LGBTQ issues today are raising hopes for some Christians as well as anguish, confusion, and anger for others.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted, in the past decade, to allow the ordination of LGBTQ people, to permit the performing of same-sex marriages in church buildings by Presbyterian ministers, and to advocate for equal rights in church and society for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
The Episcopal Church in the United States has allowed gay marriage since 2015 and is open and welcoming to the LGBTQ community.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has passed repeated resolutions to welcome LGBTQ people since 1991.
In fact, a growing number of organized religious groups in the United States have issued statements officially welcoming LGBTQ people as members and extending marriage rites to them.
In my Catholic tradition, there is now a mixed LGBTQ message for sure. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated in 1992, characterizes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity” contrary to natural law. In March 2021 the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), stressed again that Catholic clergy may not bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.” The CDF statement was approved by Pope Francis.
Bryan Massingale, an openly gay Catholic priest and professor of theology and social ethics at Fordham University, said priests who want to engage in pastoral outreach to the gay and lesbian community “will continue to do so, except that it will be even more under the table … than it was before.”
Pope Francis, over the years, has sent ambivalent LGBTQ messages. In July 2013, on his flight back from Brazil, when asked about gay priests during a spontaneous exchange with the press, he responded, “If they [gay priests] accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” Nevertheless, a Vatican decree on training for Roman Catholic priests in 2016 stressed the obligation of sexual abstinence, as well as barring gay men and those who support “gay culture” from holy orders. In May 2018 Pope Francis told the Italian bishops to carefully evaluate priesthood applicants and to reject anyone suspected of being homosexual.
In December 2018, Pope Francis expressed his deep concern about what he described as the “serious issue” of homosexuality, saying that being gay is a “fashion” to which the clergy is susceptible. Speaking about candidates for priesthood, he said: “The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates….In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church.”
In the 2018 book The Strength of a Vocation, by Pope Francis and Fernando Prado, Francis considers gay clergy “a very serious issue.” He further emphasizes: “In consecrated and priestly life, there is no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life.” Nevertheless, in a handwritten letter dated June 21, 2021, Pope Francis praised and thanked the Rev. James Martin — Jesuit priest and author, and high-profile LGBTQ advocate – for reaching out to LGBTQ Catholics.
As a positive development, in July 2021, one of Germany’s most senior Catholic bishops, Bishop Felix Genn of Münster, has called for an official Catholic Church apology for the way its pronouncements “over years and decades” have deeply hurt homosexuals.
When asked recently about gay priests in the United States, Fr. James Martin, replied: “I think that if you had suddenly all the gay priests in the United States come out, I think the Church would be forced to look at the question of homosexuality in a very different light.” When asked how many priests are gay, he replied “I’m guessing maybe 40 percent. Who knows?….If it was 40%, I wouldn’t be surprised; if it was 80%, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired Catholic bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit, has consistently been a supporter of New Ways Ministry for LGBTQ Catholics and has also called for homosexual priests and bishops to “come out” and be truthful to themselves and others.
A friend reprimanded me recently for being LGBTQ supportive, stressing that I apparently ignore “the clear condemnations of homosexual behavior in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.” I suggested to him that I am not ignoring Sacred Scripture and that historical consciousness is particularly important in drawing biblical conclusions. I find it impossible to agree that the texts so often used to assert the immorality of homosexual acts are unambiguous and provide solid foundations for condemning same-sex behavior.
In determining contemporary moral values and behavior, a realistic understanding of human life requires an historically conscious worldview, because human reality is dynamic, evolving, and changing. We certainly see this when it comes to medical science. People do not always apply this to moral values. As our human understanding develops and changes, so too do our human concepts, theories, and courses of action. This is not a matter of relativism but of changing human perspectives. There is indeed a human thread from generation to generation that links faith and moral values. People in every age reflect, evaluate, and interpret that faith and moral values tradition in terms of their contemporary culture and understanding.
When people determine moral obligations from “nature,” they are really deriving them from their human interpretation of “nature.” The challenge with “natural law”and “human nature” is that our understanding of human sexuality – with its biological, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual dimensions — has developed historically and it continues to develop. I learned this years ago from my Louvain (Leuven) professor, Louis Janssens (1908 – 2001), founder of the Louvain tradition of personalism. Janssens made an original contribution to the study of the human person through the approach which he coined as “the human person adequately considered.”
Personalist moral philosophers and theologians stress that the old “traditional” biological and strictly physicalist understanding of traditional natural law and human “nature” must be transformed into a contemporary personalist, relational understanding. The former defines the morality of acts based only on the physical, biological structure of those acts. The latter defines the morality of acts based on the meaning of those acts for persons and relationships. Marital sexuality in a personalist relational understanding, for example, is about much more than simply linking genitalia to produce progeny.
The ethical criterion for human choices and actions therefore is the extent to which these choices and actions respect and enhance a person’s living together in time and space, in all the many different dimensions of a person’s life world and life history: familial, social, material, environmental, spiritual, physical, and psychological. The human person adequately considered.
What did the historical Jesus say about sex? A strong case can be made that Jesus did not directly discuss sexual activity at all. The biblical record is totally silent about his attitudes towards the sexually-related religious controversies of the present day: equal rights for homosexuals, same-sex marriage, transgender, etc. Jesus did stress the fundamental moral principle of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. That really covers ALL human actions.
Now, I return again to those “homosexuality texts” in the Bible. The context in which both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament condemn homosexual acts is shaped by the socio-historical conditions of the times in which they were written. Probably the most influential Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) text leading to the condemnation of homosexual acts is the interpretation given to the biblical story of Sodom in the Book of Genesis. Scholars agree that contextual exegesis shows that the homosexual interpretation of the Sodom story is not accurate and that the sin in both the Hebrew text and its literary context is the sin of inhospitality.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans has been seen traditionally as the New Testament’s clearest condemnation of same-sex relations – both male and female. Recent scholarship, however, suggests a different interpretation. Paul, the religious Hebrew, is looking at life in the capital of Greco-Roman culture. Homosexuality itself is not the focus of his condemnation. Rather, Paul’s criticism falls upon paganism’s refusal to acknowledge the true God. Paul, actually, probably did not understand a homosexual orientation. A number of contemporary highly respected biblical scholars suggest in fact that Paul struggled personally with his own “thorn in the flesh” — his own same-sex desires.
I strongly resonate with those moral theologians who state very simply that homosexual sexual acts are “natural” for people with a homosexual orientation, just as heterosexual sexual acts are “natural” for people with a heterosexual orientation. Sexual acts are moral when they are natural, reasonable, and expressed in a truly human, just, and loving manner. In today’s churches we need to sit down face-to-face and dialogue about this.
To some extent we are all involved in what I call a process of moral conversion: progressively understanding the present situation, exposing and eradicating our individual and societal biases, constantly evaluating our scales of preferred values, paying attention to criticism, and listening to others.
Human change and growth can and do happen for the human person adequately considered.
15 thoughts on “Christianity and LGBTQ Issues”
Well Jack, I could quite easily believe James Martin’s figure of 40% of gay (or even bisexual??) American priests based on my recollections of the American College Seminarians I remember regularly encountering in the late 1970s/early 1980s in Belgium. They were lovely guys and interesting to talk to, many not that much older than me, however they were very unlike the majority of the men I knew at university or at work, but it was a dawning understanding for me of why/what it was. I felt very strongly from then onwards about the hypocrisy of the Church and the Faithful’s stated position on homosexuality. If it was so ‘disordered and sinful’ why were so many drawn to a life/career within the Church?
Gabrielle, I am always happy to hear from you….About the American College seminary community, I always thought more than 80%. 😁
I conservatively put 40% as I didn’t want to be seen as over-estimating/exagerating the situation, but of course you’ll have known better than me! There were often highly interesting and enjoyable conversations/discussions/differences of opinion with those seminarians and deacons around my parents’ dinner table. That’s what ignited my curiosity into what are the differences and intersections between faith, doctrine, Bible, tradition, customs, culture, and how much they interact with each other to create the ‘version’ of Christianity/Roman Catholicism that is dominant at any one particular moment in time; and how taught content and emphasis change and shift between conservative and/or dogmatic to more liberal and/or flexible interpretations over time. (P.S. let me know if you’ve any suggestions for light reading material on that?)
I have no read it but a good friend has recommended SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY: LOVING, LEAVING. AND FINDING CHURCH reflections by Rachel Held Evans.
* correction: I meant to say below: “how taught content and emphasis change and shift and flow back and forth over time between conservative and/or dogmatic and more liberal and/or flexible interpretations.
I will get back to you tomorrow. We have just escaped a devastating flood very close to our house. We are ok but it cam much too close.
Back in 2015, our Doug asked to respond to the questions asked prior to the Family Synod. In writing up responses I noted how so many straight couples were opting out of marriage, civil as well as religious, much to the dismay of the Church, as well as secular circles. But the both the clerical and secular response to marriage for gay couples in many cases, especially our Church, was opposition if not downright hostile. Here were people ready to commit themselves to each other for life, and they were being denied! Many years ago, I was working with a political group, which included a gay man who might have had a partner or two by that time and a straight man who bragged that he had 15 children but was only paying child support for two. I know which one I thought had the better morals and ethics!
Indeed….better morals and ethics! Many sincere thanks!
You certainly have beautifully defined the “problem” of the church’s inability to adequately deal lovingly with LGBTQ Christiians. What seems to be at the heart of the issue as you have clarifed is the “act” versus the “state” of sexual orientation. Some of my most caring, kind, compassionate, and loving friends/acquaintances are “non-heterosexual” and live what Jesus called us to be. As a young seminarian, I was absolute in my rejection of homosexuality. Then I actually met someone whom I knew to be the Christian I wanted to be who was not heterosexual. Needless to say, that helped me see a different truth. One of my most positive memories was attending Mass with many straight and LGBTQ people, both singles and families, in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and made me proud and happy to be a Catholic Christian. I so long for that to be the common experience of all of us who profess our faith. Thanks, Jack, for helping us all see more clearly.
Thank you dear friend. I can resonate so well with what you have written. My very warmest regards. Jack
Yes! Ditto “Thanks, Jack, for helping us all see more clearly.” This is an outstanding essay, balanced and truthful on where many Christian denominations stand and the tragedy of our own denomination’s hateful response. Your refutation of Biblical support for homophobia is really appreciated. Wonderful!
It has been my absolute pleasure to have many LGBTQ people in my circle of dear friends, since my college days. Many of these friends were Catholic Christians who feel totally ostracized and misunderstood by the Church and, have looked elsewhere for faith growth and inclusion.
Jack, you again have beautifully pointed out yet another problem issue, steeped in hypocrisy, if the Church. As always, thank you for your insights and historic enlightening.
Thank you Patti. I am always so happy to hear from you.
I feel the problem with the thinking of many Catholics is a continued and utterly misguided association of homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children and teenagers. The Catholic priests (2) who abused multiple members of my family (6, both male and female, children and adults) were sexual opportunists. That’s a moral issue not an orientation issue.
I agree Mona and am very sad to learn of abuse in your family.