In March, the Vatican launched a year of reflection on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) about family. To ensure that LGBTQ perspectives and dimensions are included in our church’s discussions of this document, Bondings 2.0 is publishing a series of theological reflections over the year.
Today’s post is from Adam Beyt, who is a recent Ph.D. graduate of Fordham University where he now serves as an adjunct instructor. Adam researches political theology and queer theory, and is currently working on a book tentatively titled Violence and the Mystery of Humanity.
For many LGBTQ+ Catholics, Amoris Latetia (AL) represented another disappointment of a Church haphazardly learning to love them. The document, like many preceding it, reiterates a limited vision for what families can become. AL describes the placement of the nuclear family, i.e., a heterosexual couple consisting of a cisgender man and cisgender women in a monogamous marriage caring for their biological children, as the ideal which all sexual romantic relationships ought to pursue.
Early in the document, Francis highlights this idealization by drawing a connection between the dynamism of biological kinship and the life of the Holy Trinity. He writes, “The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection” (AL 10). With this model comes a recapitulation of gender essentialism and complementarity logic made famous by John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Gender essentialism predetermines one’s gender identity based on biological categories assigned at birth, resulting in a complementarity logic wherein each member of a heterosexual married couple must “complete” the other and “promise each other total self-giving, faithfulness and openness to new life” (AL 73).
Francis does offer some pastoral concessions for different models of kinship, such as the inclusion of adopted children and extended family (AL 178-181, 192-193). Yet many LGBTQ+ Catholics and theologians still struggled with limitations regarding the types of relationships and families available to pursue.
With such predetermined norms, many LGBTQ+ folks might feel hopeless, and they may desire more imaginative theological language for validating God’s sacred presence in relationships that do not reproduce biological kinship. Instead of capitulating to despair, I invite readers to reflect on eschatological hope.
Eschatology refers to the study of “last things” and tries to imagine how creation will be fulfilled through Christ at the end of time. Referred to in New Testament texts with terms such as the “Kingdom (or Reign) of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” eschatology can inspire a radical conversion and shift in our behavior towards new ways of thinking and inhabiting the world. The Reign of God drives our hope in anticipating the arrival of God’s sacred presence within creation.
In AL, Francis describes families as on a hope-filled journey towards eschatological fulfillment. In the final chapter, the pope gestures towards these relationships becoming much greater than how we currently conceive them. He references Mt 22:30, which reads, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” Jesus says this after the Sadducees question him on the resurrection regarding what will happen to a married woman who had multiple deceased husbands.
Jesus rejects the question as inconsequential, indicating that the Reign of God challenges such conventional relational norms. Reflecting on this challenge Christ indicates, Francis writes:
“All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine” (AL 325).
Francis reminds families to consider that in such a journey, “the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7: 31). The coming Reign of God remains greater than Catholics can imagine as we learn to love and relate to each other.
Francis’s relationship to such eschatological language is provocative in suggesting a potential reimagining of relational norms within the coming Reign of God. The relationships we experience are ultimately provisional until Christ’s second coming. Through the lens of hope, LGBTQ+ Catholics can find a theological basis for validating the different types of intimacies they inhabit. Intimacy, rather than “family,” is a term that describes meaningful relationships, romantic or otherwise.
Intimacy, especially expressed in the coming Reign of God, describes emotional and physical vulnerability amid shared mutual responsibility—a model for a new community of interpersonal care not reducible to biological kinship. Many LGBTQ+ folks have formed “chosen families,” such as the largely Black and Latinx “houses” in the ballroom scene, as means of surviving a violent homophobic and transphobic world. Such queer intimacies are foretastes of God’s presence within creation at the end of the world.
Some readers may think I am reading too much into an otherwise traditional pastoral statement on human families. Yet, isn’t the act of imagining how the Church could be, instead of the way that it is, based on hope for God’s saving renewal? I maintain that the Church’s hierarchy needs an eschatologically oriented theology to reframe how LGBTQ+ Catholics as embodied and relational beings—those living and loving within these intimacies—can anticipate the Reign of God through their discipleship.
Part of such a project entails a careful rethinking of what “families” have been and, more importantly, what they can become. Amid our hope for the conversion of other Catholics, God’s coming Reign reminds us not to give up. Despair, as articulated in a recent America article by Fr. Jim Martin, “is not coming from God.”
May we always pursue, as Francis says, the “fullness of love and communion God holds out before us” (AL 325).
—Adam Beyt, Fordham University, August 18, 2021