The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently established an online resource entitled Marriage: Unique for a Reason, to educate Catholics on why marriage “should be promoted and protected as the union of one man and one woman.”
Done properly, this is an important task. But it must be remembered that the debate about gay marriage is less about homosexuality than it is about the nature and purpose of marriage as an institution and as a sacrament. Precisely because we are in need of sound teaching on this topic, it is disappointing to see the USCCB’s website—whose posts are written by anonymous “staff” rather than by bishops—used not to teach about marriage, but as an opportunity for promoting half-baked theories about homosexuality.
On April 27, 2001, the members of Courage Seattle met with then-Seattle Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas (now the Bishop of Helena, Montana). Before his consecration as Bishop, Fr. Thomas played an instrumental role in encouraging the creation of a chapter of Courage in Seattle. With the Chapter up and running, he graciously consented to meet with us to see how things were going and to encourage the ministry.
In preparation for Bishop Thomas’s visit, we prepared the following Fourteen Point summary of the approach to ministry we had adopted in Courage Seattle.
† CHRIST THE CENTER We place Christ at the center of our existence, subordinating all other aspects of our lives and pledge fidelity to Him without counting the cost.
Over at her always-stimulating blog today, LaVonne Neff writes about some of the ironies of her mother’s practice of hospitality in the late 1950s:
Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant—they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I’ve understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.
My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people’s children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.
I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.
In this final post of my series on sin and sexual minorities, I will examine an additional major principle that is useful in determining what sins we should prioritize addressing, and I will conclude with a few related thoughts. This principle comes from Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV):
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
I was tremendously impressed by Pope Francis’ recent interview. It’s so full of wonderful insights. Here I’m going to expand on his idea that if, as a Church, we focus excessively on a small handful of sins then the moral edifice will fail, and that the Church should be a field hospital for the wounded.
The difficulty is not with telling the truth about sexuality, it’s with telling that truth in a way that hurts and alienates people. There are two things that I’ve heard repeatedly from other Christians that I think, to a certain extent, illustrate the problem with a lot of the “truth-telling” that goes on in the Culture Wars. The first is the assumption that when I go to speak I must meet with a lot of resistance and persecution from the LGBTQ community. I’ve had a number of Americans suggest that, living as I do in ultra-liberal Canada, I must be on the verge of being jailed for hate crimes. This is untrue. There have been situations where I’ve faced resistance but on the whole I’ve found those situations to be fruitful and instructive. Those are the situations that have taught me how to listen and how to present what I have to say in a constructive and respectful way. Generally once I actually start talking a lot of the anger goes away — and in the cases where it hasn’t, I can see what I did wrong.
Up until now in this series, I have focused on sins against sexual minority people. As I alluded to in the introduction, I will now turn to some initial reflections on how to work this into a holistic understanding of sin with respect to sexual minorities. I am writing from the perspective shared with the other writers of this blog, that “God created human beings male and female, and that all sexual intimacy outside of a faithful, lifelong marital union of a man and woman is contrary to His plan.” The purpose of this series has not been to argue that this does not matter, but rather that we should not consider only this matter when looking at the topic of sin and sexual minorities, because all other areas of Christian morality also matter greatly.
For the final two posts in this series, I will discuss two important principles that we should always keep in mind while addressing the sexual sins that some sexual minority people commit. I do not presume to have complete pastoral solutions even if I had the space to write them out, but I think the principles I will point out here are both scriptural and fruitful.
Scripture clearly teaches that sin comes from the heart. For example, in Matthew 15:18-20, Jesus teaches that the sins that defile a person come from inside a person’s heart, rather than from outside. In order to truly address our own sins, including the sins described in the previous two posts, we must address the condition of our hearts. The gospel is not really about behavior modification, but about inner transformation. Therefore, in this post, I will discuss some of the attitudes of the heart that contribute to sins against sexual minority people. Despite the fact that I’m not straight, these sins in particular are ones that I have often had to address in my own life, and that I have not completely overcome. However, I believe it will be edifying to bring them to light.
A very common sin, and one that Jesus addressed repeatedly during his earthly ministry, is that of self-righteousness. I think that a lot of straight Christians see themselves as fundamentally better people than most sexual minority people. This is not a truly Christian attitude, because we are all sinners who rely on God for salvation and sanctification. We have done nothing to earn a better place in God’s eyes through our own actions.
I’ve been talking recently with an Episcopal priest about the ongoing agonies of the Anglican Communion. Although he and I find ourselves in different places on the questions of the hour, he and I were also a bit surprised to see each other struggling to articulate a very similar posture towards the questions. We have both ended up describing, in our different ways, our reluctance to try to relieve the tension and unsettledness and anguish we feel.
Shouldn’t those who are pressing for the “full inclusion” of “practicing” gay and lesbian Christians in the church (to use the jargon) give more indication that they feel the weight of what they’re asking? That’s what my priest friend asks. Shouldn’t there be a little more fear and trembling and reverence for the historic teaching of the church? Of course they may end up disagreeing with Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine, and Barth about the moral significance of our being created male and female, but shouldn’t they be a little less sanguine about it and a little more deferential, to the point of saying, “We believe the tradition made a grave mistake in its disallowance of gay partnerships, but at the same time we acknowledge our deep indebtedness to that tradition for giving us the theological and ethical vision to even make our argument for inclusion”?
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to guest lecture in a counseling class at Covenant Theological Seminary on the topic of homosexuality. In class we had a lively discussion about what would make a church “safe” for gay or lesbian people. Following Wes’s discussion of a similar theme, I thought it might be of some value to share the list we came up with and see what other thoughts the SF community might have about what makes a church “safe.”
What do I mean by safe? Mostly I mean a place where people can be honest without fear of their honesty being used as a weapon against them, either in passing judgment or in marginalizing them. I understand some folks in the LGBT community understand the word “safe” to include assumptions about the morality of homosexual sexual behavior, but I don’t think that this must be the case. We can feel safe with someone with whom we share deep disagreements if we feel both known and loved, and believe that they desire what is best for us.
In the previous post of this series, I discussed overt sins of word and deed, where the nature of the sin is doing something that we should not do. In this post, I will discuss one major sin of omission, where the nature of the sin is not doing something even though we are commanded to do it. I personally find that sins of omission can be a greater struggle. It’s far too easy to just not get around to doing the sorts of good I am commanded to do, or to allow myself to be controlled by fear of man. However, failing to do what God has commanded is still sinful.
Although the sins I discussed in the last post relate to sexual minorities of all faith convictions, the particular issue I discuss in this post relates specifically to celibate gay Christians. In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (ESV). As we have discussed previously here and here, celibacy for gay Christians is often involuntary in the sense that it results from obedience based on conviction, rather than from an otherwise felt gifting or calling. This type of celibacy can be a difficult burden for people, so if we are really bearing one another’s burdens, we should certainly be bearing that one somehow.