Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Love versus Sentimentality

Fr. James Martin has a piece in America Magazine entitled "Simply Loving" where he outlines what he believes to be the correct Catholic response to the issues presented by same sex relationships and same sex marriage.
Everybody knows that same-sex marriage and homosexual acts are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Yet that same teaching also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian Catholics are entering into these unions. This leaves some Catholics feeling caught between two values: church teaching against same-sex marriage and church teaching in favor of compassion....

Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?

Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.
Of course, part of the issue here is that gay and lesbian are terms that culturally are closely associated with practice as well as inclination. This may or may not be right. I've read some faithful Catholics who are attracted to members of the same sex make the case for openly using their orientation as an identity, and others make the contrary case. But either way, I think what's Fr. Martin's illustration fails to recognize is that while there is a cultural assumption that married people are against adultery (and that adultery is a violation of social expectation), when someone identifies as gay there is a cultural assumption that that person is looking to engage in sexual relationships with members of the same sex.

That said, it seems to me that the suggestion Fr. Martin makes in jest is not actually all that far from the kind of preaching one would have heard through much of the Church's history, and returning to that would not necessarily be a bad idea.

Fr. Martin tries to draw a lesson from the story of Zacchaeus on how the Church should deal with the call to conversion versus simply embracing someone:
The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.
I think his illustration with Zacchaeus misses the point a bit. We repeatedly see Jesus encounter people with the assumption that the encounter will make a turning point in their lives. The calling of the disciples is a key example of this. Jesus just comes up to them and tells them to follow Him. He doesn't lay out, "This is the way that I expect my followers to live, and this is why. Now, what do you think? Do you want to take on this lifestyle?" No, Jesus just approaches people with the assumption that they will change their lives as a result. I think that's arguably what we see with Zacchaeus and the other examples of Jesus going after the "lost sheep of Israel". Jesus doesn't just meet people where they are and encourage them to feel good about themselves just the way they are, He meets people where they are and tells them to follow him. Not just in a wear as WWJD and go to church every so often kind of way, but in a drop everything and leave your home town kind of way.

However, this doesn't mean that Jesus didn't demand change of people. For an example that ends differently from that of Zacchaeus, it's interesting to consider the rich young man:
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’”

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
I think we tend to gloss over this story because the young man is the ultimate "other" -- he's rich. Thus, he tends to be seen as beyond the realm of sympathy. But think for a second what happens here. The young man comes to Jesus and asks how he can be saved. Jesus gives him a standard answer, but the young man asks what more he can. Then "Jesus, looking at him, loved him", and immediately asks him to do something very hard: give up the things which make him happy and follow Jesus instead. So yes, Jesus to use Fr. Martin's phrase "simply loves" the young man -- but then he immediately asks him to do something very hard. And when the young man doesn't, Jesus doesn't say, "Look, it's okay. Live with us in communion for a while, and maybe it'll get easier and you'll feel like you can give up your possessions bit by bit." He watches him walk away and then turns to his disciples and uses him as an example of how people like him are unlikely to be saved.

This is the same Jesus who meets Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is also a rich man -- though we tend to overlook that a bit since he's presented as an outcast -- and I think it's worth thinking: If Zacchaeus had not experienced a conversion would Jesus have acted any differently towards him than towards the rich young man?

It's in his closing that I think Fr. Martin goes most badly off the rails:
What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.
First off, I think it's a mistake to see the Church as "infinitely poorer" for the lack of some group. This applies to anyone. The Church would not be infinitely poorer if I left it. I would be infinitely poorer for not being a member of the Body of Christ, but the Church itself would still be the Church.

This also shows a dangerous tendency to identify people as symbols of their group rather than persons, which would be disturbing even were the group he's talking about not identified primarily by affinity to a mortal sin. To the extent that it's accurate to say that the Church is poorer for the lack of someone, it's in that each person is meant to repose in Christ. Thus, a person who is excluded (or excludes himself) from the Church is a loss in that his soul is meant to be one with Christ. He's not a loss because he's a totemic member of a group which we condescendingly feel the need to hug particularly close.

An excessive eagerness to love the category actually ends up extinguishing the person.


Brandon said...

One of the things that strikes me about Martin's recommendations is just how absurdly vague the practical suggestions are given the argument that he just gave. We're to listen -- OK, how? Is it just taking time to listen when it comes up or is it supposed to be some official or quasi-official process, or what? We're to value contributions and publicly acknowledge individual contributions. So the entire recommendation is that they talk and then everybody else talks.

Nearly every 'practical' recommendation I have ever seen in America has boiled down to he same thing: What will solve this problem? Lots more words.

Crude said...

I'm glad you pointed out the nonsense of the 'infinitely poorer' line. I'm tired of that kind of exaggeration - not with this particular topic, but just in general.

Otherwise, I second what Brandon has said. What are these recommendations supposed to cash out to? I agree that a different approach is needed, compared to what I think currently takes place. But the trajectory of Martin's comments doesn't seem helpful, and - I think Darwin got into this - doesn't seem to come with any expectation on the part of LGB Catholics.

One key difference between married Catholics and LGB Catholics is that, as far as I know, there's not exactly a big, organized, and powerful social movement demanding acceptance of adultery. Is expecting LGB Catholics to hold themselves apart from that movement too far in Martin's view? If so, I don't think Martin has much advice of value on this front.

Itinérante said...

I am a bit confused did not Zacchaeus climbed a hard long tree to see Jesus before he was called to dinner?

And another thing that confuses me:"What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole."
Is he talking about gays and lesbians in the church, as in people who are part of the Body?
Because if so it sounds to me like this: I come to join a people trying to live a certain call without accepting their call and I talk about my own life and expect these people to listen to my experience elsewhere without me trying to change and these people are expected to listen to my story and felicitate me on it... and later on I might want to work with them towards their call or not, that's up to me but regardless of that I just can melt in a flock that walks east and keep walking west. I really thought that we decided to join the Body of Christ because we are convinced that our west way is wrong and we want to from all our heart to walk east, that is toward God and holiness and we do it together as a Body of Brothers and sisters... I am not a Latin Catholic and this seems a bit weird to me the fact that we can keep our old way of life and talk about it as if we became the preacher and the teacher...

Jenny said...

"He's not a loss because he's a totemic member of a group which we condescendingly feel the need to hug particularly close."

I love this sentence!

Paul Zummo said...

As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage

I know it's beside the main point, but since I've been sitting on a blog post about this for over a month, I'll just say that this turn of phrase bugs me. Gay marriage doesn't have to be legalized because it is illegal precisely nowhere in America. Unlike polygamists, homosexuals can enter into unions that they deem marriage whenever and wherever they like. What is lacking in most states is official recognition by the state of such a union as a marriage. But the cops aren't going to be busting down anyone's doors who are in a homosexual union deemed to be a marriage. This may seem like an unimportant point, but I do think that this distinction is incredibly germane to the debate.

One of the things that strikes me about Martin's recommendations is just how absurdly vague the practical suggestions are given the argument that he just gave.

Fr. Martin is an expert at using passive-aggressive and vague language in an effort to maintain plausible deniability that he is a material heretic.

Sparky said...

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Want to destroy any possibility of a real conversation? Break this old chestnut out when someone asks what the problem is with just about any pet sin.

Sorry, I know he didn't actually use it and was just making it an example. I just really dislike when I see people saying it and wondering why they don't gain any traction in a conversation.

Foxfier said...

Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.”

False comparison; "We love our swinger Catholics-- but adultery is a mortal sin" would be an analog.

The difference is there aren't very many publicly "swinger" folks.

(Pretty much your point in response, but slightly different direction; 'gay' is used almost exclusively to mean those who are sexually active, not just who have same sex attraction.)

Foxfier said...

Paul Z-
Also, most states aren't passing laws to recognize homosexual marriage. Their legally enacted laws explictitly saying "Marriage is marriage" are being overturned by activists who often shouldn't have even been on the case. (Would you have a mother who lost custody of her kids rule on a law saying women always get custody?)

Tamsin said...

Thank you for a very careful discussion of where Fr. Martin's choice of words lead us.

bearing said...

". But the cops aren't going to be busting down anyone's doors who are in a homosexual union deemed to be a marriage. "

Well... not since Lawrence v. Texas. That's only since 2003. I don't think we were well served by laws that authorized that kind of violent government intrusiveness, and the memory of them is still close enough that they shouldn't be brushed off so lightly..

Foxfier said...

Well... not since Lawrence v. Texas.

Are you saying there is nothing to a homosexual marriage except sodomy?

Wow. I'm not sure if that's more offensive than "racial differences are the same as the difference between the sexes" or not. I'm pretty sure that coming from someone who opposes redefining marriage, it would be called "hateful."

Given where this is, though, it'll probably have to make do with being pointed out as equivocation and/or shifting ground.

bearing said...

I am just saying that not too long ago, it was fine & dandy for the cops to bust down the doors, and some folks are justifiably sensitive to that fact. Because of such overstepping of the government's boundaries, it's more difficult today to argue that SSM opponents are coming from a place that isn't grounded in busybodying/disgust/hatred. And it won't win you any listeners among SSM supporters to blithely toss off throwaway comments about how "the cops aren't going to bust down anyone's doors," because it makes you sound at best tone-deaf, at worst dismissive of people who had legitimate grievances about how they were treated.

Michael said...

well, Foxfier:

"Are you saying there is nothing to a homosexual marriage except sodomy?"

I don't think anyone is saying this; they can get the sodomy for free without a marriage contract. They're obviously seeking the legal/social contract for some other reason. But sex is assumed to be part of it, just as with heterosexual couples.

Of course many of them want children. It seems to me the other institutional frameworks and recognition of marriage, e.g. combined taxes, right of survivorship and inheritance, visiting each other in the hospital, are all predicated on making the marriage, and family, a supportive child-rearing unit.

Of course as Catholics, we view in-vitro, surrogacy, and gamete donation as gravely immoral, as with contraception. Sex is unitive and procreative, etc. The gay marriage thing just doesn't make sense to me without complementarity of the sexes, and without natural resultant children.

Of course many gay couples adopt; I think this is a disservice to the child. There's a lot of finger pointing and disagreement on all these issues.

Foxfier said...


You did, actually, by claiming the latter was the same as the former.

Are you now admitting, fully and without reservation, that Lawrence v. Texas had nothing to do with homosexual marriage?

Bearing did just say that; it has to be dealt with before it, like many other unsound claims before it, gets rolled into the "support" of something it does not actually support.

It's a standard tactic.

Make a shaky claim, show outrage if it's challenged, change the topic and later use the original claim as support because it was never "properly" dis-proven.

Foxfier said...

Of course many gay couples adopt; I think this is a disservice to the child. There's a lot of finger pointing and disagreement on all these issues.

I grew up with the children of several homosexual households.

A couple were even married in a church ceremony.

The sons were incredibly screwed up, even more than in most "mom left dad for someone else" families. (which we also had a large number of....)

Only one or two girls, who I didn't know well, so I don't know how it hit them. All lesbian common law marriages, so no first hand information on male homosexual households.


The boys modeled off of TV, or-- in two relatively lucky cases-- my dad and similar strong non-family member males. It still didn't work out well, but I think one of the two would go to dad if he realized he was in major trouble.

bearing said...

Go put your words in someone else's mouth. I don't play that game.

Foxfier said...

And also with you; if you would like to argue with someone, have the decency to argue with what is actually said, rather than some strawman you design.