Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Church and Homosexuality

I've decided that I'm a huge fan of Clement of Alexandria--he could be my favorite saint. (Is it OK to have a favorite saint?) The man is absolutely brilliant in dissecting the many heresies that were rampant in the second century, and it seems that today words like Clement's are needed just as much as they were in his time.

In Stromatesis, Clement strikes blow upon blow to the teaching of those who modify Scripture, twisting the writing of Paul in Romans to justify immoral living.

Those who drag in a doctrine of moral indifference do violence to some few passages of Scripture, thinking that they support their own love of pleasure; in particular, the passage “Sin shall have no authority over you; for you are not subject to sin but to grace.” But there are other such passages, which there is no good reason to record for these purposes, as I am not equipping a pirate ship! Let me quickly cut through the attempt. The admirable Apostle in person will refute their charge in the words with which he continues the previous quotation: “Well then! Shall we sin because we are no longer under Law but under grace? God forbid!” With these inspired prophetic words, at a single stroke he undoes the sophistical skill at the service of pleasure.

He is greatly concerned with heresies that do injury to the institution of marriage from two distinct extremes--one that allows for license and loose living, based on an over liberal interpretation of grace and on the other extreme, one that condemns marriage as an inherent evil to be avoided for it indulges in the pleasures of the flesh.

It seems in today's world, we need to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews: "Marriage should be honored by all." Our enemy desires to abolish and destroy marriage for he understands it's significance far more than we do. Marriage is a symbol that points to the union of Christ with his Bride, the Church. And in its fullest expression, it results in obedience to God's command to be fruitful and multiply. Every birth that comes into the world is viewed by our enemy as an incursion without parallel. The Prince of this World desires to destroy all that bear the image of God. We are hated by him, and the very institution that God created for the procreation of his children has always been under attack. It was true in Clement's time, and it is true today.

In the current climate, we are faced with an attack upon the institution of marriage of a far more insidious nature, a nature that shows clearly how Satan clothes himself as an angel of light. Proposition 8 in California is going to be voted on this November to decide the fate of marriage. Under the aegis of love, compassion, social justice and equality, Californians, and by extension, the rest of the country are being asked to turn marriage into a desecration of God's institution of marriage by allowing homosexual men and women to be legally married.

Clement would have strong words to say to those who would advocate inclusion of marriage of homosexuals within the church.

The Bride and Church must be pure alike from inward thoughts contrary to truth and from outward tempers, that is, the adherents of heretical sects who try to persuade her to sexual unfaithfulness to her one and only husband almighty God. We must not be led, “as the snake seduced Eve,” whose name means “Life,” to transgress the commandments under the influence of the wicked factions.

There are many in the church who painfully struggle with homosexual desires, but sadly, some have chosen to manipulate Scripture to justify their desires, rather than seek the Cross of Christ and view their struggle as their particular cross to bear. Clement writes strong words to those who would lead others astray through sophistic and clever arguments that twist Scripture:

It is not right to entrust the Word to hearers to make a test of it on the basis of comparison or to hand it right over for investigation to those who have been brought up to all kinds of sophisticated arguments and who vaunt the power of their intellectual proofs, those whose souls are already determined beforehand instead of being emptied of prejudgment.

The church needs to fight this newest heresy attacking marriage, and speak the truth in love. Many well intentioned and well meaning men and women who have lived with tremendous pain resulting from their struggle with homosexual desires have in recent decades decided to conform Scripture to justify desires that seem insatiable. They have deceived themselves, and as they have looked at Scripture anew, their souls were determined beforehand as to the outcome and through sophistical arguments, they have done violence to Scriptural prohibitions against sexual immorality.

We need to have compassion for these hurting people, for they have exchanged the truth for a lie. In the words of Clement, they "cannot distinguish true pleasure from false, or a beauty that is perishable and insolent from beauty of holiness." This is a sad state of affairs! But it is motivated by the immensity of their pain, which has been transformed into a desire, as Clement so aptly puts:

Every pleasure has its origin in a desire. Desire is a form of pain, a care which yearns for something it lacks. Those who choose this way of life simply seem to me, in the familiar words,

To be suffering grief on top of shame.

and choosing an evil “they have brought on themselves” for the present and the future.

What the Church needs to teach is that the desire that gay men and women so keenly feel can only be satisfied at the Cross of Christ. The "something it lacks" is the God-shaped void in us all. To choose a faux marriage is choosing an evil for the present and the future and buying into a lie of our enemy.

Many in the Christian gay community speak out about the freedom from the Law that we now enjoy through the redemption of Christ. They conveniently ignore the words Christ spoke to his followers: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets." For Clement, there is nothing more beautiful than the Law, and as he says, the inherent caution against immoral living that accompanies the Law. For him, as with Paul, it is the Law that points out our sin, not so that we will suffer condemnation, but so that we can strive to live, as Clement calls it, "the blessed life."

Through the commandments we have a demonstration of the blessed life. We all ought to pursue it without misunderstanding any of the statements or neglecting any of the properties, even the slightest of them. We are to follow where the Word leads…We must follow God’s Scripture, the road taken by the faithful, and we will, so far as possible, become like the Lord. We are not to live amorally. We are, so far as possible, to purify ourselves from pleasures and lusts, and take care of our soul which should continue to be engaged solely with the divine. For if it is pure and freed from all vice, the mind is somehow capable of receiving the power of God, when the divine image is established within it. Scripture says, “Everyone who has this hope in the Lord is purifying himself as the Lord is pure.”

Clement concludes his treatise by quoting Paul's admonishment against sexual immorality of all kinds, and reminds his readers that "we used to be such, but "have passed through the purifying waters" of baptism. He contrasts those who twist Scripture to justify immorality by saying,

But they purify themselves for this licentiousness. Their baptism is out of responsible self-control into sexual immorality. Their philosophy is the gratification of their pleasures and passions. They teach a change from self-discipline to indiscipline. The hope they offer is the titillation of their genitals. Under the name of what they falsely call knowledge they have embarked on the road to outer darkness. “For the rest, brothers, set your minds on all that is true, all that is holy, all that is righteous, all that is pure, all that is attractive, all that wins praise, whatever wins admiration for its moral excellence. Put into practice the lessons I taught, the traditions I passed on, the words you heard from me, the actions you saw me perform. And the God of Peace will be with you.”

Peter in his letter says much the same: “In consequence, you have purified your souls in obedience to the truth, and your faith and hope are in God,” “as obedient children, not molded by the lustful desires of your former ignorance. The one who called you is holy. Be like him, holy in all your behavior, since it is written, ‘You are to be holy, since I am holy.’”

C.S. Lewis's words in The Weight of Glory need to be what the Church champions and proclaims to those within her care who struggle with homosexuality: it is not that our desires are too strong, they are too weak. And they need to realize that Scripture's prohibition against homosexuality is an expression of the very heart of the love of God. My dad often told me and my brothers as we grew up that God says no because He loves us. Responding to God's commands is usually difficult, but as Thomas Merton writes, "Have we forgotten that love can be demanding, exacting, unyielding?"

All of us who journey through life must wage a battle between following God or following the Prince of the World. We have a holy host around us to whom we can look to as an example, and as Clement so clearly puts, "The best means towards understanding of the truth and the performance of the commandments is to follow those others who have already been through the test with flying colors."

My prayer is that those who desire to reconcile a homosexual lifestyle with the Church would follow the saints who have gone before, and allow themselves to be wooed by the true Lover of their soul, consumed by divine love that is the place where true happiness and joy resides. As Augustine said so long ago: "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." We are called to greater things than finding our ultimate happiness on this earth. As Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, "we are far too easily pleased." Lewis admonishes us, saying that "we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

Gay men and women who clamor for the rights of marriage are clinging to a chimera, a mere caricature of the joy possible to them. How I wish they could understand that God calls them, and all of us who must carry our cross daily, to a higher place that reflects our nobility as sons and daughters of the Most High God.

The possibility is this, as expressed by Thomas Merton:

Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ's love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ's love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.

I can't think of a more noble calling. As Paul has said, there indeed can be joy in suffering.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Good Stuff Dan!