Wednesday, July 01, 2015

To my progressive Catholic and Christian friends...

I have seen your celebrations of the Supreme Court decision establishing same sex marriage, and I wanted to explain why I can't quite join you in them, and talk about how we can move forward together.


First, to establish my bona fides...

As you may know, I am on the catechetical team for our parish's Confirmation program for 16 year olds.

Last year, when we were discussing the teachings on sexuality, one of the students expressed dismay that so many people believe the Church is anti-gay when that is not the truth about the Church's teaching.

I responded by noting that we were all Catholics, so what could we do to change that? One of the students said, "Tell them," and I said, "More than that..." and led them to the answer, which is, "Show them!"  If people know us, and know that we're Catholic, and see us acting in a loving way toward gay people (and all people for that matter), then the idea that the Church is anti-gay should be ridiculous.  I don't think this was particularly out of character for me.

Now, I'm sure I have plenty of room for improvement, in my internal attitudes toward my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, in how I treat them as an individual, and in advocating for justice for them. The same applies to my advocacy for the unborn, against institutional racism, per the Holy Father's recent encyclical, for the preservation of the environment, and many other issues I am blind to. I suspect the Final Judgment will have many uncomfortable moments for us privileged, affluent Americans like me.

But I submit that things like my action above make a greater difference than changing my avatar or any hashtag campaign.


From what I can tell, this decision is the result of two trends. One I can celebrate without reservation, the other I cannot.

  • Increasing acceptance of the equal dignity of gay and lesbian people. This I join you in celebrating with joy. 
  • Erosion of society's vision of marriage.  This I cannot celebrate.
For many years, and for may reasons that the gay community has had little or nothing to do with such as no-fault divorce, abortion, contraception and the spiraling wedding industry, heterosexual marriage has moved from a lifelong commitment ensuring that children will, as often as possible, be raised by their mother and father to kind of a graduation or capstone ceremony for adults in loving relationships.  Given this, withholding it from same-sex couples did seem to be little more than simple discrimination.

So why resist?  Well, I think this has sealed this transition and made it official in a way these other developments have not.  It's hard to maintain that marriage is about raising children when we're marrying couples that could not, never could, and never would be able to produce children on their own.  Certainly, much of the energy behind the opposition was rooted in hatred and bigotry. But another part is that this was essentially the last stand.

Were there better ways to pursue these goals then opposing same sex marriage? Almost definitely. Which is why I've in past years considered this opposition perhaps correct but imprudent -- it's main effect was causing pain and division. Even so, the happiness at the achievement of dignity for gay people is mixed with some sadness that the Church's rich vision of marriage has been soundly rejected.

And there is concern, too. Perhaps not for "persecution," but for division. For a world where those who believed in this vision of marriage are regarded as bad as segregationists.  For rifts in the Body of Christ as people race to take sides and demonstrate that they are on the "right" side.


There has been no shortage of advice to traditionalist Catholics on how they should respond to this decision (Executive Summary: Shut up and get over it). So, while I may not be in a position to make demands requests, I offer some suggestions to my more progressive-minded brothers and sisters about how they might help this be an occasion of joy rather than division:

  1. Watch how broad a brush you paint with on the hate/love talk
    Yes, there will continue to be hateful people opposed to same sex marriage, and it needs to be confronted.  But not all of it, and general comments about "all the hate out there" serve to divide.  To be an effective advocate for the unborn, I need to understand that people may oppose legal protections for the unborn for reasons other than hatred of unborn children and happiness at their killing.  The same is true here. If you must call out hate, be specific, name names, and cite concrete examples.

    Even so, exercise some care. If your statements generally lead people to associate Christianity with hatred, I'm not sure you're doing anyone a favor. Not the person who will never come to hear the Good News because they're convinced the Church is full of haters.  And not gay people who think people hate them who actually do not.  Is "calling out" a staffer for a state senator from somewhere you've never been really such an imperative?

    Have some on the other side not been so careful?  Sure.  The run-up to the Iraq War was a particular low point in the state of discourse. I would hope that experience would teach people to not want to do that to anyone else rather than provide a model to follow.

    The same goes for much of this #loveWins talk. Like all slogans (including "Abortion is murder!" and "pro-life"), it over-simplifies things that complex.
  2. Don't be part of outrage mobs
    I think even in writing this post, I am taking a risk that this may impact my career in the tech industry. I'm sure it's nothing compared to the risks gay people have had to take, but it's still something.

    This new McCarhyism is one of the worst parts of our culture. Don't be a part of it. And if you're feeling particularly brave, stand up for those being attacked.
  3. Support religious liberty
    Yes, I know it's a slogan that's being used by many of your least favorite people. But it is still an important principle, even if it's used by people you don't like.  If you think there is any wisdom in the Church's vision of marriage, even if it shouldn't be translated into civil law, there is still value in the Church being allowed to proclaim and teach it.

    And things have a way of turning around, and there may come a time when more progressive religious practices are under attack. It will be unfortunate if we've removed "religious liberty" as something of value by then.
I am happy about the equal dignity for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters this decision represents. But yes, this is mixed with some sadness at the death of a robust vision of marriage in our society, and concern for divisions to come.

There are still no shortage of injustices to confront in our world. Of people to evangelize, who desperately need to hear the Good News that God loves them, died for them, and rose and conquered death.

My prayer and hope is that we can work together to do this.