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Posts for September, 2013

So After Pope Francis’s Opening, These Things Happened

Jim Burroway

September 25th, 2013

After the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with Pope Francis last week in which the pontiff chastised the church for “insist(ing) only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” a couple of events took place which, in my view, reinforced my caution that while we can be greatly encouraged by Francis’s comments, its important not to get too carried away. Specifically, I pointed out that nothing in church doctrine had changed. Further, I cautioned that just as under Benedict XVI, the entire Church was not the Pope and hierarchy, but the laity as well; so, too, today the entire Church is not the Pope and laity, but the hierarchy as well. A couple of events since last week bring all of that back into sharp focus.

First, there’s the excommunication of the former Father Greg Reynolds, of Melbourne, Australia. Fr. Reynolds says that he was excommunicated over his support for women’s ordination and gay Catholics. That excommunication took place last May, before the Pope’s more recent comments and before his comment last July responding to a question about gay priests with another question: “Who am I to judge?” Chronology may or may not explain the church’s inconsistency in its approach to Reynolds. Another explanation may be found in this report by the independent and often critical National Catholic Reporter:

The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367). It also referenced Canon 1369 (speaking publicly against church teaching) in its review of the case.

I have no idea as to the circumstances or veracity of that middle accusation. It may be real, or it may be a red herring. Of the three accusations, that one by far would be the most serious, and its inclusion here greatly clouds the issue. Reynolds has addressed the first and third accusation, but so far I’ve found no comments from anyone on the second one, except for Reynold’s broader comments saying he doesn’t know why he was excommunicated. As I said, there may be nothing to it, or there may be more than Fr. Reynolds is disclosing. Until that is sorted out, the question of Reynolds’s excommunication remains not so cut-and-dried in my mind.

Much less murky is the decision by Providence College, a Catholic institution in Rhode Island, to rescind its invitation to John Corvino, chair of Wayne State University’s philosophy department, to discuss the ethics (and not the theology) of gay marriage in a debate with a Providence theologian. Corvino’s invitation, which was co-sponsored by nine departments and programs, was cancelled in an announcement last Saturday by college provost and senior vice president Hugh F. Lena, who cited a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” This, of course, wasn’t an “honor,” but a debate and discussion, which, last I checked, was supposed to be one of the hallmarks of higher education. Corvino responded:

The reference to “awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” applies, for example, to allowing such politicians to present commencement addresses or to receive honorary degrees. By contrast, I am an academic speaker. Both the person introducing me and I would state clearly that my views were not those of the Catholic Church; moreover, a respondent from the Providence College theology department, Dr. Dana Dillon, would follow immediately to explain the Church’s position on marriage. Far from suggesting “support” for my views, the College would have ample opportunity to express precisely the opposite.

The silver lining however is a pretty big one. It exposes Providence College to suspicions that it is not confident in its ability to defend church doctrine when it comes to marriage equality. That’s a pretty pathetic patch of ground for a supposedly prestigious Catholic college to stand on, if you ask me. Also, the timing of the cancellation’s announcement — on the Saturday after Pope Francis’s interview went online — couldn’t have been better to guarantee the most favorable publicity. For Corvino:

So, Providence College has done wonders for my media exposure. In the last 24 hours I’ve talked to The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Huffington Post, the Providence Journal, the Detroit Free Press, a half dozen radio producers (I’m about to go on WPRO with former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci), and MSBNC (which may have me on “Last Word” tomorrow or Thursday night).

“What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” John Corvino’s Answer Now Available on YouTube

Jim Burroway

July 10th, 2013

Back in 2007, I raved about John Corvino’s DVD, “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality,” in which he methodically deconstructed our opponents arguments about the morality of our relationships.In this lecture, he covers it all: pointing out that the Bible didn’t just condone slavery but described how people should own slaves; exploring the logical fallacy that happens when people are reduced to the sum of their parts, a defense of what “morality” really means. It’s all there. Now Paradise Valley Media, which produced the 2007 DVD has finally made the full hour-long lecture available on YouTube. Now, as then, I highly recommend it.

Is Homosexuality Unnatural?

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2012

This is the last of John Corvino’s video series:

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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Are People Who Oppose Gay Marriage Bigots?

Jim Burroway

October 5th, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Why Marriage? (Why not Civil Unions?)

Jim Burroway

October 4th, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Religious Freedom?

Jim Burroway

October 3rd, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Traditional Marriage?

Jim Burroway

October 2nd, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Debunking the Regnerus Study

Jim Burroway

October 1st, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

BTB was the first to debunk Regnerus’s study. Our review came out just before news of the study broke in the Deseret News. Rob Tisinai’s reaction can be found herehere, and here; Timothy Kincaid’s here. Regnerus’s response to a BTB reader can be found here. You can follow everything we’ve written about the study by following this tag.

Do Children Need a Mother and Father?

Jim Burroway

September 28th, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

Jim Burroway

September 27th, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

The Definition of Marriage

Jim Burroway

September 26th, 2012
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Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organzations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Review: John Corvino’s “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”

Jim Burroway

December 19th, 2007

I’m sure our postal delivery person is confused by some of the mail she delivers to our house. Catalogs from Christian booksellers and mailers from Focus on the Family often arrive in the same day’s delivery as my copy of the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide and fundraising solicitations from Wingspan, our local LGBT center. My partner, who has little stomach for much of the mail I receive, just piles it on the dining room table for me to sort through when I get home.

So one day last week, I was sorting through my mail and opened a package containing a DVD titled, “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” He glanced over my shoulder and muttered, “Great! Another freak show…”

John Corvino - What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?Before I even had the chance to pop the DVD into the player, I already knew that John Corvino was really onto something with his latest DVD offering. That title — “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” — challenges us to confront one of our most glaring problems in the debates over homosexuality today. It’s the idea that the word “morality” is automatically associated with anti-gay positions. In fact, in today’s cultural debates, all one has to do us utter the words “moral” or “morality,” and right away he has signaled that that every word that follows will be hostile to gays and lesbians.

The problem though is that this suggests that pro-gay positions cannot be articulated from a moral standpoint. And we really can’t blame the religious right for that. Too many pro-gay advocates won’t touch the subject of morality with a twenty-foot pole.

There’s a reason for it, even if it’s not a good one. We should care deeply about moral principles, and I’ve argued that in fact, we really do build our lives around deeply held moral precepts whether we acknowledge it explicitly or not. But we’ve been afraid to talk about morality, or even to acknowledge that moral standards are important and ought to be espoused. Instead, we instinctively shrink back wherever we hear the word “morality” because we’ve too often experienced the word as a bludgeon and not for what it really is:

moral: mȯr-əl, mär-) adj. [Middle English, 14th century, from Anglo-French, from Latin moralis, from mor-, mos custom] 1 a: of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ETHICAL <moral judgments> b: expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior <a moral poem> c: conforming to a standard of right behavior d: sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment <a moral obligation> capable of right and wrong action <a moral agent> …

Dr. John Corvino, associate professor of philosophy at Wayne State University, is a prolific author and an engaging lecturer on the moral dimensions of gay rights. He writes the bi-weekly column called “The Gay Moralist” for 365gay.com and he’s a regular contributor at the Independent Gay Forum. He also appears with Focus On the Family’s Glenn Stanton several times a year in a series of debates on same-sex marriage.

This latest DVD captures the lecture by the same title that Dr. Corvino been giving in various forms since 1992. It’s a great topic and one that’s rarely explored, which is a shame since the discussion of homosexuality as a moral mode of existence is every bit as vital today as it was when he started fifteen years ago. Lectures often come across as dull and dry on DVD, but Corvino tackles the often eye-glazing topics of morality and ethics with a sharp wit, engaging empathy, and an intellectual rigor that is both accessible and memorable. Who knew philosophy could be so much fun?

The DVD begins with three simple questions: what is wrong with homosexuality? If it’s wrong, how do we know it’s wrong? And if there’s nothing wrong then what is all the fuss about? And he tackles these questions from the anti-gay activists’ home turf: theology (It’s wrong because the Bible condemns it), social science (It’s wrong because of diseases or it harms families/children), and nature (It’s wrong because it’s unnatural).

This web site routinely delves into the social science and the “nature” aspects on homosexuality. Regular readers will find Corvino’s take on these topics familiar, so I won’t go into them in much detail. But that first aspect, theology, is something we generally try to avoid on this web site. Sure, we discuss homosexuality as it relates to how different religions and denominations talk about it, but we generally avoid explicitly theological discussions. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve never really seen this handled this convincingly — by this, I mean in a way that a Christian fundamentalist, for example, might shake his head and say, “Hmmmm. There might be something to this.” And when it looked like Corvino was going to tack the theological objections himself, I feared he would fall prey to the same problems that have plagued so many other well-meaning apologists.

The problem with getting into theological arguments about homosexuality is that they often devolve into discussions of what this word means in the original Hebrew or what that word was referring to in the Greek, or which cultural influences play what role in which passage. You know, context. The word that everyone uses to try to explain out passages or explain in others. But the problem with this approach is that once we reach this level of Biblical exegesis, it requires that everyone be on the same page in how they view the specifics of Biblical understanding. And this simply never happens. Whenever one side of a debate like this begins to make headway, the other side invariable says, “you’re taking it out of context.” And since nobody can agree on the proper context to begin with, we quickly reach a stalemate.

This problem isn’t unique to the topic of homosexuality. Take a look around. There are literally tens of thousands of independent Christian denominations worldwide, mostly because people can’t agree on Biblical context or interpretation on one point or another. And so it often seem that trying to throw another interpretive argument into the mix ends up looking like trying to throw a teaspoon of fresh water into the ocean and hoping it will make a difference.

So as I said, I had a lot of trepidation when Corvino began diving into the theology of homosexuality. Thankfully, Corvino avoids this pitfall. Sure, he brushes lightly into some of the pro-gay theological arguments but he doesn’t invest much energy there. Instead he quickly arrives at what I think is a much stronger position: discussing not so much the theology itself, but how the anti-gay theology is derived and used in the debates. To illustrate this, Corvino uses two well-chosen passages from Leviticus. The first one is Leviticus 18:22, the one we all know very well:

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

Most translations (including the translation Corvino read out) use the more famous word “abomination.” But either way, the passage is unmistakable to one who holds to a literalist Biblical point of view. If one were to take everything from the Bible in a consistently literal light, then there’s no way around it: The Bible says that homosexual acts are “detestable” or an abomination. And for one who derives their morality from a literal view of the Bible, it logically follows then, that all homosexual acts are immoral — no if’s, and’s or but’s.

John Corvino reading LeviticusBut as Dr. Corvino points out, the Bible holds a lot of things to be immoral that we no longer condemn with such fervor (for example, divorce, or women speaking in churches or wearing slacks), and the Bible gives explicit approval — and even instruction — on some things that we today consider to be immorally outrageous. The best example of the latter comes from an equally unmistakable passage of Leviticus. This time it’s Leviticus 25:44-46:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

The passage is as unmistakably clear as the first one. And if one were to take everything from the Bible in a consistently literal light, then there’s just no way around it: the buying and selling and inheriting of people as chattel slaves is not immoral; it is instead expressly permitted — with rules laid down for its proper execution. But there are very few Christians who are so consistent in their literalism that they would always “approve what the Bible approves and condemn what the Bible condemns” when it comes to slavery. Only Christian Reconstructionists and a few other theonomists are able to sustain this kind of consistency.

So why is it that some people are consistent with literalist interpretations of Scripture where homosexuality is concerned, but when the subject of slavery comes up it’s suddenly all about context, original language and cultural norms? Corvino suggests that we either have to commit ourselves to the idea the authors’s concerns and ours might be very different, and understanding that difference is vital to understanding the text. But understanding context still might not get us to a satisfactory explanation for some of these passages:

I”m not convinced that any amount of context is going to help the slavery passages. I think when we look to those passages, we have to admit that the prejudices and limitations of the Biblical authors crept into the text. And if they did that with respect to slavery, it could happen with respect with homosexuality.

John Corvino: The parts don’t fit! — yes they do!Corvino tackles the other objections with great wit and grace, whether they are the more profound and complex arguments (the implications for both sides of the nature/nurture debate, or the roles that sex play in the lives of ordinary people) or the trivial and silly ones (“The parts don’t fit” — yes, they do!). But through it all, he never takes his eye off of the bigger picture: the impact that morality — more specifically, a moral code that is illogically derived — has on those it is cast against:

One of the biggest misconceptions about the work that I do is that people think I’m out to attack morality, that I’m out to espouse some kind of moral relativism…

Nothing could be further from the truth. So much of what I’ve said tonight is based upon my moral convictions — convictions about fairness, convictions about justice. I think the way gay and lesbian people are treated in our society is wrong. Not just irrational, but morally wrong. I think there’s something perverted about the fact that we hate people because of whom they love. We do violence against people because of the affection that exists in their lives. And the effects of that treatment are a far greater moral tragedy than sex between consenting adults could ever be. …

You see, morality has a point. It’s about enabling us to flourish as human beings in a society where other people are trying to do the same thing. And that’s everybody’s concern. Conservative or liberal, red state or blue state — all of us have a responsibility to stand up for morality.

So let me make myself very clear. I am not asking you to stop making moral judgments or to keep your judgments to yourself. I’m all about the moral judgments. I’m asking you to make sure you have reasons for the moral judgments that you make. I’m asking you to put yourself in people’s shoes before you judge them. And I’m asking you to judge people not on whom they love, but on whether they love. That’s my moral vision. That’s my “agenda.”

You can buy a copy of “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” at the Gay Moralist web site, where you can also find the DVD’s trailer. And this shorter clip has just been posted on YouTube by the DVD’s director, Marc-Antoine Serou:

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