Dialogue Without Compromise, Without Fear
September 2011By Randall B. Smith
Randall B. Smith is an associate professor in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He is currently at work on a book on the classic texts in the natural-law tradition from Sophocles to John Paul II.
No one has done more to foster charitable and effective dialogue with the homosexual community than Melinda Selmys (Authentic Dialogue Is Possible, NOR, May). She courageously shows herself willing to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged partisans on both sides of the debate to model a kinder, more open, more compassionate approach, one that is desperately needed in this time of widespread anger and confusion. Hers is a voice Catholics desperately need to hear, for she manages to enunciate both a faithful witness to the Churchs teaching while remaining always charitable toward and engaged with those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) community.
So why, when Melinda Selmys shows up to speak on a Catholic campus, is she met by angry picketers? Why do members of the LGBTQ community attempt to keep people from hearing her, especially given that she is trying to exhort the Catholic community to learn to speak differently to and about gays? She is of course right about the problems that arose from the modern attempts to deal with (and eradicate) homosexual desire as a species of psychological disorder rather than as one among a number of spiritual challenges. Similar problems arose more recently in attempting to deal with pedophilia as primarily a psychological disorder. But how are we to clear up these confusions unless speakers are allowed to speak? There is, as I pointed out in my article (Call the Police, Its an Academic Lecture! NOR, Jan.-Feb.), a rather strange irony in the fact that the people who were attempting to prevent others from hearing a lecture were some of the same people calling for more dialogue at the end. One wonders whether such people really know their own minds. And as the letter from the student newspaper I quoted in my article suggests, even after hearing Mrs. Selmys speak, not everyone in the LGBTQ community was pleased that she had been allowed to appear at the university not unless her talk had been balanced by someone who represented the other side.
Indeed, shortly before Mrs. Selmys came to campus, a professor at the same university had sent a column to the campus newspaper a column he had written biweekly for over fifteen years laying out the Catholic Churchs teaching on homosexuality. The article consisted almost entirely of quotations from official Church documents. The article was rejected by the student editor as being too biased. They might consider publishing it, the editor explained, if the professor could find someone else to represent the other side, so as to make the piece more balanced. Dozens of pro-gay articles had appeared in that same newspaper during the previous weeks and months, none of which came with the proviso that these expressions of opinion needed to be balanced by someone representing the Churchs position. When balance is required for one position but never the other, one begins to wonder whether the scales are being tipped.
Mrs. Selmys is certainly right when she suggests that many people identify as gay or lesbian because they find love and acceptance within the LGBTQ community and nowhere else. But this, as she knows better than I, is a tricky business. It depends upon what one means by acceptance. If by acceptance we mean: I love you; I accept you as a person; I wont stop loving you, then yes. If by acceptance we mean: I support you in your lifestyle choices, then no. When a gay friend announces to me: My partner and I are going to buy some eggs from an egg bank, have them fertilized with his sperm, and then pay a woman to carry the children until birth, I know he wants my acceptance. But that is something I cannot give. He is planning to do something morally wrong indeed, something ruinously wrong and precisely because of my love for him, it is my duty to tell him so, as charitably and prudently as possible. If the entrance fee for dialogue is agreement not to make the other party feel uncomfortable by suggesting that he might have come to a wrong or imprudent conclusion, then Im not sure when in life, if ever, one would be likely to have an actual dialogue. Let us say, then, to both sides, that such an entrance fee is too high a bar to actual dialogue. We both have to be willing to hear things we might not want to hear, but probably ought to hear anyway.
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