Homosexual Orientation, or Disorientation?

Embracing a gay identity prevents us from knowing ourselves as we are known by God.

Embracing a gay identity prevents us from knowing ourselves as we are known by God. Instead, we are kept captive by faulty categories of the human person, created in the mind of man. It is more than mere semantics. In departing from the clear teaching of the Church on our sexual identity, we do injury to our personal dignity as being male or female image-bearers of God and prevent ourselves from resolving the most fundamental question each of us strives to answer: “Who am I?”


All of us have a longing to be fully known: by ourselves, by others, and by God. Fundamental to Christian thought is this: We can only know ourselves fully when we know ourselves as we are known by God. As Gaudium et Spes teaches, “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear . . . . Christ the new Adam . . . fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”

In his address on the World Day of Peace a year ago, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this longing in all of us: “This is the fundamental question that must be asked: who is man? ” In his 2012 Advent address to the Roman Curia, he tells us that the truth of mankind is found within the “blueprint of human existence.”

Questions surrounding the blueprint of human existence and the fundamental question of who man is have been much on my mind in recent months because of several essays on homosexuality published inFirst Things by Wesley Hill and Joshua Gonnerman. As a man who is also attracted to members of the same sex, I find much to applaud in their writing, namely their adherence to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Nevertheless, their embrace of a gay identity (like their claim that they are oriented to the same sex) seems, on my reading, counter to the truth of man and therefore an obstacle to authentic self-knowledge.

In Hill’s otherwise excellent essay entitled “Homosexuality and the Impatience for Joy,” he matter-of-factly uses the phrase “those of us who are gay and Christian,” which seems to be in keeping with his First Thoughts post on the label “gay Christian,” where he speaks of his sexual orientation as “being gay.” His thoughts there echo what he writes in his book, Washed and Waiting, about his adolescence: “I came to realize I was experiencing what was usually called ‘homosexuality.’ I had a homosexual orientation. I was gay.”

In an earlier essay , Hill quotes a writer familiar to readers of First Things , Eve Tushnet, who also embraces a gay identity. In the excerpt quoted by Hill, Tushnet writes, “I do think straight adults often underestimate the loneliness”and fear of even greater future loneliness”of gay Christian teens. But it’s also, of course, very easy for teenagers of any sexual orientation to have unrealistic romantic ideas in which marriage solves the problem of the self.”

Though people may describe themselves by using terms like “gay” or “queer” which are commonly used in today’s culture, as Christians who believe in man created in the image of God, we should ask if these cultural terms are, in fact, true ontological categories of the human person, in accord with the blueprint of human existence.

Gonnerman, for his part, seems to assume that these categories of the human person are foregone conclusions in several of his writings, as well as in his recent discussion of reparative therapy , in which he calls himself “a chaste man who is also gay.”

Our disagreements over identity notwithstanding, there are many areas of agreement between their views and mine. We all promote the same essential moral view of sexuality: Sexual intercourse is moral only between a man and a woman within marriage and only when the spouses respect the procreative end of the marital act. And to be fair, on the issue of gay identity, Hill, Gonnerman, and Tushnet do not see all things the same.

As I understand the differences between them, Gonnerman and Tushnet view homosexuality as a gift from God to mankind. Homosexuality, in their view, is something to be celebrated in their lives as a unique and positive gift to the world. Hill, on the other hand, views homosexuality as a “thorn in the flesh” which nonetheless has brought benefits to him: namely that God has been able to show his strength to Hill through the weakness of his homosexuality.

In this respect, Hill’s view is more akin to my understanding of homosexuality as the Eucatastrophe of my life (borrowing J. R. R. Tolkien’s term). Both Hill and I also refuse to use “homosexual” as a noun. As he explains in his book, he avoids it because he argues that our core identity is as Christians. I refuse to do so because, ontologically speaking, my core identity is as a man, made in the image and likeness of God.

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