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Procreation as Pro-Creation: Towards a Generativity-Centered Ethic of Sex and Marriage

A reader of Open Tabernacle has challenged me to make a statement about a Catholic ethic of sexuality and marriage that would leave room both for gay and straight marriages, while respecting the procreative norm that is central to the Catholic theology of marriage.  I believe other members of the Open Tabernacle team are also accepting this challenge, and will be posting their own statements.  If I’m right in my expectations, these will be complementary statements that aren’t in any way coordinated—a confluence of interesting reflections about sexuality and marriage from a number of Catholics today who are thinking through both critiques of the current theology of sexuality and marriage, and suggesting new approaches to the issues more adequate to the lived experience of faith of the people of God.

The Procreative Norm as Central to Theology of Sexuality and Marriage

Here’s the assumption with which I’d like to begin my own proposal for an ethic more adequate to the lived faith experience of Catholics today: Even the most hidebound traditional Christian theologies of marriage—e.g., the Catholic one—have surprising openings to the possibility of gay marriage. Those openings are apparent when we examine the actual lineaments of traditional theology (and so, the need for that preliminary act of critique, as a ground-laying for the development of a position more adequate to the lived experience of faith today), moving beyond what we think we know about the tradition and beyond the skewed perspectives of prejudice.

Moving beyond what we think we know: when we look at the history of how marriage has actually been practiced within the Christian community, we find that there’s a surprising discrepancy between what Christian communities say they’re doing in marrying a couple, and what they actually do.  The most common objection one encounters today to ecclesial sanction of same-sex unions is that marriage is really all about procreation, and has always been all about procreation. This argument assumes that marriage has developed as a social (and church-sanctioned) institution to safeguard families, to assure that the rights and property of husband, wife, and children are handled within clear legal strictures that prevent the social disarray that occurs when such a central social institution is not clearly enshrined in custom and law.

There’s certainly validity to this argument, but it works only if the sole or major purpose of marriage as an institution is and always has been biological procreation. And it seems to me that a careful look at both history and current practice immediately demonstrates that this is simply not the case.

And so it is important to begin this discussion of how (or whether) the church could find theological room to consecrate both opposite- and same-sex unions by noting an incontrovertible fact about how the churches have long viewed and practiced marriage. This is the incontrovertible fact that from time immemorial the churches have married heterosexual couples beyond childbearing years, as they have also married couples in which it is apparent that having children will not be possible, due to physical problems of one or both spouses.

People who do not intend to or cannot have children are permitted to marry in all Christian churches of which I have any knowledge—heterosexual couples, it goes without saying.  No one thinks twice about approving such marriages; churches don’t think twice about blessing them.

The churches’ longstanding practice of celebrating heterosexual marriages in which there is no possibility of procreation—in which the bride is too old to bear children or medical issues prevent the couple from conceiving, issues known prior to marriage—conclusively demonstrates that, at the very core of the churches’ practice of marriage and the theology underlying that practice, there is a strong recognition that marriage is fundamentally about something more than procreation of children (on this point, see also Michael Bayly’s outstanding analysis of the fruitfulness of committed gay relationships earlier this week on this blog site). In officially recognizing the union of two people promising themselves to each other and the community for life, in blessing that union in a church setting, we recognize something that goes beyond the intent to procreate biologically, as the basis for the church’s blessing of marital unions.

If it were otherwise, the churches would refuse to marry couples too old to conceive children or unable to conceive children for other physical reasons. If it were otherwise, churches would expect all couples who marry to promise that they intend to have children whenever possible—since marriage is solely or primarily for biological procreation.

Sacrament of Marriage in Historical Perspective

In order to find that “something more than procreation” that is, in the traditional theology of marriage, at the heart of marital unions and the churches’ decision to bless heterosexual unions that cannot be biologically procreative, we need to look carefully at how marriage entered the Christian community as an official ritual act.  Here, it is important to note that the sacrament of marriage developed out of social practice: the sacrament of marriage presupposes and ritualizes a social practice that had developed prior to the Christian sacrament of marriage. This social practice itself saw marriage as about something more than procreation.

In its roots, in its essence, this social practice was one whereby two spouses promised themselves and their goods to each other within a public context in which the community acknowledged the lifelong public commitment of the two spouses, promising to support that commitment, to help the committed couple foster the gifts that might develop through their shared life, and to receive those gifts for the common good of the community. Communities have a vested interest in recognizing and supporting such lifelong unions—even when the unions do not intend to bear children—because such unions have the promise of serving the common good, and they can fulfill that promise fully only within a social context of recognition and support.

In the Catholic tradition, marriage is a “late” sacrament, one of the last sacramental acts to be added to the canonical list of sacraments. Marriage was a “late” sacrament because it ritualized a social institution that preceded it and had been going on for centuries alongside the church, which the church eventually decided to bless in a sacramental way, while incorporating the historic roots and presuppositions of that institution into its sacramental theology.

Prior to its sacramentalization, marriage was viewed within Graeco-Roman culture as first and foremost a contract between two people to commit their lives to each other, to share their lives and goods, to use their committed relationship for the common good within their community, and to partake of the benefits afforded by the community to those making such a public commitment. In its historical roots in Western culture—and this includes its historical roots in the church itself—marriage is the contract or commitment of two persons to live together in a committed way that builds the community which sanctions the marriage, and which affords legal and other benefits to the committed relationship because it serves the common good of the community.

Those who focus on biological procreativity as the purpose of marriage are correct to this extent: marriage is meant to be a generative union of two spouses, a pro-creative one (pro-creative in the sense that it generates life even if that life is not a biological child), in which those who share themselves and their goods for life develop gifts that enrich the community which recognizes and supports their union. This is why churches have not ever thought twice about marrying heterosexual couples that cannot or do not choose to bear children: acknowledging, supporting, and blessing lifelong committed unions of spouses that offer generative gifts to the community is in the shared interest of the community.

In the traditional Catholic theology of marriage, these insights are ritualized in the following way: the spouses make a public vow, within the context of the Christian community, to commit themselves and their goods to each other for life; the community (in the person of the priest) receives that promise and blesses the union; in blessing the union and receiving the couple’s vows to each other, the community simultaneously covenants itself to support the union, to foster generativity within the union, and to receive the gifts of that generativity.

These are the bare bones of the traditional Catholic theology of marriage. Those bones have a place for unions that are procreative in the sense that they will bear children. But they also have a place for unions that will be procreative (pro-creative, offering life) in the more fundamental sense in which all committed, blessed unions are procreative—in the sense of a generativity that is not restricted to the bearing and raising of children. In its longstanding practice of blessing heterosexual marriages that cannot or do not choose to include the procreation of children, the church implicitly—and strongly—recognizes that marriage has a more fundamental meaning than procreation. It is about biological procreation and more: it is about manifold kinds of pro-creation and generativity within a communitarian context.

Procreation as Generativity: Moving Beyond Biological Reductionism in Theology of Sexuality and Marriage

Which is to say that biological procreation is not the foremost goal of marriage, either in its intent as a social-ecclesial institution, or in the reasons for legal sanction and church blessing of the institution. The foremost goal of marriage is a generativity that may or may not include the procreation of children; marriage’s foremost goal is a pro-creative generativity in which (shifting here from legal to theological language) the spouses commit themselves to share in the manifold pro-creative possibilities offered to all of us, single or married, straight or gay, as we share in the call to co-create the world with God. Within the context of marriage, the primary pro-creative task is to build a life together that is solid, committed, open to the community that sanctions a couple’s committed life, and thus capable of offering gifts to the community that would not be possible for the couple to develop apart from the community’s support, expressed through its official recognition of the marital relationship.

It is within that communitarian context, I would argue, that the legal benefits and supports accruing to marriages in which children are borne makes most sense. That is, there is a larger context within which the specific decision of some couples to have children makes sense, as an argument for marriage: this context is the generativity of all marriages, whether those marriages include the bearing and raising of children or not. Every marriage, every legally sanctioned (and/or ecclesially blessed) union of two people who commit themselves to each other in a public and solemn way within the communitarian context, has the potential to bring gifts to the community (i.e., to be generative and pro-creative), and those gifts are most effectively fostered and protected when the community sanctions, blesses, and supports the public union of the spouses.

As this historical analysis of the deep roots of sacramental marriage in the Catholic tradition also reveals, in the Catholic tradition, marriage has always been regarded as a sacrament that the two spouses themselves effect. It is not the church that marries the spouses, in venerable Catholic sacramental theology. It is not the priest who makes the marriage. It is the couple themselves who marry each other, standing before the Christian community, which is represented in the person of the priest.

The priest hears and receives the marriage vows on behalf of the community, and on behalf of the community, promises the support of the community, so that the public committed couple are welcomed into a community that promises to welcome and cherish the two whose lives are now becoming one, and to provide a communitarian context in which their committed lives may be effectively lived out. In traditional Catholic thinking about marriage, one of the chief benefits—perhaps the chief benefit—promised to those who marry is the recognition and support of the community.

Ethical Implications of Communitarian Inclusion or Exclusion

And so depriving married couples of the support of the community—of its welcome, assistance, sanction—simply because they are unable to have children or choose not to have children is unthinkable, because it is unthinkable, from any sound Christian ethical context, to exclude people from communion for arbitrary reasons.  It is ethically unthinkable to accept the gifts that arise from the procreative union of a couple, while denying that couple’s presence within the community and right to offer its gifts to the community—and to receive the community’s support.  What Christian community today would really consider proposing that heterosexual couples that cannot have children should be refused such community welcome, sanction, and support?

What Christian community today would try to exclude such couples from full communion? Would any Christian community today preach that couples which appear capable of bearing children but apparently choose not to do so should be censured and excommunicated?

If the answer to that question is no (and, on the whole, I believe it is), then there is a principle of elemental justice—of fairness to all—at work here, which the churches are grossly denying to gay couples simply because those couples are same-sex couples. If Christian opponents of gay marriage who use the marriage-for-procreation argument would think a moment about the practical consequences of their theological position, I think that they might begin to see that it is not merely capricious and unjust: it is actually cruel and unethical.

To make the point as sharp as possible: a significant number of married heterosexual couples who cannot have children choose to adopt children. In doing so, they take the generative, pro-creative gifts of their officially sanctioned and blessed life together, gifts developed in the communitarian context of the church, and offer them to children borne biologically by someone else.

Now think for a moment about what we, as a Christian community, say to the children of same-sex couples, when we refuse to offer those couples (and thus their children) the same support, sanction, blessing, and benefits we offer to a heterosexual couple raising children not biologically its own. The one variable in the two examples is a simple (and, I would argue, insignificant) one: the fact that one couple consists of a man and a woman, another of a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

When we refuse to sanction, bless, and take into the communitarian context of the body of Christ a gay couple with children, we implicitly punish the children of that relationship simply and solely because their parents are of the same sex. Biological non-procreativity is not really the issue, is it? Not if we sanction, bless, and take into our community a biologically non-procreative heterosexual couple with children . . . .

And so we need to ask ourselves today, as children of same-sex couples are excluded from a Catholic pre-school while children of heterosexual couples that fail to fulfill the norms of Catholic teaching are welcomed: Are Christians so certain of the rightness of their belief that gay marriage is not to be blessed that they can afford to stigmatize children, when a not insignificant number of gay couples do choose to raise children—in some cases, biological children of one member of the couple? This is not even to raise the issue of the way in which the resistance to gay marriage on the part of churches affects family members other than the progeny of a gay union; these members include siblings, parents, and other relatives who are often also part of the community context in churches that refuse to sanction and bless the love of their brothers/sisters/children/relatives.

It is certainly also possible to make strong arguments for gay marriage that prescind altogether from the church context. Again, there is a principle of elemental fairness at stake here: if we choose to marry couples legally without demanding that those (heterosexual) couples are capable of bearing and intend to bear children, then it seems that we are running the risk of profound injustice when we deny legal sanction to the many gay unions that exist all over the world—unions that many people in the communities within which they occur would regard as beneficial to the community as a whole.

Excluding gay couples from the right to marry excludes gay couples from all kinds of legal benefits automatically available to non-procreative heterosexual couples when they marry: clear laws governing the disposition of property; shared health benefits; tax benefits; legal visitation and decision-making rights in cases of hospitalization and sickness, etc. When society actually penalizes gay couples who seek to maintain a generative shared and committed life by withholding such benefits, it makes committed gay relationships—along with their potential to provide generative gifts that serve the good of their communities—difficult, indeed.

The gist of my argument has to do, however, not with these legal benefits, but with the “benefit” of inclusion and support within the church context. No social benefit is more significant to human well-being than the benefit of being brought inside the communitarian circle of love and support. No social practice is more cruel than pushing people outside that circle.

Churches that push out and refuse to bring inside—churches that do this to anyone—are abdicating the most fundamental mission of church. I would argue that before churches decide that it is God’s will that they close ranks, tighten the circle, and exclude, they think long and hard about their rationale for doing so, and about what Jesus would have them do.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 7 Aug. 2008 and 9 Aug. 2008.

54 Responses

  1. Mr. Lindsey,

    I am genuinely excited to read and study what you have written.

    • Thank you. And I value your feedback, though I may push against it. I’m convinced that theologian David Tracy is right when he says that taking the positions of others seriously enough to argue with them is a sign of respect, far more than is silent disagreement.

      You’ll probably see in the posting that you and I have hashed out many of these ideas in a discussion on another thread here, in the past.

    • There are 4 sins of vengeance accepted and promoted by USA,
      The military is a reflection of society and culture nation desires who has policy contrary to God. High risk groups excluded from donating blood by American Red Cross, made a decision to exclude themselves and practice a charity of giving gift of life Blood yet for for our freedom? The center of any society is the family as defined by God not man. Science has yet to figure out secret of Mothers Milk, and appendix. The Nation is enslaved to sin so expect to be smited by Angel of Death St Michael
      who brings Gods Vengeance. There are Catholic devotions that prevent sudden deaths, and failure of parents to promote their faith
      to their children is becoming evident. Our lady of Fatima showed children vision of hell for good reason. True charity is about salvation of souls, on a secular level some profess their sexuality by a sex act and give up their right to donate blood, do they really care about center of society or children. We are a nation of hypocrites enslaved
      to sin who declare freedom for ourselves and others, Whats the proper age to tell children they are free to become whoever or whatever they want. Some Civil Rights are Moral Wrongs which
      has to be punished. Opposite of Pride is Humility and God controls the weather. The Church does not exclude but hates sin not the sinner
      The Red Cross Excludes because of High Risk Group some people choose instead of chastity, purity and protection of virginity. When
      groups try to define true love by sins of flesh, and it has been accepted people pay price for sin. Red Cross is based upon scientific fact. Catholic Church is based upon the truth, Most souls go to HELL
      for sin of the flesh, not something to be Proud of. Follow Fatima

  2. Mr. Lindsey,

    It is interesting to contrast your approach to Terence’s.

    Your approach appears to mirror the teaching of the Church, except it provides a more expansive idea (generativity) to the concept of sex than the Church’s teaching (procreativity). If I am reading you correctly, the idea of a couple and the generative energies of their relationship need to be received into the Church. It is not clear whether this is on a co-equal term with heterosexual relationships or not.

    I would interested to hear your thoughts on polygamy and adultery, which can also contain generative energies. What about fornication and prostitution, which also have their own generative energies?

    You seem to suggest that the Church open the door just enough to let in homosexual couples in committed, and lifelong relationships, but that everyone else who is currently outside the door be excluded.

    • Your question about “everyone else”–e.g., polygamists–who are, you think, waiting outside the door to rush through if if’s opened just enough to let in gays, reminds me of what I learned in high school when we studied rhetorical devices in English class. We were told that a slippery-slope argument is never a strong argument, because 1) it tries to divert attention from the real issue at hand, which has such merits that those pointing the slippery slope don’t want to face those merits, and 2) it argues from hypotheticals, rather than facing what’s on the table.

      The critique of a slippery-slope argument made much sense to me, when I learned that critique in high school, because I was living through the civil rights movement in the South, and saw that weak rhetorical device being used all around me by those who wanted to stop racial integration in its tracks.

      Open the door, integrate our society, and look what will happen: black men will rape blond Southern women. School bathrooms will be disease-ridden and unsafe for children to use. The Communists will take over the country through young people and black people, who are merely agents of Communist revolution.

      If polygamists are demanding that traditional Christian churches honor and solemnize their marriages in the U.S., I am not informed about that movement. If it is a strong movement and there’s evidence that polygamists are not being treated fairly as they appeal for a hearing, justice would demand that I at least listen.

      But since the subject that seems to be on the table right now all through our society is how gay people are being treated, and since there seems to be abundant evidence that 1) committed long-term monogamous gay relationships are every bit as generative as are committed long-term monogamous heterosexual relationships where biological procreation is not a possibility, and 2) tremendous injustice is being done to those in committed long-term gay relationships by some churches (see the Boulder, CO story), then it seems that’s the subject that we ought to be discussing here.

      Don’t you agree?

      • Mr. Lindsey,

        I don’t agree with your definitions of the societal problems on the table right now.

        Here is how I see it:

        1. The legal question is about justice – i.e., whether or not is fair for opposite gendered couples to be able to enjoy certain government benefits simply by being opposite gendered. This question manifests itself most clearly when same gendered couples claim discrimination. By happenstance, many same-gendered couples are in loving, committed relationships that mimic opposite-gendered relationships. However, what should entitle these individuals to the government benefits is not the similarity in “generativity” (i.e. legal content), but rather a similarity in legal form. After all, legal marriage today is all about form and nothing about content.

        2. The “Church question” does not concern justice, but truth. While justice demands that we treat similarly situated persons the same way; truth asks whether these people are similarly situated. While it may constitute an injustice for the Church to argue against same sex marriages, it is not an injustice for the Church to recognize that unions resulting in children are substantially different in content from all other unions.

        I’m not accepting your slippery slope argument as a valid objection to a non-response. Simply put, any ethic of sexuality and marriage has to be able to explain its definition of sexuality and marriage with sufficient clarity that it is understandable why one form is included and one form is excluded.

        • You’re right: truth and justice are central here.

          The truth: the church marries opposite-sex couples who cannot bear children, but denies marriage to same-sex couples on the ground that marriage must be open to the possibility of biological procreation.

          And so where is the justice in the church’s action here, particularly when it can be shown that those same-sex couples are contributing to the common good every bit as much as the non-procreative opposite-sex couples are?

          And so where is the truth in the church’s claim about why it refuses to marry same-sex couples? What the church actually does, vis-a-vis these couples, undercuts its claim to be standing on grounds of truth in its refusal to bless gay couples and families.

          A slippery slope argument tries to prevent us from discussing these central issues, by diverting our attention to non-issues. In my experience (I cited my experience growing up as integration became law in the South), those who push slippery-slope arguments when confronted with demands to think through a situation of real injustice that is on the table now (as opposed to the hypothetical situations that may come on the table in future, in the slippery-slope argument) are pushing slippery-slope arguments because they do not want to meet the demands of what is on the table now.

          In other words, the slippery-slope argument is a favorite of those who want to defend unjust structures and practices, at a point in history in which those structures and practices have begun to appear to increasing numbers of people as unjust and indefensible.

    • If I may chip in here with some observations on these questions too, I would remind you that polygamy, which is such a bugaboo in he modern Western world, was very much standard practice in the Biblical world, and remains so in many modern societies. I was reading yesterday of a Kenyan (Anglican) bishop who argues strongly and convincingly that polygamy is more easily justified on theological grounds than the common western practice of divorce and serial polygamy. “Fornication” is a difficult one for me to respond to, as it appears to be one of those words that is freely used, but without any clear agreement on its meaning.
      I also look forward to Bill’s answers. What about yours? Would you like to put forth your own positive model (possibly in a guest post?)

      • Terence,

        I would consider doing a guest post. I guess if I am going to critique, I should be prepared to be critiqued.

      • Terry, I know that you’re addressing David Ludescher here, and I don’t want to derail your conversation with him by jumping in.

        I did want to say, though, that I agree with you that the question of how polygamy is to be handled by the tradition does need to be addressed. I have suggested tabling it for the discussion of same-sex relationships in Western culture, primarily on the grounds that polygamy is not a pressing question for most of our culture, insofar as I know–whereas same-sex relationships are.

        In other cultural contexts, where polygamy is deeply rooted in the culture, polygamy is a different kind of question, and one the church must address, if it’s to enter into constructive dialogue with people in those cultures. Very good and important work has been done on this question by a number of Catholic missionaries in Africa.

        I have simply ignored the issue Mr. Ludescher raises–about opening the door to justice for gays in the church as opening the door to fornicators and adulterers–for a variety of reasons. One is that those terms are not well-defined in most discussions.

        The other is that, to my knowledge, there aren’t groups of “fornicators” and “adulterers” lining up to ask the church to recognize their marriages, whereas there are many same-sex couples who ask for recognition from the churches today. I see these as red-herring issues, frankly, in the discussion of same-sex marriage. Truth be told, the church has long turned a more or less blind eye to the fact that a large number of young people live together outside marriage today (and so they are “fornicators”) and it turns a blind eye, for the most part, to those who are sacramentally married, then divorce and remarry (and so they’re “adulterers”).

        What I mean by a “blind eye” is that I have never heard of the church treating people in the latter two categories pastorally as it is treating the lesbian couple in Boulder, CO. There’s a strange exceptionalism in the way the church addresses the “sins” of its gay and lesbian members. And the more glaring that exceptionalism becomes, the more it illustrates that the real game the church is playing here is not defending its traditional teaching about sex and marriage.

        It’s a game that is all about prejudice and discrimination.

  3. Mr. Lindsey,

    Two of the the solutions to the issues that you raise is for the Church to allow less people to get married, or to accord a different status to people with children.

    The best legal solution that I have heard to date is to allow any number of people of any type of sexual affliation to marry. It would be a kind of personal corporation. This corporation would be given no legal benefits by the government except that the contracts that they form could be enforced.

    There could also be a separate kind of contract for two person marriages whereby the parties agree to be responsible for each other for their lifetime. These
    relationships would receive some government support while they are intact.

    The last type of contract would be contracts that are formed as the result of children being born. These contracts would receive the most government support because these arrangements would be providing for the needs of the children.

    That would take sex out of the picture altogether. It would also get religion out of the civil marriage arena.

    • I had understood (from your initial appeal to me to develop a theology of sexuality and marriage that would take both procreation and same-sex relationships into account) that we are talking about sacramental and not civil marriage. It goes without saying that the church ought not to be dictating to civil society how to handle questions of marriage–not in a pluralistic, secular civil society like the U.S.

      That bishops are doing so even now–gathering funds from around the nation to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of many states–is shameful. And evil. This chapter in church history will one day be seen as shameful in the same way the church’s complicity with the Nazi regime is now seen as evil.

      Re: sacramental marriage, I think your proposal that we focus on issues of truth and justice is far more productive.

      If the truth is that the church marries heterosexual couples knowing they cannot procreate, then the church itself demonstrates that its claim that same-sex couples cannot be sacramentally married because they cannot procreate is false.

      And so that places the onus on the church–and those who defend its theology of sex and marriage, including you–to explain what it is about a same-sex non-procreative relationship that is unacceptable to the church, whereas an opposite-sex non-procreative relationship is acceptable.

      And so the question of justice is also central here, as you say, because treating people who are equal in every other respect differently on the basis of arbitrary characteristics that should make no difference is the very essence of discrimination. If the only difference between a heterosexual couple that cannot procreate, and a homosexual one, is the fact that one couple is of different genders and the other is of the same gender, then those who want to discriminate while claiming that procreation is their basis for discrimination must explain why gender is the deciding factor here.

      Truth and justice: all theologies worth their salt wrestle with those perennial issues. Theologies that refuse to wrestle with these issues and that cannot do so persuasively fall by the wayside. History–including Catholic history–is littered with theological ideas and magisterial teachings that failed or refused to wrestle with these two core issues in all theological reflection.

      • Let’s try this discussion from another angle, Mr. Ludescher, since you don’t seem to be responding to my attempt to follow your lead in keeping it focused on the two central theological themes of truth and justice.

        In your first response to me on this thread, you say, that you’re not clear about whether my theological analysis seeks to place gay relationships “on a co-equal term with heterosexual relationships or not.”

        Your latest argument continues a theme you raised in another thread where we discussed these issues–namely, that civil marriage is “empty” and devoid of content, so the church should give up the battle to try to control what happens with that “empty” institution and focus on what happens with the “non-empty,” content-laden institution of sacramental marriage.

        Your approach to civil marriage is disdainful, as if civil marriage is a meaningless contract that we might as well open up to anybody who comes along, given that it means nothing. The implication is that, by contrast, a class structure should be protected with the sacrament of marriage, so that “non-empty” people come along to fill that “non-empty” slot.

        And this really does bring us to the heart of the issue I keep trying to raise with you on these threads, about justice. You have informed me that I misrepresent Catholic teaching which is very clear–which states that gay and lesbian people are disordered in their very natures.

        You want to insist that the Catholic church treats those who are gay and lesbian precisely the same as it treats those who are heterosexuals, that there are no distinctions made about the value of the personhood of gay and lesbian people in comparison to heterosexual ones, in the Catholic church.

        And yet your own thinking demonstrates in the most glaring way possible that you do not regard and cannot imagine regarding gay relationships as “co-equal” (your term) to those of heterosexuals, because you do not and cannot regard gay persons as “co-equal” to straight ones.

        And that’s, of course, what I’ve tried to help you see in our many conversations at this blog–and that this class system in the church today, which places the humanity of straight human beings above that of disordered gay ones, is astonishingly unjust, and leads to actions that can never be justified in the name of justice.

        You say in your preceding comments, “[I] is not an injustice for the Church to recognize that unions resulting in children are substantially different in content from all other unions.”

        But that’s precisely the point I’ve made over and over here, which for some reason you seem unable to grasp: the fact is that the church marries heterosexual couples that will not and cannot result in children. But it denies any blessing to gay unions on the ground that those unions will not and cannot result in children.

        Why the invidious distinction when it comes to non-procreative gay unions? And how can you and the church claim to be interested in justice (and truth) when you make that invidious distinction–and apparently can’t defend it or even admit that it is there?

  4. Mr. Lindsey,

    Civil marriage is just a contract (at least in Minnesota). It is an empty contract because there are no consequences for its breach. I have dealt with it every day for the last 21 years. The only thing that keeps today’s civil marriage from chaos is the conception most people have carried over from religious concepts.

    Rather than trying to create this exception for same sex marriages between two people, I think we would do better to admit the death of civil marriage and focus upon the idea of more effective civil contracts. If the marriage is to be life-long – put it in the contract; if it is to monogamous – put it in the contract; if it is to be for the purpose of government benefits – put it into the contract.

    A number of demoninations have responded to the idea of civil marriages in “enlightened” ways which does little more than confuse sexuality with marriage. Some, like the ECLA, have gone so far as to issue Social Statements which profess to set forth an enlightened view on the social issues, while at the same time admitting theological confusion.

    The argument that same sex marriages are the same as infertile opposite sex marriages and therefore should be entitled to receive the sacramental blessing of the Church does not account for the fact that opposite sex marriages at least have the form needed to procreate. Arguably, the reason that they are non-procreative has nothing to do with the Church’s blessing.

    • I can understand why you need to depict civil marriages as “empty,” Mr. Ludescher. You’re trying to find a way to discount my argument about generativity–and you even admit at the end of your reply that it’s all about the “form” for you. Even when that “form” is “empty,” in that it involves a male and a female who cannot procreate, but who nevertheless qualify for a “non-empty” sacramental marriage, whereas a gay couple don’t.

      It strikes me as strange for any religious group to choose form over content, given the prohibition of idolatry that runs deep through our tradition–empty form over meaningful content.

      And I’d also challenge you to think about what you’re really saying, when you conclude that civil marriage is an “empty contract.” As a Catholic, you’re making a value judgment about the marriages of many of your fellow citizens, which is surprisingly ungenerous–and which is dishonest, in that it fails to recognize the gifts that their legally sanctioned marriages bring to you and to the community in which you live.

      As I’ve argued previously, the reason–the legal and cultural reason–that civil society recognizes civil marriage is not primarily because marriage is procreative. It’s because marital unions are generative. They build society.

      By according certain societal privileges to those who join in the commitment of marriage, we’re assuring that the gifts these unions generate will serve the common good. We’re establishing legal guidelines for dealing with those gifts, so that they become gifts that build all of society. Even when a couple does not and cannot procreate biologically.

      Your argument assumes that you have the right, as a fellow citizen, to avail yourself of the abundant gifts of all those around you who are civilly married, while scorning their marriages. Ultimately, your argument locks our Catholic community into a cultic position vis-a-vis civil society, in which we have the “real” marriage, which we dispense to an increasingly smaller group of people (you speak of marrying “less” people in your previous posting about this, as a possible solution to the quandary the church creates when it marries non-procreative couples while refusing to recognize gay unions).

      The logic of this argument is uncatholic. The logic at work here is to deny recognition of the marriages of more and more people, so that the church shrinks into a smaller and smaller (and very uncatholic) cultural bubble, apart from and scornful of what is taking place in civil society.

      But at the same time benefiting in many significant ways from the very developments it scorns, including the recognition of the “empty” civil marriages of non-Catholics and others who choose the civil marriage route.

      I don’t think this is the wise path for the church to follow. It undercuts the church’s claim to be Catholic. Instead of reaching out and bringing in, it shoves more and more people away, nailing the doors decisively shut when it has the small coterie of pure and holy safely believers safely inside.

      I realize that for many Catholics in many areas of the world, what’s important about being Catholic is belonging to a distinct–often an ethically distinct–community of like-minded folks. Of folks who look like the rest of us and act like the rest of us.

      For some small towns throughout the U.S., the church has become practically identified with one race, with one political party, with several ethnic groups–a comfortable place to be a white Republican business leader who belongs to the Knights of Columbus and to the Chamber of Commerce. A place in which one doesn’t ever have to deal with difference and otherness.

      And there’s nothing wrong with being white, Republican, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, etc. What’s wrong is to try to turn the church into a club in which only those folks feel comfortable and belong.

      Better–and far more catholic–to fling the doors wide and welcome everyone, even the dirty, unwashed people living in those “empty” civil marriages. And the gays and lesbians.

      If Catholic communities fighting tooth and nail to be comfortable little clubs did that, they might be surprised by how many gifts they suddenly receive as a result. Or by how their eyes are suddenly opened to the reality of gifts that have been showered on them all along, by these despised groups living their “empty” lesser lives.

      • Mr. Lindsey,

        I don’t want civil marriages to be “empty”. I would prefer that the term “marriage” in the civil context carry some meaning. It is, unfortunately, just a contract between two people.

        It could mean something. In fact, the gay and lesbian movement initially held out great promise that it would transform the institution into its previous greatness as a transcendant human relationship. However, the focus on justice, rather than the transcendant qualities of loving, committed, and monogamous has resulted in a further dilution of the concept of civil marriage. It is only fair that same sex relationships be allowed if the idea of marriage is merely one of contract between consenting adults. But, the same justice that demands equality for same sex marriage also permits bigamy, adultery, and prostitution.

        I am not opposed to some kind of concept of “generative” relationships. But, how can that be codified? Shouldn’t all relationships be generative?

        “Real” marriage is the formation of another entity – the family. It is when two become one. Figuratively, the two become one when they marry. Literally, the two become one when a child is conceived.

        How is the Church to differentiate between those relationships in which the parties intend for it to be generative, and those which are merely unions of convenience?

        • You say, “In fact, the gay and lesbian movement initially held out great promise that it would transform the institution into its previous greatness as a transcendant human relationship. However, the focus on justice, rather than the transcendant qualities of loving, committed, and monogamous has resulted in a further dilution of the concept of civil marriage.”

          But that’s the core point I keep hoping you’ll see: there can’t be all those wonderful things–transcendent qualities of love and commitment–in the absence of justice. And when those defending the injustice refuse to see what they’re doing, what constructive options are left to those experiencing the injustice except to continue pointing it out and fighting against it?

          Catholic teaching is very clear: if you want peace, work for justice. “Peace,” in Paul VI’s thinking as he made that statement, is the biblical notion of a full, harmonious life in which people’s basic needs are met. We can’t build a society that flourishes–a society in which love and peace flourish–unless we build on a foundation of justice.

          It is deeply unfair for ecclesial and social institutions to do everything possible to place gay and lesbian people in a situation of second-class citizenship in all kinds of areas, and then to blame those who are dehumanized for not doing more to act like human beings. The marvel–the grace–is that, despite such dehumanization, many gay and lesbian people become admirable human beings who offer rich gifts to society, including the gift of demanding that church and society stop putting anyone into these demeaning, tiny spaces of discrimination.

          (And please think about what you are saying to all the heterosexual couples who do not and often cannot have children, but who contribute to your and my world in manifold rich ways, when you say, “Literally, the two become one when a child is conceived.”) We need to stop the class distinctions that make some of us more God’s children than others are.

          • Mr. Lindsey,

            Another way to avoid the unfairness is to simply do away with the concept of a civil marriage. Many people no longer feel that it is necessary to have “the piece of paper”. And, the trend in places like Western Europe is for individuals to not marry, but rather simply live together. Rather than individuals entering into contracts with each other (marriage), the individuals would enter into personal corporations where the duties of child-rearing, income production, household tasks etc. would be somehow divided amongst the participants. That would eliminate the questions of justice in the public sphere.

            What we should not do, but what we have been doing in the public sphere, is basing our decisions upon criteria that isn’t a part of the law. I often hear that two people who love each other and are committed to each other should be allowed to be civilly married regardless of their sexual orientation.

            What most people fail to take into consideration is that people aren’t required to take vows of love or commitment to be civilly married. To be fair, two brothers should be allowed to be married, or for that matter, a father and a daughter should be allowed to be married.

            As a society, we really have to rethink what definition we want to give to marriage, and how we can set up defining characteristics of inclusion and exclusion. We have been rethinking sex since the early 60’s. Much of the thinking has resulted in positive improvements, but a lot of it is trash.

          • I continue to be bowled over by your scornful disdain for the institution of civil marriage, and for those who choose that option. This seems to me an ungenerous response to the many gifts we all receive in civil society through the unions of those who are civilly married.

            I’m also perplexed by your disdain for non-procreative heterosexual couples. Again, ungenerous and scornful of many gifts such couples (whom the church marries) bring to all of us, despite their inability to have children, or their choice not to do so.

            You say that things went wild in the 60s and have never been stabilized since then. But we’ve lived through several decades of neo-conservative dominance in the political sphere, which claimed to be all about correcting the excesses of the 60s.

            And we continue to live through the parallel movement in the church–restorationism–which makes the same claims.

            What you seem implicitly to be saying is that these reactionary movements haven’t succeeded in providing a stable, sound new foundation for sexual ethics in church and society. Nor has the church they’ve promoted–a boys’ club of like-minded Republican businessmen who all belong to the Knights of Columbus and Chamber of Commerce in many Catholic communities–succeeded in rebuilding culture. Instead, it has retreated into its defensive shell and shut the doors tight against anyone who doesn’t belong to the club.

            That’s hardly a catholic response to the world in which we live.

          • Bill,

            I don’t disdain civil marriage. I just think that it is important that the push for gay marriages doesn’t overshadow the larger looming question of what a civil marriage is or should be.

            What do I tell my client civil marriage means when her husband spends all of their money on another woman, and then leaves her destitute and heartbroken while he begins a new family? All I can tell her now is that her civil marriage never meant anything. I have to tell her that there are no civil consequences for his breach of the marriage contract. I have to tell her that the contract is not worth the paper upon which it is written.

            What is she to tell her children about civil marriage? How does she explain that Daddy promised that it wouldn’t be like this? How does she explain how to her children what civil marriage is? How does she get them to trust any future partner?

            What do I tell her when she asks, “Where is my justice?” Or worse, what do I tell her when her children are crying over the loss of the family? Should I tell her that she is a fool for believing the promise of love, fidelity, and the promise to raise the children cooperatively?

            What should I tell her civil marriage means today?

          • David, I think you completely miss the point of the “piece of paper” that civil marriage represents. Agreed, it no longer really matters in terms of social acceptance of a relationship, but it most emphatically does in terms of legal protections. My understanding is that this is particularly so in the US, where any number of financial issues and things like hospital visiting rights are changed very fundamentally by having that little bit of paper.

          • Bill,

            I’m in agreement with the point of why the piece of paper matters. However, it’s not legal protections, but legal privileges or entitlements. Same sex people can live together without government interference. What they are requesting is that they be given the same privileges and entitlements that opposite sex couples are given.

            It seems to me that there are two separate justice issues connected with the gay rights civil marriage movement.

            First, is the question of getting a piece of paper so that same sex unions can enjoy all of the same privileges that opposite sex unions receive. I support this movement on justice principles. But, I would also support it for other types of unions. It seems to me that there currently are no good civil arguments to open the door just wide enough to let in only two person, non-related relationships. If we are going to be fair – and fairness is the justification for opening up the institution – then we need to be fair to everyone.

            The second question is substantially more difficult and is continually confused with the first. The second question is whether there is a sound basis for creating a discriminating class of two-person, non-related relationships for the purposes of intentional, but justifiable, governmental discrimination. In other words, could we create a legal framework which would justify the concept that suggests that there is something special about a two person, non-related union?

            This second question is a matter which religious traditions and thoughts can provide insight, if they so choose. The question is not so much how opposite sex and same sex relationships contrast with each other, but what characteristics do they share that would justify both of them being included in a “married” class and excluding all others.

          • Sorry. The last one was for Terence.

          • David, to start backwards, from your conclusion: the question facing our society today is not whether or how to open the institution of civil marriage to all kinds of consenting adults who might want legal recognition of their unions. It’s very specifically of whether or how to open the institution to same-sex couples in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships.

            If there were strong, widespread movements afoot to include other types of unions in the extension of civil marriage, then it would make sense to talk about those other types. But when the debate is focused almost exclusively on same-sex couples, it makes little sense to spin hypotheticals (brothers and sisters, polygamy, etc.) as we talk about the issue on the table. The spinning of hypotheticals becomes a diversion from the issue at hand, and a way of avoiding discussion of and action about that issue.

            The reason the same-sex issue is on the table as a justice issue now is that–to use your word–gay marriages “mimic” heterosexual ones. And that raises the issue of justice at a profound level.

            If both church and state recognize the marriage of heterosexual couples that cannot and will not procreate biologically, but refuse to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples on the grounds that they cannot procreate, then some sound reason has to be given for the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. A sound reason beyond procreation, since the facts demonstrate that the inability to procreate is not the reason that same-sex couples are excluded from the right of marriage.

            And if it can be shown that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships are generating gifts, material and spiritual, and if the most fundamental reason for marriage as a social-ecclesial institution is to “channel” those gifts for the common good, then it seems even more outrageously unjust to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.

            On arbitrary grounds that are not sufficiently explained, once the red-herring issue of procreation is identified and moved off the table . . . .

  5. Bill,

    I am willing to assume that couples in long-term, committed relationships are generating gifts. But, the current civil marriage system not only doesn’t encourage long-term, committed relationships, it doesn’t even make any attempt to do so. Nothing in the current definition of marriage involves long-term, committed relationships.

    As you indicate, the debate is currently focused upon the issue of same sex marriages. But, would you have any problems redefining marriage in such a way that polygamy and incestual relationships are allowed at the same time? Or, would you prefer that we simply shift the line of discrimination so that same sex couples are the “positive” side rather than the “negative” side?

    This is not an academic question. If justice demands that same sex couples be included under the current definition of marriage then it also demands that others who can meet the definition of marriage also be included. If we are going to be fair, let’s be fair to everyone, not just the select group who happens to be raising the most ruckus.

    • I can’t agree, David, that civil marriage doesn’t encourage long-term, committed relationships. The legal arrangement that it creates between two spouses by its very nature consolidates their relationship and points to its longevity.

      If that weren’t the case, those who are civilly married would not be privy to the rich array of legal rights and privileges reserved to those who are married, whether sacramentally or civilly. From which all gay couples are automatically excluded in most areas of the U.S., something that militates against long-term, committed same-sex relationships, since there is not the vast array of social and legal support networks provided for gay relationships that marriage provides for heterosexual couples.

      Again, I find the “let’s be fair” argument strange, when the issue confronting our society today is exclusively the issue of same-sex marriage–and not the issue of opening the institution of marriage up to all kinds of others who may potentially also wish to marry. As I have said, in theory, I am open to the discussion of those issues.

      But when the issue on the table is clearly same-sex marriage, then that discussion becomes a diversion, insofar as it verges off into theory. As I’ve mentioned before, I saw the same strategy used during the Civil Rights movement in the South, when I was growing up, and I am therefore suspicious of it.

      Those who opposed integration by claiming that it would open the door for this or that other disastrous social innovation weren’t really concerned about thinking through all those other potential (and often highly imaginary) innovations. They were simply using the slippery-slope argument to try to stop the real issue at hand: integrating society and abolishing legal segregation.

      Again, David, yes–justice certainly demands that norms applied to one group be applied to another, when the difference between the two groups does not justify the distinction in how they are treated.

  6. Bill,

    Procreation is a red herring issue? You are the only one I know who is talking about “generating gifts” as a basis of marriage. Everyone else is talking about loving, committed relationships, which is the biggest red herring issue of all.

    Civil marriage is not about loving committed relationships, no matter how hard you or I try to stuff it into that box. It is not about generative relationships. It is about personal contracts.

    • I just left a response re: my disagreement of opinion with you about civil marriage. So I won’t repeat what I said in that posting again here. I continue to say that I think it’s disdainful of the experience of many of our fellow citizens to characterize their civil marriages as empty, and as not about loving, committed relationships. I know many civilly married couples who set an exemplary standard in their marriages.

      And I am far from the only person talking or thinking about “generating gifts” as a basis of marriage. There has been much work done on this topic, by those discussing the history of marriage and of family.

  7. Bill,

    I’m not suggesting that individual civil marriages are “empty”. I am suggesting that the civil institution itself is empty.

    We can grant civil marriage to gay unions today, and then poly unions tomorrow, and then incestual unions later, et cetera. But, what kind of justice have we gained?

    If we are going to grant civil unions today, let’s make it legally meaningful, and not just an opportunity to receive benefits from the government.

    Let’s restore some sense of commitment so that the promise, “till death do us part” means what it says rather than its present meaning of, “till I feel like departing”. Let’s also restore the idea that the marriage is also intended for the protection of the children, not just the fancies of the adults.

    • I apologize for taking so long to reply, David. I was out of town this week for a birthday trip, and am only now seeing this.

      I don’t mean to reply obliquely, but I would like to share something with you about which I’ve been thinking. To me, it seems very germane to this conversation.

      A cousin of mine (the son of a first cousin) will marry later this month. He and his bride will marry in a Protestant church, though he was raised Catholic. His brother married a few months ago at a justice of the peace’s office. His wife is Catholic, as he is.

      One of my nephews told me during Lent that he and his serious girlfriend were observing Lent by refraining from meat on Fridays and other acts of penance. Yet, I understand–I’ve more or less been given to understand this, though not told directly–that they sleep together.

      The two cousins I mentioned earlier went to a Jesuit high school and were considered such outstanding young men that they were pressured to enter the priesthood. They are bright, committed, morally sharp men. The younger of the two, who had a civil marriage recently, started the first chapter of Amnesty International at his school, and wrote a prize-winning essay on peace-making while in school.

      All three of these younger relatives of mine are Catholic and were raised in Catholic families with sound values–good families. And yet all three have more or less chosen to ignore what the church has to say about sex and marriage. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand the decision to observe Lenten pentitential regulations while ignoring Catholic teaching about premarital sex. It seems a bit like what the French Canadian (Cajun) folks in Louisiana have always called celebrating Easter before Lent–their circumlocution for premarital sex.

      But I can’t and won’t judge these folks.

      Here’s what strikes me: we have been so intent on drawing hard and fast lines, deciding who is inside and who is outside, setting up and enforcing rules, that we are simply losing people. Good people. We’re losing them because the system we’ve created no longer has heart and vitality. It’s empty, legalistic, dry and rule-dominated rather than life-giving, salvific, and full of love.

      I think until we shift our approach to issues of sex and marriage–and to who belongs and who doesn’t–we will continue bleeding good members. Until who will be left?

      • Bill,

        I’m not sure if the Church is losing people or if people are losing the Church.

        I have never had anyone in a position of authority ask me my position on the issues of sexuality or marriage the whole time that I have been going to Church.

        It seems to me that people who want an excuse to leave the Church are going to find many reasons to abandon her. One of the ways is to read the rules as dry, legalistic rules rather than to look upon the rules as a source of love. My mother had lots of rules for us. The rules are for guidance and birthed in love.

        I’m not sure that changing the approach to issues is going to make any difference. Even liberal churches are losing members.

        What we are experiencing is more of a sociological trend. People are less connected, and less part of communities than they used to be.

        • I think we see things very differently, and will probably continue to do so. To be honest, I’m saddened by what seems to me to be your inability to see that the church itself is responsible for driving many folks away today. And that these are good folks, not the “weak” Catholics you imply they are.

          And I wonder what we’ll have when we’ve purged the church? A little club of people comfortable with each other? A church that’s more about making each other comfortable than facing the wide diversity of humankind?

          I don’t see how the church that will result from this purge can authentically call itself Catholic.

          And I don’t see how we’re doing a service to the church at a time of enormous global crisis–and it is not going to stop–by defending the indefensible and hinging the future on mutable, non-essential structures that have to change, if the church is to have any future at all.

  8. I’m not sure who or what the “church itself” is.

    I am not trying to defend the indefensible nor make non-essential structures an important part of the faith. Many of those who indicate that the Church “has to change” really mean that the Church has to change if it wants that person to belong.

    Take, for example, the issue of abortion. If the Church wanted to be inclusive, it could tell people that abortion is simply a matter of personal freedom. But, how would that help inform peoples’ consciences? How would they know if it is right or wrong?

    How many people have told you that they have seriously considered the Church’s teachings before they have made a moral decision? I have heard very few. However, I have heard multitudes announce that they don’t want to be Catholics because they don’t accept the Church’s teachings.

    To have any validity, the Church cannot simply resort to a “theology by the majority”. That makes as much sense as psychology or astronomy by the majority.

    • It takes . . . courage? . . . to defend the institutional church at this point in its history. And it takes an amazing amount of foolhardy brazenness, it seems to me, to keep equating mutable structures and mutable teachings with the church, given what we are learning in these dark weeks.

      To many folks around the world, the handwriting on the wall is clear: the church will die, if it does not make some imperative structural changes. And those changes cannot be effective unless the voice of all the people of God is heard.

      I realize that this message of a church of many voices with many different perspectives is not easy for those living in small American communities, which are relatively homogeneous (even ethnically homogeneous), in which the mentality of the Knights of Columbus combined with the Chamber of Commerce serves to set the tone of what is culturally acceptable.

      But the church catholic is much, much larger–and thankfully–much, much wider than that. And if we care about the future of that church–and about its catholicity–we have to think much larger and much wider ourselves. Please keep challenging your brother Knights of Columbus to think larger and wider, David, and to educate themselves about what it means to be authentically Catholic. The church is not meant to be an exclusive country club for white, small-town, married American Republican men.

      • Bill,

        I am not claiming the Church as my exclusive club. That is a claim that you are making.

        I am not excluding you from the Church, nor is the Church attempting to exclude you. That is something you are doing to yourself.

        The narrow questions before us are theological. They are not questions of being white, small-town, married, Republican, or male. They are questions about what is sex’s proper role in God’s creative plan. Destroy the Church and we still have the same questions. We just have one less source of inspiration and wisdom.

        • It’s very easy, isn’t it, David, as one person after another walks away, to say that they are the ones excluding themselves?

          Easy for you, that is.

          My question–and I do want to put it pointedly by giving it some concrete sociological associations for many U.S. Catholics–is what we have left, at the end of that process.

          It’s not a catholic church. Because Catholic means universal.

          It means both Democrats and Republicans. It means blacks and whites. It means liberals and conservatives. It means men and women. It means gay and straight folks.

          With the barriers that separate those groups, and subordinate some of them to the others, removed in Christ–as the gospel and Paul’s formulation of the gospel in Galatians indicate.

          The church fails lamentably when it turns itself into a private club for those with whom whom the privileged feel comfortable. And we don’t do it a service, when we fight to turn the church into such a cozy little coterie of like-minded folks who are uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with those outside the club.

          • Bill,

            It is not easy to see people leave. It’s not pleasant to see all this disagreement within the Church.

            On the other hand, what is to be done? Should we change the theology to suit the wishes of the people? Should the Church proclaim the soundness of abortion because so many Catholics want to have the freedom to abort?

            How does the Church decide where and how to draw the line on these complicated issues? Should it bend to the pressure of every special interest group in the name of universality?

            I don’t have the answer. But, I don’t see how changing the Church structure is going to make things better.

          • Maybe a start would be, David, not to view people raising valid questions and asking for respectful dialogue as brothers and sisters in Christ–not as special interest groups.

          • Bill,

            I think it is hard to deny that a large part of the same-sex marriage movement is driven by the desire for political equality. That movement (special interest) is overriding some sound rationales for discriminating for child-centered relationships.

            One only needs to look to the ECLA to see how the desire for inclusivity can produce some odd thelological compromises. It has produced an undifferentiated pluralism which quickly loses any meaning when closely examined.

          • Again, it’s interesting that you keep shifting the conversation, David, from what the body of Christ might look like if it were really inclusive, to political questions about special-interest groups.

            That’s to miss the point, and spectacularly so, it seems to me.

            The very way you are framing the conversation indicates that you take for granted the normativity of your perspective as a white, heterosexual male–and therefore all other perspectives within the body of Christ become “special-interest” and “political” perspectives vying for attention and fragmenting the body of Christ.

            And yet the whole reason we’re discussing the need for inclusivity is that the imposition of one perspective as normative rules out all other perspectives and voices and drives many members of the body of Christ away. No one serious about serving the unity of the body of Christ or healing its wounds today can continued deliberately driving one group after another away, can he? And driving them away by insisting that his perspective is the norm by which all others are to be judged as “politicized” and as seeking to further “special interests”?

  9. Bill,

    The Body of Christ is inclusive. All are and should be welcome. This isn’t on the basis of what they believe or how carefully he or she adheres to the precepts of the Church.

    I’m not suggesting that all of the same-sex marriage movement is about politics. But, a substantial portion is. To refuse to admit that would be intellectually dishonest.

    The Church could attempt to become inclusive by adopting a sexual ethics that mirrors what Terence has set forth. I’m am sure that many would see that as a wonderful achievement. But, what would that gain us? Could we really profess to have a sexual creed if we threw it all out in favor of inclusivity?

    If the Church is going to “throw open the window and the doors” it has to do so based upon a meaning and revelation from the Holy Spirit. If can’t be based upon a vote.

    I agree with you that we should open up the institution of civil marriage for same-sex couples. I also think that we should open it up to bigamists and polygamists, and anyone who wants the civil contract. However, the sacrament of marriage is a completely different animal. It requires a different analysis and possibly, a very different outcome.

    • David, you say,” If the Church is going to ‘throw open the window and the doors’ it has to do so based upon a meaning and revelation from the Holy Spirit. If can’t be based upon a vote.”

      But we’ve had the revelation: the life and teaching (and most of all, death and resurrection) of Jesus. Whose significance we remember liturgically when we say, “Take this, all of you.”

      We don’t need a new revelation. We only need to be faithful to the one we already have.

      Saying that the church is inclusive and welcoming is different than making that message real in our actions. When people are walking away in droves because they find a large discrepancy between what we proclaim and what we live, it behooves us to talk carefully–and inclusively–about the problems.

      And that means facing the plain fact that everything has political ramifications–including the hidden, implied, all-pervasive claim of “apolitical” heterosexual white males that only others have political motives and a political agenda. The Knights of Columbus are an overtly political organization promoting precisely that agenda. . . .

      • Bill,

        People are walking away in droves for lots of reasons. One of the reasons is because people don’t like what the Church proclaims on many of the current social issues, including abortion, sexuality, capital punishment, gay marriage, etc.

        But, people are also walking away from other denominations and religions which teach what they want them to teach. Lutheran and Protestants are losing parishioners even when parishioners are allowed to vote on their theology.

        In fact, when allowed to vote, like in the ECLA, the vote can cause serious disunity.

        It would seem the most important aspect is to not make issues the cause for a split, but make them a cause for greater unity.

        • To me, it seems that the most important aspect to consider here is that the teaching of a church will not be compelling when it ignores the sensus fidelium. The Spirit speaks in and through the entire body of Christ, and not only those who hold office in the church.

          When there is widespread disagreement with official sexual teaching among a large number of faithful Catholics, whose lived experience of the faith is the ground for that disagreement, then those formulating the official teaching would appear to be ignoring the voice of the Spirit in the sensus fidelium–and, in the process, causing serious division in and harm to the church.

          Your understanding of how official teaching is formulated seems to me very deficient from the standpoint of the tradition, which–as Cardinal Newman pointed out repeatedly–requires that the faithful be consulted in matters of doctrine and official teaching. The church is not just the pope and bishops. The church is the people of God, whom the pope and bishops represent (or should represent) in their teaching role in the church.

          • Bill,

            There are really two disagreements with the teaching.

            The first is that the homosexually oriented are called to be chaste. The second, and much more controversial disagreement, is whether homosexual relationships are or can be sacramental.

            A disagreement that most often arises, which is not of the Church, is the issue of civil marriage.

            The issue of whether homosexuals are called to be chaste could be considered a non-issue. Frankly, the Church’s other teachings on sexuality are often ignored, with little or no fanfare. The issue of civil marriage is, in essence, a non-issue because the Church doesn’t have any authority over the subject.

            That just leaves the question of the sacramental nature of non-traditional relationships, sexual or otherwise. For those relationships, the sensus fidelium seems to be that homosexual relationships can be special. However, my sense is that very few people consider the relationships to be sacred in and of themselves.

            My sense is that most Catholics no longer consider marriage to be sacred, in the sense of holy to God. Church is merely a place to get married, not a place to take a sacred vow to the other person, the community, and to God.

          • David, the disagreement with the biologistic natural law teaching about sexual ethics is much wider than you indicate. The critique of the teaching about homosexuality is part of a much wider critique–and outright rejection–of the biologistic natural law teaching.

            A huge proportion of Catholics in the developed parts of the world reject Catholic sexual ethical teachings in their biologistic natural law formulation outright. The primary reason Catholics reject these teachings is that a majority of us in the developed nations do not believe that 1) procreation alone is the norm by which to judge the morality of sexuality, and 2) the exclusive focus on acts ignores the relational aspects of ethical teaching, which are even more important in this discussion than acts.

            Your statement about current Catholic views re: homosexuality and gay relationships does not represent what polls consistently find: namely, that lay Catholics are, on the whole, far more accepting of gay people and gay relationships than are their Protestant counterparts. A key factor in this acceptance is the church’s teaching about justice, which, in the view of many lay Catholics, the institutional church is grossly violating in its treatment of its gay and lesbian members.

          • Bill,

            It’s unfair to equate “accepting of gay people and gay relationships” and “grossly violating … gay and lesbian members”.

            It may be, and I believe, is a denial of justice for civil authorities to deny gays and lesbians to enter into that civil contract we call “marriage”. There is simply no justification for allowing contracts between some individuals, and not others. But, it has nothing to do with sexual relations; it only involves basic contract law. If a man and a woman can contract, why can’t a woman and a woman? Or, a brother and a sister? Or three men? Or, any other combination? We do it all the time with corporations, there is no reason why we shouldn’t allow individuals to contract in their personal affairs like we allow them to do in their business affairs.

            However, there is nothing unfair about allowing no one to contract. After all, marriage is a special status conferred upon individuals by the grace of the government, not by any inalienable right. The First Amendment guarantees us the right to associate with whomever we want; it doesn’t guarantee us the blessing of the government. If people are abusing the intended purpose of the institution, then the government has the power to withhold the civil benefits from anyone, so long as it is done fairly.

            If a church wants to take the same approach to marriage it is free to do so. But, one has to question why a church would ever do so. Yet, many churches have done exactly that – they have attempted to reduce our human relationships down to contracts between individuals. Even worse, they have often given official or unofficial sanction to the idea that the teachings of Jesus indicate that what is important is the individual and what the individual wants, as if good theology is the same as good democracy.

            Our very lives are due to and indebted to the gift of sexuality given to our mothers and fathers. When this gift of sexuality is used selfishly or unwisely, it carries personal, interpersonal, and societal consequences. I think that we can safely assume that sexual activities outside of a committed relationship are presumptively disordered. Further, sexual activity that is not directed to the procreative act also carries with it the real possibility of becoming disordered. These aren’t just biologically based laws; they are psychological realities.

            Sex, like food, has the ability to be abused if its sanctity is not honored on every occasion. That being said, I think that is plenty of room for loving and committed gay and lesbian relationships within the Catholic Church. But, if you and others want the Church to adopt a stance that makes gay and lesbian relationships sacramentally the co-equal in God’s creative plan, I just don’t see how when can honestly arrive at that conclusion without sacrificing the beauty, awe, and splendor of the life-giving function of sexual intercourse. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for sexual intercourse. How it could it not be great and marvelous?

          • “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for sexual intercourse. How it could it not be great and marvelous?” you ask, David.

            Well, why don’t we think for a moment about what would happen if each and every act of intercourse resulted in conception. If procreation is so clearly the “great and marvelous” (and sole) moral justification for sexual intimacy, then why is nature designed such that the vast majority of fertilized ova self-abort?

            Obviously it’s designed in that way because if every act of intercourse resulted in contraception, we’d quite quickly (Malthusian mathematics) be so overpopulated that we’d put ourselves out of business as the human race.

            You’re arguing from biological “facts” that don’t even point to the conclusion you want to reach here. Which means, you’re imposing on the givenness of nature, on the facticity to which you want to appeal, your predetermined moral conclusion–which is not borne out by nature itself.

            What you’re pointing to is precisely the issue I raised in my previous statements to you: people reject this crude reduction of thinking about sexual ethics to biology because 1) it doesn’t even reflect an accurate reading of the biological information at our disposal about sexuality and conception, 2) it reduces human sexuality to the level of animal sexuality, and 3) it hinges everything on sexual acts viewed from a (falsely) biologistic standpoint, ignoring the relational aspects of human sexuality.

            I’m sorry that you can’t hear what a huge majority of your brother and sister Catholics in the developed world are trying to tell you about this way of approaching human sexuality–and why it is losing most of us. What on earth does any of this have to do with the gospels?

  10. Bill,

    In the scope of our lived humanity, in the context of the Gospel, the issue of whether homosexual acts are intrinisically disordered, or whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, either legally or sacramentally, is a small issue.

    However, it has been made an important issue, and the cause for much strife in society in general and within the Churches. And, I am guessing that it will continue to be so until like divorce, contraception, pre-marital sex and other related marital and sexual issues it becomes so ingrained in the culture that we give little thought to its moral implications or its consequences. Creeds will be developed that incorporate not what man ought to do, but will be merely complex and confused systems of rationalizations for what man has done. In fact, we have these systems now.

    Divorce has become no-fault. Men cheat on their wives, cause emotional and financial ruin on their families, and carry on as if children were mere objects, and not real human beings. Sexuality has taken on some of the same aspects. A fetus is no longer seen as an undeveloped human by many. Pregnancy is viewed as an oppression; children are burdens; sex is for fun.

    That is not where the heartfelt and sincere gay marriage movement should be going. It needs to sever its relationship with the those who view human relationships as merely emotional chattels for sale and disposal at the whim of the purchaser.

    There is something good and great in the movement that seeks to restore to the institution of marriage the ideal that marriage is the creation of another being, another being out of nothing except what already exists, and that once together, no one can or should destroy. However, if it seeks to raise itself to a height that it cannot achieve or reduce procreative relationships down to a level it can sustain, it will destroy the very thing that lifts it higher.

    The Knights of Columbus’s are not your enemies working against you to keep you second -class citizens. They want you to live in committed relationships, to love one another, and to enjoy the fruits of the Church. Just don’t ask us to accept things that are not true – such as children don’t matter or that man and woman together do not occupy a special place in the history of creation, or in God’s plan.

    Framed in the right way, the gay and lesbian movement could lift up the institution of marriage, and restore some of its grandeur, rather than being a cause for strife and anxiety in the Church, and society in general. It’s not you against me; it is us against the devil – the very same devil that tempted Adam and Eve into believing a falsehood.

    • David, I’m astonished that you’d state, “The Knights of Columbus’s are not your enemies working against you to keep you second -class citizens. They want you to live in committed relationships, to love one another, and to enjoy the fruits of the Church.”

      Can you really have forgotten that the Knights gave $1 million dollars to the proposition 8 battle in California–to remove from gay citizens of California the right to live in legally binding committed relationships? To remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of a state?

      That’s supporting gay folks and their attempt to live in loving, committed relationships?

      Vis-a-vis the Knights, perhaps you can use your influence as a member of that political (-cum religious) group to address two concerns expressed on this recent thread at National Catholic Reporter :

      1. The Knights are calling for a novena in support of the pope in the midst of the abuse revelations. How about calling for a novena to support the survivors of priestly sexual abuse and their families?

      2. And the Knights’ appeal for this novena continues to quote as factual statements by Rev. Brundage that Brundage himself has admitted are not true.

      • Bill,

        What I am saying is that much of what the gay movement could represent – the natural desire to bond with another in a lifelong committed relationship – is the same thing that the Knights preach. However, nothing in the civil gay right movement is directed to establishing the centrality of loving, committed relationships. It is all about getting the government sanction for the same kind of relationships that straights now have.

        Sure the Knights backed Proposition 8 in California. But, then again, what did that have to do with loving committed relationships? Is it not possible for gays to be in loving committed relationships without the government’s approval?

        • David, you say, “However, nothing in the civil gay right movement is directed to establishing the centrality of loving, committed relationships.”

          That is simply not true in the least.

          Please educate yourself. There is abundant material to be found in libraries, newspapers, and online, for anyone who wants to hear the many, many gay voices noting the value and necessity of loving, committed gay relationships–like the one in which I have lived for almost 40 years now.

          Read, for instance, the article or articles that NCR has done in the past several years about the family headed by writer Gregory Maguire and his spouse, who faithfuly worship at their Catholic parish on Massachusetts and are faithfully raising their children as Catholics.

          The Knights of Columbus are not doing a service to the church by lying about gay relationships, or by trying to present their attack on loving, committed gay relationships as holy.

  11. Hello,

    I am contacting you on behalf of the Social Work Leadership Institute at the New York Academy of Medicine concerning your use of the Generativity graphic in this blog entry. Generativity is a peer-reviewed journal of social work and aging owned and operated by our organization, and accordingly we hold rights over the logo created for it.


    We kindly ask that you please remove the image from your blog immediately. Please notified me when this action has been taken.

    Best regards,

    Melody J. Wilding
    Communications Consultant
    Social Work Leadership Institute
    New York Academy of Medicine
    1216 Fifth Avenue
    New York, NY 10029

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