Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004 10:21:40 -0400
From: Keucher, Jerry W.
Subject: RE: [HoB/D] “Normative”
Dan Martins writes with his accustomed elegance, “It isn’t even so much about the words as about the ‘music.’ The scriptures ‘sing’ about the normative status of heterosexual marriage.”
I agree. The real nub of the issue is whether “normative” here means “what usually happens,” “what must happen” or “what shows forth most clearly the essence of the thing when it happens.”
There’s no doubt that heterosexual marriage is normative in the first sense. And I will grant (though I’ll get potshots about this, I’m sure) that heterosexual marriage is normative in the third sense. The problem is that we’re constantly saying that what’s normative in the third sense must be normative in the second sense, that is, mandatory.
I think that a mutually fulfilling, lifelong, faithful heterosexual marriage that results in loved and productive members of the next generation is normal in the third sense. I submit that that’s the sense Jesus is talking about when He says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother…”
The problem is that the Church goes on to say that since that’s the kind of marriage that really shows forth what marriage is and what best shows forth God’s relation to Creation and to the Church, that’s what all marriages have to be like, and other kinds of behavior are not permitted.
That’s the fallacy the Roman Church is officially in, even though marriages are “annulled” at a brisk clip by the marriage tribunals. Sex is normative in the second sense (that is, it is permitted) only if it occurs in circumstances that are normative in the third sense.
However, there are lots of straight marriages that are not normative in that sense. And the third sense is one that’s very hard to police. A loveless, unhappy union that results in messed-up kids and lifelong misery for the couple is not quite what the Scriptures are singing about.
A series of legally and canonically sanctioned liaisons does not exactly capture the music of the image of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel. Such marriages would not have been permitted by the churches until very recently precisely because such serial monogamy was expressly forbidden by Jesus Himself.
However, when it comes to heterosexual sex, all the churches seem pretty much to have reached the conclusion that basically it’s okay to have marriages that fall short of what is normative in the third sense. Permitting remarriage, whether following divorce or “annulment,” overt or at least tacit acceptance of birth control (what else can you call it but tacit acceptance when an overwhelming percentage of RC couples use contraception?)–these things are accepted, perhaps reluctnatly, but nevertheless accepted. We recognize that there’s a difference between normal (sense 3) and normal (sense 2).
In other words we have recognized, at least when it comes to straight people, that they are not perfect. Many, if not perhaps most, of their relationships may not fully embody every aspect of the Scripture’s song. And if they mess up, they can have a second chance (at least). If they can’t have children, or if they have so few that they have clearly had sex that was not intended to result in procreation, they are not forced to adopt in order to conform to the ideal. The third sense of what is normative is still appropriately held up as the goal at every wedding, even though the chances are very, very good that this particular expression will not be fully normative in that sense.
I was devastated when, at the age I was learning my letters, I also realized that I could never marry. As what we would now call a pre-schooler I knew that I couldn’t. It would be a sham and unfair to whomever I married. It’s very nice, I’m sure, when the song that you’re innately inclined to sing is the same as Scripture’s song, even if you’ll probably sing a bit off-key in your personal rendition of it. It’s not very nice when you realize that you are incapable of singing that tune. You must express the words in another meter and therefore another tune. (Not to press the poor metaphor to the wall, but the tunes, to my ear, are complementary, not dissonant. And I’ve done my best to sing it as well as I can.)
Here’s the essence. Since we have realized that we should permit, even in the teeth of express Scriptural prohibitions, a distinction between what is normative in the third sense and what is normative in the second sense. We recognize that relationships that fail in significant and material ways to embody fully the ideal still embody important parts of it, and we permit them. So why not same-sex relationships?
The answer when we’ve reached this point is usually along the lines that the complementarity thing is so essential that it trumps every other aspect (life-longness, faithfulness, child-rearing, love). Well, that’s just an assertion, not proof, and it really does seem to have more to do with the yuck factor than with Scripture’s song. Dan, do you have anything else to offer on that point? And please excuse the length of this message.
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004 10:21:40 -0400