Relax: Nothing Unravels.

Some time ago, Bill Lindsey pulled this quote from Richard Rodriguez’s Darling: A Spiritual Biography:

Nevertheless, the desert religions will stand opposed to homosexuality, to homosexual acts, unless the desert religions turn to regard the authority of women. And that will not until the desert religions reevaluate the meaning of women. And that will not happen until the desert religions see ‘bringing into being’ is not a power we should call male only. And that will not happen until the desert religions see the woman as father, the father as woman, indistinguishable in authority and creative potence. (116)

Seeing the woman as father, the father as woman. As radical as that sounds, one reason I love the one Catholic and Apostolic Church is that it offers a religion big enough, supple enough, and imaginative enough to do just that. And it disappoints me when Christians don’t see it. Just this week, at The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry explained “why so many Christians won’t back down on gay marriage.” It was an argument very similar to the one Kyle Cupp outlined weeks ago, also in The Week. Where Gobry was specifically addressing gay marriage, Cupp was emphasizing the importance of gender differentiation in “traditional Christian” understandings of sex.* But, as Rodriguez shows, those two questions are really the same.

Both Cupp and Gobry see the issue as one of language. Specifically, figurative language. You know, metaphors. Cupp writes:

The bible presents God as Father, a name with a specific meaning. In the words of the Catholic Church, calling God Father indicates that ‘God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority,’ attributes historically associated with the male of the species. Now and again the bible describes God in feminine language, but it never calls God by the title of Mother. … This use of language assumes differences between masculinity and femininity, as well as a solid, hierarchical line delineating them. It also assumes true gender roles are grounded in this unchanging, ordered nature of men and women.

Similarly, Gobry writes, “Christianity’s view of sexuality isn’t some encrusted holdover from a socially conditioned patriarchal era on its way out, but is instead deeply connected to its understanding of who God is and what human beings exist for.” Like Cupp’s traditional Christians, he thinks sex matters, most of all, as a sign.

The subhead of Gobry’s article tells us that a gendered notion of marriage is “deeply woven into the 2,000-year-old ethic at the heart of our faith.” Likewise, Cupp’s column refers to this post at First Things by Matthew Schmitz, who fears that if we “tug on the strand of sexual difference,” we “risk unraveling the whole” of Christianity. The fear is the same: accept gay marriage, or reject mandatory “complementarian” gender roles, and everything falls apart.

To Gobry and Schmitz, and to Cupp’s (largely Catholic) “traditional Christians,” I want to say: relax. Gay marriage unravels nothing. First of all, we’re dealing with metaphors, and this is what metaphors do: they show us similarity in difference. Look at Cupp’s definition of fatherhood: it’s not “contributing the male gametes to biological reproduction”; instead, it’s “the origin of everything and transcendent authority.” If that’s what fatherhood means, then there’s no reason we can’t, like Rodriguez suggests, see it in a woman.

Remember, we’re talking about a church that teaches us to see fruitfulness in a cloistered nun, and that holds up as paradigmatic a marriage between two people who never once partook of what we’re told is the defining marital act. So who cares if it takes imagination to see the fruitful love of God for his Church in the marriage of Charity and Sylvia? The Christian Church is precisely the institution teaches us that imagination.

Then, too, look at the metaphors the Church uses to teach about marriage, gender, and the nature of God. That’s a big ol’ Gordian knot, and no one on earth is undoing it. Consider: the Church is the Bride of Christ, but men have to lead it because they have to stand in persona Christi, even though those men are sometimes referred to as “wedded to God,” who by the way has to be male because we call him Father, but gay marriage can never be allowed because a male can never be married to a male…

See? No one is unweaving those strands.

So it’s weird to me when the Church all of a sudden says, No, no! We have to keep ourmetaphors pure! Or, weirder still, We can’t taint our metaphors with figurative thinking!

That’s not logical, and it’s not consistent with the Church’s approach to anything else. And it looks to me like the sort of puritanism that represents the worst, not the best, of the Christian tradition.**

_______

*To be clear, Cupp’s post is more descriptive than an endorsement of the “traditional Christian” view. And I don’t intend this post as an attack on Gobry, who (with Cupp) is one of my favorite Catholic writers on the web.

**GAH!!! What do you do when, in between the time you write a draft and post it to the internet, a better writer with a bigger platform says what you wanted to say, only better? I just saw that Conor Friedersdorf wrote a must-read response to Gobry over at The Atlantic. I guess I’ll write something about Friedersdorf’s post tomorrow or Sunday, time and football-viewing permitting.

 

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