Imagine that you are a critic of the “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction” conference, sponsored by the Courage apostolate and the Detroit Archdiocese, August 10-12. You could stand outside the venue in Plymouth, Michigan, holding signs on the first morning of the conference, as some couple-dozen members of a dissenting gay-advocacy group did.
Or you could accept an expenses-paid invitation to give your witness as a “gay” Catholic to the several hundreds gathered for the conference, and then send out critical “tweets” about the conference on Twitter while you’re there, like Joseph Prever (“@stevegershom”) did.
A Conference Roughly “Tweeted”
Prever, who chose to “come out” as a “gay” Catholic two years ago after writing under the pseudonym “Steve Gershom,” was there to present his testimony, along with several others with same-sex attraction. On the morning of August 11, Prever tweeted:
Sitting here at this conference hearing a bunch of straight people discuss my condition makes me understand feminism way way way better.
Prever was just beginning to “semi-live-tweet” some of his reactions to the presentations. It would be safe to say that Prever’s tweets indicate he was not overly enamored with the content being shared by several fellow conference presenters.
As Dr. Timothy Lock gave his plenary presentation, “Same-Sex Attractions As a Symptom of a Broken Heart,” Prever tweeted:
The topic of this talk is the psychological genesis, ish, of homosexuality and it’s not bad but it’s still really hard to listen to…. He stipulated @ outset that one size doesnt fit all but that’s not the way he’s talking now… The phrase “boy enters the male world” is making me bristle so hard my shirt is going to rip at the hackles… Speaker said “what is exotic becomes erotic” and someone laughed… Just showed slide demonstrating detachment from hostile dad. Picture was Darth Vader & Luke. Much hilarity. I think I’m leaving… Can’t tell if I’m upset because this is true or because it’s false or because it’s too personal… This presenter is actually bending over backwards to be sensitive, minus the Darth Vader thing…. I really miss my dog… I can’t wait to give my talk… Your MOM embraces authentic masculinity…
He went on to criticize a central theme of Dr. Rachel Lu’s presentation “Eros Divided: Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Homoerotic Love?” with this tweet:
I didn’t really just hear a Catholic say that Eros is all about the perpetuation of the species, did I??
Prever/Gershom was not quite finished, though. His next comment was:
So far I have heard an awful lot of speakers offering Catholics ways to feel good about what they already think about gay people.
He added tweets that several contributors to the “Spiritual Friendship” blog site seemed to find amusing:
Drink whenever someone conflates same-sex attraction with lust… Drink whenever someone says “wounded”… Drink whenever someone rhymes exotic with erotic… Drink whenever someone says “masculine power” but means semen.
Spiritual Friendship bloggers Eve Tushnet (who was also an invited guest speaker at the conference), Greg Webb, Matt Jones, and Melinda Selmys either “favorited” or commented on such tweets, including Selmys’s comment “@stevegershom lol…you’re gonna be so polluted! :)”
As Prever’s fellow presenters Andrew Comiskey and Robin Teresa Beck gave their witnesses, he tweeted:
We have moved on from theoreticals to testimonials and I am relieved! This guy [Comiskey] is sincere & humble even if not right… Laughing & clapping at the classic “GLBTQRSTUV” joke… Ruh Rob. Speaker immediately before me [Beck] appears to be gearing up to rail against using the Gay word.
Is This the Same Guy?
But wait, in addition to appearing at the Detroit conference, doesn’t Prever have his essay included in the first conference volume just published by Ignatius Press, Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction, in which Prever praises (as he also did during his live presentation at the conference) the guiding words of the late Courage apostolate founder Fr. John Harvey?
Didn’t Prever also say in a very recent Catholic News Agency interview: “Somebody said recently that it would be wonderful if there were a branch of Courage in every diocese, and I think that’s absolutely true. It’s a shame that somebody should have to travel far and wide to find help”?
Isn’t he a faithful son of the Church, striving to live out her teachings? Isn’t there a great deal of good writing to be found at his “Steve Gershom” blog site?
Yes. I’d have to say so. Well then, one may ask—am I merely calling out these “tweets” to embarrass him for juvenile conduct?
No—that’s not it. Rather, I found the juxtaposition of these “tweets” with Prever’s other more positive statements to be an effective illustration of just how as-yet unsettled, unseasoned, and uncertain he really seems to be regarding certain aspects of same-sex attraction.
Additionally, one might refer to other examples, such as Prever’s recent August 9 self-congratulation (via Facebook) on his second anniversary of “coming out,” in which he said:
Well-meaning straight folks who say that Catholics should never come out: may God forgive you for the heavy burdens of shame that you help to bind on your brothers and sisters.
Yet it was our own US Bishops who said in 2006 that general public self-disclosures in a parish setting are not helpful and should not be encouraged.
Just last year, Prever offered a blog-post series in which he asked himself whether a man could “fall in love” with another man, at one point writing:
I don’t know. I tend strongly towards the latter theory: that eros between men is intrinsically, and not only accidentally, consummationless; unfulfillable in principle, and therefore wrongheaded from the start. But I’ve got good and wise friends …whose experience and conclusions are different. That’s okay.
So, is Prever still wrestling with the question of whether it’s okay for two men to fall in love? He was a dozen or more months ago, which doesn’t suggest a very settled understanding of an important bright-line concept.
In March of this year, in a Crisis combox, Prever claimed that my saying that the Church views homosexuality as a “condition associated with affective immaturity, which may be transitory in adolescents,” was:
particularly troubling and irresponsible, because it encourages people to assume that heterosexual people are necessarily more “affectively mature” than homosexual people. That is a prejudice, and a demonstrably false one.
Prever did not seem open to the limited term “association” used by the Church, insisting instead that this must imply the “prejudice” he asserts above.
Summarizing, this is all the same guy—someone who, self-admittedly, has not yet resolved some greatly important aspects of his lived experience with SSA.
Does Having SSA Make You an Expert On SSA?
Having said all that, here is the deeply essential point: Organizers of the conference and book—and even Prever himself in an above comment—place a real premium upon the value of “testimonial” voices of those who live with same-sex attraction. But there is an inherent danger with this approach that must always be vigilantly addressed. Not everyone who has SSA adequately understands SSA. And this includes some (I’m inclined to think many) Catholics with SSA who are seeking to live chaste lives through continence.
And herein lies the one weakness that, in my view, was present in an otherwise rock-solid conference (and book). Joseph Prever and Eve Tushnet should not have been included alongside the other stellar presenters, particularly those with SSA, because Prever and Tushnet have not yet demonstrated a sufficiently settled “expertise” regarding the authentically Catholic anthropology and theology associated with homosexuality.
The other testimonials from those with same-sex attraction were, as I witnessed them, seasoned, settled, certain, and integrated. The presenters “embodied” the fullness of the faith regarding SSA. That was not my experience in listening to (and reading) Prever and Tushnet. They shouldn’t have been given a public platform at this time, both for their own good and for the good of attendees and readers, precisely because they currently lack sufficient capacity to articulate some important elements of the Church’s authentic but nuanced approach to same-sex attraction, despite living with SSA and trying to live in accord with Church teaching.
Surely it seems arrogant to say so, right? That is, until one points out that this is precisely why “gay” Catholics associated with dissenting groups like Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry, “Owning Our Faith” (oops, other than Tushnet, who was part of that project), and other pro-gay groups weren’t invited to present at the conference.
Simply said, being “gay” is not enough; being a “gay Catholic” is not enough; being a “celibate, gay Catholic” is not enough. And even being a “chaste, celibate, gay Catholic” is not enough. To be a credible public witness, one must both “embody” and articulate the “truth-love” of Church teaching and pastoral care related to same-sex attraction from a position of confidence, clarity, and certainty, with an undivided mind, heart, and purpose.
Let’s pray that all who endeavor to serve the Church as public witnesses to her truth and charity will find the grace to attain this lofty goal.
I, too, urge readers to please pray for Prever. I have no personal animosity toward him, but I’m calling out Prever’s seriously immature conduct toward those who made the gratuitous and gracious gesture to include him in this richly rewarding conference on SSA. I will have future posts on the substance of Prever’s witness (as well as Eve Tushnet’s) and their several errors.
For the time being, though, readers and conference attendees deserve to be aware not only of the words Prever shared in the conference (stay tuned), but also what he has been saying about the conference.
Editor’s note: The image above of Mr. Prever is a still from “The Third Way” produced by Blackstone Films.