Friday, December 22, 2017

The Commandments and Questions on Same-Sex Parenting

Fr. John Harvey, the founder of the admirable organization Courage, spoke at my seminary while I was doing graduate theology studies. He made a straightforward statement about the Bible and homosexuality that I noted well at the time. I have occasionally recalled his statement, and at times cross referenced it with other situations. I think it is even more profound in the current scene. He said that the only fundamentally sound way to argue biblical interpretations of sexual sins is to go back to the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. In contrast, he said all the other Biblical references to sexaul ethics, especially those lists of sins in which same-sex acts are condemned, will not be sufficient on their own. Of course, right here anyone who is familiar with St. John Paul the Great's monumental work Theology of the Body will point out that this is exactly what John Paul II did for the Church. Fr. Harvey was probably thinking of the Theology of the Body when he made this statement at my seminary. From the commencement of Theology of the Body, John Paul II did in fact have in mind real current sexual ethic situations of our day. He was thinking of Humanae Vitae, of the Church’s teaching on marital sexual ethics and the state of life of celibacy. He was thinking of adultery and other sexual sins that were condemned by the Bible (and still are condemned rather explicitly). But he did not start with these things. He started at the beginning. He started with Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and end of our faith. He started with Jesus Christ, who was the Word who made all things as described in Genesis. He started with the very words of Genesis that Jesus Christ quoted when he was asked questions about whether married persons could divorce. It was from this starting point that he retraced an entire outline of the a moral life which harmonized in positive fundamental ways the moral theology that the tradition of the Church had recently applied to sexual questions fo the 20th century, with a profound and coherent Biblical doctrine about creation, redemption, and eternal life.
This post is not a guide or a commentary on St. John Paul II’s work. It is rather a poor and miniscule imitation of what John Paul the Great accomplished. He wove together many threads of beautifully profound biblical teachings to make a picture, a tapestry almost, of how our world should approach questions of sexuality and fulfillment. I will simply trace one thread that seems to me to answer a few questions that are in need of answering right now. In short, I want to give a BIblical reflection which leads to a fundamental belief about our desire for fulfillment in our human spirit. I want to give a practical Catholic-Biblical answer to the question, “Isn’t it just as good for a child to have two parents of the same sex as to have a “mother-father” pair as traditionally envisioned by Judeo-Christian tradition?” My thesis up front is that every person experiences, and will continue to experience, a feeling that they want to know their mother and father (biologically speaking). I believe the Biblical truth, which corresponds to this answer, is that it is fundamental to our happiness and fulfillment as human beings to “honor one’s father and mother” (again, I mean biological father and mother), because it is is a commandment of a good and loving creator that continues to be spoken to us for our own benefit.
There is an almost insurmountable challenge to my aims here. Those who have embraced same sex marriage/parenting, if they claim to be Christian in any sense, are likely not to interpret the Bible like I do. And further, they will see my argument in natural terms, and simply say “nope. Our children, or those children with same-sex parents, don’t have any such innate need to know their biological origins so as to ‘honor’ their parents.” Even as I presume these possible responses, I nonetheless want to express clearly the Biblical thread that seems so powerfully significant in this question. I do it for Catholics who care about the commandments of God and who have an interest to read up just a little about related scripture passages. If anyone else happens to learn from this, I will be happy to offer the smallest opportunities for new thoughts and new ways of looking at a complex subject.
A little known fact, which happens to be very relevant in my thoughts on this matter, is that in the Genesis account of creation God speaks more than once on certain days of creation. In fact, in the seven days which pictorially lay out the spiritual and anthropological “schema” of creation, God speaks a total of TEN times. It would be mere Biblical trivia, except for the fact that great theologians have seen this as a Biblical prelude to the other significant passage in which God “speaks” ten times. Pope Benedict, writing before his election at the conclave, expressed a correlation between the words God spoke in Genesis, and the Words God spoke in Exodus. The Ten Commandments, as spoken by God in Exodus, and repeated in Deuteronomy, are historically referred to as “The Decalogue,” a shorthand name used by many saints and theologians. The word Decalogue is Greek, meaning... you guessed it, “Ten Words.” It means “the ten things God said.”
Let me put the correlation this way. God spoke ten times when he put together the “schema” of the universe. God spoke ten times again when he wanted to establish humanity’s good and necessary role in the schema of the universe. In the first “decalogue” of Genesis, God put in place a plan for all creation. In the second “Decalogue” of the Ten Commandments God tells men and women how they should act within creation. This means that the Ten Commandments are not moral imperatives dictated in the manner of arbitrary rules at the will of a finite human person. It is not merely that “daddy said so” that we should follow some “rules” about good and evil. The “rules” are rather a consequence of the fact that we can enjoy the very goodness of existence, because “God said…” in the first place. If God’s spoken words are the Biblical foundation of all goodness in creation, then there is no question as to whether his spokens words correspond to what is good for us as human beings, part of his creation.
This has great implications, as the above mentioned theologians point out. Now, I’m not going to spend much time harping on the theme, that the reason people don’t understand the commandments of God properly is because they are mistaken about the fundamental “schema” of God’s creation. That might be a fun argument to get into, but I want to be very practical here. Jesus was very practical at certain times, and one such time is when he wanted to give an example of something that the Pharisees of his time had gotten fundamentally wrong. I am thinking of the passage in which, appropriately, this very subject of “God’s commandments” has come up, and Jesus decides to give a practical example of how they have really blown one of the commandments. I read Mark 7:1-13,
Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban” (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”
Note first the contrast between ever present “human traditions,” and the real affirmation of Divine Commandments which we have a moral obligation to fulfill. Men can come up with their own schema of how to live a happy and fulfilled life, but when that schema goes against God’s commandments it will certain be objectively flawed. This is a way of restating the above point, that of putting God’s purposes first in a way that acknowledges the value of the commandments. In this practical example, nowhere did God command the washing of hands. It is not evil to wash one’s hands. We know now that it is rather a healthy habit, and human tradition worth passing on. But Jesus tells the Pharasees that they are promoting a human rule with more concern and zeal that some of the actual commandments that were spoken by God. If God created all that exists, his commandments should come first before we start filling in the details of what we shall, or shalt not, do in life.
Here an example would be helpful, and so Jesus picked an example. He referenced a commandment that they should be obeying within God’s schema of the universe. We know from the Gospels that there were several commandments Jesus could have chosen for this example, but here he chose the commandment “honor your father and your mother” (Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue for Catholics and Lutherans, Fifth in the numbering that other Christians use). It is rather apparent that the people Jesus was criticizing here were still enjoying the possession of these good which were supposedly “dedicated to God.” They were simply being bad sons and daughters to their parents, by coming up with an excuse not to provide for their material needs in later life. Imagine saying to you parents, “sorry, I would help you out here, but I put the Church in my will so I don’t want to use that much money on you!” As a pastor, I would first be skeptical that anyone would do and say this. But in the case that I found out it was true, I would match Jesus’ tone and answer. “God will provide for the Church through others. Now stop being a bloody hypocrite and help your parents!”
Jesus quoted various commandments of the Decalogue, as recorded in various parts of the Gospels. I want to emphasize here that Jesus did quote and affirm the commandment “honor your father and your mother” quite explicitly, and he even did it with the purpose of directly and sharply criticizing those who were not obeying it. Think about that. How are you honoring your father and mother? If you think that it is such a simple commandment and that you have done a very good job keeping it, even in your adult life, I propose that all we have reflected on here should cause us to think more carefully. Jesus did not insist on the commandment so forcefully, and criticise those who broke it so harshly, because it was something easy and run of the mill. The commandment has roots that touch the very meaning of our existence. To fulfil the commandment completely is something nearly as costly as becoming a saint.
Let me say very clearly, that in Biblical terms, we have here a very profound affirmation of God’s plan for family. Just as the commandment to honor both father and mother as our procreators cannot be discarded, so the masculinity and femininity of husband and wife must be upheld in God’s schema of creation. If we are to affirm God’s schema of creation as revealed to us in Scripture, “bride and groom” are in fact the moral roles corresponding to fatherhood and motherhood, both essentially defined by the begetting of a human soul. Great ideals like monogamy and indissolubility are implied in the commandment “honor your father and mother,” because God wished that father and mother should really be united in lives that are both honorable, even if their children rebel from that due honor (and rebel against God at the same time). Or, in another scenario, if a person’s father and mother have done nothing exceptionally to deserve that honor commanded by God, well the commandment still holds in force, because God’s blessings of creation have in fact been brought to each of us through father and mother. Think about it, even in the horrible case of a conception by rape, the Biblical logic of the Decalouge commands a child to forgive the sins of his father, in order not to lose the blessings of the Father in heaven. It is a better thing to exist as a part of God’s creation, than to lose one’s very life and existence in protest against any lack of exception to the commandment.
Turning to practical examples in our day and age, this reflection on the biblical thread has brought me back to the answer I proposed. What about children of same-sex couples, those with two fathers or mothers? Those who accept my Catholic Biblical interpretation above will support the answer as both reasonable and doctrinal. Those who do not accept it I hope will still think about the ways that it agrees with their own intuition or philosophy of life. It is not “just as good” for a child to have two parents of the same sex as to have a “mother-father” pair as traditionally envisioned by Judeo-Christian tradition. Every person experiences, and will continue to experience, a feeling that they want to know their mother and father. Every person wants to believe that their own existence is inherently good, and this means that they want to be wanted by their father and mother. If they cannot grow up under the loving care of their biological father and mother, then the next best thing will always be to have a loving father-figure and mother-figure to guide them in God's intended attitude towards family. If a person cannot live with a loving father and mother, if their family has been chosen for them via some contracted procreative technology, or straightforward adoption, it is still the duty of father-figures and mother-figures to teach a love and respect for parents and procreation.
This experience is even affirmed in the experience of trying to get away from it. It is those who bear a hatred for their earthly parents who can never escape the emotionally self-destructive trap of anger. It is those who forgive the sins of their parents who are more easily set free from all irrational compulsions to rebel. While this is a Biblical perspective, I think most people who don’t accept the Biblical narrative will still have an intuition that there is something true in it.
I think therefore that same sex couples who pretend that they are “equally” fathers, or “equally” mothers of their children, are doing a great disservice to the natural emotions and instincts that should be formed in children about loving family. There is need for guidance on these issues of life, especially around the time that children begin to learn the facts of human procreation, and same-sex parenting can greatly confuse the matter when God's designs for the goodness of family are not treated properly.
Nothing I say here means that the arrangement of a man and woman, together raising children, in itself automatically instills more goodness and virtue in their children than any other household arrangement. Yes there may be husbands and wives who are terrible parents and who, in their parenting, obscure God’s good plans for life and creation. Foster parents or adopted parents might be much better for the children, but never in a way that rebels against the commandment Jesus insisted on so powerfully. Nothing here rules out the possibility of adoption. By the grace of God adoption can fulfill God’s plans for families. It was by a heavenly adoption that God redeemed the world. In the case of human adoption, I am not even saying that a child adopted by a same-sex couple will never benefit from forms of fatherly care, or motherly care, that they may receive from the parental figures that their adoption has put in place. I am saying that every child who grows up in a healthy environment will come to entertain in some ways the very question of their meaningful existence - where did I come from? - and they will not be satisfied with any answers unless those answers brings them definitively to God’s plans for their life.
          To make sense of God's plan, a person needs to come to grips about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing - in the overall schema of creation - that their biological parents brought them into existence. This question is usually not entertained consciously. It is always entertained subconsciously in the question of whether a person holds a love and goodwill towards their father and mother, or whether they hold a hatred for their father and mother. In human terms, there is one biological father and one biological mother.  Towards those two people, one of these sentiments will ultimately win out: either love, or hate. Getting the answer right is absolutely crucial for coming to love the true Father, and his plan for all His creatures.