Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Letter to the Roman Catholic Archbishop William Goh of Singapore

Below is a letter which Dominic Chua has send, a few days ago, to the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Singapore, regarding the latter's recent pronouncements about gay people.


Dear Archbishop William Goh,

In many of the recent pronouncements about the gay community here in Singapore, including your pastoral letter, a simple, unsupported assertion is made, that gay people are somehow harmful - 'detrimental' - to society. I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, that you sincerely believe this, and I would like to explore this assertion with you.

The best argument that I can construct for such a claim would take the following shape: if gay people received official 'endorsement', if gay culture somehow became mainstream, we would see many more straight people turning gay, or perhaps bisexual people who might otherwise have gone into heterosexual marriages (and produced children) instead pair up with people of the same gender, and this would limit a particular society's ability to reproduce itself into the next generation.

To this argument, I would put forward two thoughts:

Firstly, the large majority of gay (and straight) people experience their sexuality as immutable and a given. Psychological findings, including the latest position statement from the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists (from April 2014), have come down firmly against reparative therapy as futile and indeed psychologically harmful to those attempting to modify their sexual orientation.

Secondly, most estimates of the size of the gay component of any given population or community are relatively small, and put this figure at between 2.5% and 7%. In 2013, the UK's Office of National Statistics set the figure at 1.5%, while a comprehensive 2003 Australian survey found that 97.4% of men identified as heterosexual, 1.6% as homosexual and 0.9% as bisexual. For women 97.7% identified as heterosexual, 0.8% as lesbian and 1.4% as bisexual.

When we put these two ideas together, then we get a better idea of the size and scale of detriment. Assuming that these figures can be approximately transferred to a Singapore context, then we are looking at something under 2% of the total population who might 'swing' from an opposite-gender relationship to a same-gender relationship (I have taken the figure for the bisexual component of a population, and added to that the very generous assumption that some homosexual people might be willingly 'converted').

What I hope to point out is - can we really consider these figures 'detrimental' to society? We could take the extreme position, and argue that even one bisexual person who marries and reproduces is worth the mighty struggle against the demonic forces of the gay agenda. But a more rational approach would examine at the wider costs to society of holding to such an extreme view - the continued, unnecessary stigmatisation of the gay community, the fostering of ignorance and prejudice about them by official discourses (state, religion, mass media), and the very real human suffering that all this produces - not just for gay people, but also for the families of which they are very much a part - for their mums and dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces.

When we tell society that gay people are a 'detriment', we place very real impediments in the way of families accepting their gay children. We enforce a culture of 'don't ask, don't tell', that forces gay men and women into lives of secrecy and a lack of communication with their families. We witness gay men and women entering into sham marriages out of a desire to please their parents - and because of the artifice involved, many of these marriages founder. This, I would suggest, is where the real detriment to society lies. This is what happens when we loudly trumpet the need for 'strong family values'.


There is a second possible argument for the idea of 'detriment' - namely, that if more people accepted themselves as gay, they would be led down a miserable, lonely, childless, disease-ridden path i.e. the gay 'lifestyle' is harmful to those people who engage in 'it' and who 'pursue' it. This is certainly a view that is (or was) popular in Catholic circles - having grown up a Catholic, this was the dominant idea I received. But to Catholic theologians like John Harvey and Benedict Groeschel, who have popularised such a view of gay people as damaged, I would ask - what sample of gay men and women have they interacted with?

If we consistently interact with people who perceive themselves as flawed and significantly in need of change, then it would be very easy to conclude that the gay community is in dire crisis and sorely in need of salvation. Indeed - such a view is mandated by our Media Development Authority, which penalises media outlets should they contravene a ban on positive (even if true!) depictions of gay persons! So if all we know of gay people is mediated by a negative filter that has been set in place, how fair and how just are our ideas about gay people?

But if the Catholic Church (and similarly others who have voiced opposition to the gay community) were to truly open its heart to the gay community, and meet the gay community on its terms, you would see how well-adjusted many gay people are (in spite of the many obstacles that society has placed in the way of their personal development). To this end, I would extend an invitation to you to visit Pink Dot this Saturday, to meet with gay Singaporeans and experience this for yourself.


I would also like to raise the idea that perhaps that is a need for a broader, more encompassing theological vision on the part of the Catholic Church. This letter is not the place to debate theology, and doubtless, many Catholic apologetics will fault my understanding of the idea of 'natural law' - but if science is telling us that homosexuality is found in many species of God's creation, and if we accept that homosexuality has remained in these species in spite of evolution, which expresses God's plan, then surely a re-think of the *purpose* of homosexuality is well in order, rather than a rigid adherence to a theology that has been shaped from an earlier, antiquated view of the engineering of the human body?

When we look at the recent history of the Church in this area, we note that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has been active in silencing Catholic theologians who were helping the Church move forward in terms of its ministry to gay persons - Fr. John McNeil, Fr. Robert Nugent, Sr. Jeanine Grammick, among others. Can we be certain that the teaching ban imposed on these members of the church was fair and just? According to Pope John Paul II, 'Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.' Are we so fearful of 'error' that we cannot bring ourselves to listen to the stories of gay people, to contemplate the possibility that the Church's current teaching might be misconstrued, in much the same way that it took the Church some 400 years to admit that its geo-centric view of the universe was flawed?

Andrew Sullivan expresses the teleological dimension of homosexuality very well: gay people, on his count, have a role in the sustenance of society - it's just that their role "is somewhat different; they may be involved in procreation in a less literal sense: in a society's cultural regeneration, its entrepreneurial or intellectual rejuvenation, its religious ministry, or its professional education. Unencumbered by children, they may be able to press the limits of the culture or the business infrastructure, or the boundaries of intellectual life, in a way that heterosexuals, by dint of a different type of calling, cannot.' When we look at the Church's own cultural life, we see that greats such as Michaelangelo and George Frideric Handel, or even Fr. Henri Nouwen, were gay. Their service to the Church and to humanity is a different sort of fruitfulness, a special form of multiplication that the Church would do well to recognise and nurture.

Truly, I join with you in praying that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the mind of the Church and guide it in the path of truth and justice and out of the double-bind in which it has currently placed itself, with regards to its gay children. Being gay is ultimately not a 'lifestyle' but a living out of one's life. It is a question of faithfulness and integrity for the gay person - faithfulness to who God has created him or her to be, and a matter of profound psychological and spiritual integrity.

Yours sincerely,
Dominic Chua

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