Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Speaking the Truth About Homosexuality

This week there has been a bit of a storm in the Texas A&M History Department, one in which I find myself somewhat conflicted.

The story began when Rep. Wayne Christian introduced an amendment into the Texas legislature requiring that if universities use state money to fund "a gender and sexuality center," they must also spend an equal amount on a center promoting "family and traditional values". The amendment passed the Texas House. In an age of tight budgets, that means organizations like A&M's GLBT Resource Center would likely get the ax, rather than adding another center to the university's costs.

The A&M Student Senate then introduced and passed a resolution supporting Rep. Christian's amendment, though the Student Body President vetoed it.

On May 9th the faculty of the Department of Anthropology unanimously issued a statement:

We ask that the administration address the recent series of events surrounding the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) community on campus. We, as faculty, condemn the recent TAMU Student Senate Bill.... By suggesting that students seeking guidance from the GLBT Resource Center are not represented by the terms “family”, “tradition”, or “values”, this bill blatantly goes against Texas A&M’s commitment to a diverse, unified campus that incorporates multiple perspectives as part of Aggie tradition and values. Other recent events -- such as the secret recording and then broadcasting of GLBT meetings on YouTube -- ostracize GLBT students from the safe space that the TAMU campus should be.... We acknowledge that these current events have incited a sense of fear and mistrust among the GLBT community. We reach out with empathy to all those affected and remain committed to addressing injustice as members of the campus community and as anthropologists.... We ask that the administration provide accountability by releasing a statement expressing the University’s commitment to GLBT and other underrepresented groups.

This was followed by letters of support for the GLBT community and Resource Center from the Dean and the Vice President for Student Affairs. Prof. Killingsworth, Head of the English Department, stated that "a groundswell of support from faculty, staff and students in the Department of English" had prompted him to write as well. "Many members of the English Department have expressed a desire to sign a petition," he wrote, "but in the interest of acting quickly, I have decided not to collect those signatures at this time."

Then the History Department got in on the act, writing its own letter. The draft, currently collecting feedback and soon signatures, reads as follows:

In 1965, Texas A&M head football coach Gene Stallings claimed that adding African American football players to the team would promote disunity. The same year, the first thirteen women to enroll at A&M appeared in the yearbook with their portraits arranged in the form of a question mark, illustrating the student editors’ anxiety about the place of women in Aggieland.

We, members of the Department of History, wish to add our voices to those who have spoken out against the attacks on the GLBT Resource Center. These attacks echo the divisive sentiments voiced four decades ago, that diversity somehow threatens the unity of the Aggie community. Since then, Texas A&M has grown richer through welcoming and recognizing the diversity that is Texas and the nation.

We wish to expose the lie that a GLBT resource center somehow resides outside of the values that define the Aggie community. GLBT students have been struggling for a home on campus since 1976. The university must ensure that GLBT students are a welcome part of the Aggie community. That women and African American students are an indispensible part of Texas A&M has been answered with a resounding yes. This process of inclusion must continue. Texas A&M is not complete without its GLBT members.

The chorus of supportive emails from the faculty was thunderous. But I did not join it.

The teaching of the Catholic Church is both clear and moderate. It is not bigoted or hateful, but it is uncompromising:

Homosexuality... has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Per this teaching, I am happy to affirm the dignity and respect due to everyone on our campus. Indeed, I am called to do so. But I cannot suggest that homosexual behavior is anything other than what it is: disordered, unnatural and immoral. If a university cannot teach the truth about the human person, what are we doing?

A colleague commented to me, "Well, we have to show that we're progressive." I was reminded of recent comments by Pope Benedict XVI. (He spoke primarily about liturgy, but his statement applies here as well): "Not infrequently tradition and progress are clumsily opposed. In reality, the two concepts are integrated." There is no need for conflict here: one may uphold the dignity of all people - including members of the A&M GLBT community - without abandoning the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church and all Christendom that homosexual acts are wrong.

Yet the History Department's draft - whether its writers intended it or not - potentially encourages that conflict by stating that "we wish to expose the lie that a GLBT resource center somehow resides outside of the values that define the Aggie community." It is only a small step to conclude that Christian faith is not an Aggie value, and may even be opposed to them.

I was also reminded of J. M. Wilson's comments on the proposed legislation. No one backing the amendment actually expects universities to set up "family and traditional values" centers. But why not? As he points out, living chastity on a college campus - where hormone-fueled singles are surrounded by attractive scantly-attired sex-seeking young people - is hardly an easy thing. But while universities offer support for all manner of sexual activity, there is precious little support for abstinence. Nor, for that matter, is there any support for those living the married life. Perhaps the argument is made that various churches support such groups off-campus, but there are also off-campus groups supporting the GLBT community. Likewise, one might ask: does having Christianity supporting you somehow make the chaste no longer members of the university community? And if they are members of the community, should they not be supported? This has been the argument in favor of the GLBT Resource Center; why can it not also be used in favor of "family and traditional values"?

With all this in mind, I was strongly inclined to reply to the faculty and graduate students of my department - in the most careful Thomas More-esque language I could muster - but I declined to do so.

When Prof. Killingsworth, Head of the English Department, wrote about a petition in support of the GLBT Resource Center, he noted that "many others do not feel that they can safely sign their names to such a petition". I fear just the opposite - that those who oppose such a petition, for whatever reason - will be labeled bigots and homophobes and shunned by their academic colleagues. The Vice President's letter quoted Ernest Boyer's definition that "a college or university, at its best, is an open, honest community, a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed." It is a sad comment on the academy that I did not feel I could entrust my professors with honest views.

Hat tips to Earthly City, The Magdalene Sisters and the ever-vigilant Maggie Perry for the links.
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