What Was Jesus Thinking?

You might have thought that Jesus was not exactly interested in social justice when you read Luke’s account of Christ’s interaction with the Capernaum centurion:

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luke 7)

Sure, the officer’s faith was impressive, but doesn’t it sound like the centurion was a guy, sort of like a modern business man, who approached life transactionally. He gets things done merely by saying the word. Surely, Jesus is that kind of leader, one who simply barks an order and underlings jump.

And what about those orders? Jesus did not seem to object to the hierarchy in the Roman military, or that a centurion could own slaves. And let’s not forget that often the Roman military was nasty and harsh, and that was partly responsible for its success. Then there’s imperialism, a system of oppression by today’s standards if there ever was one. Yet, Jesus overlooked those blemishes, recognized the authenticity of the centurion’s faith, and healed his slave.

On the other hand, what if the centurion had a same-sex relationship with the slave?

When the identity of the slave in the Gospel narrative of “The Healing of the Centurion’s Slave” is studied through historical-critical research, the written and earlier oral traditions of the story indicate that the miraculous act is true to the historical Jesus. Also, by exploring the slave’s identity as a slave, same-sex love interest, and military recruit—and the 1st century C.E. implications thereof—the author concludes that the historical Jesus understood the sexual relationship between the centurion and his slave, and healed the latter based on the faith of the former. Jesus never spoke negatively about homosexuality and never offered sociological or theological discourse pertaining thereto.

(When was the last time you saw “thereto” in a defense of homosexuality?)

Maybe Jesus really was woke.

How Slippery is the Normativity Slope?

I listened to a discussion among Asian-American PCA pastors about race and ethnicity and was surprised to hear the use of “white normativity” as frequently as they did. They object strenuously to white normativity in the church. I wonder about that way of putting it since John Frame and I are both white and yet the differences he and I have about worship have little to do explicitly with being white. I do, by the way, like the idea that Frame’s brief for Contemporary Christian Music has as much white culture attached to it as exclusive psalmody since the old canard about so-called traditional Presbyterian worship was that it was too white, male, European, and suburban (even though none of the Westminster Divines had a clue that Levittown was on the horizon of white cultural normativity).

Here is one example of the use of white normativity from one of the interlocutors’ talks/homilies/speeches:

That leads to a deeper and better informed repentance, does it not? One that names with far greater specificity, repenting of specific sins specifically…one that names with far greater specificity the problem of white cultural normativity and supremacy in the church.

If you wanted to know the instances of white normativity in the church, like too much stuff that white people like, you might be surprised to hear that wealth is an instance of white dominance in the church and a way to repent is for whites to pay ecclesiastical reparations to black and people-of-color congregations. But wait, isn’t currency itself a form of white normativity? Can you really make up for it by relying on it in the way you make up?

Aside from that logical speed bump, the real point here is how do you head down the rhetorical path that relies on intersectional ideas like white normativity and turn off before you arrive at heteronormativity. After all, for the leaders of Black Lives Matter, the systemic nature of injustice does not stop with skin color but runs all the way to sexual identity:

We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.

We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.

This is not some threat about where ideas lead. Some PCA pastors could make a real contribution and explain how to address racial and ethnic inequalities or discrepancies while excluding discussions of sexual orientation, gay marriage, and Christian-family-normativity in general. Since I don’t rely on the arguments that lead someone to detect white normativility and then reject it with contempt, I can’t do the heavy lifting here.

But since the PCA is at a difficult juncture about homosexual identity, some in the communion may want to ponder whether white normativity and heteronormativity tend to pick up speed on the slope of normativity.

If You Go From Progressive to Backward, Can You Still Be Ahead of Your Time?

The quotation from Francis Schaeffer (from 1968 even!!) has been circulating among those who want to listen to make the world safe for the sorts of discussions that went into the Revoice Conference. Jake Meador invoked Schaeffer four years ago to defend Karen Swallow Prior:

…consider the great American evangelist Francis Schaeffer whose writing on homosexuality (available in his collected letters) anticipated many of today’s debates.

Schaeffer, writing in 1968 (!) made the now-common distinction between what he called “homophiles” and homosexuals, arguing that it is possible to be same-sex attracted without falling into sin and that it is the acting on that attraction which is sinful. (Again, he wrote this in 1968.)

In one of his letters he refers to “the mistake that the orthodox people have made” and defines that as saying that “homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”

Then Scott Sauls chimed in on the eve of the PCA’s General Assembly:

Former PCA minister, Francis Schaeffer, offers a helpful perspective on this. Schaeffer wrote, “The mistake…that the orthodox people have made…is [to say] that homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore, the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”

I read both pieces scratching my head because by 1980 Schaeffer was the inspiration behind the Moral Majority and his critique of American decadence during the so-called culture wars was hardly so polite about challenges to the family and public standards of decency. Take for instance this quotation that Michael Brown used to notice how prophetic Schaeffer was:

Sadly, many did suppose that this trend towards humanism would not affect “our own little projects, lives, and churches.” Now that we are in a pitched battle with the secular gods of the age, we have realized that our complacency is not only threatening our generation but also the generations to come. Is it too late to affect a positive change?

Even in 1984, long before the vast majority of Christian leaders were considering gay and lesbian issues, he asked, “When a San Francisco Orthodox Presbyterian congregation can be dragged into court for breaking the law against discrimination because it dismissed an avowed, practicing homosexual as an organist, can we be so deaf as not to hear all the warning bells?”

Brown also found this, even from as early as 1968:

Consider this insight from his book The God Who Is There, published in 1968.

He wrote, “But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished.”

Yes, Schaeffer saw this 50 years ago, one year before the Stonewall Riots and the rise of the militant gay revolution, and long before the push for same-sex “marriage.”

Schaeffer may be wrong. He may be right. But quoting him should not resemble the way Roman Catholics pick and choose among papal assertions. I mean, remember when Barack Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage?

This Is Embarrassing

The Protestants who I enjoy criticizing are clear at the same time that Roman Catholics are not. And the editors at First Things are caught.

First, a recommendation of the evangelicals who produced the Nashville Statement:

[Several] critiques have merit, and are especially significant since they come from within the evangelical movement. But in our era of theological mushiness and cultural transformation, even the most imperfect attempt at clarity and doctrinal solidarity is better than soft-spoken obfuscation. Christians committed to historic, biblical doctrine on sexuality should be disposed to approve of efforts to make orthodoxy clear, unequivocal, and pastoral.

Perhaps, as many have said, the timing of the Nashville Statement was insensitive. Waiting a couple weeks after the initial images from Houston had appeared might have muted this criticism. But can we foresee a season when such a clear statement of traditional doctrine would not offend, alienate, or divide?

I suspect that what has turned off many people to the Nashville Statement is its clarity. The document’s fourteen affirmations and denials are short, unequivocal, and to the point.

But Roman Catholics, not so much. Aside from the ongoing dilemma of marriage and divorce that Pope Francis and his synods introduced into the magisterium, individual priests, like James Martin, are signaling virtue but in a very sensitive way:

Fr. Martin notably seeks peace. He speaks reassuring phrases in soothing tones. He prefers the familiarity of a sweater vest and dad jeans to the strangeness of the soutane. In ways superficial and profound, he seeks to render Christianity inoffensive. At a certain level, I understand this desire. The Church may be a sign of contradiction, but it is also a source of consolation. Sometimes we need a Church built on sharp, gothic lines, and at other moments we seek the calm harmony of the classical.

But Fr. Martin’s proposed renovation goes beyond mere ornament, to require the restructuring of the whole Christian edifice. Fr. Martin never says this outright, but the logic of what he does say demands it. Approval of homosexuality is now considered the bare minimum of politeness in the world’s respectable precincts (where one hundred years ago, it would have been thought intolerably rude). If Christianity is to have the manners Fr. Martin values—if is to exhibit perfect “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” in the eyes of world—it must not only change its phrasing but reverse its teaching on sex.

Fr. Martin is no idle vandal of the Church, even if his critics often take him for one. Though I disagree with his conclusions, I believe that Catholics have something to learn from his argument that the Church treats homosexuality unfairly.

Catholic teaching has not changed, but at the practical level the Church today has made peace with heterosexual desire. Praise of virginity and warnings against lust in the marriage bed have given way to anxious reassurances that Catholics do not hate and fear sex. The Church has largely ceased to speak of sex as dangerous and requiring restraint, even where it is licit. We hear of the dangers of pre-marital sex, of extramarital sex, sometimes even of homosexual sex—but very rarely of sex simply.

Of course, doctrine hasn’t changed. You hear that a lot from those who have to live with modernists — those who won’t live by, defend, or recommend the doctrine that hasn’t changed. But something has.

And I suspect some converts to Rome are having trouble arguing for Rome’s superiority to Nashville.

Why Do Celebrity Pastors Stumble Over “Thus Saith the Lord”?

I am not sure why Eugene Peterson’s flip-flop on gay marriage is such a big deal. But (all about mmmmmeeeeEEE) I’m not in the habit of taking my cues any more from popular Christian authors or personalities. That could be age, temperament (naysayer), or wisdom — and in the right combination separating those traits may be redundant. But I continue to be surprised by what catches on among evangelicals who fret (even if I don’t want to come across as being above it all).

While following some of the reactions, I came across responses from Tim Keller, John Stott, and Sam Allberry. Since Stott is deceased, I should have known that these would not be direct reactions to Peterson. What caught my eye was the link to a review by Keller — can you believe it? There on display is the same affliction that got Peterson into trouble in the first place — namely, failing to minister God’s word and telling us instead about thoughts and reflections based on a lot of stuff you’ve read.

What is especially noteworthy about Keller’s handling of such a controversial subject as homosexuality if he is going to maintain his New York City profile is his ability to quote authors (other than the prophets and apostles).

First some of the debate about homosexuality in church history and antiquity:

These arguments were first asserted in the 1980s by John Boswell and Robin Scroggs. Vines, Wilson and others are essentially repopularizing them. However, they do not seem to be aware that the great preponderance of the best historical scholarship since the 1980s — by the full spectrum of secular, liberal and conservative researchers — has rejected that assertion. Here are two examples.

Bernadette Brooten and William Loader have presented strong evidence that homosexual orientation was known in antiquity. Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium, for example, tells a story about how Zeus split the original human beings in half, creating both heterosexual and homosexual humans, each of which were seeking to be reunited to their “lost halves” — heterosexuals seeking the opposite sex and homosexuals the same sex. Whether Aristophanes believed this myth literally is not the point. It was an explanation of a phenomenon the ancients could definitely see — that some people are inherently attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex.

For comparisons of homosexuality to slavery Keller can take you to more scholarly literature:

But historians such as Mark Noll (America’s God, 2005 and The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 2006) have shown the 19th century position some people took that the Bible condoned race-based chattel slavery was highly controversial and never a consensus. Most Protestants in Canada and Britain (and many in the northern U.S. states) condemned it as being wholly against the Scripture. Rodney Stark (For the Glory of God, 2003) points out that the Catholic church also came out early against the African slave trade. David L. Chappell in his history of the Civil Rights Movement (A Stone of Hope, 2003) went further. He proves that even before the Supreme Court decisions of the mid-50s, almost no one was promoting the slender and forced biblical justifications for racial superiority and segregation. Even otherwise racist theologians and ministers could not find a basis for white supremacy in the Bible.

He even uses awareness of 19th century debates about slavery to take a swipe at Southern Presbyterians:

During the Civil War, British Presbyterian biblical scholars told their southern American colleagues who supported slavery that they were reading the Scriptural texts through cultural blinders. They wanted to find evidence for their views in the Bible and voila — they found it. If no Christian reading the Bible — across diverse cultures and times — ever previously discovered support for same-sex relationships in the Bible until today, it is hard not to wonder if many now have new cultural spectacles on, having a strong predisposition to find in these texts evidence for the views they already hold.

What are those cultural spectacles? The reason that homosexual relationships make so much more sense to people today than in previous times is because they have absorbed late modern western culture’s narratives about the human life. Our society presses its members to believe “you have to be yourself,” that sexual desires are crucial to personal identity, that any curbing of strong sexual desires leads to psychological damage, and that individuals should be free to live as they alone see fit.

As if the Bible supported abolitionists or anti-slavery arguments were immune to “modern western culture’s narratives about the human life.” Sometimes Keller wades into scholarly material superficially so that it agrees with him, but I digress. (Funny how when I bring the Bible into the history seminar it doesn’t gain me any credibility.)

Then you have Keller appealing to more academics to critique these modern “narratives”:

These narratives have been well analyzed by scholars such as Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor. They are beliefs about the nature of reality that are not self-evident to most societies and they carry no more empirical proof than any other religious beliefs. They are also filled with inconsistencies and problems. Both Vines and Wilson largely assume these cultural narratives. It is these faith assumptions about identity and freedom that make the straightforward reading of the biblical texts seem so wrong to them. They are the underlying reason for their views, but they are never identified or discussed.

Maybe this is impressive to David Brooks and other columnists and reporters at the Times, but wasn’t Keller called to minister God’s word? Where is Moses, Jesus, or Paul? Nothing wrong inherently with being aware of some of the scholarly and public intellectual literature. But can’t you give us a “thus saith the Lord” pastor Tim?

When he finally gets around to the Bible, Keller accentuates the positive (the way Mr. Rogers did):

The saddest thing for me as a reader was how, in books on the Bible and sex, Vines and Wilson concentrated almost wholly on the biblical negatives, the prohibitions against homosexual practice, instead of giving sustained attention to the high, (yes) glorious Scriptural vision of sexuality. Both authors rightly say that the Bible calls for mutual loving relationships in marriage, but it points to far more than that.

In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories — they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.

Gee golly williker. Marriage is just one stroll down the trail of delight (or maybe through Homer Simpson’s Land of Chocolate). Where is the grit of NYC? Where is the complicated character of life in the modern world where we have to make tough choices, or recognize the good and less attractive in all people we meet, and the institutions in which moderns operate? Where is the edge that attracts at least some people like Brother Mouzone or Woody Allen to the Big Apple? The view from Keller’s study is awfully pleasant (and crowded with books other than the Bible).

Meanwhile, Russell Moore made a decent point about Peterson when he compared the evangelical celebrity to Wendell Berry’s own flip-flop on gay marriage:

And now Peterson says he’s willing to walk away from what the Scriptures and 2,000 years of unbroken Christian teaching affirm on the conjugal nature of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman reflecting the mystery of Christ and the church. I can’t un-highlight or un-flag my Peterson books. I can’t erase from my mind all the things he has taught me. Should I stop reading him, since he has shown a completely contrary view on an important issue of biblical interpretation—and, beyond that, of the very definition of what it means to repent of sin?

This is the same sort of conversation had a few years ago among those of us who’ve been taught much by novelist and poet Wendell Berry when he, too, embraced the zeitgeist on marriage and sexuality. Some said we should throw out our Berry books and never read him again. Others, I’m sure, seeing how much they’d benefited from Berry on place and memory, probably decided to follow him right into this viewpoint. Maybe the same will happen with Peterson now.

True enough, but when Moore says we should not throw Peterson’s books away (who am I to adopt such a move since H. L. Mencken sets on my shelf of worthies right next to Machen — alphabetically anyway), I wonder why Mr. Southern Baptist doesn’t distinguish Peterson as a would-be pastor and theologian from Berry who simply is a writer and farmer. Berry makes no pretension to issue “thus saith the Lord’s” based on his reading of Scripture. Peterson, however, operates in the world of Scripture and theology (and all you usually get — my impression — is “the Lord would be really happy if you might ever consider this and you may also flourish forever and ever”).

Homosexual Militarism

When I think of gayness, I don’t think of weapons of mass destruction. Call me a homophobe, but the cause of gay rights and the promotion of alternative “lifestyles” has not usually been synonymous with a strong U.S. military or neo-conservative (read interventionist) U.S. foreign policy. Then again, if Gomer Pyle really was gay, maybe the Navy’s decision to name a ship after Harvey Milk makes sense:

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is expected on Tuesday to formally name a fleet replenishment oiler after gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, but one congressional critic says Mabus’ name choice is putting politics ahead of the Navy’s legacy.

Mabus will participate in a naming ceremony for the USNS Harvey Milk on Tuesday afternoon in Treasure Island, Calif. The oiler, which can carry 156,000 barrels of oil, is the first of six that will be built by General Dynamics NASSCO and will replenish Navy ships, as well as the aircraft deployed on them, while at sea.

Some conservatives are not happy, as you might expect. According to Congressman Duncan Hunter:

What this says to the men and women of the Navy is that there wasn’t one of you — at any time in history — who is more suitable for this honor. There are plenty of names out there to pick from, but Ray Mabus makes every decision with politics in his mind first and foremost, and that’s a real disservice to men and women of the U.S. Navy and the service’s legacy.

But are homosexuals also comfortable with having one of their heroes’ names painted on a ship that doesn’t make love but executes war? If, for instance, Equality California, one of the larger LBGT rights organizations, is currently soliciting support for a proposition against gun violence, are they comfortable with military violence?

Then again, if you want a seat at the table of the U.S. of A., for now that means cozying up to the nation’s military. Isn’t integration grand!

When Bathrooms Were Safe Spaces

Driving cross country and using rest stop facilities made me aware once again that just because a bathroom is male or female is no guarantee of comfort. What if another patron is attracted to men and finds me(eeeeEEEE!) particularly handsome? What am I supposed to do?

In fact, a recent piece in Christianity Today by a gay Wheaton College alum confirms those the plausibility of these questions:

By far the worst aspect of my college experience was the dorm’s group bathroom. At the beginning of the year, most shower stalls had two curtains. One hung past the entrance to the water spout, and the other hung a few feet farther out, past a small bench where we could put clothes and a towel. As the year progressed, some of the curtains would rip and fall down. I always tried to use an area with both curtains intact, because I feared falling into sin. Afraid of homosexual thoughts, I felt that I could not form close connections to the other men on my floor. Such a compulsive paradigm isolated me further from people who would have wanted to help.

So, well before the rise of transgender self-consciousness and legislators quarreling over access to bathrooms, men and women, boys and girls, have been sharing facilities with people whose sexual orientations make them uncomfortable. Truth be told, I even shared a suite of rooms in Divinity Hall (at Harvard) with the man who led the Gay-Lesbian Caucus. And I turned out okay (right?).

If we can share bathrooms with gays and lesbians, can’t we do the same with trans?

Deadbeat Trapped Inside the Body of a Bill Payer

Explanations of corporate America’s support for LBGTQ(xyz) are almost as simplistic as laments about falling sky. Rod Dreher quotes this:

This social order of consumer-based options tends to forge a new conception of the human person as a sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances. Again, traditional social structures and arrangements are generally fixed in terms of key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. But globalized societies, because of the wide array of options, see this fixedness as restrictive. And so traditional morals and customs tend to give way to what we called lifestyle values. Lifestyle values operate according to a plurality of what sociologist Peter Berger defines as “life-worlds,” wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.

Thus, lifestyle values and identities are defined and determined by consumerist tendencies and norms. Commercial advertising is not merely central to economic growth, it is also of central influence to inventing the self through offering variant lifestyle features and choices. In the words of social theorist Anthony Giddens: “Market-governed freedom of individual choice becomes an enveloping framework of individual self-expression.”

I would therefore argue that the corporations promising to boycott states like North Carolina for their traditionalist politics are not so much for LGBT rights as they are against arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options, since such limitations are deemed inconsistent with a society comprised of consumer-based self-expression.

But what about people who work hard, buy stuff, and pay bills on time? Aren’t they better for the economy (global or local) than people who might find that after making a purchase they regard the credit card bill as merely a convention of arbitrarily chosen identities? If you ask me, corporations support gay rights and marriage for its p.r. value, which is to say, they don’t want to appear intolerant. Can’t say that analysis is all that profound either since the numbers show that heteros have more buying units than gays or those who transcend gender. This is nothing new. Remember the NFL penalizing Arizona (as host of the Super Bowl) for not making Martin Luther King Day a holiday.

But Rod buys it hook, line, and sinker:

Cavanaugh says that the free market is based on the definition of freedom as an absence of external constraints. The wider your choice, the freer the market. This is problematic from a Christian point of view, as well as from a virtue ethics point of view, because it is agnostic about the existence of good and evil. The free market, thus conceived, catechizes us into believing that there is no truth, only individual desire. But desires are unavoidably social, so the will to power in society belongs to those who maximize individual choice by tearing down any structure or belief system that denies the primacy of individual choice.

You mean my latest statement from Bank of American isn’t true? Woo hoo!

The Elephant in the Room

Imagine (and you don’t need to try too hard) how some Christian communions might promote their accomplishments and uniqueness.

The hipsters might say something like, “we are the church of the city and for the city.”

Doctrinalists might come up with something like, “we put the strict in confessional subscription.”

The transformationalists (not quite as urban as the hipsters) might talk about “a gospel for all — here Stephen Coulbert’s deep gravelly voice when you read “all” — of life.”

And the social gospelers might promote a communion that is “ushering in Christ’s loving and just reign.”

But what would you say about a communion that touted, “we know how to make effective and gracious use of gay clergy”? I’m suspecting that this would not be the best Call to Communion.

And yet, for all of the Roman Catholic complaint about the sexual laxity of the mainline Protestant denominations, and for all of the teaching about marriage, celibacy, and theology of the body, Roman Catholics ordain homosexuals in what seems to be record numbers.

Please, dear reader, keep in mind that I really dislike cheap shots based on below-the-belt issues. Sex is such an easy way to push the outrage-porn button. So I am not trying — really really trying not to — play any kind of homophobia card. Nor am I knowingly playing on anti-Catholic bigotry. I am seriously curious about how a conservative church reconciles its teaching about sex with knowingly ordaining homosexuals. Not to mention infallibility and certain knowledge. This is a conversation that has been public. It is out of the closet. And yet Bryan and the Jasons went right along — nothing here to see.

How is it, then, that you can promote your communion’s wonderful views of marriage and celibacy, and look to your church as the sensible and chaste alternative to mainline Protestantism, but don’t comment on the numbers of priests that are pretty staggering (even while accusing mainline churches of ordaining lesbians).

Here are a few, scattered and old discussions of the phenomenon (which some might call a problem):

From 2002:

For more than a decade, now, voices have been heard expressing concern about the growing numbers of gay priests and seminarians. Vicars of priests and seminary administrators who have been around awhile speak among themselves of the disproportionate number of gay men that populate our seminaries and presbyterates. They know that a proportionate number of gay priests and seminarians would fall between 5 and 10 percent. The extent of the estimated disproportion, naturally enough, will vary depending on general perceptions, personal experiences, and the frequency of first-hand encounters with self-acknowledged gay priests.

The general perceptions, in turn, are often shaped by various studies and surveys which attempt to measure the percentage of priests who are gay. An NBC report on celibacy and the clergy found that “anywhere from 23 percent to 58 percent” of the Catholic clergy have a homosexual orientation. Other studies find that approximately half of American priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented. Sociologist James G. Wolf in his book Gay Priests concluded that 48.5 percent of priests and 55.1 percent of seminarians were gay. The percentage appears to be highest among priests under forty years of age. Moreover, the percentage of gay men among religious congregations of priests is believed to be even higher. Beyond these estimates, of course, are priests who remain confused about their orientation and men who have so successfully denied their orientation, that in spite of predominantly same-sex erotic fantasies, they insist that they are heterosexual.

Here’s an attempt to turn gay priests into an asset:

Traditional Catholic theology as summarized in the catechism (No. 1578) states that men are called to the priesthood by God. So despite statements that homosexual priests are either a scandal or embarrassment, Catholic belief is that all men called to holy orders are responding to a divine call. (As an aside, it is perhaps unsurprising that in a church that enjoins celibacy on homosexuals, some gay men would choose the celibate life of the priest.) Some have argued that the ordination of homosexuals somehow represents the church in error. But homosexual priests, like heterosexual priests, are ordained through the divine authority of the church, which has that responsibility and right (No. 1578) and, according to traditional Catholic theology, imprints on the priest an indelible spiritual character (No. 1582).

Therefore, one can state that God has called, and is continuing to call, homosexuals to serve as priests in the church and that the church confirms this call through ordination. The question, then, is not whether God is calling homosexual men to the priesthood, but why. Theologically, how might one understand these signs of the times?

The school of suffering. The vast majority of homosexuals in the United States are acquainted with the suffering that comes from being a misunderstood and often persecuted minority. This commences from early adolescence and can continue for the remainder of one’s life. Homosexuals are frequent targets of prejudice, ridicule, rejection from their own families and, sometimes, violence. Here, therefore, are men who understand suffering, stigma and frustrationthe very types of experiences that Christian theology teaches can lead one closer to companionship with the Christ who suffers. To use the words heard during Lent, the homosexual is often despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering…one from whom others hide their faces (Isa. 53:3).

Being schooled in this unique experience of suffering can result in a profound sense of compassion and identification with the most marginalized in society: the sick, the lonely, the refugee, the materially poor, the outcast, the least of my brothers and sisters (Mt. 25).

Then some challenge the statistics:

Fr. Cozzens claims that statistics show that 50 percent of priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented. A gay culture in the priesthood or seminary, he says, makes it very awkward for heterosexuals, who as a consequence doubt their vocations and withdraw. Seminaries must therefore consider the kind of support that is needed for heterosexual seminarians in a gay culture. We are not told whether the prevalence of homosexual orientation and gay expression is bad or good. Fr. Cozzens seems to suggest that it is simply a fact of life with which we must learn to live. This is very unpersuasive on a number of scores.

First, I do not believe the statistics. The very few surveys and studies that have been done on homosexuality among priests are almost certainly flawed by the factor of self“selection. Those who, for whatever reason, are interested in homosexuality among priests respond at a far higher rate than others. Had I received a questionnaire in such a survey, I would not have responded. As for Fr. Cozzens’ depiction of seminarians, I can only say that they must be very different from those whom I have known during fourteen years of seminary work. Are there seminarians who identify themselves as homosexual? Certainly. Are there some who are sexually confused and in need of counseling and spiritual direction? Absolutely. But is there a dominant homosexual culture in seminaries that makes life difficult, if not impossible, for heterosexuals? That does not jibe with my experience.

It is very possible that in the 1970s and ’80s there were a significant number of seminarians who were sexually confused, and were encouraged in that confusion by a sexually charged society. They were not challenged to harmonize their ideas and their lives with the teaching of the Church, and today some of them are priests. Some are effective and faithfully celibate, while some are actively involved in the gay subculture. The latter pose a very real problem, but the incidence of the problem, I am convinced, is nowhere near the figure proffered by Fr. Cozzens. His claims are both unsupported and irresponsible.

I understand that a clergy shortage might be one explanation for these figures and reflections. I also can comprehend that someone who is gay but doesn’t practice may be capable of executing priestly duties. But what is odd is conceiving of the convert to Roman Catholicism who might think first about joining the Christian Reformed Church because of the denomination’s position on homosexualism and homosexuality.

Is It Too Much to Ask?

For honesty?

Why can’t Roman Catholic apologists be as realistic as Boniface (on Synod 2015)?

(5) Speaking of “failed marriages”, let us remember that marriage is a sacrament. Sacraments do not fail. Are there “failed” baptisms, “failed” ordinations, “failed” confirmations? One is either baptized or one is not. One is either confirmed or one is not. One was either ordained or one wasn’t. Similarly, one is either married or one isn’t. You cannot have a valid, sacramental marriage which has “failed” in the sense that the problems of one marriage can render it null and permit a person or persons to be subjectively convinced that they are now free to remarry. Sacraments do not fail. A marriage is a marriage. It is not an ideal that only the perfect arrive at. It is not “an authentic conjugal project.” It is a sacrament – a sacrament which more or less grace may be available depending on the disposition of the spouses, but a sacrament nonetheless – and it is brought into being in its fullness and immediacy by the consent of the parties before the Church’s minister. We must all be on guard against the subtle transformation of marriage from a fact to a mere ideal, and an excessive focus on its natural aspects versus its sacramental character. . . .

(8) The Kasperite Thesis is based on the theory that two people can be sleeping with each other whenever they want to without any intention to stop and not be responsible for doing so. This is what is mean by invoking “limitations on culpability.” The idea of the bishops who promote it is that people are oftentimes trapped in a situation where they do not wish to sleep with each other but find they have no choice–a kind of lack of consent. That’s rather demeaning to the couple, isn’t it? “Well, honey, we’re not really married, and, as a Catholic in the State of Grace, I love God above all things, but I am slave to our circumstances, unable to make a free choice, and so I am going to sleep with you, not as a free agent engaging in a personal act, but as an animal coerced by the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in.” Very romantic, huh? No. Actually, it’s pretty much rape. It is the old liberal talking point that sin is inevitable.

(9) The Pope may be moving towards permitting the question of absolution for those living in an adulterous second union to eventually be answered by episcopal conferences. He said:

“[W]e have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion” (Papal Homily, 10/24/15)

This may in part be a reference to the fact that the African Bishops (and others, such as the American Bishops, for the most part) rejected the Kasperite thesis vociferously. . . .

(11) Though Synod I was a conservative “victory” and though Synod II did not incorporate the worst of the Kasperite heresy in its final document, we should not in any sense these Synods as successes. This 2014-2015 Synod on the Family was probably the most disastrous thing that has happened to the Church since Vatican II. It will take centuries for the damage to be undone – and the damage is already done, regardless of what the final document says, because it has given the impression that fundamental moral doctrines are up for debate. And either way, we should remember that in Synod I, the majority of bishops voted for the pro-homosexual passages; they were not included because the vote did not reach the requisite 2/3, but it did reach a simple majority. This should appall us. Similarly, the fact that one conservative commentator estimated that at Synod II not more than 35% of the episcopate would vote for the Kasper thesis should horrify us. for these numbers mean that between 1/3 and 1/2 of our global episcopate lacks the most basic understanding of Catholic moral theology. Our pastors. . . .

(13) However, while appealing to the memory of John Paul II and Familiaris Consortio may have helped save the day, traditionalist Catholics should not fall into the practice of opposing John Paul II or even Benedict XVI to Francis. Some Catholic blogs still like to paint Benedict as a traditionalist and compare the Benedictine “restoration” to Francis’ lio. But who appointed these Kasperite bishops? Who put these heretics in office? Blaise Cupich was appointed by John Paul II. Kasper was made a bishop by John Paul as well, years after his heretical views were known. Maradiaga was also a John Paul II appointment. Nunzio Galatino, the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference – you know, the one who told the Italian newspaper La Nazione that “My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality” – he was an appointment of Benedict XVI. Reinhard “Kirchensteuer” Marx, the arch-heresiarch of Germany, was appointed by John Paul II and elevated to the cardinalate by Benedict XVI. This nonsense about affirming the good things in homosexual relationships was started by Benedict XVI himself. If you are appalled at the apostasy of these liberals, blame John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They appointed or elevated them. The entire global episcopate – at least at its senior levels – is the creation of John Paul II. I know John Paul II and Benedict XVI look pretty good now compared to Frankie Uno, but John Paul II and Benedict XVI were innovators, too. Taking refuge from the chaos of Francis in the example of John Paul II will get us nowhere.

(all about) I feel Boniface’s pain. He understands he lives in a church militant. Bad things happen and Christians need to beware (even ones who think that papal infallibility solves everything or keeps Roman Catholics from being as inferior as Protestants).

I can’t feel Susan’s joy, Mermaid’s naivete, or James’ hyper-assurance. It doesn’t make sense of the real world.

If only the blogosphere had more voices like Boniface’s. We wouldn’t agree on the church or salvation. But we would agree about the importance and value of being circumspect.

Postscript: I listened to a very good interview with the person behind the pen-name and his experience as mayor of a small Michigan city. Turns out it’s hard to be an exceptionalist about the United States if your realistic about the church. But I’d vote for this guy. Augustinians all.