Friday, December 26, 2008

Benedict on Gender

Recently Pope Benedict XVI made a statement on gender, reported in the following article from BBC. I commented on it in a posting on Anglican Diaspora and was asked by a priest friend to expand my remarks and post them on this blog. On consideration I decided to do so.

Pope attacks blurring of gender

Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. He explained that defending God's creation was not limited to saving the environment, but also about protecting man from self-destruction. The Pope was delivering his end-of-year address to senior Vatican staff. His words, later released to the media, emphasised his rejection of gender theory. Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI warned that gender theory blurred the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race.

Gender theory
Gender theory explores sexual orientation, the roles assigned by society to individuals according to their gender, and how people perceive their biological identity. Gay and transsexual groups, particularly in the United States, promote it as a key to understanding and tolerance, but the Pope disagreed. When the Roman Catholic Church defends God's Creation, "it does not only defend the earth, water and the air... but (it) also protects man from his own destruction," he said. "Rainforests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being ... does not deserve it less," the pontiff said. It is not "out-of-date metaphysics" to "speak of human nature as 'man' or woman'", he told scores of prelates gathered in the Vatican's sumptuous Clementine Hall. "We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way." The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage. It teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of Britain's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, described the Pope's remarks as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable". "When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way," she said.
The article may be found at

As a Christian who knows himself to be same-sex-attracted, I find Benedict's remarks to be among the most hopeful and encouraging I've heard.

It is just plain obvious, on looking at the world as it is and on listening to the Scriptures and Tradition, that maleness and femaleness pervade creation and have profound effect upon the very nature of living things. At least in the more highly organized animals, male is male and female is female, with strongly differentiated primary and secondary sexual characteristics, and (this is important to note) with distinctly differentiated roles, not only in procreation, but in raising of the young, as also in whatever social organization the species may have. Among humans, the secondary characteristics are quite obvious, and it is a universal aspect of human societies that the sexes have differentiated roles, even though the precise assignment of roles does vary somewhat from society to society. In no species, including the human, does this difference necessarily result in a clear statement of superiority for either sex, but rather, each is supreme in its own sphere, but cannot usurp the proper role of the other. This, at least, is what I seem to have learned from the observation of nature

The teaching of the Church with regard to sexual practice and to the differentiation of 'gender' roles is closely linked to how things actually work in nature. Thus the testimony of Scripture, in both Testaments, would seem to give solid support to what I have said above, and this is supported both by the Fathers and by the course of Christian history. While it is manifestly obvious that there have been attempts to assert male supremacy, a close reading of history will show that such attempts are always doomed, and that women, sometimes behind the scenes, and sometimes in leadership have been a strong and formative force in the Church, even though gender differentiation has always been in place.

Be that as it may, there is nothing clearer in either Scripture or the continuous teaching of the Church than its blessing of marriage between a man and a woman with the aim of procreation, and its condemnation of sexual activity outside such a marriage, and especially as between members of the same sex. Bluntly, all the contrary theories one hears so often these days to justify homosexual acts and homosexual "marriage" are in actuality only examples of special pleading, attempts to justify doing what one wants to do, even though it has never been accepted behavior.

However, it is also just plain obvious that there are those like me who adjust rather poorly to these realities, being inclined in a way rather different from the norm. There are those of us who, for whatever reason, genetic, biological, psychological, or social (where it comes from doesn't really matter all that much), find ourselves attracted to members of our own sex. That is a present reality. It is, so to speak, the hand we've been dealt, and we need to be able to play that hand according to the rules. There's a difficulty, a struggle, involved in that. I am male, and that does make me different in a surprising number of ways from females. That is biological fact and any attempt to ignore that or to minimize it is an attempt to make me less than God intends, and this is so for the female as well. True freedom does not arise from denial of biological reality but from embracing it, and it is not freedom to be imprisoned by one's desires, but in knowing how to rise above them and, when they are not acceptable, to deny them.

Thus I am a complex individual. I am male, biologically equipped and socially called to express that maleness in my living. That is reality, but there is another reality as well, the reality that I am, however it came to be, homosexually inclined, and therefore experience emotions and temptations not precisely the same as other men. That is simply a statement of what is, not of value, negative or positive. As with every other aspect of human existence, such a state can lead one into sin, but it also can, in God's hands, become an instrument of His purpose. No temptation, "standard" or not, can be made an excuse for sin, but temptation is not sin, and can indeed be the motivation toward a righteous act that might not otherwise have occurred. I believe Benedict is speaking strongly to the very center of this issue and avoiduing extremes in either direction

Ms. Ferguson, on the other hand, is taking a one-sided and self-justifying stand. Her remarks about Benedict apply very well indeed to herself: they are "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form." She advocates a denial of biology and of revealed truth, and, possibly worse, an enslavement to personal desires (relabeled as 'freedom') that prevents an approach to real health, to real freedom, and to God. That's the tragedy of a revisionist position.

In short, homosexual people should not and cannot be despised or excluded from either the Church itself or from ministry therein simply because their temptations are not the same ones that most men experience.



Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this thoughtful and insightful post.

In his address to the Curia the Pope in any case did not use the words "homosexual", "bi-sexual" (etc.) and I am quite astounded at the fracas his Curial address, which was an annual resumé of other matters as well as a reference to gender-theory, created in the MSM and the gay and lesbian world. I have many gay friends but sometimes they drive me round the bend with their reasoning and spitting in all directions. I have to add that none of them are Christians.

Once again, great appreciation for your great post. I am a heterosexual female who has managed - without great tribulations - to live the, now old-fashioned, celibate life. At 64 I can honestly say that I feel myself as much of a human being, and a fulfilled one at that, as my married and homosexual friends.

This seems a wonderful blog, by the way. I'll visit again.

poetreader said...

Welcome Anonymous!
(It would be helpful if, when you next visit here, you'd choose a alias, so we can have a feel of whom it is that we are conversing with.)

Thank you for your kind words. As you can imagine, it's not easy to write such a post, but when one has the distinct impression that it is the Lord's call to do so, one must. Whether I like it or not, addressing such topics seems to be something I am called to do.

Yes, I've noticed that too. The only thing that comes near to comparing with the thon-skinned reaction of gays to the mildest criticism is the thin-skinned treatment of this as the most important of all issues that one so often hears. When Benedict gives a fairly inoffensive recap of what he and the Roman Church at large have been saying about many issues, including this one, some, like Ms Ferguson will take it as a direct personal attack and become angry, while others on the conservative side will also see it as a direct personal attack and act gleeful.

This is one issue among many, neither more nor less important than the others, and one which has been settled long, long ago. On the current climate it does need to be reiterated, but we need to remember that loving the sinner, with the love we see illustrated on the Cross is a far higher imperative than is opposing the sin.


D. Straw said...

Wonderful post! Your insights on these issues are most welcome. They are relevent and "down to earth". Your willingness to show your own flaws and struggles are an inspiration to others.


Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful and persuasive post, Poetreader. You have beautifully demonstrated that humility is a virtue one cannot have in excess.

On this specific issue, it seems to me that if traditionally defined marriage is redefined in any degree, then any other definition of "marriage" would have to be accepted by civil law. Anything less would be viewed as "discrimination" by some group.

I would not be surprised if in the next few decades polygamy, or "polyamory", made a reappearance on the world stage.

BTW - it's somewhat reassuring that spellcheck still doesn't recognize the word "polyamory". Maybe there is hope for us yet.

poetreader said...

Thanks, Mark.

I think you're right that we are at a crossroads and that society appears to be in the process of choosing a truly disasterous wring turn. I'm 68, well past the prime of life, but I fully expect to see, in what remains of my lifetime, official and public license for ALL forms of sexual expression and activity - polyamory indeed. With the decisions that have been made and have been declared as expressing the minimum acceptable level of 'equal treatment', there is no logical stopping place. There is no reasonable and consistent limitation that can be placed, even now, on the open practice of an orgiastic way of life. That is tragic, spiritually a denial of God as ruler, and practically, the seed of a complete collapse of society itself.

Frankly, I believe that the time when committed Christians can impose God's law on the wider society has passed, and that our role will increasingly be that which the earliest Christians lived, and for which they often died: a counterculture, living by standards denied and even loathed by society, thus living out both a condemnation of evil and an invitation to grace.


John A. Hollister said...

Let me join the chorus of praise for this excellent exposition!

I was particularly struck by Ed's statement, "There are those of us who, for whatever reason, genetic, biological, psychological, or social (where it comes from doesn't really matter all that much), find ourselves attracted to members of our own sex."

Would that more of the public discourse in this area recognized that "where it comes from doesn't really matter all that much". Saturday afternoon, as I sat waiting for my wife at the hairdresser's, I overheard an elderly woman customer asking one of the young, male operators, "Well, you should know. So tell me, is there a 'gay gene'?"

She had obviously been persuaded by the PAECGLS movement's propaganda that subtly suggests that if there is an organic cause for something, then that something must be "natural" (in its ontology rather than in its genesis, which is of course a non sequitur) then it is "O.K." By that "reasoning", of course, we should stop worrying about polio and scarlet fever, as both had demonstrably organic causes.

Ed's other great point, which is universally ignored in most discussions, is that "That [particular temptation] is a present reality. It is, so to speak, the hand we've been dealt, and we need to be able to play that hand according to the rules." Very few of those who promote this issue onto the national agenda want to play by any rules, let alone by those society has recognized time out of mind.

Instead, the moral revisionists appear to operate on a double standard: for those who are attracted to their own sexes, sexual activity is a necessity of life, right up there with water, food, and shelter. To abstain would be to die a lingering death. For those who are attracted to the opposite sexes, in contrast, restraint can, and sometimes should, be the order of the day.

This attitude is beautifully illustrated by the actions of "The Church With the Bishops [Who Do Not Do Their Jobs]": at the very time Vickie Gene Robinson, whose personal predilictions are of the flavor de jour and who was currently living in an irregular arrangement, was being installed as one of its "Bishops", Cy Young, another of those "Bishops" whose personal predilictions are more traditional, was being booted out of the club over an affair that had terminated more than two decades before.

In a sane world, of course, Young would still have been disciplined, but so would Robinson have been, and that long before he ever had the chance to stand for election.

John A. Hollister+

Ah, "hapsit".

poetreader said...

Thanks, Fr. John,

You've caught precisely the points I consider most important in this discussion. It's not what temptations a person is subject to (or how those temptations arose) that matters, but what he does about those temptations. And, in the light of the Gospel, it's not even that that's of prime importance, but one's repentance for whatever lapses into sin there have been, and, especially, one's faith in Christ as Savior AND Sanctifier.

The revisionists are proclaiming a "Gospel" of slavery to the flesh, of inability to be saved and transformed by the Cross. Do I smell brimstone?


Anonymous said...

I'm very impressed with the high quality of thought (and clearly, much more) that went into your reflections. I've linked to this post from here.

poetreader said...

Thank you, Roz.

BTW,everyone, her blog appears to be a very worthy one. Check it out.