Male and Female He Created Them: Ecumenical Reflections

Confusion. Division. Chaos. Heresy. These terms describe the effects of the serious flirtations with the Zeitgeist currently afflicting to a lesser or greater degree the Catholic Church — see the German and Belgium episcopacy — and other churches — Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA) — regarding the basics of traditional Christian sexual morality, especially homosexuality.

Thankfully, there are voices of sanctified reason in this spiritual and culture war over sexual morality. For one, the Catholic Church’s normative teaching from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana (1977), Homosexualitatis Problema (1987), the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (2006), and the Congregation for Education, “Male and Female He Created Them”: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education (2019). For another, there is a just-released 175-page report to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Synod 2021 from the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. Both the Catholic Church, furthermore, and this report understand that Christian sexual morality is grounded in basic Christian truths about God, man, and the world, such that you cannot change the former without undoing the latter.

The overarching hermeneutical framework for understanding normative sexual morality is creation, fall, redemption, consummation. For example, Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 are paradigmatic texts for a creational sexual ethic. As the CRC report puts it, “What God has proscribed as his normative will for men and women [is] rooted in creation.” The biblical revelation has epistemic priority over God’s creation revelation, but what these texts assert about the structure of creation grounds “the church’s teaching on premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex,” and others, such as gender dysphoria and disorders of sexual development, the Report rightly argues throughout. Rather than being creational, these sexual matters, for example, same-sex attraction, reflect the brokenness of our sinful world, the disordered creation that exists since the fall. A hermeneutical framework that takes seriously creational structures, as leading Catholic Dominican theologian Romanus Cessario puts it, “seeks to contemplate an immanent wisdom in the universe . . . reflecting the ordering wisdom of the divine plan for creation.” (E.g., John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them 18.3, and the Catechism 2331-2400, we explicitly find this realism.) Significantly, this realist emphasis on the objective structures of creation aligns Catholicism with the tradition of Reformed Christianity, in particular, the CRC Report.

Genesis 1:27 asserts that God made man in his image, male and female he created them. This assertion is true to objective reality such that it excludes a state of affairs, according to the Report, in which “God created sexuality as a spectrum, with some human beings falling somewhere in between male and female. . . .[This] is not only foreign to the text but also contradicts the obvious meaning and significance of sexuality in the text. To read the notion of sexuality as a spectrum into Genesis 1:27 is to isolate that verse and rip it from its context.”

When asked about divorce (Mk 10: 6-7; Matt 19: 3-9), Jesus calls us back to the law of creation affirmed in those texts, rather than begin with man’s fallen state and its “fallen sexual desires and intimate experiences as sinful human beings.” As the Report states, “He grounds the ethic of marriage in the purposes of God from creation.” The unity attained in becoming “two-in-one-flesh” in marriage is grounded in the order of creation (Gen 1:27; 2:24), persists through the regime of sin, and is affirmed and simultaneously renewed by grace through the redemptive sacrament of marriage in Christ. (See Catechism 1601-1666) Real bodily oneness, a one-flesh union between a man and a woman, actualizes marital unity.

There is an inextricable creational nexus of permanence, twoness of male and female, and sexual differentiation for marriage, such that the latter is a fundamental prerequisite for the two to become one flesh. In particular, Genesis 2:24 affirms that marriage requires sexual difference of man and woman, with the bodily-sexual act as a foundational prerequisite, indeed, as intrinsic to a two-in-one-flesh union of man and woman: “So then they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)

Furthermore, the moral and sacramental, that is, redemptive, significance of the two-in-one-flesh bodily unity as foundational to the marital form of love is constitutive of this framework. However, it is precisely the embodiment of human persons, as man and woman, which has been lost in our culture, even amongst some Catholic and Reformed Christians, for a proper understanding of marriage and, more generally, for a creational sexual ethic. According to the Report, “At the heart of the biblical understanding of humanity is the teaching that our bodies matter. The Bible does not pit the soul against the body.” Contrary to the anthropological dualism of soul and body, the Catholic tradition also affirms that the body is intrinsic to selfhood because the human person is bodily. (Catechism 362-368)

Elsewhere, John Paul II explains that the body is intrinsic to self-identity: “Man is a subject not only by his self-consciousness and by self-determination, but also based on his own body. The structure of this body is such that it permits him to be the author of genuinely human activity. In this activity, the body expresses the person.” (See Man and Woman He Created Them 7.2) The body is intrinsic to one’s own self and, indeed, it “shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’” (Catechism 364).

The Report correctly concludes from the idea that the body is intrinsic to selfhood that “this means that we cannot treat a person’s subjectively experienced gender as a fact of their existence independent of their biological nature. We cannot claim that a person’s true identity resides in their subjective sense of self, as distinct from the body with which they were born.” Furthermore, the Report also concludes, “Due to the fall, through no fault of their own, some people experience a disconnect between their gender identity and their sex. Nevertheless, there is no redemption in embracing this disconnect as a sign of God’s good intent.” The Congregation for Education argues this crucial point in its 2019 document.

Regarding homosexuality, the Catholic tradition in 1977, 1987, and 1992 distinguishes being same-sex attracted and acting on those attractions. “[H]omosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.” Why? “For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality.” The Catechism 2357 later explains: “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life [because they are not unitive, and only a unitive act can be procreative]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

In 1987, however, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger critically observed, “An overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good.” The CRC Report suggests evidence of this benign interpretation in failing to grasp the intrinsically disordered nature of same-sex attraction. This is puzzling since, according to the CRC report, the ultimate origin of the homosexual condition, and hence same-sex attraction, is our fallen human nature.

On the one hand, the Report states, “[T]here is no sin in being attracted to the same sex. We only sin if we act on our sexual attraction.” It also acknowledges that St. Paul’s argument in Romans 1:24-27 is clear: “sexual acts between a female and another female or between a male and another male are ‘unnatural’ and wrong, because such conduct goes against one’s created nature.”

On the other hand, whether the Scripture condemns same-sex attraction is the question, despite the Report’s demurral. On its face, according to the Scriptures, it is not only actions that are wrong, but also the desire to do such actions (see Matt 5:27-29; Rom 13:14; Col 3:5-6; 1 Pet 2:11). This point should be clear from the fact that Jesus interiorizes the demands of the moral law, condemning not only the outward acts of adultery but also the “adultery of mere desire.” (Catechism 2380; see Mark 7: 20-23).

Thus, as Ratzinger explains, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” The Report’s overly benign interpretation of same-sex attraction is in tension with the logic of its sexual orthodoxy. Since the Catholic Church regards the “inclination itself . . . as an objective disorder,” then, pace the CRC Report, it is not solely homosexual acts that are intrinsically disordered and thus objectively evil, but the inclination itself is equally disordered as the source of man’s sinful homosexual activities.

In other words, as leading Catholic theologians Guy Mansini, O.S.B., and Lawrence J. Welch correctly state, the teaching of the Church in Homosexualitatis problema, “if homosexual activity itself is always intrinsically immoral, and homosexual tendencies are therefore always objectively disordered because they incline to what is always intrinsically immoral, then it makes good sense to say that his [homosexual’s] sexual affections, as such, are not good. They do not bear on the feminine, which is the target of mature male psychosexual desire. And therefore, since they are deep seated, they prevent ‘affective maturity,’ which means, if it means anything, having good desires rightly ordered.” Clearly, then, the act/inclination distinction is morally relevant only insofar as it allows us to distinguish between culpable homosexual acts and the interior source of those acts in an individual’s same-sex attraction for which he may not be morally culpable. However, it should be abundantly clear that the act/inclination distinction, as the Church understands it, explicitly rejects the interpretation of that orientation as morally neutral — rather, the homosexual desire itself is an objectively disordered inclination or propensity to moral evil.

Through these documents from both traditions, may Catholic and Reformed Christians committed to sexual orthodoxy find new ways to reach out to Christians from other traditions and to the culture.

Eduardo Echeverria About Eduardo Echeverria

Eduardo Echeverria is professor of philosophy and systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his STL from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. He is the author of many publications, most recently Revelation, History, and Truth: A Hermeneutics of Dogma (2018), and Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II, 2nd edition, revised and expanded (2019).

Comments

  1. Avatar Michael Kenneth McLoon says:

    “Christian sexual morality is grounded in basic Christian truths about God, man, and the world, such that you cannot change the former without undoing the latter.” For this statement to be legitimate Christian truths about man must be accurate. Christian truths about man are based on “What God has proscribed as his normative will for men and women [is] rooted in creation.” So what did Jesus have in mind when he spoke of the three kinds of eunuch (mat.19:12)? If a man “is born,” as Jesus says, a eunuch, where does he fit into God’s “normative will for men and women”? Surely God is not cruel, deliberately denying one man the gift of sex while granting it to another. What then is this “eunuch” that Jesus speaks of? Surely he must be a man who is not destined to produce children, so what does God have in store for him? Not to be a priest because Jesus defines a priest as one of the three types of eunuch. Of course some men and some women are barren and cannot have children, but there is nothing in Church law to prevent them from marrying. Why? They are not able to procreate any more than a gay man.
    There is one other point I would make. The bible for almost 2,000 years did not mention homosexuals. So what does, for instance, Leviticus mean when it says a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman? Surely that is a reference to homosexuals, isn’t it? On the contrary, it is a reference to heterosexual men lying with men. A heterosexual man lying with another man, whether gay or heterosexual, is an abomination. And so with all references to men lying with men. They are not gay men, they are heterosexual men who have abandoned their “natural function” or castrated men used as temple prostitutes. Paul does not say in plain language who the men are, just that they have abandoned their natural function. If a man is born a eunuch and has sexual attraction not to a woman but to a man then his natural function is that of a gay man. Call him a homosexual if you will but the bible doesn’t call him that.
    It is time for people to think about why Jesus drew attention to the man who is born a eunuch straight after He drew attention to divorce.

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