Warning: This is not intended for younger or more sensitive readers. It is a discussion of marriage, the re-definition of the family and the current gender chaos of the culture. I mean it. Don’t leave this around where the kids can get it or you’ll be explaining things you don’t necessarily want to explain. By this, I mean s-e-x. I’m not kidding.
Dear Rev. Know it all,
I don’t mean to be inflammatory. I am an active and fairly traditional Catholic. My question is absolutely sincere. I have a dear friend, a woman, who is in a same-sex relationship of twenty years duration. She was raised as a Catholic, but is estranged from the Church and very sad because the Church won’t accept her and her life partner. She told me that she won’t even to talk to Christians because she is afraid that they will tell her she is going to hell and somewhere deep inside she is terrified that maybe they are right. What is wrong with gay marriage and why won’t the Church allow it?
Ann M. Pathic
Let me begin by answering a question that you didn’t quite ask. Your friend has doubtless been assaulted by the devout who quote St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (6:9,10):
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
That sounds pretty definitive, doesn’t it? It sounds like St. Paul says that gay people will not go to heaven. Where do you read that in the text? Heaven isn’t mentioned.
“Well,” you might say, “the kingdom of God and heaven are the same thing, aren’t they?”
Where did you learn that? The kingdom of God includes heaven when you die. I imagine that’s true, but the Kingdom of God is much, much more than heaven. Let’s look at the words themselves, first of all the word in the Greek text isn’t heaven. It’s kingdom, “basileia.” Basileia has no English translation that embodies the whole word. For us a kingdom is a political system or a geographical territory. The word basileia may include those meanings, but it primarily means kingly-ness, or the royal dignity, the royal nature. It is a quality of the king that is inherited by his children.
You will also notice that the text doesn’t mention “going to the kingdom” it says “inherit the kingdom.” The text says nothing about going to heaven. It is saying that you can’t be adopted as God’s child unless you have the nature of God. There are lots of people in this world, like me, who don’t have God’s nature in its fullness. Look at the rest of the list: fornicators and adulterers, (that’s just about everybody these days) thieves, covetous (pleonektai in Greek which means acquisitive, literally takers of more). My favorite is “revilers.” “Loidoroi” in Greek. It means verbal abusers. Quarreling spouses, overly critical parents, many bosses, gossips, and all writers of political ads fit this category.
Who then will inherit the royal dignity of God? Anybody who lets God transform their nature into His nature. This is called adoption in the Bible. We don’t just go to heaven. We get adopted and made part of the family which is God, sharing His very nature. That list that includes liars, the jealous, the acquisitive and critical people as will as thieves, swindlers, adulterers, alcoholics, and our topic, homosexuals.
The text blasts straight and gay alike, but neither heaven nor hell is mentioned. The Catholic Church may canonize saints, but in all Her history She has never definitively said that someone is in hell -- not even Judas, Stalin or Hitler -- though one may have one’s suspicion. Remember that to commit a mortal sin one must have full freedom, full knowledge of the gravity of the act and a complete turning of the will.
Other Churches may take it upon themselves to send people to hell, but not Catholics. The Catholic Church teaches that there is not a person born whom God does not love infinitely and for whom Christ did not offer his life on the Cross. There is never a reason to treat anyone with disdain or discourtesy, no matter how much one may differ from them. I mean this. I am not just being politically correct. When Jesus said he would make us fishers of men he didn’t mention that we would be the bait. If we are quarrelsome and repulsive people, we make the Gospel unavailable to the world. Remember that we may be the only Bible that some people will ever read. If we understand that God loves each person, no matter their theology and that He regards them all as His children, we will be careful to honor His image in everyone we meet. Be very careful when you criticize someone else’s kids, especially when that someone is God.
Still, if St. Paul is right, then God is pretty narrow minded. Most “progressives” might say, “No, God is as tolerant and almost as sophisticated as I am. It is Paul who is narrow minded.” God, or Paul, or whoever generated this list, certainly seems intolerant. Alcoholics are clearly out. So are people who gossip lie and drool over the latest fashions. (Just an aside, and I don’t mean to insult homosexuals here. That crazy church that goes to military funerals shouting and sending homosexuals to hell? If it is true that “loidoroi” heapers of verbal abuse, they won’t inherit the kingdom of God either. St. Paul puts loons like that and a lot of other ill tempered street preachers in the same category as all the above. Go figure.)
These things, materialism, lying and feuding are all normal. Everybody does them. THAT’S THE POINT!!! St. Paul classes same-sex attraction in a list of normal things because, in the ancient world, such behavior was normal! Those brave Spartan warriors who saved civilization at Thermopylae? They were as gay as Paris in the ‘90's. (I mean the 1890's. Remember “la Gaite Parisenne?” I’m sure you do.) Then there was the Sacred Band of Thebes, 150 male couples, the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BC. King Phillip of Macedon, a rather randy old goat, and his son Alexander the Great seem to have been very tolerant in their tastes, had nothing but admiration when they found the Theban Band dead to a man on the field of battle.
The Greek speaking world in the centuries just before Christ, which stretched from the border of India to Spain and France, thought nothing of this sort of the thing (Interesting to note “Gays in the Military” is not a new issue at all. It was thought that you would fight more bravely in the presence of your beloved, so such behavior was actually encouraged among some Greek city-states. The Romans were different. They didn’t approve of adult male homosexuality. They preferred the sexual abuse of children of either sex. That was okay, but not adult same sex relationships.)
The belief was common, though not universal that male homosexuality was superior to heterosexuality because women had no souls. Women were just kitchen appliances that could make babies. Among those who espoused this theory; relations with women were primarily for purposes of family.The rest was a matter of taste. You might enjoy hetairai, (sophisticated prostitutes who were charming in appearance and conversation) or boys or men or children of either sex. It didn’t really matter. The whole business was private and normal. Just like death and the common cold. (I told you to keep this away from the kids.)
So, if it was normal, why did the first Christians retain the strict, narrow minded, homo-phobic bigoted opinion hatched by a group of heat-crazed religious fanatics somewhere in the Judean desert? And why must busy-bodies like St. Paul and the Rev. Know-it-all inflict this same squint-eyed Puritanism on people who are just minding their own business?
These days, it is really quite the other way around. In times past, same-sex attraction was called “the love that dare not speak its name.” Now it is “the love that won’t shut up.” Parades, compulsory awareness days at schools, legislation, housing regulations, the closing of adoption services that don’t place children with same-sex couples, taxpayer money and insurance required to pay for sex change operations deemed a medical and psychological necessity. Who’s forcing whose will on whom here? (Another aside: sex change operations are also not new. The Emperor Nero fell in love with a male slave who resembled the wife that Nero had killed and whom he later missed. The slave had quick, un-anesthetized surgery, was dressed in a wedding gown and married to the emperor. Like the Bible says, “nothing new under the sun.”)
The crazed Puritans on the right are simply saying “Fine! Do as you please just don’t make me celebrate it or pay for it. Why not celebrate it? Why does the Church not approve of something that in much of the world was and is thought of as normal and even beautiful? Why is the expression of love in all its forms not a thing to be celebrated and consecrated? To understand the Catholic answer to this very real and important question, we must first understand the fascinating history of the avocado.
(To be continued.....)