Church Teaching on Sexuality and Gender Must Reflect LGBT People’s Realities, Says Theologian

Dr. Craig Ford

The Catholic Church must treat LGBT people as a reality and develop a theology of sex and gender that reflects that reality, wrote a theologian at Fordham University.

Dr. Craig Ford wrote in Commonweal about the present inadequacies of church teaching on LGBT issues and the need for their renewal. Noting the Synod on Youth’s choice to not include the term “LGBT” despite it being used in preparatory documents as one example, Ford commented:

“Our theology of sex and gender does not reflect the actual world that God has created for us. It reflects, instead, an understanding from the world of another time.”

Ford made two further points about the need for church teaching and theology on LGBT issues to reflect lived realities. First, he highlighted the dichotomy used by some of “doctrinal” and “pastoral” approaches to these issues, using Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, Cap., and Fr. James Martin, SJ, as examples of opposing sides in this debate. Ford commented that the “doctrinal” approach of the former is a “nonstarter for queer persons.” He advocated the pastoral approach as the only path:

“The use of the term [LGBTQ+ Catholic] assures queer persons that, regardless of how the theological conversation ends around sexuality, it nevertheless begins with each person on equal footing. In other words—and as Francis in his papacy has relentlessly pointed out through comments validating the experience of queer persons—there is no other approach to queer issues other than to maintain a humble respect for how queer persons experience their own embodiment. There is, then, no other approach besides a pastoral approach. Such is the way of mercy—indeed, such is the way of the Lord Jesus—that Francis is trying to model for us.”

Ford continued his critique by suggesting the debate over terminology “distracts us from the conversation that we should be having” on how to update theologies of sex and gender so they align with reality. Promoting an ethic that develops first from reality, he wrote “we cannot talk about what the world should be like until we come to an understanding of what the world is like.” He explained:

“The truth is that our theology of sex and gender does not reflect the actual world that God has created for us. It reflects, instead, an understanding from the world of another time. But more importantly, such a theology does not reflect a truly Catholic method of studying sexuality, which has typically come through the framework of natural law. The natural law, as an ethical framework, represents an approach to human flourishing that begins with an honest assessment of what it’s like to be humans running about in the world. This requires, in the case of understanding human sexuality, a broad consultation with scientific and philosophical approaches to human sexuality. Only after this point can we begin to ask what light the Gospel shines on what it would mean for human beings to flourish as sexual and gendered creatures.”

Ford concluded by saying the expectation most Catholics would have for themselves to understand sexuality and gender in light of contemporary knowledge from the sciences is an approach to be expected “equally” from church leaders. It is unfortunate that this approach is not the baseline from which church leaders are already working, but it is certainly an expectation that should be communicated to them in 2019.

Consider contacting your bishop in 2019. Ask him to spend time learning about what theologians, scientists, and LGBT people themselves say is the latest knowledge on sexuality and gender and to discern how this knowledge should inform church teaching and practice going forward. You can find your bishop’s information using New Ways Ministry’s “Contact Your Bishop” feature here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2018

2 replies
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I applaud this concept of the need for bishops to better understand how LGBT individuals live in the world and the need for a humble welcoming face. I would offer that this stance needs to be an entirely new look at the whole realm of sexuality involving the status of women in the Church as well. Equality won’t happen until all genders and sexualities are equal. Agreeing that all of us are made in the likeness of God is not enough; if equal opportunities are not present, there is no reality to the sentiment. We must work for full change. Read then Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1986 letter about the care of homosexuals and in almost every instance you can substitute women for same sex individuals in the same hateful screed change. Again I agree with the writer, but ask that we all focus on a full new reality of shared participation in the body of Christ.

  2. Kathleen M Wagner
    Kathleen M Wagner says:

    ” . . . develop a theology of sex and gender that reflects that reality, wrote a theologian at Fordham University.”

    We already have one. Basically, it runs, everyone is prone to sins of the flesh. The remedy is prayer, self-denial, and a seeking after union with God.

    It’s really not that complicated.


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