I recently dared to assert that marriage understood as the lasting union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others pre-exists the State. Because it pre-exists the State and because fundamental for society, the institution of marriage cannot be modified, whether by the Charter of Rights, the State or a Court of Law.
Furthermore, the point is not that, because same-sex partners cannot have access to marriage, there would be discrimination. Rather, it is the contrary that is true. Enlarging and thereby altering the definition of marriage in order to include same-sex partners discriminates against heterosexual marriage and the family which are thus deprived of their social and legal recognition as the fundamental and irreplaceable basis of society.
The reaction from some quarters was predictable. Rather than deal with the substance of the issue, attack the messenger. Accordingly, I received a number of angry letters accusing me of being a homophobic bigot, a hatemonger, and as someone who knows nothing about sexuality. The last accusation was particularly hurtful as I consider myself a very sexy person. How dare I make such claims! I didn’t think that reflecting the teaching of Scripture and the church would be all that daring. Apparently I was wrong. Scripture provides a profound spiritual vision of sexuality and a clear moral framework for sexual behaviour. At the heart of the creation stories in Genesis there is the conviction that the world is good at its very root. “And God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good” [Gen.1:31].
“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created them” [Gen.1:27]. Nothing could more appropriately dramatize the profound compatibility of body and spirit, of sexuality and soul, than this declaration.
The second creation story concludes with an utterly candid recognition of the compelling drive and consequence of sexual communion between man and woman: “The two of them become one body” [Gen.2:24]. The Scriptures don’t over-spiritualize human beings, but on the contrary, show how delighted God is with creation in all its physical expressions, how attentive God is to the human longing inscribed in his creatures by their sexual natures.
When Jesus speaks of the union of man and woman in marriage, he considers it so representative of the divine image and will that it takes precedence over all social and legal accommodations. “Let man not separate what God has joined together” [Mt.19:6].
When the Scriptures speak of unchastity, adultery, fornication and lust, it sets out the moral boundaries for the expression of genital sexuality. In doing so it demarcates the contexts in which genital sex cannot serve the total communion of man and woman and cannot realize the transmission of human life.
Sexuality is not a mere faculty, feeling or network of physical organs. Rather, it marks the entire personality of a human being. It is profoundly related to our personal identity and destiny. Sexuality has its own inner logic and direction. That logic grounds genital sexual expression only in the committed love of a man and a woman who are joined in the institution of marriage and in the transmission of human life.
This is why one cannot invent a meaning of sexuality to suit one’s wish or taste. It independently carries its own gravitational weight, inner meaning and social purpose. Its very nature is what determines the moral assessment of human sexual expression within marriage and outside it.
Regrettably popular sexual literature considers sex as little more than a personal pleasure that people can exercise at will. No larger human, emotional or spiritual dimensions are at stake. This isolation of sex from marriage is a recipe for human unhappiness masquerading as liberation. Human sexuality is a profoundly personal experience, anchored in body and emotions, and unlike any other comparable domain of human activity. For that very reason it must be treated with respect and sensitivity that befits its status within God’s design and recognize the complex developmental factors affecting every human being’s emergence to sexual maturity.
It’s precisely here that we have to grow in our appreciation for chastity. Chastity is not about taboos, but about integration. It concerns the emotional and spiritual wholeness of the human person in the area of sexuality. And it only makes sense when one has a vision of sexuality as a gift and mystery oriented to marriage and children.
The vitality and energy of human passion is part of life. Sexual urges and needs are part of this picture. But the integrity of the person in this area, as in any other requires that passion be united with purpose and human will. Self-mastery is not repression or fear. It accepts and respects the body in its sexual dimensions and is grateful for it. But it seeks to integrate blind impulses with personal moral values.
Chastity belongs to the virtue of temperance or moderation. It seeks to cultivate a respect for genital sexual expression precisely by limiting that expression to one special context: marriage. Saying no to other contexts is the strongest way of saying yes to this one. Chastity can be maintained only through effort, honesty and prayer. It is a grace and gift for those who request it. It is not impossible.
Our society has tried to experiment with sexuality by detaching it from the union of a husband and a wife and, in some cases, even from love. Society pays an enormous price for doing so. Sex without total commitment leads to emotional strain and sadness. Sex without fidelity leads to greater sorrows, to family breakdown and even to enormous health risks and disease. We are discovering that sex cannot be treated as a pastime or recreation or experiment. It has to do with love, security, family and life itself.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
☩ Frederick Henry