People who disagree with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church sometimes attempt to equate the imposition of such teaching to slavery. For example, so-called same-sex “marriage” advocates often attempt to align their plight with that of slaves in 19th-century America. Even Christian groups such as Gay Church, the Gay Christian Network, Dignity USA, and the U.S. Rainbow Sash Movement (the latter two supposedly Catholic) resort to such tactics. These arguments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of freedom—in this case, the freedom to marry whomever, regardless of sexual complementarity. Some go so far as to reinterpret biblical texts that condemn homosexual acts, but such reinterpretations easily fail. Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts as gravely sinful. (See “Homosexuality,” This Rock, April 2006.)
We could simply dismiss such arguments on the basis that race and sexual inclination cannot be compared: The former concerns unchosen demographics while the latter involves chosen behavior. But interestingly, New Testament sacred writers sometimes used slavery as an analogy when discussing moral issues; of course, they came to quite different conclusions.
It Starts with Original Sin
A recent caller to Catholic Answers Live (February 22, 2011) asked the question “If [to act out on] homosexuality itself is a sin, why would God make people that way [with same-sex attraction]?”
The truth is, God did create every one of us, but our individual inclinations toward sin (concupiscence) are not his fault: They are the result of original sin. But Jesus showed us the way to overcome that inclination. Paul taught this to the Romans:
[S]in came into the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin, and so death spread to all men . . . Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s [ Jesus’] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:12, 18-19)
Attachment to sin brought about by original sin is cured through Jesus. Contradicting authentic Christian teaching by following our own sinful desires leads to failure and condemnation. Such behavior makes us slaves to our passions, which is an offense against true freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom. (CCC 1739)
Slaves of God or of Sin
Considering sin, Paul presents a slavery analogy in his epistle to the Romans:
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. . . . When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:16-18, 20-22)
In Paul’s analogy, everyone is considered a slave (or “servant,” Gk. doulos) either to sin or to righteousness, but sin leads to death (hell), while righteousness leads to sanctification and eternal life (heaven). In essence, the two propositions are quite opposite, sin being more analogous with slavery and righteousness with freedom. In his second Epistle, Peter concurs with Paul, as he warns of false prophets and teachers: “[U]ttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh . . .
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pt 2:18-19). Paul often referred to himself as a slave of God (e.g., see Rom 1:1, Gal 1:10, Ti 1:1), which is a good thing, but he warned against slavery to sin:
- Bid the older women likewise to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink . . . (Ti 2:3)
- Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient . . . For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures . . . (Ti 3:1, 3)
Ultimately, Paul does recognize obedience to righteousness to be freedom and obedience to sin to be slavery: “[D]o not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [i.e. sin] . . .” (Gal 5:1, 13).
Paul explains here that following Christ leads to true freedom. We do this with the help of the Holy Spirit: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation explains all this:
St. Paul proclaims the gift of the New Law of the Spirit in opposition to the law of the flesh or of covetousness which draws man toward evil and makes him powerless to choose what is good. This lack of harmony and this inner weakness do not abolish man’s freedom and responsibility, but they do have a negative effect on their exercise for the sake of what is good. This is what causes the apostle to say: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19). Thus he rightly speaks of the “bondage of sin” and the “slavery of the law,” for to sinful man the law, which he cannot make part of himself, seems oppressive. However, St. Paul recognizes that the Law still has value for man and for the Christian, because it “is holy and what it commands is sacred, just and good” (Rom 7:12) . . . The Spirit who dwells in our hearts is the source of true freedom. (54)
Peter, again, concurs: “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants [or slaves] of God” (1 Pt 2:16).
So, according to Paul and Peter, true freedom does not mean a person does whatever he feels like or is tempted to do. That’s not really freedom at all; instead, often it is slavery to sin. The Catechism explains:
The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, the subject of this freedom, is an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods . . . By deviating from the moral law, man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. (CCC 1740)
The solution to such a predicament and the way to true freedom is found in Jesus’ own words:
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:31-36)
Clearly, according to Scripture, embracing the truth (however difficult), making it active in our lives, and rejecting the temptation to sin are what true freedom is all about. On the other hand, embracing our sinful desires and living such lifestyles is true slavery. The Catechism explains: “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin” (CCC 1733).
Once again, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation sums this up well:
The freedom brought by Christ in the Holy Spirit has restored to us the capacity, which sin had taken away from us, to love God above all things and remain in communion with him. We are set free from disordered self-love, which is the source of contempt of neighbor and of human relationships based on domination. Nevertheless, until the Risen One returns in glory, the mystery of iniquity is still at work in the world. St. Paul warns us of this: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). We must therefore persevere and fight in order not to fall once more under the yoke of slavery. Our existence is a spiritual struggle to live according to the gospel, and it is waged with the weapons of God. But we have received the power and the certainty of our victory over evil, the victory of the love of Christ whom nothing can resist. (53)
So, considering all this, who is truly the slave, the person who embraces authentic Christian teaching or the person who rejects that truth in favor of his own desires?