Friday, July 03, 2015

My response to Matthew Vines' 40 Questions

Matthew Vines has posted 40 questions for Christians who oppose same-sex marriage, and while I do not normally do this sort of thing, I realized in reading through that many of my answers, especially about my personal relationships, are likely different from how Matthew expects people to be answering.  Therefore, I thought I would complete his entire questionnaire.

1.    Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?
2.    Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?
I am willing to grant this point.  I know that there are protocols which are reported by some to have a high success rate in changing sexual orientation, but I do not have the time or expertise to dig too deeply into this material.  Even  if it were demonstrated that sexual orientation were easily alterable, it is unlikely that more than a small proportion of persons experiencing same-sex attraction would be interested in changing it, and so there is really no relevance to considering it here.
3.    How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?
I have had several very meaningful relationships with LGBT persons in my life.  Four stand out as what I would call close friendships.  Of these, three are persons that I currently talk to infrequently  because of the natural flow of life – people grow older, graduate school, get jobs, move away, etc.  The fourth is one of my current closest friendships.
4.    How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?
As of the current time, one.  See #3.

5.    How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?
Hours upon hours upon hours.  Upon hours.
6.    Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?
7.    Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?
8.    How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?
Several.  Of the close friends I mentioned in #3, two were gay Christians.  All told, I have spent years with them. There are several other gay Christians who I would not consider to be among my closest friends but who I have also had some form of relationship with for years.
9.    What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?
My response for and to such persons would be the same response that I would have to anyone who is driven to suicidal despair.  This would include heterosexual persons who have suffered despair or suicidal thoughts or feelings because they were forced to live in *involuntary* celibacy owing to being unable to find romantic partners.  It would also include the homosexual persons who suffer suicidal inclinations because they wish to live out a life of Christian celibacy and feel rejected by the gay community over their choice.  Yes – this is a real phenomenon.  The fact is that suicidal thoughts or feelings or temptations are not a matter of the circumstances in our lives.  They are a matter of depression, a mental illness which affects people of all walks and all beliefs in all circumstances.  It is, quite simply, ill-informed and insensitive to speak about suicide as you have in your question, as though it were simply a response to having a difficult path to walk.
10.  Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?
In every case, the answer is yes.  That includes three people that I know personally, and several others who I know only through acquaintances or my church community.  That celibate gay Christians that I know are in many ways the most faithful, most devout, most knowledgeable, and most generous Christians that I know.  And, in case you thought to ask, yes, I would say that their discipline of celibacy has actually helped to build up these fruits and has not simply come alongside.
11.  How many married same-sex couples do you know?

I do not personally know any same-sex couples.
12.  Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
Yes.  The Holy Spirit can work in anyone of us at any time. In the Old Testament, the Spirit prophesied through Balum as he actively tried to destroy the Israelites.  In the New Testament, the Spirit worked through the High Priest as well, even though he was working to have Jesus killed.  In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit worked through people who had not yet even become Christian.  The reality is that the Holy Spirit works through all people and all situations as long as we do not put up roadblocks to it. This is also the case in bad situations or in sinning persons.  “God can write straight with crooked lines” is the old saying.  In a same-sex relationship, the Spirit will work whatever good He can, even if there is something problematic about the relationship itself.  This is, as I have hopefully demonstrated, how God approaches all people and situations.

13.  Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?
This is somewhat of a complicated question because it depends on what is meant by the term “Christian.”  Obviously, it’s necessary to draw a line somewhere in terms of what beliefs one may hold and rightly be called a Christian.  For example, can a person who believes Jesus never existed be considered a Christian simply because he self-identifies as such?  I think that most would easily answer in the negative here, but where precisely is then the line is drawn?  Different Christian communities will have different answers.

It gets a bit more complicated because of the difference theologies of salvation, justification, and sanctification that different Christian communities have.  Given a person who professes faith in Christ and even many doctrines of the Church but rejects some other doctrines, some theologies would say that such a person is not a member of the Church because we are once-saved-always-saved and the person’s rejection of a key doctrine would preclude him from salvation and therefore he must not have ever been a part of the Church.  Others would say that his faith in Christ is all that is necessary, and others would fall in between or even have entirely different answers to the question.

As a Catholic, I would say that any baptized person is a member of the Church and therefore a Christian, but that those who reject doctrines of the Church are not currently in communion with the Church and not “living members.”  They are united to the Church in virtue of their baptism and so they are Christians, but in their support of same-sex marriage (or slavery, as per #14) they have cut themselves off from the sanctifying and life-giving power of Christ and the Church.

Put more concisely, Christians can sin.  In fact, Christianity has always taught very strongly that Christians will sin as we are fallen creatures.  There is no contradiction between supporting same-sex marriage or slavery or murder or countless other things and holding the name Christian, but in doing so such Christians sin.
14.  Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?
See #13.
15.  If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?
See #13.

16.  Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?
Both same-sex marriage and slavery are offenses against the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, and so I do not see either as being especially more serious.
17.  Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?

While I am studied on a great deal of what the Bible says, this is not a question which holds a great deal of meaning for me as I had already converted to Catholicism before the question of slavery really occurred to me, and as Catholics the Bible is interpreted in the context of each book’s literary genre and the teaching of the Church.

18.  Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?
This is the first of several instances in which your Church history is quite simply incorrect.  While many of the Protestant reformers and those who followed after them supported slavery for some time, dating back to the earliest Christians chattle slavery (the kind that was prevalent in the United States until the Civil War and which is under discussion here) was not widely supported.

When Christianity first came into existence, it lacked the social power to eliminate all slavery, but Christians did what they could to improve the life of slaves by making sure that they were treated well, were kept together with their families, and were even paid.  There are many records of newly converted Christian slaveowners freeing their slaves.  Several of the first popes were even former slaves.  Early Christian writers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330) and St. John Chrysostom (c. 349) condemned slavery.  Early Church councils in 452, 506, 511, 517, 538, 549, 585, 589, 615, 633, and many others promulgated legislation about the rights of slaves, including in some cases prohibition of slave trafficking.  This is a very, very brief picture and I encourage you to do more research, but suffice it to say that you are greatly mistaken on this point.
19.  Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?

Just as in #18, you are at least somewhat mistaken on this point.  There certainly were Christians throughout history who believed in geocentrism and geostationism, but they didn’t get it from the Bible.  They believed in it based on what contemporary science (loose though the term may be) taught.  David Palm, a traditionalist Catholic who has written extensively on the subject, has been unable to identify more than ten writers throughout the entire Patristic period of Christianity (about the first 700 years) who mention geocentrism or geostationism, and of these none cite the Bible or even Christian tradition regarding this belief, while several of them cite mathematicians and natural philosophers (primitive forms of scientists).

This is consistent with the way that early Christians wrote about nature and the faith.  To the early Christians, the Scriptures taught, as the saying goes, “how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”  St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 400) is a fairly standard citation of this belief.  Even Copernicus, who was supported by the Pope and the Church as he helped to pioneer the theory of heliocentrism about a hundred years before Galileo, declared that the Bible did not teach geocentrism.

Yet even if you were unconvinced by this, it is still not relevant.  See the answer to #20.

20.  Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?
Even if I believed that historical Christians believed in geocentrism and geostationism, it would not be concerning or relevant because as a Catholic I do not believe that the Bible teaches matters of scientific fact, but that teaches facts on matters of faith and morals.  See #19 and #21.
21.   Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?
Just as in the case of # 17, this question has little meaning to me because while I am familiar with the Bible’s verses which are sometimes alleged to teach geocentrism, but I have also been aware since almost the beginning of my acceptance of Christianity that that they were not interpreted this way until certain Protestant groups did so in relatively modern times.  For example, there are many extant Scriptural commentaries from early Christianity, and to my knowledge none of them speak to any Scriptural passages as having anything to do with the physical motion of the Earth and/or the Sun.
22.  Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?

In the early Church there were debates about whether or not all Christians were required to practice lifelong celibacy.  Even after it was settled that this was not the case, lifelong celibacy was still required in many parts of the Church for widows and widowers for some years, and when it was finally settled that this was unnecessary, celibacy was still promoted for centuries as the Christian ideal, and was always mandatory for western priests and for all bishops.  The We also see plenty of statements that those who are separated from their spouses – even if the separation is involuntary or unjust - must remain celibate for life.  In some places in early Christianity, marriages had to be approved by one’s bishop before they could be celebrated, and this permission was sometimes denied.

 This should be sufficient to answer the question, because it establishes that there is very much a tradition in Christian history holding at least some persons to mandatory celibacy, even when it is not voluntarily chosen.

To this, we can add the countless writers - many of the same who wrote of preferred or mandatory celibacy - who condemned homosexual relationships.  The understanding of a homosexual orientation as a fundamental reality to a person’s existence is of course relatively new.  Throughout most of Christian history, people simply didn’t understand it in this way, and so the writers who do condemn homosexuality tend to look at it as some kind of moral condition or disorder more than a psychological or biological reality.  They didn’t understand it as a lifelong intrinsic reality, and so expecting an explicit statement about lifelong celibacy is not reasonable in the same way that it would be unreasonable for an anti-vaxxer to ask for historic Christian statements on the morality of vaccinations because historic Christians had no concept of vaccines.

What would be more reasonable would be to look at the way that historic Christians viewed disease and medical treatment in general and then apply those principles to vaccinations in order to get a sense of what historic Christians would have thought about them.  In fact, the connections between lifelong celibacy for gay Christians and historic Christian writings are far, far more direct than the connections would be if looking for those pertaining to vaccines, or the internet, or carbon pollution, or any number of other things.

Quite simply, early and historic Christians unanimously believed that lifelong celibacy was a difficult but mandatory cross for any person who could for whatever reason not be in a legitimate marriage.  This includes gay couples, because they also unanimously believed that two persons of the same sex could not be in a legitimate marriage.
23.  If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?
See #22.  Also, turn the question around and recognize that permitting marriage between members of the same sex is nor a traditional position. It is ultimately a self-defeating argument.
24.   Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?
The Bible explicitly teaches that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.  It also explicitly teaches that celibacy is the only option for those who do not enter into marriage.  Therefore, by the laws of logic, it does explicitly teach that all gay Christians must be celibate for life.  If you are unsatisfied with this level of explicitness, it is worth noting that the Bible does not explicitly teach that God is Triune and consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It does not explicitly teach what books make up the canon of the Bible itself.  It does not explicitly teach many things that all Christians unanimously believe.  Many of them are implicit or require exegesis.  See #25.
25.   If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?
I am very comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible.  As a Catholic, I believe that God reveals Himself through Scripture and through Sacred Tradition. Part of this Sacred Tradition is the very list of the Biblical Canon itself.
26.   Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?
This question really gets to the heart of the issue.  Unfortunately, I am not going to try to invest a lot of time unpacking my answer because it would take far too much time.  For reference, I have a 700 page book on my bookshelf which just goes a tad below the surface of this idea.  What I will say is this:

As a Catholic, I believe that marital love is a total self-giving of one person to his or her spouse which admits to holding nothing back, whereas lust is any use of one’s sexuality whichdoes hold something back.  This includes giving one’s gift of fertility to the other.  This means that contraception or fellatio, for example, would constitute lust, for it would seek to receive some of the goods of sexuality while holding back the fertility of a person.  In the same way, two men or two women who engage sexually by their very nature cannot give their fertility to one another.  Rather, we are called to follow Christ’s words that it is the giving of one’s very life – of everything one has – to another which constitutes love.  Even when a person’s fertility is old or damaged and no longer functions, sexual intercourse between spouses can still offer it in whatever state it is in, in a way that homosexual orcontracepting relations cannot.

If you would like to learn more about this, look into the “Theology of the Body.”  There are many books, articles, and videos available to dig into it in far, far more depth than is possible here.

27.  Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?
In one sense, yes, because homosexual behavior is intrinsically lustful as per the answer to #26.  However, there is another sense in which we can certainly acknowledge an important distinction between a committed same-sex couple and other lustful behavior.  Some Christians regard morality as having no place for degree or circumstances.  As a Catholic, I do not believe this.

So, for example, even though I regard all unmarried sex as a sin, sex between a committed but unmarried heterosexual couple is better than sex between a heterosexual couple in a one-night stand.  Both are gravely sinful, but in the case of the committed couple, there is present some additional good and right intention which is lacking in the one-night stand. Similarly, a man who steals a toy to give to his child is sinning, but it is still better than a man who steals something for himself.  In the same way, a committed homosexual couple would have some good that is lacking in a homosexual couple which met at a bar one night before having sex.  This goes back to the principle from # 12 that God can do good even in the midst of evil.
28.  Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?
Yes.  In using the term unnatural, St. Paul goes beyond the specific situation in question and addresses the fundamental nature of same-sex sexual relation itself.  If one were to talk about something which was sinful in virtue of the circumstances rather than some intrinsic problem, then one would not use the term “unnatural.”  For example, nobody would call a man having sex with another man’s wife “unnatural,” even though it was sinful and lustful. 
29.  Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?

He is making a statement about what is natural and unnatural just as in Romans, but we misunderstand it because of differences in cultural norms – so both, and neither!

There are two factors to consider here.  The first is that cultural norms are different as to just what constitutes long hair.  For example, based on a variety of Scripture passages it is likely that St. Paul himself wore hair that would be considered long for a man by today’s standards.   Jesus may have as well, if as some suggest he at some point took a Nazarite vow. Therefore, St. Paul is certainly not condemning as unnatural hair as one may see on some men today.  The second is that in this passage, St. Paul did not use the typical Greek word for hair, θριξ.  Rather, he used another word, κομάω, which seems to have referred in particular to a particular style of tresses worn by women.

In short, his point was that it is unnatural for men to make themselves look like women.   
30.  Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?I would not use the term “capacity.”  Rather, I would say that marriage is ordered toward procreation.  Describing it the way you have in your question has an emphasis which is like saying that one wants to have a marriage and asking what the bare minimum requirements are to “get in,” whereas describing it the way that I have and that Catholic philosophers have tended to has an emphasis which is more about asking what marriage is for before deciding whether or not we want to enter into one.

Think of it like two different couples meeting with a pastor as to plan their wedding. One couple is asking the pastor, “If we get married, do we have to have kids?”  The second is asking, “If we want to have kids, should we get married?”  Big difference!
31.   If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?
Not every instance of an act which is ordered toward some end has to actually achieve that end to maintain its purpose and ordering.  A batter swinging at a pitch may miss, but the act he is engaged in is still an act which is designed to hit the ball.  A little league batter may go up against a major league pitcher and have absolutely no chance to actually succeed, but his swinging of the bat is still the right thing to do at the plate.  On the other hand, a person who stood in the batter’s box grilling a steak wouldn’t be doing something ordered toward hitting the ball, nor would a .350 major league hitter swinging the bat while standing on third base.

An infertile or post-menopausal couple making love are still doing an act which is by its nature ordered toward procreation, even if in their case that act won’t actually procreate, just as are a fertile couple making love outside of the woman’s ovulatory period.  Of course, the little leaguer could, by the grace of God, manage to actually get a hit against the major league pitcher, and sometimes infertile or theoretically post-menopausal couples do in fact conceive.  
32.  How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr
I am not familiar with these authors. However, I have read the works of LGBT Christians such as David Morrison, Eve Tushnet, and Steven Gershom, who oppose gay marriage.  I have also viewed documentaries like The Third Way or Desire of the Everlasting Hills (which gay friends tell me they think is better) featuring of gay Christians who oppose gay marriage. Have you?
33.  What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?
The same recognitions that any non-married persons have.  Notably, the recognition as human beings who deserve to be treated with love and respect.

34.  What are you doing to advocate for those rights?
I do not believe that there are many legal rights to advocate for, seeing as all non-married persons already have them.  That said, I will certainly speak out and, if necessary, take action against any persecution or hatred toward gay persons, as I would against persecution or hatred toward anybody.  I also make an effort to admonish fellow Christians and others who do not treat gay persons with love and respect any time the need arises.
35.  Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?

Off the top of my head, I do not.  Of course, I could easily produce a list of names of persons who died from violence, persecution, or suicide who I am sure you would not know off the top of your head, either.  We unfortunately hear these kinds of stories every day on the news.  However, I can assure you that if I did at any time hear or read about their deaths that I prayed for them and their families, as I do for all deaths that I hear about, especially deaths that come from injustice.  I am also quite certain that the Catholic Church has offered prayers for them, as Catholic parishes regularly include public cases such as this in their prayer intentions.
36.   Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?No LGBT or any other person should suffer rejection from their families, whether their families agree with everything that they do or not.  I know Christian families who have had gay children and have made sure that those children feel loved.  This is the only approach acceptable for Christians.
37.  Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?I would not vocally object to these kinds of comparisons, because these kinds of comparisons have their place.  Of course, I have also compared same-sex relationships to lesser sins that all of us fall into, such as lying and jealousy, in order to point out to people that we should not view people in same sex relationships as though they are the greatest sinners in the world as St. Paul does, after all, list them amidst things like jealousy.  I have most often compared them to heterosexual relationships involving pre or extramarital sex.

Noting similarities between two things is not the same thing as declaring moral equivalency between them.  In cases where people have compared same sex relationships to things like the practice of bestiality or the indulgence in pedophilia with the intention of creating a moral equivalency – that is, with the intention of saying that they are just as bad – I have objected.

I must note how in your question you talk about the act of participating in same sex relationships while you talk about the inclination to pedophilia.  This is an important distinction because most Christians who oppose same sex marriage would accept that gay persons are not be responsible for their sexual orientation (as per #1), just as pedophiles are not responsible for their pedophilia.  Both are responsible for their actions alone.
38.  How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?Completely. It is not an easy calling, but we are all called to carry our crosses.  Some of our crosses can be extremely difficult, but God's grace is sufficient, and we have a God who suffered for and with us, and provides an answer to our suffering in the form of Himself on the cross.

39.  What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?Such an approach would likely prompt either a very negative or a very apathetic response.  In fact, this is the result that we tend to see in the Church when we tell not only teens, but just about everyone else about any moral issue.  People do not like to hear moral admonitions, and they generally react angrily or with apathy towards the faith. In the general Christian community it is only a select few who are willing to bear all of the crosses that life gives to them.

The difference, of course, is that one’s sexuality is an incredibly integral part – indeed, from a Catholic point of view, the integral part – of the human person.  This means that approaching this particular issue in a callous way would have much, much stronger, painful, and harmful results.  There is no question that same sex attraction and the call to lifelong celibacy is a cross – and a very difficult one to bear.

This is why, for example, the Catholic Church (and many other Christian churches) approach this issue not by speaking about what God forbids, but about the gift of integral sexuality that God calls us to.  We speak about what God has to give us, and the calling to goodness that it is.  Ministries such as Courage, an international organization of and for homosexual Catholics trying to live out Christ’s call to celibacy and sexual integrity are extremely important.  Did you know that it exists?
40.  Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?If by this you mean to ask whether I am willing to have personal Christian fellowship with them, the answer is of course.  If you mean maintain a communion of Churches, the answer is more complicated, but it is not limited to gay marriage.  The Catholic Church does not consider itself to be in communion with Churches which disagree onany issue.  However, they will of course maintain a positive relationship with such communities.