Monday, June 25, 2012

When You Disagree With Church Teaching

Leah Libresco is becoming Catholic. This is great. I didn't know much about her. It turns out much of what I thought I knew was false. I thought her blog was called Unequally Yoked because she was an atheist married to a Catholic and dealing with those issues. In this post she calls herself bisexual. So I guess not. But I wanted to comment on how she is handling some of the differences she still has with the church.
I’m basically approaching this as walking the line between civil disobedience and dissent. I’m keeping my behavior inside Church teaching, but my voice and arguments are unrestrained. A fight (properly approached) is to everyone’s benefit. If I’m wrong, I want to lose, and if I’m right, I want to win. Neither of those things are likely to happen if I hold back on explaining my position and poking at other people’s about theirs.
First of all,it is great that she is keeping her behavior inside church teaching. I remember my position on contraception before I became Catholic. I was not really if full agreement yet but I chose not to use it. The fact that I was not using it made it easier to accept the church's teaching that it was wrong. Our reason can be biased by our hormones. So that is a big deal.

But what about the unrestrained voice and arguments? That is OK in private. If you are struggling to accept a teaching then talking about that struggle is not a problem. But talking about it in a very public forum can cause scandal. It can amount to teaching heresy. Leah is actually a very public Catholic right now. Major media outlets covered her conversion announcement. So having her say the opposite of Catholic teaching on a public blog is a problem.

The other issue is the implication that the truth is out there to be found. The immorality of gay sex acts is Catholic dogma. We don't need any kind of fight to figure out who is right. We know the right answer by faith before we start. What we want to do is understand the reason for the dogma. Why is gay sex wrong? Our faith needs to seek understanding. This is fundamentally different from the academic world or the political world or even the protestant world where the central truths can change based on a good argument. In Catholicism the central truths are revealed by God and we struggle to understand them and all their implications.
Here’s a precis, but I’ll give a longer answer in a post(s?) that will probably go up next week. I think the Catholic Church has, at it’s heart, the right axioms, but that its small-c conservative structure means it takes a really long time to update the applications of those principles as new data emerges. And when you’re more interested in safeguarding the core ideas than speaking definitively on everything as it comes up, that’s prudent. But then you should be more careful to temper your confidence levels on new problems and questions.
The church has the right axioms. But what are they? What needs updating and what needs safeguarding? Who decides? Well, the church does. It tells us not only what the principles are but also which ones are timeless and which ones only apply to the here and now. So the church will update things slowly as new data emerges but the update won't be the opposite of what is currently dogma. What is immoral won't become morally neutral. She seems to think that might happen.

The radical claim of the Catholic church is that God speaks to us through her. Some part of the wisdom that created the universe is available to us. So when you say, "the Church thinks gender is much more central to someone’s identity than I do," that should be a cause for repentance on your part. It should not be the starting point of a debate. If it is really the opinion of the one true Church of Jesus Christ then it has to be right. We need to understand we are creatures and we are interacting with our Creator. Even the smartest among us needs to be humbled by the experience.


  1. Don't be too hard on her Randy. She is not yet Catholic and maybe never will be (although I pray that is not the case).

    Leah is at the point where she thinks that the Church is probably right but still unsure. She is proceeding with an open heart but is a tad burdened by old frameworks.

    I don't see the scandal angle given her currently non-Catholic status. On the contrary, her public journey might actually be helpful.

  2. I am not trying to be hard on her. I did not address this post to her. I do feel people might be confused about how Catholics may approach these issues. She states it well and it is not immediately clear where she has gone wrong.

    I pray she continues to grow in her understanding of the faith. Humility is hard for all of us. When you are smart and a bit of a celebrity theologian it is going to be even harder. But God is good. He has begun a great work in her. I pray He brings it to completion. Such a public journey has the potential to be very helpful indeed.

  3. An interesting aspect about this story - atheists often use logic to promote their views that God does not exist. Ironically, it was logic that let Libresco to belief. More on my blog at

  4. Great to hear from you Jason. Interesting comments at that link. I have read many conversion stories. Almost all of them have huge logical components. So I was not surprised by that. But logic leads you so far. At some point you need to let yourself fall in love with Jesus. That is when you default approach changes. You trust God's word not because it coincides with your reason but because you trust God. Not really sure she has made that leap yet.