Faithfully Extending Faith: Will the Church ever recognize same-sex unions?

Monarch Butterfly

In a recent Daily Meditation (July 17, 2017) from Richard Rohr, OFM guest writer Brian McLaren makes this statement: “Jesus and Paul were not denying their religion . . . ; they were faithfully extending it [emphasis added], letting it grow and flow forward.” McLaren’s point is that Christians in every age must overcome the tendency to let their faith be just another ossified institution of rules, power structures, and laws that fail to fully meet the needs of the contemporary world. To do this, Christians must always look to Jesus. There, McLaren asserts, is where we see the overarching teaching of Jesus on the supremacy of love. “The new commandment of love meant neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered [and] relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else.”

I remember first pondering the supposed conflict between my own sense of self as a gay person and the “long-held teaching of the Church” that homosexuality was sinful. How could this be?, I wondered. How could the Church’s teaching on the purpose and place of human sexual expression be so very different from my own growing understanding of myself as created “in the image and likeness” of God, of someone who is flawed, yes, but who is fundamentally good? I fed my reflections not only with my own lived experience, but with a knowledge base of philosophy and theology expanded throughout my college and seminary years.

The word that eventually came to mind to describe this tension was incomplete. As far as the Church’s main and positive notions about human sexuality were concerned, this made sense to me. The basic relational values of mutual respect, faithfulness, commitment, and openness to new life seemed spot on. But the other notions — those that are negative or proscriptive and which have the effect of being more burdensome than liberating  — these did not seem to fit with the radical message of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Knowing that the Church holds to a belief in the Development of Doctrine — that the richness of the Gospel can yield new insights and greater understanding in every generation — could it be that our understanding of human sexuality was also growing, deepening, and extending as we became more aware of the natural (i.e. God-given) diversity in this dimension of human experience?

Take, for example, whether a committed same-sex relationship could be licit, valid, even sacramental. Church teaching holds that the two “ends” of marriage are its unitive and procreative ends — a loving union between two persons who are open to new life. However, the Church recognizes and accepts as fully sacramental those heterosexual unions where there is absolutely no possibility of “new life” in the form of biological children. Think of those with significant health conditions or couples who marry in advanced age. Here, a more generous theology is called for. A theology which sees “procreative” as more than just the begetting of biological children. This more generous theology recognizes how such unions can be procreative by the ways such couples extend themselves, give of themselves, and share their life with family, friends, community. Why could the same generous theology not also recognize the validity and sacramentality of similarly-committed same-sex couples?

Clearly the institutional Church is a long, long way from recognizing not only the sacramentality of same-sex unions, but even their civil legitimacy. All that notwithstanding, is it possible for us, in love, to be like Paul and countless others who have gone before us in faith? Can we lovingly, not fearfully, “read the signs of the times” and — with open ears, eyes, minds and heart —  be willing to see the ways in which the Spirit might be challenging us to extend our faith, so that the joy of the Gospel might be known to all peoples and in every generation?

6 thoughts on “Faithfully Extending Faith: Will the Church ever recognize same-sex unions?

  1. A development of doctrine can never be a reversal of doctrine. To say a thing is intrinsically evil, then to say it is not intrinsically evil, is a reversal of doctrine. “Openness to life” will always be a requirement for the rightful use of the sexual faculty, because it is naturally ordered to procreation. Accidental qualities of reproductive systems which prevent procreation, such as barrenness, do not make an act which is essentially ordered to procreation by its nature, any less ordered to procreation in itself (unless it is presumed upon, which then makes the act contraceptive).

    • First, just wanted to say thanks for the comment, and for taking the time to write something thoughtful. Second, it’s clear by your language that you are familiar with scholastic and natural law theology, which certainly has an important place in Catholicism.

      That said, I’d strongly encourage you to spend time with and actually listen to the lived experience of some real life gay or lesbian Catholic couples. Theology must never forget the rebuke of Jesus that, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath,” (Mk 2:27). When we place generalized rules before real life persons, or use those rules to create boxes in which some others don’t fit, we’ve taken a wrong turn. This is true even when we overgeneralize, as I would suggest is done in your statement that “the sexual faculty…is naturally ordered to procreation.” Yes, that is indeed how humans procreate. But “the sexual faculty” [even when expressed in what a more rigid approach would see as licit], is ordered toward so very, very much more; human persons are more than our biological functions.

      Again, thanks for your comment. I wish you well in your studies. Peace!

      • Hi Tim,

        There is absolutely more, you are right. I certainly see the value of personal encounters from a social/pastoral point of view, but from a moral/sacramental point of view, the truth is crystal clear, and no amount of experience can undo it. Until a lesbian or gay couple can procreate on their own (the “box”), they will necessarily be frustrating the natural end of the faculty they are using – which is always wrong, just like it is with lying, no matter what further intentions there are. In this case, the very means by which God has chosen to prepare matter for endowment with a rational soul is being freely thwarted, for the sake of emotional, social, and physical gratification.

        I can recommend to you Joseph Sciambra’s blog.

        Peace…
        CRM

      • Again, thank you for your reply and I’m glad we agree on the value of personal encounters “from a social/pastoral point of view.” It’s important, however, that every “view” of what is real and true and part of God’s creation be able to inform every other “point of view,” especially those views which we think are “crystal clear.” For example, for many centuries it was thought to be “crystal clear” that slavery was acceptable in the eyes of God, mentioned as it is in Scripture (including in the New Testament) without condemnation, and not condemned by the Church. And yet, it was the lived experience of enslaved persons that began to awaken the consciences of Christians (and others), guided by the Spirit, that helped the world to see slavery for what it is. I don’t know if he’s published on this yet, but the thoughts of Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson (who spoke at the New Ways Ministry 2012 Symposium) are instructive in this regard.

        I’m not quite sure why you recommend Mr. Sciambra’s blog. I’m familiar with his story. I’m happy that his faith has been a positive force in his personal life. However, his story is quite atypical, and (from what I’ve read) he does not ever seem to truly have identified as a gay man, with the full meaning and depth of that term (i.e. understood as someone whose primary, long-standing, and generally fixed romantic and sexual interests are found with others of the same sex). Instead, he seems to be someone with a long history of addictive, unstable, and self-destructive behavior; and has a perspective on human sexuality and human development that is contrary to every major branch of intellectual inquiry (psychology, biology, sociology, anthropology and even theology). His descriptions of gay men are offensively stereotypical. In addition, his video entitled “You Are Not Gay” reveals a deeply flawed misunderstanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a mental health professional who has worked with some individuals who identify as transgender or are gender dysphoric, there is never anything “sudden” about their “coming out” as transgender.

        Finally, as a complement to your scholastic and natural law theology, may I suggest some of the writings of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM and his Daily Meditations, as a source of material in your own ongoing theological development.

        Peace!

      • Hi Tim,

        I’m going to suggest that “slavery” is not the slam dunk example you seem to think it is. There are licit forms of slavery (a whole spectrum, in fact – realize that God can never command through law something intrinsically evil, and He does indeed command the taking of slaves, like Exodus 22:2-3), and there has been no such development on the issue as you seem to think.

        Listening to experiences will tell us that necessarily non-fruitful acts that are intrinsically ordered toward being fruitful by God’s design (for the perpetuation of the human race, in which He is intimately involved) can ever be moral.

        From what I have seen of Fr. Rohr, he does not sound orthodox at all. What I do know is that NWM is a condemned ministry by the Holy See.

        Sorry to be blunt, but you are living a delusion if you think there is room in Catholic teaching to develop to allow sodomy, etc. It would be a reversal of doctrine – like saying abortion is not immoral. (You know, people really really have strong emotions and good, meaningful stories about how helpful their abortions were, too. It doesn’t justify it. Experience does not determine the reality – other way around.) It is not Catholic teaching, and it never will be. And you might even know this deep down. I hope you can find the courage to admit it.

        I’m sorry you disagree with JS, but I’m not surprised.

        It seems you are desperately emotionally invested. That is very corrosive to your soul, which is why I bothered to comment. The Gospel calls us all to detachment and fidelity to God’s design, which is clearly expressed in the natural order of our body as described by the Church, and also natural by reason. Listening to these priests who do nothing but affirm you are doing you a real disservice. It is nothing like the words of Christ – “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”

        This will be my last comment.

        Peace to you, friend…
        -CRM

      • Yikes!
        It’s been a while since I’ve read or received such an uncharitable and, dare I say judgmental comment. In some ways it’s not surprising. After all, it is the task of the dualistic mind of youth to gather data and information and engage in battles they seek to “win” and prove themselves “right.”

        I remember as if it were yesterday the first Saturday afternoon I was about to hear confessions as a newly ordained priest. The elderly pastor with whom I was serving noticed my anxiety and offered this bit of advice, encouraging me not to focus solely on remembering what I’d learned in Moral Theology and Penance. His advice: “Just be kind. That’s what people need – kindness.” Is that simple? Yes. Simplistic? I think not.

        So, in my last comment to you, Eammon, I encourage you on the path you have chosen, but challenge you to be open to the Spirit and whatever S/He has to teach you. And whatever you do, do it with kindness and charity. In time, I pray that your journey leads you from mere information and knowledge, but truly to deeper understanding and even wisdom.

        May God bless you.
        Tim

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