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Louie Crew
377 S. Harrison Street, 12D
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Louie & Ernest Clay-Crew
Married February 2, 1974


Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

Do justice

A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Translated by WordPort from XyWrite-IV (Dos) document {conv1}.tmp



Fertility Religion versus Human Rights


By Marilyn McCord Adams


Regius Professor of Divinity & Canon of Christ Church, Christ Church, Oxford University

I. Institutional Homophobia, Religiously Defended!


Recently, Bishop Gene Robinson got headlines for saying the obvious:


the greatest single hindrance to the achievement of full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people can be laid at the doorstep of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.[1]

Not only are religious institutions agents in and sponsors of LGBT oppression.  They marshall highly trained experts to rationalize their policies by giving them highly articulate expression.  In case anyone needs convincing, let me take two examples from Christianity, my own faith tradition.  After all, repentance begins at home!

Roman Catholic Distinctions: Over the last thirty years, the Vatican--headquarters to the largest Christian body--has issued a series of documents opposing the creation of legal institutions to house sexually active same-sex partnerships.  Their overall strategy is ‘divide and conquer’.  First, they drive a wedge between the homosexual condition (which they recognize as involuntary but deviant and disordered) and homosexual activity (which they take to proceed from free choice and condemn as a grave moral wrong).[2]  They imagine thereby to open space for the clergy to be pastorally sensitive and morally censorious at the same time![3]  (Fairness prompts me to confess that the Church of England makes the same move in Issues and Some Issues in Human Sexuality.[4])

Second, Vatican documents distinguish between the individual rights of homosexual persons qua human persons (which Pope Benedict XVI recognizes as foundational to any healthy society and as including freedom to make morally significant choices within the private sphere) and the creation of legal institutions to house sexually active same-sex partnerships.  The Pope seems to allow that the state may properly be expected to tolerate private immoral sexual behavior among consenting adults (the documents are concerned with ‘de facto unions’ as well as homosexual relationships).  But the state should not create new legal institutions to house any sexually active lifestyle alternatives to heterosexual marriage and the families it establishes.  On the contrary, Catholic legislators and members of the electorate have a duty publicly to oppose any legislation to establish civil partnerships and to vote against it; where such measures have already been passed, to be conscientious objectors who work for repeal (perhaps even exercize civil disobedience). 

Vatican documents defend these positions with arguments drawn from premisses such as

[P1] lifestyles should be institutionalized only if they make a significant contribution to the common good,


[P2] lifestyles should not be institutionalized if they endanger the common good.

Heterosexual marriage and the families it fosters do contribute to the common good.  They are the approved locus for reproducing the human race and socializing the next generation.  Heterosexual married couples shoulder much of the responsibility for making sure that the human race goes on.  Vatican documents urge that heterosexual marriage and the family are therefore essential to the common good, because no other institutions for housing sexual activity (e.g., proposed institutions for ‘de facto unions’ or homosexual partnerships) would be apt for performing these social functions.  The social utility of heterosexual marriage and the family establishes their right to be legally protected and promoted.  But--Vatican documents insist--institutionalizing other sexually active lifestyles would seriously damage or undermine the institution of marriage, because it would advertize competitors as socially approved ways of being in the world.  Therefore, by [P1] and [P2], legal institutions should not be created to house them.

To the objection that the refusal to create legal institutions to house homosexual partnerships, is a violation of the rights of LGBT as individual persons and citizens, the Pope makes two replies: first, that the state does protect LGBT rights to freedom of choice regarding their private affairs; and second, that it would be

          gravely unjust to sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order to protect personal goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do not harm the body of society’.[5]

Evidently, should individual rights and the common good come into conflict, the interests of the body-politic trump!  Elsewhere, the Pope has been willing to speak of homosexual activity as ‘behavior to which no one has any conceivable right.’[6]

Nigerian Sanctions: Within my own Anglican communion, Ephraim Radner and Andrew Goddard, writing for the evangelical website Fulcrum, reconsider the connection between individual human rights and the legal status of LGBT activities with a focus on the Nigerian church.  The Nigerian state has, for some time, criminalized homosexual activity, with sanctions up to 14 years imprisonment.  More recently, the Anglican Archbishop Akinola urged passage of a further bill to ban same-sex blessing or marriage ceremonies, to penalize those involved in them, and to outlaw the promotion of same-sex activity of any kind and through any means, with penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment.[7]  In response to liberal Anglican critics, Radner and Goddard ask, precisely what was wrong with Archbishop Akinola’s initiative?  They find the following principles defensible:

(P3) it is appropriate to impose legal sanctions on lifestyles that endanger the common good and/or do violence to other citizens;


(P4) it is appropriate for the state to impose legal sanctions on activities that are seriously morally wrong, where this is supported by overwhelming social consensus and congruent with traditional mores.

Many individual Christians, indeed millions of individual Anglicans, and many Anglican provincial churches officially hold that homosexual lifestyles endanger the common good, and that homosexual activity is seriously morally wrong because contrary to and subversive of traditional moral teachings.  It follows--by (P3) and (P4)--that it is appropriate for states where such a consensus prevails to impose legal sanctions on homosexual activities.  Thus, Radner and Goddard see no reason why Nigerian Anglicans should not encourage the state of Nigeria to impose legal sanctions on homosexual activity, when their church and society agree in counting it a serious moral wrong.[8] 

Radner and Goddard do think that Archbishop Akinola erred, however, not in advocating widened legal sanctions, but in sponsoring penalties that are too severe.  Radner and Goddard agree with the Vatican that the human rights of homosexual persons qua persons have to be respected.  Christian values join secular mores to insist on this.  Human rights set a limit on what Christians can admit as morally tolerable.  Nigeria and the Anglican Archbishop of Nigera have gone too far.[9]

Evidently, the Vatican approves this pattern of reasoning and combination of conclusions.  In December 2008 it opposed a UN declaration backed by all 27 EU states, that called for an end to criminal penalties based on sexual orientation, but has consistently held that Iran and Saudi Arabia go too far when they impose the death penalty.[10]  Vatican documents also suggest that homosexual partnerships might do violence to other individual citizens--e.g., when they contend that rearing by homosexual ‘parents’ would violate the rights of the adopted child[11] and so run counter to the UN Declaration on the rights of children.[12]

What these discussions share is an attempt to decouple respect for individual human rights of persons qua persons from the status of homosexual lifestyles and activities in civil law.  They hope thereby to have their cake (to avoid the charge of being human-rights violators) and eat it too (by vigorously opposing legal institutions for same-sex partnerships and/or by advocating criminal penalties for homosexual activities)!

Illiberal Logic: Such conclusions inherit their illiberal character from their premisses.  Their claim--

[P1] that lifestyles should be institutionalized only if they make a significant contribution to the common good

--contrasts with the liberal view according to which a major part of the state’s job is to protect individual rights, not only by imposing legal sanctions on concrete harms (torture, detention, deprivation of food and water and medical care) but also by creating and maintaining the infrastructure within which individuals can pursue their projects and interests.  To furnish these for some but not for others (e.g., marriage for same-race but not mixed-race couples) is unfair and hence discriminatory.  To give heterosexual marriage and the family a monopoly on institutional housing, is, and is meant by the Vatican and sex-and-gender conservative Anglicans to be, a way of erasing LGBT lifestyles as respectable modes of being in the world.  It is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of being cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Likewise, their principle--

(P4) it is appropriate for the state to impose legal sanctions on activities that are seriously morally wrong, where this is supported by overwhelming social consensus and congruent with traditional mores--

raises liberal hackles.  How can we ignore the history of social consensus behind human-rights violations of which slavery and apartheid would be prime examples?  Liberalism begins realistically, with the recognition that human beings are ‘socially challenged’, neither good enough nor smart enough to organize utopia.  All humanly devised social organizations spawn systemic evils that privilege some while being cruel and degrading to others.  Because in the vast majority of sorts and conditions, some social order seems better than no social order, most members of society have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and have a significant incentive to blind-eye the social side-effects, lest their consciences be raised by looking them in the face.  The first duty of the liberal state is to recognize, rule out, and uproot such human rights violations by erecting institutional hedges against them and imposing legal sanctions on them.  The liberal state betrays its purpose when it sacrifices the fundamental human rights of individuals in the name of the common good (as happened recently at Guantanamo Bay).

Problematic Assumptions: Nor are the general principles all that liberals find dubious in these arguments.  [i] Vatican documents talk as if ‘heterosexual marriage and the family’ referred to a single institution from Eden to the present, when in fact it is a homonymn that covers a wide variety of social roles.  Without having detailed knowledge of 1700 BCE bedouin family systems, we can nevertheless be sure that Sarah’s relation with Abraham was very different from that between Hellenized Christians in first century CE Asia Minor and Rome and that between Ozzie and Harriet in the 1950’s American serial “Father Knows Best”!

[ii] Undeniably, the many and various institutions down through the ages that have joined heterosexual couples, have contributed to the preservation of the human race.  But [P2] and [P3] apply to same sex partnerships, only on the basis of further claims that cry out for empirical testing: e.g., that the existing institutions of heterosexual marriage and the family would be seriously undermined if competitor sexually active lifestyles were given institutional housing; that heterosexual marriage and the family would be seriously undermined by institutionalizing homosexual partnerships in particular (given the small percentages of LGBT in the population); that heterosexual marriage and the family could not be replaced by equally effective networks of alternative institutions; that the lack of gender-complementary adult caretakers seriously disrupts the healthy development of children.  However much Roman Catholics wish to freeze present institutional arrangements for managing human sexuality, traditional institutions are unravelling and transmogrifying, and it may well be that the proliferation of lifestyle alternatives is essential to the process by which society will eventually settle down to new and more wholesome patterns.

My illustrations give the puzzle concrete grip.  How does religion that sets out to serve what is good (to help people grow in the knowledge of God and love for God and neighbor), how does biblical religion that sees every human being as created in God’s image come to sponsor what liberals regard as obvious human rights violations?  How do its promoters, brilliant of mind and zealous in heart, come to feel confident and comfortable reasoning in such ways?  My answer is that they get there by (most likely unconsciously) taking four easy steps.  I hope that my explanation will seem as obvious as Bishop Robinson’s diagnosis, once I have spelled them out.


II. Step One: Social Modelling and the Argument from Tradition:


The ‘Size-Gap’ and Theological Method: The practices and policies of Christian religion are rationalized in terms of beliefs about God and Divine purposes.  Foundational for biblical religion generally and Christianity in particular, is the conviction that God is very, very, big, and we are very, very small; or, in more biblical language, that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8-9).  This starting point has two consequences for theological method.  First, the ‘size-gap’ makes appeals to tradition reasonable.  Consider the analogy of human parents and their offspring, where the size-gap--if much reduced--is still significant.  It takes human infants roughly eighteen years to get initiated into the adult world.  They work up on it by successive approximations, as their cognitive and emotional capacities grow and develop.  Adults orient children by teaching them certain ways of being in the world, ways of seeing and valuing what they experience.  So also and all the more so with Godhead.  When it comes to getting a grip on Who God is and what God wants with the human race, the human learning curve is very steep.  There is no way that we could figure it out all by ourselves in one short lifetime.  The bible covers 1700 years of ‘feeling after’ and trying to ‘find’ out the most elementary points (such as that God is not in favor of child sacrifice) (Acts 17:27).  It took tradition 1800 more years to figure out that God does not really approve of slavery.  This makes it reasonable for human beings, in trying to get oriented to God and God’s world, to ‘put themselves to school’ to tradition and to put their own experience in dialogue with to what their forebears have thought.

Second, theology trades in social analogies.  In biblical religion, God and the people of God form a society.  Down through the ages, when adherents try to express who we are to God and Who God is to us, they naturally take their own society as a model.  The method is simple.  They say, ‘it is as if God occupies these roles and we occupy those roles.’  Then they read off the role expectations what human beings might be able to count on from God and what God might require of human beings.  Thus, in the bible, God is the husband and Israel the wife; God is king or emperor, Israel God’s chosen people, the monarch God’s son; God is friend to Abraham and Moses and to everyone who believes in Jesus; God is father and believers are adopted children.

In fact, Scripture and tradition reflect roughly 3700 years of human history, during which forms of human social organization have varied significantly (compare the bedouin clan, imperial Rome, Calvin’s Geneva, the modern nation state, post-modern globalism).  Down the centuries, many contrasting social systems and roles have been mapped onto the heavens.  The size-gap means that this is all to the good: God is too big to squeeze into social roles of human devising.  Each is at best an analogy that captures something while distorting something else.  Mapping many models on top of one another allows us to view God from many different angles.  Tensions among the roles may provoke deeper insights.  How is God both father and mother, warrior-fierce yet gentle healer, lord and servant, honored and glorious yet despised and rejected?  Liberal theologians like me would say that this process can and should go on forever (or at least as long as this present age lasts) as new social arrangements give rise to fresh analogies.  Religion would become a dead letter and the size-gap would be radically underestimated if tradition--what has been handed down already--were allowed to have the last word!

The Sins of the Fathers, Descending: Where God and the people of God are concerned, social modelling is natural and necessary, helpful and illuminating.  But ‘merely analogical’ and ‘partial’ are not its worst downsides.  Much more insidious is the fact that the human social systems that we project onto the heavens are inevitably unjust.  I said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Human social competence is poor.  We have limited imagination and so don’t know how to organize utopia.  We don’t understand the behavior of systems very well, so that social arrangements always have side-effects that we didn’t anticipate and don’t consciously recognize.  What’s worse, because human beings feel threatened in an environment of real and apparent scarcity, social organization turns competitive.  The result is that every human society spawns systemic evils, structures of cruelty that torment and degrade some while privileging others.  Because such evils are systemic products, their roots network throughout the social system, contaminating every role.  Because order seems safer than upheaval and chaos, most members will feel a considerable investment in keeping social arrangements the way they are and thus become complicit in systemic evils.  The sins of the fathers will descend to children’s children merely by teaching them their social roles.  Casting God in various roles in such societies down through the centuries already represents God as complicit in the systemic evils to which they give rise.


III. Step Two: True Religion and Civil Religion, Conflated:


Theological method already dirties God’s hands a little bit (the way America’s most upstanding human rights advocates can’t entirely wash their hands of Abugraib).  But the God of the bible plunges in up to His elbows (I uses the masculine pronoune advisedly), when true religion gets conflated with civil religion.  True religion teaches that God alone is worthy of worship.  Torah sums up Divine purposes in an enlightened theology of life.  Torah declares that God is life.  For everything else, God is the source of life and its only reliable sustainer.  Human beings are entitled neither to life nor to the means of its preservation, but receive life as a gift, which God can be trusted to keep on giving.  Because material life cannot be naturally permanent or self-sustaining, God covenants with human beings for a lifestyle of courteous consumption: human beings will be welcome to use the resources of God’s world so long as they live as courteous guests who acknowledge their host and respect life in God’s other creatures.

Nevertheless, true religion has its competitors.  Durkheim was right: human societies are essentially self-deifying.  They make an idol of their own survival.  Civil religion sets up a rival creed.  Society is the source of life and its only reliable sustainer.  As a sine qua non of individual existence, society’s existence and flourishing are sacred.  Therefore, individuals who owe their existence to society, owe it to society to be and do their part to maintain society and enable it to flourish, not least by living out their assigned social roles. 

Civil religion is very strong and easily disguises itself as true religion, by turning God into a tribal totem or team mascot.  God is represented as the supranatural founder and enforcer of the existing social order.  God’s reason for being is to win battles, to secure a land rich in resources, to provide the good weather required for successful farming, in general, to guarantee the survival and prosperity of the social order.  Key for present purposes is that God is no longer merely complicit in systemic evils like any member of society who may or may not recognize, may or may not personally approve such policies and consequences.  Within idolatrous civil religion, God is their author and enforcer.  Moreover, the All-wise God sees through all of the systemic consequences, and sponsors the present social order with open eyes!


IV. Step Three: Fertility Religion:


Slippery-Slope Conflations: Civil religion quickly turns into fertility religion, because the survival of the human race, of a given ethnic group or tribe or clan, does depend on the prudent management of the group’s reproductive potential.  Sexual mores that are thought to promote social survival and flourishing are built into roles and enforced with laws and regulations, attendant rewards and sanctions.  Thus integrated and institutionalized, publicly approved social roles are easy to learn and are constantly reinforced.  By contrast, patterns of sexual activity that are thought to be subversive of social survival are denied any institutional definition or housing.  Once again, they are ‘cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  Because such behaviors and any lifestyles premissed on them are deemed traitorous, society sets up taboos against them.  They are not just wrong, they should be rendered unthinkable.  People caught engaging in them should not merely be punished.  They are ‘beyond the pale.’  They forfeit their place in polite society.

Sexuality thus becomes a participating symbol of social survival.  Sexual behaviors not only have concrete consequences but symbolic punch.  Female purity becomes an emblem of social integrity; the violation of women, a natural sign that community boundaries are losing definition.  The traditional white wedding dress not only makes a claim about the individual girl’s chastity.  It pays public tribute to social norms and asserts the community’s right to go on in the prescribed way.  Obviously, groups that fail to reproduce themselves in appropriate numbers will die out (like the celibate Shakers).  But the ‘steam’ around sexual mores is generated, not by the practical effects of this or that individual’s transgression, but by what it symbolizes.  For animals in a world of scarcity, survival is a desperate issue.  Collective ruin is what sexual offenses come to mean.

True religion’s use of social analogies already makes God complicit in the sexual mores and taboos of the societies in question.  When true religion gets conflated with civil religion turned fertility religion, God is made the authorizer and organizer of fertility religion.  God is drafted into the role of shoring up institutions with commandments and sanctions and denouncing the absolutely intolerable as ‘abominations to the Lord.’  Because true religion gets its bearings from tradition, the effect is cumulative and conservative: God is made to stand behind a whole range of sexual institutions, prohibitions, and taboos that originally went with societies very different from our own.

Once again, examples may make these points more vivid.  Biblical Fertility Religion: However much biblical prophets inveigh against Canaanite fertility religion, it is quite obvious that Torah teaches its own brand.  God is the source of fertility, which will continue only if the people of God go along with God’s program, obeying Divine commands and ordinances, not least by first-fruit offerings, which some took to include the sacrifice of first born sons.  God promises to the patriarchs and their descendants center on land and fertility--star-numerous offspring, flocks and herds fruitful and multiplying, grain and wine and oil increasing.  Survival for beduoin clans and small cities were thought to require maximizing reproductive potential.  As guaranteed seed-wasters, homosexual activity and intercourse with non-human animals were ruled out as abominations.  Intercourse with women at the wrong time in their cycles was also forbidden, because very probably fruitless, but not counted as abominable because it could be socially destabilizing to deny husbands access to their wives.  Likewise, adultery was a form of theft (it ‘ploughed with someone else’s heiffer’) and jeopardized the husband’s prospects of continuing his family line.  Especially for women, it could be treated as a capital offense.  Conversely, levirate marriage allows a dead brother to borrow seed from the living, lest he be left without issue and deprived of his ‘Aristotelian immortality.’ Sterility was a sign of Divine disfavor sometimes contradicted by miraculous reversal (e.g., Sarah, Hannah, the wife of Manoah, Elizabeth).

Fertility Religion, Vatican-Style: Vatican documents contain much that is promising.  They recognize how human being has to be considered at three levels--the biological, much of which it shares with other animals; the personal, which transcends the animal in rational free agency; and the spiritual, which rises beyond both because human beings are called by God.[13]  Vatican documents forward a theology of marriage defined by covenant, complementarity, and openness to life.  By contrast with merely de facto partnerships, marriage involves a free and irrevocable mutual covenant to a lifetime of total self-giving.  Here the emphasis is on the quality of personal relationships and their being embraced as a Divine vocation.  The other two markers would also admit of personal and spiritual interpretations: complementarity of personalities, of personal and spiritual strengths and weaknesses and expertise; openness to creativity in its many forms and to a life-posture of welcome and nurture of other persons.  So construed, the Vatican portrait is attractive and insightful, and it is gender neutral, an ideal to which homo- as well as heterosexual couples often aspire.

Vatican documents don’t go there, however, but feature fertility religion instead.  Their focus is on defending heterosexual marriage as the only legitimate housing for sexual intercourse.[14]  Having begun with the personal and spiritual, attention shifts down to the biological.  Complementarity essentially includes the bodily equipment needed for bisexual reproduction.[15]  ‘Openness to life’ means ‘no sexual intercourse that does not allow for the possibility of conceiving a child’.[16]  The total self-giving of one partner to another is also dragged down to animal mechanics to forbid not only contraception but equally go-between technology to foster conception.[17]  Vatican documents do not take seriously the possibility that it might be more self-giving and open to life of a husband to use a condom if he is infected with HIV or if his wife’s health would be seriously jeopardized by another pregnancy.[18]  Occasionally Vatican documents recognize how--within couplings that are personal and spiritual--sexual intercourse serves twin functions: not only the procreative but the unitive, strengthening of bonds between partners.  But the documents relentlessly insist that the two aspects are inseparable, that no sexual intercourse that is not open to breeding is permissible.[19]  Ironically, Vatican fertility religion betrays its ascetical background, when it seeks to keep sexual intercourse down to a minimum, while mostly maximizing the reproductive potential of what it allows.[20]


V. Step Four: Rationalizing the Taboos


Social modelling in theology gives us Divine complicity in systemic evils; idolatrous civil religion makes God the author and enforcer of systemic evils; idolatrous civil religion turned fertility religion puts Divine power and authority behind ancient sexual mores and taboos.  Their observance is mandated in ‘God’s Word written’.  Centuries of religious practice and reflection reassert them.  A Strong Argument from Tradition--that ‘God’s Word written’ and/or the everywhere-and-always or at least majority-report testimony of tradition should never be contradicted--makes biblical religion captive of ‘the spirits of many past ages,’ because it dictates the enforcement of centuries-old and centuries’ worth of sexual taboos.  The bible explicitly denies women headship roles over men.  Tradition seems to most not to preserve records of women in ordained ministry.  Both Scripture and tradition declare homosexual intercourse an abomination.  So Christian believers who do not--in the words of Cardinal Kasper--’feel free to go against tradition’ in these matters are firmly committed to the preservation of sex-and-gender conclusions that liberals find ancient and outmoded at best and at worst rife with injustice.[21]

Nevertheless, sex-and-gender conservatives take offense at the suggestion that they are trafficking in taboos.  After all, taboos are irrational or at least non-rational.  They aim to rule out behaviors that appear so dangerous, that seemingly so threaten to unravel the social fabric, that society has a vested interest in erasing them from our consciousness.  Thus, taboos are rooted in terror.  They are by nature inarticulate insofar as they seek to render the excluded unspeakable.  Sex-and-gender conservatives see themselves as moral theologians engaging in the task of social ethics and commending their conclusions to others as following from reasoned argument.[22]  Homosexuality is taken out of the closet and openly spoken about.  Vatican documents represent their claims about heterosexual marriage and the family as ‘objective truth’ that is grounded in human nature.[23]  Their directives reflect ‘natural law’ and the dictates of ‘right reason’.[24]  Civil law that contradicts natural law and right reason has no moral authority.  Not only Catholic legislators and voters, but morally conscientious people should oppose legislation in favor of gay marriage and--where it is in force--work for its repeal.[25]

Within some approaches to ethical theory, ‘Do whatever right reason dictates!’ is a fundamental maxim.  Likewise, natural law, grounded on human nature, is held to be universally binding on human individuals and bodies politic.[26]  But to make these general principles the stuff of moral persuasion, one has to add particular premisses--’Right reason commends this and/or condemns that behavior’, ‘This lifestyle is enjoined by natural law’, ‘That lifestyle is contrary to nature’--which need also to command assent.  Unfortunately, it is precisely in commending the particular premisses that Vatican documents appear to outsiders to beg many questions.  Thus, the Pope insists that it is ‘certain’ and ‘evident to right reason’ that biological gender complementarity is essential to marriage.[27]  Other documents speak of its being ‘inscribed in human nature’.[28]  But what seems obvious is the biological fact (let us grant for the sake of argument that it is a fact) that bisexual reproduction is natural and normal for the human species.  It doesn’t follow from this that the nuclear family is a ‘natural society’ that exists prior to any social institutions[29] or ‘the original cell of human life.’[30]  Bisexual reproduction is natural and normal for wolves, too, but they instinctively run in packs!  Even if right reason would grant societies some sort of right to the prudent management of reproductive potential towards the end of social survival, what counts as prudent is context-dependent.  In an over-populated world, maximizing reproduction will not contribute to the long-term survival of the human race.  Remember China’s one-child policy!  LGBT partnerships might join clerical celibacy as lifestyle alternatives that benefit society by curbing population growth!

The Pope’s vehement declaration that

          [t]here are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family’ because ‘[m]arriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law’

so overstates the case that we may be pardoned for suspecting that his remarks are not underwritten by calm philosophizing, but are fueled by fertility religion.  He confirms this hypothesis in his very next sentences:

          Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.”’[31]

Breeding requires the union of opposite sexes.  Sexual intercourse has to carry with it the biological possibility of conception; otherwise it is ‘hedonistic’ or ‘self-indulgent’.[32]

Other documents make it clear that the particular premisses are being supplied by appeals to authority.  Reacting to ‘an overly benign interpretation’ of ‘the homosexual condition’,[33] the Pope argues that the biblical witness is univocal against homosexual activity, that in any event what is authoritative is the interpretation of Scripture by tradition and the Magisterium.[34]  And the clear teaching of the Church is that it is only within heterosexual marriage that ‘the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good’.[35]  But--pace Papa--Scripture and tradition are human as well as divine, and--insofar as they are human--sacralize the systemic evils of centuries-old and centuries’ worth of sexual taboos.  They are declared to represent God’s order and their violation is a ‘destruction of God’s work’![36]  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Strong Argument from Tradition appeals to the sins of the fathers to justify repeating them!


VI. Repentance and Works Meet for Repentance:


Bishop Robinson has faith in God and is hopeful.  Religion and society can change.  Not only that, religious voices can help change society.  To this, I would add two things.  Change will require repentance and works meet for repentance.  And in this, the liberal state and civil society can help change the Church.

The first step for the Church is to renounce the Strong Argument from Tradition--that tradition should be preserved exactly as it was handed down and never changed--in favor of a doctrine of ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda (the Church reformed and ever in need of reform).  Christian religion cannot do without tradition, any more than human children can rear themselves.  Yet, a good upbringing is not an obstacle but a platform for creativity and discovery.  Grown children who love their parents, challenge them when they think they’re wrong.  So also and all the more so, adult Christians have a duty, not only to respect tradition, but to weed it: to identify systemic evils that are ripe for uprooting and to dig them out with shovel and trowel.

Sex-and-gender conservatives accuse liberals of being co-opted by ‘the spirit of this present age’ instead of ‘taking all thoughts captive to obey Christ’.  This is a false dichotomy.  Fertility religion puts the Church in bondage to the spirits of past ages.  Civil society has already exorcized some of these demons.  Precisely because they come at things from different angles, Church and civil society can be friends in helping each other identify which systemic evils need to be dealt with next.  In the mid-twentieth century, American churches played an important role in bringing racial segregation to an end.  Turn of the twenty-first century, civil society is taking the lead in reversing sex-and-gender discrimination.

The second step for the Church is to renounce fertility religion in favor of its foundational obligation to respect the image of God in every human person.  The Church should repent by apologizing to LGBT for centuries of complicity in and sponsorship of LGBT oppression, right down to the present day.  It should do works meet for repentance by reversing its discriminatory policies regarding blessings and ordination of coupled LGBT.  The Church of England, which I serve, should withdraw its demand to be exempt from national sex-and-gender equal opportunity laws.  And its leadership should quit harrassing TEC for ordaining Bishop Robinson and New Westminster, Vancouver for authorizing rites to bless homosexual partnerships, and come out of the closet actively to oppose Lambeth 1.10! 




[1]  ‘Bishop Robinson said this in a speech at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta on 6 April 2009.


[2]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.3; Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.3.


[3]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.16-17; Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to  with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to Seminary and to Holy Orders:,sec.2; Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2357-2359.


[4]  Issues in Human Sexuality (London: Church Publishing House, 1991), and Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A Guide to the Debate (London: Church Publishing House, 2003).


[5]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons: 2003, sec.9, pp.4-5.


[6]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:, sec.10.


[7]  Ephraim Radner & Andrew Goddard, “Human Rights, Homosexuality and the Anglican Communion: Reflections in Light of Nigeria”:, (sec.1).


[8]  Ephraim Radner & Andrew Goddard, “Human Rights, Homosexuality and the Anglican Communion: Reflections in Light of Nigeria”, sec.4.


[9]  Ephraim Radner & Andrew Goddard, “Human Rights, Homosexuality and the Anglican Communion: Reflections in Light of Nigeria”, sec.5.


[10]  ‘Homosexuality is as great a threat as rainforest destruction,’ says Pope’, Mail Online;


[11]  Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:, sec.23,p.12.


[12]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:,sec.7.


[13]  The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family;; Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Three, Sec.2,ch.2, art.6;


[14]  Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church: // 2348-2359.


[15]  Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.23.


[16]  Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2366,2368,2370.


[17]  The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family:,sec.32; Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2370, 2376-77.


[18]  The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family:,sec.137-139; Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2363.


[19]  Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2366-2370; Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.7.


[20]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.2-3; Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2366-2370,2373.


[21]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.4-6,8; Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.2-3.


[22]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.2.


[23]  Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.12,23.


[24]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.2-3; Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2357; Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.13.


[25]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.6.


[26]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:,sec.6.


[27]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:, sec.3.


[28]  Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.23.


[29]  Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,secs.9,25.


[30]  Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2207; Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.12.


[31]  Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons:,sec.4; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2357.


[32]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,secs.7-8.


[33]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.3.


[34]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,secs.3-8; cf. Family, Marriage, and “De Facto” Unions:,sec.13.


[35]  Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:,sec.7.


[36]  ‘Pope accused of stoking homophobia after he equates homosexuality to climate change’; 5387858.ece.

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