Hate the Sin

This week's feature story, "Love the Sinner," about anti-gay hate crimes at Regis University, has prompted plenty of discussion on the northwest Denver campus about how the issue of homosexuality should be approached at the Jesuit school. Online comments posted by readers here (scroll to the bottom) reveal that some Regis alum felt that the article portrayed all of the school's students as "hate-filled lunatics." Another poster felt that the university's Catholic administration should be held to task for failing to expel students who had harassed Alana McCoy, a lesbian.

Regis professor John Kane, who also serves as Chair of the Religious Studies Department, discussed the article yesterday in his e-newsletter, Catholicism in the News.

The article seems, at least to this editor, a well-researched and fair and balanced report and we urge you to read it — since we assume many might have missed it. Westword, for those unfamiliar with it, is a free weekly that gets wide distribution in the Denver metro area. While a mixed bag in terms of ads and content (like most such free weeklies around the country), it tends to have good reporting & writing on "political" (broadly understood) issues and debates.

Two further comments from this editor:

1. Catholic teaching about homosexuality is fairly well presented in the article. It boils down to the fundamental teaching that sexual orientation in itself is morally neutral, but that sexual activity (intercourse) is designed for procreation as well as for the expression of mutual love and is thus morally legitimate only in marriage. The Catholic rejection of homosexual sexual activity (not orientation) is then of a piece with the Church's rejection of pre-marital or extra-marital sexual activity by heterosexuals.

A further element of Catholic teaching is about the dignity of all human beings who are worthy of respect (and should be protected from discrimination or abuse) whatever their race, religion, class, gender, or sexual orientation. Fr. Sheeran, in the Westword article, makes a very important point about the presumption we need to make that gays and lesbians (and others who disagree with church teaching) are doing so "with great integrity and that's to be respected."

2. The implied (and at times explicit) position of the "conservative" Catholics quoted in the article (both a Regis student and a national Catholic student group) — to the effect that schools like Regis "are afraid to enforce a truly Catholic culture" — seems to express a truncated understanding of Catholic teaching and orthodoxy. They suggest that a "really Catholic school" would not be tolerant of gays and lesbians and would not respect the dignity and conscience of such persons — and would not be encouraging University-level discussion of Church teaching as well as of conflicting views. Yet none of these positions is in fact faithful to the full range of Catholic teaching. They do what the fundamentalist spirit always does — isolate one particular aspect of a religion or a worldview to the exclusion of all complexity resulting from other aspects of the religion or worldview.

And the Catholic teaching on homosexuality is no doubt complex. While, in a nutshell, the church is clear in its belief that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and should not be approved under any circumstances, the stance is a far cry from the blunt "God Hates Fags" war cry of Christian extremists like Fred Phelps.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

So even though Sacred Scripture declares homosexual sex an act of "grave depravity," gays and lesbians are to be regarded as possessing inherent dignity, and treated accordingly. And, maybe, through chastity, prayer, grace and gay ministerial groups like Courage, individuals "afflicted with the homosexual condition" can approach "Christian perfection."

It's a carefully nuanced message that the administrators at Regis have attempted to reinforce as more openly gay students and faculty arrive on campus and assert themselves with increasing confidence. After all, nobody's perfect. Not even institutions. — Jared Jacang Maher

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner