Always Our Children has drawn fire for many reasons, but I am concerned over the bishops’ apparent encouragement of the use of the word “gay” to describe those with a homosexual orientation. I have long been convinced that the clever use of words, or verbal engineering, could ultimately spell the demise of our way of life.
One need look no further than the ongoing slaughter of unborn children cloaked by the rhetoric of “choice” and “reproductive rights” to see the power of words to redefine an issue. As John Paul II has reminded us in Evangelium Vitae (58), “this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience . . . [N]o word has the power to change the reality of things.” True, no word has the power to change reality, but words do have the power to cause confusion.
The term “gay” can be used by some to distract our attention from the intrinsically disordered nature of homosexual acts, and focus attention on the apparent innateness of the homosexual orientation. In some circles, there is a deliberate effort to define promiscuous sexual acts—homosexual and heterosexual—as a new civil right. There is, however, a difference between a disordered appetite and a civil right.
The use of these new words for an old malady could imply that this orientation is always permanent, or that one’s personal identity is determined by sexual orientation, both of which are false. Persons determine their identity by freely choosing to do what they ought, not by choosing what they want or feel inclined to do. Aided by grace, pastoral care, counseling, and the sacraments, disordered appetites can be held in check, and indeed, become a vehicle for an ongoing conversion.
By encouraging the use of the word “gay,” focus can be shifted away from the clear Christian condemnation of homosexual acts as immoral and disordered. Also, this usage seems to assume that the homosexual orientation is innate. The problem is immediately evident. The next step is to argue that this Christian teaching suppresses the predetermined nature of those with this orientation, and is therefore insensitive.
There is a huge difference between the philosophy of determinism so rampant in our age of victimology, and the promise of conversion through sacrifice held out by the Gospel.
This line of argument is certainly not the intent of the bishops. But, by encouraging the use of the word “gay,” the bishops’ statement may confuse parents concerning their proper role with respect to children who struggle with homosexual orientation or temptation. Parents have the responsibility, in love, to tell the truth about that orientation and temptation, and to guide their children into the life of genuine purity to which we are all called.
What a difference a word makes.