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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 12:52 pm | Fair 68º


Tim Durnin: Religion and the Acceptance of Homosexuality

Biblical interpretations vary, but the bottom line is, everyone deserves to be treated with respect

My oldest daughter, Bailey, came home from school last week to report on a rather spirited discussion that took place in her religion class. She is 12 and attends a Catholic school. A priest from our parish was visiting her class to answer questions about faith.

A predictable question was posed by one of the students. “Is homosexuality a sin?” The priest, understandably, echoed the church’s teaching that acting on homosexual feelings is indeed a sin. He further clarified that it is a mortal sin. The church teaches that a mortal sin, not confessed and not forgiven, results in eternal damnation. Many in the class, including my daughter, did not respond well.

To give the conversation additional context, this is a group of young people being weaned on Glee, Modern Family and The Office. These are shows with strong, likable and realistic gay and lesbian characters. Our children are growing up in a world where homosexuality is, by and large, accepted. Our children also understand, at a seminal level, that sexual orientation is not a choice.

My daughter wanted some direction, some foothold to break the fall. I was at a loss as to how best respond. My basic philosophy and counsel has always been not to judge others. I also acknowledge and conveyed that, no matter with what authority one may speak, in the end, that wisdom remains in God’s realm. I tentatively stepped into conversation with my daughter.

I began our talk with a general caution about judgment. I explained that if one sees someone as damned to hell, it becomes easy to treat that person as less than human. The concept of righteous damnation has been the source of more enmity and death than any belief in human history. One needs look no further than al-Qaeda for an example of the dangers inherent in such beliefs.

I went on to explain three things. First, in spite of the hatred demonstrated by some Christians in regard to homosexuality, there are only seven major references to it in the Bible, four in the New Testament. Jesus is silent on the matter, and there is no reference to homosexuality in the Gospels. One has to cull the lesser Pauline letters for the first New Testament admonition.

We then discussed two often cited passages reproaching homosexuality, Romans 1:26- 27 and I Corinthians 6:9-10. There is much disagreement about accurate translation of these passages. Most biblical scholars concede that the passages have been given broad interpretation to serve the ends of a particular agenda. Ironically, it is the conservative churches and scholars that offer a more creative and liberal reading of these texts.

I explained to my daughter that the Christian community at Corinth was a rowdy group. Corinth was a port town with all of the sin and celebration associated with ports of call. Paul chastises them for getting drunk at the Eucharist, for incest, prostitution and debauchery. They were not model Christians. Paul’s reply to this community is telling. Even the most conservative interpretation of the passage does not alter his response.

Paul, in answer to this raucous, sinful, decadent crowd, writes his treatise on love, I Corinthians 13: “If I speak in angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong. ... If I give away all I have ... but have not love, I gain nothing. ... If I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing…

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. ... Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ... So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Paul’s poetic, pastoral and iconic Christian voice does not engender hatred and damnation.

My final observation was a reflection on a communication from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled, “Always Our Children: Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children.” In early drafts, this document was profoundly open and forwarding. Over time (nearly 10 years) and with influence from then Cardinal Ratzinger, the document was revised and molded to a more conservative church. Even in its current form it was worth exploring.

The message is, as stated in the body of the text, “addressed to people who thought they were beyond the church’s circle of care.” The document, in whole, addresses the pastoral needs of parents and families. It is the closing line that I want my daughter to understand and keep. The bishops’ message concludes with a moving passage directed to gay and lesbian children: “In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.”

So it is. So you are.

— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and serves as chief operating officer for Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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