Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homosexual Relationships: Another Look

By Bill Hunt

The controversy over the moral status of homosexual relationships is tearing the churches apart. Whole regions of the worldwide Anglican Communion are threatening to withdraw over the ordination of openly gay or lesbian priests and bishops. (i)  Protestant synods have put pastors on trial for having homosexual partners. (ii)  Priests refuse communion to people just for sympathizing with gay Catholics, (iii) and the Vatican has provoked a debate over whether homosexual persons are “intrinsically disordered.” (iv)  The issue of legal recognition of gay marriage crosses denominational lines and causes divisions within congregations.

The main reason that many Christians see homosexual relationships as problematic is that they are sincerely convinced that homosexual activity is gravely immoral. They contend that the biblical condemnation of homosexual activity continues to bind all Christians.

It is important to understand that these Christians are taking a principled stance. Many oppose discrimination against lesbian and gay individuals in secular employment and public accommodations. (v)  However, since they believe that homosexual activity is sinful, they contend that it is not permissible for their leaders to be lesbian or gay. Moreover, since in their eyes homosexual activity is against the natural law, they see secular recognition of gay marriage as destructive to the fabric of society.

What stance should those who support civil rights for lesbian and gay persons, including legal marriage, take? Should they concede that all forms of homosexual activity are immoral but that for the greater good in a pluralistic society gay and lesbian persons should be allowed to enter into same sex unions? Or, should they argue that committed, adult, consensual, loving relationships are holy and good and deserving of societal recognition and church blessing? If the latter, how does one deal with the biblical condemnations?

In my estimation, it comes down to looking at Christian moral teaching, including the teaching in passages from the Bible, in a developmental perspective. This means looking at scriptural passages in their historical and cultural context and taking into account developments in the intervening millennia. It means considering the taken-for-granted presuppositions of the biblical era and examining them in the light of subsequent discoveries. We have to ask why the biblical authors condemned homosexual activity and see if those reasons still apply.

The Biblical Condemnation

Although it is restricted to male homosexual activity, it is important to understand the full force of the biblical condemnation. Leviticus 18.22 states: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20.13 repeats: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

These passages come from the Torah, the core of the Hebrew Bible and thus carry particular authority. Moreover, the prohibition is on a par with each of the Ten Commandments (except for coveting) insofar as it carries the sanction of the death penalty. (vi)

It is true that Christians have set aside many condemnations of the Torah, including some of the Ten Commandments, because they are not repeated in the New Testament. But, that is not the case here. Even though Jesus does not repeat the condemnation (and thus it has no “dominical warrant”), in Romans 1.26-27 St. Paul reiterates the Levitical prohibition: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for this error.” (vii)

In addition to the argument from Scripture, these same Christians appeal to the Church’s natural law tradition. Although no Ecumenical Council ever condemned homosexual activity, they point to great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (viii) and Dante (ix) who considered it to be “contra naturam.” True, in recent years the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has distinguished between homosexual orientation and activity, (x) but it still condemns the latter.

This approach is summarized in section 2357 of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” (xi)

Some would say that this settles the issue. The Church can never change. However, there is a similar case where the teaching of the Church has clearly changed - a moral practice widely condemned in the Hebrew Bible, alluded to by Jesus himself in the Gospel of Luke, condemned by an ecumenical council, and banned for more than a millennium as contrary to the natural law. Yet, today the Church approves many forms of this practice. If the Church could change its condemnation on that issue, isn’t it possible, or even likely, that it could at least modify its blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity?

The Example of Usury (xii)

More than a dozen texts from all three parts of the Hebrew Bible (Law, Prophets, and Writings) condemn taking interest on a loan - not just exorbitant rates of interest, but any interest at all. The same Book of Leviticus that condemns male same sex activity also says: “Do not extract interest from your [poor] countryman either in money or in kind . . . You are to lend him neither money at interest nor food at a profit.” (Leviticus 25.36-37) And Exodus 22.25 reads: “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”

In four texts within a few chapters the prophet Ezekiel praises the person who does not take either advance or accrued interest and condemns the one who does so. (18.8, 13, 17; 22.12) The Psalmist states that those “who do not lend money at interest” are among those who shall be admitted to the worshiping congregation. (Psalm 15.5)

For more than a millennium, theologians appealed to Luke 6.35 (“Lend expecting nothing back”) as an indication that Jesus himself condemned usury. (xiii)  Moreover, both the Jewish and the Christian traditions condemned usury as against the natural law. Both St Thomas Aquinas (xiv) and Dante (xv) felt that way. Even the ecumenical Council of Vienne (1312) condemned usury. (xvi)

Why did prophets and theologians, councils and bishops condemn usury for so many centuries? There were three main reasons. First, in an overwhelmingly agrarian society where coinage was scarce, there was a strong bias against merchants and trade. Merchants had a reputation for driving hard bargains and taking advantage of peasants in sales. A merchant was also suspect because while traveling about the countryside he was often away from home at night. Thus, he was unable to guard the virtue of his wife and daughters, as an honorable man should.

Second, ancient Israelites saw charging interest on a loan as taking advantage of a desperately poor person. Interest rates of fifty percent per year were common. (xvii) All too often, borrowing started a spiral of debt leading to the peasant’s loss of his land.

Finally, ancient Israelites understood money to be only an inert indicator of value with no use other than to provide a means of exchange. (xviii) If one lent someone a cow that produced milk, one could charge that person for the use of that cow. But, money didn’t produce anything; it had no use. So, to charge interest was to go against the nature of money and treat it as though it had a use. Hence, the term “usury” and the contention that charging interest was against the natural law.

As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, commerce increased, paper money became much more common, and the attitude toward merchants changed. Cities prospered from trade and commerce, and merchants were often considered benefactors and elected to public office.

Also, it became increasingly evident that money could stand for productive assets like cargo on a sea voyage. A loan with interest could actually help a merchant finance an enterprise or lift a person out of poverty. Money did have uses after all - and good ones. As the awareness of the legitimate uses of money grew, the condemnation of charging any interest changed to the condemnation of charging excessive interest to take advantage of the poor. Hence today, our condemnation of usurious interest on a loan.

The point is that the cultural understanding of money, which lay under the prohibition of charging any interest at all, had changed. With it changed the absolute condemnation of usury in any form and the permission of usury in some forms.

One must ask: Is a similar development going on with respect to homosexual activity? What happens if we delve even deeper into the biblical texts and ask: Why did the biblical authors condemn all forms of homosexual activity?

Another Look: Honor, Reproductivity, and Purity (xix)

Biblical studies over the last century or so have clarified the basic underlying rationale for the condemnation of same sex sexual activity in the context of ancient Israelite society and its core social values.

In the ancient society from which the Bible emerged the supreme value was honor - public esteem enjoyed by a person or group. (xx)   Honor was primarily a male attribute. Ancient biblical society was patriarchal, and it was taken for granted that men were superior to women. Honor was also visible, concrete, and tangible - even spatial. The honorable man controlled all the important enclosures: his city, his home, the wombs of his women, and his own body. A man lost honor or was shamed when someone penetrated these spaces against his will or wrested them from his control.

The second fundamental social value was reproductivity. (xxi)  In contemporary American society parents are proud if their children surpass them in education, wealth, or success. Not so in ancient Israelite society. It was considered shameful for a man to rise above the status of his father. To surpass one’s father was to dishonor one’s father. A man’s role was to reproduce his father by begetting and raising sons to carry on his father's name. He began this project by planting his “seed” in the hopefully fruitful “soil” of his wife’s womb.

The third core value was purity (xxii) (also known as cleanliness or holiness) in the sense of being separate or apart. The leaders of Israel were convinced that idolatry had led to the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE) and the subsequent Babylonian Exile. The restored nation, therefore, had to be pure of any trace of idolatry and any practices associated with the idolatrous peoples surrounding them. Images of God or the gods were forbidden, of course, but so were practices thought to be associated with idolatry.

Israelite purity also involved culturally conditioned decisions about what was appropriate. Water creatures should have fins and scales, making crawfish and shrimp unclean. One shouldn’t weave a fabric from two kinds of thread, or sow two kinds of seeds in the same field. Animals with cloven hooves should chew their cud, thus making swine unclean. Blood should stay in its place under the skin, so bloody sores that pierced the skin were impure or unclean.

Likewise males, whether animal or human, should mate with females. Moreover, heterosexual intercourse was considered unnatural in any position other than face to face with the male on top. (This may well be what Paul is referring to in Romans 1.26 when he says: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural . . . .” Almost certainly Paul is not referring to lesbian relationships.)

Given this male-dominated culture of honor, reproductivity, and purity, it is not hard to see why the ancient Israelites condemned same sex sexual activity. For a man to be penetrated by another man was considered a violent invasion of his most personal space. It was a loss of honor because he had been reduced to the status of a woman. Male homosexual activity was also a violation of the value of reproductivity. It made no sense to try to reproduce one’s father by sowing seed in a barren field. Finally, it was unclean or impure because it led to confusion of male and female roles and was associated with the practice of pagans.

Questions Raised by the Behavior of Jesus

Although the gospel writers do not directly refer to homosexual activity, they do present a picture of Jesus that calls into question the cultural presuppositions that led to the biblical prohibition. Let’s take these core social values in reverse order.

The Gospels relate the conflict of Jesus with Jewish authorities over matters of purity or cleanliness. Jesus instructs the disciples who have been sent out two by two to “remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide . . .” (Luke 10. 8) In other words, they were to eat what was put before them and not ask questions about the purity of the food. In John’s Gospel Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink even though “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” (John 4.9) Mark depicts Jesus as healing an impure leper by touching the man. (Mark 1.41) In the eyes of his contemporaries this would have rendered Jesus impure.

In the wake of the successful mission to Israelites in the Diaspora and later to gentiles, most, if not all, of the purity rules were abandoned. Even the prohibitions of the so-called Council of Jerusalem do not seem to have been absolute. (Acts 15.28-29) For example, Paul allows eating food sacrificed to idols. (See 1 Corinthians 8.)

Jesus also radically undermined the value of reproductivity. Nowhere in the canonical Gospels does Jesus mention his earthly father. He abandons his home and his inherited social status as a construction wood worker to become a preacher who moved about from place to place. Jesus is at odds with his extended family (See Mark 6.1-6.), and he instructs his followers to turn their backs on the most sacred family obligations for the sake of the Kingdom. (See, for example, Matthew 8.21-22.) Jesus appears to have been unmarried, or at least to have had no son of his own to carry on his father's name. Nowhere in the Gospels does he encourage his followers to have children.

Jesus undercut the rigid distinction between the sexes that was so much a part of male honor at his time. There were women among his disciples and friends. Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as speaking with unrelated women in public; performing miracles on their behalf; and praising the wisdom of their responses. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection.

In the church that sprang from the ministry of Jesus, women were initiated by the same ritual of baptism as men were; women assumed active leadership roles; and women participated fully in the highest expression of the liturgical/sacramental life of the church - the Eucharist.

The ultimate indication that it was not shameful for a man to act like a woman comes in the story related in John’s Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Washing of feet was a job for a slave. However, ordinary peasants could not afford a slave, so the job fell to the least honorable person in the household, one of the women. (xxiii)  By depicting Jesus as washing his disciples’ feet, John portrays Jesus as deliberately setting aside one of the main tenets of male honor and taking on a distinctly female role – thus demolishing the predominant cultural rationale of his time for the prohibition of male same sex activity.


The biblical condemnation of male same sex sexual activity was based on ancient cultural presumptions of honor, reproductivity, and purity. The ministry and teaching of Jesus radically undercut those presuppositions. Today we no longer take it for granted that men are superior to women, that the main purpose of sexual activity is to beget male children to carry on one’s father’s name, or that all purity rules are mandatory.

What is the status of a moral condemnation when its cultural underpinnings have been removed? Given the “Copernican” revolution in our understanding of human sexuality during the past century, and given the radically changed circumstances of our time, it seems that the blanket condemnation of every kind of homosexual activity goes too far.

Just as over the centuries the Church found a way to distinguish between different kinds of interest-taking, so also it seems that contemporary Christians are in a position to review the condemnation of homosexual activity found in the biblical passages and to distinguish violent, exploitative sexual activities from those that are loving, adult, and free. This enables us to see homosexual relationships in a positive light and even envisage same gender unions blessed by the Church.

William Coughlin Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological expert). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America. For ten years he taught a graduate theology course entitled “Christian Perspectives on Biomedical and Sexual Ethics.”

(i) See, for example, “Africans Threaten Split from Anglican Church,” New York Amsterdam News, August 27, 2009.
(ii) See, for example, “Ousted Gay Pastor Leads New Lutheran Church” posted March 29, 2012 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
(iii) See, for example, “Same-sex Marriage Supporters Denied Communion,” Minnesota Public Radio, October 31, 2010.
(iv) See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” October 1, 1986, n.3.
(v) See, for example, Angelo Lopez, “Evangelicals for Gay Rights,” Everyday Citizen, May 16, 2012.
(vi) See Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 404.
(vii) The passages from Leviticus and Romans are the key texts. For a critical analysis of all the biblical texts relating homosexual activity (or thought by some to do so) see John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 91-117.
(viii) Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 154, articles 11 and 12.
(ix) Inferno, especially Cantos 15 and 16.
(x) Loc. cit.
(xi) Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 625.
(xii) On the subject of usury see John T. Noonan, Jr., The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957); idem. A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 127-142. See also Noonan’s perceptive comment on page 212 that for many scholastic moralists usury was “the mirror opposite of sodomy.”
(xiii) See, for example, the letter “Consulit nos” of Pope Urban III (1185-1187) in Henricus Denzinger and Adolfus Schoenmetzer, Eds. Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, Editio XXXIII (New York: Herder, 1965) [=Denzinger, 13th ed.], section 764, page 243, where the Latin version of Luke 6.35 is: “Date mutuum, nihil inde sperantes.”
(xiv) See, for example, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 78.
(xv) See The Divine Commedy, Hell, Canto 11, lines 94 – 111 and Canto 17 in The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine, Cantica I Hell (L’inferno) translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1949) pp. 136-141; 174-179.
(xvi) See Decree 29, “Ex gravi ad nos,” in Centro di Documentazione Istituto per le Scienze Religiose – Bologna, Ed., Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, (Freiburg: Herder 1962) [COD 1962], 360-361. "If indeed someone has fallen into the error of presuming to affirm pertinaciously that the practice of usury is not sinful, we decree that he is to be punished as a heretic." (David J. Palm Translation. See: See also Canon 25 of Lateran Council III (1179) in COD 1962, 199, and Canon 13 of Lateran Council II (1139) in COD 1962, 176.
(xvii) “The elites used their wealth to make loans to peasant farmers so that the farmers could plant the crops. Interest rates were high; estimates range to 60 percent and perhaps as high as 200 percent for loans on crops. The purpose of making such loans was not so much to make a large profit, at least by the standards of the ancient world, but to accept land as collateral so that the elites could foreclose on their loans in years when the crops could not cover the incurred indebtedness.” William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speach: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 161.
(xviii) “As Aristotle reasoned, coined money had originated as a store of value and a medium of exchange; although coins struck in precious metals had an intrinsic worth, they served chiefly as a standard to make other goods commensurable.” Bruce W. Frier, “Interest and Usury in the Greco-Roman Period” in David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Six Volumes (New York: Doubleday, 1992), Volume 3, p. 423b.
(xix) For this threefold scheme I am particularly indebted to Leland J. White, “Does the Bible Speak about Gays or Same-Sex Orientation? A Test Case in Biblical Ethics: Part I,” Biblical Theology Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring 1995), 14-23.
(xx) On honor see, for example, Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 27-57; Jerome H. Neyrey, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1998); Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 369-372; and White, op. cit., 16-17.
(xxi) White, op. cit., 17-18.
(xxii) On purity or holiness or cleanliness see White, op. cit., 18-20; Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 161-197; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume Four: Law and Love (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 342-415; and Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 395-398.
(xxiii) A possible reference to this is found in 1 Timothy 5.9-10 where one of the “good works” that serve as a qualification for putting a widow on the list of Christian workers who serve the community is that she “washed the saints’ feet.” See Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, Editors, The New Oxford Annotated Bible [with the Apocrypha] containing the Old and New Testaments. New Revised Standard Version. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) ad loc. including footnote.


  1. Thanks for an intelligent and articulate article which makes a noble attempt to reach traditional Catholics on the channel they would probably be listening to.

    I do have some concern that taking the arguments as seriously as is being done here elevates the objections to gay marriage to a level they don't merit, and obscures the simple truth that moral condemnation of homosexuality is...

    Just plain silly.

    Condemnation of homosexuality is not built upon reason and Christian principles, but upon emotion, fear and exceedingly poor leadership.

    After all, in what other arena would we take those who have the least experience with the subject at hand, sex in this case, and make them the expert authorities?

    It's just plain silly.

    By taking the anti-homosexuality arguments seriously, and taking those in charge of leading such arguments seriously, we may be in danger of becoming just plain silly ourselves.

    Young people will decide this question and luckily, on this issue, they are not silly enough to follow those who came before them.

    Mobilizing young people to vote is probably a less silly plan than trying to change the silly emotion driven bigotries of we who will soon be passing from the scene.

  2. Phil, I have to disagree with you on this one. There's definitely a place for serious, informed and rational critique of the "anti-gay arguments" put forth by the bishops. I don't believe it has to be an either/or when it comes to head and heart responses.

    I know Bill and greatly respect his scholarly approach to this issue. I do not view it as "silly" at all. Quite the opposite. Many people have benefited and been given encouragement and hope by this type of scholarly approach. There's a place for it, just as there's a place for the sharing of personal stories. Again, it's not an either/or situation.

  3. Thanks, Bill. I nominate you for bishop. You have demonstrated how the bishops could see their way through this tangled question.

  4. Thanks for your reply Mike. Ok, I'm up for learning more.

    As you know I don't see anti-gay arguments as being a function of rational Christian thought, thus I don't expect those views to be changed by rational Christian thought. It would be great to be wrong on this.

    I guess my view is influenced by the year I spent as a political activist (crime victim advocacy) where I learned it's rare to change anybody's view on anything, especially in a heated political environment.

    I learned that the more I argued with our adversaries, the more energized they became. I believe we see this now all across the Catholic web on this issue.

    So I focused on getting those who already agreed with us to convert their opinions in to action.

    If arguing with hopeless Bishops helps get your supporters to the polls, then ok, point taken. Really, I can see that might be what works in the real world.

    Paula, you are a very hopeful optimistic person, and I like that about you.

    I'm hopeful too, in the next generation, just not about Bishops. I'm sure you guys will win this one, if not today, soon.

  5. Whether partisans are convinced by the rationale put forth on specific issues articulated through the lens of modern biblical and historical exegesis is only a small part of why this approach to theological inquiry is pursued by biblical scholars. We pursue theological inquiry to advance and enlarge our understanding of divine revelation and it’s moral and theological implications on our lived faith. To understand the contextual backdrop of the era in which these texts were written has enormous impact on what we see and emphasize as divine revelation which has profound implications for not only the issue of homosexuality but a whole host of religious and moral issues.
    For instance, modern historical exegesis has taught us that Jesus was not one who advocated a status quo where “Holy Mother Church must punish those who subvert the establish order,” but that Jesus most definitely SUBVERTED the established order. When viewed through the lens of historical exegesis which seeks to describe the historical and intellectual context of the time and place in which Jesus walked the earth, the Gospels are replete with many nuanced details that demonstrate the overwhelming subversive nature of Jesus’ message. The first to witnesses to the birth of Christ were the shepherds – at that time considered a thoroughly unclean and reprobate lot partially because shepherds were known to practice same sex sexual relations while isolated up in the hills for extended periods time - (not much unlike Brokeback Mountain). Yet the Luke’s Gospel has the shepherds as the FIRST to witness to the Incarnation of God. It doesn’t get much more subversive than that!
    Detail after minute detail within the Gospels attest to its thoroughly subversive nature with regard to both the dominant religious code of that time and place as well as the political situation of Israel as a land under foreign occupation. Our knowledge these details have profound implications for how we understand, live and evolve our faith tradition today. In light of the Gospels overwhelming subversive message framed within the context of its time and place, we naturally would have to ask - what were the Gospels trying to subvert with all these pesky and subversive details? In pursuing that question we can come to a greater understanding of what we must be and do in following and embodying these Gospels in order to demonstrate their claim to be a Good News that is a Salve for ours and all ages…

  6. Jamez, that's an excellent post, thanks a lot. The importance of understanding the cultural context in which the words were first said seems an excellent point.

    However, it seems that after centuries of practice, we've become rather expert at reading in to the Bible whatever we want to see. I get the sense that folks tend to shop around for scholars until they find one who is saying what they want to hear.

    To the degree that this may be true, it seems important to boil the teachings of Jesus down to their simplest and clearest central point.

    I would guess most Christians might agree this core message is contained in the single word love. A single word.

    We can apply this single word to the issues of the day.

    If gay marriage created victims, it seems love would require us to resist it. As example, this argument can be made about abortion.

    But given that gay marriage does not create victims, and encourages the committed loving life style we all support as Catholics, then it seems love requires us to support gay marriage.

    Further, love requires us to extend our arms to a minority group we have terrorized for centuries, for no good reason.

    That's how I get there anyway. Reason out from the single word of love.

    My sense is that even though we're Christians and Catholics, and in our hearts we know the whole thing boils down to the single word of love, we're still human, still frail and highly imperfect, and so we complicate things as much as possible to empower the joy of argument.

    There's something very Catholic about that too.

  7. Agreed, in fact whole heartedly agreed. It has been my experience that if we gay people are winning the argument, and I believe we are, it is because we Are actually Living out that selfless Love in and through our committed love relationships. Society is seeing this happen. They witness our lives, our commitments, our dedication. Family, friends and neighbors become allies knowing that our love is true through their intimate contact with us and our struggles and joys. They can now see us in our first flush of infatuation, our daily grind and mourn with us as our loved ones die or a relationship is broken. They are realizing that our life and love is just like theirs, imbued with the same capacity for profound selflessness and meaning. At this point, it would take another near genocidal act of sustained suppression to reverse our course. Even that fails in the long run as another generation is born...

    Knowing that hearts and minds are transformed by intimate personal contact, where does that leave Biblical exegesis. How does that fit into the picture of transformation. Biblical exegesis is like paleontology. It is searching for empirical evidence within the records of the past. While paleontology uses the fossil record to describe the evolution of life on this planet, so Biblical exegesis uses various sources of literary and historical records to assess and describe as accurately as possible the development of our faith tradition. It is a rather dry and tedious task but an important one because the end result is an interpretation backed up by the historical record and not mere speculation or pious meandering. If the pious speculations of later ages don’t jive with the evidence or the context of the original sources, then something happened along the path to now. Something was forgotten or just reinterpreted toward a reading not originally intended. Historical exegesis has gained ascendance only over the last 150 years and has transformed and vastly broadened our understanding of much of the scriptures. The evidence gleaned through exegesis indicates that what the scriptures said about homosexuality refers to a very different contextual phenomenon than the loving committed relationships of gay people that we are advocating for today. So not only are people being transformed in their understanding of us though our examples set through their intimate contact with us. The whole religious tradition is being transformed through the evidence brought forth through the disciplined project of Historical Biblical Exegesis. In a way, it is another form of love as who would pursue such a tedious process if they didn’t love and were not passionate about getting at the truth of the matter.

    Those drag queens over on Christopher Street back in 1969 had no idea how they’re impassioned outrage would so change the course of history that interpersonal forces and scholarly disciplines never before thought compatible would merge to support our efforts today. I am grateful beyond measure to the Holy Spirit for that…

  8. Jamez, you're an excellent writer. Where's your blog?

    I hope you'll understand I really don't object to biblical scholarship, but it was very much a part of my Catholic DNA and upbringing to flip over any coin and look at the other side, and for the better and the worse too, it's just what I do.

    In that spirit, I tend to be suspicious of any process of looking to outside authorities, whether they be in Rome, the universities, the Bible etc. As example, we might observe that it is blind obedience to authority which is causing most of the confusion in the case of gay marriage.

    I feel the living spirit of love exists in every human being, right here, right now. And the majority of the time, I believe we usually already know what the right thing to do is.

    But we don't always want to do the right thing, due to fear, ego, greed, weakness etc. And so we go looking for ways to rationalize our lesser nature. If some authority seems to be telling us what we want to hear, and appears to be giving us a green light, we jump on it with both feet. It seems to be a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility. You know, "Don't blame me, the Pope told me to do it!"

    In my opinion, Jesus never intended to hand us a rule book that would provide detailed instructions for every situation, because he was starting a religion that would last for thousands of years in every corner of the world.

    A single word which addresses every situation we might find ourselves in is so much more elegant and efficient, so otherwordly brilliant.

    Sadly, it doesn't appear I'll be boiling my comments down to a single word any time soon. Oh well.... It's not my fault, the Pope made me do it! :-)

  9. Thanks to all for your fine comments on this thoughtful post by Dr. Hunt. I tend to agree, in particular, with the final comment by Jamez. Indeed, it is the "lived experience" of LGBT people that, in time, will transform those quarters of the church where homosexuality is still condemned.

    Luke Timothy Johnson makes the point eloquently when he reminds us that this lived experience is, in fact, fully within the tradition of the early Church when our ancestors in faith -- based on their lived experience of Jesus before and after the Resurrection -- embraced a view that was against Scripture. Images of deutero-Isaiah's suffering servant notwithstanding, no faithful Jew of Jesus' day would have seen the ignominy of His passion and crucifixion as Messianic. It was only after the Resurrection that the nascent Christian community could look back and see in those earlier Scriptures a foreshadowing of what actually unfolded.

    Similarly, the acceptance of slavery as biblically acceptable and even divinely instituted only came to be challenged when the lived experience of slavery in the American South came to be seen for what it was -- an abomination that undermined an even more important divine declaration, i.e. that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore worthy of the human dignity and freedom of God's children.

    I pray, indeed, that the lived experience of God's LGBT children will bear fruit in transforming the minds and hearts of those who have yet to see our full humanity. It's much easier to condemn "homosexuality" in the abstract than it is to condemn in the concrete "my neighbors John and Bill" or "my cousin Sharon and her partner Linda."

  10. Thanks, Tim, for the insight from Luke Timothy Johnson on lived experience being the evolutionary driver. When you think about it, what else is there but experience and reflection on it? We carry with us the experience of generations past and test our own with theirs, and move forward. The moral imperatives in Bernard Lonergan's insight keep us on track: Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.

  11. Interesting essay; I particularly like the suggestion that Jesus' background and lifestyle as recorded in the Gospels do not square with the arguments made against homosexuality or marriage equality.

    Though I am late to the discussion, I'd like to add a thought. I agree that persuasion is extremely rare and difficult, but I think Phil is undervaluing the power of conversation. It is important to meet our opposition's arguments respectfully, because people listen only when they are listened to. Moreover, when we challenge assertions made by Catholics and other religious figures, we give voice to the idea that there is more than one way to read the Bible and think about homosexuality. This dialog gives neutral people another view that they may not have otherwise had.

  12. This is another silly post. The author states, "The biblical condemnation of male same sex sexual activity was based on ancient cultural presumptions of honor, reproductivity, and purity."

    Since when is "reproductivity" a "cultural assumption"? Has the author unaware of the biological function of the sexual organs of every species?

  13. Anonymous, the author isn't saying that reproduction is a cultural assumption. Rather he is examining ancient cultural assumptions about the biological function of reproduction, assumptions that led to the condemnation of male same-sex sexual activity. We don't have those same cultural assumptions today. Hence our obligation to take "another look" at homosexual relationships.

    1. If society doesn't see that the biological purpose of sex is sexual reproduction, then society is in grave error. The main reason that sex has been divorced from its natural intended purpose is because of contraception. That is also why contraception is immoral. It has unfortunately been used to pave the way for greater social acceptance of other immoral acts, including homosexuality.

  14. So two wrongs (usury+homosex) make a right? I think not.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

    Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. ~ Saint Paul (Romans 1:18-32)

    1. Usury is wrong, too. The Bible was correct. How can you have a stable monetary sytem that is based on ever-increasing debt? Money is lent into existence. Interest is charged, but the money needed to pay the loan back with interest does not yet exist. So more debt needs to be created, and new debt-slaves must be made. Without periodic jubilee debt forgiveness (as a was done in ancient Israel every 50 years), the system becomes a house of cards destined to collapse.

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  16. My partner and I are having our 30th anniversary together this year. Stuff all of you and your pointless back-and-forth arguments about nothing. Marriage or no. Who cares. We were able to form human relationships without the permission of self-appointed authorities be it secular governments or men in silly frocks who believe in ghosts, and we will continue to do so. Shove your marriage debate.