In the past few days we have had three leading church figures come out speaking quite forthrightly on the topic of homosexuality. Their remarks range from what might be called the good, bad, and the ugly. Each had rather different approaches to the subject, and it is worth examining each in turn.
Let me jump straight into what they had to say. Russian Patriarch Kirill will be the first, and his is clearly the strongest stance on the sin of homosexuality. Although speaking primarily about homosexual marriage, he clearly sees the threat that the homosexualist movement is posing in general.
One news item carries the story this way: “In his Sunday sermon this weekend in Kazan Cathedral in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill, Primate, of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned against the extraordinary rise in many western countries of the homosexualist movement. Kirill said that the trend of legalizing ‘gay marriage’ is ‘a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse.’
“It ‘means people are choosing a path of self-destruction,’ he said. He said he supports the recently passed national ban on homosexualist propaganda that has prohibited the Gay Pride festivities that have become a prominent feature of national life elsewhere. ‘Lately, we have enormous temptations, when a number of countries opting for sin is approved and justified by the law, and those who, acting in good conscience, are struggling with such laws imposed by a minority, being repressed,’ Kirill said.
“He added that everything must be done to prevent the approval of sin ‘on the spaces of Holy Russia.’ Otherwise, ‘the people are embarking on the path of self-destruction’. The sermon came the Sunday following the passage in Britain of the Cameron government’s so-called ‘equal marriage’ bill.”
Interestingly, Russian leader Putin has been taking a strong stance of late against homosexuality as well. They both seem to be able to see the threat it poses, while most of the West is blind to the destructive changes taking place all around them because of the militant homosexual agenda.
Our second case – not really bad, but ambiguous at best – involves Pope Francis. Ambiguity often can occur here, partly because of conflicting press reports, and partly because of commentary on the run – in this case, remarks made during a plane flight.
Previous papal remarks in the past have sometimes led to uncertainty and at least conflicting press accounts – think of the controversy some years back concerning papal remarks about evolution. Here too there seems to be a lack of clear agreement as to where exactly the new Pope is heading.
Let me draw upon one newspaper which has had fairly extensive coverage on this: “When Pope Francis said he wouldn’t judge gay priests, he opened the door to a new era of reconciliation within the Roman Catholic Church, which has struggled for decades to confront the presence of homosexuality in its ministry.
“The pontiff was traveling aboard a turbulent overnight flight to Rome from his first overseas trip—a journey marked by his plain-spoken appeals to Catholics to reground the church in grass-roots ministry—when he broached the delicate issue of how the Catholic hierarchy should respond to clerics who are gay, though not sexually active. In doing so, he departed from the posture that has long shaped papal thinking on gay priests.
“‘Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?’ the pontiff told a news conference in response to a question. ‘You can’t marginalize these people.’ Pope Francis reaffirmed church teaching by referring to homosexual acts as a sin. But he wielded his formidable bully pulpit to shift the tone of how the church regards homosexual orientation at its highest ranks.”
If this is somewhat ambiguous, it is not just lay people and non-Catholics like me who seem to be getting mixed messages here. Consider a number of Catholic leaders who are quoted in this article. They too are getting quite differing readings and understandings of what the Pope actually said:
“Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts, and past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy. In 1986, the Vatican defined homosexuality as an ‘objective disorder,’ and in 2005 Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, formally barred men deemed to have ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ from entering the priesthood.
“Pope Francis ‘is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is, instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,’ said Alberto Melloni, a church historian. ‘This isn’t a change in the church’s teaching,’ said Rev. James Bretzke, a theology professor at Boston College. ‘What’s important is the change in style and emphasis.’
“Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York echoed the pope on Monday, saying a priest’s homosexuality ‘wouldn’t matter to me as long as one is leading a virtuous and chaste life.’ But, he added, ‘My worry is that we’re buying into the vocabulary that one’s person is one’s sexual identity and I don’t buy that and neither does the church.’
So if church leaders appear to be somewhat confused or unclear here, how much more the rest of us? Indeed, the fact that some homosexual lobby groups have already expressed at least qualified praise for the Pope’s remarks may be quite telling in itself.
Of course he is right when he says he is not changing church teaching when he speaks of inner orientation versus outward action. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does indeed teach that (see Section 2357). I have discussed this more fully elsewhere. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/01/the-homosexualisation-of-the-catholic-church/
But not all Christians buy this distinction, including many former homosexuals. The testimony of both Scripture and many ex-homosexuals is that lustful desires too are sinful, and God is able to change a person’s inner desires and inclinations, just as he can change their outward actions. But this is not the place for that particular debate.
So depending on various factors, the Pope is either saying nothing new here, or he may be saying things at least somewhat differently or with a new emphasis, from past church teaching on this topic. And that is how other Catholic leaders have viewed this, not just me.
Finally we have Archbishop Tutu from South Africa. Now his articles most certainly are ugly, at least for the biblical Christian. Although he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, he still speaks out and has the ears of many. What he said about homosexuality is as bizarre as it is a slap in the face to orthodox biblical teaching.
Speaking at a UN-backed pro-homosexual rally, he made these incredible remarks: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” He went on to say, “I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level”.
He of course is simply mistaken in the second remark. There is no similarity between these two issues whatsoever, as I carefully document in my book Strained Relations. But it is his first comment that I must address here. All he is really saying is this: God is wrong about homosexuality, and I reject God’s position on this.
Such rebellion and shaking of the fist at God and His Word is a terribly dangerous thing to engage in. Indeed, if he keeps it up, his wish will simply be granted. Hell is full of those who reject God, spit on His Word, and think they can do a better job of running the universe than God.
By actually telling God he is wrong here, and pressing his own flawed, finite and fleshly morality, Tutu has declared he is standing against God, and with the militants. So yes, with that heart of deadly defiance, he is indeed choosing his own fate, and he will get what he desires: life apart from God in a lost eternity.
So here we have three quite different takes on the issue of homosexuality by three religious leaders. If I had to choose who I feel most at home with, there is not a bit of doubt here: the Russian patriarch gets my vote. Tutu most certainly doesn’t, and as a non-Catholic, I can only hope Pope Francis is not beginning to cave in here. Time will tell I guess.