Joel Stepanek: Love, Same-Sex Attraction, and Tolerance

Same-sex attraction is not an easy topic to talk discuss but it’s an important one in our society today. Joel Stepanek tackled this topic at one of our afternoon workshops.

Same Sex Attraction: A Matter of People

Joel started by acknowledging how challenging the topic of same-sex attraction is to talk about. But the heart of this discussion is not a matter of philosophy or politics. When we talk about same-sex attraction, we are talking about people. We must always approach this through the lens of people.

People of Intrinsic Dignity and Worth

Relying on Genesis 1:26, the Church teaches that every single person has an intrinsic dignity and an intrinsic worth. We can disrespect it; we can push it away; we can try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Nothing can destroy it.

Our identity, regardless of our sexual identity, is first and foremost, as a human being made in the image and likeness of God. Joel pointed out that the U.S. bishops wrote in a Message To Parents Of Homosexual Children in 1997: “God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation. Thus, our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation. Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

The Church deeply loves each and every person. Because of this, the Church condemns any violence in speech or action towards persons who have same-sex attraction as Joel quoted a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document.

Out of that dignity and love for every person, the Church desires holiness for each person. The Church loves us and refuses to abandon us.

Love Must Be Accompanied by Truth

Joel then noted that love must be accompanied by truth. We cannot love someone without speaking truth to them and we cannot speak love without truth.

The truth of our sexuality is based on who we are created to be and what our bodies are designed for. Unfortunately, as a result of the fall the world that God had ordered falls back into disorder. Our relationship with God becomes one of fear. Our relationships with each other and creation becomes distorted. Every person’s view of sex is distorted to some degree.

Joel pointed out that the world has tried to make sex out to be the greatest good. In reality, self-sacrificial love is the greatest good. Self-sacrificial love can be expressed in sexual relations in marriage. But it can be expressed in many other ways. Love is truly self-sacrificial when it is freely given, it is faithful, it is total, and it is fruitful. This is perfectly lived out in Christ.

Chastity: An Ordered Sexuality

Joel explained that chastity means not having sexual relationships outside of the sacrament of marriage. Through chastity, we are able to properly order our sexuality and not be slaves of it. We are all called to live chastely, regardless of what our sexual attraction may be.

In the Eucharist, we have the perfect example of self-sacrificial love and chastity. Jesus gives of Himself to us completely and of His own will. Jesus is always faithful to His word. The Eucharist is also fruitful love because, when we respond “Amen” at communion, we are agreeing to give our whole self to Jesus.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Church’s teaching is tough, but it isn’t impossible. It isn’t a death sentence. In fact, the group Courage is a group of Catholics who believe what the Church teaches and is trying to live in accord with that.

We need to respond with love and compassion. We need to accept those who have same-sex attraction for who they are and meet them with a desire to bring them into the truth of what God asks of them.

If you have friends who struggle with these questions, Joel said to walk with your friends and show them love, mercy, and compassion. He pointed out that you might be their only connection with the Church.

Joel concluded by reminding everyone that God loves each and every person, no matter what their sexual attraction is and that God will supply the grace for you to take you from where you are to where he wants you to go.

If you are struggling with same-sex attraction or have a friend or family member who is, you definitely want to listen to Joel’s entire talk, especially the Q&A at the end. He does an amazing job of revealing the beauty of Church teaching on this topic, balancing truth and love.


Our Church is a home for every single person.

When you look in the mirror you see a unique image of God.

Out of that dignity and out of that love for you, the Church desires holiness for you.

Self-sacrificial love is the greatest good.

Written by Stephanie To
Stephanie To works for the Respect Life Apostolate for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. A lawyer and bioethicist by training, she is passionate about the Catholic faith and pro-life issues. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys making music (playing the violin, playing the handbells, and singing), cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals and KU Jayhawks, and hanging out with friends. You can follow her on Twitter at @stephaniehto.