A Heart to Heart Talk with a ‘Pro-Gay’ Christian
The things that you're saying make me feel as if we're slipping into a bottomless spiral of nihilism and death.
What’s your problem, people ask. In rejecting calls for churches to accept homosexual partnerships, aren’t you acting exactly like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, who preened about their scrupulous attention to the Law, and refused to welcome sinners? But Jesus welcomed sinners, and so should we.
I hear such talk all the time, and it seems almost pointless to respond to emotional appeals with logic. A statement that comes from the heart is not best answered from the head. I could offer a long string of objectively sound counterarguments, but lose the debate — by coming off as a pointy-headed theological hobbyist, an ideologue whose cerebral need for logical consistency lets me steamroll over real people’s personal anguish, hopes and dreams.
So, instead, let me talk about how I feel when I hear someone who identifies as a Christian saying he wants churches to recognize same-sex partnerships. Here’s what I would like to tell him, since we’re talking about feelings:
You want the churches to accept same-sex relationships, to grant them the same blessing as marriage. Here’s what that means: that homosexual acts in those relationships are not just non-sinful but holy. They are a means of grace by which each member of the couple participates in the intimacy of the Blessed Trinity, and brings himself and the other closer to God.
That’s what the church has always taught about marital intercourse, despite the grumblings of some envious, ultra-Platonist monks. Eager to see the human race continue, the church always pushed them aside, and insisted that marriage was holy and so was sex. (We Catholics can thank the Protestant Reformers for laying a special emphasis on this point.) Now you want to extend that blessing to cover acts that the the Church (based on the sin of Sodom) calls “sodomy.” Have I got all that right?
Good. I can see you’re nodding. Your eyes light up a little, at the chance to extend the principle of “inclusion” a little further. I understand the appeal of that. One of the most attractive things about Christianity is its universality. I always get a kick out of looking around the church on Sunday and seeing the mixture of white, Latin, black, and Asian faces — people whom you sadly might not often see together in social settings. The church reminds us that we’re one.
And if I agreed with you that people with same-sex attractions were just another morally-neutral ethnic group, who were “born that way,” and that God gave us our sexual attractions in the same uncomplicated way that he gives us our ethnic heritage, then I’d feel the same as you. I would feel that it’s quite unfair to exclude people with exclusively same-sex attractions from enjoying one of Christianity’s central mysteries, where we carry on God’s creation of the world through acts of love between two people.
I would certainly feel that way, and since we aren’t Vulcans, we shouldn’t treat emotions as meaningless. They carry information, which sometimes tells us truths that slip through the cracks in our walls of logic, or reveal that they rest on sand. But sometimes feelings lead us astray, especially when we borrow them from Twitter and NPR. Think how sincerely millions of people believed once in Communism, fascism, or segregation. So we need to be a little skeptical of ourselves and our feelings.
Instead of trying to convince you not to feel as you do, let me tell you about the thoughts and feelings that your proposal evokes in me, and maybe we can make a little more progress — instead of just marching off to boycott each other’s businesses, okay?
You are telling me that the whole Christian tradition, and the Jewish tradition before it, have been fundamentally wrong on a central moral issue. The mistake pervades the history of both traditions, from the Book of Leviticus through the writings of St. Paul, up through the preaching and teaching of pastors, bishops, councils and popes, through the end of the 20th century. It’s embedded in our theology, in our picture of the human person, and even our understanding of the relationship between Christ and the Church. As a result, we have looked at a certain type of sexual activity and denounced it as morally evil, seriously sinful, when in fact it was virtuous and pleasing to God. We should repent. That is what you’re saying.
Here’s the question that provokes in me: Why then should I trust the Church or the Bible on anything else?
This is not some side issue, like the precise details of how the church and state relate, where the churches have spoken at cross purposes over the centuries. It’s not a question that Christian communities have historically disagreed about, such as how many sacraments there are or whether we really need bishops. No, this one goes to the heart of things: Is marriage just a fig leaf for a temporary sex contract, or is it something much deeper? Is it the Church’s recognition of what was already sacred, by its very nature since the creation of man — the bodily means of passing on human life? Is life-making a fundamental reason we pair people off together? Is it really sacred? Is life?
I have to ask that last one because almost all of the churches and synagogues that have rejected the 5,776-year tradition have slid into the pro-choice stance on abortion. Jews and Christians alike courted Roman scorn by rescuing abandoned infants from the city walls, but now liberal Christians and Jews look at abortion and either shrug or actually embrace it as a positive good. They see euthanasia not as a form of murder but of mercy. Why do you suppose that is?
I feel that it’s because they stopped believing, not just in God but in anything whatsoever. They heard the culture whispering, then shouting, that their own sacred tradition was fundamentally wrong on a central moral issue. They were convinced, or exhausted from swimming against the stream, so they surrendered. They took the editing scissors to their own scriptures, and repented for the sins of Moses and St. Paul. They said, “We know better than our fathers, for the culture has spoken.”
But the culture isn’t finished. It has much more to say, once we open our ears. Once we loose ourselves from the mast of Revelation, and start hearkening to those Sirens, it’s amazing what we can learn. We find out that human reason can’t tell us much, since it’s just the side-effect of neurons firing, merely blind electro-chemical events, which make up our minds for us. We learn that human life is not fundamentally different from that of animals, so chimpanzees should have civil rights. That man and his nature are merely the latest mistake of a randomly driven series of biological mutations. That the prospect of eternal blessing or punishment as the outcome of human actions is merely a myth, devised to perfect social control by patriarchal oppressors.
We learn that life amounts to nothing more than a series of happy or unhappy moments. It’s our job to make the most of it, to skew the balance in favor of happy times, for ourselves and for everyone else that the culture decides is important. Since we want to be good, socially responsible citizens, we want to include as many people as we can. Since sexual autonomy is crucial to amassing happy moments, the unborn are a hindrance to be removed, not a responsibility to bear.
Since resources are limited, self-sacrifice is irrational, and human suffering is as meaningless as a dog’s suffering, the dying are also such a hindrance. Soon, as old people pile up, and fewer workers are born to support them, the elderly and sick will also have to be quietly put out of their misery. No surprise that euthanasia is now one of the leading causes of death in post-Christian countries like the Netherlands. The Dutch are such kind, caring people. They just can’t stand by and watch people suffer. …
Are you starting to see what John Paul II meant when he spoke of a “culture of death”? What Flannery O’Connor hinted at when she said that “tenderness leads to the gas chamber”? All those evils, every last one, is implied by your blithe acceptance of our poisoned culture’s whispered lies. And that’s why the rainbow flag has the same effect on me as seeing a Klan hood or Planned Parenthood bumper sticker. All are celebrations of moral evils. All are the result of lies that have worked their way through our culture.
But hey, that’s just how I feel.