Pope Francis has missed the Good News, the gospel, of sex.
Pope Francis recently said in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and on several occasions over the last year, that Western nations are exporting an idea that gender is a choice. Pope Francis asserts that this “gender ideology” is the enemy of the family.
Here, the pope disappoints many in America and Europe, who hoped that he might free Catholics from the heritage of homophobia and repression of women that has been protected and promoted for millennia by the Roman Catholic Church.
But as Western cultures have revealed in the last few decades, those who choose their genders are not enemies of the family. Gay and transgendered men and women now raise children in great numbers, sometimes through medical insemination and sometimes through adoption, often in better circumstances than children raised by straight couples. There is no reason for anyone to think that any real God disapproves of these families.
Christian leaders in the Anglican tradition, in the United Church of Christ, and other churches around the world have stood with Christians who want to have families free from Bronze Age laws. Those laws, which first appeared in the biblical book of Leviticus, prescribe death by stoning for homosexual men, “stubborn rebellious sons,” and those who perform worship before statues (as Pope Francis and other Roman Catholics do).
Pope Francis argues that tolerance of gender choice results from a Western imperial ideology, exported to nations that would otherwise follow natural law. Here, he joins forces with Russian nationalists like Vladimir Putin, Islamist thinkers like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, and some African evangelicals.
No doubt, the West has exported many bad ideas. But in sex, the West has achieved a synthesis that is sweeping the world.
Sex began as good, with the rest of creation, according to Genesis 1. Sex fell into corruption with human culture, in original sin, which also appears in patriarchy and oppression (Genesis 3). Sex can be redeemed through ecstatic experience, as in the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament experience of God’s spirit. Evangelical Christians, especially African-Americans, helped to redeem sex in the United States. Now, American culture embodies an ethic of sexual pleasure in which sexual and religious experience have become one. This is the fulfillment of natural law, which looks beyond gross anatomy to the union of body and spirit.
Many in the United States, Europe, India, China, Africa, and the Middle East are realizing this insight today, and reacting for and against it.
Pope Francis needs to recognize it as well.
Featured image credit: Main facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, by Alvesgaspar. CC BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.