Category Archives: Theology

A Theory of Gay Inclusion, Pt 3: "It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay?."

In March 2010, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the third extract:

 ‘It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.’

Is a homosexual, by reason of that fact, called by God to lifelong celibacy? The church says yes.

Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

Being homosexual and trying to be faithful to church teaching – is it a cruel joke? Would God tie a starving person in a chair, put a plate of food in front of them, and say, ‘Your self-denial… will constitute for you a source of self-giving which will save you’? (See CDF Letter, n.12.)

The church requires abstinence of the homosexual. To abstain from the physical expression of sexuality means, for the homosexual, abstinence from the truth, from reality, from identity, from recognition, perhaps also from family, and surely from love. Sexuality is not an optional extra to our humanity; it’s an integral part of it. An alcoholic is invited to abstain from alcohol – yes. But alcohol is not an integral part of anyone’s humanity; it’s an optional extra.

Official teaching invites a homosexual to a strange limbo-like existence where being and doing are required to be separated. It says there’s nothing in itself wrong with being a homosexual – as long as you don’t act like one. There’s nothing in itself wrong with being a bird, as long as you don’t fly. How can that be an honest or a healthy way of living?

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’

Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.

Magisterium and Scripture

The problem with attempting to deal with the Magisterium of the Church is that it is so vast, that the only way to do it is as one would eat an elephant: one piece at a time. I propose to do just that. Today’s contribution represents just the first course – more will follow.

As the people who insist we follow the Magisterium often also refer us to the Bible, I thought it would be helpful to begin with a look at what the Magisterium has to say about the interpretation of Scripture. Even this is a vast topic. One good starting point is to look at the useful report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (which may be read in full at the excellent “Catholic Resources” website of Felix Just, SJ).

This important document discusses several different approaches to biblical interpretation with their strengths and weaknesses, and offers an overall evaluation of each. Broadly, the commission finds some difficulties and strengths with each, although some seem to find more favour than others. I have no intention of attempting to provide a comprehensive review in a short introduction, but I do want to pull out some specific quotations which seem to me to be especially relevant to any discussion of sexuality and Scripture.

Possibly the most important single sentence to me comes right at the beginning of the Preface:

“The study of the Bible is, as it were, the soul of theology…. This study is never finished; each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books.

(Which is why I insist that we need to take seriously the findings of modern scholars on the old clobber texts, which cast an entirely new light on their interpretation.)

The INTRODUCTION then continues with an important warning:

“The Bible itself bears witness that its interpretation can be a difficult matter. Alongside texts that are perfectly clear, it contains passages of some obscurity “

(which is why we must be cautious of glib and superficial references to single verses or passages taken at face value.)

One of the reasons for the difficulty, of course, is that

“Readers today, in order to appropriate the words and deeds of which the Bible speaks, have to project themselves back almost 20 or 30 centuries”.

(Which is exactly what our critics seldom attempt to do.)

The first specific approach considered is that of the “Historical-Critical” method:

“Textual criticism….. begins the series of scholarly operations. Basing itself on the testimony of the oldest and best manuscripts … textual-criticism seeks to establish, according to fixed rules, a biblical text as close as possible to the original.”

(To which I would simply point out that the most explicitly erotic book in he Bible, the ” Song of Songs“, is seldom mentioned by religious conservatives discussing homosexuality. But there are good reasons to believe that it was written as a love poem spoken by two men. At least one scholar believes that the oldest available manuscript has a text with language that is unambiguously and exclusively masculine – and that later texts were effectively censored to hide the homerotic element. See the The Song of Songs: the Bible’s Gay Love Poem at The Wild Reed for a useful discussion and review of this book.)

“The text is then submitted to a linguistic (morphology and syntax) and semantic analysis, using the knowledge derived from historical philology”

(No translation which followed this principle would ever have inserted the modern term “homosexuality” anywhere in the Bibple. Not only the word, but even the concept as we understand it, would have been unknown in Biblical times.)

The report continues with a discussion of three forms of literary analysis: rhetorical, narrative, and semiotic.

“Applied to the Bible, the new rhetoric aims to penetrate to the very core of the language of revelation precisely as persuasive religious discourse and to measure the impact of such discourse in the social context of the communication thus begun

 

“With respect to the narrative approach, it helps to distinguish methods of analysis, on the one hand, and theological reflection, on the other.”

 

“Connected with this kind of study primarily literary in character, is a certain mode of theological reflection as one considers the implications the “story” (and also the “witness”) character of Scripture has with respect to the consent of faith and as one derives from this a hermeneutic of a more practical and pastoral nature”

This approach of literary analysis as a basis for pastoral reflection surely supports the kind of Gospel reflections from a gay/ lesbian perspective offered by writers such as Richard Cleaver (“Know my Name“), Michael B. Kelly in “The Road from Emmaus” (reprinted in “Seduced by Grace”) or on -line by Jeremiah at “Gospel for Gays” – and many others.

The next group of approaches discussed are those based on tradition, including the “canonical” approach, which begins

“within an explicit framework of faith: the Bible as a whole.”

to which I can add only, “Hear! hear!”)

We then go on to approaches from the human sciences, particularly the sociological and cultural anthropology approaches, which require

“as exact a knowledge as is possible of the social conditions distinctive of the various milieus in which the traditions recorded in the Bible took shape”.

and seeks

“to define the characteristics of different kinds of human beings in their social context….-with all that this involves by way of studying the rural or urban context and with attention paid to the values recognized by the society……. to the manner in which social control is exercised, to the ideas which people have of family house, kin, to the situation of women, to institutionalized dualities (patron – client, owner – tenant, benefactor – beneficiary, free person – slave)….”

(and, I should not have to add, to prevailing ideas of “normal” sexual relations. I do however, have to stress this point, because this is precisely what the standard view of the Bible and homosexuality ignores. When one does indeed consider the social context of the times, the extraordinary thing about the Bible is not what it says about homosexuality, but how very little it says: no more than six or seven verses, of dubious relevance, in the entire Bible – none of them from the Gospels- this when most societies in the Mediterranean world did not disinguish between the morality of same sex or opposite sex genital acts. )

Of “contextual approaches“, the commission examined only “liberation theology” and “feminist theology”. Since 1993, however, there has been an explosion of writing in areas known variously as gay & lesbian, queer, or indecent theologies, which are of particular relevance to us. As these have largely developed out of other contextual theologies, the remarks of the commission may be easilty extended to them too.

Liberation theology had its roots in Vatican II, and found its most famous expression in Latin America, later also in South Africa and Asia.

“…starting from its own socio-cultural and political point of view, it practices a reading of the Bible which is oriented to the needs of the people, who seek in the Scriptures nourishment for their faith and their life.

It seeks a reading drawn from the situation of people as it is lived here and now. If a people lives in circumstances of oppression, one must go to the Bible to find there nourishment capable of sustaining the people in its struggles and its hopes.”

It is of course true that liberation theology has drawn some strong criticism from the Vatican, particularly in some of its later excesses, and the Commission notes these “risks”. Still, it observes,

“Liberation theology includes elements of undoubted value”.

Both of these observations (of risks simultaneoulsy with value) apply equally to Queer Theology.

Feminist readings, which began in the late 19th Century with the “Women’s Bible” but took on fresh vigour in the 1970’s, especially in the US, emphasises the patriarchal conditions in which Scripture was written, and the resultant biases , requiring that one adopt a position of suspicion about the texts as they stand and instead look for

“look for signs which may reveal something quite different.”

We in the LGBT community would do well to adopt this attitude of suspicion not so much to Scripture, which was not writen with a specifically heterosexual bias, but to much of the traditional commentary, which certainly applied later prejudice retrospectively onto the text.

On the final approach, of fundamentalist interpretaion, the Commission is scathing in its criticism

“The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language”

Of fundamentalism, I say no more.

Where does this leave us?

I freely acknowledge that in going through the Commissions report, I have necessarily been seleective and certainly display my own biases. This was unavoidable given the limitations of time and space. By all means, go through the full report yourelf, or if you want a full discussion on the contents, see “Interpreting the Bible: Three Views“at First Things

I, though, must work with my own conclusions:
  • Biblical interpretation is tricky, and must be undertaken with care. Simplistic use of isolated texts is particularly dangerous.
  • No single approach is complete and sufficient to itself. To one degree or another, all have weaknesses., and so need to be used in combination.
  • Particular sections, let alone single verses, must be evaluated in the context of the entire passage, or even of Scripture as a whole.
  • Careful attention must be paid to the social and cultural conditions of the time, and to the precise linguistic meaning of the words used.
  • The techniques of literary and contextual analysis are useful in providing pastoral reflections appropriatae for our conditions and oppression as LGBT Christians in the Church. There are however risks, and approaches such as queer theology need to be balanced also by other approaches.

Finally, having considered what the Magisterium (as formulated in this one report) has to say about Scripture, I would like to reverse the question: what does Scripture, and specifically the Gospels, have to say about the Magisterium?

Noting the observations about context and the Bible as a whole, I ask you to consider the religious conditions of Jerusalem during Christ’s ministry there. Consider the powerful Sanhedrin, the rabbinical hierarchy, the pharisees, sadducees and scribes who feature so prominently. Now consider Christ’s response to their challenges to His failure to follow the letter of religious law. Time and again, He insisted that adherence to the fundamental law of love, love of God, of one’s neeighbour, and of oneself, took precedence over merely literal adherence to religious regulation.

Now what do you suppose would be His response to those who insist on our blind obedience to the Catechism and to canon law, where it makes religious outlaws of people who are simply following their natural and god -given sexual orientation?

Just a thought.

"Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex" – Notre Dame Professor Gary Gutting

More generally, the church needs to undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.

– NYTimes.com.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone. The paragraph above concludes an opinion piece for the New York Times

For Queer Catholics, Conscience is Key!

For lgbt Catholics, and many other Christians, one of the most pressing and agonising dilemmas they face, is that of reconciling what they know to be the truth of their sexuality or gender identity, and church teaching. For Catholics in particular, the top – line response should be easy – “Follow your conscience”. The primacy of conscience is firmly established in Church teaching. Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.  Following one’s own conscience is not a blanket get – out of jail free card, allowing us to simply decide according to our own impulses how to make up our mind on ethical issues: Church teaching is clear on the primacy of conscience – but also insists on a rider, that conscience must be fully formed. Some Catholic archconservatives would argue that a conscience can only be fully formed, if it leads to straightforward compliance with the rules of the Catechism, but that is also simply not so. The essence of the dilemma, really, is not about how to reconcile sexuality and Church teaching, but how to find a balance between these two views.

An excellent starting point in that exploration is in an article in America magazine, “Following Faithfully: The Catholic way to choose the good“, by the lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler is worth not just reading, but careful study. (So is their influential book on sexual ethics, “The Sexual Person”).

We hope to reprint the full article in the next Quest Bulletin, but meanwhile, here are just a few extracts:

On the primacy of conscience:

From the great doctor of the church, Thomas Aquinas:

“Anyone upon whom the ecclesiastical authorities, in ignorance of the true facts, impose a demand that offends against his clear conscience should perish in excommunication rather than violate his conscience.” For any Catholic in search of truth, no stronger statement on the authority and inviolability of personal conscience could be found, but Aquinas goes further. He insists that even the dictate of an erroneous conscience must be followed and that to act against such a dictate is immoral.

From Fr Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI):

“Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. Conscience confronts [the individual] with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church.”

From Vatican II’s “Decree on Religious Freedom”, which, note Salzmann and Lawler, embraced Aquinas’s judgment on the inviolability of conscience:

“In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God, for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious”

On balancing the two views of conscience

Salzmann and Lawler contrast the positions of two eminent modern theologians, Germain Grisez and Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R.

Germain Grisez holds that the only way to form one’s conscience is to conform it to the teaching of the church. …… For Professor Grisez and theologians who agree with him, including St. John Paul II, conscience is ultimately about obedience to church teaching.

and

Bernhard Häring, C.Ss.R., is diametrically opposed to that stance. …. Church doctrine is at the service of women and men as they use conscience in their search for goodness, truth and Christian wholeness; conscience is not at the service of doctrine. “It staggers the imagination,” Häring writes, “to think that an earthly authority or an ecclesiastical magisterium could take away from man his own decision of conscience.”

Noted Theologians Lawler and Salzmann, on Marriage.

“Fortunate Families” Newsletter reports the welcome news that the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler (together with theologian Ellen Burke – Sullivan) have just published a new book, “The Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes – Then and Now”, with a notable chapter dealing specifically with marriage.

This is important news. Their previous book, “The Sexual Person”, provided a superb, penetrating analysis of Catholic sexual theology in all its aspects. and included abundant examples of just why the allegedly “traditional” teaching is not all it is said to be, why it must change – and  how it is in fact constantly changing. For LGBT Catholics with a serious interest in the subject, “The Sexual Person” should be required reading.

With the Family Synod now bringing marriage, divorce and same – sex relationships so much more  into mainstream Catholic discussion, it is likely that this book, with its chapter on marriage, will be equally valuable for LGBT Catholics. Continue reading Noted Theologians Lawler and Salzmann, on Marriage.

NCR: Moral Theologians, on the Need for Doctrinal Change

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, which will be taking place later this year, was never intended to produce doctrinal change. Many events, however, have unintended consequences. Pope Francis’ revolution in the Catholic Church has often been compared to Vatican II, but at the outset, nobody really expected the extent of the transformation it achieved. The synod will not directly produce any change in doctrine, but it is being preceded by an extensive global consultation on how the Church as a whole understands and accepts those doctrines. If anyone really doubts that the conference will not be forced at least to consider the urgent need for doctrinal change, they should pay close attention to the many reports now emerging on the responses to that consultation – and especially to the responses of the experts, the professional moral theologians. National Catholic Reporter has some commentary on responses from some German theologians:

German theologians critique church teachings, propose new sexual understanding

Two groups of noted German theologians have bluntly outlined how church teaching does not align with the concerns or lifestyles of most European Catholics in response to a Vatican questionnaire on Catholics’ attitudes on issues like contraception and same-sex marriage.

Church sexual teachings, say the representatives of the Association of German Moral Theologians and the Conference of German-speaking Pastoral Theologians, come from an “idealized reality” and need a “fundamental, new evaluation.”

“It becomes painfully obvious that the Christian moral teaching that limits sexuality to the context of marriage cannot look closely enough at the many forms of sexuality outside of marriage,” say the 17 signers of the response, who include some of Germany’s most respected Catholic academics.

The theologians also propose that the church adopt a whole new paradigm for its sexual teachings, based not on moral evaluations of individual sex acts but on the fragility of marriage and the vulnerability people experience in their sexuality.

The theologians are responding to a Vatican request last October that bishops worldwide prepare for a 2014 global meeting of Catholic prelates by distributing a questionnaire on family topics “as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”

full report at National Catholic Reporter.

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Bilgrimage: Moral Theologians, on the Need for Doctrinal Change

At Bilgrimage, Bill Lindsey reflects on the German theologians’ response to the global consultation, in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family

German Moral and Pastoral Theologians Respond to Pope Francis’s Questions about Sexual Morality and Family: Time for Significant Change

What strikes me as I read the statement is that it depends on a distinction that Catholic moral theologians (and Catholic theologians in general) have been making for a long time now: the magisterium offers Catholics an “idealized” understanding of human sexuality that does not take into account the experience of lay Catholics to whom this idealized teaching is handed down. Magisterial teaching on sexual ethics is very conspicuously not “received” by lay Catholics–particularly, as the document points out, regarding the issue of contraception.

The gap between the idealized, acts-centered, non-experience-based sexual ethical teaching handed down by the magisterium and the experience-based understanding of human sexuality lived by lay Catholics in their lives of graced discipleship continues to grow (see: issue of same-sex marriage), and the gap is becoming insupportable.

The German theologians call for an understanding of sexual ethics that continues to enshrine the ideals to which magisterial teaching points, but corrects the idealized, acts-centered, non-experience-based teaching of the magisterium by incorporating dimensions of care (a “pallial” dimension), emancipation, and reflectivity:

-full reflection at Bilgrimage

" No one is shut out from this joy" – Leo the Great

An extract from the second reading for the Divine Office, Christmas Day, taken from a sermon of Pope St Leo the Great:

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

Here follows the full text:

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Evangelical Leader: "Church Teaching on Homosexuality Like Justifying Slavery"

One of Britain’s most prominent evangelical Christian leaders has broken ranks on the issue of homosexuality describing the traditional Church teaching on he issue as dangerous and unchristian.

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Rev Chalke argued that the church’s traditional teaching on homosexuality as ‘a sin or less than God’s best’ had been deeply harmful Photo: GETTY

By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor7:30AM GMT 15 Jan 2013

The Rev Steve Chalke, a broadcaster and charity founder, likened the “dominant view” of homosexuality among evangelicals to that of those who once used the Bible to justify slavery or thought it was heretical to believe the Earth orbited the sun.

He accused Christians of treating gay people as “pariahs”, expecting them to live “lives of loneliness, secrecy and fear” and even driving some to suicide.

His comments come in an article in the magazine Christianity under the headline “The Last Taboo” which he said he felt “both compelled and afraid” to write.

Long dominant in US life, evangelicals – who place a strong emphasis on the “authority” of the Bible and believe in being “born again” – have become increasingly influential in Britain in recent years, with fast growing congregations at a time when church attendance has seen steep decline.

But although evangelicalism is often viewed as a bastion of conservative values, it also has a long-stranding association with “radical” causes dating back to the 19th Century

more at  – Telegraph.

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