Homosexuality and Chastity

Every human being is called to receive a gift of divine sonship, to become a child of God by grace. However, to receive this gift, we must reject sin, including homosexual behavior. Homosexual behavior involves acts performed with a person of the same sex intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response. The Catholic Church teaches that such acts are always violations of natural and divine law.

Homosexual desires are not in themselves sinful. People are subject to a wide variety of sinful desires which they have little direct control over, but these do not become sinful until a person acts upon them, either by acting out the desire or encouraging the desire and deliberately engaging in fantasies about acting it out. People tempted by homosexual desires, like people tempted by improper heterosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner.

Divine Law

The rejection of homosexual behavior that is found in the Old Testament is well known. In Genesis 19, two angels in disguise visit the city of Sodom and are offered hospitality and shelter by Lot. During the night, the men of Sodom demand that Lot hand over his guests for homosexual intercourse. Lot refuses, and the angels blind the men of Sodom. Lot and his household escape, and the town is destroyed by fire "because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord" (Gen 19:13).

Throughout history, Jewish and Christian scholars of all persuasions have recognized that one of the chief sins involved in God destruction of Sodom was its people's homosexual behavior. But today certain homosexual activists have advocated the idea that the sin of Sodom was merely a lack of hospitality. Although inhospitality is a sin, it is clearly the homosexual behavior of Sodomites that is singled out for special criticism and prominence in the account of their city's destruction. We must look to Scripture's own interpretation of the sin of Sodom.

Jude 7 records that Sodom and Gomorrah "acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust." Ezekiel says that Sodom committed "abominable things" (Ezekiel 16:50) which could refer to both homosexual and heterosexual acts of sin. Lot even offered his virgin two daughters in place of his guests, but the men of Sodom rejected the offer, preferring homosexual sex over heterosexual sex (Genesis 19:8-9). Ezekiel does allude to a lack of hospitality in saying that Sodom "did not aid the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16:49). So homosexual acts and a lack of hospitality both contributed to the destruction of Sodom, with the former being the far greater sin, the "abominable thing" which set off God's wrath. This is the historic interpretation of the Sodom incident.

But the Sodom incident is not the only time the Old Testament deals with the subject of homosexuality. An explicit condemnation is found in the book of Leviticus: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. . . . If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13).

Reinterpreting Scripture

To discount this, some homosexual activists have argued that moral imperatives from the Old Testament can be dismissed since there were certain ceremonial requirements at the time--such as not eating pork and circumcising male babies--which are no longer binding.

While the ceremonial requirements of the Old Testament are no longer binding, its moral requirements are. God may issue different ceremonies for use in different times and cultures, but his moral requirements are eternal and are binding on all cultures.

The fact that a rejection of homosexual behavior is a moral requirement, and thus something which simply cannot be dismissed on the grounds that "that is Old Testament," is confirmed by the fact it is rejected equally forcefully in the New Testament.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul attributes homosexual desires (which lead to homosexual behaviors) to a refusal to acknowledge and worship God. He states: "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. . . . Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them" (Romans 1:26-28, 32).

Elsewhere Paul again warns that homosexual behavior is one of the sins that will deprive one of heaven: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10, NIV).

All of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, teach the unacceptability of homosexual behavior. But the rejection of this behavior is not a random or arbitrary prohibition. It, like other moral imperatives, is rooted in natural law--the design that God has built into human nature.

Natural Law

People have a basic ethical intuition that certain behaviors are wrong because they are unnatural. We perceive intuitively that the natural sex partner of a human is another human, not a lower animal.

The same reasoning applies to the case of homosexual behavior. The natural sex partner for a man is a woman, not another man, and the natural sex partner for a woman is a man, not another women. Thus people have the corresponding intuition concerning homosexuality that they do about bestiality--that it is wrong because it is unnatural.

Natural law reasoning is the basis for almost all standard moral intuitions. For example, it is because the dignity and value each human being naturally possesses that makes the needless destruction of human life or infliction of physical and emotional pain immoral. This gives rise to a host of specific moral principles, such as the unacceptability of murder, kidnapping, mutilation, physical and emotional abuse, and so forth.

To avoid the force of the natural law argument against homosexual behavior, some gay activists have tried a number of arguments.

"I was born this way"

Many homosexuals argue that they have not chosen their condition, but that they were born that way, making homosexual behavior natural for them.

But merely because something was not chosen does not mean it was inborn. Some desires are acquired or strengthened by habituation and conditioning instead of conscious choice. For example, no one chooses to be an alcoholic, but one can become habituated to alcoholism. Just as one can acquire alcoholic desires (by repeatedly becoming intoxicated) without consciously choosing them, so one may acquire homosexual desires (by engaging in homosexual fantasies or behavior) without consciously choosing them.

Since sexual desire is subject to a high degree of cognitive conditioning in humans (there is no biological reason why we find certain scents, forms of dress, or forms of underwear sexually stimulating), it would be most unusual if homosexual desires were not subject to a similar degree of cognitive conditioning.

Furthermore, even if there is a genetic predisposition toward homosexuality (and studies on this point are very inconclusive), this does not make the behavior natural or acceptable. It does not make the behavior natural because homosexuality is still not part of the natural design of humanity. It does not make homosexual behavior acceptable because other behaviors are not rendered acceptable simply because there may be a genetic predisposition toward them.

For example, scientific studies suggest some people are born with a hereditary disposition to alcoholism, but no one would argue someone ought to fulfill these inborn urges by becoming an alcoholic. Alchoholism is not an acceptable "lifestyle" and more than homosexuality is. Any inborn predisposition toward it must be resisted, not encouraged.

The 10% Argument

Homosexual activists often justify homosexuality by claiming that ten percent of the population is homosexual, meaning that it is a common and thus acceptable behavior.

But the fact something is common does not make it acceptable. To give a trivial example, being rude to another person is common, but that does not make it acceptable.

What is true in the small sphere is true in the large. Even if ten percent of the population were homosexual, that would not prove the behavior is not sinful. One hundred percent of the population is sinful in some manner, but that does not make any and all human behavior permissible.

Even if ten percent of the population was born homosexual, this would prove nothing. One hundred percent of the population is born with original sin and the desires flowing from it. If those desires manifested themselves in a homosexual fashion in ten percent of the population, all that does is give us information about the demographics of original sin.

But the fact is that not ten percent of the population is homosexual. That figure stems from the 1948 report by Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The study was profoundly flawed, as later psychologists studying sexual behavior have agreed. Kinsey's subjects were drawn heavily from convicted criminals; 1400 of his 5300 final subjects (26%) were convicted sex offenders--a group which by definition is not representative of normal sexual practices. Furthermore, the 10% figure includes people who are not exclusively homosexual but who only engaged in some homosexual behavior for a period of time and then stopped--people who had gone through a fully or partially homosexual "phase" but who were not long-term homosexuals. (For a critique of Kinsey's research methods, see Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud, by Dr. Judith Reisman and Edward Eichel [Lafayette, Louisiana: Lochinvar & Huntington House, 1990]).

More recent and more scientifically accurate studies, have shown that only around 1-2 percent of the population is homosexual, though again, to the extent this tells us anything about inborn tendencies as opposed to learned behaviors, it gives us information about the demographics of original sin.

"You're just a homophobe"

Those opposed to homosexual behavior are often charged with "homophobia"--that they hold the position they do because they are "afraid" of homosexuals. Sometimes the charge is even made that those who make this charge are perhaps even homosexuals themselves and are overcompensating in an attempt to hide this fact, even from themselves, by condemning other homosexuals.

Both of these arguments are logical fallacies. They are both attempts to psychologize another person's beliefs and dismiss them rather than looking at the arguments for them. They are attempts to stop rational discussion of an issue by shifting the focus to one of the participants in the discussion. A logician would point out that the mistake being committed is a form of the ad hominem fallacy (argument "to the man" rather than "to the issue") which attempts to dismiss another person's arguments based on some real or supposed circumstance the person is in. In this case, the supposed circumstances is a fear of homosexuals. In other cases, a person's arguments are dismissed based on political party, religion, race, or gender (e.g., "You just say that because you are a Republican/Democrat/Catholic/Protestant/white/black/man/woman").

Like similar attempts to avoid the rational discussion of an issue, the homophobia argument completely misses the point. Even if it were true that a person was afraid of homosexuals, that would not diminish the evidence he might bring to bear against it. The fact a person is afraid of handguns would not nullify arguments brought to bear against handguns, nor would the fact a person might be afraid of handgun control diminish the arguments brought to bear against handgun control. A person's private fears are irrelevant to an evaluation of the evidence he has publicly advanced.

Furthermore, the homophobia charge simply rings false. The vast majority of those who oppose homosexual behavior are in no way "afraid" of homosexuals. A disagreement is not the same as a fear. One can disagree with something without fearing it, and the attempt to shut down rational discussion by crying "homophobe!" falls flat. It is an attempt to divert attention from the lack of rational answers to the arguments against one's position by focusing attention on the one who made the arguments, while trying to claim the moral high ground against him.

The Call to Chastity

The modern arguments in favor of homosexuality have thus been insufficient to overcomes the evidence for the historic understanding that homosexual behaviors is against divine and natural law, as the Bible and the Church, as well as the wider circle of Jewish and Christian (not to mention Muslim) writers, have always held.

The Catholic Church thus teaches that "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357).

However, the Church also acknowledges that, "[Homosexuality's] psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. . . . An appreciable number of men and women exhibit instinctive homosexual tendencies. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They should be dealt with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. One must avoid with respect to them any sign of unjust discrimination. These persons are called to fulfill the will of God in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the cross of the Lord the difficulties that they encounter because of their condition.

"Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By means of the virtues of self-control, which bring forth interior freedom, and at times by means of the help of disinterested friendship, of prayer, of sacramental grace, can and should bring one to a gradual achievement of Christian perfection" (2357-2359).

Paul comfortingly reminds us: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

Those suffering from homosexual temptations who want to live chastely should contact Courage, a national Church-approved support group for help in deliverance from the homosexual lifestyle.

c/o Rev. John Harvey
St. Michael's Rectory
424 W. 34th St.
New York, NY 10001
(212) 421-0426