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TO SURVIVE.THE CHURCH MUST EXIT THE SEX BUSINESS
I am a married, monogamous heterosexual male. But does that automatically make me qualified for ordination than an uncommitted, promiscuous lesbian? Conservative Christians would say, “Yes” to me, even though I’ve not yet been to seminary, but “No” to the uncommitted, promiscuous lesbian, even if she had earned a Summa Cum Laude Doctor of Sacred Theology degree and exuded enough charisma to pastor a sky-high parish of 4,000 pledging units with a seven million dollar budget and a liturgy beyond that described in Revelations and Nehemiah combined.
To hear conservative Christians speak, a non-Christian would quite unfortunately conclude that Christianity is about sex. Most of the Roman church has a de jure celibate priesthood. Rome opposes as “wrong,” sex before marriage, swinging relationships, along with any nearly all birth control. Romans and conservative evangelicals all agree abortion and all gay, lesbian, or bisexual relations are bad. Witness how when we hear the secular media report about Christianity, the story more often than not relates to sexual issues. Witness the financial resources the Roman church devotes to opposing abortion. Witness the role abortion plays in the political campaigns of conservative Christian candidates. Yet if a non-Christian examines the teachings of Jesus himself in the canonical gospels, that non-Christian would conclude that for Jesus, religion was not about sex, but about unconditional love, forgiveness, redemption, and ultimately, oneness with God through Jesus. There is little sexually-related material in those gospels which would immediately turn off the non-Christian raised in America’s sex-saturated culture. But the way the Church is perceived among non-Christians is not based on an objective reading of Jesus’ teachings, but on how the institutional Church presents those teachings, particularly on sexuality, given the major role sex plays not only in ordinary life, but in movies, television, and now, the Internet.
Notwithstanding the entertainment industry’s profit driven imagination, we know nothing of Jesus’ own sexuality. The canonical scriptures are silent as to whether Jesus was single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, straight, or whether he begat children. The canonical gospels are silent on the primary proposition animating the conservative Christian viewpoint that sexuality only finds its proper expression in heterosexual marriage. We do not find Jesus traveling around in what is now Israel preaching ad nauseum on the value of chastity (if any), against abortion and birth control. Nor do we hear him condemn premarital sex or gay sex. Simply put, sex, for Jesus, did not preoccupy him in the manner it does conservative Christians.
Jesus spoke with specificity on sexual issues in only one area: divorce and remarriage. As Matthew 19 illustrates, even that was limited to a man divorcing a woman for causes other than adultery and remarriage of that man and the wife he divorced. Jesus does not deal with what happens when a woman divorces a man, nor when divorce occurs by mutual agreement. In the same passage, Jesus qualifies and downplays the importance of this particular teaching, saying, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.” What Jesus did not say was that those who could not accept what he said would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The hallmark of Jesus’ approach to sexual issues is acceptance, not judgment. In John 4, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well and asked for a drink. The woman was surprised—in Jesus’ day, Jews and Samaritans did not socialize. He then pointed out to her that the well water would not quench the thirst for eternal life, but only that from Jesus woman. After the woman expressed surprise, he told her, “Go tell your husband and come back.” The woman advised Jesus she had no husband. Jesus then told her she had answered truthfully, because she had been married five times and was now living with a man to whom she was not married. For Jesus, the woman’s sexual history was unimportant—what was important was that she was truthful. Significantly, Jesus did not condemn her lifestyle. Indeed, in the kingdom of heaven, to whom one was married during earthly life is not important.
This lack of condemnation is consistent with Jesus’ other teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, he proclaims, “Do not judge so that you may not be judged.” In selecting his apostles, Luke 9, he selected Levi, a tax collector, despite criticism from the Pharisaic Jewish establishment that he kept company with persons held by others in low regard. Jesus position was that God judges us, not we ourselves. Jesus pointed out that at final judgment, Godwould separate the sheep from the goats and God’sangels would send those designated as evil to the place of weeping and gnashing teeth.
The message of God among us focuses on inclusion and acceptance, not a detailed legalistic prescription of do’s and don’t’s. Jesus gave us standards, not rules. Jesus did not single out sexual relationships with the same specificity and emphasis as conservative Christians. His essential teachings are best summarized in his Sermon on the Mount and his various parables and are applicable to all relationships, sexual or not. Given acceptance of tax gatherers and sinners, to accept those of a sexual minority is not a stretch.
Why did Jesus himself teach very little about sexuality? It would get in the way of the Great Commission: to baptize and to preach the gospel as widely as possible. Post-modern young people, who are the Church of the age to come, don’t want to hear from their preacher what they should or shouldn’t do in bed or with whom. It would get in the way of turning the world upside down, putting the powerful in their place with Dives in Hell and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, or as Our Lady would put it, putting down the mighty from their seat and exalting the humble and meek, not to mention filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich empty away. So my question for the sexual conservatives is this: why do you think you know more than Jesus about sex?
The bottom line for all Christians should be that Jesus did notbecome human among us to reform our sex lives. Rather, he came among us as God incarnate to show us new ways of relating to each other, to redeem us by suffering death for out sins, to destroy death by his resurrection, to give us everlasting life with God in heaven, where “men and women do not marry, but are like angels”