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A Personal Reflection on the Implications of Generational Dynamics

This past weekend I had the enjoyable opportunity to be able to just hang out and spend some time with one of my best friends. During the course of the evening she invited over a guy who she had just recently met. Just for the sake of context, it should be noted that he was a straight guy.

Flash back almost two and a half years from today. I had just come out, and I still attended a deeply conservative high school that was maintained by and affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (I want to make it clear that in no way do I want to give the impression that I’m bashing my former middle and high school, although I may disagree intensely with many of their social and theological interpretations of the human experience .  I received a wonderful, solid, comprehensive, and thoroughly enriching Christian education there which I shall cherish for the rest of my life, as well as meeting most of the people who I would probably consider to be some of my best friends). Consequently, the majority of my peers who attended the school were consistently conservative in their political as well as their social beliefs.

Even before I formally came out, and although most of my inner circle of friends knew already, I made it a point to wait until after graduation to do it officially. I was on several memorable occasions mocked and teased because of my notable, slightly flamboyant personality; which I never really made any attempts to hide because it’s just a futile effort, why hide who you are? Basically, the premise behind all of these jabs at me was that I must be and obviously was gay because I didn’t act or conduct myself in the stereotypical way that the rest of my male classmates happened to do. Essentially, it seemed that these guys, as is the case with a significant portion of heterosexual men, feel very threatened by the inherent notion and subsequent implications of homosexuality; namely, that being attracted to other men or in any way having the same mannerisms or characteristics of women, when it comes to being attracted to persons of the same-sex, severely weakens and subliminally destroys what it means to be a real man.

Because of this somewhat grim, hostile, and intimidating reality, for quite a long period of time, even though I had affirmed and embraced my own sexuality, I was always a little wary and fearful of how other straight guys would react to it. Naturally, because in my high school there weren’t really any openly gay members of the student body, anyone who dared to be so blatant about their sexual orientation would no doubt be confronted with instant condemnation, ridicule, and exclusion. So, for a very long time I was always uncertain about opening up to straight guys who I happened to meet or encounter when it came to expounding upon and explaining this facet of my personal life.

However, once I graduated high school in 2008 I became aware of a remarkably different and more tolerant attitude when it came to individuals my own age. This was certainly one of the most encouraging and meaningful wafts of fresh air that I have been exposed to in my lifetime. Once, outside of my high school; which had served as the cocoon in which I carried out my existence for such a significant portion of my childhood, I gradually became aware of an alternative prevalent attitude of tolerance, acceptance, and respect when it came to people of my own age addressing and contemplating issues regarding human sexuality. I was astounded by this reality and intensely strengthened in my own personal integrity and confidence by it. After awhile, I really stopped worrying about it.

My friend, and her male friend who I made reference to in the beginning of my thoughts, once again, served to confirm that if they really are secure and comfortable with their own sexualities, lots of heterosexual men my age don’t really feel threatened or disgusted by other men who happen to be attracted to other guys. When this really nice guy responded to me with such respect, tolerance, and dignity I was once again confirmed in the hope that my current generation will lead the fray courageously into this era’s defining civil rights struggle; namely, the recognition and respect of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in sexual orientation and the protection and guarantee of their equal civil rights under the law.

Although it may seem irrelevant, last year’s season of American Idol provides an optimistic example of how my generation will hopefully be leading the call to action in recognizing and defending the rights and inherent dignity of all persons who live in this nation, regardless of sexual identity or manner of expression.

Kris Allen and Adam Lambert are probably one of the most memorable and intense top two finalists from the beloved television program. Kris was the adorable, proud Christian, soulful crooner who naturally captivated the hearts of a large contingent of our nations viewers. Adam on the other hand, was the flamboyant, provocative, rocker personality who confidently sported “guy liner” in almost all of his performances. He too had a signifigant following and presented a unique alternative to Kris’s obvious cookie cutter, good ol’ boy persona. Despite these striking, almost irreconcilable differences between the two contestants, especially when it came to their style of performance and lived background, the guys developed a strong and enduring friendship, almost a brotherly affection (“bromance” is probably the most appropriate applicable description of their relationship) for one another aside from the fact of the stark contrasts of their system of values and realms of existence. Even after the competition was over and despite its outcome (which was personally, a very discouraging blow to me, even though Kris is so incredibly attractive I did not think that he was more qualified in persona or musical ability to deserve to be the winner of the competition, especially so close to the aftermath of Proposition 8 this was obvious proof that America is prepared to tolerate LGBT individuals but unfortunately is not quite yet ready to accept, embrace, and acknowledge them with complete dignity and enthusiasm) the two remain the best of friends. This was most inspiring to me considering Kris’s Bible Belt origins and his staunchly Christian beliefs. Still, he continues to embrace Adam as a genuine, valued friend with respect and esteem. Most notably, not once has he ever even raised Adam’s sexuality as being an issue of defining importance in their friendship. It seems that as a heterosexual male, Kris sees that we human beings are not essentially defined by who we are attracted to sexually, but rather by the “integrity and strength of our character” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have put it.

Sadly, this trend of tolerance, reasoned consideration, and acceptance has not been nearly as prevalent within the Catholic Church. The late, Ven. John Paul II, who as universal Pastor of the Church led the People of God for nearly three decades, had a profound impact on this unfortunate reality. His extremely heroic and unique example of personal holiness was indeed an inspiration for the entire universal Church and the whole world for that matter. For this alone he will probably be remembered by most, deservedly, as a passionate Pastor of the Church who exhorted all individuals to open their hearts and minds to the gracious and all-consoling love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

However, the late John Paul II continued to cling to archaic and unfounded conceptions and interpretations of human sexuality, which instead of emphasizing the apparent goodness and benevolence of the Creator, almost put limits, in a sense, on God’s creative genius. His much acclaimed Theology of the Body simply dressed up, reaffirmed, and made more personable and receptive traditional and rigid definitions which had characterized questions of human sexuality within Christendom for centuries. Despite scientific and psychological evidence to the contrary, Pope John Paul continued to insist that a homosexual orientation was a “disordered condition” which if acted upon, would put the participant in these activities in the condition of mortal sin. He continued to defend the official Magisterium’s opposition to the ordination of women in any faculty, claiming that women are insufficient instruments, incapable of representing Christ in a genuine manner during the celebration of the Eucharist, simply because of the gender they had been given by God. His successor, Pope Benedict, has continued to preserve these banal interpretations.

As a consequence of these very similar pontificates, episcopal appointments by the Pope are usually not made on the basis of competence and personal integrity and responsibility, but rather on the extent of adhering firmly to all of these highly contentious issues, which the Vatican has declared closed for discussion. Thus, in distinct comparison to the secular social realities of our world, the leadership of the Church has become increasingly more polarized and regressive-thinking. Because John Paul II is seen as such a hero of the youth, which is particularly understandable and not noted without cause, all of his convictions (especially on issues that have been declared “closed” for discussion) which he espoused are embraced as being beneficial and integral to the growth and vitality of the Church throughout the world.

Pope John Paul’s and Pope Benedict’s understandings of these issues are largely based on the time in which they came, during which they could not even consider thinking about, much less discussing, the ramifications that all of these questions would have theologically and philosophically upon the Church and the world at large. Yet, it is indeed regrettable to think that where in the civic sphere, my generation is a profound proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and equality for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, that the same trend could and probably is reversed due to Pope John Paul’s views on sexuality, which have been implied as being “infallible.”

Therefore, I can confidently say that if the question of marriage equality and establishment and expansion of the full array of civil rights that all citizens of this country, regardless of sexual orientation (which would include the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) deserve and should be able to enjoy, was put before a Congress for a vote in which all elected members were under the age of 50, discrimination nationwide would probably, finally be definitively eliminated. The effort surprisingly could even include a large majority of individuals who identified as political “conservatives.” I’ve noticed that even among individuals my own age who define themselves as either members of the Republican Party or Libertarian that they do not consider sexual and social issues to be the defining values of conservatism, but instead the promotion and defense of fiscal and personal responsibility.

Unfortunately, the exact phenomenon would probably occur within the Church if this question was allowed to be seriously considered and questioned among the leadership of the Church.

However, I still think that there is reason to maintain hope for the future. Christ is our Hope and shall always remain with and protect His Church. Just as Kris Allen and my bff’s new friend illustrated, a new principle is being exercised and formed by our generation when confronting these very special and controversal questions of human sexuality. When meeting anyone the First Letter of St. John, which we have been hearing significant portions of during the Christmas season, reminds all Christians that, “Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them… Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3: 14-15, 18).

If all the leaders of the Church, young and old alike, would meditate upon and embody these sentiments perhaps a new Pentecost, inaugurated and driven by the Holy Spirit, might be able to be experienced by the People of God. I still remain firm in the hope that eventually the Church as well as our world will gradually open itself to the entire myriad of possibilities that are privileges and hallmarks of the diversity and beauty with which the Lord has endowed all of His creatures with. Hope is an inextinguishable virtue. In the same manner but in a much more profound and beautiful way Love can never be extinguished, and in the end, as it has been in the beginning and shall be so forever, Love shall always prevail and never be defeated!

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3 Responses

  1. Phillip, thank you for this well-written, thoughtful statement of how the views of your generation may signify a shift in how both church and culture view questions about same-sex people and relationships. I am trying to listen carefully to the views of Catholics raised in the JPII generation, to understand your perspective.

    I actually have four nieces and nephews who are of your generation, but their response to the church JPII and Benedict have built has been–sadly– to walk away. They cannot live any longer with the disconnect between where they are, and what the church tells them. And their determination to cherish their gay relatives and friends is certainly part of what makes them reject the church now.

    I would like to get your response to one question, if I may. You say (my emphasis added), “[H]e [i.e., JPII] will probably be remembered by most . . . as a passionate Pastor of the Church who exhorted all individuals to open their hearts and minds to the gracious and all-consoling love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

    However, the late John Paul II continued to cling to archaic and unfounded conceptions and interpretations of human sexuality, which instead of emphasizing the apparent goodness and benevolence of the Creator, almost put limits, in a sense, on God’s creative genius.”

    Here’s my question: doesn’t the “put limits” of the second sentence negate the “all” of the preceding sentence?

    I’m asking, in other words, if we can really claim that JPII was an outstanding pastor who led the whole church to see that God’s heart is open to all, when he upheld teachings that, at the same time, “put limits” on God’s love for select groups?

    This is why I argue that canonizing JPII would be a mistake. Does the church witness to the all-encompassing, all-embracing, all-inclusive love of God? Or does it talk about “all,” while picking and choosing those it assumes God loves, embraces, and includes?

    And what role has JPII played here?

    • I certainly understand where you’re coming from Bill. I really do. I debated for awhile myself whether I would accept the universal proclaimed “sanctity” of John Paul II. However, despite efforts which have, it’s hard not to say indefinately, moved the Church backward, I do think that there was a reason that the Holy Spirit allowed him to be elected.

      Also, it’s much easier for me to acknowledge the sanctity of John Paul II that it is for Pius XII.

      As Catholics, when we declare someone to be worthy of veneration as a Saint we acknowledge that they were indeed a fallible human being.

      I think of examples even among other Bishops of Rome. Look at Leo the Great, he as indeed a valiant and courageous Pope, defending the Church against heresy, yet, he was probably the first imperial Pope as we know it, and it was in him that the theory of papal infallibility and supreme jurisdiction originated. Despite all those negatives, the universal Church still acknowledges his sanctity.

      St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are probably two of the Church’s most eminent and influential theologians. However, it is probably their views on the subject of natural law and how it relates to the subject of human sexuality that has mired Catholic theological debate in the current state that it is now more than anything else. Still, despite these profound flaws, these two highly distinguished and learned men in the Church’s history are acknowledged and acclaimed as Doctors of the Church because of their profound theological and philosophical writings which have aided the Church so much in her development (and as we’ve been learning recently, sometimes even to benefit causes that we hold dear to our hearts).

      One last example is St. Pius X. He was a great pontiff of the Church who indirectly began the process of liturgical reform and encouraged greater reception of the Eucharist during a time when the laity probably received the Lord once or twice a year. Still, despite these beneficial pastoral approaches towards the universal Church it was his campaign against “modernism” that made it synonimous with heresy to support any kind of forward thinking initiative that was not in agreement with the Vatican. To some extent, this battle against “modernism” continues to exist to day in Benedict XVI’s crusade against the “dictatorship of relatavism” However, to note for the last time, despite this flaw Pius X is still acknowledged and venerated as being a witness of the Truth throughout his lifetime and bringing souls closer to God. His, most likely, ignorant fear against any kind modernism has largely been abandoned throughout the Church. During the Second Vatican Council the principle of religious liberty for all was even embraced, in stark contrast to Pius X’s opinions on the matter.

      So, as I’ve tried to show from my perspective with these examples, I think that the Church can acknowledge someone as being a Saint while still recognizing their human fallibility. Perhaps the process of John Paul II’s canonization might even evoke and encourage some questioning on some of his more controversial papal decision and actions.

      • Thank you for your reply, Phillip.

        I have a little trouble with the Holy-Spirit-did-it argument, because if we’re going to use that to justify JPII’s canonization (while setting aside the question of whether he inflicted serious harm on the church), we’d have to make the same argument about Pius XII. In other words, once we set off down that road, we’ve shut out precisely the rational questions we need to pursue, as we discern whether the Spirit was truly at work in the life of a person to warrant canonizing that person.

        And clearly we simply see JPII’s legacy differently. You appropriated it as a younger Catholic who was clearly moved by JPII’s example. I approach it as someone who lived through Vatican II and saw that council virtually dismantled by JPII–and so I was not significantly moved by the media hype and image-making that shaped the views of JPII among younger Catholics. In fact, I was repulsed by the image-making, media hype, and personality cult, because there seemed to me such disparity between the surface and what was beneath the surface.

        I remain troubled by the argument that we’ll simply be canonizing a man with warts when we canonize JPII. He was, after all, pope. He was chief pastor of the church. And when the chief pastor of the church exercises his pastoral role in such a way that large numbers of his flock are actively hurt by his pastoral ministry, and when large numbers have walked away and continue to walk away (this is undeniable; statistics indicate this trend strongly), then what are we saying about what it means to be pope, when we canonize such a man? And about what it means to be a good shepherd? To walk in the footsteps of Jesus?

        I’m glad that you and a select group of younger Catholics remain and are willing to work in and with the church. At the same time, I grieve that a significant number of younger folks–including my own niece and nephews have walked away. In my view, their reasons for doing so deserve consideration.

        Canonizing JPII will simply write off those folks and their voices, which might be needed in the church–if people were willing to listen to their reasons for walking away in the period of JPII the Great.

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