Aaron Harburg

How to talk to gays if you’re Catholic

In previous posts I indicated that there is a certain lack of tact displayed by many on the right. This of course goes both ways and both sides are quick to point out, dismissively, how the other side is being intolerant and hateful. It seems to me both sides are more interested in proving a point rather than understanding. Hence, if you find yourself discussing the issue of gay marriage or the morality of homosexual acts with someone who is gay and disagrees with you there are a few pointers I’d like to give.

First, listen. Actually listen. Don’t listen to find things to throw back at them. It is very possible the language they employee is different from your own. Restate back to them how you understand what they said before giving any response of your own. Above all acknowledge how they feel.

Second, accept. Acceptance is not agreement. It is simply acknowledging that this is how things are. It gives permission for the other person to decide for themselves who they want to be. Even if you think that decision is ultimately harmful or evil, you must accept it. Evil exists in the world and being shocked by it is a sign of immaturity. If anything, we should be surprised that good exists. This acceptance is essential to really being able to see past the label and into the individual. You may need to learn to accept yourself first. For most Catholics, the reason this is so difficult is because they do not want to be complicit in sin. The devil loves to ramp up this anxiety such that you are more afraid of encouraging impurity than pursuing the more basic elements of Charity. Prudence is a virtue that determines when, where, and how it is right to perform the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner.” If it is not done prudently, it is more like to end with just calling people sinners which in turn leads them to sin in reaction to you.

Third, see them as persons rather than projects. Ideally you will not be engaging in this topic with a total stranger. I don’t really see the point in trying to do so if you are. Regardless of the context, try to get to know them as persons. You may have something in common with them. Finding something you both love and appreciate together can help diffuse the inevitable tensions. If you claim to “love the sinner, but hate the sin,” yet don’t know anything about the people you’re claiming to love then all you’re doing is hating their sin. Love necessitates knowledge of the beloved. You cannot love what you do not know, accept, and understand. Along those lines, if all you can see in a gay relationship is sin, then you’re closed to the good that is there. Gay relationships are more than what they do in the bedroom and your obsessing about it isn’t going to help.

Fourth, try not to get offended. There are two parts to this. First, a lot of gay persons, myself included, feel an intense anger at what we perceive to be agents of an oppressive system. If we lash out, it’s probably not personal. We can lash out in anger or in an attempt to shock and scandalize. I’m not justifying it or excusing it, but I do ask for your patience. As gay people we are constantly expected to be patient with the straight world we live in, which is exhausting. We ask for just a fraction in return. The second part deals with the content of ideas. If the person you are talking to is not Christian, it is very likely they will not respect the Scriptures, Tradition, Catechism, or Church teachings, don’t be surprised if they are dismissive.

Fifth, as a policy you should spend more time praying for your own soul than anyone elses. Additionally, if you spend time praying for someone else’s soul, that should exceed the time you spend talking to them about it.

Finally, if you happen to be in discussion with a LGBTQ person about these topics, as a real friend, then I would like to challenge you to do it only Socratically. Socrates asked questions to do two things. First, to demonstrate to the interrogee the error of their position and second, to lead them to knowledge of the true position. This is extremely difficult. In addition to patience, it requires learning how to avoid making assertions without having them thoroughly backed up and presented in the context of a broader question. Nevertheless, it is better to have someone walk away questioning their own beliefs than thinking they understand yours.