The Church Said What? Let’s Talk About Gender and Sexuality
On Sunday 21st May 2017, We had another session on our new session series: The Church Said What? This thime it was on gender and sexuality with two panelists, a member of the clergy and a specialist on Catholic formation and contemporary issues. The group was extremely grateful to be honoured with the presence of:
- Fr Tony Njuigi – Chaplain at Whitesands Secondary School, Lekki, Lagos
- Bridget Itsueli – Former Director of the Lagos Resource Centre
Don’t worry if you missed this session, get acquainted with this detailed report on the gender and sexuality conversation:
The Church’s Stance on Gender and Sexuality
Gender and sexuality are two distinct themes that are directly related in the church. The first reference to gender in the Bible is in Genesis 1: 26-27 where God created us in His image and likeness as male and female which implies that certain behavioural traits can be considered male and female. Conversely, sexuality refers to our physical, spiritual and emotional attraction to members of the opposite gender (heterosexuality) or same gender (homosexuality) even though there is no known Biblical intent or reference to the latter concept.
The church recognises that every human being is a person but moral limits exist on their behavioural choices. Human rights originated from the church and have become the basis upon which everyone agrees on regarding dignity of a person and basic freedoms. These freedoms have prompted people beyond the church’s moral limits to consider not what we are as humans, but what we want to be thereby neutering our gender and giving rise to the LGBT (Lesbian- Gay- Bisexual- Transgender) movement.
Another social movement, Feminism, began in 1978 with a discourse on perceptions of a woman’s basic human freedoms. This even includes the desire to change one’s body and in some instances, consciously display masculine traits in a search of greater worldly acceptance and equal rights to the man. This movement which stems from cultural and social prejudices, is characterised by liberation: stifling pregnancies and the intake of medication to terminate a woman’s natural body functions.
In reference to our last session, the church does not support abortion and contraceptives being that these are not part of God’s plan for humanity. This ultimately deems immoral the social constructs that the feminism and LGBT movements seek to promulgate. In a time where the institution of relationships and marriage have been secularised, the church continues to recognise marriage only between a man and a woman as they have been created.
Q & A
Controversial topics always breed controversial questions!
Q: What makes a man, a man – features that are physically inherent or spiritually embedded?
A: It is physically evident that a man possesses certain unchangeable features as well as deeper traits that transcend biological borders. Such traits that signify protection, leadership and provision are ingrained (usually) and not learnt.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth”. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1: 26-27
From the story of creation, it is evident that God did not intend for Adam (man) to have the same qualities as Eve (woman) thereby clearly distinguishing the natural capabilities of the male and female genders. It can be deduced that our body, soul and spirit are also gender specific.
It is paramount that as human beings, we primarily accept ourselves as we are so that we are mentally, physically and spiritually open to becoming the best version of ourselves.
Q: Why do people maintain the church’s stance on gender and sexuality as wrong, in 2017?
A: In spite of the church’s efforts to give moral points of reference, we live in a time of relativism where morals have been watered down. The theory of ethical relativism postulates that morality is dependent on the norms prevalent in a certain culture. Therefore, what is considered ‘right’ in one culture may be wrong in another; it is what we feel and have the freedom to do, negating the church as a moral authority.
Did you know that only 1% of the world is homosexual?
Q: How come we can’t have female priests despite the fact that females now hold various leadership positions in the world?
A: Catholic priests were ordained to walk in the steps of the Saviour, offering a sacrifice of the living and dead; it is their task to act in Persona Christi par excellence of Christ. When Jesus Christ stated the words “… This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” in Luke 22:19, He addressed the twelve apostles who were all men and who would continue this tradition, passing it on to priests who have dedicated their lives to the work of God.
This tradition does not negate the participation of women in instrumental vocal and teaching positions among the laity like lectors, catechists and marriage counsellors. The priests definitely can not take up all these responsibilities due to the vastness of their office.
Specifically, in the Apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) by Pope John Paul II, it was stated:
“… the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.”
It is important we remember that Jesus Christ came to the world as a man, therefore the fact that priests are men, is symbolic.
Q: How can we find a balance between showing empathy to homosexuals/bisexuals and expressing our firm beliefs?
A: There is a distinction between having homosexual tendencies and actively practicing homosexuality. The church understands that people may have such tendencies but does not support the homosexual act just as it does not support fornication with regards to an unmarried heterosexual couple. We should keep in mind that being empathetic or showing compassion to our neighbours does not include concealing the truth of our faith.
Q: How do we evangelise to people practicing homosexuality/transgenders without deterring them away from the church?
A: It has become prevalent that fatherlessness in many homes and the increasing number of female teachers in boys’ schools has left boys with no male model to appropriate their character from. A study by a Catholic neuroscientist, Dr. Philip Njemanze explains that a trend observed in a family for at least two decades becomes rooted in a person’s DNA. It is also possible that transgender men may desire to live life as a woman because of the wickedness that some women may have been exposed to in dysfunctional marriages.
It is important to live life in such a way that it may be a good example or Gospel to others who may be steered in another direction. We must remember that we are all created in God’s image and likeness and treat each other as such.
Q: Is homosexuality a scientific disability or a result of being spiritually possessed?
A: Although homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder until 1987, it is not a scientific disability and is not a result of spiritual possession. Homosexual tendencies may arise on their own or are usually nurtured as a result of societal and family practices.
Q: If someone who identifies as a homosexual chooses not to practice his/her belief, become a priest or get married, will he/she find fulfilment in life?
A: God intended for men and women to have relationships: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” – Genesis 2: 18. Apart from the marriage context, this verse implies that human interaction is inevitable and we are not self-sufficient. Therefore, our maturity as people which leads to our utmost fulfilment in life, comes with our ability to offer selfless service to others or a good cause. A person who chooses not to get married or become a priest could allocate time to grow in maturity. However, if one has been called to a celibate lifestyle and is not called to join the religious, it is advisable that one develops a passion for the good of others.
Dr. Philip Njemanze also shared through a study that men and women think differently due to use of the left and right brain respectively, signifying that a collaborative thought process is better than one.
Q: What is the best practical advice that can be given to someone who wishes to give up his/her homosexual belief and practice?
A: The first step (for us) begins with ceasing all use of derogatory references that may make them feel inadequate or deter their decision to seek help. Such person can be referred to a counsellor for regular guidance and counselling sessions so that he/she is not alone in the journey to a new phase of self-acceptance and self-love.
Q: Considering the ideologies of different authors on the topic of sexuality, where should women draw the line in expressing their femininity to allow men comfortably express their masculinity?
A: It is important to note that various authors write subjectively, from the perspective of their own lives and so it is more plausible to rely on God’s revelation of our innate nature.
Women should not have to conform to a certain way of acting to merely ensure that a man is comfortable in his expression of masculinity. Masculinity does not need to provoked or stroked to prove to the world that it emanates from a real man.
It is normal for a woman to have some male traits and vice versa. For example, a man can show tenderness in certain instances as a husband and father although tenderness is predominantly a female trait; it does not reduce his masculinity levels, rather it proves his acceptance and belief of Biblical love. A man’s show of physical splendour and abounding financial success are worldly parameters of masculinity, therefore a man who subjugates his wife does not display true masculine essence. If being Holy is to be wholesome, a man’s journey towards holiness becomes an opportunity for him to truly become one with his wife.
Q: Where can people go for information and formation on the church’s stance on controversial topics like this?
A: The University of Notre Dame and the Augustine University run short courses on the church’s teaching which are available via distance learning. Formation classes and fellowships organised by Opus Dei, The Evening Chapel and Young & Catholic are available to everyone.
The Way Forward: Practical Christianity
It is clear that relativism today underwent an iconic birth when people began constructing their own idols as Romans 1 reminisces the manner in which man chose the lusts of his heart over the Gospel’s truth. Pure relativism would have been the acceptance of polygamy, polyandry, same-sex marriages and gender neutering into the church. These and many other issues of secular humanism gave rise to the Second Vatican Council in order to address cultural changes after World War II.
Discussing literature in groups or having book/chapter reviews during fellowship sessions will ensure a conversation is started on these topics. A wide selection of Catholic literature is available for personal and group study; some notable works include:
- John Paul II, P. (1993). The splendor of truth = veritatis splendor: Encyclical letter. Boston, Mass.: St. Paul Books & Media.
- John Paul II, P. (1998). Encyclical letter, Fides et ratio, of the supreme pontiff John Paul II: To the bishops of the Catholic Church on the relationship between faith and reason. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
- John Paul II, P. (1995). Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women. Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995
Do you have a testimony to share and would you like to be a source of inspiration to others? Are you privately seeking a support group where you can relate with people that are struggling with sexual identity? Are you in search of a spiritual counsellor to help you in your journey to intentional Christianity? Remember that you are not alone; please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org stating your request so we can help you connect the dots or follow us on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/youngandcatholicng/
Our next session is on 28th May 2017. Please email us for more details!