The Rule of Love

The Rule of Love August 23, 2014

Jonathan Bernier homosexuality quote

The quote comes from Jonathan Bernier’s recent post, “Paul, Conversion, and Homosexuality,” and I highly recommend clicking through to read the whole thing.

And after two millennia the world has reached the place in its pilgrim journey that it is submitting the matter of same-sex attraction to the rule of love, and the Church is slowly, reluctantly, doing likewise. The experience of Being-in-love has led us to confront our often less-than-loving attitudes towards homosexual persons, and this has brought us to the point that we understand Paul and other passages deemed relevant to the matter somewhat differently. As we become less hostile to homosexual persons we become less confident that the scripture warrants our hostility. Put in Christian terms, God is softening our hearts of stone. We are learning that to think as Paul thought means not simply or even primarily or even at all to affirm the sum total of his propositions but rather more fundamentally to understand the logic by which he came to advance those propositions. And as we do so we begin to suspect that maybe, just maybe, St. Paul might be looking down upon our increasing collective love towards homosexual persons with joy and gladness.


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  • Neko

    The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and that for their salvation homosexual persons must commit to a life of celibacy. However, RCC-idolators will proudly assure you that homosexual persons are to be treated with respect and that after all we are all sinners with intrinsic disorders, so it’s all good. Meanwhile, the American bishops spend plenty of the laity’s money on culture war against gay marriage even though over half of American Catholics support gay marriage.

    I’m not breaking out the champagne yet.

    • Andrew Dowling

      But just look at the dichotomy between RCC laypeople in Western Europe and the U.S. (a majority of whom as you note support same-sex marriage) and the hierarchy. That can’t last forever; either the church changes tune or it becomes significantly smaller, as it already has in non-Latin Europe.

      And the developing world is catching up in terms of their attitudes as well (more slowly, but it is occurring especially in urban centers); conservatives who all putting all of their eggs in the Third World basket now that the West=Babylon in their delusional minds are going to discover that cultural changes and ideas in the 21st century travel and integrate on a global scale far more quickly than they used to.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        I doubt that I will, in my lifetime, witness the Church recognizing sacramentally valid same-sex marriages. Then again I also doubted that I would live to see an African-American in the Oval Office. I have found that, despite war and rumours of war, truth and goodness still have a way of surprising me.

      • Neko

        Hi Andrew: I don’t mean to be churlish about the astonishing sea-change in attitudes toward gay people since Stonewall. Certainly some Protestant denominations are paragons of enlightenment in that regard, especially compared with the RCC. But for some perspective, the most Catholics can hope for from the upcoming Synod on the Family in Rome is that divorced people will be admitted to communion under certain circumstances. For the Church that would represent a radical shift. So the RCC will not be changing its tune concerning “homosexual acts” any time soon!

        Gay Catholics will continue to be advised that their orientation is a cross to bear, that they must abstain from homosexual intimacy and that they are unfit to be parents unless married to a member of the opposite sex. Conservatives will continue to blame gay priests for the sex abuse scandals. Despite Pope Francis’s famous words on the flight from Brazil, he is no supporter of gay equality. As Cardinal Bergoglio he denounced gay marriage as a machination of the Father of Lies (who he apparently believes is an actual person). To replenish its ranks the Church is looking to the developing world, where, as Cardinal Turkson of Ghana mused about Africa, homosexuality may not be countenanced. Yes, in some corners of Christianity things are looking up for gay people, but in others (Russia stands out), not so much.

      • WilmRoget

        One of the problems is that condemnation of homosexuality in catholicism is tightly bound to, and derived from, the over-arching catholic principle that sex is for reproduction, and any other benefit of purpose is incidental. Thus condemnation of homosexuality is tied to condemnation of birth control and divorce and masturbation.

        The RCC really cannot change its stance on homosexuality without admitting that it was wrong on the other issues.

        Factor in the whole issue of infallibility, and any doctrine that has an ex cathedra statement on or linked to it is essentially immutable. The best that can be hoped for it some sort of fading of interest, over the course of hundreds of years, until the laity forgets the the clergy used to condemn it.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I’m not saying the RCC is changing doctrine anytime soon . . .so much of their theology is based on the Augustine/Aquinas arguments of natural law/original sin that make any accommodation to homosexuality extremely difficult; but that all said . . .if anyone had told me back in 1992 that gay marriage would be supported by a majority of Catholics less than 20 years later I would have laughed in their face . . .things are changing more quickly than ever in a globalized world. The next century will be an interesting one without a doubt. Francis is trying to be a bridge man after two fairly conservative popes (and Paul had the luxury of wrapping his conservatism in the veil of anti-communism) but such a stance is untenable in the long run.

          • WilmRoget

            “.things are changing more quickly than ever in a globalized world.”

            We certainly do live in interesting times – so much change, some positive, some negative.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            There seems to be a marked shift away from natural law thinking in Catholic thought. I would say also that there is a movement from a Augustinian to a more Irenaean understanding of the doctrine of sin. Such developments, which are hardly unrelated, open a number of interesting potential avenues for a Catholic theology of same-sex marriage. I think it also important to note that Francis is the first pope who lived his entire ecclesiastical career in the post-Vatican II era. Eventually we’ll have a Holy Father who can’t even remember the world before the Council. And that’s going to change things.

  • Benjamin Martin

    Paul himself was gay. One has to be blind to not see the ribald joke about his particular Greek lifestyle in Philemon.

    • Historians and academics generally all tend to agree that it is inadvisable to try to psychologize ancient people based on literature, not to mention the inappropriateness of imposing modern categories of sexuality on them. But if you feel you must, by all means explain why you think otherwise.

      • Benjamin Martin

        Generally all tend?

        Greek Homosexuality (1978) Harvard University Press
        Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece (1996) University of Illinois Press
        Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (2003) University of California Press

        • Kris Rhodes

          Have you read those books? I haven’t, but based on what things I have read on the subject, I strongly suspect that what can be found in those books is not psychology.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Not to mention the inappropriateness of imposing modern categories of sexuality on them.

    • Kris Rhodes

      What part of Philemon are you talking about in particular? I’ve heard speculation about Paul’s lifestyle (which like James I think is not well supported) but nothing in Philemon is ringing a bell.

      • Benjamin Martin

        Paul, writing his buddy, “one who kisses” (Philemon,) about the slave-boy whom he found “useful” (Onesimus.)

        Do you imagine Paul, otherwise obsessed with sexuality and homosexuality, was totally ignorant of sexual innuendo?

        The way it looks, that unfortunately “useful” slave was a victim of Paul’s fetish that “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh…” (Col. 3:22)

        In light of how slaves were regularly used sexually by slave masters of the time, and how Romans ventured on sexual tourism seeking “Greek Love,” I find Paul’s callous attitude rather repugnant.

        • Well, if you are going to take Greek name – I’ve usually seen Philemon defined as deriving from “affectionate” rather than “one who kisses,” and Onesimus clearly means “useful” in the sense of “profitable” – and allegorize them, giving sexual overtones to their English translations which they seem to have lacked in Greek, then of course you can read all sorts of things into texts – and not only this one. But few of us have time for or interest in that sort of undertaking.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Philemon, Φιλημων, from φιλημα, (transliteration: philéma) a kiss.

            My interpretation isn’t based on a single name. It’s all the elements, as summarized previously, in context of the culture. But then, folks have long refused to see the graphic sex in Song of Solomon for what it is too.

          • You are comparing a letter to someone with a name to an erotic love poem. Were all letters to people named Philemon erotic?

          • Benjamin Martin

            I mentioned Song of Solomon, because even that level of blatant sexual talk, the sexual content is still denied by many. Philemon doesn’t rise to that blatant level sexual talk, it is a more subtle innuendo. Again, if you think the sexual innuendo is solely in a single name, you haven’t read what I wrote. Please consider how slaves were treated in the day. How they were used, and found “useful” by their Masters.

            Like I said, if Paul is completely innocent of sexual innuendo, he then had to have been completely clueless to the 1st century culture, as clueless as if some preacher today was caught talking about a woman he met, “Candy Juggs,” and then claiming she was, oh, just an innocent spiritual associate.

          • But you have not shown that these names, which are not unique to this letter, were names used primarily by sex workers or porn stars or whatever you think the Greco-Roman equivalent of them was. Nor have you explained how you think that Paul’s subtle but clear “I had sex with your slave” is supposed to have functioned within the context of Greco-Roman norms concerning dealing with someone else’s property. Thus far all you have shown is that you are capable of finding sexual innuendo in common names and that you are capable or reading sexual references into texts. It takes more than that to make a persuasive interpretation.

          • Benjamin Martin

            In the cultural context of how slaves were sexually used (pederasty) by masters, especially “one who kisses,” referring to a younger slave named “useful” as “useful” is as much an innuendo as any of ours today.

          • I presume that you are aware that people today are perfectly capable of making jokes when the name “Dick” is mentioned. But that doesn’t mean that all references to someone named “Dick” are innuendo. And when they seem to be after the fact, that doesn’t always mean they are intentional. I am pretty sure that when our university president spoke in his “State of the University” address about “getting on top of” the problem of sexual assault on campus, it was a case of him being unthinking rather than perverse, even though the inappropriateness of the idiom seemed obvious to many in the audience.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Dick’s dick. Would you deny that is innuendo? Paul made a play on the name Useful alluding how useful Useful was. Useful Useful is as much innuendo as Dick’s dick.

          • If you think that the only way a slave could be useful is as a sexual object, then I really do think the problem is with you. Sorry.

          • I hadn’t heard Benjamin’s take on Philemon before so I did a search. I think he’s getting his ideas from this 2011 article in the Journal of Biblical Literature:

            “The Usefulness of an Onesimus: The Sexual Use of Slaves and Paul’s Letter to Philemon”

            by Joseph A. Marchal


          • Benjamin Martin

            Paul wouldn’t travel with another young male companion without touching his pee-pee to body mod it. Because religion. (acts 16:3)

            And George Alan Rekers, another preacher obsessed with homosexuality, also got into genital touching. Because religion.

            But I’ve got the problem. Whatever.

          • If you want to take a sexualized view of Judaism because of the practice of circumcision, I cannot stop you. But your expressing that view doesn’t persuade me that you are not imposing a dubious lens on everything you read.