I’m spending a few days on the blog talking about marriage, sex, the Church’s teachings, and the whole difficult issue of same-sex marriage (ssm) and its civil recognition. My effort here is to establish a dialogue that is respectful and charitable, and to present the anti-ssm argument and the Church’s teachings on the moral meaning of human sexuality in a clear respectful manner.
Having spent a few days on the subject of civil marriage, law, the role of government, I want to put aside all that and talk about the Church’s theology around sex and marriage. So on this post, I would ask commenters to leave aside the political and legal questions—I have three posts below for those who wish to continue arguing those matters!—and focus on more theological and ‘churchy’ matters.
I was noticeably absent from the comboxes yesterday, my priestly life requiring my presence and energies elsewhere. I see that, towards the end of this thread, an anonymous commenter essentially said that the church is not loving its gay members and that privileging theology over people is choking and damaging them and the life of the Church.
Well, let’s start there, because I think that’s a very widespread belief. Really, what is theology? Is it just intellectual game playing, wordcraft, abstract unreal verbiage? This is not what the Church means by theology. Theology is ‘faith seeking understanding’. And our faith is that God wants us all to be eternally happy, to be joyful, to be fulfilled in the totality of our humanity. All of that is revealed to us in Scripture. But there is a moral law also revealed to us in Scripture, and that moral law asks all of us to make choices that are difficult for us, that we don’t want to do and often refuse to do, and that when we do them are sacrificial and that may make us, in the short term, quite unhappy.
Meanwhile, we live in a world filled with misery and woe, interspersed with happiness and joy: normal human experience tells us that. And Scripture tells us that God the Father’s response to all of the above: His divine will for our happiness, our struggle to follow his divine will and the unhappiness it brings us, and the general condition of suffering and sorrow—that all of this is met by God’s own choice to enter our human reality in general and our human lives individually, in Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and redeem us from all of this with his merciful love.
OK – I just gave a short summation of Christianity, obviously incomplete, but the main lines of the affair. All of which applies to every human being on the planet, Christian or not, male, female, ‘gay’, ‘straight’, etc. We need this big picture before us continually because the comment that the Church values theology over people seems to not realize that our theology is precisely our understanding of how God wants to love people and make them happy. Truth, in other words, as it has been understood in the Church for 2000 years.
This whole business of it being our communion with God in Christ by the power of the Spirit that makes us happy, and that this happiness includes but is not exhausted by our conformity to the moral law authored by God has great and far reaching implications in all of our lives. But since I’m writing about sex, let’s talk about sex.
It has been the unbroken constant teaching of the Church for 2000 years that sexual intercourse is to occur within marriage, that marriage is between one man and one woman, that marriage is an unbreakable bond for life, and that the sexual act is to be open to life (hence, no contraception). Every human being is called to chastity: unmarried people, by refraining from sexual activity, married people by constancy, mutual respect and care, and openness to new life.
OK, such is the teaching, and I do realize, not living in a cave in Mongolia, that most people in our society reject this teaching in part or in whole. And many find it a cold, hard doctrine, almost unbelievably removed from the lives of so many of its members who of course may or may not be doing any of these things the Church says are wrong.
Of course this is a problem – there is not a priest, bishop, or pope on God’s green earth who is not aware of this disconnect and the profound problem it is. People such as my commenter yesterday conclude the Church must change its teachings. Those of us who truly believe (I ask you to acknowledge that I truly believe this!) that the Church cannot change its teachings because they are God’s and not ours, conclude that we have to explain, educate, present the teachings in their fullness.
Essentially, the Church teaches that human sexuality in its bodily extension and expression has a divine meaning. All of the ‘shalt nots’ flow from the fact that the sexual act means something, and that what it means is the reflection in human physicality of the divine love and the divine unity. God’s love is faithful and lasting: sex must occur within marriage. God’s love is a total gift: marriage must be monogamous; God’s love is life-giving: marital sex must not be sterilized.
That our bodies mean something, and that the meaning is not ours, but God’s to determine, and that this meaning points to another reality entirely and is ordered to that reality—this is so far from how people think of sex today that of course it is a hard sell. I would observe, though, that it is simply not true that ‘everyone’ rejects this: many, many people who are just as modern as anyone else, find this to be true and beautiful. Myself included.
Does the Church, then, ‘hate’ gay people, cohabiting people, divorced and remarried people? Do we insist on everyone being miserable except the lucky few who somehow manage to get married? This post is long enough and I realize I am straining everyone’s patience by writing so much. Tomorrow, then, I will address this. Of course I believe it is supremely loving to call everyone into the truth of our humanity in its bodily, sexual nature, and that fidelity to the Church’s teaching leads to eternal happiness and joy. It is not hatred to tell people what will lead them to joy, is it? More tomorrow.