This post is written much later than I would have wished, due to my baby having been unwell with swine flu. I have debated whether or not to write this, given the furore has died down, and inevitably some conflict will be reignited but I would like the following to be said and out in the open.
I am a regular contributor to a debate forum on a parenting website. Predictably enough someone raised the issue of whether or not Elton John was too old to adopt. There was a lot of consensus agreeing that this was not an ideal arrangement due to his age and other issues, many of which have been picked up on by the media. I contributed my view, namely that 63 was too old to be fathering a young baby. I will elucidate further in a later post, why this whole arrangement disturbs me, but in terms of the original question, “were they too old”, my answer was an unequivocal “yes”.
Unlike other posters however, my concerns were seized on as being that old bugbear, namely homophobic. When I queried as to why I was perceived as homophobic, as opposed to everyone else who had expressed the same view, this was because I have previously expressed reservations about same-sex couples adopting. In addition, as a Catholic, I am a de-facto homophobe.
This is more than a little disturbing and not only for Catholics. There are plenty of valid reasons as to why one may feel that a differently gendered household is a better environment for children to grow up in, than a single-sex one, and none of them are based upon homophobia, which just to recap, is defined as an “irrational fear or hatred” towards gay people. I was asked to prove why I held these beliefs, studies were bandied about attempting to prove that outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents were no more negative than for children raised in other situations, however, none of the studies compared children from sex-same parents with children from different gender parents in stable relationships. Furthermore, the absence of “harm” does not render something “good” and therefore to be embraced.
My reservations about same-sex adoptions and surrogacy are rooted in something a lot more substantial than an irrational or illogical aversion to homosexual acts, but because I have publicly gone on record that I subscribe to the Catholic Church’s view that homosexual acts are sinful, this means that I wish to discriminate against gay people and deny them their “rights to procreate”. Furthermore “If you think gay sex is sinful, then presumably you categorise all practising gays as sinners. And that’s not homophobic?” Leaving aside the issues of whether or not procreation is a basic right and discussing Christian attitudes to homosexuality, which I will explore in later posts, it is of vital importance to debunk this whole homophobic labelling myth of those who do not wish to endorse same-sex adoption/surrogacy.
Why does this matter? Well firstly the label “homophobic” is used pejoratively, as way of insulting and smearing those whose views are not in accordance with one’s own. In many ways it has lost much of its potency due to the way it is bandied around as a generic label. To accuse someone of homophobia is on a par with accusing them of racism, anti-Semitism or any other form of intolerance. It infers that their opinions are purely visceral, not based on logic or reason and they stem from an inherent hatred, dislike or fear. An assertion that an act is sinful, i.e. that it separates you from God, is not indicative of any aversion to a group of individuals. As the word has so many negative connotations, it can be used as a weapon to confuse and befuddle any debate and denigrate any valid objections. You may simply be written off as an idiot, someone whose opinions are rooted in hate and fear. The word bullies and attempts to close down debate as well as humiliate and insult. Anyone remember “bigot-gate” which sealed public opinion of Gordon Brown?
I am not prepared to be associated with the likes of the BNP and nor, I suspect are the majority of Catholics. I am not prepared to stay silent because I am frightened of the usual incorrect accusations of homophobia. If we stay silent, because of the chorus of intolerance and vilification employed against us by virtue of the fact of our Catholic views, then how on earth can we expect to be heard and to have a voice in society? If we accept this incorrect labelling, then we accept that our views are irrelevant, illogical and based on a distorted interpretation of the Creed. As Catholics and Christians, a belief that homosexual acts may imperil a soul (along with many other sins, both sexual and non-sexual) is not based on hatred, but based on love. Let me be clear, I have absolutely no interest in making homosexuality or homosexual acts illegal. I am quite libertarian in that respect. I do not believe that the state should legislate to enforce personal morality. What people chose to do with their genitalia is no concern of mine, so long as it is in private and involves other consenting adults. I do not seek to criminalize those with same-sex inclinations or those who act upon them, which would be a wholly counter-productive approach and not one rooted in compassion or understanding. In the same way, I do not wish to criminalize those who engage in sex outside of marriage, another sexual sin. Sexual sin, is simply another type of sin, something that alienates us from God and ultimately something that hurts ourselves. People need to form their own morality on these issues, hopefully based on Catholic/Christian ethics and an informed understanding of the teachings of Christ. No government or individual can enforce purity of heart. That has to come from within, we have to act out of caritas, not out of enforced legal compulsion, which does nothing to increase our desire for God.
To employ a cliche, I have plenty of gay friends, both practicing and celibate. How can I reconcile this with my views of sinfulness? Well, I also have friends who are not in what the Church would describe as regular marital relationships. I don’t say to people “Oh, you sexual sinner, I’m not going to engage with you, I’m not going to offer you any hospitality because you are clearly manifesting your sins”. I am not in a position to judge the state of people’s souls nor compare them to mine. They may well be guilty of sexual sin, but I am guilty of sin as much as they and thus I cannot be Pharisaical about this. All I can ever do, is discuss the issue if it comes up, gently point out that how this is against Christian teaching and leave it at that. It’s not about judgement or condemnation but about love. It’s about saying, “look, I don’t think this is how Christ wishes you to live”, but if someone is not a Christian, then its a moot argument. Gentle apologetics is the way to go, not preaching bile and hatred; I have no time for the evangelicals who wish to march about with banners of condemnation, whipping up confrontation and reinforcing public opinion of Christians as bigots. I am not a priest, I have no responsibility for the cure of souls, but that doesn’t mean that I should stay silent out of fear of condemnation, whilst at the same time, it is not for me to tell people what they should do. All I can ever do is voice my feelings on the matter.
So, why bother being so defensive about this issue, why bother attempting to prove that I, and Catholics and Christians like me, are not homophobic, why not simply accept that this is what other people will invariably think if we speak up? Because to accept the label is to accept the accusation, to accept that our views are rooted in hatred, fear and aversion and not out of love or concern. To accept the label, is to let other people’s bigotry dominate the debate about what kind of society we wish to live in and to accept that children are some sort of commodity or right, out of fear of being called a name. To accept it, accepts our own marginalisation. To ignore it, feeds the claims of those who would claim that Christians are being increasingly persecuted in the UK. We cannot simply accept that we are going to be a persecuted minority and if we look at this sensibly, Christians, are not persecuted in this country by any sensible definition of the word. We are not martyrs, our government does not ask us to choose between our faith and our lives, although we may feel our freedom of speech is restricted. We buy into this persecution mentality and we fuel further accusations of misguided delusion.
Of course, another choice is to refuse to engage with mainstream debate, to stick with communities of other Catholics and Christians. In many ways this is advisable, we are all the body of Christ, and certainly I tend to stick to Catholic forums and blogs if I am looking for sensible informed commentary instead of misinformed rantings. But actually, I also want to participate in and engage with discussions with non-Christians. Partly so that my voice can be heard and partly to dispel some myths, engage in apologetics and partly because I want don’t want to limit my sphere to the purely theological. I want to be able to talk about parenting and current affairs as well as the magisterium. If hearts and minds can be swayed, if we are to be able to spread the word, then we need to enter into discourse with non-Christians, although there does come a point whereby one has to accept that people do not want to listen with open hearts or minds.
There are plenty of people who have written to me and said “look I don’t agree with your Christian views, but you know what I do agree with your views on Elton John, I really admire you for sticking to your guns and speaking your mind.”
I am not going to be marginalised, hectored or shouted down, nor accept my views as being a product of brainwashing, vitriol or hatred. It’s a tired technique used by those who wish to close down an argument and claim a moral superiority and relegate opposition to being unreasonable, extreme and dangerous.
This labelling of our opposition proves Mark Shea’s comment “tolerance is not enough. You must approve”.
To invoke the over-used Godwin’s law, I also see parallels in this insistence upon a label and dangers in a passive acceptance. “You are a homophobe, accept it wear the label, we don’t want to cause you any harm, you are entitled to your views, you just have to accept our definition of what they are and what they mean”. Wear the star, accept the label, you are a perfidious Jew, but don’t worry, we don’t want to hurt you. This is why these misconceptions must be addressed and challenged by use of reason and apologetics, wheresoever they are encountered, instead of a sigh and a shake of the head. And that applies to anyone who baulks at the notion that they are homophobe, because they do not consent to two old men effectively buying a baby.