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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jesus, Homosexuality, and the Argument from Silence

  In the ongoing debates about marriage, some Christians (Catholics included) contend that since “Jesus said nothing in the gospels about homosexuality, he wasn’t really concerned about it.” 

     In logical terms, this is a non-sequitur, i.e. a conclusion that does not follow from the premise. As Catholics, we affirm both Scripture and Tradition, knowing that the gospels do not contain everything Jesus said. As John’s gospel concludes: “There are also many other things that Jesus did…” (John 21:25). Furthermore, silence on a topic does not mean indifference, let alone assent. Jesus also never spoke against setting cats on fire, but I’m fairly sure he’d oppose it.

    Nevertheless, the argument from silence has appeal because it fits with a popular narrative that separates Christ from his Church; namely, that Jesus was a tolerant, peace-loving guy whose simple message of acceptance got hijacked—first by Paul, and later a power-hungry hierarchy—and turned into a rules-oriented, sex-obsessed institution controlled by legalism and shame.

    This view, however, is an anachronism that interprets Jesus through a lens of 1960s anti-institutional radicalism. And in a supreme irony, this tendency is prominent even among self-identified biblical “contextualists” who pride themselves on their interpretive objectivity.   

     Christianity, like Judaism, is an historical faith. Unlike eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) with the perpetual cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, Christians and Jews believe in the movement of God within history, a God who acts in and through real events and persons. 
Christians even believe the timeless God entered history through the incarnation of the Son in a specific time and place. He walked in real towns, ate actual food, and spoke a distinct language complete with dialect. He was “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” we declare in our creed.

     From the New Testament accounts, we know with certainty that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, not only by ethnicity but by practice; raised in a devout family, speaking as an adult in the Nazareth synagogue, observing the Sabbath “according to his custom” (Luke 4:16). 

     As a Jew, Jesus would have said little explicitly if at all about homosexual behavior, simply because it was unnecessary—it was so obviously contrary to Mosaic law and natural law. Homosexuality was not uncommon in the world, but the Jews consistently condemned it, along with other sexual behaviors outside of the one-flesh union of man and woman within marriage. Jesus illumined this sexual complementarity in pointing to the Father’s design for indissoluble marriage: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).

     And what of this idea that St. Paul’s denouncing of homosexual behavior in Romans 1 is irrelevant because the ancients knew nothing about “sexual orientation?” The truth is that St. Paul would dismiss entirely the very concept of “sexual orientation”, rooted as he was in the Jewish(and Christian) idea that our bodies as intrinsically united with our souls. Man is made for woman, and woman for man; an objective truth that supersedes the transient world of desires.      

     Frankly, this dishonest and shoddy biblical scholarship is reminiscent of an ancient heresy which, like all heresies, is repackaged for subsequent generations. This particular heresy began with Marcion of Sinope, a 2nd century bishop who argued that Christ represented a different God than the Jewish one; the latter deemed by Marcion to be a lesser deity, a tribal and vindictive god of the Jews who lacked the universal compassion of Christ’s Heavenly Father. He favored the rejection of the Old Testament books and the emancipation of Christianity from its Jewish roots.  

    He was rejected as a heretic, just as the Church has consistently affirmed that the faith cannot be properly understood apart from God’s covenant with Israel. As St. Augustine explained about the two testaments; “The New is the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.”

    So don’t buy this repackaged tripe that repaints Christ and his teaching in a more culturally convenient light. Remember that he—and his followers—were persecuted for a reason. 

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