…With One Stone: The Blessed Virgin Mary and Homosexuality

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My brain made an interesting and (since I am a Protestant) non-heretical connection while reading ECT’s new joint declaration on Mary: I see an unwarranted emphasis in many corners (albeit different corners!) of the Church on the Virgin Mary and on the issue of homosexuality.

Bear with me here (if you know what Theotokos means, that’s a wordplay).  First off, I greatly appreciate the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  To be sure, part of this is because it is an ecumenical group that shares my convictions on matters theological and political, especially abortion.  But in particular I enjoyed this new statement on Mary.  Marian devotion is something I learned little about in seminary, and probably the biggest dogmatic issue I have with the Roman Catholic Church.  I felt that the Evangelicals did much to right the Protestant ship, which has steered away from the Catholic position on Mary (which was shared by Luther and Calvin) since the 16th century.  As well done as this was, they also held firm on Protestant convictions: Mary as eternal virgin, as sinless, as a dispenser of grace, are all concepts we do not find warranted from Scripture.  Through perhaps not harmful beliefs, it seems strange to require them of the faithful.

In other words, Scripture’s witness does not support the emphasis on Mary that Catholic piety and theology have sometimes shown.  It was noteworthy that in this joint declaration, the Catholic signatories acknowledge that “the determination to draw a clear line against Protestantism sometimes led to exaggerations and distortions in Marian devotion.”  Of course they would not agree that doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception represent such exaggerations, but the acknowledgment of a downside is helpful.  (And to be sure, the Protestant authors were right to lament the almost total loss of Mary from the Protestant sphere – although I confess I don’t know what recovery looks like for myself and my church.)

I am also firmly convinced that the Church’s overwhelming preoccupation with homosexuality is a focus without biblical or theological warrant.  Certainly I believe that Holy Scripture has clear teaching to offer, but it’s also the case that one can count the number of references to homosexual behavior in the Bible on two hands (and perhaps one).  While Jesus has a great deal to say on poverty, love, healing, and other aspects of life, he never once mentions homosexuality.  Outside of that, references in the Mosaic covenant and Paul’s letters offer the clearest guidance.  But such meager Biblical emphasis has given way to what can only be described as political clash that has spilled over into the Church.

We have let the (unfortunately) so-called “culture wars” become normative for our own business.  While wars rage and poverty and disease plague people across the globe, we are splitting churches over gay ordination.  Episcopalians, now with an engraved invitation to Rome, are bleeding members over the issue of ordaining gay bishops.  The largest Lutheran body, the ELCA, recently voted to accept gay ordinands, with many parishes threatening to leave and/or divided amongst themselves.  The United Methodist Church has been embroiled over this for two decades, and if (when) that change does occur it will threaten the moniker ‘United’.  Why are we breaking under an issue that the Bible cares so little about?

Let Scripture guide us (not Scripture alone, but Scripture primarily).  Being faithful to the witness of Scripture, living under God’s Word, does not consist in a simplistic biblicism that seeks fidelity only through quotations and out-out-of-context references; we must make the Bible our world, make it’s stories our stories, and make its priorities our priorities.  If this is done, I find it highly unlikely that our priorities will include the Blessed Virgin Mary and the quagmire that is the human sexuality debate.

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6 thoughts on “…With One Stone: The Blessed Virgin Mary and Homosexuality”

  1. Your article ends with this sentence:
    If this is done, I find it highly unlikely that our priorities will include the Blessed Virgin Mary and the quagmire that is the human sexuality debate.

    What did Mary say about gays?
    Thank you.

  2. Tom,

    Methinks that you only read the last sentence of this post. If you did actually read it, you missed the entire thrust of my argument. Thanks for stopping by, though.

  3. Pastor Mack, please accept my thanks for such a though provoking discussion. I cannot help but agree with your conclusions apropos the present fascination with Our Lady and the issues surrounding human sexuality. There are, however, a number of interesting connections between these two irrelevancies. We note in the Catholic Church that as devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has, with so many other ‘devotions,’ gone into decline that the stance of the Church has become more vocal and rigid concerning human – especially homosexual – sexuality. This would suggest a relationship between Marian devotion and homosexuality in the Christian community.

    This is brought into sharper focus when we examine the prevailing images of the Virgin in Catholicism. She is feminine, and yet without any real female sexuality. Dogma frames Mary as ‘the perfect feminine;’ not overly shapely, non-sexual and wholly without the functions of a woman. In many respects this may act as an image of the (a type of) celibate homosexual man. It may be the case that the iconography of and the devotion to the Blessed Virgin has acted as a means of including Gay men in the Church. As this devotion declines we see the increasing exclusion of homosexual persons from the Church. This issue might do with more consideration, and I would be pleased to share further reflection with you on this point.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments. Since I am not Catholic, I am likely far out of my depth here. While I appreciate the devotion to Mary to the extent that a confirmed Protestant can, I do not share it in my own faith. As I was trying to imply in this post, I find neither Mary nor homosexual relations to have as central a place in Scripture as many have made these in Christianity more broadly.

      A couple of things. Kathleen Norris in Cloister Walk has helped me to appreciate more than ever what it means for a celibate to understand and own their sexuality. This has led me to think that the emphasis of Mary’s virginity need not lead to an understanding of her being non-sexual. Celibates, more than most, I think, understand the power of sexuality and thus have much to teach us. Furthermore, celibates seem to do better by not attempting to deny their sexuality, which Christians have all too often done. But denying sexuality and choosing not to act on sexuality are not the same things.

      When you speak of the “increasing exclusion” of gays and lesbians from the RCC, are you speaking primarily of those who insist that the Church change its stance vis-a-vis homosexuality, or of all persons who experience homosexual temptations? It seems to me that the Church remains willing to embrace those who choose to subordinate their sexual inclinations to the teachings of Christ and his Church, but has so far been unwilling to change its teachings to suit modern sexual fashions. Whether it should change is a separate question, of course. But the challenge of homosexuality to the church has lately had me thinking of a separate question: which is more important – our identity in Christ, as his servants, brothers, sisters, and friends, or our identity as persons with a particular sexual identity? It seems to me that, however wrong the Church and the churches may or may not be about homosexuality, many activists are placing their sexual identity above their spiritual and eternal identities.

  4. This was a fine reply, and so thank you ever so much. Firstly I would have to say that it is not the case that the Catholic Church has changed its teaching apropos homosexuality and the practice of homosexual acts thereof; rather it is the case that since the publication of Humane Vitæ (1968) the Church has accelerated its comment on the issue. My thoughts are that there may be reasons for this that are not immediately clear to the Catholic lay person and other Christians. More is said on this in my own entry on the subject:

    http://homophilosophicus.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/the-blessed-virgin-and-homosexuality/

    Secondly there is the difference in the our theological perspectives. Catholicism represents a multitude of theological viewpoints, ultimately – however – directed by the Magisterium. This demands that theology is practised or lived with sacred scripture as but one single facet of the Authority of the Christian community. To this end then it is possible to see that the question of homosexuality, however irrelevant to the Gospel texts, may be a proxy for a much wider battle between the Church and modernity. I am beginning to imagine that these questions (certainly within the Roman Catholic Church) are merely symbols of a much more profound and far-reaching theological crisis within the whole Christian faith.

    You make an interesting point, surely, about the increasing tendency to present modern identities as sexual identities as opposed to spiritual or ethical identities. Yet if we are to engage theology and praxis on the level of the human person, then it may be the case that these ‘distinct identities’ are not mutually exclusive; it may be the case that the whole person is a nexus or union of identities, which if presented or re-presented in isolation or lacking of one or the other may fail to capture the full Identity of human nature.

  5. As a gay person left believing God hated me, that Jesus despised me and driven to despair and serious contemplation of suicide at times.

    It was in through Mary’s contemplation – Mary who ponders all in the heart, of Christ – that I came to see a truer image of Jesus in and through this Woman, Sister, Mother and Friend.

    She not only helped me see what grace accomplished in and through Her humanity, Her humble servitude and love of God – but that God can and will achieve exactly the same for each of us. The ‘Theotokos’ – the God bearer – where the I nolonger lives in I but Christ is given birth in the heart and begins to live in and through me.

    I found a wholesome irony, deep paradox, that this Virgin Mother was the first person who truly helped me accept myself for the human being I am – sex and sexual orientation and all.

    The ‘Church’ and the ‘christians’ gave me an image of a god, of Jesus, that led to my being robbed of my self worth, my dignity – my humanity to large degrees, Near robbed me of life itself. Very profound and core spiritual abuse. I could not ‘go direct’ to Jesus cause Jesus became the abuser. His face, heart – His love so distorted, so disfigured by those professing to speak on His behalf that I could not recognise what I’d begun to see, to know as a child, younger person.

    It was Mary’s deepest humanity that helped me see and begin to realise my own and help restore in me the image of God – give me back my self respect, self worth, knowledge of my dignity as a child of God – of the Heavenly Father.

    Her soul truly, in every way, magnified/s the Lord for me, when the ‘men of God’ and some ‘women of God’ had near obliterated any capacity I had, might have to see, to know and magnify that same Lord in and through my own life.

    Thank God for Mary. A Mother, Sister, Friend, Advocate and most magnificent Image of the Creator – of God, of the One that She, as Theotokos, gave birth to in Her own soul, life –

    Her Son, Jesus – The Saviour of us all. Mary led me to Jesus again in a very real way and in that leading showed me the image of God in which She is made, the very image of Christ – and in whose same image we are all made and called to fully realise – ‘magnify’.

    There are christians today, as always, who need their scapegoats, the attempted excuses for their own failures – lack of faith and love, as surely as they did when Jesus first walked this earth.

    God asks Adam and Eve who it was told them they were ‘naked’ – and shamed them.

    Think about that one.

    Something else Mary does superbly – helps us really ‘ponder’ endlessly the ‘Word of God’.

    God bless

    K

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