The Catholic Church gives approval for homosexual individuals as long as they remain abstinent
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary's program Courage & Encourage Apostolate offers to help men and women "live in accordance" with the church's "teaching on homosexuality." That means being abstinent.
However, a local sociologist and former program leader says that approach is problematic and very different from how the Calgary Wildrose United Church supports members of the gay community.
The Courage program is for "same-sex-attracted people" who are very connected to the Church and feel incompatible with who they are as Catholic Christians. According to the program's website, by providing a "very safe and caring environment" group members meet and share experiences about living "with a same-sex attraction struggle."
"What they might do with their attraction is what will make them feel distant to God," says the diocese's director Michael Soentgerath.
"People join the group to be reinforced and strengthened in their quest for a life of abstinence and live a life with dignity," Soentgerath explains.
The program — which is also offered in other cities — emphasizes that some people might perceive their orientation to be same-sex attracted, even though "they are by default heterosexual" and due to some circumstances in life they might have "homosexualized" themselves, even temporarily.
"If you assist someone in finding their true orientation, which might be heterosexual, that's a wonderful thing because the truth will set us free," Soentgerath adds.
But David Aveline, a sociologist at Mount Royal University who studies human sexuality, is highly critical of Courage's main goal.
"The program is offensive as well as its vocabulary. When they say living with a same-sex attraction, that sounds to me like living with cancer."
The sociologist explains that their techniques are reparative therapy, or conversion therapy (treatment that attempts to convert a gay person into a heterosexual).
"That is not acceptance, that's abuse," Aveline says.
Soentgerath insists that Courage's techniques are not abusive.
"Sometimes people get a little bit angry and find that that our wording is something that they have trouble with."
Soentgerath reinforces his argument by citing a passage from the catechism —principles of the Christian religion— of the Catholic Church:
"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. Under no circumstances can they be approved."
Soentgerath also says Courage does not force gay people to join the program.
"It's like choosing between going to the country club or the hockey group, it's a personal interest group," he says.
By comparison, Calgary Wildrose United Church takes a very different approach.
Unlike Courage, this ministry does not support a life of abstinence for gays and welcomes everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.
According to Kim Holmes-Younger and Ryan Cardwell, both administrators at the Wildrose United Church, the way that both programs address sexual orientation "has to do with their mindset."
"People are being oppressed in that way in religion. It's sad that this is happening in the world," Holmes-Younger says
Another Christian group that has attracted controversy for its relationship with the gay community is Journey Canada, which, according to its website, is a "Christ-centred discipleship ministry that exists to help people find hope and live life through experiencing Jesus in their relationships and sexuality."
Jonathan Brower, artistic director and co-founder of Third Street Theatre, has first-hand experience with that ministry.
Growing up gay in an Evangelical church in Calgary, Brower was involved in overseas humanitarian aid and missions work called Youth With A Mission, a worldwide inter-denominational, non-profit Christian missionary organization.
Due to the two organizations' principles, Brower sought God's help to get his sexuality "in order" and joined Living Waters.
"What (Living Waters) would basically teach is that I had to surrender that same-sex attraction to God because the relationship that I desired was shameful and not allowed. They also said to me how I was created — attracted to men — wasn't in God's plan,"
According to Brower, "the approach and the teaching are based in Evangelical/Pentecostal teaching models and worship models" and they "accept Christians of all denominational backgrounds."
"They told me they wanted only God's best for me and that their strict stance against me embracing my homosexuality was because they 'loved me' and didn't want me to live an unrighteous life," Brower explains.
After several times through the program, he became one of Living Waters' assistant leaders. But he was unable to complete his leadership tasks because he realized it wasn't authentic for him to participate. He was still attracted to men yet he was praying with others for their same-sex attractions to lessen.
At the same time, he met a fellow Christian who was also attracted to the same sex.
"As our friendship grew, I realized I was falling in love with him and he was falling for me. A relationship was impossible because he was married and had kids, so we had to discontinue our friendship because of our feelings."
"That was me being authentic," says Brower, recalling the first time he really experienced what being in love was like.
"If the church was asking me to give this up, and if this is truly what is like to be in love with somebody, that meant that what I had been told about not being fulfilled by someone of the same sex wasn't true, because I had never felt more alive in my life," Brower says.
However, the biggest revelation for the Third Street Theatre director was when he realized what real love was between two people. "It was something I had been barred from experiencing until it happened by accident.
"It made it easier to leave Living Waters and my church," says Brower.
Journey Canada did not respond to repeated attempts by the Calgary Journal for comment.
- By INGRID MIR