A Personal Reflection on the Implications of Generational Dynamics

This past weekend I had the enjoyable opportunity to be able to just hang out and spend some time with one of my best friends. During the course of the evening she invited over a guy who she had just recently met. Just for the sake of context, it should be noted that he was a straight guy.

Flash back almost two and a half years from today. I had just come out, and I still attended a deeply conservative high school that was maintained by and affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (keep in mind, I want to make it clear that in no way do I want to give the impression that I’m bashing my former middle and high school, although I may disagree intensely with many of their social and theological interpretations of the human experience I received a wonderful, solid, comprehensive, and thoroughly enriching Christian education there which I shall cherish for the rest of my life, as well as meeting most of the people who I would probably consider to be some of my best friends). Consequently, the majority of my peers who attended the school were consistently conservative in their political as well as their social beliefs.

Even before I formally came out, and although most of my inner circle of friends knew already, I made it a point to wait until after graduation to do it officially. I was on several memorable occasions mocked and teased because of my notable, slightly flamboyant personality; which I never really made any attempts to hide because it’s just a futile effort, why hide who you are? Basically, the premise behind all of these jabs at me was that I must be and obviously was gay because I didn’t act or conduct myself in the stereotypical way that the rest of my male classmates happened to. Essentially, it seemed that these guys, as is the case with a significant portion of heterosexual men, feel very threatened by the inherent notion and subsequent implications of homosexuality; namely, that being attracted to other men or in any way having the same mannerisms or characteristics of women, when it comes to being attracted to persons of the same-sex, severely weakens and subliminally destroys what it means to be a real man.

Because of this somewhat grim, hostile, and intimidating reality, for quite a long period of time, even though I had affirmed and embraced my own sexuality, I was always a little wary and fearful of how other straight guys would react to it. Naturally, because in my high school there weren’t really any openly gay members of the student body, anyone who dared to be so blatant about their sexual orientation would no doubt be confronted with instant condemnation, ridicule, and exclusion. So, for a very long time I was always uncertain about opening up to straight guys who I happened to meet or encounter when it came to expounding upon and explaining this facet of my personal life.

However, once I graduated high school in 2008 I became aware of a remarkably different and more tolerant attitude when it came to individuals my own age. This was certainly one of the most encouraging and meaningful wafts of fresh air that I have been exposed to in my lifetime. Once, outside of my high school; which had served as the cocoon in which I carried out my existence for such a significant portion of my childhood, I gradually became aware of an alternative prevalent attitude of tolerance, acceptance, and respect when it came to people of my own age addressing and contemplating issues regarding human sexuality. I was astounded by this reality and intensely strengthened in my own personal integrity and confidence by it. After awhile, I really stopped worrying about it.

My friend, and her male friend who I made reference to in the beginning of my thoughts, once again, served to confirm that if they really are secure and comfortable with their own sexualities, lots of heterosexual men my age don’t really feel threatened or disgusted by other men who happen to be attracted to other guys. When this really nice guy responded to me with such respect, tolerance, and dignity I was once again confirmed in the hope that my current generation will lead the fray courageously into this era’s defining civil rights struggle; namely, the recognition and respect of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in sexual orientation and the protection and guarantee of their equal civil rights under the law.

Although it may seem irrelevant, last year’s season of American Idol provides an optimistic example of how my generation will hopefully be leading the call to action in recognizing and defending the rights and inherent dignity of all persons who live in this nation, regardless of sexual identity or manner of expression.  

Kris Allen and Adam Lambert are probably one of the most memorable and intense top two finalists from the beloved television program. Kris was the adorable, proud Christian, soulful crooner who naturally captivated the hearts of a large contingent of our nations viewers. Adam on the other hand, was the flamboyant, provocative, rocker personality who confidently sported “guy liner” in almost all of his performances. He too had a signifigant following and presented a unique alternative to Kris’s obvious cookie cutter, good ol’ boy persona. Despite these striking, almost  irreconcilable differences between the two contestants, especially when it came to their style of performance and lived background, the guys developed a strong and enduring friendship, almost a brotherly affection (“bromance” is probably the most appropriate applicable description of their relationship) for one another aside from the fact of the stark contrasts of their system of values and realms of existence. Even after the competition was over and despite its outcome (which was personally, a very discouraging blow to me, even though Kris is so incredibly attractive I did not think that he was more qualified in persona or musical ability to deserve to be the winner of the competition, especially so close to the aftermath of Proposition 8 this was obvious proof that America is prepared to tolerate LGBT individuals but unfortunately is not quite yet ready to accept, embrace, and acknowledge them with complete dignity and enthusiasm) the two remain the best of friends. This was most inspiring to me considering Kris’s Bible Belt origins and his staunchly Christian beliefs. Still, he continues to embrace Adam as a genuine, valued friend with respect and esteem. Most notably, not once has he ever even raised Adam’s sexuality as being an issue of defining importance in their friendship. It seems that as a heterosexual male, Kris sees that we human beings are not essentially defined by who we are attracted to sexually, but rather by the “integrity and strength of our character” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have put it.

Sadly, this trend of tolerance, reasoned consideration, and acceptance has not been nearly as prevalent within the Catholic Church. The late, Ven. John Paul II, who as universal Pastor of the Church led the People of God for nearly three decades, had a profound impact on this unfortunate reality. His extremely heroic and unique example of personal holiness was indeed an inspiration for the entire universal Church and the whole world for that matter. For this alone he will probably be remembered by most, deservedly, as a passionate Pastor of the Church who exhorted all individuals to open their hearts and minds to the gracious and all-consoloing love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

However, the late John Paul II continued to cling to archaic and unfounded conceptions and interpretations of human sexuality, which instead of emphasizing the apparent goodness and benevolence of the Creator, almost put limits, in a sense, on God’s creative genius. His much acclaimed Theology of the Body simply dressed up, reaffirmed, and made more personable and receptive traditional and rigid definitions which had characterized questions of human sexuality within Christendom for centuries. Despite scientific and psychological evidence to the contrary, Pope John Paul continued to insist that a homosexual orientation was a “disordered condition” which if acted upon, would put the participant in these activities in the condition of mortal sin. He continued to defend the official Magisterium’s opposition to the ordination of women in any faculty, claiming that women are insufficient instruments, incapable of representing Christ in a genuine manner during the celebration of the Eucharist, simply because of the gender they had been given by God. His successor, Pope Benedict, has continued to preserve these banal interpretations.

As a consequence of these very similar pontificates, episcopal appointments by the Pope are usually not made on the basis of competence and personal integrity and responsibility, but rather on the extent of adhering firmly to all of these highly contentious issues, which the Vatican has declared closed for discussion. Thus, in distinct comparison to the secular social realities of our world, the leadership of the Church has become increasingly more polarized and regressive-thinking. Because John Paul II is seen as such a hero of the youth, which is particularly understandable and not noted without cause, all of his convictions (especially on issues that have been declared “closed” for discussion) which he espoused are embraced as being beneficial and integral to the growth and vitality of the Church throughout the world.

Pope John Paul’s and Pope Benedict’s understandings of these issues are largely based on the time in which they came, during which they could not even consider thinking about, much less discussing, the ramifications that all of these questions would have theologically and philosophically upon the Church and the world at large. Yet, it is indeed regrettable to think that where in the civic sphere, my generation is a profound proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and equality for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, that the same trend could and probably is reversed due to Pope John Paul’s views on sexuality, which have been implied as being “infallible.”

Therefore, I can confidently say that if the question of marriage equality and establishment and expansion of  the full array of civil rights that all citizens of this country, regardless of sexual orientation (which would include the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell)  deserve and should be able to enjoy, was put before a Congress for a vote in which all elected members were under the age of 50, discrimination nationwide would probably, finally be definitively eliminated. The effort surprisingly could even include a large majority of individuals who identified as political “conservatives.” I’ve noticed that even among individuals my own age who define themselves as either members of the Republican Party or Libertarian that they do not consider sexual and social issues to be the defining values of conservatism, but instead the promotion and defense of fiscal and personal responsibility.

Unfortunately, the exact phenomenon would probably occur within the Church if this question was allowed to be seriously considered and questioned among the leadership of the Church.

However, I still think that there is reason to maintain hope for the future. Christ is our Hope and shall always remain with and protect His Church. Just as Kris Allen and my bff’s new friend illustrated, a new principle is being exercised and formed by our generation when confronting these very special and controversal questions of human sexuality. When meeting anyone the First Letter of St. John, which we have been hearing significant portions of during the Christmas season, reminds all Christians that, “Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them… Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3: 14-15, 18).

If all the leaders of the Church, young and old alike, would meditate upon and embody these sentiments perhaps a new Pentecost, inaugurated and driven by the Holy Spirit, might be able to be experienced by the People of God. I still remain firm in the hope that eventually the Church as well as our world will gradually open itself to the entire myriad of possibilities that are privileges and hallmarks of the diversity and beauty with which the Lord has endowed all of His creatures with. Hope is an inextinguishable virtue. In the same manner but in a much more profound and beautiful way Love can never be extinguished, and in the end, as it has been in the beginning and shall be so forever, Love shall always prevail and never be defeated!

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About Phillip Clark

Phillip Clark is a paralegal student in Baltimore, Maryland and contributing author to “Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics.” Interests include politics, theology, civil/human rights, social justice, LGBT rights, international relations, and history.

9 thoughts on “A Personal Reflection on the Implications of Generational Dynamics

  1. A well-articulated post, Phillip. Kudos to the friend-of-a-friend who was comfortable enough with himself to treat you with respect, tolerance, and dignity.
    I seriously doubt, though, that the Church leadership would come to a different mind on the matter of homosexual marriage if the issue was allowed to be “seriously considered and questioned” among them. In fact, right or wrong, the Church leadership has seriously considered the issue; in other words, it seems to me that you may be seriously underestimating the sophistication of the Church’s arguments. A dead-giveaway is the connection that you make between the teaching of the modern Popes and bigotry/motivations of mere emotional import. Right or wrong, the Popes and their defenders have real arguments that can’t be reduced to old-fashioned sentiments and bigotry, and one cannot write them off so easily as being “archaic and unfounded.” If the Church taught that bigotry and unjust discrimination towards homosexuals was o.k., then you could write them off easily. But as you know, they exclude it.
    Then there is the science and psychology issue you mentioned in passing: the scientific community has no such consensus. In fact, the APA recently revised their literature on the subject to reflect that fact more accurately.
    I trust that you realize that I am posting this response without any disrespect for your person, nor judgment of your conscience. I simply offer these comments because I believe them true, and I believe that respectful discussion on matters of truth is not only compatible with charity – but charity demands it.
    Have you ever read John Heard over at the blog Dreadnought? Perhaps you have, and have already formed an opinion of him. If not, I would recommend his blog to you. He’s a very intelligent, articulate, self-professed “gay Catholic” who defends the Church teaching on the matter. And his perspective is actually quite unique even among other defenders of Church teaching. Here is the link: http://johnheard.blogspot.com/
    God bless you!

    • I think it’s fair to say that the Church hierarchy has not seriously considered the question of homosexuality nor has it reviewed its teaching. There has never been a council that has really debated this facet of human sexuality. As such, the teaching has never been refined, and is certainly not dogmatic.

      You do mention that it would be easy to dismiss the Church’s teaching on homosexuality if the Church promoted bigotry. While the Catechism urges the treatment of those “with homosexual inclinations” with dignity and respect, widespread practice does not seem to follow this exhortation. Also, in the past, members of the Church have engaged in bigoted behavior, which is why Pope John Paul II issued an apology for past ill treatment of the Jews by the Church. The Spanish Inquisition is just one example of how the Church has at times been discriminatory and bigoted.

      You also mention science. While the scientific arena is not the Church’s area of expertise, nevertheless the Church condemned Galileo for promoting the idea of heliocentrism. Of course, contrary to popular opinion in the Church at the time, the Earth is not the center of the universe. Today the Church, in its wisdom, does place a burden of proof on the scientific community. The Church’s current position on science does allow for us to take new data into account. A modern example would be Pope Benedict XVI stating that the idea of evolution is not incompatible with Catholic belief. Of course, this is a far cry from a more traditional, literal interpretation of Genesis and Creationism.

      The reason I am critical of the Church’s teaching is because when viewing the full scope of the Church’s history and theology, it is easy to see that things can and do change over time as our understanding is refined. Bearing that in mind, in the pursuit of an authentic faith and a genuine desire for Truth, we cannot always consider every teaching to be simple black-and-white.

      Lastly, I did follow your link and I read a few pieces from John Heard. He has an expansive lexicon and a lyrical writing style, however I didn’t find him particularly convincing in terms of his logic. In any case, he provides an interesting perspective that would warrant a counter-point. — I believe that the book written by Dominican Gareth Moore OP, “A Question of Truth : Christianity and Homosexuality”, is a much more scholarly and theological look at the topic. I would highly recommend it.

      Pax Christi,

      Rick

      • By the way, thanks for the book recommendation. If I get a chance, I’ll take a look at it.

  2. The point of my comment about bigotry is that bigotry is not the point. The Church condemns unjust discrimination of homosexuals and exhorts all to treat them with dignity and respect. Widespread or not, anyone who fails to follow this teaching is failing to follow a teaching of the Catholic Church. And so it is not enough, in addressing Church teaching on homosexuality, to bypass the actual arguments made by the Magisterium and its defenders. As I said in the earlier comment, “the Popes and their defenders have real arguments that can’t be reduced to old-fashioned sentiments and bigotry, and one cannot write them off so easily as being “archaic and unfounded.”” The Magisterium and its defenders think that treating homosexuals with dignity and respect, and condemning certain sexual acts as immoral, are consistent with each other. As a Catholic who questions this, you need to show how they are wrong – not merely presume so. Their arguments are not throwaway arguments but have some sophistication to them (it is this sophistication that led me to say that the doctrine has been seriously considered by the hierarchy – they’ve obviously done some serious thinking about this).

    The Church does take scientific evidence into account, as you say. But of course, science cannot of itself determine Church teaching. The Church has to be really patient and conservative; for even science itself is unsure on many matters, and sometimes a scientific consensus changes after a generation or so when new data is discovered. Also, it is not always clear that a particular scientific finding actually has implications for Church teaching, even when some may want to draw them. You can’t always derive an “ought” from an “is.”
    But since the scientific community is far from having a consensus on this issue anyway, your point that the Church takes science into account is moot at this point. We would all be better served to take the arguments in favor of the Church’s teaching seriously, and seek to inform our consciences on it. If we’re caught on the feeling/idea that the teaching is bigoted and unloving, we may need to be more willing to take our Church leadership at their word and try to see things from their perspective. Charity demands we do this for everyone – all the more should we do this for those who are given authority by God for our sakes in the Church.

    I bet John Heard would have issues with your logic, as well. In all cases, though, a profound reverence for truth, setting aside one’s own personal interests, feelings, and prejudices is necessary to have any chance of honing in on the truth. And in matters of Church teaching, the burden of proof lies with those who would question it. We’re Catholic, aren’t we?

  3. From the news article: “A social psychologist testified Friday in a trial challenging California’s gay marriage ban that leading mental health associations stopped thinking of homosexuality as a mental illness decades ago.”

    At the risk of allowing our exchange to degenerate into a “tit-for-tat” (I sincerely dislike that kind of thing), I want to ask whether you are aware of the circumstances surrounding the APA’s decision to change the classification of homosexuality in 1973 [that it was a political move and based on no new data]?

    Perhaps, however, this is not the place for me to press this issue – and I sincerely apologize if I have already pushed it too far. I will just end, pushing it a bit further, by saying again: In matters of Church teaching, the burden of proof lies on those who would question it. If we don’t concede this, what kind of real meaning is there to being Catholic? And of course – the arguments given against the moral wisdom of the Church are going to have a certain plausibility about them – especially when there are personal interests and struggles involved. But our Lord Jesus has taught us that if we give up our own lives for his sake – only then will we truly find ourselves. This is the risk he calls us to make. But his love guarantees that the risk will not be made in vain. God bless you, brother.

    • I think that being truly Catholic is not determined by adhearing to a rigid, determines set of “rules” or “guidelines” that decide the authenticity of our faith; but is instead a reation to a Person, and that Person is Jesus Christ-the Savior of all mankind.

      In my mind, it seriously dilutes Jesus’ message of love and inclusivity to create, almost, a second class type of person within the Church, who is not able to express themselves fully through their sexuality because of what their orientation happens have them be attracted to.

      Homosexual orientations in my mind are simply a variation, nothing more, when it comes to the held norms of human sexuality and sexual expression. If science says that a homosexual orientation is something that has been innately conditioned since birth or very early on in a person’s life (I for one remember checking out guys rather than girls even in pre-school)-and that to try and change that orientation by any means will only prove serverely detrimental to a person psychologically as well as emotionally- it isn’t too much to ask whether this question should be considered in light of new understandings.

      So to me, I’m just asking why the leaders of the Church can’t consider responding to the question of homosexuality in a different way? Because if Catholicism is truly supposed to integrate the virtues of Faith AND Reason as Pope Benedict so often says; why can this not happen on this issue. It seems to me that in the case of sexuality, the leaders of the Church don’t want to acknowledge that in some cases it may be Reason that enlightens our Faith. This is why I think that a new, perhaps uniquely nuanced, response is required by the Church at this time as the world has begun to acknowledge that to deny a person rights based on their sexual orientation is simply inhumane. So instead of simply reiterating the fact that the condition of homosexuality is a “disorder” that cannot be acted upon, without pain of sin, why can we not ponder the question anew, in light of our current circumstances?

      Jesus Himself teaches us to question our faith as He debated and argued with the Pharisees and Saduccees of His day, even from His youth!

  4. “I think that being truly Catholic is not determined by adhering to a rigid, determined set of “rules” or “guidelines” that decide the authenticity of our faith; but is instead a reaction to a Person, and that Person is Jesus Christ-the Savior of all mankind.”

    I agree with you there, wholeheartedly! The idea that being a true Catholic consists in adhering to “rigid, determined set of rules” is a caricature of my position – a straw man. I just said that we, as Catholics, owe the Church hierarchy – at the very least – the presumption that they might know what they’re talking about in matters of faith and morals. Why? Precisely because being a true Catholic, as you say, is based on our reaction to the person of Jesus Christ. For it is our Blessed Lord himself who gave the Apostles and their successors a particular share in his authority for the sake of the Church, giving them the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is he who made Peter the Rock; it is he who said to the Apostles, “The one who hears you hears me”; it is he who revealed to us in the scriptures that we ought to listen to the teaching of the bishops, and who taught St. Ignatius of Antioch (1st century), through the Apostle John that the bishop ought to be regarded as one of the Apostles. It is because of reverence for our Lord and humility before his word that we listen to the Church.

    Faith and reason are being integrated on this issue. If you take seriously the arguments offered by the defenders of the magisterium, you’ll find that to be the case. Pondering the question anew in our current circumstances is important. But don’t be so quick to presume that our current circumstances call for a revision of the teaching. As I have been saying, there is not a scientific consensus on this yet. The political climate in favor of one particular outcome makes a consensus difficult. People tend to form their opinions on whatever studies they choose to consult.

    “Sexual expression” is a category of popular psychology, and can be difficult to reconcile with the Biblical, Christian concept of sexuality, which is always connected with marriage, and marriage always finding its great and natural fulfillment with children. Sexuality, in the Scriptures, is never something that finds its value simply in being “expressed.” “Sexual expression” is an indifferent thing, which can be bad or good, depending on the circumstances. There is no “right” to sexual expression. Of course, sexual repression is unhealthy, and quite another matter altogether. A spiritual director once told me that when sexual temptation comes, I should first affirm the basic goodness of (my) sexuality, then pray that my loins might be girded with the truth, (in other words, that I may be given the grace to be chaste in mind and action according to my vocation), and finally to think of our Blessed Mother, and ask her to intercede for me for these graces. In this practice we have the recognition that sexuality is good, but also that our sexual passions so often go astray, and we need heaven’s help to deal with them.

    Finally, no one has been made a second-class citizen in the Church. Each one of us has his or her own personal vocation, and personal sharing in the cross of Christ – because Christ died and rose for each one of us individually. Many have particularly painful crosses to bear (if I knew you better I might tell you of mine), but I believe wholeheartedly that such people have a unique possibility of witnessing Christ to others from a pierced heart burning with Divine Love. Deep wounds, deep sadnesses give Christ a deep place in our hearts to dwell, when we bring him our pain and lay it at the foot of the cross.

  5. What I hope for most of all is Church unity and reconciliation. If we Catholics can get together and really dialogue and listen to each other and understand each other, I think we’d go a long way towards those goals. That’s why I think it’s so important that we engage each other’s arguments, and not question each other’s intentions and attitudes. That’s why this whole language of “bigotry” is simply unhelpful to the debate – it too often replaces actual honest engagements with the arguments of the other side. And remember, as Catholics, for us it is presumed (at the very least!) that official Church teaching should get the benefit of the doubt, and that the burden of proof lies with those who would challenge it. Otherwise we’re in the realm of the “Cafeteria.”
    Please don’t be offended by my persistence. I’m not trying to really convince anyone here of anything except to step back for a moment and question their own ways of approaching the debate on matters of Church teaching. We got to stick closer together as Catholics, avoiding all semblance of party spirit. We got to work together towards unity in faith.

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