Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Truth and tolerance tested by Jason Collins' coming out

Every few weeks in our collective "Western" culture our incoherence level is ratcheted up just a little more. It seems we can't make up our minds about anything. For example, when it comes to work, does being homosexual matter or does it not? On the one hand, we're told it doesn't matter, or shouldn't matter. Then, we're told it matters hugely and that we all need to embrace the inherent goodness of homosexuality, or risk be labeled bigots who are no different than members of various Southern police forces and sheriffs' departments who turned the fire hoses and sicced dogs on civil rights demonstrators. If you don't believe me, just look at the indignity visited upon the Archbishop of Brussels (WARNING: the link features nudity), Andre-Joseph Leonard, while he was participating in a debate about blasphemy laws at the ULB University in Brussels. He was doused with water from plastic bottles in the shape of the Blessed Virgin Mary by topless female protesters who had things like, "ANUS DEi is COMiNG," scrawled on their bodies. As the attack occurred, one topless member of the group held a banner over her head that read "STOP HOMOPHOBIA."

Even recognizing that the dynamics of male and female homosexuality are different, I have no trouble accepting the fact that for many, probably even for most people who identify as being homosexual their sexual orientation is not a choice. With the Catholic Church I maintain that being homosexual is not likely biologically, or genetically, based, but arises largely from environmental and developmental psychological factors. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (par. 2357). In very next section we are taught that men and women who are homosexual "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and that "unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (par. 2358).

In a 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, communicated the following: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law."

At long last this brings me to yesterday's public announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he is homosexual. Personally, I have do not problem with a professional athlete being homosexual, even as I hold the view that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and, as such, immoral, whereas, for the many who do not choose it, simply being homosexual is not sinful. Generally speaking I believe that in the vast majority of workplaces a person's sex life and sexual proclivities are personal matters, meaning matters about which one is not asked and that one does not normally discuss. Across-the-board I think we speak about what ought to be private far too much and in more detail than we really should, often with no sense of discretion.

Archbishop Leonard reverencing one of the water bottles, shaped like the Blessed Virgin, with which he was doused

Collins' announcement creates an interesting set of circumstances for people in the sports world, athletes and journalists alike, as well as others who hold the views I hold concerning homosexuality and even for some who do not. Recently signed Miami Dolphins wide-receiver Mike Wallace has been heavily criticized and denounced as being grossly ignorant for tweeting in the wake of Collins' announcement that he simply does not understand a man being sexually attracted to other men, even while explicitly stating that he was not making a moral judgment.

ESPN commentator Chris Broussard, who was asked on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" by his friend and fellow ESPN commentator L.Z. Granderson, who happens to be homosexual, what he thought about Collins' announcement. Among the things Broussard said was this:
I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. L.Z. knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.
During the same appearance Broussard also said that he thought players who shared his view wouldn't say anything "because of political correctness." As a result, ESPN issued an apology for Broussard's comments. Since then he has been repeatedly and persistently lambasted and denounced as a "homophobe." At no point did Broussard state that he thought Collins should not continue to play in the NBA. In fact, in the course of his appearance he said, "Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names." Nonetheless the name-calling, denunciations, and calls for Broussard's firing continue unabated all for daring to express a dissenting view. In my view, the best working definition of tolerance is agreeing to disagree in an agreeable manner.

At beginning of March former Major League pitcher Mark Knudson experienced a backlash for suggesting that a homosexual athlete will probably, at some point, be attracted to certain straight teammates and that this would likely make some of those teammates uncomfortable. He did not assert that a teammate who is homosexual will inevitably be attracted all his teammates, but to some and that such an unwanted attraction could possibly create an unhealthy dynamic on the team. This was part of Knudson's expressed opinion that athletes who are gay are better off not coming out. He was nonetheless lambasted for his opinion about a workplace in which co-workers routinely undress and shower in front of each other.

On a side note, Jason's twin brother Jarron was drafted in the second round by the Utah Jazz and played here in Utah for eight years. Though not Catholic himself, Jarron would attend Mass with his wife at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I serve, fairly often. When he did he would usually come up during communion for a blessing. He was kind enough to always bow down low enough so that I didn't have to stand on tip-toe to bless him. I always thought that was cool. One time driving down I-15 I passed Jarron, recognized him, and waved. In very friendly way, he waved right back while smiling. In my always very brief encounters with him and his wife, they struck me as being very nice. It seems to me that so is Jason, whom I have never met. But then the issues these kinds of announcements raise are not about the "niceness" or the "meanness" of the person making them. It gets back to the maturity alluded to by Chris Broussard.

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