Why Are They So Scared?

Guest Commentary

I HAVE READ EVERY word of the current and controversial issue of Peninsula, the first issue of this publication to come to my notice. Ordinarily such a magazine would join the rest of the unsolicited student pulp to be redeemed by recycling. But I read every word of this issue, and I am surprised: I am surprised that it is so well-written: I found not a single split infinitive. I am surprised that it is so long: it has a comprehensive attention-span for its subject. I am surprised at the variety of viewpoints, variety along a fairly limited scale, I agree, but variety in style, view-point, and indeed conclusion. And I am surprised that at least in its editorial preface, it sought to disassociate itself from charges of "anti-gay," "ignorance, bias, cold-heartedness, and an irrational fear and loathing of homosexuals." I am surprised by the stated intention "to move away from an atmosphere of hateful persecution on the one hand, and of injurious ideology on the other."

All of this surprises me for I was led to believe that this issue of Peninsula was filled with vengeful, venomous prose, intended not to advance debate or provoke discussion, but to hurt and harm those bisexual, gay and lesbian members of the University who have the misfortune to differ from the editorial staff of Peninsula and the temerity to disagree with their most cherished assumptions.

MY SURPRISE notwithstanding, this particular issue of Peninsula would be easier to take if it were a screaming fundamentalist screed against filthy perversions, and a ringing endorsement of Thomism redux. Then we could dismiss the whole exercise as the produce of over-educated and socially nervous young Miniver Cheeveys, forced to live in a world and age neither of their making nor liking, and who unfortunately have their own private magazine in which to publish their tantrums.

Alas, we are not able so easily to dismiss this effort, and the danger is that because it looks serious, and has lots of scholarly apparatus with which to advance and defend its serious positions, we must take it seriously. Its danger is not so much that it confronts a touchy subject and tilts against the currents of political correctness.

We expect that of all self-generated student magazines. The danger is that it uses the means of reasoned scholarship, together with a dash of compassion and a hint of counselling, not to get at the Truth, or even to advance in dialogue toward a more comprehensive understanding, but rather as a weapon, a blunt instrument, with which to beat a discussion into submission. The piece is akin to an intellectual mugging, and all the more disturbing as the dirty deed is done in the name of Western civilization and in behalf, in part, of the Christian Church.


THE QUESTION WE MUST ask is not the first one that came to mind: That was, "Why are these folks so angry?" No, that is the second question which proceeds from the first: "Why are they so scared?" On the one hand they dismiss the notion of the gay 10 percent as a Kinseyan fantasy, and place the gay population at 1 or 2 percent. And yet on the other hand, they see an organized and successful plot to destroy the family, the Church and the population. There is much less of Paul Revere and a lot more of Chicken Little.

What seems to generate the fear and the anger that permeates most of this issue, the disclaimers notwithstanding, is the notion that there is an increasing sense of credibility to the various efforts of bi-sexual, gay, and lesbian people to define themselves and to insist upon those self-definitions in relation to others. Despite the frequently stated view that this is a debate about the rights or wrongs of homosexuality, the real concern appears to be that the "debate" has become in recent times more even-handed and no longer framed exclusively in the hands and terms of those who define homosexuality by their disapproval of it.

These clever young men (they all appear to be that) are not distressed at the loss of virtue or values: they appear to bemoan the loss of power, the power to determine who will be sent to the stake and who will not. The well-modulated hysteria suggests at least two earlier occasions when an elite, in the name of the presevation of virtue and with an impeccable, unassailable logic, did in those whom it could neither control nor convert: the first of these took place in the ecclesiastical dungeons of pre-modern Spain, and the other on the gibbits of Salem. In both cases, a relentless logic and a fear of an untidy universe provoked in ordinarily pious and decent people an evil all the more heinous for its pretensions to reason, virtue and compassion.

To those of religious conviction who will have made it to the end of this special issue of Peninsula the question may well be put: how do you square religious practice and homosexuality? Those sympathetic to the position of the editors will say you cannot: this is what "The Church" teaches. Those indifferent to religion will say, "Who cares and what does it matter?" For these, homosexuality will be tolerated or condemned on grounds other than religion. But to those of us who are both homosexual and devout, the issue is not so easily dismissed.

While the Church and the Bible may have something to answer for in their attitudes, contemporary and not divine in every case, toward homosexuality, those who have used the Bible and the Church to cloak their own very contemporary and very human prejudices have even more to answer for. The Bible and the early Church Fathers, alas, have been used to support and amplify the most base of human conduct and attitude: slavery and the subjugation of women are but two of the most vivid.

Homosexuality is the last prejudice a fundamentalist bibliolatry permits. The answer is not to condemn the Bible or leave the Church, and it certainly is not to bash Catholics or other believers or desecrate the sacraments. Nor is the answer to leave the Church and the interpretation and celebration of the faith in the hands of those who would narrow the aperture of the Spirit, deny the continuing revelation of God, and confine the liberating spirit of Jesus to the 33 years of his natural life.

Neither I nor any other Christian who is gay need accept any longer the definition of ourselves as outside the embrace of the sacraments or ministry of the Church. Our sexual identity notwithstanding, we with our fellow believers are all part of the fallen human race, all live in the light of the sacrifice of Christ, all share in the same and uncorrupted creation in the image of God, and all participate in the means of Grace and the hope of glory. And we do so, just are we are: fallen and redeemed; all of us.

LIKE THE EDITORS of Peninsula, I do not wish my motives here to be misconstrued. I do not find their lively, provacative writing beyond the bounds of free and acceptable discourse, especially in as contentious and creative an environment as this one. But I do wish them and all who read their works to know that I cannot take seriously their analysis either of the sexuality that is mine or the faith that is mine. The political agenda which pretends to a Burkean conservatism affronts my sense of an appropriate libertarian public polity, and their Thomism affronts my reformed and Protestant sensibilities.

Invective, even hurled in moral outrage, is neither a healthy nor a useful form of dialogue. I will not join those who hurl invective at Peninsula. I am saddened, however, that such obvious talent and passion should be exercised in the name of charity with such an evident lack of it. It is not a question of whether this issue has caused the subject of homosexuality to be debated over the dinner table here in College. We can guarantee that it has. What is at question, however, is how that debate is to be carried on, and for the quality of that conversation, the council, Guardians, Auxiliares of Peninsula must bear no small share of responsibility. To St. Thomas I prefer that stout Protestant Richard Baxter, whose instruction might yet serve us even in such painful matters as these:

In necessary things, unity;

In doubtful things, liberty;

In all things, charity.

The Rev. Peter J. Gomes is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.

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