“Who are we to judge?” – The Christian Stance on Homosexuality

Over at the website of the European Parliament’s Pro-Sodomy Group, there is a short report about MEP Ulrike Lunacek giving a rainbow-coloured scarf to Pope Francis when he visited the European Parliament last month.

According to Mrs. Lunacek, the colours of the rainbow (and hence the scarf) are a “symbol for respect for the rights of LGBTI people and for peace”. But that is not quite correct. Mrs. Lunacek, a green MEP from Austria with little else on her mind but “gay rights”, may not be aware of it, but in actual fact the rainbow symbol appears in one of the very first chapters of the Bible: after having wiped out, through the great deluge, nearly all humankind as a punishment for its sins and having spared only Noah and his family, God promises to never again send such a chastisement. This new covenant is symbolized by a rainbow:

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth”[1]

The rainbow is thus a symbol of God’s benevolence towards his creatures. Indeed, after the deluge the Bible only once tells of a similarly summary punishment – ironically, it is directed precisely against those who nowadays use the rainbow as their symbol: the Sodomites.[2] But this time God uses fire, not water – and he does not let the innocent perish together with the wicked.

A symbol re-conquered: the rainbow symbolizes God’s mercy with all sinners, not his approval of sodomy (or any other sin).

Those ancient accounts may be mythical. But in any case, the notion that the rainbow symbolizes toleration for those who persist in a wicked and self-destructive lifestyle seems rather far-fetched.

While some radically anti-Christian MEPs have not missed the opportunity to exhibit their hostility towards the Pope, Mrs. Lunacek and other “gay rights” activists seem to view him as a possible ally for their agenda. This is probably due to some widely reported off-the-cuff remarks made by the Pope last year when, asked about his stance on “gay” people, he answered with a rhetorical question: “Who am I to judge them?” This question then travelled around the world, allegedly marking a new “openness” of the Church for homosexuals and homosexuality.

This perception is, however, based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Pope Francis’ words were in fact the expression of a perfectly Catholic position towards homosexuals (and, indeed, anyone else), in line with what the Church has taught and practised right from its origins.

Two remarks must be made in this regard.

The first is that Pope Francis’ words must be read within their context. What he actually said was the following:

“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. They are bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and ‘they must be integrated into society.’ The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter. There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.”

Thus, there is a clear distinction between those who experience homosexual tendencies and those who actually practise them or who, even worse, turn them into an agenda underpinning their political action. Mrs. Lunacek belongs to the last category.

“Having good will” in this context means to accept and follow the Church’s teaching. For a “gay” person this means to abstain from sodomy. A person doing this not only deserves not to be judged (if “judgment” is understood as “condemnation”), but instead deserves praise and encouragement. In this regard, the Pope’s words say rather too little.

Secondly, it seems worthwhile to place the Pope’s off-the –cuff remark into the wider context of Christian teaching. In this regard, it is worthwhile to read the following passages from the first chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Upon reading these words, one can hardly say that St. Paul (and, following him, the Church) has a non-judgmental attitude towards sodomy, or towards any other sin mentioned in this tirade. But there is more to it. The point of departure is actually the unwillingness of people to acknowledge God as their creator, and to thank and to serve him accordingly. This is bad news for all atheists and agnostics: according to St. Paul they are “without excuse”. It is simply unreasonable, and therefore sign of an inexcusably bad will, to believe that the world with all its beauty and inherent order created itself, or is the result of some chance and accident. Unbelief is thus the result of unwillingness to believe. In the same vein, failure to acknowledge and to thank God is mere ingratitude.

All other sins are the consequence of this first one. And here, given the quantity of words he spends on this particular issue, it appears that St. Paul considers sodomy not just as one sin among others, but as the quintessence of sins: it is a rebellion against the natural order, and therefore a rebellion against God who created that order. There could be no clearer condemnation than this one.

But then – immediately following the passage cited above – comes a sudden rupture. The second chapter of the epistle begins thus:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

This sounds definitely strange. St. Paul condemns those “who pass judgment on someone else” – but was he not doing exactly the same just a minute ago, when he declared all non-believers and sodomites to be without excuse? Is that not “passing judgment”? And what does he mean when he says that “at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things”? Surely he is not saying that he is himself indulging in any of the sins he has condemned, or that whoever condemns sodomy must himself be engaging in it. But what, then, does he mean? Which is that judgmental attitude towards others that he is condemning?

It all becomes clear when you consider these words: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Passing a judgment on “someone else” is not the same as passing a judgment on a particular action, habit, or attitude. We are all called to make judgments on whether any action or attitude is good or bad. We are not only allowed to make such judgments, but indeed we must do so. Distinguishing between good and evil is an inevitable necessity for us if we want our own actions to be morally good. And obviously, such distinctions must be made with regard to sexual behaviours just as with regard to anything else. There is no sphere that it is exempt from moral distinction.

Something else, however, is what St. Paul calls “passing a judgment on someone else”. Such a judgment, it is implied, shows contempt for God: first, because he who judges puts himself in God’s place, and second, because he under-estimates God’s patience and forbearance. Any sinner can repent at any time, and judging him prematurely simply shows a lack of belief in God’s ability to lead him to repentance and conversion. And this, precisely, is where the sinner and the judgmental person are indeed “doing the same thing”: they fail to believe in God’s mercy. But given that mercy is God’s primary attribute, this failure to believe in His mercy is in fact tantamount to a failure to believe in God.

Having considered all this, it quickly becomes clear that by asking “Who am I to judge” Pope Francis has not transformed a sin into a non-sin, or expressed his Church’s approval of sodomy. He has simply re-stated what has always been taught since the days of the apostles.

People with homosexual tendencies are of course welcome in the Church. All sinners are, if they are willing to convert.

The Pope politely accepted the rainbow scarf that Mrs. Lunacek gave to her. Would Mrs. Lunacek with the same politeness have accepted a rosary, if the Pope had given her one? Maybe. Or maybe not. But then, what kind of behaviour would one expect from her?

[1] Gen 9, 12-16

[2] Gen 19