Sunday, June 28, 2015

What would Paul of Tarsus have said about gay marriage?

I had a post comparing the ideas of Paul and Jesus almost finished when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage of two partners of the same sex, leading some to believe—erroneously—that this will usher in a wave of church marriages of men with men and women with women.

In a word, no.

The Christian figure most influential in this respect is Paul of Tarsus, whose letters to various Christian communities of the first century are enshrined as holy writ in the New Testament.

Jesus had absolutely nothing to say on the question of the morality of homosexual behavior. Paul did. He was confronted with the gay-positive society of ancient Greece while still rooted in Jewish tradition going back to the unquestionable condemnations in Leviticus.

Here are Paul's two most significant statements on the subject:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 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 their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
The first quote concludes a lengthy discourse concerning the good behavior that Paul sees springing from faith and the wrongdoings of those who turn God into a justification for their own misdeeds. God rids himself of these people, Paul says, leaving them to their misbehavior, partially listed in the quote.

Concerning the second quote, translators render for "immoral" in various ways, although it is usually understood that Paul meant "fornicators," or people not married to each other who engage in sexual intercourse. The "homosexuals" in the second quote is sometimes rendered as "boy prostitutes," "sodomites," or (sexually) "effeminate."

The mainstream historical Christian understanding of these teachings has been until very recently that, while homosexual orientation is not necessarily a moral wrong, sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex is. Departures from this view, which are growing but still represent a very small minority within Christianity, go no further back than the last two decades, predominantly in wealthier societies.

Because the Pauline dicta is found in the NT, please sit down to wait for a very long time before Catholic or Orthodox churches modify their sacramental theology of marriage to include same-sex arrangements. Ditto for Protestant evangelical denominations.

The Anglicans have experienced virulent splits over this issue. Some of the mainline denominations, Lutherans and Presbyterians, have bowed to changing social mores.

But the problem is theological, not social. Christians do not promise to do anything "for the sake of good fellowship," as the film A Man for All Seasons put in the mouth of Thomas More.

My own view parallels that of popes Paul VI and Francis.

The former went as far as Catholic moral theology allows in arguing that since homosexual orientation (which even Paul of Tarsus does not condemn) is involuntary, it may be questionable whether the acts that spring from it are freely willed, thus lacking the essential requisite of serious wrongdoing, or sin.

In 2013 Francis offered an impromptu press gaggle on an airplane his famous five words: who am I to judge. To make things clear, here is the full statement: "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can't marginalize these people."

Both are very far from saying that the Christian teaching authorizes the sacrament of matrimony for same-sex couples. But they put forth two points very well worth noting.

First, that gay and lesbian activity need not be sinful. Secondly, that sinful or not, homosexual activity does not justify the shunning, public shaming or discrimination against people who are gay and lesbian.

Some Christians—not me—treat lying politicians, thieving corporate executives and murderous racist policemen with respect. If such despoilers can be socially accepted, why can't those Christians accept gays and lesbians?


Anne said...

What do I say?

My exposure to the lives of people of homo-/bi-/trans-sexuality is only in the past 30+ years and in that time I've come to a 360 degree change in my knowledge and beliefs. (The technological time-frame of social media has sped the process, I suppose.) So much so is my 360 about face, that I see Catholicism as a perfect fit for sacramental marriage of people of all genders. The Church has been so liberal and life-giving to me that I would have it be the same for everyone. We are creatures of the animal kingdom, whether hetero/homo/bi/trans- or asexual, and what the Church accords to two of the genders of humanity should be equal to the others.

I've come to think of the LBGT community as sort of a third person of our human trinity and that our "peace on earth" will not ever happen until they are accorded the fullest respect religiously and it has to start with the Christian community.

Two things are key to my living my life out as Catholic... and for some reason I think I will be old before I die... and they are the hope of change for LGBTs and women. I give Paul much respect but I don't give him the key to the Tree of Knowledge of God or to that very mysterious person, Jesus. Christian law is the two-hinged mandate of Jesus, not of Paul or Francis or any of sainted-sinners in between. To break the Law of Love is the sin, not sexual action. The Church has to start fully living in the modern world.

I would welcome a new-wave RCC.

Notebooks said...

I never reply to this sort of stuff, but your comment is exactly the type of wrong thinking that has gotten so many people and churches away from the Word. In your comments, you reference a church, and love and so on, but fail to mention the most important thing - God's Word. Scripture. Whether you like it or not, God's word WILL NOT change to the "modern world", it is unchanging, and as harsh it may sound, I'm sorry, Paul's word IS God's word. The problem with the world today is that is HAS changed His word to fit the "modern world". Stick to the Word, not the World. Blessings.