The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about “Hospitality”

Late last week on the blog the I made mention of the sins that “cry to heaven for vengeance.” The traditional list, is summarized in the Catechism which states The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner (# 1867).

It probably does not surprise you that I got push-back from certain homosexuals who wrote in to “remind” me that the sin of Sodom “has nothing to do with homosexual acts, or homosexual rape. Rather,” they said, “It is only about violations of hospitality rules of the ancient near east.”

I did not post these comments since I did not have time then to deal with this oft heard but very mistaken notion about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. But the meaning of the story is not unclear, and attempts to radically reinterpret the fundamental issue at the core of the story, tell us more about the struggle of the “interpreter” than of the story which has a rather plain, unambiguous meaning. The sin, the abomination, of Sodom, while not excluding any number of injustices, is clearly set forth as widespread homosexual practice.

When interpreting the meaning of a passage we do well to look not only to the plain meaning of the text, but also to other Biblical texts that may refer back to it and help clarify any ambiguities. In this text we can do both.

So first let’s look at the text itself as set forth:

Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The men turned away and went toward Sodom….The two arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here,because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” (Genesis 18:20-22; 19:1-13)

Now those who want to argue that this text is vague in meaning, begin by stating that the phrase “have sex with them” is more literally rendered from the Hebrew as “that we may know them.” And it is true that the Hebrew word יָדַע (yada) is rendered “know.” But this word is also a Hebrew idiom for carnal knowledge. For example in Genesis 4:1 we read: Now Adam knew (yada) Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

That the carnal knowledge meaning is intended here is also made clear in the context of what follows. Lot first calls their proposal a “wicked thing.” But just getting to know someone, or to greet a stranger, is not a wicked thing. Further that unlawful carnal knowledge is meant is also made clear in that Lot (horrifyingly) proposes that they have sex instead with his daughters “who have never slept with a man” (i.e. his virgin daughters).

It is true that Lot is further motivated by the fact that these men (angels in disguise) are under his care. But that does not change the nature of the threat that is involved, namely homosexual seduction or rape.

Being unable to dissuade “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old” from the attempt at homosexual seduction, Lot is pulled to safety by the the two angelic visitors who tell Lot to get ready to go since they have come to destroy the city.

Now to the average reader who does not need to be defensive, the text conveys a clear message of widespread homosexuality in Sodom, a fact rather bluntly confirmed by the angelic visitors. And this is the clear emphasis of the story, not hospitality norms or other secondary concepts.

However, it may help to confirm this fact in other texts of the Bible and to legitimately ask if this is the only sin involved. Two texts are most specifically helpful in this regard. First there is a text from Ezekiel:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Now this is the text used most often by those who deny any homosexual context in the sin of Sodom. And, to be fair, it does add a dimension to the outcry God hears. There are clearly additional sins at work in the outcry: pride, excess or greed, and indifference to the poor and needy. But there are also mentioned here unspecified “abominations.” The Hebrew word is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (tō·w·‘ê·ḇāh) which refers to any number of things God considers especially detestable, such as worshiping idols, immolating children, wrongful marriage and also homosexual acts. For example, Leviticus 18:22 uses the word in this context: Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.

But of itself, this text from Ezekiel does remind us that widespread homosexuality is not the only sin of Sodom. And while the abomination mentioned here may not be specified exactly, there is another Scriptural text that does specify things more clearly for us. It is from the Letter of Jude:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. (Jude 7-8)

And thus it is specified that the central sin of Sodom involved “sexual immorality (ἐκπορνεύσασαι) and perversion (ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας – literally having departed to strange or different flesh).” And this would comport with the description of widespread homosexual practice in Sodom wherein the practitioners of this sin are described in Genesis 19 as including, “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old.”

Hence we see that, while we should avoid seeing the sin of Sodom as only widespread homosexual acts (for what city has only one sin?), we cannot avoid that the Scriptures do teach that homosexual acts are central to the sins of Sodom which cry to heaven for vengeance, and for which God saw fit to bring a fiery end.

Genesis 19 speaks plainly of the sin, Ezekiel 16 broadens the description but retains the word “abomination,” and Jude 7 clearly attests to sexual perversion as being the central sin with which Sodom and Gomorrah were connected.

God the Holy Spirit has not failed to teach quite clearly on the fundamental nature of the sins involved in these ancient cities. Widespread homosexual practice is surely the keynote of condemnation received by these cities and attempts to recast the matter as a “hospitality” issue must be seen for the fanciful distortion they are.

I do not post this video because I agree with it, do really know what to think of it. Most Archeologists DO agree that the two cities were located right near what is today the Dead Sea, and this video falls in that general range. But archeologists are not at all certain that the many excavations in the area of the Dead Sea do in fact correspond to the cities called Sodom and Gomorrah.

The President, Gay unions, and the problem of selective Christianity

The President’s disclosure that he now accepts so-called “Gay marriage” has received a good bit of political analysis. I am no political prognosticator and this is not a political blog. But when the President invokes Christ and the “golden rule,” to justify his decision, now I think we have something to discuss on a blog like this.

We have discussed at great length the problem with homosexual “marriage” beforHERE HERE HERE, and HERE) there is no reason restate it all again. Just click through to read those sorts of articles. Further I make reference in this post to Scripture’s consistent teaching forbidding Homosexual acts. I do not set forth all the Scriptures here but you can read what I have set forth more fully here: Biblical Teaching on Homosexual Activity

In this post however lets consider the problematic appeal of the President to Jesus to affirm Gay “marriage.” Specifically Mr Obama said to ABC News:

…In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she [Michele] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me….[1]

It is a common problem today that people often present simplistic portraits of Jesus Christ to support a variety of agendas. And the portraits of Jesus are not only simplistic, they are incomplete (usually intentionally so), and fail to accept that Jesus cannot be reduced to a simple sentence or two.

I would argue this is what the President is doing here. As if to say, “Jesus, was basically a nice and affirming person, who spoke of Love,  and so beautifully and taught us to do unto to others as we would have them do to us. “Surely,” the thinking goes, “this Jesus would affirm and rejoice over two Gay people getting “married.”” It is as if this were all Jesus was or said, “Love…Do unto others”. Never mind that he had some pretty high standards when it came to sexuality (Matt 5:27-30; Matt 15:19; Mk 10:11; Rev 22:15; Rev 21:8) Never mind that he told his apostles he had other things to teach them and would send his Holy Spirit, and never mind that His Holy Spirit inspired the Epistles writers like Paul to speak clearly in the ancient Biblical tradition about the sinfulness of homosexual activity, fornication, and adultery [2]  “Never mind all that,” says the modern world, and our President, “I chose the Jesus who said only, ‘God is love, and be kind to one another.'”

And this is the textbook definition of heresy, to pick or choose. The English word derives from the Greek word hairesis, meaning to chose.

The essence of orthodoxy is in the balance [3, 4] and maintaining the tensions inherent in Jesus and the Christian message.  The essence of heresy is to pick and choose. And, as author Ross Douthat has ably demonstrated in his book Bad Religion – How we became a nation of heretics, there is a lot of heresy being peddled today. Heresy picks one, or perhaps several teachings, and emphasizes them in exclusion to other teachings which balance and complete them. And to be fair, as Douthat points out, heresy is not just a problem on the left side of the political or theological aisle. The right does it as well (e.g. prosperity gospel, easy justification for war etc).

The modern tendency on the left, from which the President speaks has been to reduce Jesus to a rather harmless hippie who went about talking about love and inclusion and healed people. Gone from this harmless and politically correct  Jesus are volumes of verses that help complete the picture: a Messiah who claimed authority in our lives, who spoke quite clearly of sin, yes even sexual sin, and who warned repeatedly of the coming judgment, and the reality not only heaven, but of hell.

But Jesus is not either of these descriptions alone, he is both. Orthodoxy is in the balance, not choosing one or the other or tipping in one direction.

In a masterful description, Ross Douthot shows the paradoxes and the necessary balances about Jesus and the faith with which true orthodoxy must wrestle and hold in tension:

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. He makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness. He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping. And of course the accounts of his resurrection only heighten these paradoxes, by introducing a post-crucifixion Jesus who is somehow neither a resuscitated body nor a flitting ghost but something even stranger still—a being at once fleshly and supernatural, recognizable and transfigured, bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even as he passes easily through walls. (Kindle Edition Loc. 3005-16)

Douthat goes on to conclude:

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus…..[Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy….The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus. (Ibid).

Indeed a remarkable passage, even if I might quibble with a few words (e.g. the standards of Jesus moral vision are not “impossible” with grace). I would highly recommend the book and will be commenting on it some more in days ahead.

Disclaimer! – In saying the President is exemplifying heresy (i.e. pick and chose Christianity), I am alleging material heresy,  but I am not call him a heretic. It is not my role or in my competency to to declare someone a formal heretic.

But the President is clearly proclaiming a very partial and thus reconstructed Christ. The real Christ is, as Douthat ably notes, far more complicated and far less vague than the President would have us think. And there is far more to his teaching than the “Golden Rule.”

Another form of heresy common today is to pick and chose Scripture. The usual approach, especially in terms of homosexuality and sexual matters in general, is to reduce the entire New Testament to the verbal utterances of Jesus alone, a kind of “red letter” reductionism. This of course, denies the inspiration of the entire New Testament and, in effect, says that Acts, all the Epistles, and Revelation are not the Word of God, are not inspired, and may safely be ignored.

But this is heresy since we cannot pick and choose the books of the Bible, we cannot tear out pages, or cross out lines. Orthodoxy is to accept the whole of the Sacred Text, and to consider its claims with reference to the whole of Scripture and in keeping with its trajectory. For a Catholic, of course this is done in union with the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition.

Many supporters of homosexual behavior adopt this heresy by saying, “Jesus never said a word about or against Homosexuality.” True, but he also never said a word about a lot of things: drinking to excess, beating one’s wife, he never forbade ethnic humor, or said people should wear clothes, He never declared how big and how much money should be spent on the military etc, whether Government should provide welfare etc. Since Jesus did not say out of his own mouth we cannot beat our wives then it must be okay to beat them? Of course not. An argument from silence is very poor and unhelpful.

Further it is heresy to say divine revelation closed with the ascension of Jesus. Rather it continues unto the death of the last apostle. The Epistles are every bit the Word of the Lord, and authored by the Same Holy Spirit as are the Gospels. We cannot pick and choose what we like.

To be clear, the reading of Scripture is not a purely mechanistic endeavor. For example, merely pulling proof texts out of thin air, and out of context is wrong, for that too is often heresy – picking one thing, forgetting the rest.

Rather, Scripture is to be read in a way which respects the overall trajectory of the Scriptures as God leads his people through stages to Christ. Therefore certain things are operative early in Scripture (e.g. certain feasts, dietary laws and punitive measures) that later fall away or are fulfilled. Thus Passover is fulfilled and subsumed into the Eucharist, Jesus cancels dietary laws by declaring all foods clean, the application of stoning and other severe punishments are curtailed etc. But all these organic developments take place in Scripture itself, and can be observed there.

However, there ARE teachings (notably the Divine Moral Law) that remain unchanged and are continuously articulated at every stage of Biblical revelation. They do not undergo change or fall away.

Regarding sexuality, at no stage in the Old Testament all the way through to the end of the New Testament, is fornication or adultery affirmed. The same is true for homosexual acts. At no stage, anywhere in Sacred Scripture are homosexual acts or fornication, or adultery ever affirmed, nor are these acts described as anything but sinful (e.g. Leviticus 18: 22; Lev 20:13; Gen 19; 1 Corinthians 6-9; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Rom 1:19ff, inter al).

Thus orthodoxy, which holds to the whole and does not pick and choose Scripture, must in every way accept and announce that these are sinful acts, sinful enough to exclude one from the Kingdom if they are not repented of (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9).

Simply ushering in a “Jesus is love” argument cannot override texts like these. For the same Scripture which says, God is love, also contains these teachings forbidding extra-marital sex and a host of other moral teachings. The Biblical record sees no essential conflict in saying both “God is love” and “Fornication, Adultery, and Homosexual acts are sinfully wrong.” Thus neither should we have a problem. Orthodoxy says “both.”  Heresy says, “there is tension here and I am going to resolve it by picking the concept I like and excluding the other.”

The orthodox approach accepts the tension and sees a Christ who loves sinners (us) and holds them close, but who also summons us to repentance and a life that is increasingly free from sin and conformed to the truth by his grace .

I don’t know how the President will fare politically, but he has flunked theology and is, if you ask me (and even if you don’t) refashioned Jesus for his own purpose.

As for comments, I would rather not debate the whole Gay Marriage issue and/or the sinfulness of homosexuality. We’ve done that here before and the Church teaching is clear and is not going to change. I am most interested in comments that zero in on the problem of heresy – pick and choose Christianity and how it relates not only to this issue but others as well. But you decide.

Catholic Orthodoxy is Not Bigotry: A Response to the Hate-Filled Comments Received by a Catholic Blogger

Over at the very fine Accepting Abundance blog, authored by Stacy Trasancos, a rather remarkable display of hatefulness has erupted in the combox. Now just guess what the issue might be that has generated this storm of protest against a Catholic blogger on a Catholic blog. Sure enough it was the issue of homosexuality.

Stacy blogged on concerns she had over increasing public displays of affection between homosexual couples in her nearby park. Her concerns centered especially on the how such things affected her seven children who, with her, frequent the park.

The post was picked up by a couple “Gay” websites such as “Pink News” and “Queer Magazine” and this resulted in almost 1000 responses to Stacy’s post, many of them extremely vile. To be fair, many of the dissenting remarks were also respectful and to the point. But far too many were so vulgar, hateful and personally attacking of Stacy, her family, the Church, and Christians in general, that even editing the profanities cannot save them from the category of pure hate. In one comment it is wished that Stacy’s children be kidnapped, raped and murdered, and she is called two names that, even using asterisks, I will not publish on this site.

I too have be “treated” to this when I have published on the issue of homosexuality and the Church’s teaching (which accords with Scripture). I also get some extremely hateful replies, laced with personal attacks, when I blog on topics related to atheism, and the interplay between science and faith. Just let topics like these make their way to the wrong site and unbelievable comments pour in that I must either severely edit, or trash altogether. So much for the “tolerance” of many of our interlocutors. And yet it is we who are called hateful, bigoted, phobic and so forth.

What of these charges…that that we are supposedly hateful and bigoted?

It is true that believing Catholics and many people of faith, at least those who hold to a more strictly Biblical view, consider homosexual behavior to be wrong. The same can be said for illicit heterosexual behavior such as fornication, polygamy, and incest. And on account of our disapproval of such things, especially homosexual behavior, we are often called “intolerant,” homophobic, bigoted, hateful, etc).

But what if our objections do not simply emerge from bigotry as some claim but, rather, from a principled biblical stance? What if our objections come from a disciplined and principled reading of Scripture: a text we sincerely believe to be revealed by God, and which cannot be changed by us to suit our needs, a sacred text which clearly and consistently states that homosexual acts are gravely sinful and displeasing to God, a text which also condemn all illicit heterosexual activity.

These biblical principles and the Sacred text are not something we can simply set aside. We venerate the Scripture as the Word of God and we venerate both the Scripture and Sacred Tradition that go back to the Christ and the Apostles and then some seven thousand years of the full Judeo-Christian heritage. A principled reading of this does not simply permit us to start tearing pages from the Sacred text. Now this is principled, not bigoted, heartfelt, not hateful.

Some will argue that the biblical text has some pretty shocking things in it, for example that homosexuals should be killed (e.g. Lev 20). But Catholics do not read Scripture in a crudely mechanistic or piecemeal way, rather we draw our teaching and understanding from the Scripture considered in full and from the principle that the New Testament interprets and fulfills the Old Testament.

For example, some things in the Old Testament are fulfilled and transposed (e.g. Passover becomes Easter). Some things are abrogated (set aside) by later clarifications or by being overruled by Jesus himself (e.g. dietary laws, certain Sabbath regulations, some ceremonial precepts, divorce, and many of the harsh punishments such as stoning). But other things, such as the Ten Commandments and the Moral Law are carried forward without alteration.

Now homosexual acts and illicit heterosexual acts are in this last category. They are clearly and consistently spoken again at every stage of Biblical revelation, from begin to the very end. And even if some of the punishments, (e.g. stoning of adulterers and those guilty of homosexual acts), have been set aside, the teaching remains in force. By way of analogy, it was also said that children who disobeyed their parents could be stoned (Deut 21:18). This penalty has been set aside, but that children should obey their parents is no less taught.

As Catholics we strive to act out of a principled reading of the Sacred Scriptures that is both comprehensive and respectful of the fact that God is its author. Though some may wish to call us hateful, that does not make us so. I am not aware that I hate anyone. But I cannot therefore give blanket approval for everything that everyone does, including myself. Even our opponents in this matter do not do that. That I do not approve of something does not ipso facto make me a hateful, bigoted or phobic.

This does not exclude the fact that there may be some in our world who are in fact bigots, but it is wrong to lump together all who oppose the homosexual agenda into this category. In the end, I cannot and will not over rule Sacred Scripture and God for the sake of pleasing man or being thought politically correct.

The Catholic Church does not hate homosexuals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says clearly enough

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2357-2359)

Now for some, who equate love and tolerance with a full and complete approval of all they do, such a statement will simply be dismissed. In their “all or nothing world,” a failure to approve wholeheartedly equals hate and bigotry. Little can be done to satisfy those such as these, except to point out the extremity of their judgment and the lack of tolerance they themselves exhibit.

As for the Church, we continue to welcome those with a homosexual orientation but must teach in love that, in accord with Scripture, they are called to live chastely, that is, in the celibate state, as in anyone who is unmarried. There are even support groups without Church auspices that provide encouragement such as Courage. It also remains true we cannot support Gay “marriage” for the same principled reasons that Scripture sets forth.

More than this we cannot do. But I will say, I know more than a few lay people with homosexual orientation who have embraced the Church teaching and live it well. They are good and faithful Catholics and many have leadership roles, and are valued members of their parishes. The Catholic Church does not hate homosexuals.

And this leads us finally back to Stacy Trasanco’s blog post. Some will argue that there is no harm in public displays of affection (PDAs) by homosexual couples, and that we should learn to be more tolerant.

Tolerance has its place but it also has its limits. As Catholics we are not wholly intolerant in the sense that we seek to force an end to private behavior we do not consider good. Very few Christians I have ever heard from are asking for the police to enter bedrooms and make arrests. But we ought not be asked to approve of public acts we consider wrong.

Almost every law in this country enshrines some sort of limit to tolerance, so limited tolerance is not unique to Bible-believing Christians. And we will, and must ask that others curb public behaviors we consider to be sinful.

We may lose this battle culturally, and PDAs by homosexual couples may become more common, but it is not hateful for us to enter the discussion and express our displeasure over this and seek to influence others in that discussion.

There are many questionable things that all Americans are willing to overlook if they are done in private. But when they become public, there is a legitimate discussion that must be allowed to take place. And that discussion will need to include not just a lot of talk about what my “rights” are, but also what has historically been the norm in given communities.

Further some respect for the general consensus needs to be considered. Frankly most Americans are currently not happy to see public displays of affection from homosexual couples and the reason for this may be something other than mere bigotry.

When things start going public, public discussions are necessarily going to follow. And personal threats, name calling, curses, generalizations, caricatures, lies, and the presumption of hate and bigotry are not legitimate ways to have this  discussion. Too often those who demand tolerance are the last to show it. Stacy has surely experienced this, as have I and not a few others.

Image Credit: Accepting Abundance

This video shows, in a humorous way how those who hold up tolerance sometimes run afoul of it themselves.

Turning Back the Tide: One Pastor’s Attempt to Assert the Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality In an Age of Confusion

In yesterday’s Blog post, we discussed that there are significant numbers of Catholics who do not hold the Catholic faith regarding the question of homosexual activity, and so-called gay “marriage.” Some of this may be due to willful rejection of the teaching, but much is likely due to confusion brought on by a loud culture and a quiet pulpit. I want to share with you a letter I wrote to my congregation a couple of years ago to try and make clear the Catholic and Biblical teaching on homosexuality. I wrote it and preached it to strive and give clear teaching in a confused age. I offer it to you for your own consideration.

Dear Parishioners,

In recent years, homosexuality has been frequently in the news. An increasingly nationwide effort to give recognition to so-called gay “marriage,” is only the latest matter to receive a lot of attention. Prior to this, the Episcopalian denomination ordained as a bishop a man who openly practices homosexual behavior. This action has divided the Episcopalian denomination in two. Prior to this, the last fifteen years have also seen the Episcopalian and other Protestant denominations liturgically celebrate gay “marriages” and unions. This too has caused great divisions in those denominations. Even among the Catholic faithful, mistaken notions about homosexuality and marriage have taken hold.

Hence, it is necessary once again to teach on this matter, and reassert what Scripture plainly teaches. Now the fact is, the Scriptures are very clear by unambiguously, and in an uncompromising way, depicting homosexual activity as a serious sin and a moral disorder. Attempts by some to reinterpret scripture to mean something else are fanciful, at best, and usually use theories that require twisted logic, and questionable historical views that set aside the very plain meaning of the texts.

I want to share a few of these Biblical texts with you. But before I do, let me state the context of this reflection and make two very important clarifications.

First, as to the context, I want to be clear here that my reflections are directed to fellow Christians, namely you. Hence I use Scripture as the main point of departure since we share a belief in the normative and authoritative status of God’s Word. In other settings, speaking for example to the secular world, Natural Law arguments are more suitable. But, here, the Scriptures are our main focus. And,  as your pastor,  I want you to have a clear, biblical understanding of what is taught in this matter. I  have a duty to teach you on matters of the faith and morals and  I do not want you to share in the confusion manifest in the world,  and even among Christians.

As a second point of clarification it is important to note that it is homosexual activity that is condemned, not all persons of homosexual orientation. It is a fact that some individuals are attracted to members of the same sex. Why this is or how it comes to be is not fully understood, but it is, nonetheless, simply a fact for some individuals. Since sexual orientation is not usually a matter of direct choice or even immediate control, it is not itself an object of moral condemnation. Merely to be tempted to commit a certain sin does not make one evil or bad, or even guilty for that temptation. Rather, it is to give way to the temptation and commit the sin that makes one a sinner. Many homosexual persons live chaste lives, and, although tempted to commit homosexual acts, they do not in fact do so. This is courageous, holy and praiseworthy. Sadly, though, some with a homosexual orientation not only commit the sin of homosexual activity, but they openly flaunt this fact, and dismiss Biblical texts that clearly forbid such activity. For these, we can only hope and pray for conversion. I hope you can see, however, why we must distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity.

A third clarification that we must make is that we should be careful not to single out homosexual activity as though it were the only sexual sin God condemns. Clearly, all who are heterosexual are also called to sexual purity. The same Bible which condemns homosexual activity also clearly condemns acts of fornication (i.e. illicit sexual union such as premarital sex) and acts of adultery. The Bible describes these as serious sins, which can and do exclude people from the Kingdom of God and from Heaven (cf Eph 5:5-7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). Sadly, many people today live in open violation of Biblical teaching. Many engage in premarital sex (fornicate) and say it is alright because “everyone’s doing it.” Many live together without benefit of marriage. This, like homosexual activity, is sinful. It is wrong, and should be repented of immediately. Hence, homosexual activity is not singled out by the Bible or by Christians. Every human being, without exception, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is called to sexual purity, to chastity, and to self-control. Any violation of this is a sin. Put more positively, God’s command of chastity means that sexual purity is possible for everyone with God’s grace. God empowers us to do what he commands!

With these two clarifications in mind, we can turn our attention now to the Biblical teaching on homosexuality.

As stated above, the Bible clearly and unambiguously condemns homosexual activity. For example:

  1. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18: 22)
  2. If a man lies with a male as with a female, both of them have committed an abomination (Lev 20:13).
  3. Likewise, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts, among other things, the sinfulness of homosexual activity. It is too lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but you can read about it in Genesis 19.
  4. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. (Romans 1:18ff)
  5. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6-9)
  6. The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, for those who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. 1 Timothy 1: 8-11

Note that, in many of these texts, homosexual activity is listed among other sexual offenses a person can commit. Again, it is not merely singled out. Here then, is what the Bible teaches: homosexual activity is wrong as are other sexual sins such as fornication and adultery. It is true that there are not a huge number of texts regarding homosexual activity. But, whenever it is mentioned, it is clearly and uncompromisingly condemned. Further, this condemnation occurs at every stage of biblical revelation, revelation right through to the end.

Sadly, today, many have set aside the Biblical and Church teachings on homosexual activity. They not only declare that it is not sinful, but they even celebrate it as though it were good. It is bad enough when non-believers do this, but it is even more tragic when people who call themselves Christians do such things. As we have seen, a number of the Protestant denominations (e.g., the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalian denominations and some of the Presbyterian and other mainline Protestant denominations) have begun celebrating and blessing homosexual unions and promoting clergy who are actively and publicly engaging in homosexual activity.

In effect they sanction such behavior and are setting aside the Word of God, or reinterpreting it to suit their own agenda. Psalm 2:1 laments: And why do the people imagine a vain thing? In the Gospels, Jesus knew that some would use him to promote their own wrongful agendas. And so He, too, lamented: Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray (Mark 13:5). St. Paul also knew that some would distort the Christian faith. And so he said: I know that, after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20: 29).

We live an era where there is often deep confusion about moral issues. In the area of sexual morality, the confusion is especially deep today. This confusion has touched even many Christians, who are living and promoting unbiblical lifestyles.

In such a climate, we must speak the truth that comes from God and live it. Suppressing the truth leads to great distortions, confusion, and suffering. The sexual promiscuity of our own day has led to great suffering: venereal disease, AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy, broken marriages, divorce, single parenthood.

The confusion about homosexual activity is just one more symptom of the general sexual confusion of our day. In suppressing the truth from God, many have become debased and confused, and many among us call good that which God calls sin. Indeed, the text from Romans 1, quoted above says that the approval of homosexual behavior, is a sign of deep confusion and a darkened mind. Indeed the approval of any sexual sinfulness is of the darkness.

Some who oppose the teaching of Scripture and the Church have taken to calling opposition to their view “hatred” and “bigotry.” But we who are of faith must insist that the Church’s opposition to homosexual behavior is rooted in a principled obedience to the Word of God which we believe to be revealed by God and to which we owe docility and obedience. We can say and teach no other than what God has reveled consistently in his Word.

Perhaps it is best to conclude with a statement from the Catechism which expresses clarity of doctrine but also respect for the homosexual person:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2357-2359)

I write to you with concern in these times of confusion in the hopes that you will in no way share the error and confusion of these times. We are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf Rom 12:1). I pray that this letter has helped in some way to clarify and confirm you in the Ancient and Apostolic faith entrusted to the Church. Please share this letter if you have found it helpful.

Msgr. Pope

A PDF of this letter is here: Letter on Homosexuality

More Data on the Lost Generations and the Urgent Task for the Church

It has been clear for some time now in the Church that Catholics, as a group, are growing more distant from the Church teaching on sexual matters. It seems well demonstrated that most Catholics form their view on these matters more from the culture than the scriptures or the teachings of the Church. The culture shouts promiscuity and normalizes both the heterosexual and homosexual expressions of it. Meanwhile, I’m sad to say, many clergy and catechists remain quite silent and vague about it. This is not true of all, but I know that a common complaint on the part of the faithful is, that what they hear from the pulpit, is filled with vagaries and generalities. Only rarely do they hear straightforward teaching on sexual matters and other important topics as well, such as the need to attend Mass, go to confession, the reality of hell etc.

With the combination of a loud culture and quiet pulpit and classroom, it is no surprise that that recent statistics show that a growing number of Catholics do not hold the Catholic faith when it comes to moral issues, especially the sexual ones. Here are some excerpts from a recent article over at the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) blog written by Mark Gray:

In 2010, 20% of adult Catholics “strongly agreed” that “homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another.” An additional 28% “agreed.” Thus, overall 48% of Catholic respondents indicated some level of agreement with this statement. The margin of error for the 2010 Catholic data is ±5.8 percentage points. Thus, the point estimate for agreement could range as high as 54% or as low as 42%. ….Levels of agreement with the statement have grown [over the years] as disagreement has diminished.

There is another [General Social Survey] GSS question that has a longer history that is related to the results of the marriage question shown above. The GSS asks respondents if “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” is wrong. In the 2010 GSS, for the first time, the percentage of adult Catholics indicating this is “not wrong at all” outnumbered those who said it was “always wrong” (44% compared to 42%)…(margin of error was ±5.9 percentage points).

As one can see from the trend in the figure [above right], the real point of change occurs somewhere in the early 1990s and has continued to evolve to this day. Responses to this question differ by age with younger Catholics being more likely than older Catholics to say this is “not wrong at all.” However, the sharp change in the population overall in the early 1990s cannot be explained by generational replacement alone.

It is the case that frequency of Mass attendance correlates with responses to these questions….The only complication to this…. is that Mass attendance varies by age and generation ….So is it Mass attendance that makes one more likely to oppose civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples or is it something generational? It is likely both but which matters more? And again the figure above indicates some sort of “period effect” in the early 1990s that is also likely important. Margin of error for sub-groups is the biggest obstacle to understanding and disentangling these effects.

The full article is here: Catholic Attitudes. Please note, Mr. Gray’s purpose in the article is to report the numbers not to advocate for or against what they say.

My own thoughts are that the generational factor is very significant. I understand that Mr Gray above thinks there are other factors too. I accept that but would still highlight the generational factor. There are increasing numbers of young people who have never known a time when the wider culture did not approve of homosexual behavior. Those of us about 45 and older DO remember such a time, but the younger ones have largely had a steady diet of  “there’s nothing wrong with homosexual behavior and if anyone thinks so, they’re a bigot.” And as they have heard this, the Church has only vaguely set forth a principled case for the wrongness of promiscuity in general, and homosexual activity in particular.

To paraphrase a well known quote from the last election, The Church’s chickens are coming home to roost. To put it Biblically: For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Cor 14:8).

In the Church I think we have to accept that a generational shift has occurred, both in the Church and in the culture. And it has happened on our watch.

Rear-guard action? With the increasing move to give legal recognition to (so-called) gay marriage, the Church is scrambling to teach the faithful again on the basics of marriage. But, truth be told, it’s something of a rear-guard action. Marriage has been in trouble for a long time in this country, family sizes have decreased, divorce has skyrocketed and cohabitation and single parent families are becoming as common as marriage. Gay “marriage” is just the latest confusion, polygamy is surely next.

Yes, we have returned to the battle late. When the first no-fault divorce laws went into effect in 1969 and the ten years following, I am unaware that there was much of a collective effort by the Church to oppose and turn back that horrible idea.

Inward focused! Of course in 1969 we were rather inwardly focused. We were moving around the furniture in our sanctuaries, tuning up guitars and having endless debates about women’s (lack of) ordination, Church authority and the like. And while we looked inward and debated among ourselves, we lost the culture. We stopped evangelizing and articulating a clear moral vision for our culture in a way that was effective.

I am told the situation is worse in Europe. Both Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have said we have to start all over again there and completely re-evangelize Europe.

But start we must. And while we do so, we will called all sorts of names by a culture that now finds the Gospel and its moral vision to be obnoxious, even hateful. It will be our task to re-propose the Gospel in creative and thoughtful ways, and to present why it makes sense and is not, in fact hateful.

I think some of the younger clergy, religious and laity have become better prepared to do just this. I am impressed with the dedication, fidelity, creativeness and zeal of many of the younger and emerging leaders in the Church. In a way their presence and numbers is something of a paradox, since, as the numbers above show, there seems to be an overall generational shift away from the Church. It is almost as if these younger and emerging leaders, (clergy, religious and lay), have been snatched by the Lord from a raging torrent and set on solid rock. And now they have zeal to snatch others from the torrent and draw them to the solid rock of the Church and Christ. It is a small but significant army. And the trumpet the Church is sounding is becoming clearer too, more and more are mustering for the great struggle to re-evangelize the culture.

In tomorrow’s blog I’d like to address the Biblical teaching on homosexual activity as well as heterosexual promiscuity. I do this in an attempt to answer those surveyed above who think there is nothing wrong with either. Just my own little way of trying to turn back some of the numbers and not be among those who have been far too silent.

Here is Fr. Barron’s take on how we lost the culture and what we might do to re-evangelize it.

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature: Florida Ruling on Gay Adoptions Denies the Obvious

We live in strange times. On the one hand there is the marketing of “natural” and “organic” food. Processed foods and products are bad, natural and organic ones are good. Free range chicken, grass fed cattle etc. Nothing “unnatural” should enter the body. Or so the logic and marketing goes.

But when it comes to human sexuality and also the raising of kids, apparently, nature has to go. Many women take unhealthy and artificial pills to drastically alter their hormonal system and become chemically sterile. Or artificial barriers are used to unnaturally hinder the sexual act for its natural end. Perfectly healthy babies are aborted from wombs. And many today advocate homosexual acts as normal even though any study of the design of the human body will indicate that man is not for man, or woman for woman. Rather, man is for woman, and woman for man. In Romans 1:27 St. Paul calls homosexual acts παρὰ φύσιν (para physin) , “contrary to nature.”

The latest rejection of nature is the declaration of Florida’s 3rd District  Court of Appeal that “gay people and heterosexuals make equally good parents.”  It is odd that Mother Nature never got the memo from the Florida Court for she apparently thinks it is best for a child to have a (female) mother and (male) father. In her plan,  Mother Nature never made the two daddies, or two mommies option equally available through something like parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction). Mother Nature in her backward and primitive notions only allows for natural conception to occur between heterosexuals. But the Florida Court of Appeals has now rescued us from the backward notions of Mother Nature. Here is a summary of the Story from the Florida Sentinel:

Sept. 23–Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled Wednesday that the state’s 33-year-old ban on gay adoption is unconstitutional, unleashing cheers from the gay community and condemnations from conservatives. A three-judge panel upheld a Miami court ruling that Martin Gill could adopt the two foster children he had been raising with his partner. The appeals court ruled that the ban on gay adoption was unconstitutional because it singled out gays as unfit parents. Judge Gerald Cope, who wrote the opinion, said there was no evidence to show that gays were less effective than heterosexual parents. “Given a total ban on adoption by homosexual persons, one might expect that this reflected a legislative judgment that homosexual persons are, as a group, unfit to be parents,” Cope wrote. “To the contrary, the parties agree ‘that gay people and heterosexuals make equally good parents.’ “…….The appeals-court decision is not the final word on the law. Gill and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented him and his partner, want the state to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court to obtain a final statewide determination on the law.

Shelbi Day, staff attorney for the ACLU….. said, “This is a very solid and well-written opinion that very clearly states what the science says — which is that gay parents make just as good parents as straight people,” John Stemberger, head of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, which opposes gay adoption, criticized the conclusions reached by the court. “They ruled that two dads are just as good as a mom and a dad. We know that is empirically wrong,” Stemberger said…..Copyright (c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Now honestly, does it really stand to reason that “two dads are just as good as a mom and dad?”  No it does not. It is clear that it is best for every child to be raised and influenced by both a father and a mother. A father has things to teach his child that only a father can teach. Likewise for a mother. Being raised and formed with both a male and female influence is clearly better. It is plain that nature (and I would add, nature’s God) intends for parents to exhibit diversity, that both sexes influence and form children. Two fathers or two mothers is not “equally good” or “no less effective” than heterosexual parents.

Now notice, I have not quoted one Bible verse here. I only ask you to consider in this post a simple natural law approach. The statements by the Court and advocates of its decision are setting aside what nature has clearly given us as the best and proper model for children. Many of these same advocates talk extensively about diversity in everything else as being wonderful. But when it comes to raising children they want to sing a different tune.

What is natural is what is best. Children need and deserve the diversity that a mother and father can provide. To intentionally place them in less than ideal situations when more ideal settings are available is unjust.

In the end, it is not nice to fool Mother Nature. We don’t usually fare well when we toy around with what she has set forth. Governor Crist said of the ruling, “This is a great day for Florida.” But time will prove where wisdom lies.

Some Are Incapable of Marriage Because They Were Born So

In today’s Gospel  reading for Mass the Lord says the following: Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. In speaking this way the Lord was leading up to say that there is a noble place for celibacy, freely chosen in the Church, in the Kingdom of God. These are those who have freely renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom.

Looking at the Translation: However, the Lord also speaks of those incapable of marriage either by being born so, or by having been made so by others. The translation we are using in the lectionary is somewhat more interpretive than literal. What the Lectionary text (NAB translation) renders as “incapable of marriage” is in Greek more literally: εὐνοῦχοi (eunouchoi) – a eunuch, a castrated male. In the ancient world monarchs would often keep castrated males around to watch over their harem and sometimes over children since they were thought to be less of a threat for obvious reasons. There were other reasons that men were castrated as well, sometimes due to crime, torture, etc. Jesus also refers to those who are eunuchs because they were born that way.

Now one might expect Jesus to rail against the practice of castration here but, strangely he does not. His main purpose is to teach that some are incapable of marriage and that others, though capable,  live like eunuchs in order to witness to the Kingdom and serve it exclusively (cf also 1 Cor 7).

Who are “those incapable of marriage?”  The first and most obvious interpretation is that some sort of birth defect or later physical mutilation has rendered them anatomically incapable of the marriage act (sexual intercourse). One need not conclude they are wholly lacking in every anatomical detail but just enough that somehow they are incapable of the marriage act. To be incapable of the marriage act is to be incapable of marriage since, the marital act is integral to marriage. This is still in marriage law today in the Church and part of the pre-nuptial inquiry that takes place is to ask the engaged person if they are capable of sexual intercourse. Such a question must be answered affirmatively for the marriage to proceed.

There are wider causes of being incapable marraige – Now thus far we have  considered “eunuch” as referring only a physical matter. But Jesus uses the term not only to refer to physical defect but also in a wider way as referring to being a kind of “spiritual eunuch.” The primary form of this is those who freely renounce marriage to witness to a serve the Kingdom. They have the physical capacity for intercourse,  to be sure, but they freely renounce its use. Hence we are invited to broaden our view of being a eunuch beyond mere physical defect.

It is a true fact that some are incapable of marriage due not to physical deformity of the sexual organs but due to other factors. Some may be mentally ill, or developmentally disabled or have significant physical illnesses. Some are very shy and lack self-esteem, or struggle to form close relationships.  Others have financial limits that may be temporary but for now make marriage unreasonable. Some simply have never met the right person. This may just be bad luck or it may be due to having unreasonable standards.  And so on. But it is a true fact that some, an increasing number in our culture it would seem, are temporarily or permanently incapable of marriage. In all these cases one who is truly or temporarily incapable of marriage is called to live chastely, as a kind of spiritual eunuch witnessing to the Kingdom

The Question of Homosexuality  As we have already seen, it is possible to see that the wider context  the Lord uses here of the word eunuch seems also to permit a wider interpretation. Namely that the incapacity is about more than physical defect and may also be seen to refer to a wider notion of incapacity such as a lack of affection for the opposite sex.

Many today claim they were born with a homosexual orientation. While this may be a debatable point (is it nature or nurture), it is the teaching of the Church that such individuals are “incapable” of marriage in that they are not permitted to enter into unions with members of the same sex as many demand today. Rather they are called to live heroically by embracing a celibate life. If their orientation renders them averse to the traditional marriage act, they are thus incapable of marriage either because they “were born so” or because they were “made that way by others.” But either way they are incapable of marriage. They are called to be eunuchs for the Kingdom.

Now notice that the Lord did not express disdain or aversions for those born or made eunuchs but he does state that they are incapable of marriage. As such they are invited to  freely accept that they are incapable of marriage and to live like the eunuchs who freely embrace the chaste and celibate state. If they do this freely they too have a high calling in the Kingdom, a calling which the Lord commends. The same can be said for homosexuals who, by that fact are incapable of marriage. They too can imitate those who have freely renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom by freely and wholeheartedly accepting the Church teaching that they remain chaste and embrace a celibate state. In so doing they too advance the Kingdom and witness to it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Homosexual inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most [homosexuals] a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2358-2359).

What the Church must do – The demands that the Church accept and bless Homosexual Unions is increasingly common today. But the Church cannot depart from Scripture and cannot give everyone what they want. In the end the best we can say is that some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, others because they were made so by others. We cannot do more than what Scripture teaches and must commend chastity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. It is a high calling if freely embraced.

Do We Need a New Word for Marriage?

Here in Washington DC today Gay and Lesbian couples lined up to apply for “Marriage”  Licenses. It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the DC City Council means.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Marriage in the following way:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)

The latest actions by the DC Council, along with Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa have legally redefined the term marriage. Other states will likely join the list. The secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.

To be fair, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses.
  3. This final blow completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being  a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “marriage”.

Proposal:  So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose a new (really an old) term and hear what you think. I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”  According to this  proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

The word matrimony also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complimentarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother”  and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.”  Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of  Holy Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.

To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock.” But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we could train couples to say,  “We want to be wed next summer.” or to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.”  Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry” and  “married.” So the more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?