Can God surprise us?

(M Scott)
(M Scott)

by Paul F. Morrissey

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In March, Irish Bishop Kevin Doran suggested that gay and lesbian people are not "what God intended." When questioned by his interviewer, he explained that it is similar to how God doesn't intend babies being born with Down syndrome. We need to be careful before we say we know what God intends, especially if we are an authoritative position such as a bishop in the Catholic church. "What God intends" is a great mystery.

"The jury is out," said Doran, on whether people are born gay or become gay.

His thinking was challenged by Archbishop Eamon Martin, president of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. "I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are," Martin said.

Leaving aside the question about gay and lesbian people, surely those couples and families who have a child born with Down syndrome would be disturbed to hear such "intentions" of God not being part of the creation of their child. In our family, I have watched in awe as my niece's baby, born with Down syndrome, is handed like a precious bundle of joy from family member to family member as we celebrate -- somehow even more -- the entry into our family of one of God's creations.

Do we intend to have a child with Down syndrome? Do we intend to have a child who is gay or lesbian? Perhaps these are the more important questions.

If we think God is creating children simply as we intend, then no wonder some children are cast aside, marginalized, aborted, regretted. "I wish you were never born!" is a terrible message to receive from one's parents or one's bishop or society at large. Yet I know that my niece and her husband praise God for their two children, perhaps even with a special tenderness for the one born with Down syndrome.

Why say these things? Because in a great mystery, as St. Paul tells us, "God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). Those of us who think that God intends only the strong, and that God surely doesn't intend what we see as weak and imperfect in the world, might be blinded from seeing his wondrous plan.

It has been thus throughout history, and the latest suggestion that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not part of God's plan is one more example of this simplistic thinking.

In response to Doran, I want to offer two reasons to understand LGBT people as intended by God. The first is one that doesn't get much focus in the culture wars over whether sexual behavior, even in a committed relationship by same-sex people, is morally good. The world could not hold together for a month without the loving devoted care offered every day by all the LGBT teachers, counselors, nurses, doctors, sisters, brothers, priests, artists, authors, postal workers, police, politicians, adult children, parents -- and, yes, even bishops, whom God has sent to help the heterosexual married community raise and nurture its children.

It takes a village. It takes a parish. It takes a rainbow of colors. It takes the single and married gay and lesbian people to assist the rest of us in this incredible task of raising our families, and now even their own, into the future that God intends for all of us together.

Rather than focus on the love and respect that LGBT people need from the church, at least equal time should be put into the love and respect that LGBT people give to the church and to the world, and how this has been going on throughout history. The world could not continue as a loving and caring place without the gifts of the LGBT people in our midst, often in vocations of healing, such as the medical profession, the counseling profession and the priesthood itself.

The second reason I would suggest that LGBT people are God's intention is a different understanding of God. Do we think that God created the world in a flash -- in seven days? As male and female? In "his" own image?

It is fine if we revere this story of our origins from the Bible. But we know from modern science that the universe as we know it began 15 billion years ago. We know that human beings emerged from the evolutionary, creative, loving power we call God only 250,000 years ago. We know that even now the world is evolving in many species and transitions that we can hardly imagine or perhaps cannot handle.

God isn't done creating us. Even this moment, God is creating you as you read this and me as I write this.

Here seems to be the great mystery: God is letting us guide the process of what he "intends." So, what do we intend? What will we allow God's creative imagination to unfold before us and with us? Is there room for surprise? For a child with Down syndrome to draw out of us love we never knew we had? For a gay or lesbian person to help us realize God's playfulness, mercy and revelation of "his" own incomprehensible mystery? For transgender people?

Why not take a chance today on such possible surprises from God? At the very least, we can imitate Pope Francis when he surprised us with his views on gay and lesbian people, "Who am I to judge?"

[Augustinian Fr. Paul F. Morrissey is the author of The Black Wall of Silence and is a prison chaplain in Philadelphia.]

A version of this story appeared in the July 17-30, 2015 print issue under the headline: Can God surprise us?.

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