Sexual Ethics in the Life of the Church


The Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, Professor of Christian Ethics

The General Theological Seminary



The Redefinition of Mothers, Fathers, and Families

Yesterday, I suggested that the war we are having over sexual ethics can be traced to a more basic division about the relation of undertakings to promises. Today, I want to show how the same division appears in the argument over the nature of the family and over what morally is involved in being a mother or father. I shall begin, however, with some general remarks that call attention to the significance of the debate for the life of the church itself. By means of the sub-title I have given this series, "Sexual Ethics in the Life of the Church," I am trying to focus attention on the ecclesial rather than the individual significance of the war we are fighting. I must make a special point about its place in the common life of the church because so many people believe that sexual ethics are a private matter, not a communal one, and that the issues arising out of sexual relations present the church with the pastoral problems of individuals rather than with theological and moral issues that concern the integrity of the Church's life and witness.

As I wrote these lectures, I was confronted with the fact that the discussion I have been asked to undertake will appear to many as being more than a little beside the point. As they see it, the ministry of the church, particularly when it concerns sexual relations, is directed first to individual need rather than community formation. For this reason, they hold that the Church's pastoral ministry is not rooted in evangelical and moral imperatives that grow out of a common calling, but in an imperative to care that focuses on the needs and concerns of particular individuals. That imperative, most simply stated, is, "Thou shalt in no way be judgmental." Its second formulation is, 'Thou shalt listen attentively to people and help them sort out what is best for them given the particular circumstances in which they find themselves."

Even a quick look around the church makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the pastoral ministry is understood by many if not most people as an analogue to client-centered therapy. For anyone who has this point of view, theological and moral concerns always enter "pastoral situations," as they do therapeutic ones, under a cloud. The cloud appears because a communal concern for belief and practice seems to threaten individual autonomy or ignore personal need.

In so far as there is a theological maxim that gives intelligibility to this view it is simply that God is love, and that, because God is loving, he celebrates his creation in all its diversity and accepts his children as they are. In so far as there is an ethical position that guides the practice of ministry, it is a form of act utilitarianism that counsels individuals to take that course which in the end will lead to what is in their eyes "growth" and "health." For anyone who holds this point of view, the position of the new reformers is but common sense.

The ideas of the new reformers seem sensible also because they fit so well with the notion of a voluntary society rather than with that of a church, and it seems to be the case that our culture now supports voluntary associations more than it supports churches. We live, in fact, in a society that is so subjective and individualistic in character that it finds itself less and less able to tolerate anything like a church. A church, as Troeltsch pointed out, is distinguished by its claim to have authority to instruct and, on occasion, even to discipline its members. It is just this notion that the churches seem more and more unwilling to defend.

If this statement seems too strong, just ask what would happen if our bishops and priests actually tried to call the church to a common pattern of belief and life. Even if a common rather than a uniform pattern was promoted, a church struggle of horrendous proportions would certainly ensue. Our present pastoral strategy has the advantage of not requiring a blood bath of these proportions. It is a strategy for ministry and ecclesial life which requires dialogue but not unity.

I am sorry to say it, but it nonetheless appears to be the case, that in accordance with the dictates of a pluralistic democracy our church has become reluctant to give priests and bishops the sort of authority the Ordinal of the Church accords them. No matter what the words used in the ordination of priests and bishops may say, there takes place through these rites no genuine transmission of authority to teach, preach, and admonish in accordance with a commonly held doctrine and way of life. The real charge given is to service the personal needs of individuals and to facilitate understanding between those whose needs, practices, and beliefs are different. This is an admonition that suits well an open and pluralistic political society. Within its political context, it is indeed a morally admirable strategy. It is, however, a strategy that makes the notion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church little more than a utopian dream that is of no significance in the real world where division is held to be an ineradicable fact of life.

The debate that has just begun over the definition of the family and the more advanced struggle about what ought to be our practice in respect to having or not having babies serve even better than the issues of marriage and divorce to pose the issue of whether we will decide to be a church or a voluntary society. We all know that a legal and cultural attempt to redefine the family is underway and that it has been occasioned, in part, by rapidly changing domestic  arrangements. There are increasing numbers of single parents, unmarried heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian couples, elderly people of the same or opposite sex who have joint households, and in many of these domestic arrangements, there are children involved. This plurality of domestic patterns provides more than interesting material to titillate the daytime audiences of Opra, Donahue, Geraldo, and Sallie Jesse Raphael. It now provides the occasion for a cultural struggle that fractures social relations and splits families.

It is not surprising that this cultural struggle is being fought out in our courts of law. In a number of recent cases, attempts to redefine the family have been either implicit or explicit in the decisions rendered. In a landmark case that passed through the New York courts a little over a year ago Judge Vito J. Titone ruled that the surviving partner of a gay relationship ought to be allowed to stay in the rent controlled apartment that was leased under the name of his dead lover.

Judge Titone based his decision on the principle that protection against eviction "should not rest on fictitious legal distinctions or genetic history, but instead should find its foundation in the reality of family life." A more realistic view of a family, he ruled, is one that includes "two adult lifetime partners whose relationship is long-term and characterized by an emotional and financial commitment and interdependence." In considering eviction, the judge said that the following matters ought to be considered; "exclusivity and longevity," "level of emotional and financial commitment," how the couple has "conducted their everyday lives and held themselves out to society," and the "reliance placed upon one another for daily family services."

No matter what we might think of the justice of this particular decision, we must admit that Judge Titone's decision is one with extraordinarily wide implications. It is a precedent on the basis of which the family can be defined with no reference at all to generational or marital relationships. No longer need the family involve cooperative and complementary undertakings by both men and women. No longer need it be a means whereby life and its goods are passed from generation to generation. The family now can be understood as a means for the provision of intimacy coupled with emotional and financial support for individuals. As a reasonable extension of the notion of romantic marriage, the family need have no reference either to gender differentiation, preceding or succeeding generations, or even to marriage itself.

In making this decision, the New York Court set family relations within a radically new framework of intelligibility. Nevertheless, the course it charted seems to be one that fits with what now may be the majority view of the nation. In a recent special edition of News Week there appeared the following statement:

Earlier this year the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. asked 1,200 randomly selected adults to define the word "family." Only 22 percent picked the legalistic (note the pejorative phraseology) definition: "A group of people related by blood, marriage or adoption." Almost three quarters instead chose a much broader and more emotional description: "A group of people who love and care for each other.'" 2

If this survey is accurate, it appears that the notions we associate with what I have called "romantic marriage" have seeped into all sorts of relationships, and that the spread of these ideas has resulted in the acceptance of a number of alternative living arrangements as the emotional and social equivalent of marital and familial relationships. It is not surprising that these changes in social thought and practice have led to the recognition of legal arrangements called Domestic Partnerships. It is not surprising either that they have prompted a large number of people to call directly for the recognition of "homosexual marriage." 3

As one might imagine, calls for the recognition of alternative forms of marital and family life have found ecclesiastical voice as well. A recent conference entitled "Families 2000" that was sponsored by the Episcopal Church had as its express purpose advocacy of an altered and more "inclusive" notion of family. The report of the conference carried in the June 1990 edition of Episcopal Life stated explicitly that "Commitment, intention, and advocacy would be needed if the participants were really serious about expanding the definition of family back home." Province VIII president Marion Cederblade urged the participants to "Go to your bishops, offer to talk to organizations in your dioceses, hold your own Families 2000 conference, find like-minded people to work with."

The people of like mind the President of Province VIII had in mind are clearly those who favor a more "inclusive" notion of family. The report noted, however, that from other participants in the conference it became clear "that the modern church is still dominated by cultural and social values" different from those who favor this expansion. The tone of the report, it must be noted, was one of lament over the fact that the church is still dominated by such retrograde opinion.

Whether opposition to change in the moral notion of family is retrograde or not, the division of opinion reflected in the report carried by Episcopal Life mirrors once more what I have called our basic division. Are family life, marriage and the procreation of children undertakings with which we are presented and are their moral terms in a general way set for us? Or is the family, and along with it being a mother or father, a more voluntary and plastic undertaking that issues from the particular promises of individuals? And are these promises simply relative to personal life plans?

This debate shows as clearly as anything possibly can that, in the church as in the society as a whole, our basic division goes all the way down, and that each issue in the debate is inextricably connected with all the others. Jerrold Footlick, in the same special edition of News Week, summed up this division when he said:

We want it both ways. We're glad we live in a society that is more comfortable living with gay couples, working women, divorced men and stepparents and single mothers -- people who are reaching in some fashion for self-fulfillment. But we also understand the value of family life that will provide a  stable and nurturing environment in which to raise children-in other words, an environment in which personal goals have to be sacrificed." 4

Having said this, Mr. Footlick asks, "How do we reconcile the two?" He responds to his own question by saying, "The answer lies in some hard thinking about what the family is for." Mr. Footlick is surely right, and, as he goes on to suggest, some hard thinking about the reason for having or not having children is pivotal for an adequate account of the nature and purpose both of marital and familial relations.

The relation between parents and children is the pivotal issue because, if, as the new reformers are suggesting, this relation ought to be cut off in principle from sexual relations between men and women, from marriage, and from the natural and social links that bind the generations, and if, as they further argue, having or not having children ought indeed to be made a purely voluntary undertaking open in theory to anyone, it follows that marriage and the family along with parenthood must be considered elective relations based in large measure upon their place within the private life plans of individuals. Furthermore, we all know that highly personal and private decisions in respect to the procreation, gestation, birth and care of children have been made actually rather than theoretically possible by a host of new technologies that in principle allow anyone to become a mother or a father.

We are all in some way familiar with these new technologies, but as a way of presenting the issues involved in redefining the moral character of family, motherhood, and fatherhood, allow me to indicate the range of "options" now being placed before us. It has long been possible to have a child by artificial insemination either by husband or anonymous donor (AID). This technology has allowed women whose husbands are partially or fully infertile to have children. It has also opened up the possibility of single women having children without having sexual intercourse, and more recently, it has opened the possibility of surrogate mothers who provide an egg for fertilization and a womb for gestation. This is a service that may be purchased on the open market by a male/female couple, married or single, a same-sex couple, a single female or a single male. The even more recent technique of lavage has allowed a refinement of these arrangements. It is now possible to fertilize an egg in the body of one woman and then transfer the embryo to the womb of another. This technique is attention-getting, but it is less well known and less practiced than another which opens an even larger range of options for "starting a family." I am speaking of in vitro fertilization whereby egg and sperm are brought together in a petri dish and the resulting embryo is then either transferred to a womb, allowed to die, or frozen for future use.

These techniques present extraordinary possibilities for the procreation, gestation, birth, and care of children. To start with, it is now possible for as many as five persons to playa direct part in the process. One person can donate sperm, another an egg, another a body in which gestation can take place, and then one or two others can act as the parents who as, we used to say, "raise the child." At a minimum, it is fair to caution the enthusiasts among us that these possibilities present parents, children, doctors, government, and society alike with a host of moral problems that are as complex as they are basic.

The question before us is how ought the churches to respond to these new reproductive technologies (commonly called NRT's) and to the social and moral practices that are likely to attach to them? I have already indicated the primary directions taken by those whom I have called the new reformers. Their focus on individual autonomy and personal fulfillment and their view that undertakings succeed promises suggest that these technologies are, on the whole, to be welcomed as means to human flourishing. They are to be welcomed unless it can be shown that they do significant harm to the individuals involved or that they in some way deprive others of their liberty in ways that are morally insupportable.

It is by now no secret that I believe the basic position of the new reformers to be both misguided and inadequate. In fairness, however, I wish to point out that many of them have argued, on the basis of their concern to avoid harm and preserve liberty, that a number of the practices made possible by NRT's may well prove harmful to the life and liberty of everyone. Feminists have argued, for example, that the way in which NRT's are presently used depersonalizes the nurturing nature and role of women. Others, both male and female, have objected that, in the case of surrogate mothers, the NRT's make possible a practice which effectively places women in a relation with clients that is similar to prostitution. (In both cases, they claim a body is being rented.) These same voices also point out that NRT's stand in danger of being attached to practices that turn children into commodities purchasable on the open market.

These are only a few of the objections raised by people who, on the whole, support the view of promises and undertakings espoused by the new reformers. They show, I believe, that the principles of no harm and no illegitimate diminution of liberty have very real moral bite-that they can be used to criticize a number of the practices made possible by the NRT's in ways they ought to be criticized.

The arguments of the new reformers are, however, based univocally upon the need to defend the autonomy and rights of individuals against the possibly harmful results of the actions of others. Because they are primarily concerned with individual rights and liberty and with the effects our actions have upon individual flourishing, the new reformers must, if their concerns about harmful consequences can be addressed, allow in theory for individuals to avail themselves of NRT's. They must also espouse new definitions of family, motherhood and fatherhood--all in the name of human flourishing. 

I want to sketch a response to these views--one that tracks the difficulties associated with the contractarian notion of familial and parental relations that is now gaining social favor. The response will focus in the first instance on practices that seem to admit third parties into a marital relation and in the second instance upon practices which seem to divide in principle the unitive and procreative goods of sex and marriage. It is a response intended to suggest that there are moral limits to who may rightly seek to have a child and to what rightly can be done to have one. Indeed, I will go on to suggest that the churches ought to say that there are certain classes of people who ought to seek the blessing of a child, that there are others who ought not to seek to have a child born either to or for them, and, finally, that there are certain practices for the procreation of children which are morally closed even to married people.

The argument I have in mind, as you can see, is one that proceeds along several tracks at one time. The first concerns married people who may resort to AID, surrogacy, lavage, or in vitro fertilization of gametes donated by someone other than the husband or wife in question. The morally significant points about these practices are two in number. The first is that if any of these means are used by a couple, from the very moment a child is conceived, a third party is introduced into the heart of their relationship.

The second is that by having recourse to these means, the couple in both fact and principle place conception outside their sexual union. In so doing, they invite others, no matter what their gender, sexual preference, or marital status, to do something similar. This second point seems obvious enough. If these means can be used by a married couple who want a child, why can they not also be used by an unmarried couple, a single sex couple or an individual, male or female, who simply want a child? For many, these aspirations pose no moral problems. I believe the problems involved are considerable and I will return in a moment to what these problems are.
In the meantime, I must say more about the presence of third parties within a marriage that these technologies and practices invite.

No matter what psychological reactions it may bring, the direct introduction of the gametes or the womb of a stranger into a family means that an invited but nonetheless effaced visitor is introduced into the midst of a relation that is supposed to exclude third parties. We must note at the outset that this means of getting a child and this sort of third party presence are not characteristic of adoptions. Adoptive parents, unlike parents who contract for surrogates or gamete donors, act on behalf of birth parents who either cannot or will not fulfill the duty to care for the child in question. The act of adoptive parents is in principle a charitable one performed on behalf of the child and sometimes on behalf of the child's birth parents as well. In cases of adoption, a child is incorporated into a new family, but the child's parents are not so incorporated. If they arrive with the baby they are intruders.

In cases of surrogacy or gamete donation, things are rather different. One, two, or even three of a child's birth parents are from the very beginning directly involved in the most intimate aspect of family life-the conception and/or gestation of a child. They are invited in as a direct means of getting a child. Whether a child is born from these efforts or not, one is confronted with effaced beings who linger about as willing and direct contributors to the procreative life of a family, and because of the direct nature of their contribution, they take their place at the very heart of familial relations. It is almost as if the donors or surrogates by the very self-effacing character of their direct participation become permanent stock holders in the family business.

These observations lead to another which is even more telling and more basic. The effaced strangers who are parties to the technological conception of children make the nature of parenthood itself quite problematic. Ask, for example, who is to be considered mother and father to the child involved? Parental identity is an issue that has been graphically set before us in recent months not only by cases involving surrogate mothers, but also by custody cases involving lesbian women, one of whom has a child "with the other" by means of AID. In the first instance, a surrogate mother has gone to court for custody of a child who is in all ways genetically the child of the couple who contracted for the use of her womb. In the other instance, the partner to the lesbian relation who did not conceive, has been designated by the court as an important person in the life of the child in question. The court had to determine which of the women is mother to the child and it decided for the birth mother on the grounds that the other woman had no biological connection with the child. It is not difficult to imagine how dissatisfied with the court's decision the expunged partner now is.

Indeed, in this case, we are all left wondering exactly what to think of the moral and social status of the woman who is not the mother. Is she another mother? Is she just a special person in the life of the child-something like a friend of the family? What is she to be called and what moral content ought to be assigned to this title? In one custody case recently reported by News Week the term "Boppie" was used by the two women involved as a term to refer to the partner who is not birth mother to the child. The term is half way between a term of endearment and a social classification. There is something poignant about this attempt to create a new social classification and at the same time invest it with both emotional and moral content. Nevertheless, the attempt fails in a heartrending way. The coined term defines no recognizable social status and carries with it no definable moral content beyond that of a strange sort of mother/father or friend.

Given these realities, one must ask if society really ought to say, as it must if these social practices are adopted, that having both a mother and a father who are married one to another really doesn't matter in a moral sense at all, and that we can conceive children or have them conceived on our behalf just because we happen to want a baby. At a minimum, it seems safe to say that having a mother and a father matters a great deal to the children involved. Indeed, when one considers the full range of the issues, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the decision concerns us all most intimately.

And just what ought that decision to be? Given the above considerations alone, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there are severe difficulties involved if we were to decide that being a parent may be separated in principle from  the joint undertaking of being a mother and father within a set of family relations. Severe difficulties appear if being a mother and father are separated in principle from the sort of union we call marriage. Do we indeed want to say that it makes no moral difference if the mothers or fathers of our children either have no opposite number or, if they do, have no ongoing relationship one with another? And do we want to ignore the problems that appear if third parties either in the form of gamete donors or in the form of surrogates are allowed into a marital union? Any and all of these practices place strangers at the heart of family life and at the same time confuse the status of both parents and children.

All these considerations in fact suggest that moral and perhaps even legal limits ought to be placed on use of the NRT's. Furthermore, they lend support to the notion that having children, like getting married, ought, in a moral sense, to be viewed as an undertaking the terms of which are presented to rather than chosen by individuals. A similar conclusion is suggested by additional lines of argument that we have no time to pursue. At this point I shall do no more than list a few of them. What are we to determine in divorce cases where either a mother or father has no genetic links with the children one of them has conceived or carried and which both of them have raised? What are we to make of the moral dilemmas associated with freezing embryos for future use? What are we to decide about their disposition if not used? And how are we to decide who ought to "own" them? Do they belong to one of the  gamete donors, to both, or to the institution whose technical capacities made possible their existence? Can they be willed or sold to some third party? What of the practice of reducing by abortion the number of embryos if, as now is standard, there is a multiple implantation? What are we to make of the cost and psychological strain involved with in vitro fertilization and with surrogacy?

This list, extensive as it is, is, nonetheless, an abbreviated one. It is, however, sufficient to indicate the complexity of the problems involved either directly or indirectly, in the present attempt to redefine family, motherhood, and fatherhood. They are so complex, charged, and painful that it is tempting to set them aside and simply hope that they will not come up. Putting one's head in the sand is no answer, however. They already appear not only as social and legal issues but as pastoral, moral, and disciplinary ones within the life of the churches.

Within the life of the Episcopal Church itself, it is not difficult to show how true this statement is. Everyone married according to its rites must sign a statement to the effect that the view of marriage contained within thecanons of the church and set forth in its Book of Common Prayer is theirs. According to the Book of Common Prayer, the family, marriage, motherhood and fatherhood are undertakings instituted by God and presented to us for our good rather than private arrangements the terms of which we choose. That view holds that marriage is a relation that excludes third parties, and that invites the birth of children as a blessing which is not, unless there is good reason, to be shunned. The moral implications of these beliefs are that the lovemaking even of a married couple ought not to be separated in principle from the blessing of children and that the blessing of children ought in any case not to be separated in principle from their lovemaking. And once more, the rite also implies that third parties ought to be excluded both from the unitive and procreative life of married couples.

Because its book of common belief, worship, and life rather clearly suggests these things, and because the beliefs and practices of our culture are so different from what the church counsels, we are necessarily confronted in a most painful way with an array of problems. With most of these, as a church, we are ill-equipped to deal. What, for example, is to be said to a couple who present themselves for marriage and yet say, for reasons of personal preference alone, that they intend to have no children? Do they not divide in principle their lovemaking from the blessing of children? Conversely, what is to be said to single people who say they want to have a child by in vitro fertilization or by some form of surrogacy? Do they not divide in principle baby making from the bond of unity we associate both with lovemaking and with relations between men and women? And what is to be said to married couples who want a child so badly that they are willing to hire a surrogate or procure gametes from people other than their partner? Do they not invite strangers into the heart of their marriage and at the same time place the conception of children outside that very bond?

I do not wish to suggest that the answer to any of these questions is either clear or beyond debate. I would be the first to admit that the arguments I have made require expansion and clarification and that they are open for dispute. If we had more time, I could anticipate what those objections are at exactly this point in my remarks. I make this observation only to call to mind the fact that no one can reconcile our differences just like that, and we may safely assume that our divisions will continue for some time. The continuation of our disputes is not really the issue. The real issue is whether the battle that now rages concerns matters about which we can simply agree to disagree, or whether it is one in which we must seek, not uniformity, but at least a significant degree of unity. Though we often say in response to this question that a plurality of conflicting views is not only a fact but a good, I do not think we believe our own rhetoric. If we did, we would not struggle so fiercely. If we were indeed pluralists, we would not, in fact, be faced with ecclesial civil war.

Because the unity of the church is so dreadfully threatened, I shall conclude by making several suggestions about how, in the midst of our divisions, we ought as a church to proceed. If the faithfulness, unity, and integrity of our common life is indeed the issue below the issues, then the way in which we go about addressing our differences is as important as the conclusions we may reach in the course of our struggle. This remark suggests that we ought to address our divisions in a way designed to achieve unity rather than the mere toleration of difference. Our aim ought to be a change of heart and mind of such a nature that it can be said of us that we are of one mind and one Spirit.

Why? Because questions of marriage, divorce, family, motherhood, and fatherhood are ones that suggest undertakings the terms of which do not lie within the province of human will. It is not extreme to say that Christians ought to hold that these undertakings are rooted in the mind and will of God whose province it is to determine both our good and our right. We dare not, therefore, adopt a strategy for common life designed merely to create room for people of differing opinion. To do so, whether we intend it or not, is to wrest the fundamental undertakings of human life from the will of God which is not divided, and to relocate them in our own divided wills and purposes.

This observation implies, I believe, that the parties to our debate ought to seek unity in God's unified will rather than victory in the midst of our own divisions. If I am right, it follows that, for a time at least, we ought to give up resolutions. Resolutions, after all, usually represent attempts to win. They are, furthermore, a form of speech that does not serve well to inform the church. They do not enhance understanding, but pit camp against camp in a way that requires one to lose and another to win. Resolutions place our disputes directly within a political arena and for this reason invite an acrimonious rush to judgment.

The forswearing of resolutions is necessary for the peace of the church but it is a step that will require us to find another way of ordering our common life. What might be involved in such an alternative? Because of the fearful ignorance about the theological and moral issues involved in the debate over sexual ethics, we can avoid division and a rush to judgment only if we give ourselves time and provide ourselves the means to study and debate these matters with knowledge, charity, and forthrightness. Resolutions serve none of these ends. Nevertheless, prayer and study which find expression in pastoral letters and sermons both of which are responsive to studies undertaken by the national church, by dioceses, voluntary societies, and scholars and other individuals can serve them all. Prayer, study, and debate carried on apart from the premature closure of resolutions at least hold out the promise of another way of ordering our affairs. It is possible that they will inform us as they call forth from us both truth, love, and unity.

Furthermore, if our debates are to prove edifying, as opposed to destructive, we must do what we can to depoliticize the publications and the committee structures of our national church and our dioceses. The way things are at the moment forces one to say that in most cases they are set up, not to inform the church, but to ensure the victory of one party or another. Things need not be this way. There are ways to ensure that our publications and committee proceedings encourage the speaking of truth in love, and there are ways to ensure that the articles contained in the church press and the reports which issue from the Church's committees reflect the arguments of both the majority and the minority opinion.

The other thing that we must do is call our bishops and presbyters to reclaim two things. that have been associated with these offices from the beginning. The first is to assume their role as teachers of the way-as those who bear primary responsibility for seeing that the church hands over to each Christian the deposit of faith left by the apostles along with the way of life that corresponds to it. The second is to act in unity one with another rather than as autonomous agents who believe they have leave to act according to their own likes. It is time to ask our bishops and presbyters to be bishops and pastors of the Church rather than individual consciences that bob up and down on the sea of culture.

These I am aware are commanding proposals, and to many their realization may seem as impossible as God's promise that Sarah would bear a son. They are, however, proposals that spring from the very promise made to Sarah-one that says that if we ask, God will make us fruitful, that he will give us his Spirit, that the Spirit will fill our common life with both truth and love, that he will make of us a mighty nation whose numbers are like the sand of the sea. What I say may seem impracticable, but the alternative to impracticality is grim indeed. If we measure the present character of our common life by what we believe immediately possible, we must laugh in despair and turn our back on God's promise. But if we laugh and turn our back to face toward our practically possible world, we must also conclude that it is not God's Spirit now speaking in the Church. It is rather the spirit of division. To my mind that is a fearful thought-far more fearful than the subject matter of our present debate over sex.


1. For an account of the decision see Philip S. Gutis, "New York Court Defines Family" in The New York TimesFriday, July 7,1989.

2. Jean Seligmann, "Variations on a Theme"

3. See especially Andrew Sullivan, "Gay Marriage" in The New Republic (August 28,1989): 20-22.

4. Ibid., p. 18.