Critique of Courage Speaker

Friday, June 25, 2004



I decided to give equal space by linking to Ron Belgau, whom Bishop Salvato, opposed in another post I had made on June 24, 2004. The link to Belgau was in the Bishop's post. Belgau is a Catholic member of Courage - same sex attracted Catholics trying to live according to Church teaching.

Belgau actually describes the vocation to marriage very well, and offers personal stories that would rival the Bishop for honesty.

He peppers his speech with lots of references to Scripture, the Catechism, the Pope and some Bishops, Mother Teresa, the saints, lay Catholic writers, C.S. Lewis, Gandhi, Naomi Wolf, and Bonhoeffer's notion of "the cost of discipleship" and Bonhoeffer's rejection of "cheap grace". David Morrison once quoted Bonhoeffer's notion at me as well.

On this last reference, I consider Bonhoeffer a bit of a hero to the extent I know about him and his willingness to go to prison in opposition to the Nazis. Thus, it kind of stings when Belgau claims that theological dissidents are offering "cheap grace".

What I struggle with is that when Bonhoeffer speaks of the cost of discipleship, it seems he is calling us to take up our cross by loving Christ through others until it hurts - by being willing to risk life and limb to stand up to injustices that occur in this life. Bonhoeffer's cost is concrete, here and now, for an immediate benefit to another for the sake of Christ, and can get you thrown in prison.

When Belgau speaks of the cost of discipleship, it seems to be obedience to an abstraction - a self inflicted pain based on a belief that doesn't correlate with your own experience of life.

I sometimes think that people reason religiously in a distorted way towards masochism.

For example, the Church once taught that it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays, one must fast during Lent, and it is a good thing to fast at other times. Thus, Saint Francis was said to eat nothing 150 of 365 days per year, and to sprinkle ashes on his vegetarian diet when he did eat! At the end of his life, Francis apologized to his own body.

I admire saint Francis, but is that really what made him holy? Or was it his care for lepers and the friars who came to follow him that made him holy? Is it better to fast like this, or to go to jail defending human life like Bonhoeffer? Is it better to make self sacrifice for an abstraction, or for a concrete person?

Belgau recognizes the problem, and draws an extended analogy on this exact point. He states that he knows there will be some in his audience who perceive him as offering an abstraction as motivation to do what seems impossible. He likens this to offering a recipe to people who lack the ingredients to make the dish.

Belgau argues that human sexuality is obviously "ordered" (in the theological sense) to three things: complementarity, procreation, and unity.

1) Complementarity: God created us male and female, and our gender identity is completed in the male and female relationship of persons.

2) Procreation: Children and child rearing are a blessing from the Lord who allows us to share in his creative power through procreation.

3) Unity: In married love, the two become one flesh, imaging our union with God in Christ.

Belgau points out that homosexual acts fail the first two criteria. Then, to address unitive love, he tries to tie chastity for same sex attracted Christians to the notion of risks. Since it might be a mortal sin to engage in homosexual acts, it is loving to the other person to refrain from homosexual relations.

He draws an analogy for this concept of risks to abortion. Since the unborn might be human persons, it is better not to have an abortion than to risk killing another human person.

Belgau tells a very moving story of an relationship he had in high school that started to develop in a romantic direction, but stopped before there was any sexual expression.

And herein lies the problem with Belgau's reasoning in my mind. Belgau seems to be arguing that a same sex attracted person should go through their entire life viewing committed love - the love known by married people - as a threat. It is a risk he would rather avoid.

This is very different than a healthy celibate vocation. The celibate avoids monogamous commitment with others because she or he is intentionally trying to remain open to God in a special way, and open to other people in a special way. The celibate is not avoiding the risks of violating an abstract principle, but embracing a different mode of loving than a married person.

Love is precisely about taking risks, and that is what Bonhoeffer is describing as the cost of discipleship. The cost of discipleship is that when you love others as Christ loves, you will be hurt in this life.

Then, there are the theological problems I have with Belgau's reasoning.

First, the three principles of married love do not always apply within heterosexual marriage even according to the most orthodox or conservative interpretation of Church teaching.

When a married couple practices natural family planning, they are not expressing the procreative dimension of human sexuality. Infertile couples are also permitted marriage:
Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking. (GS 50)
These two instances indicate to me that the Holy Spirit is saying through the Church that the unitive dimension of sexuality actually takes a sort of precedence over the procreative dimension of sexuality when we consider sexual acts.

This is also clear if we consider why rape is a sin even if it leads to procreation, and even if a husband is the one who rapes his wife! Rape lacks consensual self donation - and is therefore not an expression of unitive love.

What about complementarity?

As far as I know, no such concept exists in any document of the Church written prior to Vatican II, and including Vatican II. As far as I know, this concept is not found in the infallible definitions of the Church. It seems probable to me that the concept was wholly introduced as a theological concept by Pope John Paul II. I may be incorrect on this, but I simply am not aware of anyone else before this pontificate raising this type of argument. That doesn't make it wrong, but it does make it a progressive development of doctrine that needs to be explored carefully.

His Holiness uses the concept not only in his teaching incorporated in the Catechism regarding homosexuality, but it is part of his theology for why women should not be ordained. In John Paul's world view, the entire universe (or at least humanity) seems to be divided into masculine and feminine polarities that complete one another when brought together in a unity that respects distinction.

It is fair to ask if John Paul II is right about this concept. On the positive side, applied to homosexuality, the concept does make sense to most heterosexual people, and even quite a few gay people. A number of people seem to grasp the concept as it applies to women's ordination as well. It even seems pretty Scriptural in hindsight as we reflect on Genesis (in the divine image God made them, male and female). So, it passes the tests of Scripture, reason, and magisterial authority doesn't it?

My question is how do hermaphrodites and heterosexual male celibates fit into this scheme?

On the first question, I am not sure what gender a hermaphrodite actually is. Every "conservative" theologian I have read who addresses the issue brushes the question aside with a wave of the hand by stating hermaphrodites are a rare anomaly and/or a mutation not intended by God.

To say that hermaphrodism is a mutation not intended by God seems to go beyond what we can know from any source of knowledge, whether revealed or natural. The only thing I can know about hermaphrodites is that they exist, and that God permits their being in the here and now.

Calling them mutants seems off base as I consider a theology of the body that looks forward to the resurrection of the dead. I can believe in the possibility that the blind may see, since blindness is the lack of sight. What does the hermaphrpodite lack - maleness or femaleness? What will they be at the resurrection of the dead?

On the issue of numbers of hermaphrodites, I don't see that it matters if there were only one hermaphrodite in all of history, or ten million. The issue remains that if there are any hermaphrodites, we cannot really say with certainty that God intends the entire world (or all of humanity) be split into gender polarities - at least not in an absolute sense.

On the second question of heterosexual male celibates, if a man is not complete without his female counterpart, would it not be a sin to remain celibate (i.e. - less than perfect, less than whole, less than complete, less than the purpose for which we are made)?

I ask about a male celibate in particular because one might argue that female celibate is completed by God the Father or Jesus Christ.

Of course, since Christ is presumed celibate, it is absurd to argue that celibacy is a sin. Yet, making the notion of complementarity a dogmatic theological axiom implies celibacy is a sin. Thus, I would say we should be very cautious about dogmatizing this concept without further reflection.

I am somewhat of an empiricist when it comes to theology. I believe that we need to examine the world, and infer general principles from it, rather than trying to create general concepts, and then force the world into those categories.

When I say we look at the world and infer general principles, I mean all that lies within our experience. This "world" includes the Bible, Vatican documents, the writing of saints, the reflections of theologians, and our pastor's homilies, etc....and it also includes the things outside of religion, such as natural sciences, art, politics, philosophy and whatever we learn from our day to day experiences. Then we take all of this and form a synthesis looking for God's will in the whole.

In forming this synthesis, I am not saying all of our experiences have equal weight. Certainly, an infallible definition by the magisterium will outweigh the opinion of a theologian (or my own opinion).

Yet, when a teaching that is not infallibly defined invites us to absolutize an abstract general principle that does not correlate perfectly with the physical world and the rest of our religious experience, we need to be cautious with that principle. Rather than trying to fit the world into the concept, it may be better to try to develop the concept to more accurately reflect the world.

I actually do believe that the Holy Father is on to something with the principle of complementarity between the sexes. However, he is treading new theological ground with this concept, and he tends to want to absolutize it in a fashion that I believe is hasty and does not correlate with reality. I believe he is trying to fit the world into his concept, rather than letting the world guide him to a better understanding of his own innovative theological speculation.

There are hermaphrodites, male heterosexual celibates, infertile heterosexual married couples, and married heterosexuals who practice natural family planning. All of these instances demonstrate that complementarity and procreation do not always apply in all loving relationships. The important thing seems to be the unitive dimension of love - the ability to commit to a partnership with another to form a communion of persons.

So, I'm just throwing this out there, but it seems to me that if God is active in the world, and the natural order leads to inferences about the divine order, the existence of homosexual persons seems to tell me that maybe God intended homosexuality for a reason. Maybe God's ways are not our ways, as the prophet Isaiah said. Maybe instead of trying to fit people into an abstract category in our minds, we should let our abstractions be inferred from reality. Maybe God is trying to tell us something through persons with same sex attractions.

Maybe God allows people to be irrevocably gay and lesbian to remind all of us that our gender complementarity does not preclude real love with those of the same sex. Perhaps my gay brothers are not only allowed to be gay by God, but were made gay by God to remind me and my heterosexual brothers that we can and should be tender with one another, and sensitive to one another, and loving to one another. Perhaps lesbian women call out the energies in women that is more strong willed and independent like the stereotypical male.

It's not that androgeny is our goal, nor is it that gender complementarity doesn't exist. Rather, perhaps God has placed variation in the species that calls us to avoid complete polarization where distinction becomes separation.

Is the gay man or lesbian women called to celibacy?

Perhaps some are - but nobody is called to celibacy for the reasons Beglau indicates. If fear of risk is your motive, you're remaining chaste for reasons that could prevent you from loving - and love is the crown virtue. It would be better to risk sexual experience and fall head over heels in love than to cut yourself off from all possibility of loving. This is probably why God made sexual desire so powerful, and grace builds on nature.

I think that adult homosexual people seeking to live in consensual, monogamous, committed partnership are morally akin to infertile heterosexual couples. Their relations are no more selfish lust than infertile heterosexual couples. Their relationships are no less loving, and I would even venture to say that gender complementarity finds its way into homosexual relationships in the sense that there are "butch" and "femmes" among lesbians and gays.

But how do we square all of this Scripture and Tradition? The short answer is that the Bible says very little about homosexual acts and the historical context of the very few passages that are there are not clear. The longer answer can be found here.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 2:35 PM

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