Many people are wisely avoiding theological argument and using secular arguments to promote marriage to the world. When engaging with non Christians it is what must be done. But today I want to ponder things from a clear Catholic perspective:
Contract marriages, quick and easy divorce, a proliferation of pornography, the loss of tax relief for married couples, an economic system frustrating stay at home mothers by demanding dual income to pay mortgages, political ambivalence to extra marital affairs, a media saturated with portrayals of casual sex without consequence. All these and more work against family life in modern Britain. There is an underlying self indulgence in societies view of relationships. Sex existing, within this society of the individual, for the chief purpose of adult gratification and not the building up of family life.
It stands in stark contrast to Catholic teaching which upholds the family as something sacred promoting responsibility over rights and fidelity and service of spouse over gratification of self. Unlike society it fiercely protects life from the womb to the tomb. Here sex is never divorced from its consequences and thus ever linked to its clear God given purpose, procreation. Sex very much exists for the building up of family life.
Christian philosophy therefore views modern societal attitudes to sex disordered and sinful. And like all sin it results in devastating consequences. Thousands of abortions each year. A multi billion pound sex industry which enslaves both those acting and those watching. People, far from being upheld as sacred, made in the image of God, become objects for selfish gratification. To be discarded once used.
The point is surely indisputable. The world advocates hedonistic indulgence to the point it no longer even believes self control is possible, let alone desirable. An attitude that turns sex, both normative and perverse, into a fundamental human right so long as consent is involved. The recent decision to refuse blocks on Internet pornography being another sign of moral downfall. Clearly avoiding embarrassment for adults having to opt in, is preferable to protecting children whose families have no idea as to how to opt out. This despite clear evidence that most teens have viewed extreme content online.
Within this permissive culture selection of life style and partner also centre on adult desire and not children’s needs. Serial monogamy is normative and too often little ones must navigate through the utter chaos thrown up by the convoluted sex lives of parents. Spiritual and moral confusion abounds. Any soap opera teaches that. We reap the sorrow an over sexualised culture sows.
Yet it is from within this culture, with its rampant philosophy of self, that Mr. Cameron, is claiming moral authority to lecture the church on matters of marriage and sexuality. What cheek! If only he could discern why the church resists him and respect it enough to listen. For the Catholic church is now almost alone in pointing to the sanctity of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman for the clear and obvious purpose of procreation. The ideal union in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance with God’s will as revealed by scripture and tradition.
Catholic teaching offers Christians two ways in which sexuality can be lived. Christ centred celibacy or Christ centred marriage. Both calling us to ensure that sex is never divorved from love of God and others. Passion linked to something sacred. They achieve it in slightly different ways.
Celibacy is not merely the avoiding of sex but an active and prayerful engagement with God. The world naturally scorns celibacy, seeing it as redundant or dysfunctional. It doesn’t believe it possible. But the bible teaches celibacy is not only possible but uplifting and deeply sacred. A state every Christian will encounter at some point. All unmarried people should strive to achieve it. For some it will be temporary. For others a state following the loss of a spouse. For others a permanent state.But whenever it happens, its purpose is identical. And it is open to Christians of all orientations. The gay and the straight.
Christ Centred Marriage is not, as our over sexualised culture imagines, the easier option. The way to get your jollies! In fact, if properly lived out, it is every bit as demanding as celibacy. In marriage we sacrifice self to service of spouse. Sexual union is not about gratification here. It is about giving wholly of ourselves to another. Expressed, in part, through intercourse. But if we do this without loving our spouse, if only using their body for release, if thinking of another person, we are in the realm of sin. Marriage is a forum for healthy sex then but no guarantee of it. Which is why marriage is as challenging as celibacy as any couple will tell you. Both are possible, both are difficult. Both require grace.
Now should Catholic standards be expected of non Christians? Well we have no authority to insist on this and for that reason I can accept a society, though not endorse it, that creates civil unions where necessary. But as regards the definition of marriage itself the line is drawn. For it is something shared by church and society and as Christians we must remember why this s important.
So let us turn to the issue of our day. The clamour for so called ‘gay marriage.’The question for Christians in particular is this. Why should homosexuals be barred from Christ centred marriage. Surely if love is from God we could include them as well?
The first problem lies in the fact that any sex within a same sex union is automatically divorced from its procreative potential and function. Which is, according to Christian teaching, against natural law. This is not the same as a barren couple because, in this case, the potential is there and they model a union in which it normally would be.
Homosexual sex is unique then in always being unable to produce life. It lacks the fruit of heterosexual union. Subsequently the only tangible result of gay sex outside of genital gratification is kinship. Something which doesn’t require sex to produce. Now if homosexual unions are sacred, why does God deprive them of children? This is a theological dilemma for those believing in a created order and God’s revelation.
Another difficulty has to do with the acceptance of ‘the other’ required by marriage. Homosexuality only encompasses love for one who is the same. What I am driving at -is that homosexuality leads away from complementarily of genders to a polarising of the sexes. This is seen in its fullness by the way in which the bodies of two men or women do not fit together like man and woman combined. Suggesting homosexual sex is not part of God’s design. Here is the teaching of St. Paul
‘Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with one another and received in their own persons the penalty for their error.’
By quoting scripture we uncover the biggest problem of all. Not a single text supports homosexual sex. Wherever it is mentioned it is viewed as a perversion of God’s purpose. Those wanting to change church teaching have tried two tactics to get around this. The first is to begin tenuous explanations. Twisting the meaning in each particular text. Arguing that emphasis is actually on, rape, cultic temple practice etc.. But when all the explanations are placed together, it becomes apparent that this is clutching at straws. Scripture is against homosexual sex. And even if we do choose to follow tenuous re-interpretation, it only becomes silent. It is still not supportive. Anywhere.
Realising this fact the second tactic is to dismiss the texts altogether. Claiming culture has changed since Christ, so the Bible is no longer relevant. Well culture may have changed but humanity hasn’t! To dismiss scripture by saying that modern homosexual sex is different to that of the ancient world is deeply dishonest. Classical literature dismisses that idea. Human behaviour has changed very little, if at all. There are plenty of references to loving homosexual unions in Roman and Greek texts. They were very much known about when the bible was written. It was only Judaism that would not tolerate it…which Christians state began the divine revelation.
What we are seeing here is classic ‘arrow up’ theology. Where you ignore the parts of scripture you dislike. But where then are the limits? Who is to choose the obsolete teachings? And even worse, why has God done a U-turn after two thousand years? Soon anything out of the ordinary needs dismissing. Including the miraculous? If we follow such thinking then the bible stops telling us what to believe; we use it instead to believe what we want.
Marriage between homosexuals is impossible then if we are serious about the bible and historic teaching. Such unions fall short of the requirements of marriage, set out in scripture and two thousand years of tradition. Without the possibility of children and the acceptance of the complementary gender we simply have no authority to change the laws of God. Not least when heterosexual marriage runs like a river through all scripture from the creation of Adam and Eve to the marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church, in Revelation.
There only exists then one final possibility to endorse homosexual sex. That is the option to bless rather than marry homosexual unions. Could this be a third way, not equal to but nonetheless acceptable in God’s eyes? Sadly the notion of marriage as a sacrament dismisses this.
Just as a priest needs Gods’ authority through ordination, so couples need God’s authority in marriage. For a wedding is, in fact, the licence from God to be sexually active. A covenant of responsibility. The moment God formally enters a relationship. Jesus said
‘From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…therefore what God has joined together, let no-one separate’ (Mark 10 4-9)
Sex outside marriage lacks this joining of God. It is akin to saying mass without being ordained. ‘At best harmless play acting at worst dangerous blasphemy!’ For even if the fruits seem good, non marital sex can never be spiritually validated. It is without God’s special license. That is not to say its necessarily as wicked as murder, for example, but it certainly falls short of the ideal of marriage. And ‘to fall short’ is the very definition of sin. And sin blocks us from grace.
When this is understood we realise that blessing rather than marrying homosexuals is gobbledegook. We cannot bless what is not authorised by God. That would be like praising the person play-acting as priest. And in any case, I Ed, have no blessing to give. I can only impart God’s blessing. And if marriage is by definition the blessing of unions, the suggested distinction in blessing unions not marriages does not even exist.
I must conclude then, Catholicism teaches that active homosexuality is not consistent with biblical teaching. Homosexuals are called to celibacy. Something difficult to achieve but no tougher than the call to Godly marriage. Many of us fail at both – I know I have- but the important thing is to recognise that God works with us in our failures as well as our triumphs and grace and mercy abound.
The person who is drawn to another of the same sex, may love that person fully, but not sexually. Just like the married person infatuated with someone other than their spouse; must learn how to control the desire. They should seek God’s help in transforming this destructive desire into something more sacred. And confession exists for those who struggle.
So we end up with a situation in which the world might well accept active gay unions where the church does not. We might salute the desire to afford those unions respect and legal protection. But for the person seeking fidelity to the church the standard is demanding for all. Christ centred celibacy or Christ centred marriage. Thank goodness there is love and forgiveness for all when we struggle and even sometimes fail.