Recently, I got a letter asking me about the pastoral care of same-sex couples. This is an important and complex question and one that requires a great deal of study. Even among Orthodox Christians there are many people, who disagree with the moral tradition of the Church on this issue. While there are likely as many reasons why people disagree as there are people who disagree, I think one central reason is that the tradition is presented in a harsh way. As I say below, it is all together too easy to assume that people disagree out of ill will.
At the same time, it isn’t unheard of for someone to assume the Church’s moral teaching reflects a lack of love or respect for homosexuals. Yes, for some people the tradition of the Church is a cover for ill will–but this doesn’t tell us anything about the objective truthfulness of the Church’s moral teaching.
So starting today and for the next two days, let me share with you a letter I wrote to a friend. In this letter I don’t defend the Church’s moral teaching on homosexuality. Instead, I outline what seems to me to be our obligation to each other and to the tradition of the Church when, as in this case, we disagree with each other.
I look at three topics:
(1) Respecting the Conscience of the Same-Sex Couple (today’s post)
(2) Respecting the Conscience of the Church (Wednesday’s post)
(3) Respecting the Conscience of the Parish Community (Thursday’s post)
On Friday, I will post the whole letter and include a pdf.
As always, your thoughts and questions are welcome.
Finding joy in life requires that I accept my limits.
Having been fragile as a child I preferred quieter, less strenuous activities like coloring and reading. But this meant I would never developed the hand/eye coordination need for basketball or baseball. As I got older, I got stronger and once I was able physically to do so, running and cycling became my activities of choice.
Maybe because I experienced myself as physically restricted for so much of my earlier life, I’ve come to appreciate the values of learning to live within my limits. We hear this a lot when taking about personal finance—we need to learn to live within our (financial) means. (My Irish Catholic grandmother was forever complaining about people who spent more than they made. “They have champagne tastes and a beer budget” she would say. But I digress)
The key to a joyful life, and so key to living a morally good life, is learning to live within our limits. This flies in the face of what I often heard growing up. “You can anything you want to be!” Well, no and not just because I wasn’t healthy enough for many of the things I wanted to do. Continue reading
For the Church’s tradition, human beings—you and me—are created in the image of God. This means, among other things, that we are both made in love and made for love. This means that I am never fully myself until I give myself away sacrificially for another person. Let me make this even stronger: I am only my true self when I love God and love my neighbor.
But as absolutely critical as it is for me to love others, my love is always secondary. More important even than my obligation to love you, is God’s love for me. And after God’s love for me, and in the second place of the hierarchy of love, is the love of other people for me. My love for God and my neighbors is built on the foundation of their love for me.
Love is always my response to the gift of someone else’s love for me. Though I am called to love, love doesn’t begin with me.
So what does this mean for the moral life? Continue reading
Once again, First Things has brought together thinkers from different traditions to reflect on matter central to a free and civil society: marriage and religion (The Church and Civil Marriage). A friend asked respond in particular to the contributions by Dr. Vigen Guroian and Dr. David Novak. As I will explain below, while I share their distress, I think that there are several problems with their suggestion that religious believers withdraw from participating in civil marriages.
If (as Guroian argues) it is wrong for clergy to take part in “delivering marriage contracts on the state’s behalf” where “same-sex marriage is law” then it would seem to me it is equally wrong—and for the same reasons—for Christians to get a wedding license. The couple, like the clergyman who signs the license, are “complicit in a radical redefinition of marriage contradictory to the fundamental teaching of the Orthodox faith.” If as a priest I can’t sign a marriage license without denying the Gospel (at least implicitly) the couple in seeking my signature is doing the same thing.
Novak argues that Jews, Christians and Muslims should “work for the abolition of civil marriage altogether (wherever it has already lost its traditional definition), and for it to be replaced by civil unions.” He goes on to say
Since these civil unions need not involve any sexual relationship between the parties, there need be no concern about the state sanctioning what are illicit sexual unions by traditional standards, whose origins are admittedly religious. Like any contract, they could be worked out among the parties themselves. Of course, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, marriage is much more than an ordinary civil contract, but by defining civil marriage down, as it were, we’re more likely to preserve its covenantal meaning in our religious traditions. A covenantal relationship is much deeper than a merely contractual one.
Where to begin? Continue reading
A lot of people, and by the way not just Christians, look to the Bible for advice or to find the right answer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t take into account the real richness of Scripture. Instead, they think about the Bible as a big book of rules.
Like I said, it isn’t just Christians who do this. But because Christian think about the Bible like the answer key at the back of a high school math, critics of the Gospel will do so too. Critics will contrast one verse of the Scriptures with another to “prove” the Bible is foolishness.
For example, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) here in Madison, WI where I live have webpage to doing just this. You can take a look at it you want (here). Like the well-meaning Christians, the FFRF assumes that the Bible is like a big book of answers. And so, again just like many Christians, they tend to favor some biblical verses over others. Continue reading
Like Aristotle, the great Western theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas talks about morality in terms of what it means to be human. So for Aquinas, like Aristotle, morality teleological.
Aquinas has a “natural law” theory of morality. While there are different views of what is—and isn’t—meant by natural law for Aquinas it means that what is ethically right and wrong is found in what it means to be human.
But, I can hear you ask, what does it mean to be human? Continue reading
When I was in college I didn’t like philosophy and I especially didn’t like Aristotle. My opinion of both, however, wasn’t the result of careful study but laziness. Aristotle and philosophy were hard and I simply didn’t want to put in the effort that they required.
I did what many people do. I confused my interest in something with its importance.
It’s ok not to be able to do something. And within limits, it’s even ok to not want to do something. What’s not ok, however, is my saying this is stupid or a waste of time when what I really mean is “I’m too lazy to put in the effort needed.”
I was just lazy.
As I got older, I grew to appreciate philosophy and even Aristotle. What changed was my willingness to put in the effort to understand them. So what did I learn from Aristotle about being free? Continue reading