Recently Pope Francis made a couple of affirmation in an impromptu press conference that made the headlines of all major news agencies. They deal with the very “hot” issue of the Christian view on homosexuality. In the context of the building pressure from the secular society, the recent development in the United States’ Supreme Court and the lawsuit against the Anglican Church that is coming up from a same sex couple in Britain, one can understand why the press was so eager to find out what the Pope had to say about it. The headlines wrote things like: Pope Francis: The end of ‘fortress Catholicism’, Pope’s gay tolerance no shock and so forth, implying that the Pope is taking a different stance than his predecessors. But is he really saying anything different?
Fact is that his comments have not gone astray an iota from the doctrine: he still believes active homosexuality is a sin and considers any actions of promoting this way of life as sinful. This position unequivocally holds the ground of the Biblical teachings on the issue.
So why would the press get so railed up about his comments? Well, he said one thing that took everyone by surprise: “Who am I to judge?” This is a pretty powerful statement, since his predecessors were not shy of being judgmental on homosexuality. So the question that is on everyone’s mind is: could this be considered a crack in the Roman Catholic “armor” that might open wider to eventual doctrinal change or is the pope simply setting a new tone for future conversations on this theme?
I tend to favor the latter. I don’t think the pope is trying to change anything of substance in the way the Roman Catholics understand homosexuality as sin from a doctrine point of view. What he is aiming at is how we deal with it at a personal level; how do we interact, as Christians, with our coworker, friend or even family member that displays a same sex attraction?
The tone we are taking when addressing these hot buttons is indeed one of the major barriers in the societal dialogue. If we start a conversation with accusations and judgment we should not expect the other side to act any different and things will only go south from there. Being non judgmental is a very good start. This attitude is not a fabrication of a popular pope but again a Biblical truth: “Do not judge and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). This does no mean that we endorse sin in any way, but simply that if we are conscious that, at our turn, we are also sinful, the conversation should be rolled out from this humbling perspective.
One of the biggest problems in all that we see happening today is that active homosexual life is not differentiated from same sex attraction, but all is lumped together creating a lot of confusion. Pope Francis’s compassionate comments presses the society to look closer at these differences.
No matter what the cause might be (we can respectfully agree to disagree on that one for today’s purpose) we cannot go around the fact that some people are attracted to the same sex. In the same time, people are also attracted to things like stealing, committing adultery, coveting, lying etc. All these people, including those who experience a same sex attraction, have a choice: acting or not acting upon these sinful impulses. There is always a choice. Some choices are harder than others, but the choice is always there: do I follow the teachings of my faith and advance closer to God no matter the consequences or I choose to ignore them and do what I feel like, again, no matter the consequences?
Some people choose to act on the impulses they have and enter into a state of sin. There is no way around the fact that once we act upon our passion we have fallen into sin. Active homosexuals have therefore crossed the barrier between just having an attraction to actually acting upon it. They are not guilty of the impulse they have, but of the choice they made to act on it. This is not unique to this type of sin because the liar is also guilty, so is the adulterer, the thief and everyone that acts on his sinful impulses.
As Christians we struggle everyday against the passions that ravage our mortal and fallen nature. We are weak and we fall everyday, it is our reality, but this does not mean that we should be complacent with this sinful state and call it normality. This is where we part ways from the secular and libertarian society. In this case the society says it’s ok to sin if you feel like it, while we continue to say is not.
The Christian call to holiness is to always strive to get better and learn how to act against these impulses that harm our spiritual development. So if the one that has a tendency to steal, or covet, or lie should fight those impulses and not act upon them, also the one attracted to the same sex should be doing the same thing, if he is just as committed to the faith. As a consequence if one chooses celibacy as a response to his same sex impulses this is an action pleasing to God and we should not judge him for just being tempted but applaud and support him for fighting the good fight.
This is the core of the issue and where the rubber in pope Francis’ comment meets the road: we should not judge people by the tendencies they have towards one sin or the other, we should rather concentrate on helping them make the right choices with patience, love and care. It is only love that conquers and unites all at the loving chest of the crucified Christ.
I know that from an Orthodox perspective we have many things that we disagree with the Roman Catholic Church, but the recent comments of Pope Francis are also important for us. We are not exempt from showing love and compassion to all people, no matter what their sinful tendencies are. They might reject our love and help, just as we reject Christ’s love and extended hand so many times, but we should continue to love them and, as much as is in our power, bring them closer to Christ.