Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More on the Integration of Teaching on Sexual Morality and the Foundations of Orthodox Christian Faith

Susan Stabile responds to my earlier posting and argues that it indeed is possible for a religious organization or denomination to “pluck” the thread of traditional church teaching on the morality of same-sex sexual conduct without unraveling the rest of the garment of Christian doctrine.  I do hope that she’s right.  Because some mainline denominations in the United States are moving in that direction, and even recognizing that this represents a small minority of Christians in this country much less the world, I genuinely do hope that they will be able to fuse together a modern progressive view of sexuality with a traditional orthodox faith in Christ.

But I wonder where is the empirical basis for Susan’s optimism?  Has it not been true that the minority of political societies in the world that have recognized same-sex unions (something that, as a political matter, I myself am tempted to support in some manner) are also characterized by a persisting or increasing libertinism on matters of sexual behavior?  Has orthodox Christian faith increased in any such country (or has the opposite occurred)?  And what Christian group of any significance size and venerability has accepted a revision of traditional church teaching on sexual morality, thereby setting aside the complementarity of male and female as a guiding principle for sexual relationships, while still maintaining orthodox beliefs on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, on His Church, and on the Scriptures?  I don’t mean to be “snarky” here, but truly wonder whether such beliefs can be held side-by-side over time and with a critical mass of the faithful.

In response to my earlier post, Susan understandably resists what she reads as my “implying that one can’t question one issue without risking everything falling to pieces risks cutting off useful questioning and discussing of issues.”  But is this just “one issue”? Or does logic and experience indicate that there is something about this particular issue that presents a breaking-point?

Could it be that, in contrast with most other matters, traditional Christian teaching on sexual morality is so well-developed, so ontologically grounded in the traditional Christian understanding of what it means to be human and to be man and woman, and so anchored in Scripture that it cannot easily – or perhaps at all – be separated from the rest of the Deposit of Faith?  Yes, we’ve all seen the valiant efforts of some to reconstruct that tradition, to invent a new theology of the human body, or to explain away those scriptural passages.  But, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t such efforts always prove to be a little too clever, at least if presented as consistent with tradition rather than as a new reconstruction (and thus one that departs from orthodox theology)?

So here’s my question:  might it be that an assault on that dimension of the magisterial authority addressing sexual relationships is so revolutionary as to place the magisterial authority itself and generally at risk, so as to lead to an inevitable post-modern retreat from tradition and in the direction of further elevating individual experience and self-sovereignty above teaching, tradition, and Scripture?  (To be sure, some on and off this list might welcome such a diminution of magisterial authority and a movement away from orthodoxy and tradition.  But then they would simply be proving the point, that traditional Christian beliefs on the essence of the faith are difficult to reconcile with present-day liberal sexual mores.)

In sum, might the surgery necessary to excise moral teaching on sexual relationships from the rest of the body of Christian tradition prove to be so radical that the patient cannot survive?

Greg Sisk


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