Ecce Homo, Christ’s Church and Homosexuality – UPDATE

My column at First Things this week did not start out addressing the coming, unstoppable and necessary confrontation between the church and the homosexual community, but then I read about Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s decision to support a gay member of a parish council over the priest who wished to unseat him, and Edward Peter’s sensible response. With Ross Douthat’s excellent, must-read book, Bad Religion; How We Became a Nation of Heretics swirling in my head, the column simply bent to a natural curve:

We only just begun this walk. Christianity, particularly in America, is struggling with balance as it becomes ever more embroiled (willingly or not) in secular matters, but this will be a defining question: how do we follow the Christ’s example to “first see the human being” (ecce homo) while reconciling it with Matthew 19:3-5 and 11-12—words Jesus did not utter by accident?

[. . .]

Douthat’s thoughts here are a kind of dual prompting: a Christianity struggling to reconcile belief with inclusion will have to “get rid of the beam” in its own eye before it will clearly see how to deal with the splinters of human people seeking Christ. And to do that, the church will have to go back to the basics, re-learn them and then re-teach them, but this time not as narrow, fundamentalist do’s and dont’s that excuse us from thinking, but as the fundamentally sophisticated and paradoxical means toward true freedom that they really are.

You can read the rest, here

I believe we are hearing a clarion call for the church to discourage reactionary emotionalism and give deep instruction from a very deep place. If she gets it right, this confrontation can become the finest fruit of the New Evangelization. If she gets it wrong, the lesser fruits will not nourish or strengthen the body of Christ to its potential.

We live in interesting, challenging times. Pray for the leadership of the church in their teaching, and for the laity who advise, recommend and reach out. What is before us is so huge and important that there is absolutely no room for errors based on intellectual laziness or tyrannical sentimentalism.

And by the way, I will write a larger review later, but please take my word for it — Ross Douthat’s book is going to be important for the church. Don’t get the impression it’s all about this issue, because really, Douthat barely writes on it. The book is a comprehensive look at the wrong turns of the Christian church in America, and a humble look at ways to get it right. It is almost like the necessary water-to-the-face that must follow Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism. Barron reminded us where we have come from, and why it is worth staying; Douthat is saying, “stay in truth; take a look at what we’ve done to ourselves and get a grip on the reality of living in the church that must guide us through this age.”

Exciting stuff.

UPDATE I: I have decided I must be a very bad writer, because people seem to think I am advocating Gay Marriage; I am not. I thought I made that clear in my FT column, when I used the citations from Matthew. What I am calling for — or rather, what I believe Douthat is calling for very brilliantly — is a deepening of teaching from the church that sheds more light, less heat, on the paradoxical truth (because God’s truth are so often paradoxes) that the obedience that so many see as nothing but “no” is actually a freeing act that leads to the whole YES that is God.

Terry at Abbey-Roads has more thoughts

UPDATE III: Aha! And read this: How Do We Render God Credible in This World?

Related: The Tolerance Disconnect

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Iris Celeste

    OK, here comes a lengthy comment that is going to condemn me with some… Homosexuality occurs in nature in other species that reproduce sexually. Therefore, it is not an “unnatural act,” but something created by God, Whose mind we cannot fathom. Having said that, neither is it “normal” in the sense of the statistical definition for a normal distribution where the majority fall into the category, since if such behavior becomes “normal” in a species, that would become the extinction of the species. Therefore, it will always be a small minority of individuals who exhibit such a behavior in any successful species that reproduces sexually… Having said that… What was God trying to do with Abraham and then with Isaac after him? He was trying to “produce” a nation from a single individual. What would he have to do to guarantee success under such circumstances? He has to discourage any manifestation in a behavior that is not going to produce progeny… Why do people think God is stupid?

  • lehnne

    The current state of human sexuality in America, hetero or homo, is reliant on a culture prosperous enough to indulgence in these contemporary understandings. This latest manifestation of sexuality is not the main issue but rather the sustainability of the culture/economy that enables it. After all how big of an issue is it where clean drinking water, food and the minimum of medicine are the dominant issues? At the end of the day, I’d bet on the Church prevailing if history is any guide.

  • Bender

    Homosexuality occurs in nature in other species that reproduce sexually. Therefore, it is not an “unnatural act,” but something created by God

    You mean that God intends for the dog to do that to my leg?

    Even though animals might be without sin for moral purposes, that does not mean that they are necessarily “perfect” and always operate in the manner intended. Animals too can have flaws, including biological flaws or otherwise become so overwhelmed with hormonal urgings that they hump your leg or the couch or whatever else might be nearby, including animals of the same sex.

  • Pingback: Ecce Homo, Christ's Church and Homosexuality « The Anchoress | Church

  • Manny

    Homosexuality is a hard issue to address. I have seen my comments over the years range, not so much in philosophic theme, but in sentiment. I want to be compassionate to gays. We need to be compassionate to gays, but they aren’t meeting us half way. And that frustration leads to some less than kind moments on both sides of the issue. Gay marriage is a chasm that faithful Christians and Jews (and possibly from other faiths) cannot bridge. We have not figured out how the two sides can come to an understanding. Frankly the religious community has gone as far as possible. Now it’s time for the gay community to understand limits.

    It doesn’t even have to do with natural and unnatural. Obviously what is natural in design in sexual arrangement is determined by complementary sexual organs. But yet homosexuality occurs in nature. Being born with one arm is also part of nature, but that doesn’t make it normal. And people born with one arm are limited in scope. Society does not sanction one armed firemen.

  • KL

    Elizabeth, thank you for this. Your column this morning was a very specific answer to a prayer about something with which I have been struggling. You gave me a lot of peace this morning.

  • GA Dean

    If you will kindly allow a comment from a non-Catholic… a member of a church that has been publicly grappling with this (and other) issues for some time, I’ll add first an endorsement of what I think you are implying above. That is the constant need to maintain spiritual humility as we move into new and uncharted waters. The church is called to move out into the uncertain world and seek a narrow path. Being the flawed creatures we are we cannot help making false steps along with the correct ones. We need humility and patience to wait for the seeds to bear fruit (to borrow a metaphor) and admit that some things turn out to have failed, and others will surprise us with a deeper revealing of God. A glance at our history shows that the Spirit is a patient worker. Apparently God is willing to work changes over many generations. Our history also reveals that our worst errors have occurred when we strode forward blind with confidence.

    One other note, on homosexuality in the church. Some wiser heads in our denomination have noted that these issues seem cloudy when considered in abstract, with terms like “the gays” and “the Church”, but become much clearer when considering real people in your own parish and community. Put a name and a face to the label, sit with them, share a prayer, or a cup of coffee, and then work your discernment. A good practice in general.

    [Thanks for a nice comment. The "sit down with a cup of coffee" thing is true in all sorts of ministry. Back when some Evangelicals in SF were standing on the streetcorner preaching and singing at gay folk, they created a deal of resentment. The church has known from the time of the apostles that the best way to convert a heart is by setting one's tent among people and living with them...just as did the Incarnate Word -admin]

  • Will

    GA Dean:

    Great comment about putting a name and a face to the label. Unfortunately, a lot of what I seen on blogs, letters to the editor, newspaper columns, and from politicians are comments that divide us into general groups with a lot of hate involved.

  • terry nelson

    I’ve been discussing this at my place as well. I don’t see you as advocating for ss marriage – I see you identifying an issue not only confronting the Church, but families as well. The sense of urgency about these issues can lead to ignoring Church teaching, or total disregard for it however. Although certain incidents may involve canon law – the homosexual question remains a catechetical dilema, it involves Church authority to teach on faith and morals. The Catechism is not the only instruction regarding pastoral care of homosexual persons, but it is often touted as the only source for Church teaching on the issue. Not true. The CDF has documents laying out the Catholic response to the contemporary challenge to Catholic teaching. These documents are the work of Cardinal Ratzinger, our current Pope, authorized and signed by JPII.

    We must be careful not to be swayed by sentimentalism in these matters, despite the fact many of us have family members who are gay, along with all of the other emotional hooks attached to ever increasing persuasive arguments that gay is a natural good.

    In or out of the closet, Church teaching cannot be changed.

    I admire your courage in broaching this subject Elizabeth, and thank you for stimulating a closer look at this issue facing the Church. You are right when you say, it “is a deepening of teaching from the church that sheds more light, less heat, on the paradoxical truth (because God’s truth are so often paradoxes) that the obedience that so many see as nothing but “no” is actually a freeing act that leads to the whole YES that is God.”

    I’m not sure it will be an easy task convincing others of that however.

  • SteveP

    Good heavens! Perhaps you are not a bad writer. Perhaps the insight given you by the Holy Spirit in lectio is specifically for you – meaningless to other who do not know of your prayers.

    Again I am in the position where I must apologize: I apologize that non-comprehension on my part implied poor prose on your part.

    May God bless you.

  • Elizabeth Duffy

    I think your article is working. It’s common sense. Christ is medic to the sick, not the well. Sinners (all of us) are meant to be in Church. We are also meant to examine our own consciences and abstain from the Eucharist when we find our behavior in contradiction to the Church’s teaching–until we can make a firm commitment to confess and sin no more. Such is the case for whatever kind of sex one’s having–validly married sex that’s open to procreation being the only kind of sex that’s compatible with Communion.

    Good article.

  • Bender

    Put a name and a face to the label

    Better yet, do not label in the first place.

    “Gay” is not a state of being, it is not ontological. Rather, a person with a same-sex attraction is either (1) a male human person, or (2) a female human person. That is it. The state of being of a “gay person” is emphasis on “person” and not on “gay.”

    As a human person, with or without a same-sex attraction, we are made by love for love. We are made to love and be loved in truth. Even so-called “gay” people are made to love and be loved in truth. And those of us who are not same-sex attracted should love those who are, in truth.

    The truth part is rather self-evident, notwithstanding the major effort to confuse the truth in this area, given the nature of one’s procreative organs vis-a-vis one’s digestive organs, etc.

    The love part likewise has been subjected to efforts to confuse. Authentic love, in its fullest, is both unitive and fruitful. By its very nature, a same-sex physical joinder is not and cannot be open to being fruitful, that is, procreative. And to the extent that such joinder is contrary to the truth of the procreative act, it is not and cannot be unitive, two cannot become one in an atmosphere of falsehood and error.

    Again, so-called “gay” people are made to love and be loved in truth, but this is so, not as a “gay” matter, but as a matter of their being human persons who, by their very nature, male and female, are made for male-female joinder even if they have no subjective desire for it.

  • Mary

    I’m sorry but I absolutely do not agree that Cardinal Schönborn’s decision was a good one. I don’t understand how someone who is involved in homosexual behavior should have the right to serve on the Pastoral Council. The same, for that matter would apply to a heterosexual couple who are cohabitating and not living chastely. How can someone possibly be in “union” with the Pastoral Council when they are out of union in their moral life? Aren’t we saying that the way “they” are living is o.k. by giving them a voice on the Pastoral Council? I don’t think homosexuals will be satisfied until they receive the recognition they feel they are entitled to; full participation in the sacraments of the Church and that includes marriage. Discussions, spiritual guidance, education, compassion and most of all love are due the person who feels isolated but not a seat on the Pastoral Council.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I can’t help but wonder about the reasons behind the current obsession with gays. Is it because of the push for gay marriage, during the past few years? (I wonder this in general—not about the Anchoress in particular, or any one blogger.)

    The Church has always had stringent rules about marriage and sexuality; an aunt of mine, one of the best people I ever knew, was excommunicated because her husband had divorced his first wife, long before he met her. The priest at her funeral gave her a lovely eulogy, in the church where, as a supposed excommunicant, she’d never been allowed to partake of Christ’s body. If we’re talking about charity and tolerance here, shouldn’t some be extended to heterosexuals in marriages the church disapproves of? Or are only rich and famous Catholics, such as the Kennedys, allowed forgiveness (and annulments) for this particular transgression?

    I don’t object to tolerance, and understanding, directed at gays, but it seems to me there are other, more serious things to concern ourselves with at the moment, such as the on-going genocide of third-world Christians.

  • Matthew

    I was going to write an entirely different post until I read the comments already posted. It seems to me that the first task is for Christians/Catholics to understand the teaching of the Church. Natural Law has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH WHAT HAPPENS “NATURALLY”. So people born with one arm or dogs humping your leg do happen in nature but they have NO RELATIONSHIP to Natural Law. Simply put Natural Law is God’s design for the human person. It has to do with what is or is not in accord with human nature. So while it is true that men commit murder, murder is nonetheless contrary to the Natural Law.


  • Jane Hartman

    It is so fashionable to be “gay” these days. Our culture is so hyper-sexed that I weary of it. Perhaps we can get to the point where discretion is the better part of valor, and everyone could just keep it to themselves. Why does anyone need to know anyone’s sexual preferences? And if we’re living chaste lives, why should it be a consideration? Rhinestone is right – we should be concerning ourselves with much more important issues.

  • Mary

    One more thought. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. God is always calling us to a full relationship with Him. Those who vehemently disagree with the teachings of the Church and seek Christ nonetheless can find a place of worship (albeit imperfect) without attempting to change who the Catholic Church is. Although from what I have seen homosexual activists are not satisfied with this approach.

    To be a serious Catholic requires courage and determination and most of all letting go of ones ego. There are many who are now leaving the liberal movements in some of the Protestant churches who in their attempt to be compassionate and politically correct forgot what was required to be a serious Christian and these people are joining the Catholic Church.

  • dry valleys

    And yet no one demands that straight people keep their spouses and children to themselves, or that they never refer to their sexuality.

    I do think that how a country treats its LGBT population is a good indicator for how good it is on a range of factors that indicate whether it’s a decent place to live or not. I’m not gay myself (sorry boys!) but I don’t want to live in a country where homosexuality is illegal or “discouraged”. There are many such countries, generally in the Muslim world, and I can’t think of one that doesn’t sound like a living hell, with the possible exception of Singapore, and even that country isn’t somewhere I would want to go for more than a short stay.

    I recall a UN resolution on homosexuality that came out last year. I suppose (correct me if I’m wrong) that most here would think the USA was wrong to sign it.

    Yet just consider who is for and against. We can see quite clearly that state recognition that LGBT relationships are equal in worth to heterosexual relationships is a view held by decent governments, and governments that mis-manage utter hellholes are against such an idea.

    “Yes”, you retort, “but you can’t eat gay marriage, can you? There are more pressing concerns”. And, in fact, the British government plans to allow gay marriage in registry offices (churches will be free to refuse to officiate or to acknowledge such unions), and despite supporting them on this thing I’ll oppose them in general because they fail on bigger issues. So it’s clearly not the be all and end all of everything.

    Yet, some of the poorest countries in the world actively persecute gays. And this is where the real waste and tragedy occurs. Haven’t Ugandans, for example, got other matters to address than the homophobic “laws” their government tried to bring in a while back? Couldn’t the Pakistani authorities find something a bit more useful to do with their time and money? And so on from Jamaica to Indonesia.

    I also reject the meme of “love the sinner, hate the sin”, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a loving gay relationship, and also because it only ever leads to more unhappiness and torment whatever those propagating it may want.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Thanks for the kind words, Jane—yes, I worry myself that much of this is inspired by the fact that gays are now fashionable, and polically correct (unlike Coptic Christians, or Irish Catholic Aunties.)

    My own belief (for what it’s worth) is that homosexuality is an action; it’s what you do, it’s not who you are. And, yes, I wish very much for the return of privacy, before sexual preferences became politicized.

  • doc

    The primary reason the homosexual lifestyle gets so much attention is that the supporters and participants of this lifestyle have been angry and aggressive for decades now. This is why there can be no public debate, which is replaced instead by false or exagerated acccusations of persecutions and victimhood, and actual public condemnation or even legal prosecution for even bringing the topic up if you happen to be a designated oppressor (white heterosexual Christian male, vs a Muslim, for example).

    This is just another example of post-modern destruction of traditional morality, where our brains are assumed to be below the waist. The concept of self-restraint is a dangerous one for the post-modernist. How will they convince self-controlled people that they cannot function in modern society without the aid of government?

  • leahlibresco

    As a bisexual non-Catholic, I wanted to say I really appreciated the post (and I didn’t get confused and think you’d changed your opinion on gay marriage!). I don’t have a problem with traditions (religious or not) taking a prescriptivist position on other people’s sex lives. It only feels like bigotry and spleen when they only bother to talk about these restrictions as applied to a particular class.

    Catholics who talk holistically about the Theology of the Body don’t tee me off, just the ones who assert that gay marriage will destroy marriage while ignoring every other threat and not talking about the purpose of the traditional marriage they’re supporting.

  • kevin

    Didn’t the Roman Empire decline and fall in part because sexual morality deteriorated?

  • SharonW

    Sorry…1. Matthew is right regarding what is known as “natural law”.
    2. If one is going to argue about “nature” with regard to this issue…then “that is an exit, not an entry” and all that follows with regard to misuse of this part of the body becomes pertinent. I, like many of the commentators here have precious people in my life that are homosexual. I treat them with the respect and love I try to show all the people in my life. But the same way male nature that is promiscuous is unnaturally demanded of by the Judeo-Christian rules of faith, the homosexual is cut-off from living that way. What are the statistics about male sexual thoughts?? How many per hour?? If acted on, marriage as ordained by our faith documents would be non-existent. That is the reality.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    doc, I think you are right about the supporters of the gay lifestyle being very angry, and aggressive, in their support of it.

  • lehnne

    When considering human sexuality it is important not to restrict the discussion to homo or hetero consensual sex as it does not represent the totality of human sexuality. If one considers the full spectrum of human sexuality one sees that certain activities have been sanctioned and others have been not. This issue ultimately pertains to the relaxing of sanctions and social acceptance: what does this development portend for the viability of the culture, what can we learn from history and are there other formerly prohibited behavior that are now being excepted. Not engaging in due diligence in this matter it insults both believer and atheist.

  • Ray M.

    Oh man, that title is really questionable. Hard to read.

  • Katie

    Dear Elizabeth, I can see where you’re coming from. But something gets to me about Schoenborn, Radcliffe et al. I live near the Austrian border in Italy and our local diocese is German speaking and very influenced by the Austrian (former) state church model. What concerns me is this. Do you really think 2 lesbians would have got a lunch and would a lesbian have been pronounced ‘impressive’? With the gay push and the married priest push in Austria, orthodox nuns and heterosexual women and families have become O So boring. So, like, Vatican 2. So peasant. Schoenborn and Cardianl Martini should be ashamed.The nod to gay relationships will push lay women and families and orthodox nuns out even further. From here it looks like the gay stuff is more about men and about clubs of men being in control. No I’m not arguing for women priests or lesbians. I’m bringing up the question of groups of power. Ask any orthodox Jesuit or Dominican.

  • Verushka

    I agree with Jane and Rhinestone; gay rights advocates/actions/militants/supporters/practitioners need to keep quiet. The non-stop pro-gay talk has created an environment among the young that is heartbreaking and repulsive to see. It used to be that, for example, gay activities would be tried out in the college years (especially among women). Now, it has filtered down to the high schools and it’s downright cool for young girls to all of a sudden decide to make out with each other after school. This was considered disgusting 20 years ago. Now? You are not in touch with your sexuality if you haven’t at least tried it. I see it in the large (1500+ student) public high school near me all the time. And when I drive past it, my kids see it. This is a relatively new phenomenon and it will trickle down to younger ages.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Katie, you raise a very interesting point;

    What will happen to women, if society becomes increasingly gay? The gay agenda does seem to be much more about males; lesbians are pretty much ignored—as are heterosexual women. What will happen if more and more all male cliques ? gain more power, and influence, both in the church, and society in general? Will this lead to women in general being ignored, or shoved aside?

  • Katie

    Rhinestone: depressingly, it’s already happening.Suggestion: habited nuns and laywomen of all sorts and conditions should discover their ancient friendship. This can only happen in the Catholic Church. P.S. Why are we all so frightened of gay backlash? I’m English and people with public positions in England are plain scared to say what they think. Women ought to be less scared and defend orthodox, heterosexual families more passionately. I know that we all have issues and a lot of confusion in our own personal lives. And yes Dolan is right we have been badly taught. But what is it that we know to be right? Isn’t it what the Church teaches if we are honest with ourselves and others?

  • dry valleys

    And Katie, the Stephen Greens of this world, not to mention those Asian youths in Derby or that “Gay Free Zone” halfwit, aren’t afraid to express themselves quite clearly. That so few people listen to them is, in my view, good rather than bad.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Katie, so many fear gay backlash because they don’t want to be hounded, and branded as intolerant bigots who are “Worse than the Taliban”, insulted and even threatened for criticizing the gay agenda. Here in the states, gay rights groups were outing the names of anyone who’d financially supported Proposition 8, and indulging in a vendetta against Mormons who, they claimed, had been the masterminds behind the proposition’s passing. (More likely it passed because it was supported by blacks and Hispanics.)

    As other posters here have pointed out, this movement demands a tolerance—even approval—they don’t extend to anyone else.

    Also, many rather silly progressive women have a strange affection for gay males, and tend to idolize, and support, them.

    You are right; lay women, and nuns, do need to rediscover their ancient friendship. I know in the Orthodox Church, many convents frequently open their doors to laywomen for retreats, and I think the Catholic church does the same; more needs to be done, of course. . .

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, yes, it is what the church teaches—which is what all of this will come down to in the end; “What does the church teach?”

  • Ed Peters

    ES wrote: “I have decided I must be a very bad writer, because people seem to think I am advocating Gay Marriage; I am not.” I know the feeling, E. People think I am advocating sacrilegious Communions. I am not. Hang in there, kiddo. Blessed Triduum. edp.

  • Peggy m

    Sometimes I wonder if the homosexual “fad” (if that is what it is) among young women and girls is caused by bad experiences with young males. There are a few young women in my family who have confided—tentatively and with embarrassment—that their first dates with boys and men have all ended with unpleasant wrestling matches, demands for sex, etc. One told me that sex is expected, that there is no such thing anymore as getting to know each other in a non-Biblical sense. Courting no longer exists. She has chosen to remain a virgin and expects never to marry as she is afraid of and disgusted by men. Another decided she is a lesbian, since she had nothing but sexually exploitive rounds with men when she was an innocent teenager trying to date. These women are in their early 20s. This makes me sad, and I am angry that young men view women this way. I do not know where they can find young men who will treat them well, although such men must exist somewhere.

  • Kevin

    Pilate would normally have said Ecce Vir, since Jesus was obviously a man. ‘Ecce homo’ betokened his exasperation with the crowd whom no amount of torture could satisfy, and a large measure of pity.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Peggy m, you may be onto something there. Certainly, the contemporary sex scene resembles something like highly competitive meat market, rather than a fun-filled Utopia of sexual freedom.

    I’m very sorry about that one young relative of yours, who’se decided she must be a lesbian, because she hasn’t liked any of the young men she’s encountered so far. (a very good reason, by the way, for not slapping labels on people, or pressuring them to adopt a lifestyle for politial reasons; I seriously doubt she’s homosexual, and I pray that she’ll find a young man who will treasure her, and make her feel special.)

    If you belong to any church groups, or religious organizations, I’d suggest you look for young men there; also, if the young women have any special interests, such as playing a musical instrument, historical re-enactments, science fiction, art, anything, they might want to try a social group that caters to those interests. And pray God watches over them. I know it’s hard right now; our birth/control-culture of death has coarsened relations between the sexes, and cheapened women in mens’ eyes. And that’s very sad.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    One final thing, Peggy m; do not let anyone try to pressure your young relative, who thinks she’s Lesbian, into “Coming out”, or adopting the gay life style or try to set her up with a female lover! Just because she hasn’t met a young man she likes, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s gay. It just means, well—she hasn’t met the right guy! At any rate, don’t let anyone pressure her into anything, either with men or women. Support her in finding her own way.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And Kevin, Pilate was a nickel-plated SOB! A real hard case! So, for him to feel compassion for Our Lord on that day—that’s something!

  • Kevin

    Indeed. but the texts clearly show that even a careerist like Pilate wanted to free Jesus. He troubled him and his wife had nightmares. The raucous mob (and we were all there in a real sense) would have none of it though. By the way, in case anyone is wondering Jesus Christ, in his human nature, was a heterosexual.