Doing my thing of Facebook thread reading and in light of gay marriage being allowed state-by-state, I have seen Youth Minister chatter on resources for equipping their teens for conversations, usually at school, on homosexuality and Catholic Church teaching. The majority of the time I find myself concerned with how some Youth Ministers are approaching the conversation and how they understand their role.
Apologetics is the usual avenue Youth Ministers attempt to prep teenagers to have conversations about their faith in public settings. From what I have observed, the concept of “apologetics” is “defending the faith” and ultimately providing “facts” to “win an argument”. In my opinion, this definition of “apologetics” is really colored through the lens of American politics than apologetics.
Saint Justin Martyr (3rd Century) is a Christian hallmark for drafting commentary that would be foundational for the concept of apologetics. In his lifetime, when Christianity was illegal and Christians were sent to death for not renouncing their faith, it was not a popular idea to convert to or to be a Christian. Justin used his writing and oratory skills to dispel misconceptions of the Christian life. For example, it was popularly believed by non-Christians that the Mass was a cannibalistic ritual where flesh and blood was consumed in secret. Justin spent time to carefully explain the reality of the Eucharist and how worship is central to the life of the Christian community. All of Justin’s work was a careful, artful, and an honest confession and testimony to why he lived his life as a Christian and was willing to lay down his life for his faith.
When our friends or peers pull us into a conversation on homosexuality, gay marriage, and so on it is (hopefully) an honest attempt to understand why we believe in Jesus Christ and the Church against the conflicting realities of a homosexual person and church teaching. Ultimately it is a “right or wrong” argument, which on both sides of the argument diminishes the dignity of the personhood of a person who is homosexual.
Facts are facts and statics can be found to support any argument. When a discussion is started on homosexuality and the Catholic Church, the short answer should be “the Catholic Church has members who are homosexual and we love them”.
Back in undergrad, as Counseling & Theology major, I took an elective called “Counseling Women and Girls”. The only thing that bothered me with the class of 45 students was that I was one of two guys. The other guy showed up with a notebook, looking like James Dean with a white t-shirt and jeans, and in class conversation he could cite page number and paragraph from memory (I really didn’t like that guy).
In one class we watched the HBO Special “If these Walls could talk”, which told the story of an elderly lesbian couple and the difficulties when one was hurt, hospitalized, and passed away. As a Catholic University, all students had to take two theology and philosophy classes plus an additional one class in either of the two fields. Two students took an opportunity to vent against one of the theology professors for being rigid, uncaring towards feelings, and close-minded. It came to light they were upset that their Theology 1 professor was a Moral Theologian. I noted that it is a rare day anyone could “argue” with a moral theologian and win. I spent, at least what felt like over an hour, debating in class Catholicism and it’s teachings on homosexuality. Yet instead of focusing the “right and wrong” approach, my focus was on the call for chastity for all people, healthy relationships, and simply being Christian. Now my professor, Dr. T, was a self-professed cafeteria catholic whose counseling background was feminist theory, but nuns raised her as a teen so she held a deep love for the Church. Dr. T interjected questions to facilitate the debate within the class. At the end of the class I was physically and mentally exhausted, but from what I could tell I did not out right offend anyone personally, so I was geared to get back to my dorm. On the way out of the building one of my peers stopped me and said “Thank you, I really respect you for what you did in there”.
Gay Catholic teens are in our pews on Sunday and in our Youth Groups. Religion can be an organization that is good at defining “who is in and who is out”. Jesus dealt with it in his time with those kicked out of everyday life. Risking death one of these marginalized people approached Jesus in a crowd and said, “If you choose, you can make me whole” and immediately Jesus reached out to him and said, “I do choose it, be whole”. It had to have been devastatingly stressful to be a Catholic during the time of Justin Martyr, feeling worry and anxiety for your life on a daily basis. As Catholics, should our parishes and youth ministries be places where parishioners who are homosexual should live in fear of being their true self during worship or small group?
When our teens are drawn into a conversation on Church teaching and homosexuality, please teach them how to carefully witness through apologetics to give their reason for their faith. That is not an argument to be “won or lost”, it is a witness for why they believe and follow Jesus Christ. It places them in a positive conversation that strengthens them as a Catholic disciple of Jesus Christ in the world today. If they have the opportunity to make the statement “we have Catholics who are gay and we love them”, you may find new parishioners entering your church.