More on Homosexuality
I write in response to John C. Cort's September column, in which he criticizes my article in the National Catholic Reporter on the use of biblical texts in the recent Vatican statement on homosexuality.
That Cort was left unconvinced by my efforts to show that the Bible has little to say on homosexuality, and that what it does say has been misinterpreted, is no cause for protest. My intent, as stated in the article, was not to have the final say on biblical interpretation but rather to demonstrate the need for great care in interpreting these complex texts, and in so doing to point out the inadequacy of the Vatican statement's brief, conclusionary treatment of them. I am happy to have each reader draw his or her own conclusions on the merits of my scholarship in the article.
What I do protest is Cort's suggestion that in my article I attempt to persuade people that Jesus and Paul would have condoned random, promiscuous sex for men, that "if the husband, or the single male, can't control his promiscuous urges, he can relieve them with another male," as he puts it.
I do not advocate promiscuity, for the married or the single, and there is nothing in my article that argues for it. To the contrary, I believe sexually active gay men and lesbian women are called to faithful monogamous relationships. Our church does not yet recognize this calling or support its realization, and I assume Cort does not either, and so considers any homosexual activity to be promiscuous. Nevertheless, many loving, faithful relationships exist.
Finally, I was surprised by the derisive language used to describe my article: "pathetically unconvincing," "laughable," and "weaves a web." I find it sadly ironic that in a column that begins with an objection to the "trashing and bashing" he feels others are doing on this issue, Cort would find it necessary to react with such apparent hostility to my article. I would gently ask him to reflect on the title of his column, "Christ and Neighbor" - is either well served by derision?
National Catholic Reporter
Kansas City, Missouri
"A Man After God's Own Heart"
I am sorry Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen's series of articles (Sept. 1986 through July-Aug. 1987) has ended. I write to convey the enormous satisfaction his articles have brought me. The phrase "a man after God's own heart" fits. Humility shines through his writings - in contrast to much that I read these days.
Hampton, South Carolina
JOHN C. CORT REPLIES:
Several concessions to Dan Grippo: I would agree with him that the Vatican, and defenders of orthodoxy in general, must call a halt to these quick dismissals of unorthodox positions and must devote much more time to the scholarship of refutation.
Secondly, I was inaccurate in writing that he "weaves a web of alleged ambiguity around the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 and 20." "Ambiguity" is not the exact word. He admits the clarity of the prohibition. What he does is to devote about 2,000 words to downgrading the seriousness of that prohibition. He does this by likening it to the prohibition against eating pork, by claiming that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual rape but rather a sin against hospitality, that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality and, in fact, may have had homosexual tendencies himself. Finally, Grippo tries to negate Paul's clear anathema in Romans 1:24-27. Let us quote it so that we may get the full flavor: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
Grippo tries to wipe this out by claiming that for some people homosexual activity is natural and therefore Paul would have exempted them from his anathema because he was only concerned to condemn what was unnatural. Grippo wants us to believe that Paul's definitions of natural and unnatural are the same as his. I think "laughable" is too weak a word to describe this sort of contention.
Grippo's article is not clear as to exactly what he thinks Jesus thought about homosexuality. He leaves the implication that Jesus did not agree with Leviticus. (Incidentally, the idea that Moses regarded homosexuality as no more serious than eating pork is another laughable contention. Go back, Brother Grippo, and read it again: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them." And this verse is right in the middle of a list of the sexual sins of adultery, incest, and bestiality. Not serious?)
So now we learn that Grippo does not favor promiscuity. I am sorry if I left an implication to the contrary. What he seems to favor is Church-sanctioned marriage between homosexuals and what he has implied in his article is that Jesus Christ also favored that, and perhaps Paul as well. These implications are also laughable. (I am sorry, but the word "laughable" is just about the gentlest, kindest word I can think of.) If these implications were not intended, how else can we read his article?
Finally, I am charged with hostility and derision unworthy of a Christian. If the charge is justified, I am sorry. But I wonder. Jesus, John, and Paul were very sharp with those they believed were not teaching sound doctrine. And I do not believe you are teaching sound doctrine, Brother Grippo. Can one criticize sharply and still love? I think so. I think love may even demand sharp criticism from time to time. And I thank you for yours.
To borrow a phrase, it is "sadly ironic" that you bring this charge against me when the argument is over an article in which you call Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican "intellectually dishonest and pastorally unjust." We're all loyal sons and daughters of Mother Church here, are we not? And it would seem that the highest pastors of the Church have an even better claim to respect than you or I.
I read your symposium on humane socialism and traditional conservatism (Oct.) with surprising bursts of delight. Your theme of a possible alliance between the two camps was not of interest to all the respondents, but everyone seemed to be open to considering a new kind of politics. What struck me was the similarity between so many of their statements - whenever they discussed what community-based socialism or true conservatism was supposed to have been - with the positions currently published throughout the Green politics movement, a third-way, beyond-right-and-left approach.
Here are a few examples of the passages so similar to the views expressed in Green platforms and books in Europe, Canada, the U.S., and the Third World: "Industrial capitalism simply cannot be squared with the values he [the traditionalist] cherishes" (James J. Thompson Jr.). "Both the capitalist and socialist variants of the culture of productivity push toward bigness, concentration and centralization of power, and deepening modes of bureaucratic domination and unaccountability" (Jean Bethke Elshtain, who also called for a politics committed to "individual autonomy and human solidarity built from the ground up' - i.e., worker ownership of the means of production" as well as honoring the family). "What defenders of the permanent things should seek is not a league with some set of old-fangled or newfangled ideologues, but the politics of prudence, enlivened by imagination" (Russell Kirk). "Socialism ought to mean a respect for limits, a sense of place, a recognition of mutual dependence, a rejection of material abundance as the only requirement of a good life. It implies fraternity, not an abstract conception of equality. But the socialist ideal as we know it today offers little in the way of an alternative to capitalism" (Christopher Lasch). "If socialism means the common ownership of land, a labor-intensive economy, the restoration of craftsmanship, the conservation of scarce resources, and a more modest standard of living, the alliance of cultural conservatism and socialism ought be irresistible. But socialism means none of those things today - which is probably why it elicits so little enthusiasm" (Lasch). "If there is one pressing task for this period in human history it is to...reintegrate the revolutionary demand for social transformation with the spiritual sensitivity of many religious traditions" (Michael Lerner).
While it's probable that none of your respondents would identify as a Green (yet!), many of their observations and yearnings seem closer to that politics than to any others.