I'm often asked, "where do you stand on homosexuality?" I reply that I have no alternative but to obey Church teaching at which point I get called a bigot or worse by some people who become incensed at my "intolerance". I often wonder what these folk perceive "Church teaching" to be. I fear that they read Scripture and Tradition with an view to being upset rather than hear the message behind it.
Let me try and put across what I believe the Church teaches. If I am wrong, I know that I will be corrected by folk who have studied Church teaching better than I have.
I want to start with St Matthew vii
This is such an important place to start because it sets my limitations. On what can I legitimately pass judgement? Well, the Lord tells me in this passage that my vision is distorted because of my own sins, and that my judgement is impaired. Clearly though, if my brother is about to walk into a pit, I can still see that and warn him - what I can't do is tell if he sees that pit as dangerously as I perceive it to be. The warning may be enough to save him.
Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε: ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν. τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκὸν οὐ κατανοεῖς; ἢ πῶς ἐρεῖς τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ δοκὸς ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ; ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ τὴν δοκόν, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις ἐκβαλεῖν τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου. Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged : and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
As a matter of fact, I do suffer from very bad eyesight, but I can still make judgements on what I see within a certain tolerance. If I remove my glasses then that tolerance becomes much wider and less precise because my vision becomes much less reliable. Even without my glasses, I can still make out people, though not necessarily who they are. I certainly can't read any opticians charts - even the first letter! I can still make reliable judgements, though.
So, then, on what can I pass judgement? Well, surely I can only pass judgement on actions and NOT pass judgements on the human heart. I do not have the vision to enter into the human soul and pick out all the naughty bits. Only God can do that, it is not my remit. If I see someone killed, I know that the action of killing is wrong - it shouldn't happen - but unless I know the underlying reasons, the only facts on which I can bear witness to in court are the facts that someone has been killed. I must let the judge judge and convict of murder, manslaughter or unlawful killing, or acquit on the grounds of diminished responsibility, insanity, or for honest defence of others' lives .
So what are the facts of homosexuality? The Bible is pretty clear that men should not lie with men as they would with women. This is true in the Old Testament and St Paul confirms it in the New. The Lord Himself certainly does not change this teaching. In short, the practice of homosexuality is wrong. I know that many modern scholars are desperately trying to change the words and meaning of these texts to suit "modern views" but it's clear that Tradition has interpreted these texts in the negative view of homosexuality. A good Catholic listens to Tradition first rather than Joe PhD with his radical ideas which he is only exploring in order to get his name into history. Those ideas will be tested by Time and ultimately God. If there is any truth in them, that truth will become apparent over time, the rubbish will die out.
Now this is where I begin to hear many double standards from those who truly hate homosexuals.
First, there is the obvious: you cannot suspend "Love thy neighbour as thyself" in favour of condemning homosexual practice. This commandment of our Lord trumps any other. All other commandments in the Bible have to be processed through the lens formed by the two Great Commandments given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that God's wishes must be obeyed, but that hatred of another human being is never an option. Anyone who claims that they are Christian and then proclaims "God hates fags" is no Christian but a liar and a fool. God hates SIN, yes, but look at the lengths He went to to save us from it. Look into the eyes of Christ on the cross and then say "God hates fags"!
Second, it is true that St Paul lumps homosexuality together with sexual immorality. He sees it as the same as fornication, i.e. sexual activity outside marriage. To hate one with a homosexual life-partner and then engage in a one-night stand with a girl you just picked up in a bar is hypocrisy. It's the same wrong thing to do, but whose sin is greater? The men committed in a loving same-sex partnership or the Lothario with a string of women on the go, yet neither committing to nor even in the least respecting any of them? According to the Bible, both are in danger of falling into a ditch, but it seems reasonable to see that for one the ditch is likely to be wider!
Third, Romans viii.28 says:
οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Clearly, we cannot presume that God will not bring some great good out of a homosexual relationship. If we cannot pass judgement on the human heart, then we must accept that God can and will do marvellous things in all situations. We can also believe that God has the capacity to purify the relationship betweem two men as long as they are actively seeking Him by His means.
I hope, then, that I have made my first point clear. I refuse to condemn those who call themselves homosexuals. I regard the practice as being wrong and potentially, if not actually, sinful, but seeing as I certainly don't have the keys to Heaven and that the Church certainly doesn't have the keys to Hell, the matter of sin lies between the individual and God. I can only point out potential pitfalls and would rather, for their safety, that they would seek heterosexual relationships.
My second point is that I do regard homosexuality as a grave disorder. This sounds harsh but I hope you will appreciate my reasoning.
All of my homosexual friends are deeply special. Well, all of my friends, nay every member of the human race is special, but I don't know all of the human race - perhaps that's something I should be ashamed of. But, looking at my homosexual friends, I see people who are clever, witty, creative, in touch with dimensions that I cannot fathom. That's not to say that my straight friends don't possess these qualities, but the "gays" possess a different perspective - theirs is a slant on life peculiar to them. This is good.
So how are they to pass that perspective on?
This to me is the tragedy of labelling oneself as homosexual, "coming out" as it were. While it is by no means impossible, these folk generally do not pass on their genes nor raise children. All that creative energy, that personality, that vision, that insight isn't replicated for the next generation. Children are more than the sum of their nature and nurture, but both are necessary to foster brand new people. While I do not deny that the childless still manage to positively affect society even after they are gone (the prime example being Our Lord Himself), the genetic continuation of a person is sacrificed perhaps unnecessarily for the feelings that they may have for the same sex. That is a dis-order.
With regards to homosexual marriage, it is clear that only such a thing can exist legally and not in the sacramental sense. A Civil wedding of homosexuals in a registry office makes some kind of sense as a public declaration of loving commitment, a Church wedding does not make sense because it is a Divinely instituted sacrament far exceeding human legalities and promises. A homosexual partnership is sterile. Yes, one can say that so was the marriage of Abraham and Sarah until late in their lives. One can point to monks, nuns and Roman priests (more on them later). However, while God can work any miracle He likes, for a homosexual couple to have a baby would result in one of them changing sex and while I do not doubt that this could be done, I do doubt that He would want to do it for this very reason. As I've written earlier, change a person's sex and you change that person at one of the most fundamental levels. Marriage is an open possibility for the family, a homosexual partnership is never open to that possibility. I cannot possibly comment on whether homosexual couples should adopt - that can only be on a case by case basis. My vision is distorted and unreliable here.
I do not doubt that two men can fall in love with each other. I have recently seen a dear friend lose his life partner, and the only way I can interpret the facts of his reaction is that he truly, truly loved his partner. So there was some aspect of the Divine in that relationship and I find it very hard to believe that, beyond this life, the best aspects of that relationship would not be continued. I do not even doubt that out of what the Church describes as a disorder can come order. Mathematically speaking chaotic systems produce fascinating order. Again we return to Romans viii.28.
My third point is a concern that I have about how "homosexuals" perceive themselves.
I have tried very hard in the above not to call these people "homosexuals" or "gays" not for fear of offence but for the simple reason that I don't want to identify the people with the property of homosexuality. I'm not convinced that "homosexuality" even properly exists as a definable concept.
If a friend were to come out and say "I'm gay" what would I say? First, I would recognise the courage that he has taken to admit that. It's clearly something with which he has been wrestling for some time and this struggle needs to be appreciated.
Second, I would wonder what he means. I suspect he would say, "I'm sexually attracted to men." What he means, I suspect, is, "every person to whom I have been sexually attracted so far in my life has been male." However, there is a dangerous and restrictive assumption that every person that this chap will ever be sexually attracted to is male. Whilst homosexuality may be observable in animals and in humans and the tendency to be attracted to the same sex may be written in some way in our biological machinery, human beings are more than biological machines and are capable of considering their drives, passions and attractions carefully.
It's fair to say that everyone has been attracted to someone of the same sex at some point in their lives. Does that mean that everyone is homosexual? Well, there we go! We are back to this identification of the self as homosexual. We run the risk of seeing everything we do as the result of being homosexual. Homosexuality suddenly becomes the entirety of our final cause, "namely we are who we are because we are homosexual."
Does homosexuality exist as a cause be it material, formal, efficient or final? That's the danger. Call no man happy until he is dead? Then call no man homosexual until he is dead and you can examine all the attractions that he has ever had and judge that more than 50% of them have been for the same sex.
It's easy to understand why this is the case. If mainstream society vilifies homosexuality, anyone with attractions to people of the same sex, finds themselves cast out. Outcasts form their own community and their badge of identity becomes the very thing that has caused them to be cast out. Thus, people with same-sex attraction see themselves as being homosexual as being a fundamental part of their being in order to find some social place.
However, people who call themselves homosexuals in a rather aggressive way often are committing the same "sin" of "closed mindedness" when they accuse "heterosexuals" (does that exist as a definable quantity?) of not being able to see the other side's point of view. If neither side is prepared to examine their own hearts and recognise that therein lie both homo- and heterosexual attractions, then there can be no commonality of vision.
What then of monks, nuns and Roman priests for whom celibacy is the requirement? Is this a disorder because it is genetically fruitless to be a monk or a nun or a Roman priest? That's a good point, but one that, I believe, is answered by the idea vocation. Sometimes, good things have to be given up so that a greater good can happen.
God calls in order for us to serve in some way. I find it difficult to believe that a homosexual relationship is a vocation from God in the light of what we are told about such relationships in the Bible and Tradition. The religious life, the priesthood and the married life are ways in which God can call us to serve. The commitment to a married life may have to be transferred to a community. I would suggest for this reason that a celibate priesthood is preferable to a married one, though I see no reason to impose celibacy on priests given some of the sterling work that I've seen vicars' wives do on account of them being vicars' wives.
It does have to be said that it is more important for the clergy and the religious to set the examples for the world in following the teaching of God. If they are to answer their vocation then they must answer it to the full. Bishops like Gene Robinson who leave their wives and family in order to persue a homosexual relationship and then seek to change what they perceive as the Church's rules rather than God's are morally reprehensible on many counts. Again, I cannot condemn, but I am very far from condoning such behaviour especially since many lives were ruined as a consequence of Gene Robinson's desire to be true to himself at the expense of being true to his family and to God.
Lastly, what do I say to the man who is lonely because he is encumbered with the belief that he is a homosexual? There's little that I can say, though I identify very much with how lonely and stark life can be. Again, the argument of motes and beams comes back. I cannot know what is in a brother's head, so I can only advise him to go out and love others appropriately within the parameters of the Love of God, to make good friends and to know that he is loved by God more passionately, more fully and more appropriately than any human being could. Is this enough? What more can I do? Answers in the com box please.