Thomas STEVENSON, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2006. pp. 103. No Price Listed. pb. ISBN-13:978-1-56023-581-1.
Reviewed by Georgie Ann WEATHERBY, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258-0065

In Sons of the Church, Stevenson explores homosexuality in a most noninvasive way. The book at first appears so loose in its structure as to be inconclusive in nature. With further attention, however, this weakness turns into a visible strength, lending power to voices often undirected, who speak completely from the depths of their hearts. This achieves a candid, amazingly seamless dialogue providing a rare "insider's" view.

There is an assertion early on that sets the tone for this learning experience: "More often than not the predisposition... is to view homosexuality as immoral. For something to be immoral there has to be culpability or responsibility, and culpability or responsibility by their nature entail choice" (pg. 6). Beginning with Catholicism in youth, we learn that most of these men would, if they only could, choose a straight lifestyle. Cast in the light of sinful perversion, nothing was positive in their early experience (whether at home, in school, in church, or at work) about being gay to the many who act as "witnesses" in this book. For others, they at least prayed to God to make the time easier to get through.

Most of these "witnessing" men conformed for a good part of their lives to heterosexual marriage, children, and even a dream home in the suburbs. The Catholic Church, their family, their peers, their teachers, and even their priests had attempted to beat any gay tendencies out of them (sometimes literally, or at least emotionally, with stern threats). But living a lie never led to change, only to severe unhappiness and sometimes man-on-man affairs on the side. In the end, everyone gets hurt. Certainly no one wins. There is the recommendation that a voice be given to the spouses and children of those "in conflict" as well. No one hears their anguish, researches their discomfort with the result of a partner/father eventually "coming out," which is aptly described as a "process" (pg. 49).

In feeling unloved as a gay man, self-hatred and despair are the two most frequent responses. Promiscuity is often the result of being unlovable, hence being unable to love others. For the first time, the term "homonegative" is used to depict mainstream culture.

Loyalty, commitment, and trust are treated in-depth, as these witnesses move past the one night stand/party scene into true, lasting relationships. One man testifies that he finally realized that he is better for everyone when he is "in a relationship" (pg. 73). This is a former seminarian whose vocation was not answering that call. Another witnesses that commitment moves far beyond a physical, sexual act. It assumes that one will be there for, and with, the other person. "It's about intimacy through life" (pg. 76). The word "forever" commonly reveals itself in this witnessing. In addition, sacrifice and prayer are the threads that weave religious faith into the love expressed—strengthening it in tangible as well as intangible ways.

Loss is also discussed. In an age of AIDS and aging, one has to deal with the reality of losing their partner and others. One witness speaks tenderly of those friends and loved ones departed as getting together up above so that they are not lonely. Also, they look down on him when he needs it most. All it takes is a silent request to bring them forward. This individual goes so far as to discuss feeling their actual momentary presence at times.

Initial vows and reaffirming them is a big part of this commitment. To read these heartfelt messages shared in public reminds us all that the goals and hopes and sacrifices of gay relationships differ little-to-none from straight marriages. In fact, at such ceremonies many formerly homophobic people are touched beyond compare and finally understand that "love is love"—between two people. This has also assisted other gay men previously in denial, in seeking therapy, to deal with deep-seated issues of confusion, and often self-hatred. In retrospect, there is a gentleness expressed in and about these relationships that is often (or at least at times) missing from heterosexual unions.

Finally, "absolutization" is examined. The example posited is one of simply categorizing an entire, diverse group of people as "the gays." This is reductionism at its worst. "Human beings are reduced to a single aspect of who they are" (pg. 85). This is then related to the gay community itself, which is in some ways no less of an offender than others. An intriguing discussion of homogeneity results—getting dragged into the "gay lifestyle," whatever that entails. No two people are the same, and everyone lives their life differently. In the gay community, sometimes "gayness" is focused on over and above "humanness." Labeling theory arises out of this realization. When one person labels another (or a society labels a person, for that matter), "you've missed the person" (pg. 87). A complex being is reduced to a single, one-dimensional identification. Exclusively gay situations are equated with living in a ghetto—whether it be a gay ghetto, a black, Hispanic, or feminist one, or whatever—one pulls themself into it and in doing so, disconnects with the larger community. That is seen as the mirror opposite of a Eucharistic event (pg. 90).

The Catholic Church teaches of gay relationships as sinful, hence it is no surprise that much gay isolation is destructive and unloving in nature. The healthiest way to approach this particular Church teaching is to view it as counter to love, and therefore as anything but Christian in its message. But that is not the center of the Catholic Church—a line from a hymn in the end sums it all up: "We will know they are Christians by their love" (pg. 100).

This is a "must read" for those who teach about discrimination in any form. It is also useful for those who have been hurt by the ignorance of discrimination, no matter where they are located on the societal "acceptance" scale.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books