Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Framing the question well, the answer encourages rather than condemns

A lot is being made, and rightly so, of an astonishingly frank interview given by Francis 1 on the plane back from (yet another) astonishing Catholic World Youth Day Mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Only 3 million turned up but, hey, perhaps there was a footy match which led to a low turn out!

The Catholic Herald has a great editorial on the interview here. Even Andrew Sullivan is impressed by the interview, here. (Off topic, if you do not like the Clintons, read Sullivan on their hypocrisy here).

On the question of homosexuality the editorial in the Herald offers this astute reflection:

"What is most striking about the Holy Father’s now famous comment – “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” – is how evangelical it is. It is implicitly encouraging gay people to walk the path of holiness that leads to union with God. In other words, he is saying that the Church has a vision for gay men that extends far beyond the condemnation of particular sexual acts. It is a vision whose goal is nothing less than heaven.

When the Pope says “Who I am to judge?” he is not suggesting there are no objective moral norms, but rather that we cannot read others’ hearts and minds, and therefore are in no position to make definitive judgments. We can deduce from his remarks that he wants the Church worldwide to take an evangelical approach to gay people, to invite them to hear the universal call to holiness amid the din of our hedonistic culture. He also wants Catholics to refrain from making judgments about individual gay people, to treat them as “our brothers” and accompany them on the long and, at times, arduous journey to the Lord."

In other words Pope Francis has framed the question about homosexuality in such a way that the answer does not come out as 'you must be celibate' or 'you must change'. His answer is a question of himself which constrains any propensity to condemn and a statement which both recognises and encourages the possibility of gay people finding God:

"Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"

At a stroke, as the editorial notes, Pope Francis has changed nothing about the objective teaching of his church but he has changed everything about the tone with which Catholicism will now speak about homosexuality.

There is something here for all to consider who follow in the way of Christ.


carl jacobs said...


When we make judgments we must judge by a right standard. That standard is not what is right in our own eyes. That standard is not a consensus of opinion. That standard is not some subjective impression of the Spirit doing a new thing. That standard is Scripture. We can (and should) condemn what Scripture condemns. So while it is true that naming homosexual behavior as sin is not a sufficient response, it is certainly a necessary response. You can't simply ignore the behavior. If a man deserts his wife and children for another woman do you refuse to condemn his behavior? Then let it be so for the homosexual.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
On the matter of same sex sexual sin, as far as I can tell, the teaching of the RCC remains a teaching consistent with Scripture.

I would be a little surprised if Francis 1 would not have a view on such an egregious sin as you mention. I take his comment about 'who I am to judge' to apply to those among us tempted to simply judge a self-identifying homosexual as being on a wrong path rather than being open to the work God is doing in that person's life as they seek God.

liturgy said...


Great post.

I like, Peter, the way you use the word "evangelical" in this post (twice). I wonder how many readers will misread it as "evangelical" (it is possible to read your post in that manner). My preference is to use "evangelical" in the way you have here.



Kurt said...

Carl, you are again mixing apples and oranges.

The very fact that the Pope of Rome felt compelled to address the question as he did speaks volumes.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Andrei said...

The very fact that the Pope of Rome felt compelled to address the question as he did speaks volumes.

Kurt the Pope didn't feel "compelled" to "address the question" rather he was asked a specific question (in Spanish) and gave a detailed answer to that question (in Spanish) from which a couple of sentences have been extracted, translated into English and widely reported (sans context)


Janice said...

Elizabeth Scalia has an interesting take on it, even referencing Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

At First Things she quotes Francis:

A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this [homosexual] orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is ... is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.

Then she makes the following comment:
In this case, nothing Francis actually said about homosexuality was new. In fact, in these two quotes Francis is doing nothing more than pronouncing long-standing Catholic teaching on homosexuality, sin, and the mercy of God.

Let that sink in for a moment: A pope is teaching the Christian faith, and the press is accurately quoting him, in blazing headlines that everyone will read.

At The Anchoress she states:

to cite the Catechism is to acknowledge that the pope was speaking the Church’s long-voiced teaching on homosexual persons, in direct refutation of the prevailing “church hates gays” narrative the media promotes... he neutralized the power of the media narrative; he exposed the truth that in Christ there is mercy and forgiveness, and that the church exists to offer this in his name; he set whatever “gay lobby” exists in the church on notice that while he has no intention of acting as gay-priest-witch-hunter, he won’t tolerate a bloc acting against the interests of the church.

More times than I can count we have heard here, from people who could reasonably be described as gay lobbyists, that Christians who oppose the normalisation and blessing of homosexual practices "hate gays". Apart from being presumptuous the assertion is offensive and, dare I say it, un-Christian. These people stir up division and antipathy between Christians and between the church and the world. They are, indeed, the problem.

Peter Carrell said...

A moderated comment from Ron (please don't talk about "so called Christians"- real Christians are entitled to argue that homosexual sexual activity is wrong without having fellow Christians then say unkind and untrue things about them)

""to cite the Catechism is to acknowledge that the pope was speaking the Church’s long-voiced teaching on homosexual persons, in direct refutation of the prevailing “church hates gays” narrative the media promotes." - Janice -

Sadly, Janice, it is not only the media who promote the idea that some Christians have less than respect for Gay people. ...

I believe Pope Francis may be just opening the doors to a new understanding by Roman Catholic authorities to the fact that LGBT people are intrinsically oriented in their sexual make-up, and are to be judged for their behaviour in exactly the same way as those who are considered to be 'normal'.

Scriptural statement on the issue are hardly to be considered informed by modern sociological and scientific observation of the phenomenon; ...."

Kurt said...

"Kurt the Pope didn't feel "compelled" to "address the question" rather he was asked a specific question (in Spanish) and gave a detailed answer to that question (in Spanish) from which a couple of sentences have been extracted, translated into English and widely reported (sans context"

Perhaps so, but he also could have simply said "No comment."

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

BREAKING NEWS: The Pope endorses Roman Catholic moral teaching!

Father Ron Smith said...

Your 'NEWS', Kurt, is not "BREAKING NEWS". Anyone with any understanding of the dogmatic stance of the Roman Catholic Church on issues of gender and sexuality already knows what the doctrine is.

What Pope Francis was here saying in public has rarely, if ever, been uttered publicly before by a reigning pontiff. THAT is the real news, and it is precisely what the media were speaking about.

What those in the Church(es) who have problems with Gays don't seem to understand is that we now have a Pope who is not afraid to enunciate in public the reality of the fact that homosexual people are beloved of God just the same as any other human being - no less, no more.
His Holiness was, in other words, speaking the Gospel of inclusion, which is the True Gospel. This is different from those in the Church who really believe that Gays are worse sinners than Straights.

What the Pope did not say, however, is that for the Roman Catholic Church, heterosexual divorce is also sinful - as is sexual activity outside of marriage. This may just be why conscientious monogamously related Gay couples want the Church to acknowledge that their desire for a blessing of their faithful relationships is no less than that of conscientious heterosexual couples - whom the Church will bless, whether or not they are capable of producing children, which is one of the barriers put up by the Church against gay marriage.

No, Brian, you have not discovered something new about the media. What you may have discovered - if you are open to it - is the fact that a living Pope is speaking the Gospel of inclusivity. Sin is possible in all relationships - whether straight or gay. That is what this Pope is emphasising in his joust with the media. Now that's new!

Father Ron Smith said...

Sorry, Kurt - it must be jet lag, after 2 months in Europe at 35C, on return to N.Z at about 10C. I mistakenly addressed you in my last comment on this thread, while all the time thinking of Brian.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Here's more on from the article I cited entitled "Shock: Pope Francis Preaches Gospel and Media Reports It ... Enthusiastically?"

This just in: Catholics believe (I know it's shocking) in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption, "and if a man seeks the Lord, and is trying to do God's will and has homosexual inclinations, who am I to judge?" Disturbing I know. The pope then goes on to reveal something more shocking still; that those who have homosexual tendencies are not only our "beloved brothers and sisters", but should not be- hold your breath now- "marginalized by the rest of society". I mean the next thing you know he's going to be talking about how every man is in need of forgiveness (not just homosexuals), and that we should reach out to those who are the most vulnerable and on the margins of society. Wait. That is exactly what he is saying, and what the Church has always said. All he is really doing here is restating an old Christian adage- which compels the Christian to separate the sin from the sinner. Apparently some in the media have never heard this expression. In any case, what we are witnessing here is the media actually lauding (as opposed to mocking) the underlying teaching of the Church, a teaching that goes something like this; 'we all fall short of the glory of God, and the last thing anyone should say is that a man is irredeemable or unworthy of love.'

Read it all.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bryan. Hi Ron,

I find it singularly unhelpful that nearly always in your comments you presume that conservative Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, have only previously been incapable of speaking with grace, mercy and peace.

Your attitude to conservatives seems to proceed from gigantic misunderstanding of the reality of conservative Christianity.

Speck, log?

Anonymous said...

For God's sake Peter, man up, and get a grip on your blog. Ron's abuse will never stop, and this will blow up in your face badly if you continue to allow him space to vent his bigotry and hatred.

Peter Carrell said...

My tether, Shawn, with Ron's comments, is just about at an end ...

Anonymous said...

These statements are from an unmoderated post;

"What those in the Church(es) who have problems with Gays"

"Those in the Church who really believe Gays are worse sinners than straights"

Both of those statements are offensive, hurtful, and just plain wrong. That is not to say that there are not individuals in the Church who may think such things, but to paint all of us who are struggeling mightily with this issue, who have close friends or family who are gay, but who nevertheless feel compelled by God to both love all people AND strive to be obedient to Scriptures teaching on marriage, is simply just another form of bigotry, and totally unfair to us.

Such statements take no consideration of others feelings, and no consideration of how they impact our relationships with family and friends.

They make civil, respectful, and loving debate and discussion impossible.

Anonymous said...

I also have to wonder, and this is new for me, about the amount of time and energy being expended by both sides.

In a world in which every day there are thousands of children starving to death, is God really preoccupied with this issue one way or another?

I'm no longer sure.

I am sure that if all the gay rights activists and all the social conservative activists just stopped what they are doing and went to work in the poverty ridden slums of Asia or South America, the world might be a slightly better place.

And I AM sure that I want BOTH sides to stop using the State to coerce people to conform, either to "Gay Rights" or "Family Values." Using State power to force people to think or live a certain way is never Christian.


Nuff said. Thankyou and goodbye.