Friday, July 1, 2016

Quote for Day: "The Church's Position on Homosexuality Illustrates Why It's So Important to Link Ethical Claims to the Reality of Human Suffering"

At Salon, Sean Illing argues that with his comments about apologizing to gay people, Pope Francis did not go far enough in addressing the anti-LGBTQ effects of the institution he leads. As Illing notes, 

Intolerance of gay people is byproduct of religious instruction. It's sanctioned in the holy books and it's codified in church doctrines. 

In his view, many Christians manage to do what decent people always do, when confronted with untenable ethical positions in their sacred scriptures: they follow sound ethical intuitions which tell them that such ethical positions are insupportable even if they are embedded in scripture: he writes,  

Christians condemn gay people not because of what they do but because of who they are, and they do so for purely theological reasons. Millions of Christians offer solidarity and love to LGBT people, but that’s an ethical intuition they bring to their faith from outside it. They do what most decent religious people do: pirouette around the parts of the Bible they find violent or regressive.

And then he concludes, powerfully,

The Church's position on homosexuality illustrates why it's so important to link ethical claims to the reality of human suffering. Religious people often confuse doctrinal obedience with ethical responsibility, but these are different things. There is no ethical reason to judge a gay person on account of his or her homosexuality. And yet religion gives good people bad reasons to do just that. When Francis said gay people need pastoral care, what he means is that they're fallen and need spiritual guidance. But that assumes they’re broken or defective. What gay people need is what all people need: love. What Francis offered was judgment masquerading as compassion. 
Absent a meaningful theological shift within the church, nothing the pope says or does will suffice. Ideas matter. Dogmas matter. You can't fault the Church for the all the sins of its members, but to the extent that specific Catholic doctrines are responsible for those sins, the Church is to blame. Thus, if Francis is going to apologize for his church’s offenses against gay people, he ought to denounce the doctrines from which those offenses spring. 

I agree with this good analysis, and this is why I'm sharing it here (with thanks to Rachel Fitzgerald Shumway for pointing me to it). I'd add, however, that the ethical intuitions available to us which urge us to reject the gay-bashing impulses of our sacred scriptures and doctrinal teachings are to be found not only outside the churches, as Illing maintains, but are also freely available within our scriptures and doctrinal teachings, as well.

The question confronting us is what we want to cling to, in the multi-faceted, multivalent tradition transmitted to us by the Christian churches. In the 19th century, we went through a roiling debate about this very issue over the question of slavery. Conservative Christians in the American South rightly pointed out in this debate that the testimony of the Jewish and Christian scriptures was heavily weighted in favor of the practice of slavery. They noted that for almost two millennia, Christian churches had taught that slavery was a morally acceptable practice for Christians.

But as other groups both within and outside the churches then began to note, there are also important strands within the Judaeo-Christian scriptures and Christian tradition which militate against the practice of slavery, and make it impossible to reconcile with Christian faith — if we take those strands seriously and grant them the primacy they deserve in a religious tradition which claims that the whole law is summed up by love.

For many Christians today, the commitment of some Christian leaders to the denigration and exclusion of LGBTQ people on the ground that such denigration and exclusion are warranted by the bible and Christian tradition constitutes a serious stumbling block, as they try to maintain connection to Christian churches. This commitment takes one part of the tradition which militates strongly against the most central affirmations of Christian faith, and gives it idolatrous status within the Christian churches today, claiming that the churches stand or fall on their willingness to denigrate and exclude LGBTQ people.

As Illing rightly says, think about all of this in light of the real human suffering it produces for real human beings, and it is very difficult to invoke Jesus as the author of such suffering. Jesus, who never said a single word about sexual orientation, but who had a mouthful to say about love, mercy, and justice . . . .

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