Eve Tushnet recently wrote an article in America Magazine titled “Conversion Therapy is Still Happening in Catholic Spaces – and its effects on L.G.B.T. people can be devastating” (May 13, 2021). Throughout, her supposition seems to be that some people are fundamentally (that is, naturally) homosexual. In other words, homosexuality is an immutable aspect of the human nature in certain persons, especially her interviewees. Any effort to grow beyond their homosexual condition is impossible and therefore hurtful to them.
Tushnet’s anthropology (‘LGBT people’) skews her effort. She misuses the language of ‘orientation,’ claiming that some (mostly) Catholic organizations seek to ‘change people’s ‘sexual orientation,’ and ‘create a heterosexual identity for someone who experiences same-sex attraction.’ Tushnet is herself a ‘gay-identified’ Catholic. She extends that mantle over each ‘victim’ of reparative therapy who she mines for anecdotal evidence.
She gets what she assumes. Examining brokenness that undergirds same-sex desires and seeking restoration for core contributors (family-of-origin fractures, sexual trauma, early peer rejection and isolation, etc.) is futile. Why? These persons have a fixed, immutable same-sex orientation. She concludes what she presumes: attempting to move beyond a homosexual ‘orientation’ damages ‘gay’ people and anyone who encourages such repair is abusive.
In challenging Eve’s faulty starting point, we must look at the essence of human nature. Pope Benedict XVI prophetically spells out the pivotal call to revere man’s nature. He said:
Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.1
We as human beings do not determine our orientation. Humanity’s orientation is determined by the One who created us. Our orientation is not ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’ Our orientation is determined by the design written in our beings. Our bodies are the key to our orientation. To claim that orientation is fixed by mere sexual appetites forfeits the design.
When we look at the nature of the human person, we can then determine our destiny, direction, orientation. J. Budziszewski writes:
A natural inclination is not whatever I desire…the point of the adjective “natural” is precisely to call attention to design. It is natural for me to be attracted to the opposite sex, even if I am attracted to my own…it is natural for me to eat a varied diet, even if I prefer nothing but donuts. It is natural for me to use my lungs to take in oxygen, even if I am addicted to sniffing glue. The mere fact that I want something means little by itself…what matters is not how we incline…what matters is how we naturally incline – by the design, according to the Designer.2
We cannot say that one who experiences disordered desire (e.g., same-sex desires) is somehow disqualified from these foundational starting points. To presume so mars human nature. We mar our nature when we deem a ‘gay’ identity natural. The ‘gay’ identity manipulates orientation as to accommodate a sexual desire not written in the logic of the design. Wrong presuppositions skew reality. To do so binds our freedom, poisons our Catholic ethos, and offends the Designer.
It also throws healers under the bus, as Eve does in her article. We at DSM take issue with her indictment of caregivers whom she sullies by ascribing questionable ‘anecdotes’ to them.
Eve subtitles a section of her article as ‘Leaving Space for the Cross.’ We find this incredibly ironic. How far does the Cross go? Does the Cross lay claim to every aspect our lives, even our sexual identities?
The Cross must go to the essence of our being, laying claim to our sexuality. In order for the Cross to reach such depths, disciples must surrender completely to Jesus.
Can the Cross break the back of disorder in our lives? Theologian Mary Healy writes:
Since today there are people with same-sex attraction for whom it seems innate and unalterable, the assumption is often made that to take the biblical teaching at face value is to condemn such persons to a life of loneliness, frustration and unfulfillment. But this assumption is incompatible with the witness of the New Testament. Same-sex attraction is simply one form of the disorder that is in every human heart due to the fall, although it can bring with it particularly difficult crosses. The gospel proclaims not only the forgiveness of sin but the healing of all these forms of disorder and the power to live a transformed life in communion with God and others.3
Eve, leave room for the Cross! Allow it to break the back of every moral disorder. The Savior is not allergic to disorder. The Cross awaits, Eve, for you to let go of your commitment to ‘gay’ identification.
Surrendering to Jesus and His Cross is a process that requires walking partners. We need an empowered Church community. We need skilled helpers. That’s why we take issue with Eve demonizing a host of orthodox caregivers – orthodox in that they, unlike Eve, hold to a sound anthropology and thus a therapeutic trajectory for one’s right to become reconciled to the purpose of her sexuality.
Many of these healers are our friends: Rich Wyler, Richard Fitzgibbons, Fr. John Harvey and Courage International, Joseph Nicolosi, the Archdiocese of Denver, Christopher West and the Theology of the Body Institute, Dr. Bob Schuchts and the John Paul II Healing Center, and our very own Desert Stream Ministries. These colleagues are seasoned caregivers who give of themselves freely to those seeking help.
To portray them as dangerous, Eve uses anecdotal evidence based on questionable recall of counseling experiences. Time and time again, persons who reverse the healing path and embrace the LGBTQ+ lifestyle re-write their therapeutic histories as coercive to the point of caricature. We at DSM have witnessed this in churches and courts and government councils around the country. We’ve felt the impact of it in bad rulings that outlaw a person’s right to choose their therapeutic path. We conclude: the moral reversal into LGBTQ+ identification necessitates skewed self-justification. Orthodox caregivers become the enemy.
Eve’s choice of anecdotes sounds thin and unreal. ‘The therapist offered a tantalizing prospect: “He believed in complete healing of wounds and traumas.”’ ‘She said she wasn’t seeking conversion therapy. However, the Catholic psychologist from whom she sought help would not listen.’ ‘She said her therapist scolded her for “dressing like a boy”; he praised her for being “a highly compliant patient.”’ ‘That I would be healed by learning about [homosexuality] enough and praying enough.’ ‘Her therapist and her spiritual director both seemed to think that marriage was her only “shot at happiness,”’ recalled another interviewee.
Ridiculous. No caregiver in her right mind would say that.
Desert Stream/Living Waters is mentioned, though Eve never asked our opinion. She casts a shadow on us based upon the suicide of a woman we never met, nor had we ever engaged with the caregivers who surrounded her troubled life. Because we did a conference within a 100-mile radius of the woman’s home, Eve implies that we contributed to her trouble. What we did just discover is that this woman spent her last two years in ‘gay’-affirming therapy and with a female lover.
Eve concludes with confusing and unchaste possibilities for her case studies. ‘She has explored relationships with woman, even though she still is figuring out “the moral piece” and how her sexuality and faith might find harmony.’ ‘I’m living with a man and want to pursue gay marriage.’ The last interviewee is living with his partner yet committed to a ‘Catholic sexual ethic.’ ‘We almost broke up because I said, “I’m never gonna be able to give you what you want.” And he said, “I don’t care about that. I want to be with you.”’
Eve’s alternate to ‘conversion therapy’ is a slippery slope. It appears to accommodate not only disorder but sin. ‘Gay’ celibacy and ‘gay’ friendships are still unchaste. The Church must be clear. Jesus came to break the back of any and all moral disorder in our lives. Leave space for the Cross, and don’t crucify Jesus’ members who champion its power.
(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared as a two-part piece, in slightly different form, on the Desert Stream Ministries website.)
3 Mary Healy, Living the Truth in Love, Part II (unpublished work). 2020.
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