Monday, October 4, 2010

"We love because he first loved us"

The recent highly publicized suicides of five homosexual young men, the most notable being Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after having a sexual encounter with another male, which was clandestinely recorded, posted on the internet by a couple of his friends. On top of all this comes a talk delivered at this weekend's semi-annual General Conference of the LDS church by the President of their Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Personally, I think Elder Packer's comparing what he sees as the natural law with physical laws most unfortunate, a true case of comparing apples to oranges. "A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?" No, at least not within the earth's atmosphere. But then, as I live on earth, I have no choice with regard to obeying the law of gravity, whereas I have a choice with regard to obeying the natural law as he conceives it. My understanding is that homosexuality, with very, very few possible exceptions, is not chosen. The crux of the issue human freedom.

The Catechism states that homosexuality "has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (2357). The Catechism goes on say that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (2358). Now, before I field comments pointing out that the quotes I cite from the Catechism are "clipped," avoiding the more controversial parts, I plead guilty. My reason for doing so is that most of the time we focus on those parts to the exclusion of the parts I quote. I think Fr. Jim Martin makes much the same point in his post over on America magazine's All Things blog- What is a Catholic response to gay suicide?.

Tyler Clementi

One distinguishing characteristic of Christian faith is respect for persons, not just respect, but reverence. We all bear the imago dei without exception. I was on retreat with my fellow deacons this past weekend. Fr Ray Carey was our retreat master. He brought this message home so clearly in our very first conference Friday evening, making it axiomatic for everything else he shared with us from his great learning and wisdom. For me, the tragedy of all this is how ideological, political, and polarizing sexuality becomes with one side wanting to reduce our humanity to our sexual orientation and the other refusing to truly see the other, the one who differs from me; this amounts to a genuine lack of empathy. These sides serve the common goal of separating us from each other by reducing faith to morality. Yes, being moralistic is something people on both sides engage in to the point of nausea, which is why this all becomes so heated, polarizing, so alienating. I think many young men who are experiencing a crisis with regard to their sexuality get caught in this crucible, which is why I think the most relevant thing Fr. Martin writes is "there is one life-changing resource in the Christian tradition that transform[s] those who feel unloved--that is, Jesus." Too often these tragedies are employed for ideological purposes.

I care infintely more about the well-being and happiness of young people, like Tyler, than I do about the political battle over marriage, or even to arguing about morality. I cannot repeat too strongly an insight by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe: Christians are not in the business of issuing moral edicts, or even discussing morality with anyone who does not know, who has not experienced for her/himself, God's love given them in Christ Jesus! We have to have faith in the Word of God, in the love of God, to change lives.

Jesus loves you is a cliché, but it isn't just true, it is the most important thing you can know! He loves us all so very much. He looks on each of us with such tenderness: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:18-19- ESV). This Scripture tells me that once I realize how much I am loved everything else will take of itself, as long as I make God's love for me central to my life. Let's remember that fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not wisdom's end, which is loving God because He first loved me. My identity, who I am by virtue of my baptism, is a son of God, everything else about me is secondary at best!

Another problem is a genuine failure to respect the person of Tyler Clementi by his friends. The recording and posting of his intimate encounter does not seem to be motivated by anti-gay bias, like, say, the murder of Matthew Shepherd. Rather, their failure to respect their friend arises from a diminishing recognition of the right we all have to privacy. Another person's sex life, even their sexual orientation, is none of my business, unless they choose to share something with me as a friend, or as a pastoral minister. If somebody tells me they are sexually exploiting another, or being sexually exploited by another, especially a minor, I am required to report them to the appropriate authorities. In all instances I have to draw clear boundaries and to act responsibly, that is, ethically. In other words, I don't need to know everything, I don't want to know everything, especially when it comes to relations between consenting adults.

Fr. Martin ends his post with a beautiful prayer. I won't post the whole thing because I want you to read his post, but it begins:

"Loving God, you made me who I am. I praise you and I love you, for I am wonderfully made, in your own image.

"But when people make fun of me, I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed. So please God, help me remember my own goodness, which lies in you. Help me remember my dignity, which you gave me when I was conceived. Help me remember that I can live a life of love, because you created my heart."

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam


  1. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and compassion, Deacon.

  2. I wish I'd read this earlier in the week. Thanks as always!