Does Rick Warren have more influence than the Pope?
While stories of protests from liberals and LGBT groups have been making headlines here, comments today by Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) have been somewhat inconsistently reported in the US media.
In a speech yesterday given to Catholic dignitaries who have gathered in Rome to celebrate Christmas (click here for an English translation and here for the relevant passage), Ratzinger focused on a theme of reasserting the story of creation as a "central part of the Christian creed." He emphasized two points: God’s creation of the earth and man (in particular, man and woman as distinct sexes). He called heterosexual marriage a "sacrament of creation." And Ratzinger followed by arguing for an "ecology of man" to go alongside an ecology of nature/the planet, in which he likened saving the rain forests to "saving man from himself."
And from what does humanity need rescuing? "Theorists who talk about ‘gender’."
25 years or so after feminist scholars popularized an understanding of "gender" (against and/or alongside the notion of "sex"), it seems that Ratzinger has now come to believe that the very concept of "gender" could lead to the self-destruction of the human race. Gender, he argues, separates man from creation and the Creator. While Ratzinger did not explicitly refer to homosexuality or transexuality in the text of his address, he did denounce the blurring of genders and a "sexuality of consumption," arguing definitively that the essence of humanity is "man and woman."
Ratzinger made these proclamations apparently in response to calls from members of the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights for equal rights for gays, France’s proposed decriminalization of homosexuality, and increases in legislation favoring same-sex marriage. In his speech, Ratzinger argued that people such as gender theorists, who lack respect for "the Creator and the language of creationism," would destroy God’s work. "We must not only defend the earth, water, and air," he pronounced. "We must also protect man from his own self-destruction."
Using the English word "gender" rather than the Italian translation "genere," Ratzinger was clearly singling out the work of Western academics who write on the topics of gender, queer, and trans theory as well as the lives and practices of queer and trans individuals. One could infer, by situating Ratzinger’s comments in the context of the story of creation and a pseudo-scientific ecology of nature/man, that he has labeled even the mere concepts of transexuality and homosexuality as crimes against nature and creationism.
This could also be seen as a radical divergence from the church’s supposed stance that homosexuality is not sinful, but that homosexual acts are.
While I will admit to feeling some pleasure at indirectly being cited as a threat to humanity–I mean, how often these days are theorists given credit by anyone outside of academia as having any relevance or influence whatsoever?–this is truly sobering and heart-wrenching for the Italian LGBT people and others who live in much more homo-bi-trans-phobic cultures where the Pope’s words still have real power.