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August 1996

From: Tom Scharbach <tombecket@AOL.COM>

This is a wonderful discussion sent by a straight middle-aged (sorry Tom!) man to the maillist Cath-l. He was responding to the Phelp's family anti-gay web page.

Phelps Filth, Teachings of the Church, and Freedom of Speech

Two things:

(1) Jonathan wrote, regarding the latest Phelps family "hate page":

What is it about America that allows this sort of thing to go on? I mean the attitude that these people betray is, well, animal? Perhaps that's the word. they are certainly incapable of reason, which I thought was the property which makes us human.

The United States is based on the principle that free debate of ideas is critical to democracy, so at least when it comes to political speech, that is, speech about ideas, every citizen should be allow to say anything, however outrageous, with impunity. If Paul can speak, so can Marida, although neither represents the mainstream. And if Paul and Marida can speak, so can irrational hatemongers on the real fringes. We trust the mass of citizens to sort it all out using common sense and common decency.

Quaint, probably unworkable, but a basic freedom we hold close to our hearts and which defines us. I doubt that 1% of Americans believe the kind of shit that the Phelps family puts out, but 99% of us defend the family's right to spread it around.

(2) The Phelps web page is hateful. And while I hesitate to bring up the "gay issue", it is time for me to speak.

I have come to believe that the Church is wrong on the issue of homosexuality, that it is morally unacceptable for me, as a Christian -- and by extension for the Church -- to treat homosexuality as an "issue" -- a matter of objective philosophical, theological or moral interest.

A year ago, I had no trouble with the teaching of the Church (homosexual acts are sinful but homosexuality is morally neutral, and gay and lesbian men and women are called to chastity).

I now do. I no longer believe that the Church should teach that homosexual acts, in and of themselves, are sinful. I believe that the Church has missed the teaching of Christ (... love God, love your neighbor as yourself ...) and that the teaching of the Church is harming its gay and lesbian members, by teaching that gay and lesbian human beings should deny a deep and defining part of themselves and live asexual lives.

Three things converged to change my thinking -- to change my heart:

Let me take each in turn:

All men and women, straight or gay, experience sexual orientation as a -- not "the", but "a" -- essential and defining feature of our lives. Our identity as male or female, straight or gay, goes to our core. To treat sexual orientation as an "issue" is to deny, at a deep level, the humanity of the men and women, straight and gay, who are discussed as if their identity can be treated as an "issue". We are not talking about a "thing" when we discuss sexual oritentation; we are talking about human lives.

Second, "my brother is my brother". At root, the Church has no business making a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual action, saying that the one is morally neutral but the other is always sinful. If orientation is so closely linked to human identity, how can we claim that it is moral to try to separate what we are from what we do, without denying somehow that what God has created is good? To teach that orientation is neutral but to act out of the deepest yearnings of orientation is sinful is a powerful denial of the goodness of God's creation, the first lesson of our scriptures. We are, at some level, lying about God when we take this stance.

And the personal cost of our duplicity is high -- stress related diseases, such as substance abuse and suicide are prevalent in the gay and lesbian community. We are destroying our brothers and sisters because we cannot look at the face of God.

Third, the "debate" about the "gay issue" is a vicious trap. I've lived life outside of and away from the questions, but watching the "debate" on this list opened my eyes. The "debate", at least as it has been promulgated here, is not based on reason. It comes down to: "Gay is wrong. Don't bother me with the facts. Gay is wrong." It is not like the debate over Catholic "Americanism" when John Kennedy ran for President or the debate over African American voting rights. It is a debate which is based on a

conclusion. That does not wash.

Let me show you what I mean:-

When gays challenge the teachings of the Church, they are accused of being "unbiblical". When gays point out that the biblical "condemnations" of homosexual behavior are not condemnations of homosexuality, but more complex and about other things, they are accused of biased interpretation. When gays demonstrate that the views they espouse are no more biased than those espoused by the defenders of "orthodoxy", the issue shifts to "plumbing" and "natural law" -- a penis into a vagina goes, but not into a mouth, unless of course it is a female mouth. When gays start to discuss that issue, pointing out that other cultures acknowledge and find room for gay people, the debate shifts to the destruction of "family values", whatever that is. When gays point out that a large number of gay couples form lifetime relationships, and many raise children successfully, all of a sudden the debate shifts back to the authority of the Church. It never ends, and it never makes any sense, because the "defenders of the faith" do not stand and deliver. Instead, they shift around in an endless circle of rationalization without rational basis.

The bottom line is that I've changed my views -- no, I've changed, period. God created humans, man and woman, straight and gay, in all extraordinary variety, and we are doing God a disservice to deny the goodness of his creation. I will not, any longer, do so, even by hedging on the issue and saying that "I don't know ..." As far as I am concerned, straight and gay are on a level playing field. Sexual acts outside of a loving relationship which reflects the love of God are sinful. Sexual acts -- straight or gay -- within such relationships are sacramental, reflect God and are good.

I do not intend this to be a definitive or an exhaustive statement. It is by nature short, sketchy and incomplete. Like all people who have come to a change in perspective, a change in paradigm, I have a long way to travel before I understand the full implications of the change and can articulate what it means. But of one thing I am certain -- this change has come from the deepest parts of my soul, from the place where God moves quietly and silently in me, and it is both right and permanent. It has been a long time coming ...

I recognize that it is presumptuous of me, and perhaps offensive to the gay and lesbian members of this list, to speak as if my change of heart makes a difference -- Paul, Jonathan and others have been saying what I have just written for months and years. A sensible reaction to my message would be "Oh, great, another straight guy finally gets it at the age of 48, and has to tell us? Yuck! Where has he been all these years ...".

But I need to speak, having seen -- again -- the Phelps filth. I cannot hide behind the "rational" teachings of our Church, and pretend that the teachings of our Church are not adding to the burdens imposed on a

significant number of members of the Body of Christ. I am a straight who has had his eyes opened. I need to speak for my own soul, not for the gay and lesbian members of this list. I hope you will treat what I have had to say in that light.


Tom Scharbach