ARGUING FOR A CONSISTENT SEXUAL ETHIC
Many Christians, if asked, probably would say that their religion condemns homosexuality. In fact, argues Sister Margaret Farley, a Yale Divinity School professor, Christian tradition neither condemns nor blesses gay relationships. She says some biblical writers believed homosexuality made men passive, which was considered a liability. Others considered homosexuality a chosen trait, a view that modern science largely rejects.
Farley, former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, makes the case that Christianity should devise a consistent ethic for straight and gay sexuality. Her view is partly formed by personal experience - her nephew, whom Farley greatly admired, died of AIDS.
Last week, she received an award from New Ways Ministry, a Maryland group promoting better relations between the Catholic Church and gay Catholics.
Q. What are the odds that the Catholic Church will change its attitudes toward homosexuality?
A. I have no idea. The other Christian churches still have tremendous problems because the people in the pews have not moved on the issue. Our concern should be not just the position that leaders take, but the understanding that everyone has in the church.
Q. The church is against homophobia, but is it possible to agree with the church's position on homosexuality without unleashing homophobia among some people?
A. It's not just the Catholic Church, but religious judgments do contribute to the force of the opposition to homosexuals, and therefore in some sense undergird whatever is in the society that even leads to violence.
Q. Does that make it incumbent upon the church to modify its position?
A. I don't think it's quite fair to say if (homophobia) is going to be the consequence, you have to change your teaching. I think changing teaching has to do with new understandings, and until the new understandings come, anyone who promotes that teaching would change it without integrity.
Q. Even if someone could, using diligent scholarship, construct an argument against homosexuality from the church's tradition, wouldn't liberal Christians insist on tolerance?
A. Yes, but the church leaders have insisted on that, too. It's another matter what they have to say about gay marriage, but I think that the main documents of the church in the last 10 years have assumed a responsibility of tolerance within society, which is why they've opposed unfair discrimination against gays and lesbians.
It's one thing to say we respect people's rights to make choices about how they live their lives, and in this society, it is unconscionable to try to prevent them from those choices. It's quite another thing to say, well, we just go with the majority opinion on what people think is right and wrong, and tolerance means they can be as right as we are. Tolerance does not mean that you have to agree with everyone. It just means that you respect them as persons and that, within the limits of the law, you don't oppose them in what they are choosing to do.
Q. Would you support civil unions or gay marriage?
A. Yes, I would. You can't find an absolute prohibition nor blessing of heterosexual sex (in>