By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 1, 2018
ATLANTA—When asked by a student how to talk to a gay friend about the morality of homosexuality, author Daniel Mattson told an audience of students at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center, “Your job is to love him, as he is.”
“You relate to him, one on one. That is really the way of the Gospel,” said Mattson as he spoke to a group of more than 200 people in the chapel on campus. The Oct. 11 presentation was one stop in a week of speaking at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock; St. Monica Church, Duluth; and St. John Bosco Academy, Cumming, an independent Catholic homeschool community.
Mattson said later in an interview with The Georgia Bulletin, “We have to remember that Christ started with relationships first, not speaking about sexual morality first.”
Mattson wrote “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace,” his story about coming to terms with his attraction to men as he found joy in the Catholic teachings regarding homosexuality.
Mattson said he wrote the book for young men like him, who wonder how to reconcile attraction to men with faith in God. Mattson, 48, said after repeated disappointments in romantic relationships with men and women, he found both joy— and a challenge—in living the church’s call for abstinence.
“My whole life I thought God did not love me, that he didn’t want my happiness, that he was an ogre ruler, who said, ‘thou shall not,’” said Mattson. “And I realized, all these ‘thou shall nots’ were in service of my dignity and my human freedom.”
The church teaches gays should be loved and respected but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Surveys have shown most Catholics favor same-sex marriage, especially young adults. But digging deeper, a 2014 Pew Research Center found 53 percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly are not in favor of it.
Mattson said in an email that Pope Francis’ famous comment, “who am I to judge?” echoed Jesus in the Gospel story about the woman caught in adultery, and in that story Jesus seeks a change in our lives.
“Like all sexual behavior outside of marriage (and some that may take place within marriage), homosexual behavior is immoral—it is not merciful to refuse to speak about this, nor is it loving,” he said in the email.
What the church proposes is “not pray the gay away,” said Mattson, who remains attracted to men. The church is not trying to change someone’s sexual attractions, he said. Mattson said there is “an invitation to the virtue of chastity, and that means sacrificing our desires for the same sex.”
The church’s understanding of marriage and sex is “rooted in God’s creative wisdom” for reproduction, he said. “The idea that somehow same-sex relationships are blessed by God, I could never accept that,” he said.
He admitted it’s a sacrifice to live as the church teaches.
“God says look to the cross and unite to it for the sake of other souls,” he said. “With (God’s) strength, I can do this,” he said. And in admitting to his own stumbles, Mattson said, “Christ reaches out to pick people up.”
Hundreds of books given away
Catholic Center Chaplain Father Josh Allen purchased some 300 copies of Mattson’s book, thanks to a benefactor, and has given nearly all away. Father Allen invited the author to talk on campus. He said he was glad people came to the chapel to listen, even if they disagreed. “We have too much contention in our world today,” he said. “We always have something to learn from one another.”
The speaker brought objections from some on the campus community when the Pride Alliance at Georgia Tech wrote on the Catholic Center’s Facebook page. The organization stated that Mattson’s view mirrors “the un-Christian demands that LGBT-identified individuals must deny their natural existence in order to sit before God.”
Senior Matt Kinnison walked away from the lecture impressed. Kinnison, who is an industrial engineering student and who leads a Bible study, said the catechism deals with homosexuality in abstract terms. Mattson’s story put a human face to the issue, he said. “It’s very important and powerful. You need both of them together,” he said.
Donovan Kelley, who studies aerospace engineering, asked Mattson for his view on a gay friend. Kelley had invited his gay friend to the talk. But Kelley said the man was offended by what he read about Mattson’s perspective.
In response to the question, Mattson told Kelly to hang out with him as he would with any other friend. “Don’t talk to him about that at all. There’s no need to,” Mattson said about the sexual morality issue.
After the event, Kelley said he found the answer affirming.
“It’s not my job to convert him. I don’t have to go Bible-thumping,” he said.
An outsider on an ‘unseen scale’
Mattson traced his life, from the schoolyard to being in his early 30s when he was in a relationship with a man to the Courage Apostolate, a ministry for gay people and their loved ones. He is featured in the Courage Apostolate’s documentary “Desire of the Everlasting Hills.” In addition to the book, the Michigan resident has performed on music albums as an accomplished symphony trombonist
Mattson was baptized Catholic but he grew up in a Protestant home as one of four children. Mattson recounted a story how at a young age he was drawn to another boy. “I went and touched his muscles on his arm. I wanted to feel what that felt like.”
Throughout adolescence, he felt like an outsider “measured on this unseen scale,” he said. In high school, the attraction to men grew and he became addicted to pornography.
“I didn’t have a word for myself. I just knew I was attracted to the boys,” he said, adding he considered it a “bump in the road” toward marriage and starting a family. Mattson attended a Christian school at the time and embraced its plan for his life.
“I started to pray and ask, ‘where is this coming from and can you take this away from me?’” he said.
His first romantic relationship happened during a summer job. He dated a girl for a short time. But when she broke up with him, he learned she wanted to date other women.
Mattson said his anger grew at God “for not holding up his end of the deal.” He later had a boyfriend.
“It felt very exciting. I was happy,” he said. But his longing for a marriage and family resurfaced so he pursued a relationship with a woman, which failed.
Later, Mattson returned to the church at the encouragement of his godparents and attended his first Courage conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“My whole life, all I’ve thought I was getting was stones from God because somehow it would be good for me, but I realized in a moment all of my wanderings, all of my searching, all of my doubts about (God’s) goodness, led to this moment of my homecoming,” he said.