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Issue Date:  December 12, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

Hold the condemnations

“I’m tired of having the Bible dragged into this discussion,” my friend and occasional lunch partner wrote in an e-mail. He was adding a postscript to a discussion we had over lunch recently about homosexuality and same-sex unions, having gathered up more thoughts on the ride home. “One side quotes scripture, while the other side tries to render the quoted passages harmless. As if somehow it all hinged on scripture; as if scripture decided the question for us.”

I think he makes an important point, especially since few other questions in the public square, except perhaps abortion, attract as much religious language and conviction. So I’ll let him speak for himself:

“What’s really going on is that scripture is being used to justify preexisting prejudice. Look at it this way: No one cares what scripture has to say about slavery. No one cares what Jesus said, or didn’t say, about slavery. Still more noteworthy is the fact that no one cares that when scripture touches upon slavery it’s either neutral toward slavery as a societal institution or actually approving of it. Indeed, there was a time when slaveholders used scripture to prove their point. Not anymore.

“Not even the most diehard literalist pays attention to what the Bible says about slavery. Why? Largely because nonbelievers, allied with a handful of believers who ignored what the Bible had to say on the subject, decided that slavery was unacceptable. That’s worth bearing in mind when both sides on the issue of sexual orientation rush to their Bibles. The Bible doesn’t change popular opinion. It follows it.”

In the case of homosexuality, I think scripture is too often called upon to reinforce arguments that are based not so much upon what we know as upon fear of what we don’t know. While many certainties are thrown around about God’s wrath being visited upon those who act on their same-sex orientation, I think the only certainty is that we know very little about homosexuality, or heterosexuality for that matter, about what makes us who we are and how and why we are sexually oriented.

~ ~ ~

In recent years I have attended meetings of gay and lesbian Catholics, gay and lesbian journalists and met with members of the group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. What became clear to me is that knowing someone and having as intimate a connection with another as can exist between parent and child can have a profound effect on one’s point of view. I’ve met parents who were as staunchly anti-gay as anyone until a child “came out.” Then things change. From the unknowns to the famous, parents know their children are not evil or disordered or perverse. They know them as gentle, loving, talented individuals whose attraction -- no matter how it is fought -- is to those of the same sex.

That’s what they know. And many also know those relationships to be deep and committed, life-giving in a multitude of ways and holy. What they know is that life just did not work out in all the neat categories that our social structures and our textbooks of old and our religious presumptions would require. They don’t know why God’s creation has made room for gays and lesbians, but they do know in the deepest, most human part of themselves that God hasn’t condemned their sons and daughters to a lifetime of loveless and sexless exclusion. I think such realizations -- not some demon-inspired “gay agenda” -- are behind the gradual erosion of resistance to same-sex unions. That is why the law is changing and society, at least in some places, is beginning to adjust.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003

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