Caritas – Above All, Caritas

Stirring words from Dale Martin:

Any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church's stand on Adulteresshomosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover's voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends?…

All appeals to "what the Bible says" are ideological and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love. To people who say this is simplistic, I say, far from it. There are no easy answers. "Love" will not work as a foundation for ethics in a prescriptive or predictable fashion either — as can be seen by all the injustices, imperialisms, and violence committed in the name of love. But rather than expecting the answer to come from a particular method of reading the Bible, we at least push the discussion to where it ought to be: into the realm of debates about Christian love, rather than into either fundamentalism or modernist historicism.

We ask the question that must be asked: "What is the loving thing to do?"

That's from Martin's book, "Sex And The Single Savior." What I love about the passage above is that it forces doctrine to confront the challenge of experience. My view is that even if you cannot abandon the view that homosexual sex is wrong because it is not procreative, you can still see the broader Christian good of homosexual relationships in civil marriage and mutual commitment, compared with the practical alternative for these children of God.

In practice, in other words, the total proscription of homosexual acts fails the caritas test. Ask yourself a simple question: how many celibate Christian homosexuals manage to avoid masturbating? It answers itself. The homosexual person cannot divest him or herself from her own body and the body has a sexuality, whose total repression will only come at a great cost: a warped, slowly distorting and often lonely psyche, depression, anger, the adoption of some kind of public mask, the constant necessity of deception if you are closeted, the recourse to acting out sexually because it is the only way you know to express sexuality (outside of love and intimacy) … and on and on.

In my early twenties, I came to a simple conclusion in my conscience. If I did what the Church wanted, and turned myself into a repressed, wounded, sexually-maladjusted character, I would – practically speaking – become far less Christian in my whole life than if I surrendered to what God made me; and tried, in honesty and sincerity, to live as good a life as I could. I was worried about what I was becoming after 23 years living under the weight of dogma: someone whose internal repression prompted me to want to control others, a creature of euphemism and deception with all the soul-corruption that constant dishonesty brings, and, frankly, the bitterness and anger that permanent lack of bodily intimacy will surely encourage and foster. I've seen it. I lived among the walking wounded of the generations older than me. No one should feel forced to live that way. And the cruelty it requires is not something one can find even a glimmer of in the Gospels.

At some point, the critical mass of tortured repressed gay hierarchs who cling to this doctrine with white knuckles and crippled hearts will give way to caritas and perspective and healing. And even as the hierarchy darkens, you can see, if you look closely, where the light is creeping in.