Friday, March 8, 2013

Gay Rights in the Church

I came across this wonderful blog post today from "Blueberries for Me". Well, rather, I found it today, the post is actually from April 2012. Anyway, it's a very experiential expose of why the author believes in gay rights precisely because she is Catholic, not in spite of her beliefs.

If the Church wanted me to oppose gay marriage, it should not have taught me that scripture is historical and contextual. It should have taught me instead that it is always literal, but it did not. It should not have taught me that God is love. It should not have taught me about the dignity of the human person, that everyone deserves a place to live, a place to work, a place to eat without being discriminated against.
This is something that I have countless run into with Protestants. The literal reading of scripture and complete and willing ignorance of its cultural and historical context. I don't think I've ever gotten an opinion on the dignity of the person...I think certain things are taken for granted by Protestants and they never actually formulate opinions about them...Anyway, the context of Scripture is incredibly important. This goes beyond textual context. Primarily, perhaps more so than textual context, it is important to understand the time and place that the Scripture you are reading was written. What was going on? Is this Scripture in response to something (most of the Bible is...this is probably not the best example question)? Is it in response to an event or a person? In the context of the Epistles, knowing exactly to whom and why Paul is writing is almost as important to the fundamental meaning of the text as any other context. And understanding this, with the knowledge that we have of certain personalities of the period, you can actually cross-reference historical references to a person Paul was talking to. Neat, huh?

Aside from that, as anyone who has read this knows, my interest in Liberation Theology and social justice has informed my faith to no small degree. If every person has inherent dignity, then every person deserves the same love, respect, understanding, and freedom. To say that one person's dignity is more important or better than another person's because of something inherent in the latter diminishes the dignity of all of us. The Church teaches us that homosexuality is disordered but we are to still love persons with same-sex attraction (SSA--the Church's go-to acronym so they don't have to say "gay") as we would love anyone else. And, truly, in the Church's teachings, a homosexual is not called to be any more or less chaste than any other person in the Church. Just like unmarried couples shouldn't have sex in the eyes of the Church, SSA means you can't have sex for the same reason.

However, I am inclined to agree with Blueberries for Me. The Church's very holistic worldview and theology fits together like a very precise puzzle. Anyone familiar with Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" knows that he made a great attempt at calling gay Catholics home by actually dealing with the issue.

When I came out of the closet almost eight years ago, my mother absolutely and resolutely refused to accept what I was telling her. I am the only 'mo I have met that had to come out three times before it was just on the table and wasn't being put away again. This is not to say I ever went back in that closet, but out of respect for my mother I did not and never have just waved it in her face. She has through it all been very kind and loving and supportive of me. But she, like a lot of Catholic laity and clergy, entirely misses the point of what the Catechism and "Theology of the Body" have to say about homosexuality. Both admit clearly and without reservation or apology that homosexuality or SSA is simply not a choice.

This may at first sound like a dilemma and a contradiction. How can the Church admit that one cannot control their attraction but then say that one particular type of attraction is disordered? Many Protestant converts to Catholicism will comment that they had to learn an entirely new vocabulary when they converted. I think a lot of Catholics need to learn the vocabulary as well. When the Church says something is "disordered" they are not castigating it or disparaging it. There is no condemnation involved in that statement. What the Church is saying is that, in light of the Natural Law Philosophy that informs much of Catholic morality, there is a purpose for and inherent value in everything. Sexuality is no different.

From the Church's perspective, sexuality exists to ensure that the human race does not find fulfillment in aesthetic self-denial. While this self-denial is important for our lives of prayer, sacrifice, and penance, it is not to be the fundamental rock upon which our spirituality develops. Catholic theology is holistic. Our spiritual lives are to be as well. Sexuality, therefore, exists to ensure that we develop our spiritual life with another. It allows us to grow and bond with another human being, and by extension bring more human beings into the world. Sex, at the end of this road, is a tool for procreation. The pleasure we derive from it is our immediate reward for the lifelong reward of creating and nurturing life. So, because homosexuality obviously leads to a situation where a couple cannot procreate, it is disordered to this view of the purpose of sexuality and sex. There is nothing evil here. It is simply an admission that the sexual pleasure derived from homoerotic acts is a byproduct of our biology. It provides the immediate reward without the possibility of what a union of two people is supposed to produce.

All that being said, just as converts and many Catholics must learn a new vocabulary to deal with Catholic theology, I posit that the Church needs to learn a new vocabulary as well. One of the earliest challenges of the Church was establishing the Canon of Scripture. There were those who proposed that the Church drop the Old Testament altogether. I'm glad it wasn't dropped, but there is a very important observation to be made regarding how the two texts are to be treated.

The Old Testament is maintained primarily because of the historical link it provides between Christ and Creation. For the Church specifically and Christianity in general, it creates a special relationship with the Jewish faith and links us to a faith tradition as old as Humanity. The second reason the Old Testament is maintained is because of the prophecies concerning Christ. The Old Testament was not maintained because it contained verses with which we could condemn people. In fact, relatively little of the Old Testament is utilized in the formation of Catholic moral theology. The Ten Commandments are still there, sure, but the dense legal texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are not the foundation of Catholic morality. In point of fact, Scripture is simply the jumping off point for the philosophical extrapolations that form Catholic morality. In a nutshell, Catholic morality is not set permanently in stone or based on Scripture alone.

A major point about Catholic morality not being set in stone is the concept of usury. In the early Church and up through the Middle Ages, loaning money at interest was so disgusting in the eyes of the Church that a Christian was absolutely forbidden from handling money in such a way. This fell to the Jews (cue two-thousand years of European anti-Semitism). Eventually, the Church realized that loaning money at interest, if it was low enough and responsibly handled, would not lead to the total moral ruin of society. This was a matter of morals. It was a matter of morals that changed. The Church's attitude towards homosexuality can change as well.

While I know that changing the Church's rules about charging interest probably did not have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of Catholic morality, it does set a serious precedent that should be examined closely. The redefinition of the Church's attitudes towards homosexuality would require re-thinking the Church's attitudes towards sexuality in general. This is not a Council I would want to sit on, and I do not envy the Church leadership when they rewrite the rules of sexuality.

But the Church does not only say that sex is for procreation. Quite the opposite. The joy and the passion between two people as they are in the sexual embrace is as important to the process as creating that baby, if not more so. John Paul II, in "Theology of the Body", goes so far as to say that a healthy sexual life is one of the most important things for a marriage to succeed. The same is true for homosexual couples. A healthy sexual life between the two is fundamental for the relationship to succeed. Without it, the relationship cannot bear fruit for either person involved.

In conclusion, the Church teaches that every human being is imbued with an inherent dignity that makes us all worthy in the eyes of God and Christ for salvation. This salvation is a process, but no one needs to be saved from themselves. We are taught to love the least among us the most, and many Catholics do a poor job of this when it comes to homosexuality. But the Church does not need to sit on current definitions of morality forever. Dogma is stagnant. Morality is a bit more fluid. We can all agree on not killing each other. But shouldn't the Church, which teaches that God is the very definition of love, allow us to love each other?