Aaron Harburg

Top 18 Ways Conservative Catholics Have Failed At Loving Gays

I regret that I have to preface this, but I’m not just talking about secular gays. I’m talking about gay men, like myself, who accept Church teaching and struggle to uphold it.

1. Trying to Use Social Media to Win Arguments About Gay Marriage & Sexuality


“I changed my opinion on gay marriage and sexuality because of someone’s Facebook status” said nobody, ever. Granted, I’m being a bit of a hypocrite considering this will be pushed to Facebook. In my defense it’s worth acknowledging that this is one of several long-ass articles with lots of references you probably won’t click on. Also, I’m writing a book on this stuff. Do I expect you to change your mind from this one article? No. Do I hope you’ll think about what I’m saying? Yes. Do I hope you’ll engage in some sort of dialogue with me? Yes. Do I expect trolls? Yes. Are you a troll? Choose your own adventure. The world has yet to adjust to these new technologies, I’m not denying their power, but for conservatives they should be aware they’re likely just to be defriended by their liberal friends for being “that guy” (http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/03/12/main-findings-10/).

2. Being Intentionally Inflammatory


Are people too easily offended? Perhaps. Is the way to fix that by being more offensive? No. Anger is not the emotion you want people to feel if you want to reason with them. Aquinas says it strips us of reason (http://newadvent.org/summa/2048.htm#article3) and unfortunately will spread like a virus (https://youtu.be/rE3j_RHkqJc [NB: I don’t agree with his anthropology, but he has good points]). If your intention is to convince someone of your position through reason, this is not a great way to start. Even if you don’t INTEND to piss someone off, you should be aware if it does. For some inexplicable reason, some people seem to think being a Catholic Rush Limbaugh is a good way to go. Referring to gay people as “sodomites” is generally a bad call. Yet, this seems to be gaining in popularity among some segments. The art of good rhetoric necessarily involves pathos, which as an appeal to emotion. If you’re emotionally untuned, it’s best you learn how to interact socially before you try to make an argument. You can bitch about how we should all be like robots only relying on logic, but unfortunately life does not allow us to depend strictly on demonstration to first principles or even dialectic. If you’re one of those people who believes we should only rely on logic and you don’t know the distinction between those two, you’ve got some Aristotle to catch up on.

3. Psychologizing Homosexuality


While reparative therapy is much less in vogue those who still ascribe to it often rely upon a Freudian framework. It’s a bit ironic considering the fact that it was the same 19th century psychiatric theories that ultimately lead to the normalization and acceptance of homosexuality. One of the more egregious manifestations of this pathologizing is the constant mentioning of how gays tend to suffer from more mental disorders and be more promiscuous (which is actually not true http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/gay-sex-vs-straight-sex/ ). As if somehow whatever makes one gay causes these things. I have heard conservatives scoff at the idea that maybe the higher incidence of depression is due to suffering from the effects of homophobia.

4. Reducing Gayness to Sodomy


For most Christians, when they hear the word “gay” they probably think “perverse temptation to sodomy.” This is a really sad state of affairs. It reduces the complexity of human attraction and relationships to only one aspect. When I hear the word “straight” I don’t think “inclined to lust after women.” When secular folks here the word gay they hear “someone who loves men.” If you’re able to accept that not all eros (amor in Latin) is necessarily sexual or demands sexual complementarity then let me offer you an alternate definition to the word “gay” lifted from the book I’m writing. Gay: An unchosen habit disposing the appetites and passions to have predominant, if not exclusive amor (eros) for people of the same sex.  Now this can and does manifest sexually, but not necessarily and it would be a mistake to reduce any romantic relationship to what happens in the bedroom. Not all sodomites are gay, not all gays are sodomites.

5. Insisting on “SSA”


I’m not convinced having an acronym makes anything clearer. Furthermore, Same Sex Attraction (SSA) makes the same mistake I just mentioned. It lumps ALL attraction into one category and reduces them to aspects which are distinctly considered sinful. Gay people are then encouraged to say “I have SSA, I’m not gay” which is stupid for what should be obvious reasons. Evidently this is not obvious to everyone so let me make it clear, when I say I’m an American, that does not mean I believe in my particular or general essence I’m a citizen of this country. Nor does it mean I agree with what others who claim the same identity do. To insist that’s what I mean when I say “I’m gay” is to impose your own prejudices on what I’m saying, insist on a strange literalism, and fail at common sense.

6. Denying Difference


I’m of the opinion that whatever causes gayness has other effects that are responsible for much of the gender bending and flamboyance you’ll see in gay stereotypes. There is quite a bit of diversity in the subcultures termed “gay” (which for the record do not all match the “lifestyle” conservatives have made up). Being gay introduces an alternative psychology that I can best describe as being a hybrid of male and female. If you spend an extended period of time with only people of a different sex than yourself, at a certain point you’ll begin craving the company of your own sex. Likewise, there’s something about being gay, which isn’t reducible to our attractions, that produces the same yearning. It produces an instantaneous connection with other gay guys and a desire to be with them. Many straight men attempt to minimize this difference, in a somewhat compassionate and admirable way by trying to make me feel like “one of the bros.” When things don’t jive right I blame myself or get blamed for overemphasizing differences or even fabricating them. It’s not made up. Trust me. It doesn’t help me to pathologize or moralize it. It’s best to acknowledge it, accept it, and move on. Occasionally a gay person may develop the habit of bringing up the fact that they’re gay more than is necessary and in a provocative way. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this at times. This isn’t just a need for attention, more often than not it’s a way of acknowledging the sorrow and frustration I have at feeling out of sync with everyone. Cut us some slack.

7. Saying We “Over Identify”


Every day I have to confront the fact that I’m gay. If you’re straight, you don’t. If I think about it a lot it’s because I’ve been told on countless occasions these inclinations in me are one of the biggest destroyers of society. When I realize maybe things are a bit more nuanced and begin to find solidarity with people who share my experience while not necessarily my beliefs, that does not put my beliefs in jeopardy. It makes me a human being. The fact I use the same language as them means I speak the same language as them. Unless you’re going to pervert an obscure passage from St. Teresa Avila on why this could be bad, we should note the Catechism uses “homosexuality” which originated in secular circles. I’m gay, that means what I defined above.

8. Believing in a “Gay Lifestyle”



There’s no such thing. Just as there’s no such thing as a “straight lifestyle.” Sure, there are gay bars, clubs, etc… These are products of a consumerist culture appealing to the basest aspect of our appetites. However, I don’t go to a club or bar and then make judgements about the sexual orientation of all straight people on that basis. Nor do I look to Playboy to define straight sexuality. Are there promiscuous gays? Sure. Just as there are promiscuous straights. I resent that one segment of the gay population has come to define it for the rest in the minds of straight people. Perhaps some gay people are partially to blame, but that doesn’t justify using this expression. Then again, Christians haven’t done a great job of providing a safe space for them to create alternate gay subcultures so the fact that most of them are visibly secular is just as much if not more so an indictment of Christendom.

9. Unethical Speculation


When I say I’m gay, all of a sudden many Christians become intensely curious about my sex life. It becomes a valid topic for discussion.  I’ve faced constant encouragement from Christians to make other Christians feel more comfortable by adding modifiers to it such as “celibate” or “chaste.” Neither of which are true in my case, owing to my human weakness. This brings further shame to me because I then have to come up with some cumbersome description to reassure people they don’t need to tell me what I’m doing is wrong. Meanwhile, if you’re straight I don’t start thinking “I hope he’s not fornicating” or “I hope she’s not committing adultery.” IT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS. Learning someone’s sexual orientation does not give you permission to speculate about their sex life or even their beliefs on sexuality. You’ll have to excuse me for not giving a shit about whether or not it makes you comfortable when much of my life many of you contributed to my feeling shame and self-loathing.

10. Double Standards


In another article I discussed compliance with sin. Many Christians and Catholics have a way over-sensitive conscience when it comes to this issue. The net result is an astounding hypocrisy. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard homilies decrying the “attack on the family” by gay activists meanwhile remaining silent on divorce and contraceptives, much less suburbia. If you’re a bakery and are asked to make a wedding cake for a straight couple, and you don’t believe in divorce, do you ask them if they’ve been divorced and remarried? Do you refuse service to a Jew celebrating their Bat-Mitzvah because it is encouraging a religion you don’t believe in? If not, you probably have no business refusing to serve a gay couple. If anything it’s masking prejudice in principles.

11. Encouraging Silence & Closets


Perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum is when Catholics, pastors in particular, encourage the “keep it secret, keep it safe” attitude. In essence the belief is that it’s best to suffer in silence through this. More often than not it is out of a fear of how one’s reputation could affect one’s future. This has the effect of enabling an alarming number of gay men to enter religious communities and seminaries. The Church has been very clear about having persons with proclivities to sodomy in these institutions. Encouraging this attitude is simply another form of subversion. Also, the Church should be the safest place to come out and yet when I have encountered people who basically say “we don’t want to hear about it.” I cannot emphasize enough how toxic this is. If you want people to live a chaste life encouraging them to wear masks and keep secrets in isolation is a horrible way to go. Multiply that exponentially if they have succeeded in getting ordained.

12. Personal Inquisitions


This has hurt me and infuriated me quite a bit. The moment I stopped conforming to the in vogue terminology among heterosexual-white-middle-class-conservative-Catholic-land I became subject to inquisitions. People, close to me and total strangers, have taken it upon themselves to directly challenge my orthodoxy. I even had someone try to bring in a member of the hierarchy to determine my orthodoxy (in that particular instance, unbenounced to my inquisitors, the particular bishop was already well aware of my activities and stances). Does this not seem inappropriate? Let’s assume that I have departed from orthodoxy, what do you hope to accomplish by launching this inquisition? To get me to change my mind? Is this really the best way to do that? Does that really demonstrate charity or are you just trying to prove a point? Occasionally I have encountered someone who simply wanted clarification and it is refreshing to see how they ask about it as compared to someone who really is acting like some sort of thought-police. I suppose I should be more compassionate since there are a number of Catholics who probably feel some sense of duty to make sure I’m on the “straight and narrow.” This I believe is a misplaced sense of responsibility arising from a fragmented society blurring the lines of true responsibility combined with consciences formed by Kantian categorical imperatives. So let me make it clear: You are not complicit in sin for staying silent with those you are not in authority over or you do not have consistent intimacy with. Even there, prudence is required if and how you speak up.

13. Claiming Victimhood


I’m not going to justify everything every gay person has ever said to someone who disagrees with them. However, last I checked no one has died because they opposed gay marriage. In the United States (don’t get me started on Russia and Nigeria) gay people are still FAR more likely to suffer violence than virtually any other minority group (http://goo.gl/J4bDZn ). Lest you think the gaypocalypse of anti-christian persecution is coming because some bakeries or pizza houses suffered financial damage, let me tell you right now that’s no comparison to being beaten to death for something you can’t control. Do you really think a homophobic redneck is going to care if I say “but I try to be celibate” as he’s grabbing his crowbar to express his masculine insecurities and frustration with our country? Oh and for the record, that recent bakery case is not as clean cut as you might think. cf: http://goo.gl/5Y9b3e Also, whatever happened to “blessed are you when you are persecuted” (Mt.5)?

14. Over-Exalting Marriage


One of the more bizarre ways of dealing with how marriage has been redefined is by over-exalting it. Too bad marriage is an inferior state to celibacy, regardless of whether there is a vow (Council of Trent, Session 22 Canon 10). However, rather than encouraging communities to support asceticism and singleness, as St. Paul did, now it’s in vogue to criticize singleness (I can only speculate why “Catholic Match” could possibly be motivated to join in this refrain http://www.catholicmatch.com/institute/?p=29346 ). The theology of the body crowd has gotten so hot and bothered over “nuptial significance” they’ve become blind to the traditional understanding of the sacrament. This couldn’t possibly set people up for disappointment when they get married. It certainly couldn’t contribute to feelings of isolation for those who don’t. Especially since we all know marriage has reached its apex in suburban America.

15. Using Catholic Gays


When I came out more publicly, I did so by giving a protracted talk on the issue of homosexuality. I went through great pains to ensure that it was palatable to conservatives. I was exalted as a hero, as have other outspoken Catholics. I know many others who are lauded as being “examples” etc… Great for my ego, but guess what, it actually makes things worse. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to live up to those kind of expectations. In large part because it only goes so far. As soon as you divert from the constant verbal self-flagellation and impossible battle of trying to conform to heteronormative standards you get treated like a pariah. God forbid you’re unchaste! What scandal! Then there are times people use me as cannon fodder in the culture war. As if somehow by knowing a gay Catholic gives them permission to lambast their acquaintances for choosing a life I wish I could lead. A life I sacrifice so I can identify with these assholes? It’s good thing I try to be chaste for Christ and not for Catholics.

16. Hiding Homophobia


One of the more difficult realities about prejudice is recognizing it in ourselves. It’s funny how often I encounter people claiming they want to love gays then within a few hours make a homophobic joke. Among Christian guys it still seems to be the last acceptable punching bag. I cannot believe how uncomfortable some guys get when they learn I’m gay, as if I’m automatically attracted to them. I just want to say “don’t flatter yourself.” Now I know I’m being a hypocrite to a certain degree by mocking Catholics, however there’s a difference between a Catholic mocking Catholics and a straight guy mocking gay guys.

17. Lack of Empathy


In my experience, Catholics are more interested in making sure I don’t have sex with men, and know that sodomy is an abomination, than relieving the loneliness and isolation that leads to it. I have found most are more ready to fight my use of the word “gay” as an affront to their delicate linguistic abstractions than listen to the story of how I came to identify that way. You cannot love someone unless you know them. Catholics and especially so-called “evangelical Catholics” have consistently shown themselves more ready to regurgitate their understanding of biblical morality as culture warriors than as companions to suffering. We’re talking about the basics of good listening here. This is one of the biggest reasons gays feel hated. Christians rarely show interest in how they experience the world. They’re always ready with some neatly packaged answer rather than acknowledging the messiness and ambiguity of lived experience.

18. Distorted Priorities


There are major ways Catholics have failed in the last 50+ years. This failure more generally has had its effects on gays in a particularly acute way. It will be difficult at first to see the connection, but once you do you won’t unsee it. In short, we have completely distorted priorities. After the more general I’ll address some particular instances where this is more obvious.

Liturgy is Central

Our first and foremost priority should be the restoration of Traditional Liturgy. For western Latin Catholics, that means the Traditional Latin Mass or the Extraordinary Form. Noticing that I’m a liturgy queen, you might be ready to dismiss my argument as a manifestation of bias (never mind that’s just ad hominem) . In short here’s how Christendom was built, by putting the priority on the Liturgy. Art, culture, community, and commerce were literally built around it. In many medieval towns churches are at the center. These centuries-old artifices are beautiful feats of architecture that put our decorated boxes to shame. The marketplace would take place around the Church.


John Senior, Christopher Dawson, Aiden Nicohls, and others have all pointed out how if you lose this as the center, economic forces sweep in to bring about spiritual decay. With the advent of industrialism and corporate interests the economic structures that supported an artisan culture are all but gone. Other systems of determining value, namely relationships and religion, have been replaced by economic determinations of worth. Enlightenment rationalism obsessing over arrogantly quantify everything made it easy to value human beings in financial terms. The tragedy is how we have bought in. We consume culture like everyone else. This is in spite of the fact that FAR more is available to us than the medievals could possibly have dreamed of.

Regardless, the Liturgy is the first order of justice before God. If you’re afraid that gays are corrupting children but then let your kid receive communion on the hand (a practice that would have been considered sacrilege for the vast majority of Christian history) at a liturgy with an army of EMHC’s, where there is no Latin or Chant, then you have mixed up priorities. How can you expect any sort of moral formation unless formed by tradition and in the right order? How can you expect justice among men when you do not worship God the way He has taught us through tradition? The liturgy is not a tool for evangelism. It is not something you use for your “personal relationship” (whatever that means) according to your preferences. It’s not there for you to feel good about yourself or motivate you. It is there to give glory to Glory to God, give Him thanks for His benefits, make atonement for sins, and petition for the grace to live a virtuous life.


Without a liturgical center it is difficult to form community. Community isn’t some tenuous association of people in a similar socio-economic status with congruent preferences. It is an earthy physical proximity due to having a religious center, namely the Church. Virtually every ancient society was built around the worship of the divine. Community requires physical proximity to allow for spontaneous creativity. To enable the arts to be practiced when the inspiration strikes. Arts inspired by sacred rites sanctifying the mundane and providing a perpetual sense of the transcendent through symbols.

With all of this talk about the “new evangelization” (whatever that means) I’ve always been somewhat irritated because WHAT ARE WE EVANGELIZING PEOPLE TO? A social club where we listen to bad folk music out of a sense of obligation? A liturgy devoid of the sacred? A “faith community” that is spread apart by hundreds of miles? If we are known by our love then I’m beginning to wonder what’s to be known? Christianity is not simply a verbal or intellectual assent to a proposition, it’s a way of life lived in a community through the centuries. It starts and ends with the liturgy.

Liturgy Aside

Let’s say you’re not convinced worshiping God is the most important thing or even that a more human mode of life in community is worth giving more attention to than political campaigns. What about the homeless? Almost half of homeless youth are LGBTQ. (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/07/12/515641/study-40-percent-of-homeless-youth-are-lgbt-family-rejection-is-leading-cause/ ) Why? Because of familial rejection. Guess how much was spent in the fight for Prop 8 alone? Close to $40 Million dollars (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-moneymap-htmlstory.html ). I should note here that those in support of gay marriage spent more. Shame on them. However, shame on us who know where Christ is.


Let’s talk about abortion. If we made it easier for gay people to adopt they may not feel the need to pursue surrogacies and other unnatural forms of conception. You want to end abortion? Stop wasting time on fighting gay marriage. Gays only make up 2-4% of the population! Stop spending so much time decrying how people sin. Has any gay person ever wondered what the Catholic Church has taught? I’ve not met a SINGLE ONE. However, instead of supporting beautiful liturgies, building community, creating culture, we’re bitching about a democratic secular state for doing something democracy supports. But what if we lose our rights? Big deal. Christ PROMISED we would be persecuted. He said to REJOICE. Instead we’re complaining about tax exemptions and lawsuits.

I know what it is like to physically suffer for my faith. I would gladly trade that for the spiritual and psychological abuse done from the arrogance, short-sightedness, close-minded, uncharitable, unimaginative, self-righteous rhetoric and neglect of those who claim the same religion. Are we ready for what’s coming? Probably not because we have been distracted by meaningless “culture wars.” Gays who are trying to be faithful ultimately become the casualties. These men and women, who could be the Churches greatest allies have been made into her greatest enemies. No one should be surprised.

If you’re Catholic and want to learn how to talk to gays read this next:


If you’re a secular LGBTQ person and want to learn how to talk to Catholics, read this:


Maybe some day I’ll publish my thoughts on gays getting married.