Monday Musings for Monday March 25, 2013
Volume III, No. 12/116
A Few Thoughts about the Church and Same Sex Union
By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
(Editor’s Note: Our inbox is full of requests for a ‘Musings’ about same sex marriage. Here are a few thoughts.)
The history of growth of religious and secular institutions consistently shows that inclusion and assimilation of “converts” is the key to progress. Saint Augustine of Hippo, the brilliant scholar (354-430 AD) was a Manichean (a sect of Zoroastrianism). He was converted to Christianity at age 31. Earlier in the history of Christian Church, Saint Paul was a convert. It is agreed that without Paul there would be no Christian Church. On the secular side, without Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), an Italian boy who immigrated to France at the age of 14, working his way up to become the court composer to the “Sun King”, Louis XIV, there would be no French opera, no majestic French overture, no dotted rhythm, and no marshal and magisterial musical form, no ballet, and no Palais Garnier, which are uniquely Lully’s. Without Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), the accomplished linguist and librettist, we would not have many of the most beloved Mozart operas. Da Ponte was an Italian Jewish boy converted into Catholicism. He became an ordained priest, later immigrated to America to become the first chair, Department of Arts and Languages at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1820. The intellectual and artistic contributions of the uninitiated infuse us with curiosity and restlessness. Therefore, we should welcome those who do not think like us, or challenge our smugness and comfort.
Dissention and disagreement are not strangers to the Christian church. The split of apostolic succession in 1352, followed by the migration of the papacy to Avignon, southern France, is a good example. During that period there were many who claimed to be the Pope. In Avignon, the leadership of the church, while partying and having a good time, paid little attention to the people suffering from bubonic plague. It wiped out nearly eighty percent of Europe’s population. The people were wondering where were their religious leaders to save them from the plague.
Then there were the epoch making 1519 questions of Martin Luther, posted on the church door, ushering the reformation and the birth of Protestantism. And later there was the emergence of the counter-reformation which in essence gave birth to the baroque period. It gave us the stunning beauty, symmetry and sublime complexity of baroque music, art, and architecture. The beautiful music of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and others is the fruit of the baroque era. So, schism, dissent and revolution within the church, while unpleasant, have always been fruitful and consequential.
The epistemology, phenomenology and theology of Christian teachings offer profound and unique aspects. The teachings are flexible; they invite and nurture seekers and doubters. I believe as one who has been exposed to many religious teachings, the uniqueness of Christianity is the theology of possibility, and, of course, love—agape–, toleration (not tolerance), acceptance, inclusion and accommodation. I do not think that Christ as a person would exclude anyone from his house or his table, because of gender orientation or preference.
As a psychiatrist, I was involved in the panel sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association in 1972 that studied and de-classified homosexuality as a mental illness. Forty one years later through the powerful instruments of genomics and proteomics, we are learning that homosexuality carries a heavy load of genetic predisposition. In some instances, we even know the address and even the zip code of the strand of atavistic genes or polygenes that skulk the physiological architecture of humans. Therefore, the more one knows, the more tolerant and understanding one becomes. Unfortunately in the last 40 years, social science has not kept up with brain science in that regard.
I believe leaders of all religious institutions and Christian denominations ought to collect knowledge, information and intellectual input, and through the prism of history, transform them into wisdom. Wisdom takes patience, deliberation and deference. I am reminded of Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philosopher, who saw the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-1875), 21 times. He said “every time I see Carmen I become more patient, wiser and a better philosopher.” We need to generate wisdom. Impulsive actions, impatience, arrogance, expedient political moves to gain gratification of narcissistic needs and power are not needed. All religious teachings behoove us to avoid those pitfalls. I also believe that the future of the institution of faith is in the children and the programs that nurture and produce a strong community. Any erosion or diminution of programs that ultimately injures and compromises that commitment is sinful. This is how I define sin.
It is appropriate to respectfully and faithfully observe the holy days before us, namely Passover which begins at sundown today; Good Friday, coming on March 29, and Easter on Sunday March 31. All three occasions exemplify the gift of hope, love, possibility, redemption and grace.
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.