Catholic sexual ethics in a Protestant church
November 12, 2014
I was walking this afternoon through the basement floor of our church, where all of the children and youth classrooms are located. I was taking a bag of candy to one of the rooms, where I will be helping later tonight during our Wednesday fellowship. I am doing sword drills with one of the classes, and candy is the reward! You can’t expect kids to learn the books of the Bible without candy. It worked for me, so I trust that it’s a solid method!
I passed by one of the rooms where we do confirmation classes, and I saw a large bulletin board with the history of redemption outlined for the kids to understand — creation, fall, rescue, covenant, Jesus, pentecost, and such. At the bottom of the chart was vocation in the church, with two options: matrimony and celibacy, with a few bullet points for each. I was happy. I can assure you that in the evangelicalism of my youth (1990’s), celibacy was not a recognized option, at least not more than a stalemate to marital victory! Things have changed and for the better.
I know that my church is not representative of the whole of evangelicalism, but I have had enough conversations to be hopeful that it is representative of the future, if I may be so bold. Soon after I joined this church a few years ago, I learned that some of the younger parents were interested in John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” a series of homilies delivered early in his pontificate. After discussion with the pastors, they purchased a Catholic curriculum based upon JP2’s theology of the body, and we have used this curriculum for a couple years now. From what I have heard, it has been wonderfully received, with appreciation from both parents and students alike.
It just so happens, I was also enormously influenced by John Paul II’s theology of the body, and his book, Love and Responsibility, was particularly influential during my undergraduate days. I didn’t know it at the time, at least not fully, but this helped me navigate the secular terrain that was mapped by Foucault and Rorty and every other beloved hero of my professors. Here was beauty and sacrifice and heroism. The bread of life. Instead, my professors were serving me McDonald’s.
Since then, I have never seriously doubted the Christian position on sexual morality. I have struggled, to be sure. I do not know any other celibate, single male (or female) who could claim the mantle of perfection, and most of us would hasten to say that we are no better than the narcissistic denizens of our fake liberative culture. Yes, I am mixing judgment with humility, which only further illustrates my depravity!
Given the topic of this post, I should say a few words about Pope Francis. I am not convinced — and the indomitable Fr. Robert Barron agrees — that Francis is going to change the position of the Catholic Church on sexual ethics. The media conveniently fails to report Francis’ rather harsh judgments about the selfishness of our sexually “free” (imprisoned) society. At the same time, Francis is undoubtedly influenced by liberation theology, which has significantly shaped his message and messaging, and this alone marks a shift from JP2 and B16. But this is a liberation theology with a particular context, within this particular individual. It includes all of the nuance and ambivalence that (the best of) orthodox Catholics are known to emulate. Those who think Francis is basically the counterpart of a Katharine Jefferts Schori are seriously delusional. I have had enough nauseous experiences with ignorant mainline Protestants who are counting the days until Francis’ coup d’etat.
Francis can demote Cardinal Burke for whatever reason. He can give much-needed pastoral correctives. Maybe he can even change the status of divorced Catholics in some way…which, as a Protestant, is not something that I care to concern myself with. But the measures which our culture demands — gender fluidity and the redefinition of marriage — will not happen. I repeat. It will not happen. Even if we were to believe that Francis is a full-blown liberal reformer, he can do very little. The majority of the Catholic Church is in the global South, not the affluent suburbs of Boston. I know that Western progressives are intractable in their conviction that they are the future of all societies (a very modern assumption), but they are not. They are parochial, sectarian, and even anti-intellectual. They are colonialists in the sense of every heteronomous expression of that word.