To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic Pastor Explains Why He Marched in Pride Parade

July 14, 2013

Last month,  we reported on Catholic faith communities marching in LGBT Pride marches in Portland, Oregon and the Baltimore-Washington, DC region.  We’ve recently learned of several more demonstrations of Catholic support of Pride events in three more U.S. events.

SEATTLE

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

Thanks to blogger Michael Bayly of The Wild Reedwe learned about a Seattle, Washington pastor who announced in his parish newsletter “Why Am I In the Parade?”   Father John D. Whitney, SJ, of St. Joseph’s parish, Seattle,  introduced the explanation of  his participation by referring to Acts 10: 28:

“You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.”

This passage occurs in the story of St. Peter visiting the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Fr. Whitney explicates the meaning:

“The head of the apostles is called to testify that God’s grace is greater than the members of the Church can hope or imagine, and that their understanding of the Church must continue to develop as the mystery of God’s redemptive love continues to be revealed in all of nature and in every culture. What surprises Peter, what will become a starting point for Paul, and what continues to challenge the Church even today is how vast the mercy of God is, a mercy that denies the notion that anything which is human can be profane; a mercy that encompasses every human heart, every aspect of human nature.”

Fr. Whitney reminded parishioners of the parish’s participation in last year’s Pride parade and what that meant to them:

“Last year, for the first time, members of the St. Joseph community marched in the Pride Parade to indicate our solidarity with and respect for our homosexual sisters and brothers. Like Peter entering the house of Cornelius, it was a moment that would be considered unlawful and scandalous to those who see members of this community as profane or unclean; yet, for me, and I believe for others who chose to be present in this march, it was a moment of grace, when we could witness the power of the Holy Spirit moving in this community, so often alienated from the Church of Christ.”

Fr. Whitney closes the essay with an eloquent expression of why he chose to march this year:

This year, I am going to the Pride Parade again, and I have supported St. Joseph’s presence in it, as well. I have done so not out of opposition to anyone; but, rather, in support of the sisters and brothers of our community who seek to live faithfully in the way that God has made them and the Spirit has called them. I am going to support the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the friends and companions of our gay and lesbian parishioners, who have pride in their daughters and sons and
who long to have them feel loved and welcomed at the  table of Christ and in the body of the Church. I am going to evangelize, to bear witness, by my presence and, if needed, by my words, that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, is not a place of hatred and rejection; but a communion of loved sinners called in humility to grow and learn through the grace of the Holy Spirit. I am going to the parade because I want to enter the house of Cornelius, where I have already seen the signs of the Spirit;
because I want those in whose very nature is God’s blessing, to know that Christ longs for them with mercy and with love, asking them not to hide or reject their natural identity, but to see in that identity a way home to God.

Fr. Whitney was one of about a dozen Seattle Archdiocese parishes who last year chose not to collect signatures to put the state’s marriage equality law up for a referendum.

MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL

Catholics CELEBRATING Marriage Equality in the Twin Cities.

Catholics CELEBRATING Marriage Equality in the Twin Cities.

Also on The Wild Reed, Michael Bayly also wrote up an account of the Pride Festival in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, describing Catholic participation at the event.  Though last year Bayly organized “Catholics for Marriage Equality” in the state,  this year, the group edited its name to “Catholics Celebrating Marriage Equality,” reflecting that the state recently adopted a marriage law for gay and lesbian couples and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.

Similarly, Dick Bernard, who blogs for the Twin Cities Daily Planetreflected on the role of Catholics in the state’s marriage equality debates.  He noted that on the day of the Pride Festival, his parish,  the Basilica of St. Paul, prayed  “for respect for all people [including their] sexuality.”

NEW YORK CITY

Nicholas and David march in NYC Pride parade.

Nicholas and David march in NYC Pride parade.

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with the case of Nicholas Coppola, the New York parish volunteer dismissed from his ministries because he married his partner, David.

The couple marched this year in New York City’s Pride Parade and their photo was featured on The Huffington Post.   The article accompanying their photo is entitled “10 Signs Displayed in the 2013 NYC Pride March That You Should Read and Remember.”  Number five on that list is “Married Gay Catholics USA.”  Noting the strong support for marriage equality among Catholic lay people, author Murray Lipp remarks:

“It is important for gay Catholics to speak openly about their marriages and for straight Catholics who support equality to continue to speak up both within and outside of the church.”

All three examples–Seattle, the Twin Cities, New York–show the power and importance of witnessing for Catholic support of LGBT equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What Should We Do? Rejoice!

December 16, 2012

The liturgical readings for the third Sunday of Advent are Zephaniah 3: 14-18a, Philippians 4: 4-7, and Luke 3:10-18. You can view the readings here http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121612.cfm .

How long must we wait before the entire church, including the hierarchy, treats LGBT people as equals?  That question has been put to me many times in my years working here at New Ways Ministry.  It is usually asked in a despairing tone, with no expectation that a positive answer will be offered.

rejoicingThe readings from today’s liturgy, however, do offer a positive answer to that question of how long we must wait.  The answer is we don’t have to wait.  The reign of God is already here.  It’s up to us to recognize and live that reign of justice and equality, and one way to do that is simply to rejoice!

Rejoicing is what today’s readings urge us to do.  Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete (Latin for “Rejoice”) Sunday.  Why should we rejoice, especially when we see so much injustice surrounding us?  Because, as Christians we believe that God is already with us in the struggle for justice.  In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah says:

“Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.”

And in the second reading, St. Paul exhorts us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all. . .”

We are faced here with one of the great Christian paradoxes:  we are awaiting God, yet God is already with us.  The appearance that God is not already with us makes it tempting for us to despair.  The fact, revealed by faith, that God is indeed with us causes us to rejoice.

Rejoicing can help our spirits.  It can remind us of God’s presence with us even when empirical facts seem to proclaim an absence.  Rejoicing helps us to believe: it strengthens our faith that God’s reign has come.  And with our faith strengthened, we can start doing the works of mercy and justice that will actually make our faith in the reign of God more manifest to others and to ourselves.

In the Gospel, the followers of John the Baptist, who has been preparing people for the reign of God, ask him “What should we do?”  John tells his followers (and us) that we need to start acting out the reign of God:  act justly, live mercifully, do the things that you expect to see when God’s reign is in effect.    In effect he is telling them the same message from the much-quoted saying of Gandhi:  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

For those involved in the work of justice and equality for LGBT people, today’s readings challenge us in two ways.  First, we must not give into despair, but, instead, rejoice.  God is already with us!  Others in the church may not yet see it, but we know that it is true.   The glass is half-full.  Already wonderful things are happening in the church that reflect God’s reign of justice for LGBT people.

Second, to hasten God’s reign and make it more evident, we need to live as if that reign already existed.  So many of you already do that: you act with justice and equality towards LGBT people and you continue to struggle for their rights.  Those are the kinds of actions that make our church and society more welcoming places.  Those are the kinds of actions that are more powerful than any homophobic nay-sayers.  Those are the kinds of actions that make God present in the world and call for even greater rejoicing!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Embracing the Superabundance of Love

December 2, 2012

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent are Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, and Luke 21:25-28, 34-36. You can view the readings here.

As Advent begins, Catholics worldwide prepare themselves for Christ’s entrance into creation. In the already/not yet nature of Christianity, these weeks both anticipate Christ’s coming anew and celebrate  the Incarnation that brought us a historical Jesus. Each week we hear encouraging messages of hope, joy, and peace.

For LGBT advocates within the Church, we begin this Advent  on a particularly positive note with recent victories for marriage equality and as we witness a growing trend of acceptance, affirmation, and welcome amongst Catholics at large.

In this hope-filled Advent context, this Sunday’s readings seem jarring in their use of  harsh apocalyptic images to refer to the coming of God’s kingdom, which is elsewhere shown as peaceful and just. Catholic LGBT advocates also know of the harshness of a hierarchy doubling down in its oppressive anti-equality work as we struggle to ensure each person and every family are legally protected, at a bare minimum.

Luke’s gospel (Lk 21:25-28) has Jesus identifying nations in dismay, roaring seas, death from fright, and the powers of the heavens as signs of this new era when God’s justice will reign. Jesus’ further exhortation to be ready for what will surprise us and to remain strong during the trials seems a tall order. Jesus’ words can seem terrifying for the Christian — exactly the opposite of what we desire to aid us at Advent’s hopeful beginning.

Thankfully, the second reading from First Thessalonians contextualizes how preparedness, vigilance, and prayer demanded by Jesus may be lived out. Paul writes to the emerging community in Thessalonica in this pastoral letter, the earliest book of the New Testament and thus in close proximity to earliest Christian belief.

Couched amid apocalyptic passages, the reading today comes from Paul’s blessing for the community. We hear two parts proclaimed. The first desires an increase in love and the second calls for a strong Christian witness by the early Christians (1 Thes 3:12-4:2):

“Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

“Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”

We in the 21st century Church find ourselves desperately requiring this same blessing that the Thessalonians received. Paul does not merely pray that they may love, but directly addresses Christ in his prayer. To quote the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Paul “asks for a superabundance of love directed within and beyond the community” where the apostles lead by their humble witness.

In this, Paul demands the Church’s ministers lead by examples of love, and we can hope that the bishops and other church leaders will do the same. Given present affairs, we cannot wait on them to be loving witnesses to Christ — this superabundance of love must come from the laity and supportive religious and clergy. In this preparatory period of Advent, when we begin life with Christ again, it is this superabundance that might be a powerful focal point.

Superabundance isn’t a sufficient amount; it isn’t even more than necessary. Superabundance is gratuitous. It is overflowing. It is uncompromised, unrestrained, and perhaps unwieldy.

A superabundance means all, without exception, find their places in community and all, without exception, find more love than would suffice for even the most suffering people. It means that LGBT persons with their loved ones, their children and their families, their friends and their allies are not merely accepted, but eagerly invited to participate in a life with Christ anew.

I challenge myself this Advent to extend beyond just working out of love for structural changes and legal victories. These are essential, but only loving an ordinary amount comes from a love that two millennia of Christianity has tamed far too greatly.

This Advent, while we ready the way for Christ, let us re-embrace the superabundance of love found amid the earliest Christians, unconcerned with doctrinaire thinking and always concerned with how the community enacted its faith-filled witness.

Then we can be Christians that will stand before Jesus when God’s kingdom nears, confident that in loving superabundantly each person we lived well.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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