What Part of the Gospels, Bishop Soto, is “Hard for Gays to Accept?”

An interview with Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, published in the Sacramento News and Review, neatly illustrates the muddled thinking and selective morality we so often hear from bishops and other spokesmen for Catholic orthodoxy. In a wide-ranging interview,  Jeff von Kaenel engaged the bishop in discussion on a slew of questions that in his view, many loyal Catholics who are troubled by selected elements of Church doctrine or practice would like to put to him if they had a chance:  on the reasons so many people are simply turning away from participation in the sacramental life of the church,  on the strict prohibition on women’s ordination, on abortion and contraception, on homosexuality, on clerical abuse.

The response on homosexuality is revealing:

von Kaenel: Is there a welcome mat out to our gay readers who grew up Catholic?

Soto: The welcome mat is definitely out, because the good news of the Gospel is for everyone. And I think it is good news, and I think it is a message of hope for everyone. I recognize that for many gay people, as well as others, that there are certain parts of the Gospel that are hard to accept. I still encourage people to come hear us, to come be part of the community life, be part of a parish, because I do believe that the Gospel is persuasive, and I do believe that we have a message that gives hope and a message that saves. It’s important for us, as it was important for Jesus, to leave the door open so that people can hear us and know us and make their decision as to whether they can walk with us.

This sounds reasonable, but is in fact extremely nasty. The response is presented in the framework of the Gospels, and (quite correctly) states that the good news of the Gospel are for everyone, that the Gospel has a message that gives hope, and that is important for the Church, as it was for Jesus, to leave the door open for all.  But here’s the catch – he states that some parts of “the Gospel” are hard for gays to accept, implying that is where the Church’s homophobia is rooted, It is not. As has often been pointed out, and as Bishop Soto really should know, there is not a word in any of the four Gospels, nor in the Acts of the Apostles, that says anything at all about homoerotic relationships or activities. On the other hand, there are several passages that insist on the importance of inclusion and against passing judgement on anyone. There are also some passages that imply Christ’s acceptance of such relationships (for example, the story of the Roman centurion and his servant/lover),  and even some that suggest he may have  had such a relationship himself with the “beloved disciple”. The Gospels are not opposed to homoerotic relationships, but supportive of them. The Gospels’ values are not those of the so-called “traditional” family, but distinctly queer.

This is an important point for gay and lesbian Christians to understand clearly: the opposition from within the Church is emphatically not based on anything in the Gospels. It is not even clear that it is well founded in the rest of Scripture, as current debates in several Protestant denominations, and amongst modern biblical scholars (William Countryman, for instance) are showing, or in the teaching or practice of the early Christians. Rather, as the historian John Boswell has demonstrated, the Christian church over the centuries gradually adapted its teaching to follow the rising prejudice and hostility of the population. The arguments from Scripture or from the early theologians have been selected and distorted to justify existing prejudice. Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage has this important quotation from Peter J Gomes’ “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”:

If there remains one area in which our parochial obduracy continues to obtain, however, it is in the church’s treatment of its homosexual brothers and sisters; if there is an area in which we are to be weighed and found wanting, this is it.  It is not out of ignorance alone that we behave as we do towards sexual minorities; it is out of ignorance, fear, and in certain cases, malice.  None of it is excusable: private judgment on sexual matters does not excuse our unwillingness to include in full participation in the household of faith those who engage in sex differently.  Two generations of biblical scholarship have shown that the scriptures cannot be used as a basis for our discrimination on the subject of homosexuality, so why are our churches as divided today on this subject as they were a generation ago on the subject of women, or a century ago on the subject of slavery? (p. 199).

Thus I have been disappointed, to say the least, to find that the Bible becomes the first refuge of those who are unwilling to reconsider their extrabiblical prejudices against including homosexuals in the full life and ministry of the church.  I had hoped that, as has happened with women and racial minorities, our predominantly Christian culture would recognize that God’s children, the homosexuals in our midst, cry out for compassion and acceptance.  In this decade, alas, exactly the opposite has happened.  Positions have hardened and homosexuals have been demonized, condemned to a ‘lifestyle’ rather than invited to a life in the household of faith.  It amazes me that any thoughtful homosexuals would continue to want any part of a community, religious or otherwise, that in the name of God has behaved toward them with such contempt (p. 200).

So, I put a challenge to Bishop Soto, or to any body else who would like to speak on his behalf: just which are the parts of the Gospels that you believe are “hard for gays to accept”?

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6 Responses to “What Part of the Gospels, Bishop Soto, is “Hard for Gays to Accept?””

  1. David Ludescher Says:

    Terence,

    I will take up the challenge, but I will do it as a person of a heterosexual orientation.

    It’s hard for me to accept that the Gospel says:
    1. That if I look at a woman lustfully that I have sinned in my heart;
    2. That I cannot commit adultery;
    3. That man and woman become one flesh;
    4. That the only reason Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife is because the Israelites were hard-hearted;
    5. That homosexuality is an abomination.

    Of course there are other parts of the Gospel that I find hard to accept (easy to believe but hard to accept), and many have nothing to do with sexuality. But, I can’t speak for other heterosexuals, men, women, or homosexuals.

    In a more serious defense of the Bishop, what he probably should have said is that he knows that it is hard for gays to accept what the Church teaches on homosexuality.

    If you read the whole of what he said, in context, his intent was to be welcoming, to dismiss the importance of a single issue (whether for gays or others), and to read the Gospel in a spirit of welcoming and hope, instead of seeing the Church as being unwelcoming and hopeless because of something which may seem disagreeable.

    His language may have been sloppy, but the clear intent was to suggest that the Church’s teaching is much broader than a single doctrinal issue, and that he doesn’t want anyone to think that there is a criteria of when one can enter.

    As an aside, one of the interesting ironies that I have noted from following Open Tabernacle, Pilgrammage, and Spirit of a Liberal, and, to a lesser extent, your site is how dogmatic and unwelcoming the posts can be.

    It seems to me that the Bishop didn’t intend to be nasty. I think that he wants the Church to be seen as a place where all are welcome (which is true, at least in the sense of the community as a whole). We don’t talk much doctrine at my church; there are no welcoming criteria, and no one is asked about their sins before entering.

    My children don’t really like going to church or being part of a church community. They tell me that it is, “Because, blah, blah, blah.”. I remind them, as my mother reminded me, “You don’t go because YOU don’t want to. Don’t go blaming it on anyone else!”.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      David, I am not going to reply in detail to this, but there are a few points I cannot ignore. Most important, is that you have missed the main points of the post. Yes, of course the intent of this bishop, like that of the Church as a whole, is to be welcoming (to homosexuals and on the other issues he discusses (I did read the whole article, in context) but his intent is not matched by words, which are hurtful. The main way these words are hurtful is precisely in the point you make yourself – that where he says “Gospel” he should have said “church teaching”. This frequent confusion between Catholic spokesmen between the two is misrepresentation. The Gospels are at the heart of the Christian faith but is nothing at all against homoerotic relationships in them. The regular claim that there is, and the confusion between the true Christian message and its misrepresentation by Church teaching, is what drives so many of us away from the Church completely.
      And finally, the question I put was specific: “What part of the Gospels” is hard for gays to accept. Your reference to “abominations” is not from the Gospels, but from Leviticus, where it is part of the Hebrew purity code – just like the prohibitions on eating pork, wearing clothes of mixes fibre, eating rabbit and shellfish, or compulsory circumcision. The word translated as “abomination” does not mean what a modern reading of the word suggests – “taboo” for non-Jews might be a better translation. Just like circumcision and the dietary laws, it is irrelevant to non-Jews – and is also rejected by many modern Jewish scholars, who have additional reservations about its popular abuse.
      I do agreee, though, that the situation on the ground is very different. Most parishes really are very welcoming (some much more than others), to all manner of people who are in conflict with Church teaching. There are two aspects of this that are important. First, it is absolutely correct that we have no business judging the sins of others – a point that some people conveniently forget when they freely label some of us as “sinners”. Second, one reason Catholics in general are welcoming, is that they simply do not agree with Orthodox teaching especially on many matters of sexual ethics.

    • David Ludescher Says:

      Terence,

      I don’t think I missed your point. I don’t attach the same level of significance to the misspoken words of the Bishop that you do. It seems to me that his error is easily correctable, and in the context of what he said, easily forgivable.

      There is a lot of confusion when talking about the relative importance of the Church’s teachings on devloping or shaping conscience. For example, there are quite a few Christian demoninations which contend that conscience is formed by Scripture alone. Denominations that take this approach probably have a much broader range of interpretations of what the Scripture says than does the Catholic teaching which seeks to lend structure to the Gospels.

      I think it is going to take a patience, perhaps of a special kind, to not take misspoken words as an insult, and to accept it for how it was intended – as an invitation to put aside differences, and join in being a welcoming community.

      I simply don’t buy the excuse that the refusal to attend Church is an involuntary act of the disenfranchised. It hurts the entire Church, and it hurts the disenfranchised when the grievances become the message. The welcoming goes both ways. Even if the person is a hopeless bigot, the gay person is still called by the Gospel to eat with that person. The Love of Christ will win out over the bigotry, as it has for 2000 years.

      • Terence@queerchurch Says:

        David, I’m not convinced that this was a simple slip of the tongue. If it was, it is one which is made far too frequently. It is part of a pattern, which is why the proclaimed intention of the Church to be welcoming is simply not the way the message comes through to the people affected by it.

        On non-attendance in church, I do not claim that this is involuntary, nor do I encourage it. However, I do argue that we should understand the effects of the language used by bishops and other spokesmen for the church.

      • David Ludescher Says:

        Terence,

        Perhaps it wasn’t a slip of the tongue. But, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the rest of the message. I understood the language in a context to suggest that he had some empathy with those who disagree with how (they think) the Church interprets the Gospel.

        Welcoming is more than a proclaimed intention of the Church; it is our duty whether we are spokespersons for the Church or laity in the pew. As I said, it goes both ways – to be welcomed, one has to let oneself be welcomed, and to welcome others, even bigots. One doesn’t have to tolerate bigotry, but we are certainly called to love the bigot. I think there is enough real bigotry without trying to parse language to try to find it.

  2. Etienne Caruana Says:

    I am reposting my comments to this post here, to join in the discussion on this site:
    What bishop Soto and other church leaders (including the pope) seem so incapable of seeing, let alone admitting, is that it is a clericalised church leadership that is standing in the way between so many God-seeking adults and the Gospel message. Period. Which reminds of one of Gerard W. Hughes’ favourite quotes (he attributes the quote to Martin Buber): “Nothing so masks the face of God like religion”. To which I append: “and the priestly caste.” (I can’t seem to find a better word than caste, because that is the way so many priests see themselves) It pains me to see representatives of what is, after all, just a small segment of the Catholic community act in such a high-handed manner toward the rest of the Body of Christ.
    [this second comment was added later]
    I forgot to add, in the above post, that such bishops, priests, etc., give a new twist to a popular rock song: “You give love a bad name.”


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