Once upon a time, when I was teaching a graduate course in the history of Christian thought and culture, a PhD student in Christian theology challenged me with this question: 'How can you justify homosexual activity?' My gut instinct as a scholar was to take refuge in academic speak, 'It is not for me to justify anything; as investigators and thinkers our job is to describe and understand.' But, in spite of myself, I blurted out: 'The same Gospel Law of Love applies equally to all sexual activity whether gay or straight or other.' I am grateful to my guardian angels for inspiring this answer because it states what I believe.
As a scholar, I agree with the conclusions Daniel Helminiak presents in his brief, yet comprehensive and easy-to-read book, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (2000). There is nothing in the Gospels or in the ministry of Jesus against homosexual activity. Jesus always responds compassionately to the actual needs of the persons presenting themselves to him. The only people he condemns are those who abuse power or act hypocritically.
Nonetheless, the heart of the matter remains: What is the Gospel Law of Love? And how should we apply it to sexual activity? On the existential level, we answer this question daily through our attitudes and actions. Whether easy or difficult, simple or complex, clear or ambiguous, we do make decisions of love in our everyday world. It is another matter altogether, however, to know how to articulate that practice of love in an explicit ethical framework that speaks from and to Christian traditions and communities.
Just Love (2006) by Margaret A. Farley articulates such a framework. She establishes seven criteria for 'just sex/just love': 1) Do no harm, 2) Free consent, 3) Mutuality, 4) Equality, 5) Commitment, 6) Fruitfulness, 7) Social Justice. These criteria are to be found, more or less and in various modalities, in all ethically valid sexual encounters and love relationships. These qualities of 'just' sex and 'just' love are not uniquely Christian. For example, in the Republic and in the Symposium, Plato articulates similar qualities in his discussions of the ideal conditions and purposes for sex and love.
In constructing her own Christian development of the seven criteria, Farley interrogates the traditional sources for Catholic theological reflection: Christian Scriptures, Teachings of the Church (including theologians and philosophers as well as the magisterium), Experience (personal and communal, Christian and non-Christian), and Scientific and Rational-Empirical investigations. For this noble effort she has been scolded by the Vatican bureaucrats who declared that her work could not be used in Catholic universities.
The reading of Farley's careful work starkly exposes the sad fact that the Roman Catholic Church has foolishly boxed itself into a dead end by its excessive reliance on the thinking of Roman stoicism, by its un-Christian ignoring of the Gospel, by its un-Humanist refusal to learn from human experience, and by its un-Catholic rejection of scientific and rational-empirical research. This perverse focus on reproduction as the sole criterion for valid sex is a self-inflicted wound, almost mortal in its consequences for the institutional church, and the cause of so much unnecessary suffering to so many faithful Catholics, gay or straight.
And it was all so unnecessary.
When John 23 (reigned 19581963) became pope he commissioned a task force of lay people and clerics, experts in their respective fields, to re-examine church teachings on human sexuality and to recommend a new framework for thinking about our sexuality. In early 1968 the commission presented its recommendations to Paul 6. In the name of Christian friendship and healthy family life, the majority endorsed the value of some types of birth control and family planning .
Unfortunately, Paul 6 (reigned 19631978) chose to ignore the majority report. In July of 1968, he issued an encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which essentially repeated the traditional teachings of Roman stoicism: all sex acts must be ordered primarily to conception. However, in his elaboration of this principle, Paul, for the first time, granted papal permission for infertile couples to enter into a valid marriage contract and to enjoy legitimate sex.
This teaching is not a new teaching. It is taught by Thomas Aquinas who states that marriage has two equally primary ends: the procreation and education of children and the promotion of the love of friendship between the two spouses. What is new is that a pope endorsed the principle of amor amicitiae as having validity even when the principle of procreation cannot be exercised.
Arabs employ the phrase 'the nose of the camel' to indicate the imminent fall of the household tent: Should a camel get any part of its nose under the smallest flap of the tent, the entire tent shall fall.
The 'love of friendship' is our camel's nose.