Originally created 09/13/03

A liberal priest attacks the Catholic Church's stand against homosexual behavior



The Episcopal Church's August convention endorsed an actively gay bishop and issued a statement recognizing that clergy are free to bless same-sex couples (without officially approving such rites).

Curious thing. A bishops' study committee concluded last March that the church was "nowhere near consensus" on whether to drop the Judeo-Christian tradition against homosexual behavior. One reason for uncertainty may be that Episcopalians have produced less scholarship advocating change than thinkers in other Protestant denominations.

Few Roman Catholics have proposed liberal cases, either, and that adds to interest in a book by the Rev. Gareth Moore, a British Dominican who died last December.

In his posthumous "A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality" (Continuum), Moore assailed his church's teaching and 1975 and 1986 Vatican decrees supporting it. He concluded that it's irrational for homosexually inclined Catholics to obey the church because it "produces no good arguments."

Moore weakened his case by not answering conservative U.S. Presbyterian Robert Gagnon, whose "The Bible and Homosexual Practice" had already rebutted many of Moore's points. Perhaps Moore was too ill to examine Gagnon's 2001 work. (Also, Moore's book has no index, undercutting its seriousness and usefulness.)

In part, Catholicism's stance is based upon the laws of nature, which Moore dismissed by arguing that homosexuality is built into nature, too.

But the heart of Moore's case treated Bible passages cited by Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish traditionalists):

-"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (Genesis 2:24, a passage also cited by Jesus).

God provided a partner so Adam wouldn't be alone, and Moore said we must equally suppose that God "takes seriously the need of lesbians and gay men for a partner whom they will receive with joy."

-"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).

Moore said this Old Testament law had "nothing to do with same-sex activity as such" but forbade only "a man treating a man sexually as he would a woman." Since modern Christians reject the "supposed divine plan of male dominance" that Moore thought undergirded Leviticus, he found it inappropriate to use this text to bar homosexuality.

-"God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males ..." (Romans 1:26-27).

Moore wasn't convinced by liberal arguments that here the Apostle Paul condemned only same-sex practices by those who are basically heterosexual. He was more impressed by claims that Paul opposed only exploitative man-boy relationships, which would make this passage irrelevant to consensual acts between adults

More fundamentally, Moore asserted that Paul didn't say same-sex activity is sinful itself but only that it's punishment for sin and is "unclean, shameful and dishonorable." Further, Moore wrote, Paul's passage denounced only pagans, so it "does not and cannot apply to" gay Christians.

-"Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals ... will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

There's considerable debate about the original meaning of the words translated "boy prostitutes" and "practicing homosexuals" in Catholicism's New American Bible. The first Greek word, "malakoi," means "the soft," and Moore contended there's no reason to think that condemned any kind of homosexuality.

Moore said nobody is sure what the second word, "arsenokoites," means. But he figured it did not refer to same-sex acts as such but behavior that feminized a man by giving him the passive role, which he found "irrelevant" to most same-sex couples.

Are such Bible reinterpretations convincing? Or do they seem far-fetched? Much hangs on the answer, for both church and society.