Tag Archives: Sexuality

Hornbeck & Norko (eds.), “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church: Inquiry, Thought, and Expression”

Next month, Fordham will publish More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity 9780823257621and the Catholic Church: Inquiry, Thought, and Expression, edited by Patrick Hornbeck II (Fordham University) and Michael A. Norko (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows.

This volume, like its companion, Voices of Our Times, collects essays drawn from a series of public conferences held in autumn 2011 entitled “More than a Monologue.” The series was the fruit of collaboration among four institutions of higher learning: two Catholic universities and two nondenominational divinity schools. The conferences aimed to raise awareness of and advance informed, compassionate, and dialogical conversation about issues of sexual diversity within the Catholic community, as well as in the broader civic worlds that the Catholic Church and Catholic people inhabit. They generated fresh, rich sets of scholarly and reflective contributions that promise to take forward the delicate work of theological-ethical and ecclesial development. Along with Voices of Our Times, this volume captures insights from the conferences and aims to foster what the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, has called the “depth of thought and imagination” needed to engage effectively with complex realities, especially in areas marked by brokenness, pain, and the need for healing. The volumes will serve as vital resources for understanding and addressing better the too often fraught relations between LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) persons, their loved ones and allies, and the Catholic community.

Inquiry, Thought, and Expression explores dimensions of ministry, ethics, theology, and law related to a range of LGBTQ concerns, including Catholic teaching, its reception among the faithful, and the Roman Catholic Church’s significant role in world societies. Within the volume, a series of essays on ministry explores various perspectives not frequently heard within the church. Marriage equality and the treatment of LGBTQ individuals by and within the Roman Catholic Church are considered from the vantage points of law, ethics, and theology. Themes of language and discourse are explored in analyses of the place of sexual diversity in church history, thought, and authority.

The two volumes of More than a Monologue, like the conferences from which they developed, actively move beyond the monologic voice of the institutional church on the subject of LGBTQ issues, inviting and promoting open conversations about sexual diversity and the church. Those who read Inquiry, Thought, and Expression will encounter not just an excellent resource for research and teaching in the area of moral theology but also an opportunity to actively listen to and engage in groundbreaking discussions about faith and sexuality within and outside the Catholic Church.

A Non-Political Pope?

You can’t tell too much from one interview, of course, but the interview Pope Francis gave an Italian Jesuit journal last month, and which was released last week, seems like a blockbuster. Everyone understands this. Progressive Catholics are elated. After long years in the wilderness, they believe, they have one of their own as pope. Traditionalists have been more circumspect, but it’s hard to miss the sense of alienation. Traditionalists are used to thinking that, however much they have to battle with progressives at the local level, the pope has their back. Now, that’s very unclear.

As an outsider, I don’t feel right getting involved in intra-Catholic debates. There’s too much I don’t know, and anyway it’s not polite. But this interview does suggest three observations. First, Pope Francis has a definite vision for the Catholic Church. When he gave his airborne interview on the way back from Brazil last month–the interview in which he famously said, “who am I to judge?”–some traditionalists consoled themselves that he had spoken off the cuff or allowed himself to be misunderstood. After this interview, it’s impossible to think so. He knows what he means and means what he says.

Second, I’m not sure the pope is correct to suggest that the Church has been obsessing over sexuality–abortion, gay marriage, contraception. Catholic friends tell me they almost never hear sermons on these subjects. One might say, with justification, that the wider society is obsessing about these issues and the Church is only responding. If the government adopts a new rule that says you must pay for your employees’ contraceptives and abortifacients, and you think such drugs are gravely wrong as a matter of conscience, what should you do? I suppose you could readjust your priorities and say nothing. But if you were to object to such a rule, you would hardly be “obsessing.”

Third, it’s striking that in a long interview the pope said virtually nothing about politics. Only twice did he refer to the Church’s position on public policy questions, once to state that the Church should stop talking so much about sexuality and once to refer to the proper approach to “social issues”:

When it comes to social issues, it is one thing to have a meeting to study the problem of drugs in a slum neighborhood and quite another thing to go there, live there and understand the problem from the inside and study it. There is a brilliant letter by Father Arrupe to the Centers for Social Research and Action on poverty, in which he says clearly that one cannot speak of poverty if one does not experience poverty, with a direct connection to the places in which there is poverty. The word insertion is dangerous because some religious have taken it as a fad, and disasters have occurred because of a lack of discernment. But it is truly important.

Note a couple of things here. For Pope Francis, the phrase “social issues” connotes what Americans would call “economic issues”–an interesting distinction. More important, to address these issues, Pope Francis did not call for political action. He did not say, “When it comes to social issues, the important thing is to redistribute wealth and nationalize health care.” He may favor such programs, I don’t know. But he apparently does not think political programs are terribly important. The essential thing is for the Church to live among poor people, to share their lives, to minister to them–in order to witness to the Gospel. 

In other words, Pope Francis’s interview does not suggest he would like the Catholic Church to adopt a “progressive” politics any more than a “conservative” politics. It suggests he thinks the Church is beyond politics. To me, this is the key take-away from the pope’s interview. There is an old, old debate in Christianity. Is the faith about healing souls or social justice? It’s about both, of course, but which is more important? If I read him correctly, Pope Francis leans strongly in the first direction: Christianity is an interior matter, a question of salvation, of walking humbly in the company of the Lord and his followers. Christians can never be completely beyond politics, of course, and it will be interesting to see how this all develops. But Pope Francis seems, in his way, a mystic. And mystics don’t do politics. 

“Current Issues in Law and Religion” (Ferrari & Cristofori, eds.)

This September, Ashgate will publish Current Issues in Law and Religion by Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan) and Rinaldo Christofori (Emory University), a collection of essays that is part of Ashgate’s “Library of Essays on Law and Religion” series. The publisher’s description follows:

This volume focuses on issues that have only recently come to the forefront of the discipline such as freedom from religion, ordination of homosexuals, apostasy, security and fundamentalism, issues that are linked to the common themes of secularism and globalization. Although these subjects are not new to the academic debate, they have become prominent in law and religion circles as a result of recent and rapid changes in society. The essays in this volume present multiple points of view, facilitate scholars in understanding this evolving discipline and act as a stimulus for further research.This collection gives the reader a sense of the key topics and current debates in law and religion and is of interest to law, politics, human rights, and religion scholars.

Harper, “From Shame to Sin”

Culture and law have a mutually-reinforcing relationship. Cultural transformation typically promotes legal change, and legal change often speeds up cultural transformation. A good example is the sexual revolution of the 1960s. As the revolution became mainstream, it put pressure on family law concepts that had been based on traditional Christian sexual ethics. And changes in family law have  no doubt accelerated the weakening of traditional Christian sexual morality.

Next month, Harvard University Press will publish a book that describes another cultural transformation that had an effect on law: the movement from pagan to Christian sexual ethics that occurred in late antiquity. In some ways, this seems the mirror image of what is happening today. As Christian values displaced the pagan sexual ethic, Roman law changed as well. Doubtless, pagan traditionalists grumbled about the revolution, just as religious traditionalists grumble today. It’s a good reminder that history doesn’t really move in a one-way direction.

The book is From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity by Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma). Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Rome was at its height, an emperor’s male beloved, victim of an untimely death, would be worshipped around the empire as a god. In this same society, the routine sexual exploitation of poor and enslaved women was abetted by public institutions. Four centuries later, a Roman emperor commanded the mutilation of men caught in same-sex affairs, even as he affirmed the moral dignity of women without any civic claim to honor. The gradual transformation of the Roman world from polytheistic to Christian marks one of the most sweeping ideological changes of premodern history. At the center of it all was sex. Exploring sources in literature, philosophy, and art, Kyle Harper examines the rise of Christianity as a turning point in the history of sexuality and helps us see how the roots of modern sexuality are grounded in an ancient religious revolution.

While Roman sexual culture was frankly and freely erotic, it was not completely unmoored from constraint. Offending against sexual morality was cause for shame, experienced through social condemnation. The rise of Christianity fundamentally changed the ethics of sexual behavior. In matters of morality, divine judgment transcended that of mere mortals, and shame—a social concept—gave way to the theological notion of sin. This transformed understanding led to Christianity’s explicit prohibitions of homosexuality, extramarital love, and prostitution. Most profound, however, was the emergence of the idea of free will in Christian dogma, which made all human action, including sexual behavior, accountable to the spiritual, not the physical, world.

Brownson, “Bible, Gender, Sexuality”

Bible, Gender, SexualityThis month, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company published Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Bownson (Western Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows.

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality James Brownson argues that Christians should reconsider whether or not the biblical strictures against same-sex relations as defined in the ancient world should apply to contemporary, committed same-sex relationships. Presenting two sides in the debate — “traditionalist” and “revisionist” — Brownson carefully analyzes each of the seven main texts that appear to address intimate same-sex relations. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honor and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the biblical text. Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson’s in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.

Controversy over Proposed Christian Law School in Canada

This really isn’t the time to be starting a law school, at least in the United States. Lawyers face uncertain job prospects–the poor economy, outsourcing, and technological innovation continue to reduce demand for lawyers–and fewer and fewer people see a legal education as a good investment. Applications are down dramatically. Maybe this situation is temporary, maybe it’s permanent; we’ll have to wait and see. But starting a law school in this environment–you really have to wonder.

None of these hard facts explains the controversy surrounding a proposed new Canadian law school, however. Trinity Western University (TWU) in British Columbia wishes to start the first religious law school in Canada. The Council of Canadian Law Deans opposes the new school because TWU requires students, faculty and staff to honor traditional Christian sexual ethics: no sex outside heterosexual marriage. This requirement, the deans argue, discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of Canadian law. TWU maintains that a Canadian Supreme Court case from 2001 allows it to impose the requirement as a matter of religious freedom.

The Federation of Canadian Law Schools, the body that accredits law schools in Canada, has not yet decided whether to grant TWU permission to start its new school. Whatever decision the Federation takes, a lawsuit will no doubt follow. Canadian law on religious exercise uses a balancing test similar to the one in the European Conventi0n on Human Rights. Under that balancing test, government may limit citizens’ freedom of religion if necessary to protect important countervailing interests, including “the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” Just last week, in fact, the European Court of Human Rights applied this test and ruled that the European Convention allows member states to limit employees’ religious freedom in order to protect the right of same-sex couples to be free from discrimination.

It’s a different jurisdiction, of course, and the Canadian and European cases don’t line up exactly. As a religious university, TWU could raise arguments the European case didn’t address. But, like the European case, TWU’s claim will require judges to balance the right of religious exercise against the rights of sexual minorities. If Canadian judges adopt the ECtHR’s general view of things, TWU’s chances of prevailing in the long run don’t look great.

European Court’s Judgment in UK Religious Freedom Cases: A First Read

Today, a chamber of the European Court of Human Rights announced its decision in the highly-anticipated Eweida and Others v. United Kingdom, a group of four consolidated cases brought by British Christians who alleged that the UK had violated their religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights. From the claimants’ perspective, the outcome was, at best, mixed: the chamber ruled in favor of only one of the four claimants. With respect to the other three, the chamber accepted the government’s argument that important countervailing interests, including the protection of gay rights, outweighed concerns about religious freedom.

The claimants alleged that their employers had violated their religious freedom by disciplining them for manifesting their Christian beliefs. Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Shirley Chaplain, a hospital nurse, complained that their employers had forbidden them from wearing cross necklaces at work. Lillian Ladele, a public registrar, lost her job when she declined, out of religious conviction, to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples. Gary McFarlane, a psychotherapist, was fired by a sex counseling service because of his objections to providing sexual advice to same-sex couples. British courts had ruled against all four claimants, who then applied to the European Court for relief.

I won’t get into the details of the analysis here, but, briefly, the European Convention provides that individuals have the right to manifest their religious beliefs, but that governments may limit that right if necessary to protect important countervailing interests, such as public health and “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” With respect to the first two claimants, the chamber held that Continue reading

Wheeler, “How Sex Became a Civil Liberty”

In America, sex has been constitutionalized. In a series  of opinions over several decades, the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution protects sexually explicit speech, contraception, abortion, and, latterly, homosexual conduct. The Court may be about to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right. All this has put significant pressure upon traditionalist religions. More and more, fights about religious liberty involve the right to dissent — and to act in ways that reflect that dissent — from the legal consensus on sexuality.

How did this conflict develop? A new book from Oxford University Press, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2012), traces the role of one particular organization, the American Civil Liberties Union. Leigh Ann Wheeler (Binghamton University) argues that “creative individuals” at the ACLU “wrote sexual rights into the U.S. Constitution, a document that made no mention of them,” and helped change American culture. She does not simply celebrate these developments, however; she “shows how hard-won rights for some often impinged upon freedoms held dear by others.” Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is the first book to show how and why we have come to see sexual expression, sexual practice, and sexual privacy as fundamental rights. Using rich archival sources and oral interviews, historian Leigh Ann Wheeler shows how the private lives of women and men in the American Civil Liberties Union shaped their understanding of sexual rights as they built the constitutional foundation for the twentieth-century’s sexual revolutions.

Wheeler introduces readers to a number of fascinating figures, including ACLU founders Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin; nudists, victims of involuntary sterilization, and others who appealed to the organization for help; as well as attorneys like Continue reading