The following article first appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the Rainbow Spirit, the journal of the Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).
The Real Meaning of Courage
By Michael J. Bayly
Volume 4, Issue 1 – Fall 2003
In August, members of CPCSM joined with other Catholic individuals, churches, and organizations to form the Dignity Coalition so as to counter the discredited science and narrow theology of the Courage movement – the annual conference of which was held August 7-10 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Courage – which goes by the name “Faith in Action” in Minnesota – purports to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The movement labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry,” and equates chastity with celibacy.
Although Courage acknowledges that the “inclination” of “homosexual attractions” is “psychological understandable,” such attractions are nevertheless considered “objectively disordered”- a view promulgated by the hierarchical church.
Courage insists that it “does not provide professional therapy” while, at the same time, maintaining the discredited belief that “some people, especially young people, are able to further their psychosexual development [i.e., “move beyond homosexual attractions”] with spiritual and psychological aid.”
Courage also discourages the use of the terms “gay”and “lesbian,” believing such labels reduce individuals to their “sexual attractions.” Bisexuality, transgenderism, and intersexuality are apparently completely off the group’s radar.
CPCSM has always supported those who feel called by God to live a celibate life. Yet as Darlene White (pictured above), a member of the Dignity Coalition and the mother of a lesbian, notes: “We have serious concerns when Courage and the hierarchical Church insist that all gay and lesbian people are called to lifelong celibacy as a result of their God-given sexual orientation. This reflects an extremely limited and ultimately unhealthy understanding of human sexuality and of God’s presence and call in the lives of gay and lesbian people.”
Responding to the use of the term “intrinsically disordered” to describe her son’s sexual orientation, Mary Lynn Murphy (pictured above) notes that: “It’s insulting to families who instinctively understand that our gay kids are no more ‘disordered’ and no more ‘called to celibacy’ by virtue of their sexual orientation than our straight kids. All of our adult children, gay and straight, are called to responsible sexuality.”
Unlike Courage, CPCSM and other Catholic organizations and individuals recognize human sexuality – in all its diversity – as a God-given gift that we are called to holistically integrate into our lives. For the majority of people this means being called to cultivate a romantic relationship with another – a relationship which by its love and commitment is pure in thought and conduct, i.e. chaste. Responding to such a call – as many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people will attest – requires great courage.
As the executive coordinator of CPCSM, I had the honor of convening the Dignity Coalition and working with a number of inspiring individuals and groups in planning the various events that comprised the coalition’s “response” to the Courage conference.
On Saturday, August 9, for instance, the coalition hosted an “alternative forum” at nearby St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The forum featured renowned sexologist Simon Rosser, Ph.D., a lifelong Catholic and a director at the Department of Family Practice and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Rosser eloquently spoke of the church’s continually evolving understanding of human sexuality.
The forum also included Gretchen and Tom Murr and their gay son David. All were featured earlier this year in a Star Tribune story about the increasing number of gay youth “coming out.” At the Dignity Coalition forum, the Murr family members (pictured below with Dr. Simon Rosser) powerfully shared their experiences of David’s coming out.
Throughout the duration of the Courage conference at the University of St. Thomas, the Dignity Coalition had a permanent presence in the quadrangle outside of Murray Hall. Brian McNeill of Dignity Twin Cities fasted and slept in a tent for the entire duration of our presence at the conference. I also stayed overnight at the coalition’s encampment and had the opportunity to engage in respectful dialogue with several Courage conference attendees.
The question of authority came up frequently. We all agreed that our ultimate authority was God, but for the members of Courage, the voice of God is discernible only in the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, this voice told them that as people afflicted with “same-sex attractions,” any physical expression of these attractions was sinful. The idea that God’s guiding voice could resonate within and be mediated through one’s sexual experiences was disconcerting for many of the conference attendees.
Also, when various Courage conference attendees spoke to me of their past experiences of the so-called “gay lifestyle,” most spoke of compulsive, promiscuous, and ultimately unsatisfying sexual encounters. Yet instead of identifying their past dissatisfaction and unhappiness as stemming from sexual addiction or an inability or unwillingness to develop a healthy sex life, they were being told by the hierarchical church, via Courage, to blame their sexual orientation.
I came away from many of my conversations with conference attendees (the majority of whom were male) with the belief that what the Courage movement offers is primarily support in dealing with sexual addiction and/or stunted psychosexual development.
For instance, a number of male attendees spoke of “falling off the wagon” and engaging in binge sex. Ironically, Courage appears to actual promote such dysfunction. Keep trying to be celibate, it says, but when you “fall off the wagon” and engage in binge and/or furtive sex, it’s your sexual orientation that’s to blame and not our “ministry” which prevents you from recognizing the real problem and encouraging you to be open to forging healthy sexual relationships.
Tragically, such healthy, loving, and committed relationships between two people of the same gender are always considered immoral and life-denying by the hierarchical church and by groups like Courage.
Thus, rather than honoring and encouraging the difficult yet holy task of integration, Courage promotes the destructive activity of repression. Perhaps, in part, this is because integration requires the recognition of ambiguity and paradox – qualities intrinsic to humanity’s evolving relationship with God yet dismissed by rigid and absolutist systems of religious hubris.
During its four-day “response” to Courage, the Dignity Coalition challenged such a system and its limited views on the presence and call of the sacred in the lives of gay and lesbian people.
The church – the people of God – is changing and evolving in relation to its understanding of human sexuality, and it’s the willingness of GLBT people and their families to speak their truth which is contributing most to this transformation. Members of CPCSM were honored to be part of this coalition and thus stand and work at the growing edge of our rich Catholic tradition.
Michael J. Bayly
Following are two letters-to-the-editor published in the Rainbow Spirit in relation to the Dignity Coalition’s presence at the Courage conference:
Responding to Courage
The Dignity Coalition’s presence at the Courage conference felt more rewarding than any experience I have had with CPCSM in a long time.
Our goals and our issues were clear. Our tone was respectful. Through excellent press coverage we got our message out to the public in a passionate and dedicated voice. Simon Rosser was brilliant. Catholic and non-Catholic friends of mine in attendance were extremely impressed by him.
What excited me most about the coalition’s response to the Courage conference was the opportunity, at long last, to proclaim publicly my pride in GLBT people in a Catholic setting. Through demonstration, conversation (some of it heated, some of it reflective), song, prayer, and a great spirit of community, we took full advantage of the chance to tell the world our unapologetic truth. That has been a rare experience for me in my Catholic evolution.
Without Michael Bayly I am sure the event would not have been as powerful. His leadership, in concert with other members of the coalition, created a peaceful but absolutely determined tone over the entire four days.
Mary Lynn Murphy
When I was part of the Dignity Coalition at the University of St. Thomas and at the alternative forum, I remember looking around at the people present and thinking, “I am proud to be here.” I was impressed by the organizational skills and cooperation it took to put this event together. The speakers at the alternative forum were both informative and funny. They not only spoke from the head but from the heart. That impressed me.
Different groups came together and took a stand. It particularly meant a lot to me to see members from PFLAG there, and to see how they have not only accepted their children but have embraced them.
Being there cost the people time and, in some cases, real courage. Brian McNeill camped out and fasted. Some food service people at the university expressed their feelings by taking a day off rather than serving the Courage convention participants. Our voice was gentle but clear, strong, and open. I was (and am) proud of that.
As I learned more about the Courage movement, I couldn’t help but feel sadness for its members. I looked around and, feeling the sense of freedom, peace, pride that we in the Dignity Coalition felt, thought: “What a shame that these Courage people feel that they have to contain a part of themselves that is good and honest. That is not what it is all about.” I was proud we were there to give them alternative information and a choice.
That weekend we showed our passion, our integrity, our strength, our openness. That is something to be proud of and celebrate.
For an update on CPCSM's ministry work with and for GLBT Catholics and their families, see the December 2006 Wild Reed post CPCSM's Year in Review.
CPCSM’s website can be viewed here.
See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Keeping the Spark Alive
The Dreaded “Same-sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: “Complex and Nuanced”
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
Inclusive Catholics Celebrate Gay Pride
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection