Compassionate realism is the best response to pride month

4 mins read
Pride month
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As June has arrived, so have the ubiquitous images, messages and declarations related to so-called “pride month.” Businesses incorporate symbols into their logos. Sport stadiums display banners and flags. Athletes wear armbands and alter the colors in their uniform numbers and trim. Politicians attempt to outflank one another in fulfilling their felt obligation to pander to the prevailing ideology.

Many Catholics respond in various ways to these observations, from outraged condemnation on one end of the cafeteria Catholic buffet to unequivocal affirmation on the other end. These groups of Catholics share two things in common. The first is a firm conviction that the other side is betraying what each believes is the proper Catholic position. The second is that reactions from both ends are more informed by respective Manichaean partisan commitments than by the subtlety of Catholic moral thought. As is often the case, the response by Catholics too often tracks American party platforms rather than the fullness of Catholic moral theology.

The proper Catholic response to pride month is not as simple as either side thinks. (And lest I be accused of advocating what I condemn, I fully understand the halting and tentative nature of the suggestions contained in this column.) Reductionist reactions from either of two extreme positions are never helpful. Balancing the entirety of the teaching of the Church requires careful and prayerful consideration and subtle responses. Disapproval of same-sex sexual activity cannot be reduced to condemnation of people with same-sex attraction. But neither does solidarity with same-sex attracted persons constitute approval of same-sex sexual activity.

On the one hand, the Church’s teaching that same-sex sexual relations are never permitted is unequivocal, admitting of no exceptions. “Under no circumstances can they be approved,” explains section 2357 the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sexual organs are ordered toward the unitive and procreative nature of marriage between a man and a woman. This is suggested by the very nature of sexual physiology and affirmed without exception by the history of Catholic teaching. No response to public affirmations of same-sex sexual activity can compromise this doctrine.

On the other hand, the Catechism expressly affirms the dignity of persons with same-sex attraction. They “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” section 2358 charges. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” While conceding that it is not understood well, the Church does not deny the reality and persistence of same-sex attraction. “It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures,” the Catechism acknowledges in section 2357. “Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”

This brief column is not the place to attempt a thorough consideration of how to balance this two-fold teaching of the Church. Rather, my purpose is to advocate that we approach the question with humility, caution and — above all — charity. To this end, I suggest a non-exhaustive list of ways not to respond to pride month.

Don’t observe

We cannot observe pride month as anything other than an affirmation of sexual morality that is at odds with the teaching of the Church. Thus, it cannot be celebrated in any way. If the symbols, imagery and emphasis on pride month were only to affirm the dignity of all persons without regard to sexual attraction (or gender identity), we might be able to embrace some aspects of it. But these representations are not about human dignity. Rather, they are intended to endorse — and impose — a specific sexual morality. Even if the symbols were somehow equivocal, it is enough that most people consider them an acceptance of LGBTQ ideologies to indicate that Catholics cannot endorse pride month in a way consistent with the Church’s teaching.

Don’t troll

On the other hand, however, we must not troll the month (nor the people who celebrate it) with alleged alternative designations for June. We can affirm the Church’s teaching without the need to trot out forced suggestions for various observations, the intention of which is to say, “we are not with you.” Yes, we can and should suggest the fulness and goodness of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. But trolling those who disagree is neither charitable nor productive.

Don’t condemn

Of course, we may draw conclusions about the impropriety of same-sex sexual activity and the errors of transgender theory. But we must not condemn persons who struggle with sexual attraction or gender dysphoria. This is a difficult needle to thread. But charity demands that we squint our eyes and make a genuinely good-faith effort to love them, rather than to condemn. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” declares the Catechism (no. 2358). They are to be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Don’t endorse a double-standard

The Church’s teaching on heterosexual sexual relations outside of marriage is no less clear than its teaching about same-sex sexual activity. To be sure, theologians make subtle (and legitimate) distinctions between actions that are against nature and those that are in excess or deficiency. But for the purpose of public declarations related to sexual licentiousness, this is not a helpful distinction. Indeed, it makes us look like hypocrites when we are vocal in condemning sex between persons of the same sex but silent about sex outside marriage between a man and a woman. For the sake of charity, we must avoid even the appearance of a double-standard.

Books have been written on the thorniness of issues related to sexual morality and public reactions to it. Thus, as noted above, this short column cannot pretend to offer anything other than some points to ponder. But in pondering them, we must be guided by the same charitable impulse toward those who struggle with attraction and identity that we wish toward our own shortcomings.

Our witness to the Gospel must consistently affirm the entirety of the Church’s teaching. This includes rejecting the ideology but accepting the persons who struggle with the things we cannot fully understand. Pride month is not the time to condemn, but to pray, discern and grow in truth. It is a time to hone our witness, not to condemn those who disagree. At the end of the month, this can be something to be proud of.

Kenneth Craycraft

Kenneth Craycraft, an OSV columnist, is a professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati and author of “Citizens Yet Strangers: Living Authentically Catholic in a Divided America" (OSV Books).