Everybody knows that same-sex marriage and homosexual acts are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Yet that same teaching also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian Catholics are entering into these unions. This leaves some Catholics feeling caught between two values: church teaching against same-sex marriage and church teaching in favor of compassion....Of course, part of the issue here is that gay and lesbian are terms that culturally are closely associated with practice as well as inclination. This may or may not be right. I've read some faithful Catholics who are attracted to members of the same sex make the case for openly using their orientation as an identity, and others make the contrary case. But either way, I think what's Fr. Martin's illustration fails to recognize is that while there is a cultural assumption that married people are against adultery (and that adultery is a violation of social expectation), when someone identifies as gay there is a cultural assumption that that person is looking to engage in sexual relationships with members of the same sex.
Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?
Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.
That said, it seems to me that the suggestion Fr. Martin makes in jest is not actually all that far from the kind of preaching one would have heard through much of the Church's history, and returning to that would not necessarily be a bad idea.
Fr. Martin tries to draw a lesson from the story of Zacchaeus on how the Church should deal with the call to conversion versus simply embracing someone:
The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.I think his illustration with Zacchaeus misses the point a bit. We repeatedly see Jesus encounter people with the assumption that the encounter will make a turning point in their lives. The calling of the disciples is a key example of this. Jesus just comes up to them and tells them to follow Him. He doesn't lay out, "This is the way that I expect my followers to live, and this is why. Now, what do you think? Do you want to take on this lifestyle?" No, Jesus just approaches people with the assumption that they will change their lives as a result. I think that's arguably what we see with Zacchaeus and the other examples of Jesus going after the "lost sheep of Israel". Jesus doesn't just meet people where they are and encourage them to feel good about themselves just the way they are, He meets people where they are and tells them to follow him. Not just in a wear as WWJD and go to church every so often kind of way, but in a drop everything and leave your home town kind of way.
However, this doesn't mean that Jesus didn't demand change of people. For an example that ends differently from that of Zacchaeus, it's interesting to consider the rich young man:
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”I think we tend to gloss over this story because the young man is the ultimate "other" -- he's rich. Thus, he tends to be seen as beyond the realm of sympathy. But think for a second what happens here. The young man comes to Jesus and asks how he can be saved. Jesus gives him a standard answer, but the young man asks what more he can. Then "Jesus, looking at him, loved him", and immediately asks him to do something very hard: give up the things which make him happy and follow Jesus instead. So yes, Jesus to use Fr. Martin's phrase "simply loves" the young man -- but then he immediately asks him to do something very hard. And when the young man doesn't, Jesus doesn't say, "Look, it's okay. Live with us in communion for a while, and maybe it'll get easier and you'll feel like you can give up your possessions bit by bit." He watches him walk away and then turns to his disciples and uses him as an example of how people like him are unlikely to be saved.
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’”
He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
This is the same Jesus who meets Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is also a rich man -- though we tend to overlook that a bit since he's presented as an outcast -- and I think it's worth thinking: If Zacchaeus had not experienced a conversion would Jesus have acted any differently towards him than towards the rich young man?
It's in his closing that I think Fr. Martin goes most badly off the rails:
What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.First off, I think it's a mistake to see the Church as "infinitely poorer" for the lack of some group. This applies to anyone. The Church would not be infinitely poorer if I left it. I would be infinitely poorer for not being a member of the Body of Christ, but the Church itself would still be the Church.
This also shows a dangerous tendency to identify people as symbols of their group rather than persons, which would be disturbing even were the group he's talking about not identified primarily by affinity to a mortal sin. To the extent that it's accurate to say that the Church is poorer for the lack of someone, it's in that each person is meant to repose in Christ. Thus, a person who is excluded (or excludes himself) from the Church is a loss in that his soul is meant to be one with Christ. He's not a loss because he's a totemic member of a group which we condescendingly feel the need to hug particularly close.
An excessive eagerness to love the category actually ends up extinguishing the person.