to be published by Ignatius Press, resumes on Tuesday. Tomorrow: On Refusing Childhood.