We wholeheartedly second the invitation by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for a thorough and honest reexamination of the church’s teaching on sexuality. (See story.) Robinson’s invitation, coming in a paper delivered in Baltimore at a conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry, is a gentle but elegant plea that offers hope for Catholics who want to stop the church’s headlong plunge into irrelevancy as a moral voice in our culture.
Robinson says that a careful study of the long arc of church teaching on sexuality comes to this foundational statement: “The church is saying that love is the very deepest longing of the human heart, and sex is a most important expression of love, so people should do all in their power to ensure that sex retains its ability to express love as deeply as possible.”
From this foundation, Robinson suggests three areas to reexamine Catholic teaching.
Rather than seeing sexual sin as an offense against God because it is a violation of the divine and natural order established by God, look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them. Robinson says he thinks God is “not easily offended.” He continues, “All the evidence tells us that God cares greatly about human beings and takes a very serious view of any harm done to them, through sexual desire or any other cause.”
Rather than trying to discern good or bad in objective acts — was this act unitive and open to procreation? — look at how the intentions and circumstances surrounding what a person does or doesn’t do lead toward or away from loving deeply. “Sexual acts are pleasing to God when they help to build persons and relationships, displeasing to God when they harm persons and relationships,” he writes.
Rather than narrowly focused attention on a few explicit Bible verses devoted to sexual morality, use the best of scripture scholarship to understand the Bible as the unfolding story of a journey, the spiritual journey of the people of God. No single verse or collection of verses can be seen as the final word of God on a subject, Robinson writes.
Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts “me” before “you.” By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.
- read the full editorial at National Catholic Reporter.
- Bishop urges change in all church teaching on sexual relationships
- Robinson 1: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together
- Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”
- Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments
- Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?
- Bishop Robinson: The Middle Ground
- NCR Supports Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Rethink Sexuality (Bondings 2.0/New Ways)