The dubious theology of Cardinal Ratzinger

     Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927) was named Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [abbr.: CDF] by Pope John Paul II on 25 November 1981.  He held this office until he was elected as Pope Benedict XVI.  It was during his twenty-four year tenure as head of the CDF that he gave special importance to hammering out the theological analysis and pastoral response that was to be used for gays and lesbians.  Here are the key documents distributed to bishops worldwide that bear his signature:

  • Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons (October 1, 1986)[i]
  • Some considerations concerning the response to legislative proposals on the non-discrimination of homosexual persons (July 24, 1992)
  • Family, marriage and “de facto” unions (July 26, 2000)[ii]
  • Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons (June 3, 2003)

For our purposes the 2003 document is of prime importance.  My task will be to present and explain the key propositions within this document followed by my analysis and critique.

Proposition #1: “There 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 family.  Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law (§4).”

Analysis:  Cardinal Ratzinger here takes an essentialist viewpoint.  For him, sexual acts are permitted only to married couples, and every conjugal act of intercourse must be open to procreation (hence, contraceptives are prohibited[iii]).  By contrast, homosexual acts have neither the sanction of an exclusive life-long commitment nor the prospect of conceiving a new life.  According to the laws of nature, same-sex partners cannot conceive.  Their sex acts, consequently, are judged as “intrinsically disordered and able in no case to be approved.”[iv]  Thus, it follows from this that homosexual unions cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous” to marriage.

Critique:  Cardinal Ratzinger fails to properly evaluate marital sex.  In some marriages, sex functions as a tool for dominating and humiliating of the subordinate partner.  It brings forth bruises and tears of pain from one partner and cries of anger from the other.  In such instances, the vows of marriage are used for subjugation.  To call these sex acts “holy” would be a farce.

Likewise, to say that same-sex couples can never have “holy” sex merely demonstrates how shallow the Cardinal’s investigations have been.  Presumably, the Cardinal had never had the opportunity to meet the sort of same-sex couples that I describe in Ch1.  In this case, his judgment would be based on his ignorance.

The fact of his “ignorance” is one thing.  Whether it is an excusable ignorance or a culpable ignorance is quite another.   Click here is order to pursue this question.  Keep reading if you want to further pursue an analysis of Rat’s 2003 letter on same-sex unions.

These dimensions of human sexuality escape Ratzinger’s notice entirely.  His treatment of marital love comes across to me as simplistic and legalistic.  His treatment of homosexual love comes across to me as shallow and uninformed.  As a result of his ignorance and his arrogance, he has saddled the world-wide Church with biblical judgments on homosexuality that are entirely misleading.  He has taken an essentialist form of Catholic moral reasoning and has applied it indiscriminatingly to all forms of homosexuality known today.

Major premise: Human sexuality is divine ordained for the conception of new life within the bounds of Holy Matrimony.

Minor premise: According to the laws of nature, same-sex partners cannot conceive a new life.

Conclusion: Their sex acts, as a result, must be judged as “intrinsically disordered and able in no case to be approved.”[iv]  And, from this, it necessarily follows that homosexual unions cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous” to marriage.

Furthermore, someone sympathetic to the Cardinal might also add that, in all probability, his contact with homosexuals may have been entirely limited to the confessional and to “gay-pride” demonstrations.  Someone limited to these sort of experiences would understandably be prone to develop a  jaundiced perspective of the homosexual condition.

I myself was victim to such a jaundiced perspective due to my own early negative experience with gay men.  But I did not stop there.   I made opportunities to expand my understanding and discovered that I was severely ignorant of the variety of gay and lesbian life-styles and that, hidden below the surface, there existed personal stories of unconventional abiding love flowering among same-sex partners who gifted each other (and those around them) with bonds of affection and self-sacrificing mutual love that rivaled what my wife and I had attempted to offer each other.

On the other hand, what can one say of the union of Martha and Mary (described in Chapter 1)?  Have not these two women mutually accepted each other “as God has designed them”?  Has not their mutual love brought self-acceptance and healing to the injuries and disappointments that have been visited upon them by hateful strangers and enemies?  Does their promise of mutual and faithful love “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part” nor draw down the blessings of God and the active support of those who love them and honor their self-sacrificing commitments?  Cardinal Ratzinger mentions none of these things.  This is a serious defect of his essentialist viewpoint.

For Cardinal Ratzinger, everything hinges on the assumption that every sex act must be open to procreation.  But this is decidedly not the case for even heterosexual love.  The yearning for sex knows no such artificial barrier.  Unlike those animals who only copulate when the female is “in heat,” humans have been designed by God to desire sex at all stages of the female fertility cycle.[v]  Hence, even by design, it is a serious mistake to conclude that God permits human sexuality only when conception is the natural outcome.

In same-sex unions, what can one say about the use of sex to celebrate their mutual love and to enhance their developing intimacy?  If I have found this to be true in my own love making with my wife, who am I to judge that same-sex unions cannot function “in many ways similar and analogous” (and, at times, even superior) to what I have discovered within my heterosexual marriage?  What a mistake it would be to condemn them all out of hand without reverently and quietly asking same-sex couples about these delicate and important aspects of their private lives.  Here again Cardinal Ratzinger mentions none of these things.  This is a serious defect.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney, Australia, spoke at the Ways of Love conference on pastoral care with LGBTQ people, as follows:

It was God who created a world in which there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals.  This was not a mistake on God’s part that human beings are meant to repair; it is simply an undeniable part of God’s creation.

The only sexual acts that are natural to homosexuals are homosexual acts.  This is not a free choice they have made between two things that are equally attractive to them, but something that is deeply embedded in their nature, something they cannot simply be cast aside.  Homosexual acts come naturally to them, heterosexual acts do not.[vi]

What Bishop Robinson is affirming is that Cardinal Ratzinger’s judgment that “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law” only applies to heterosexuals.  God has uniquely designed homosexuals such that “homosexual acts” are natural to them and, consequently, their love making is, for them, a potential means of grace.  Bishop Robinson would therefore say that Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis is intrinsically disordered because he makes the categorical error of taking the natural law that applies to heterosexuals and applying it indiscriminatingly to homosexuals.

Proposition #2: “Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition.  Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race (§7).”

Analysis:  Cardinal Ratzinger now turns his attention to discover what reason a society might have to give legal recognition to homosexual unions if they contribute nothing to “the procreation and survival of the human race.”  This appears to be a utilitarian argument.  If homosexuals fail to contribute to “procreation and survival,” then it would be irrational to offer them legal recognition.

Critique: This argument is paper thin.  Every society has an investment in nourishing its members and in appreciating the gifts that they offer.  Even in the case of childless marriages, neither civil society nor the Church makes the fatal mistake of withdrawing its care and attention until such time as the first child is conceived.  Likewise, neither civil society nor the Church makes the fatal mistake of withdrawing its care and attention once a couple becomes infertile due to age or an accident or to God’s design.

“It takes a village to raise a child.”  I myself am indebted to scout masters, teachers, librarians, farmers, employers, counselors, officers of the law who saw fit to contribute to the man that I have become, in ways that extended beyond what my biological mother and father were able to supply.  I trust that among those who formed and supported me were to be found a few gays and lesbians.  I even have some suspicion as to who they might be.  Cardinal Ratzinger must be able to say the same thing for himself.  Thus, I find that the terms “procreation and survival” are excessively narrow criteria, and, if this rule were uniformly applied, then, as explained above, one out of three marriages would also be deemed unworthy of any special care and “legal recognition.”

This being the case, it would seem only fair to consider how same-sex unions contribute to the life-long nurturing and learning that normally takes place in extended families, in neighborhoods, in schools, and in businesses.  Hence, it seems unfair for Cardinal Ratzinger to fault same-sex couples for not procreating when the needs of our society are much more ongoing and nuanced.   To illustrate this, I want to cite here the case of just one of the petitioners that were involved in the recent Supreme Court ruling relative to same-sex marriages:

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in the case from Michigan.  They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007.  They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit.  In 2009, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy.  Later that same year, they welcomed another son into their family.  The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care.  The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family.  Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent.  If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent.  And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt.  This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives.

Just taking this single case, one wonders whether Cardinal Ratzinger would find that these two committed women are unworthy of any legal protections because their children, in this case, are adopted. And, going further, by what right does Cardinal Ratzinger take it upon himself to obstruct all those Catholics who support their quest for the civil recognition of their union?  Clearly Ratzinger’s thoughts are disordered and jaundiced.  He seems incapable of allowing for a nuanced recognition of the varieties of services that Catholics in same-sex unions provide within our society.

Cardinal Ratzinger lives in a comfortable world of abstract analysis and iron-clad condemnations:

If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. . . .  To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral (§10).

But the very opposite is true!  It would be “gravely immoral” to deliberately block April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse from being legally named as co-parents of the handicapped children they have adopted.  Cardinal Ratzinger acts recklessly and unjustly when he brings pressure on every Catholic “to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions.”  In his mind, supporting legislation in favor of the legal recognition of same-sex unions is a mortal sin.  For someone who sees legal recognition “as beneficial to the common good,” it must be allowed that, both morally and legally, they vote their conscience.

Proposition #3: “As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons.  They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood.  Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development (§7).”

Analysis:  Cardinal Ratzinger now brings forward the argument that a child needs the nurturing exposure of both a father and a mother.  Having two fathers or two mothers doesn’t wash.  Hence, a society which enables same-sex couples to adopt children does “violence” (strong term) to these children for it consigns them to an environment that thwarts their “full human development.”

Critique:  Cardinal Ratzinger now appeals to “experience.”  Is he referring to his personal experience or to the general experience of parents or to the experience of childcare specialists? It is impossible to say. In any case, I would have Cardinal Ratzinger consider my own personal history.  My mother died when I was eight and my father did not remarry.  The same thing happened for the future pope, John Paul II, whose mother died when he was twelve, and his father never remarried.

Would Cardinal Ratzinger want to argue that these motherless families would be “doing violence to these children”?  If so, this is pure nonsense. I, for example, became quite adept at choosing my playmates on the basis of whether their mothers gave me some of the care and attention that was now absent in my own home.  And did I not draw closer to my maternal grandmother precisely because she treated me warmly as “her dear grandson”?  And did I not cherish Mary, the mother of Jesus, and reveal to her the black hole in my heart that followed upon the death of my mother?

I might presume that my experience might have found parallels in the life of the future John Paul II.  While Cardinal Ratzinger makes a cloaked appeal to “experience,” he seems to be blissfully ignorant of the experiences of children growing up in single-parent households.  Had he known of my experience or that of John Paul II, he would never have argued that adoption into motherless families would be “doing violence to these children.”

Cardinal Ratzinger was presumably raised by parents who followed the rule of separate domains.  His father did manly things.  His mother did womanly things.  This is what Cardinal Ratzinger appears to mean by “sexual complementarity.”  He might also be thinking of psychological complementarity that is exhibited in books such as Dr. John Grey’s Women Are from Venus; Men Are from Mars.[vii]

In contemporary society, however, the standards for judging manly things and womanly things have changed.  In the last thirty years, women have entered into nearly all the professions formerly judged to be suitable for men only.  Men, for their part, have not hesitated to enter into professions formerly judged as suitable only to women, for example, nursing and child care.  Many fathers and grandfathers, for their part, have felt the new-found freedom to change diapers, to feed their children, and to play with them—something that my own father and grandfather never did because they thought, in so doing, that they would be trespassing upon the domain reserved for women.

Even in the case of “The Sound of Music,” one cannot help but notice how Maria brings to the von Trap children a sense of playfulness and joy that was largely beyond the grasp of their father who was locked into his identity as a naval officer.[viii]  Thus, under the influence of Maria, Admiral von Trap gradually puts away his whistle and allows Maria to usher him into hitherto unknown dimension of personally relating to his children. He even goes so far as to participate in their group singing, and he performs publicly with his children, an endeavor which, in his era, would be judged by many as “unmanly.”  Thus, quite apart from his opposition to Hitler, Admirable von Trap gradually escapes the neat “sexual complementarity” that Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be requiring in every suitable family.

And what of same-sex couples?  Cardinal Ratzinger appeals to “experience,” but fails to tell us what experience that he has had of same-sex parents.[ix]  This is unfortunate.  If he had, he would have quickly noticed that, even among lesbian couples, one of the pair is prone to take on the home repairs, the organization of finances, and the disciple of children.  In some instances, one of the pair frequently even dresses more “manly” while the other dresses more “womanly” (as in the 15-year renewal of vows of the lesbian couple shown in the pic above).

Thus, what Cardinal Ratzinger fails to notice is how the modern flexibility of roles found within heterosexual unions has spilled over into same-sex couples as well.  Has this transition crippled the upbringing of children and given them mixed messages regarding sexual identities?[x]  Or has it liberated both boys and girls from rigid stereotypes that thwart their human development rather than to promote it?  In any case, Cardinal Ratzinger fails to make a convincing argument that same-sex couples are inherently detrimental to the human and sexual development of children in their care.

All in all, I would thus give Cardinal Ratzinger poor marks for his judgment regarding same-sex unions:

  • C- for Proposition #1;
  • F for Proposition #2;
  • D- for Proposition #3.

What grade would you give him for each of his three propositions?  What prejudicial stereotypes do you detect are underpinning Cardinal Ratzinger’s judgments?  What elements of your own experience would you have wanted to share with Cardinal Ratzinger that might have allowed him to reexamine his stereotypes and to replace them with informed judgments?

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] In this letter to the worldwide bishops, one finds the following:

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. [. . . .] It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.

[ii] In this letter, an attempt is made to demonstrate that every society is founded upon the supreme importance given to marriage and family.  Any society, therefore, that would offer protection and rights to “civil unions” of same-sex couples or unmarried heterosexual couples would thereby weaken the family and contribute to “the breakdown of the natural institution of marriage”:

With the pretext of regulating one context of social and juridical cohabitation, attempts are made to justify the institutional recognition of de facto unions.  In this way, de facto unions would turn into an institution, and their rights and duties would be sanctioned by law to the detriment of the family based on marriage. The de facto unions would be put on a juridical level similar to marriage; moreover, this kind of cohabitation would be publicly qualified as a “good” by elevating it to a condition similar to, or equivalent to marriage, to the detriment of truth and justice.  In this way, a very strong contribution would be made toward the breakdown of the natural institution of marriage which is absolutely vital, basic and necessary for the whole social body.

The assumptions made by Cardinal Ratzinger in this letter do not hold up to close examination.  This will be shown in what follows.

[iii] For an examination of the faulty logic here, go to Catholic Scholars’ Statement on the Ethics of Using Contraceptives (
statement-on-contraceptives/).  For personal stories, go to

[iv] Ratzinger uses the phrase “intrinsically disordered” to indicate those actions which can never be considered as permissible due to special circumstances.  Ratzinger further judges that “although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin [because it is not freely chosen], it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil [illicit sex]; and thus the inclination [toward unnatural sex] itself must be seen as an objective disorder” (Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §3).

[v] Christine Gudorf examines God’s design from the vantage point of the clitoris.  Gudorf’s philosophy [like that of Cardinal Ratzinger] is squarely within the Thomistic Natural Law tradition. But Gudorf argues that if we take a careful look at the anatomy and physiology of the female sexual organs, and especially the clitoris, instead of focusing exclusively on the male’s penis (which is what Aquinas did), quite different conclusions about God’s plan and design emerge and hence Christian sexual ethics turns out to be less restrictive. In particular, Gudorf claims that the female’s clitoris is an organ whose only purpose is the production of sexual pleasure and, unlike the mixed or dual functionality of the penis, has no connection with procreation. Gudorf concludes that the existence of the clitoris in the female body suggests that God intended that the purpose of sexual activity was as much for sexual pleasure for its own sake as it was for procreation. Therefore, according to Gudorf, pleasurable sexual activity apart from procreation does not violate God’s design, is not unnatural, and hence is not necessarily morally wrong, as long as it occurs in the context of a monogamous marriage (Sex, Body, and Pleasure, p. 65). (source=Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[vi] To fully understand all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, I urge interested persons to read his entire text which can be found on the conference’s website.

[vii] Dr. John Grey is a relationship counselor who writes a self-help book.  Unfortunately, his book describes “men” and “women” in stereotypical fashion that does a disservice to those couples who have a greater integration of the male and female dimensions of themselves.  The review from Publishers Weekly says that Dr. Grey’s “overuse of gimmicky, often silly analogies and metaphors makes his otherwise down-to-earth guide hard to take seriously. Here Martians (men) play Mr. Fix-It while Venusians (women) run the Home-Improvement Committee; when upset, Martians “go to their caves” (to sort things out alone) while Venusians “go to the well” (for emotional cleansing)” (

[viii] In effect, Marie wrote a biography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949), that traces a significantly different story from that of the musical and the film.  “Maria married Georg von Trapp in 1926, not 1938 as portrayed in the musical. She initially fell in love with the children rather than the father and only later came to love him. The father was not the aloof patriarch who disapproved of music but a warm gentle-hearted parent. They also left Austria openly by train” (  What was unusual is that Maria was 25 years younger than George and that they conceived and raised three additional children.  The Sound of Music was the highest-grossing film of all-time—surpassing Gone with the Wind—and held that distinction for five years. The film was just as popular throughout the world, breaking previous box-office records in twenty-nine countries.

[ix] Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a woman who has spent over forty years ministering to homosexuals, reports that she was able to have an informal discussion with Cardinal Ratzinger relative to his experiences with homosexuals.  Here is what she discovered:

A number of years ago, I had a providential meeting on a plane with Benedict XVI before he was elected pope. I was making a pilgrimage to Munich and we both happened to be on the same flight from Rome. In our 20-minute discussion about lesbian and gay people, I asked him if he had ever met any gay people. “Yes, in Germany,” he said. “In Berlin, they were demonstrating against the pope.” This was his experience of gay people—in a conflict situation. Apparently, he had not heard the personal stories of lesbian or gay people and how they feel about their lives, their beliefs, and the struggles they have encountered from society and the church (

[x] See, for example, Liz Halloran, “Report: Utah Judge Orders Child Removed from Home of Same-Sex Parents,” 11 Nov 2015 (

Matthew Vines’ use of Scriptures is quite sophisticated

Matthew Vines’ entire family deciding to leave their hometown church as well.  They didn’t do this in anger or in frustration.  They did it because they wanted to express, first and foremost, their solidarity with their son or with their brother.  They also did this, I would conjecture, because they were increasingly suspicious, thanks to the insights of their son, that there might be something drastically mistaken in the traditional Bible interpretations and that the “anti-gay gospel” was indeed destructive to the spiritual and psychological well-being of Matthew.  By extension, they might have conjectured that if the “anti-gay gospel” is poisonous to their son, it would follow, as the night follows the day, that this “gospel” would be toxic to other youths[i] wrestling with their sexual orientation as well.  Here is how Vines masterfully expresses this in his own words:

Could it be true?  Could it really be that this holiest of books, which contains some of the most beautiful writings and inspiring stories known to mankind, along with the unparalleled teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, also happens to require the emotional and spiritual destruction of sexual minorities?  For any of us who learned to love the Jesus who called the little children to him, whose highest law was that of love, and who was a fierce defender of the downtrodden and the outcast, this simply did not seem possible.[ii]

Thus, the suspicion was that the teachings of Jesus invalidate the “anti-gay gospel” and that, in the case of homosexuality, false teaching has distorted the biblical texts such that “Scripture is used to manipulate.  God is used as a weapon.” [iii]

Matthew Vines’ use of Scriptures is quite sophisticated

Matthew Vines’ use of Scriptures is quite sophisticated.  Vines is not only casting doubt on the “anti-gay gospel” and the texts used to support it, he is also discovering overlooked texts that construct a solid basis for an eventual acceptance of homosexual unions.  Here is an excellent example:

In the first two chapters of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth, plants, animals, man, and everything in the earth.  And He declares everything in creation to be either good or very good – except for one thing.  In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  And yes, the suitable helper or partner that God makes for Adam is Eve, a woman.  And a woman is a suitable partner for the vast majority of men – for straight men.  But for gay men, that isn’t the case.  For them, a woman is not a suitable partner.  And in all of the ways that a woman is a suitable partner for straight men—for gay men, it’s another gay man[iv] who is a suitable partner.

And the same is true for lesbian women.  For them, it is another lesbian woman who is a suitable partner.  But the necessary consequence of the traditional teaching on homosexuality is that, even though gay people have suitable partners, they must reject them, and they must live alone for their whole lives, without a spouse or a family of their own.

We are now declaring good the very first thing in Scripture that God declared not good: for the man to be forced to be alone.  And the fruit that this teaching has borne has been deeply wounding and destructive.[v]

Notice how Vines begins by carefully examining the text of Gen 1-3.  He isolates God’s declaration, “It is not good for a man to be alone,” as his key concern.  But then he shows that the “anti-gay gospel” frustrates God’s declaration in two ways:

  1. Gay people know very well that God has created for them “suitable partners,” yet the “anti-gay gospel” declares that same-sex partners are everywhere and always unsuitable;
  2. Likewise, the “anti-gay gospel” declares that gays must embrace life-long celibacy; yet, in so doing, they frustrate God’s declaration that “it is not good for a man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

This double failure on the part of the “anti-gay gospel” is “deeply wounding and destructive.”  The unspoken complaint here is that following the gospel of life should lead to peace, joy, and understanding; hence, quite clearly the “anti-gay gospel” is not the gospel of life even though Matthew’s church declares that it is the one and only Gospel.

Vines’ argument could be further expanded by taking note that in Gen. 1, God alone judges the worth of his majestic creation on the six days.  “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  Not so in Gen 2.  Here it is the earthling (Adam) who signals to God that he is lonely.  The assumption of the narrative is that God is never lonely; hence, not even God could have anticipated the onset of loneliness nor could he have immediately known how to heal this loneliness.  Nonetheless, God takes Adam at his word and throws himself into trying to find an appropriate solution:

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Gen. 2:19).

Notice here how, after each new trial, God brings his latest creation to the earthling so that he can name it and, quite possibly, discover whether this new creature will dispel his loneliness.  Notice carefully that the text demonstrates that God cannot anticipate the final solution to Adam’s problem.  He must experiment and then await Adam’s response.  This is because the “loneliness” belongs properly to the earthling and not to God.

What we can learn from this is that God, in the case of gays and lesbians, would not presume to know in advance that gays and lesbians would be prone to loneliness.  Even then, God would have to wait and see how gays and lesbians would choose to dispel their loneliness.[vi]  If God himself has to be patient and to listen, then it would be incumbent upon pastors in the Christian churches to do the same.  When they sidestep this listening process, they easily err because they take the “anti-gay gospel” given to them and force it upon people they do not properly understand.[vii]  So, the churches can error easily when they fail to act with the same care and discernment that God himself displays in Gen 2.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] For excellent life-stories inspired by the Reformation Project of Matthew Vines, go to

[ii] Matthew Vines, “The Bible and Homosexuality: Why I Left College and Spent Two Years Finding Out What the Scriptures Really Say,” The Huffpost Gay Voices,  26 March 2012 (

[iii] Given my own special interest in Jewish-Christian relations, I am especially sensitive to how anti-Jewish sentiments circulating among Catholics were used to interpret a few texts in the Gospels (especially, “his blood be upon us and upon our children” Matt. 27:25) in order to prove (a) that God held all Jews accountable for the killing of Jesus and (b) that God, as a result of this crime, had rejected all Jews in all times and in all places as his chosen people, and, in their place, God embraced Catholics with his love and protection and enduring covenant.  In the wake of this “anti-Jewish gospel,” Christians routinely interpreted natural and deliberate disasters (beginning with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 68-70 CE) as the divine retribution inflicted upon Jews for their crime of killing Jesus, the Son of God.

Not until after the Holocaust did the Christian churches finally come to their senses and begin to sort out what the Scriptures did and did not say about the Jews.  As a result, biblical interpretations held for more than sixteen hundred years were uprooted over the course of a few decades (1948-1968).  Meanwhile, biblical interpretations that had been ignored or obscured were brought forward, more especially, (a) that God’s election of the Jewish people was permanent and irrevocable and (b) that Jesus himself lived and died as a faithful Jew.

This case of anti-Jewish prejudice poisoning the true meaning of the Scriptures is important for a number of reasons.  First, it demonstrates that, once an error inserts itself, it can persist from generation to generation undetected because the false interpretation itself feeds upon the anti-Jewish prejudice that stimulated its origination.  Secondly, it demonstrates that, saints and sinners, bishops and scholars all were mutually supportive in maintaining and promoting these false biblical interpretations.  Only the massive and unthinkable Holocaust had enough shock value to inspire a critical reassessment of those anti-Jewish interpretations that had become firmly entrenched within the Catholic tradition.  For further details, see James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001) & Aaron Milavec, Salvation Is from the Jews: Reflections on Saving Grace within Judaism and on Messianic Hope within Christianity (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007).

[iv] Keep in mind that complementary personalities and complementary skill-sets figure into the mutual choice of a suitable partner in both heterosexual and homosexual unions.

[v] Matthew Vines, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” 08 Mar 2012 (

[vi] This emphasis upon experimentation and flexibility found in the Gen. 2 account also serves to make way for transgendered and bisexual individuals.  When one hears the personal stories of such persons, it is not at all intuitive whether there is a single formula for how such persons will choose their soul mates.  Hence, as in the case of God, both heterosexuals and homosexual persons will have to wait and see what sort of choices satisfies their yearning hearts.

[vii] Many Christians think, for example, that giving legal recognition to “same-sex marriages” has the effect of devaluing “heterosexual marriages.”  In truth, the very opposite is the case.  It is because homosexuals esteem the permanent covenant of love that prevails in marriages that they want to participate in this social matrix themselves.  They also discern that sex in marriage entails a mutual surrender and provides a pleasure bonding that is re-creative and healing. This too they want to taste for themselves.  As for setting up households and deciding upon children, same-sex unions have a wide variety of options to consider here just as do their heterosexual counterparts.  No two heterosexual unions are the same.  The same rule will prevail among homosexual unions.  No two heterosexual unions express love and affection in the same way.  The same rule will surely prevail among homosexual unions.  What is avoided as vulgar by one couple may be a source of delight for another.  No two heterosexual unions make decisions and share household chores in exactly the same way.  Same for homosexual unions.

Matthew Vines’ disarming authenticity

Matthew Vines grew up in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, Missouri.  When he slowly came to the realization that he had a homosexual orientation, he was horrified by the fact that his Presbyterian church offered him no route whereby he might gain God’s blessing for his sexuality:

We affirm God’s design for the two sexes – male and female – and believe that each is a glorious gift from God.  Our sexuality is meant to be offered back to Him.  For some, this means joining in a one-man, one-woman marriage – for procreation, union and mutual delight.  For others, this means celibacy which allows for undivided devotion to Christ.  Sexual expression is designed for the marital relationship, and homosexual lust[i] and behavior are among the sexual sins that are outside God’s created intent and desire for us.

Vine, at the age of 21, realized that his divine salvation relied upon his willingness to accept God’s plan that sexual intimacy was exclusively reserved to heterosexual partners bound together in marriage.  Since Vines knew that he was not attracted to women, he faced the bleak prospect of trying “repairative therapies”[ii] and praying to God for a miracle that would “transform his sexual appetites.”[iii]  Should these options fail, he knew full well that he would be forced to maintain a lifelong celibacy, even though he honestly recognized that he was not naturally inclined in this direction either. Shaken by these bleak prospects for his future, Vines deliberately interrupted his college studies at Harvard (2008-2010) because he knew that he had to consult with biblical experts and come to a deeper understanding of why God opposes homosexuality as a divine calling for men like himself.

After doing some biblical research, he drafted a six-page summary of his results that he submitted to his father.  He trusted his father to have wisdom in this matter that exceeded his own.  When his father accepted his initial findings, he spent months expanded his study and made preparations to share his discoveries with members of his church who were concerned about this issue. In order to reach a wider audience, Vines spent $500 of his own money to have a professionally crafted five-minute video produced.  He distributed this online in March of 2012 under the YouTube title, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality.”  Given the largely positive response that his video received, Vines went ahead and prepared a full-hour video.

In April 2014, Vines published a book, God and the Gay Christian. He then entered into public debates with pastors and theologians.  Vines debated Dr. Michael Brown, author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? on Moody Radio on 28 June 2014.[iv]  Given the pain and confusion expressed by hundreds of young people who poured out their woes to him in emails, Vines felt called to initiate The Reformation Project—“a nonprofit organization designed to connect, train and empower LGBTQ Christians and their allies to actively promote changes in their churches on this issue.”[v]

Matthew Vines as a young man on fire

Make your choice for viewing either the short or the long exposure to Vines:

Click on your choice: Title Content
Five-minute version “God and the Gay Christian” (2012) His video went viral here: watch?v=gmp6lLct-fQ
Hour-long lecture “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” (2012) College Hill UM Church presentation with multi-lingual transcript
What are your thoughts and feelings on what you have just heard from Matthew Vine?  I invite you to take a sheet of paper and to write them down for your future use.  I invite you to share your thoughts in the response box offered below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ footnotes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] Notice that this evangelical statement terms all immoral sex as “lust.”  Ratzinger would prefer to say “self-indulgent passions” rather than “lust.”  Why so?  Because Ratzinger believes that the homosexual inclination is not chosen and, as such, in not to be considered in itself “sinful.”  Moreover, he allows that while all homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” the degree of guilt changes with the circumstances.  This is a much more nuanced position.   Here is the critical text: It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable. Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable (The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §11).

[ii] Reparative Therapy (also known as Conversion Therapy) claims that adolescent homosexuality may arise from traumatic events in the past and that, with careful psychological counseling, part or all of same-sex attraction can be dispelled.  For a strong and persuasive advocate, see Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., What Is Reparative Therapy? Examining the Controversy (  Please be aware, however, that this form of therapy has been widely shown to be non-productive and even harmful to the degree that even the American Psychiatric Association warns against crediting its claims.  See “The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” (

[iii] Matthew Vines writes in his book as follows: As a lawyer, my dad weighed the evidence for the possibility of orientation change.  Pointing to Matt. 19:26, he reminded me that all things are possible with God.  Yet after reading a fair amount about “ex-gay” ministries, he realized that none of the evidence seemed to show God was changing gay people’s sexual orientation (God and the Gay Christian, p. 10). A controversial Christian ministry devoted to changing people “affected by homosexuality” announced in April of 2014 that it was shutting its doors after operating for more than three decades.  The announcement by Exodus International came during its religious conference in Irvine and after its President Alan Chambers apologized to members of the gay community for “years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.” ( god-gays-conversation-albert-mohler-matthew-vines/#sthash.ji8Nb8dn.dpuf). In October of 2011, John Smid, the former director of Love in Action, the country’s oldest and largest ex-gay ministry, acknowledged on his blog that, contrary to the claims of the movement he represented for decades, gay people cannot become straight. “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” he wrote. He himself certainly has not.  Evangelicals used to insist that “change is possible,” says Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor once associated with the ex-gay movement. “The new paradigm, I believe, is no, it doesn’t look like that works, and so you go with it, you accept it, and you try to make the best life you can in congruence with the rest of your beliefs,” he says (

[iv] The Moody debate can be found online at

[v] Matthew Vines writes, “My inbox serves as a daily reminder of the countless people who are still struggling, and who still feel voiceless and powerless in the face of overwhelming opposition [within their church].”  Matthew Vines, “The Reformation Project: Training Christians to Eradicate Homophobia from the Church,” The Huffpost Gay Voices, 05 March 2013 (

Invitation to a lesbian vow ceremony

     I now jump forward to 1978.  Two women in my parish that were very well known to me (let me affectionately call them Martha and Mary) approached me and invited me to join with a dozen others at their home in order to witness their “vows of permanent friendship.”[i]  They asked me not to publicize this event since, for them, this was very private, “We don’t want to share our love with those in our faith community who might find this unsettling.”

My mind thought of a Jesus tradition

My mind thought of the Gospel story where Jesus was invited to heal the servant of a Roman officer in the occupying army.  Undoubtedly, Jesus did not agree with the brutality associated with Roman occupation; yet, since Jewish elders commended him saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5), he went.  He went not to approve the Roman occupation but to respond to an authentic human need.  He may have received flack for it later; yet, Jesus was accustomed to disapproval and didn’t act to get the applause of others.

Another Jesus tradition came to mind

My mind also thought of the Gospel story where a menstruating woman came up behind Jesus and touched the tassels of his cloak.  According to the Jewish tradition, menstruation was no light matter.  Leviticus makes it clear that any woman in this condition has no business touching anyone or she would instantly make them “unclean.” As for men, any man deliberately having sexual relations with a menstruating woman was to be sentenced to death (Lev. 18:19; 20:18). Yet, Jesus appears to have regarded menstruation much differently.

Maybe his own parents, Mary and Joseph, already had a private opinion whereby they judged that the needs of others allowed them to override the rule of menstrual impurity.  Mary, for instance, may have visited a sick friend during her period “because she needed her” and was quite confident “that God would understand.”  In any case, Jesus does not upbraid the woman and use this occasion to enforce the importance of God’s commandments regarding menstrual impurity. The unexpected happens.  Instead of contaminating Jesus with her “impurity,” healing power flows from him to her.   He congratulates her saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48 and par.).  Jesus names her as “Daughter of Israel” and applauds “her faith” that made her well.

This was not just an ordinary menstrual flow, to be sure.  She had been afflicted with an unregulated menses for the last twelve years.  In effect, she was a shut-in and unable to touch her husband or her children or her parents for that whole period.  When she spots Jesus, she can’t afford to speak or to be recognized by anyone who might know her.  She shouldn’t be out.  If discovered, she might be stoned.  Her journey out of her home is nothing short of an act of desperation.  She risks concealing herself in her garments, and she persuades herself that touching the fringes of his garment will go unnoticed.  This is “the faith” that impels her act of courage.

Martha and Mary exchange vows as permanent partners

So, prompted by these thoughts, I accepted the invitation of Martha and Mary.  When I arrived at their home, the couple greeted me warmly.  I enjoyed meeting others who were invited.  Most were already known to me.  Their ceremony was simple.  They emphasized that what they were promising to each other was not “marriage”[ii] but a “permanent partnership.”  They also mentioned that they were living in dangerous times wherein they could be easily punished for what they were now doing; yet, it seemed to them that, after twelve years, there should at least be a few whom they trusted who could witness “before God who they were and who they intended to be for each other.”  Accordingly, they joined hands and faced each other and promised an exclusive friendship and fidelity in sickness and in health for the rest of their lives.  They then exchanged rings as “a visible sign” of their permanent partnership.

During the rite, I imagined the fear and foreboding which Christians of the early centuries might have felt when they gathered together to witness marriages between free persons and slaves–a situation punishable by death according to Roman Law.  The early Christians felt that, within the community, the distinction between “Jew and Gentile, freeborn and slave” (Col. 3:11, Gal. 3:28) had been abolished by Christ.  Therefore, in their determination to serve God rather than men (Acts 3), they decided to witness and honor marriages of love which, in the eyes of Roman law, were acts of infamy.


[i] They thought of themselves as exchanging “vows of permanent friendship” because, in this period, “marriage” was not yet seen as a possibility for same-sex couples.  These “vows” had no legal status.  If I were to speak for them, what they needed was a sense that, in an antagonistic society, at least a few people knew who they were and what their intentions were for each other.

[ii]The language of “marriage” was embraced because it would be advantageous to give same-sex unions an equal status before the law with heterosexual unions.  If this were not done, then every aspect of “same-sex unions” would have to be debated and voted on piece by piece—income tax law, visitation rights in hospitals, adoption rights, inheritance rights, etc.   This would have taken years.  To prevent this, all the rights of heterosexual couples had to be transferred whole and entire.

An early encounter with a lesbian couple

An early encounter with a lesbian couple

     My second encounter took place in 1968 when I was doing graduate  studies in Berkeley, California, the hotbed of social experimentation.  In the context of a course, Human Sexuality, our professor invited a lesbian couple in their late 20s to share their stories.  Both women gave detailed accounts of growing up in middle-class families, of dating boys, and of discovering that they had little or no emotional interest in getting closer to boys.  What they did relish, however, was a series of crushes with girls.  As such, they gradually realized that they were “abnormal.” Then, they met each other on the Berkeley campus and secretly felt strongly attracted to each other.  With time, this hesitantly revealed the “abnormality” of their mutual attraction to each other.  This was a great relief and jubilation because they finally had found someone who validated their same-sex attraction.  The explosive sex that followed was a confirmation of what they had always dreamed of and never thought possible.  Even before they had a word to describe themselves, therefore, they had plunged into a committed union. I thank God that I had this very positive experience at a time when I was still only mildly hostile toward lesbians and gays. Here are some of the ways that I was touched by this encounter:

  1. The stories of these two women persuaded me that most or all lesbians are not scratching messages on bathroom walls nor answering ads for sexual encounters. Indeed, it illustrated for me how most lesbians are initially confused and afraid when they discover how “out of step”  they are with respect to the rest of their companions, whom they would describe as “normal” in so far as they embody the “norm” as far as sexual attraction is concerned.
  2. Prior to this encounter, I was under the impression that a “normal” person could spot a “queer” a mile away.  All one had to do was to notice the effeminate gestures in boys or the absence of femininity in girls.  With these two normally attractive women, there was nothing about the way they dressed, moved, or behaved that allowed me to even get a hint that they identified themselves as lesbians.  They had to tell me, or else I would never have known.  Hence, this encounter enabled me to challenge and to give up a stereotype that was dangerous and misleading.
  3. Thirdly, this experience opened up a whole new world that had been hitherto “closed to me.”  I was now talking and listening across the boundaries.  I was now hearing how these two women had moved from “trying desperately to fit in”[i] by imitating the coy and flirtatious mannerisms exhibited by their female friends.  Then, after years of frustration due to their inability to have a deep, emotional bond with a male, they slowly came to the frightening realization that they were “queer.” This destroyed any positive self-image that was left to them.  Now they hated who they were.  They cringed at the prospect of having to tell their closest friends or their parents that they were “lesbians.”
  4. Fourthly, there was the “ecstatic realization” that there were others out there like themselves who might welcome an intimate relationship with them.  After many trials and errors, they eventually recognized their “soul mate” for the first time.  This realization came so naturally and so spontaneously—without any effort.  They were overwhelmingly surprised that another human being could mutually feel what they feel and cherish them to the core of their being.  Mutual love blossomed and ushering in a self-acceptance and self-surrender that exceeded human understanding.  This is what “falling in love” is all about.
  5. Fifthly, I came to realize from their stories that, even given the healing power of love, this lesbian couple still had disagreements, they sometimes hurt each other, and they felt pangs of jealousy–the whole host of human emotions that heterosexual romances pass through.
  6. Sixthly, in the months following this encounter, I realized how tragically mistaken it was for the hierarchy of my Church to presume that they could accurately judge what was lawful before God and what were the appropriate life-style choices for lesbians.  Deeply listening to these two women made me feel humble and utterly unable to offer them any sound guidance whatsoever.  Anyone who listens deeply to their story knows first-hand how inappropriate and dangerous it would be to rush forward and propose “solutions” or “judgments” that originate in my male, heterosexual way of seeing things.
  7. Finally, after a few years, I realized that for me, as a heterosexual male, it was far easier to imagine lesbian sex than to imagine gay sex.  I remember the shock that I felt when, in my late-twenties, I first saw a handsome Black man walking in the park with his arm around a blond White girl.  My head told me that a man’s ability to love and to cherish someone is not determined by the color of his skin.  My gut, on the other hand, was churning and screaming out, “Something is very wrong here!”  I had to deliberately imagine myself as being that Black man and imagining for myself the pride and joy of having a companion like the girl I saw that day.  Gradually, over a period of months, I was able to quiet my gut feelings and to replace them with feelings of pride and joy.  I share this experience because it indicates the route whereby I was able to gradually diminish the “utter disgust” that male-to-male sex evoked in my gut.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] To appreciate the full scope of “fitting in” to the dominant heterosexual culture, consider reflecting on “30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US” (