I make no claim to being a good Catholic, because I am not one – I am a Protestant. But US actor Martin Sheen is making claims about his Catholicism, and respectfully, I probably make a better Catholic than he does. You see, although he says he is a Catholic, he is clearly not living as one.
The Hollywoodian is mostly known for his leftist/liberal views on most matters, although he has been a bit better on matters such as abortion. But on most issues he is a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, as evidenced for example by his very strong support for President Obama, one of America’s most leftwing leaders ever.
So it should come as no surprise that Sheen is a gung-ho supporter of the homosexual agenda, including homosexual marriage. Somehow he thinks his support of this makes him a good Catholic. His dodgy reasoning was captured in a recent news item.
It begins this way: “Actor Martin Sheen has defended his position in favor of redefining marriage despite his Catholic faith, saying that ‘my religion’s highest standard is conscience.’ Sheen was asked about the apparent conflict between his Catholic identity and his stance on marriage by the Wilshire & Washington blog following his performance in a play that raised $2 million for a gay rights lobby group. Sheen played the role of one of the plaintiffs in the play ‘8,’ a dramatic rendition of the Proposition 8 trials written by Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2008 movie Milk.
“‘My religion’s highest standard is conscience. Nothing can get between your conscience and God, not even the Church, because for 2,000 years, my Church has been lifting up as exemplary various men and women in their lives who have served as inspiration to all of us over the centuries, and we call them saints,’ Sheen said, as quoted by the blog. The West Wing actor pointed out that ‘the Church has not condemned a single soul to hell because it does not have the authority’ and that ‘the Church is not God.’
“‘The Church is a conduit, and it is a spiritual journey, but it is not the end of the journey,’ said Sheen. ‘The church is an institution, primarily of men, at least they are the major authorities. And so they are flawed, obviously. And so they are not authorized from preventing any member from following their conscience no matter what that is. You can’t get between a person’s conscience and their God. Nobody can do that’.”
Now it is not my intention here to get into a major debate about the differences between the Catholic and Protestant understandings of authority and the like. So let me say already that those who want to get into those sorts of arguments can please do so elsewhere.
But what I do want to point out is that biblical Christianity has always seen homosexuality as a sin, and neither Catholicism nor Protestantism can condone the lifestyle nor support same-sex marriage. I will examine the Catholic position on this issue shortly. But let me first explain things as a Protestant sees them.
The big problem with Sheen is that he seems to think one’s conscience is the highest source of authority, and perhaps even with error. But no Protestant sees conscience or anything else as autonomous and infallible. Because of the fall, sin has impacted every bit of who we are.
Thus conscience can and does go wrong all the time. Protestants believe one’s conscience must always line up with the Word of God. Only when the conscience is in sync with Scriptural teaching can it be relied upon. As I just read in the book of Jeremiah this morning, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
Sin has caused our entire being to get off track, and human conscience alone cannot be depended upon to give us moral truth. Sure, when a person comes to Christ in faith and repentance, we are given the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and God begins to remake and transform the inner man.
But even then we are not perfect, and the ability to deceive ourselves still remains. That is why Scripture must always be our absolute reference point. Thus a person who claims to be a Christian is one who aligns his thinking and values with God’s Word, not with the latest trendy social causes.
Sheen says all men in the church are flawed. As a Protestant I agree. But he then does not seem to realise that this applies to himself as well. He is flawed, and the conscience of any man is therefore also flawed. Unless we submit our mind, our will, and our conscience to Christ and Scripture, we will always be renegades pushing ungodly agendas.
As to Catholicism, as I said, its own teachings are quite clear on this matter. Simply go to the official 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church. I did not have to go far to get mine. Indeed, I could stay seated and simply reach for it off a nearby bookshelf. This is what it teaches about the issue of homosexuality.
Sections 2357 to 2359 speak about “Chastity and Homosexuality”. In part we read this: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (#2357).
So official Catholic Church teaching on this is quite clear. If Sheen is going to claim to be a Catholic then it of course behoves him to align his views with that of his own church, and not just make things up as he goes along. Indeed, let me also briefly look at what we read about conscience.
Paragraphs 1776 to 1802 deal with this matter. Here in part is what #1783, 1785 and 1786 say about this: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator….
“In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. . . . Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.”
Hey, as a Protestant I know what the Catholic Church has to say about conscience. It seems that Martin Sheen, the Catholic, does not. But we are not picking on him. There would be plenty of Catholics who do not hold to their own church’s position on matters such as this.
In the same way there would be plenty of Protestants who do not hold to the biblical teachings on such matters. Indeed, we just recently had a group of so-called Protestant church leaders in Australia announcing their support of same-sex marriage. I discussed that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/02/answering-the-false-shepherds/
So Martin, I am sorry, but please stop calling yourself a good Catholic if you refuse to abide by clear Catholic teaching on these matters. Your conscience – in a state of rebellion against God – is always going to lead you astray on these issues. Fully trusting it is about as helpful as fully trusting Obama to save America.