CATHOLIC AND MORMON: A THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION by Stephen H. Webb And Alonzo L. Gaskill
BORN THIS WAY by Steve Morrison
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE REALLY TEACH ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY? by Kevin DeYoung
Catholics and Mormons: towards mutual understanding
CATHOLIC AND MORMON: A THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION
by Stephen H. Webb And Alonzo L. Gaskill (Oxford University Press), 2015. 218pp. HB. ISBN 9780190265922, Rec price: $45.00 (Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by Professor Michael Quinlan
In Australia I think it is fair to say that most Catholics tend to know little about Mormons or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) until we find a well-dressed missionary from that Church at our doorstep or learn that our NRL team is losing one of its players because they are heading off to complete their LDS mission.
I must admit that that was certainly my position on that faith until recently.
I do not think that I had ever met a member of the LDS Church, not even a brief encounter with a missionary at the doorstep, until I met Dr Keith Thompson in 2012.
In 2010 Dr Thompson’s book, on what might be thought to be a particularly Catholic concern, Religious Confession Privilege and the Common Law, was published by Brill.
When I was appointed Dean of the University of Notre Dame Australia, School of Law, Sydney, Dr Thompson was teaching as a sessional teacher and in 2013 he was appointed as a member of the school’s permanent academic staff and as Associate Dean. He is a great contributor to the school.
This year I have had the privilege of meeting many other members of the LDS Church at an annual conference of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society (a regional equivalent to the St Thomas More Society), at the school’s Annual Religious Liberty lecture. The lecture was delivered this year by Elder Quentin Cook (a member of the primary governing body of the LDS Church – the Quorum of the Twelve – who travelled from Utah to give the address).
I also attended the 22nd Annual International Law and Religion Symposium which was held in October at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Generalisations are always dangerous, but the LDS students, academics, family and friends whom I have met over the last few years have all been well dressed, polite, committed to their families and their faith, gregarious and generally, well, really helpful and (I can’t think of a better word) nice.
At the same time, I have become increasingly aware of the commitment of the LDS Church to religious freedom, to their contribution to charitable causes worldwide (often in concert with Catholic relief agencies) and to their support of the family and of traditional marriage. My interest in what they believed and why was piqued.
This book is subtitled “A Theological Conversation” and that is a very fair description. It is a conversation between two academics – Stephen H. Webb and Alonzo L. Gaskill.
Stephen Webb taught at Wabash College as Professor of Religion and Philosophy from 1988 to 2012. He is a theologian and philosopher of religion with degrees from Wabash College and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
Professor Webb is a convert to Catholicism from evangelical Christianity via the Disciples of Christ and Lutheranism.
Alonzo L. Gaskill is a convert to the LDS Church from the Greek Orthodox Church. He is an Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy, a Masters in Theology, and a PhD.
The book is divided into 10 chapters, which deal with authority, grace, Mary, revelation, ritual, matter, Jesus, heaven, history and the soul.
It is evident that Webb and Gaskill do not begin their conversation from a position of complete ignorance of each other’s faith and the book is not intended to be a guide to either faith as such.
The book lets the reader into a serious conversation between two theologians as they seek to learn more and challenge each other on their faith’s theological positions on the 10 basic areas that it covers.
In the course of the book some of the significant divergences in the beliefs of the two churches become evident.
In a very courteous and respectful discourse and without papering over those manifest differences for a moment, Webb and Gaskill consider some of the similarities between the two faiths.
As a conversation between two academics with no intention or ability to bind their Churches, the conversation is free, open and very personal.
I have no doubt that there will be theologians from both traditions who find agreement and disagreement with the personal views expressed about their faith by each of Webb and Gaskill.
While the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, appears to have had no exposure to the Catholic Church, it is clear that he was deeply concerned by the divisions and splintering which had characterised Protestantism since the Reformation and that he recognised the need for true faith to have authority – indeed apostolic authority.
Like the Catholic Church, the LDS Church believes in truth and in a form of apostolic succession.
The LDS Church believes that it holds that truth and that the apostolic succession is not to be found in the Catholic Church but in the LDS Church.
Like the Catholic Church, the LDS Church looks to scripture (in its case an expanded scripture which includes the Book of Mormon) but it has a deep respect for the early Church fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox faith traditions and it is not confined to scripture for its teachings.
Webb and Gaskill discuss the value that each faith tradition puts on the good deeds carried out during our lifetimes and how this interacts with grace.
As the commitment to moral living, to the family, marriage and to charitable works run very deeply in both faith communities, I would have found it very helpful if the conversation had explored the theological foundation for these beliefs in more depth.
While this is a theological conversation, I would also have found it valuable if the discussion had also explored in some detail the various charitable and social works that organisations and members of the two faiths are working on together.
Just as Webb and Gaskill seek to find some common ground in the faiths, there is no doubt that there are substantial differences in belief in the two traditions.
Some of the teachings of the LDS Church, which are mentioned in this book, are very very different from those of the Catholic Church.
For example: baptism of the dead by proxy; the existence of living prophets and apostles; the doctrine of “heavenly Mother” (a female counterpart to God the Father or God’s divine spouse who is not worshipped and not to be confused with Our Lady); the attribution of matter to the divine (such that God the Father and God the Son have physical bodies which are made of a spiritually refined matter that we can scarcely conceive); and the belief that our souls are immortal and exist prior to our conception.
Understanding the foundations of these teachings – some of which rest on a different – quite a different – interpretation of passages of biblical scripture does not mean accepting them to be so – and conversion is not the purpose of either contributor to this book.
For Catholic readers this book provides some glimpses into these beliefs. Similarly, Mormon readers will gain some understanding of the foundations for Catholic beliefs in transubstantiation, praying for the dead, purgatory, the significance of relics, praying for the intercession of the saints and of the place of Our Lady in Catholic theology.
In a short book covering such a vast territory, detailed exegesis on each topic is not really possible, but the book generally does a reasonable job – from a Catholic perspective – of hitting some of the high points.
This book lets readers share in a very interesting – and at times confronting and challenging – conversation. It is intended to prompt further conversation and deeper understanding.
For readers from the Catholic faith or of the LDS Church who wish to begin a journey of understanding about each other, this book seems a good place to start.
Homosexuality and Christianity
BORN THIS WAY
by Steve Morrison, (Matthias Media), 2015, 142pp. PB. ISBN 9781922206664, Rec. Price: $16.99 from Koorong Books
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE REALLY TEACH ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY?
by Kevin DeYoung, (Crossway), 2015, 158pp. PB. ISBN 9781433549373, Rec. Price: $25.00 from Freedom Publishing.
Reviewed by Professor Michael Quinlan
Arguments in support of moves to redefine marriage to include couples of the same sex are often premised on the proposition that, as Ian Waters put it in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday October 24, 2015, “sexual orientation, like race and eye colour, is not a choice. It is innate”.
These two short books, both published last year, provide readers with easy access to the latest research on the causation of same-sex sexual attraction, consider the passages in scripture that refer to same-sex sexual activity and express some views about the implications of the science and the Scripture for all of us.
As both authors are adherents of Protestant faith traditions, their analysis of Scripture does not benefit from consideration of Tradition or access to the Magisterium, though they do reference some of the key passages.
Steve Morrison is a youth and young adults’ pastor on Sydney’s Northern Beaches who has degrees in science and in theology. In Born This Way, he has written a very accessible and unmistakably Australian book.
Morrison clearly recognises the Christian call to love everyone and he directly admonishes all persecution, discrimination, mistreatment and hatred of those who engage in same-sex sexual activity.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (the Catechism) makes the same point at §2358.
Morrison then discusses the challenges which confront those who wish to pose questions relating to same-sex attraction or marriage in Australia.
He adopts D.A. Carson’s description of the “intolerance of tolerance”.
By this he means the demand, not that everyone has the right to hold and express views with which everyone else is free to disagree, but rather that everyone must accept that everyone else’s view is at least as correct as their own and support all views – perhaps more correctly, all must support what Richard Dawkins calls the “moral zeitgeist”.
Morrison speaks of the use of labels such as “bigot”, “homophobe”, “redneck” and “intolerant” being liberally attached to those who seek to express the view that sexual activity between persons of the same sex is immoral or that the traditional definition of marriage is worthy of retention under Australian law.
Of course since this book was published this situation has not improved, with Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart being referred for investigation for alleged discrimination for distribution of the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet in Tasmanian Catholic schools.
Morrison’s examination of the latest scientific research on the causation of same-sex attraction essentially reaches the same conclusion as the Catechism on the topic.
At §2357 the Catechism observes: “Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.” Morrison is critical of the methodology of Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker in the 1940s and ’50s and refers to the conclusions reached by Professor Philip Mitchell in 1994 that “at present there is no convincing demonstration of a definite psychological or biological cause of homosexuality … [A] multifactional understanding is most appropriate.”
He also refers to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in March 2000 by Bailey, Dunne and Martin, entitled, “Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample”.
According to Morrison, this study found that there may be some genetic link in the sexual orientation of twins but for 24 out of the 27 pairs of twins studied there was not.
Morrison refers to several studies of twins since that time that have found that “although twins have the same genetic pool, it is far more common for just one twin – not both – to experience same-sex attraction”. He notes the need for further research into the environmental and other influences on the development of twins in considering their sexuality.
Morrison also considers the studies analysing the extent to which sexual attraction is experienced exclusively as same sex over the lifetimes of people.
He indicates that studies show that about 1 to 2 per cent of men and 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of women exclusively experience same-sex attraction over their lifetimes.
A greater proportion of people experience attraction to both sexes over their lifetime (three times higher in males and 16 times higher in females than exclusively same-sex attraction).
Morrison writes: “There is one overwhelming conclusion that we can assert with more confidence than any other: when it comes to the science of same-sex attraction, we know very little.”
Not being a Catholic, Morrison does not refer to Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and his exegesis does not have the rare depth and beauty to be found there.
Yet, like the late Pope in that great work, Morrison begins his consideration of Scripture with Genesis.
In Genesis, God is described as creating two complementary sexes; and the place of sexual activity in the context only of lifelong marriage between two persons of the opposite sex is first evident as part of God’s plan.
Morrison identifies procreation, the physical, emotional and anthropological complementarity of one man with one woman and their unity in marriage all as part of God’s plan.
In this way Morrison discusses the sinfulness of sexual activity between persons of the opposite sex outside of marriage and of sexual activity between persons of the same sex.
He notes: “God speaks more about the general misuse of our sexual nature than he does about homosexuality specifically.”
He concludes his consideration of Scripture by observing that “as human beings, God has created us as sexual beings, but our sexual nature is only to find expression in heterosexual marriage.”
Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. His book also looks briefly at the science but, as its name suggests, it is primarily concerned with Scripture.
Like Morrison, DeYoung has something to say about tolerance and, like Morrison he refers to D.A. Carson’s concerns about the “intolerance of tolerance”.
DeYoung expresses this view: “Christians cannot be tolerant of all things because God is not tolerant of all things. We can respect differing opinions and treat our opponents with civility, but we cannot give our unqualified, unconditional affirmation to every belief and behaviour. We must love what God loves.”
In relation to the science, DeYoung rejects the view that sexual orientation is an immutable part of our biology. Like Morrison, in support he refers to the low concordance rate of same-sex orientation among identical twins.
DeYoung notes that the American Psychiatric Association has observed that “the causes of sexual orientation (whether homosexual or heterosexual) are not known at this time and likely are multifactorial, including biological and behavioural roots which may vary between different individuals and may even vary over time.”
Similarly he observes that the American Psychological Association concluded in 2013 that, despite much research, “no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors”.
Like Morrison and St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, DeYoung begins with Genesis. He identifies the complementarity of man and woman evident in Genesis 2:21, the relational and organic union which presupposes two persons of the opposite sex becoming “one” and the procreational purposes of marriage.
DeYoung argues that the fact “[t]hat sometimes men and women are unable to have children by reason of biological infirmity or old age does not change the procreative purpose of marriage found in Genesis”.
He rejects the argument of James W. Brownson that “procreation is required for marriage” and argues that “marriage – by nature, design and by aim – is the sort of union which produces offspring”.
Like St John Paul II, DeYoung sees Jesus’ direct quotation of Genesis when he was asked about divorce (Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9) as a reaffirmation of God’s intention for marriage and for sexual activity to be that found “in the beginning” in Genesis.
For DeYoung, “monogamy makes sense only within this Genesis understanding of marriage”.
In his view, apart from the complementarity of the two sexes, “there is no moral logic which demands that marriage should be restricted to a twosome”.
DeYoung considers the marriage narrative of the Bible beginning as it does with the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis and ending with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation. To this might be added Christ’s first miracle in the Gospel of St John taking place at a wedding in Cana.
DeYoung identifies the significance of marriage as a symbol of the relationship between God and his Church (Ephesians 5:31–32) as necessitating complementarity which is only found between a marriage couple of the opposite sex.
He opines: “If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative.”
It is only after considering the place of marriage in God’s plan, and its inviolable connection to sealing the complimentary relationship between one man and one woman, that DeYoung considers the passages in the Bible which specifically mention same-sex sexual activity.
He notes that there is nothing ambiguous in the biblical passages concerning same-sex sexual activity and that this is recognised by even revisionist scholars.
As an example, he refers to Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, who is same-sex attracted and supports same-sex sexual activity as, in his view, moral positions not dependant on the Bible.
Pronk notes that “wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture it is condemned”.
Similarly Dan O. Via has acknowledges that “Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally”.
DeYoung finds, like Father Anthony Percy in his The Theology of the Body Made Simple, that at the time of Jesus homosexuality was common.
DeYoung observes that homosexuality in the ancient world was not limited to exploitative man-boy pairs but rather that “every kind of homosexual relationship was known in the first century, from lesbianism, to orgiastic behaviour to gender-malleable ‘marriage’ to lifelong same-sex companionship”.
He notes Thomas K. Hubbard’s view that in early Imperial Rome homosexuality “may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation”.
In DeYoung’s view it is not possible to argue that there is an impassable cultural distance between the contemporary and ancient worlds so as to provide any warrant for setting aside the plain reading of the Bible for the last 20 centuries in which same-sex sexual activity has been admonished.
DeYoung includes a short Appendix to his book specifically about same-sex marriage.
This was written while the issue remained a live debate in the United States, before the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell to require all American states to include same-sex couples among those capable of marrying under state law.
The appendix is short and well expressed and includes a useful summary of what was not at stake in the United States; which coincides with what is not at stake in Australia.
As he notes:
- the state is not threatening to criminalise same-sex activity;
- the state is not seeking to prohibit same-sex couples from committing themselves to each other publicly ; and
- the state is not going to legislate whether two adults can live together, profess love for each other or express their commitment to each other in sexually intimate ways.
DeYoung is concerned that legitimising same-sex marriage will mean that all those who dare to disagree are delegitimised.
In his view state recognition of same-sex relationships as marriage would change the meaning of marriage for everyone: “It assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.”
In Australia today there is a lot of focus on seeking to change the meaning of marriage at law. Readers will find that each of these books provides valuable background to the science around same-sex attraction and the biblical passages relevant to the topic.
As both writers are from Protestant faith traditions the books are not written with the benefit of access to Tradition, the Catechism or the balance of the Magisterium and must be read with knowledge of that fact.
Readers will find here a good source of reference to the key scriptural passages and some thought-provoking exegesis.
Professor Michael Quinlan is Dean of the School of Law, Sydney, at the University of Notre Dame Australia.