The New Homophiles: Muddying the Meaning of Family

Wesley Hill

It’s an oddly timed realization—here in the shadow of the looming Supreme Court decision that could have the effect of redefining marriage (as though that were possible), I’ve come to the conclusion that the New Homophiles seem to be engaging in an effort that would have the effect of redefining family (as though that were possible).

On the long road of engaging the thinking of those writers contributing to the blog site www.spiritualfriendship.org, I’ve readily seen how their acceptance of certain forms of same-sex eros and the expression of that same-sex eros in “chaste, gay couplehood” under the rubric of “spiritual friendship” was an encroachment upon the sanctity of the divine institution of marriage.

What I have not readily understood—until the recent release of Wesley Hill’s new book Spiritual Friendship—is that the New Homophiles’ promotion of creating relationship bonds like “vowed friendships” under the rubric of “kinship” is an encroachment upon the sanctity of the divine institution of the family.

The Bedrock Under ‘The Rock’
Hill (the Anglican co-founder of the “Spiritual Friendship” blog site), along with author Eve Tushnet (who wrote Gay and Catholic), are the two strongest voices among the New Homophiles pressing the notion that we need to “recover” a lost thread of Christian history in which (in Tushnet’s words) “same-sex friendship … was considered a form of love as deep and spiritually fruitful as marital love and as capable of creating lifelong kinship bonds” (Gay and Catholic, p. 88).

sf-book-coverWhat makes this an historically untenable assertion is the fact that it overtly contradicts both natural law and the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage and family. This contradiction may very well be unintended and arrived at out of ignorance, however. Hill is an Anglican and may not be persuaded by Catholic teaching. But Tushnet? Since her conversion in 1998, she has had 17 years to arrive at a personal “yes” to Catholic teachings arising from their foundation in natural law. But how can we expect her to know the substance of that teaching when in her 2014 book she only mentions natural law one time, saying “you certainly don’t need to accept any one school of theology—such as natural law—in order to accept and live by the Catholic ideal of chastity” (Gay and Catholic, p. 13). Tushnet seems genuinely unaware that natural law is not merely “one school of theology” but is instead “man’s participation in God’s eternal law,” is “written and engraved in the soul of each and every man,” and is the eternal truth about the nature of the human person.

Not only that, but in a recent April 24, 2015, article in the National Catholic Register, it was reported that Tushnet “said she is not personally compelled by natural-law explanations and would advise Catholics who don’t understand those arguments not to attempt to present them.”

Is it any wonder that Tushnet’s thinking seems to be built upon something other than the bedrock under The Rock—natural law? It’s not personally compelling to her, so we should not be surprised if her view of what constitutes family is skewed by a lack of understanding that family is no mere social construct but is instead a divine institution that is built upon and inseparably joined to marriage.

Friendship’s Number-One Enemy?
But Tushnet is not alone among the New Homophiles who seem untethered from the natural-law foundation of marriage and family. Wesley Hill’s recent book Spiritual Friendship is also a source of confusion regarding the unique and divinely-instituted meaning of family:

There’s another myth that endangers our appreciation and cultivation of friendship, and that’s what we might call the myth of the ultimate significance of marriage and the nuclear family. Many of us believe that there can be no closer bonds than those between siblings, spouses, and children and that friendship must, of necessity, take a backseat to blood ties. Considering contemporary Western secular and religious communities, one is tempted to say that friendship’s number one enemy, at least over the past half century or so, is the elevated importance we have attached to spousal, parental, and extended familial bonds (Spiritual Friendship, p. 25).

Who knew that “Public Enemy Number One,” so to speak, for friendship might be the “mythology” of our attachment of “elevated importance” to family? I didn’t. I’ve always found it difficult to over-exaggerate the importance of marriage and family according to God’s plan, given the sad state of marriage and family in secular culture.

Contrary to the Catholic Church’s claim that Jesus restored the dignity and sanctity of family that existed from its root before the fall, Hill claims that Jesus accomplished “what Julie Hanlon Rubio has called a ‘radical rejection of the traditional family.’ In its place Jesus substitutes a ‘restructured family and community life in which discipleship had priority for all’” (p. 67).

Hill offers thoughts on “vowed friendships,” too, saying that “bodily intimacy—the kiss of peace between male warriors, for instance—which had formerly marked the spiritual intimacy of friendship now became more narrowly associated with the realm of husband and wife. Friendship was being pushed out to the margins of public life, and marriage was taking its place as one of the only forms of vowed kinship that society would recognize” (p. 51). In such days, Hill claims, “permanent, honored, church-sanctioned, same-sex friendships were a recognized thread of the fabric of society” (p. 51). He later suggests that for today “friendship might even be seen as a kind of kinship itself, strengthened and made more like the love between siblings or spouses” (p. 101).

The Primary End of Family
What should we make of such radical suppositions, so far removed from the natural-law foundation and history of the Catholic faith? Ought we really suppose that just a few centuries ago, friendships just couldn’t keep up with the “competition”—marriage and family? Is it a really awesome idea to think friendship-love could become “more like” spousal and family love?

The problem is that it isn’t possible. Despite the cultural slippage regarding the meaning of both marriage and family (“family” is merely a bunch of people living under one roof, right?), the truth is that God makes families—we don’t. It’s God’s plan, not ours. He instituted not only marriage but also the family, which arises only from its foundation in marriage.

I’m going to guess that many Catholics—and many readers—may not know that the Church teaches not only that the “procreation and education of children” is the primary end of marriage, but that it is also the primary end of the family. A “family” is, per natural law, a husband and wife procreating (or adopting) and educating children. In Pope St. John Paul II’s 1994 “Letter to Families,” he notes that the “acceptance and education of children” are “two of the primary ends of the family” (no. 10). If anyone doubts that family originates in marital communion and reaches its fulfillment in raising up the next generation of children, just read the Holy Father’s letter.

The Catholic view is quite clear—we don’t just get to declare that this or that group of persons is a family or can become a family. This precious truth is in great peril in our time, just as is the precious truth about the meaning of marriage. If the New Homophiles want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, Tushnet, Hill, and their colleagues are going to have to stop trying to elevate the value of “friendship” at the expense of the authentic truth about marriage and family.

(Photo credit: Image of Wesley Hill by Rebecca Droke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Deacon Jim Russell

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Deacon Jim Russell serves the Archdiocese of St. Louis and writes on topics of marriage, family, and sexuality from a Catholic perspective.

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