At CNN.com, I have a piece up about what reading the Divine Comedy taught me about myself and Catholicism. Excerpt:
I could never be truly at home in my father’s house, because I could not shake the crippling sense of not measuring up to his standards. As a loyal son of the Catholic Church, I grounded myself in a substitute household, and felt strong filial respect and affection for the ecclesial patriarchs, especially Pope John Paul II.
When we all learned how so many priests used their roles as fathers to rape the children in their spiritual care, and that even the saintly pontiff had failed in his duty to protect the most vulnerable Catholics in his care, the revelations affected me with an intensity I did not fully understand, not even years after I left the Catholic Church, spiritually broken.
Reading Dante revealed something shocking to me. The collapse of my Catholic faith had been about fear, injustice, hypocrisy and the obliteration of trust. That I knew. But more than that, it had been about fatherhood and sonship.
I was not wrong to condemn the fathers of the Catholic Church for their wickedness in the scandal, but I had made a mistake that the devout Dante did not: I expected more from them than they could deliver, and came undone by the shock of their failures.
This realization did not cause me to return to Rome. As I said, I don’t believe in Christ as a Catholic any longer; I am firmly Orthodox.
But it did occasion understanding, and call forth mercy (this happened, too, with my father); the bishops, the priests and my own dad were not monuments to unerring authority, but rather my companions in shipwreck.
And it taught me the importance of never mistaking icons through which the divine light shines imperfectly — for example, the church, the clergy and the family — for God.
Read Rod Dreher’s book, and then read Dante. They’re both worth every minute you invest.
I’m going to be on Raymond Arroyo’s EWTN show in a couple of weeks talking Dante. Can’t wait!
Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, spoke this morning to the Q Ideas conference here in Boston. He, and the college he leads, are under severe attack for holding to orthodox Christian teaching on LGBT. Gordon is Evangelical, but very far from a fundamentalist stronghold. Yet they are seen by many people — many powerful people — as a bastion of bigotry.
Lindsay told the audience about a phone conversation he had with his Congressman when Gordon first got into the news. He said that his Congressman told him straight up that he hated Gordon’s stance, and that he was going to do everything he could to force the college to change it — meaning that he was going to bring the force of federal law, inasmuch as he could, to compel the college to violate its corporate conscience.
This left Lindsay staggered. “There are very few playbooks to tell you what to do when your Congressman shouts at you,” he said.
Lindsay, who is a very soft-spoken man, conceded that Gordon has fallen short of its ideals over the years, “but we are not a place of hate or discrimination.”
How do we as people of faith lead the way, stop being so defensive, and move into the environment in which “we are a real model to the rest of society”? Lindsay asked.
For one, we have to be countercultural, no matter what it costs. On the matter of conformity, he said that social science research shows that people are willing to be wrong if it allows us to get along.
“We’ve traded our desire for moral conviction for a simple desire for relevance,” he said. “We believe in conviction as long as we are liked for that conviction.”
“If we are not willing to [take a stand], it becomes so much harder for everybody else.”
But, he added, it’s hard to know how to do that in the current and fast-changing cultural milieu. It’s hard to know which hill to die on if you can’t see the whole landscape, he said.
Lindsay called Gordon’s travails “the most humiliating experience of my life,” and said that Christians have to keep trying to reach out in love to those with whom they disagree. The church, he says, has demonized plenty of people in the past. We must not fall to that temptation again. He said the following is the most important words he would speak in his talk:
“We have got to show that it’s possible to work shoulder to shoulder with people, even if we don’t see eye to eye.”
Well, I do agree with that, but as his experience, and that of his college, shows, the other side will not give him (us) that chance. Not anymore. Winsomeness is fine — and it’s hard to think of a more winsome person than Michael Lindsay — but it increasingly won’t do any good. We must be loving not because it’s strategically sound, but because Christ commands it of us, and because our opponents are made in the image of God, just as we are. But let us not be under any illusions that this will do us any good anymore, not with most of them.
Andrew Sullivan was next on the stage, and engaged in a conversation with Q leader Gabe Lyons. Andrew — who is far less frantic, and far more serene, than I’ve ever seen him; leaving the Internet was plainly good for his health — was visibly moved by Lindsay’s remarks.
“It’s inimical to me that any religious entity or organization should be compelled by government to compromise any jot or tittle of their doctrine,” Andrew said.
Addressing Lindsay’s case, he said, “Any personal hurt that he experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really hurts me that people would demonize, stigmatize, and attack people for their religious faith, whatever it is. I think the Gordon College thing is a clear step beyond anything we have seen before.”
Andrew said that there are intolerant people among LGBTs and their allies, “real tendencies to wickedness,” and that he freely acknowledges that.
“I would just ask in return that people understand that for centuries, gay people were thrown out of their own families, thrown out of their own churches, put in jail, hanged in this country, executed around the world. That the gay comm went through an unbelievable trauma in the Eighties and Nineties in which 300,000 young people died.”
Lyons apologized to Andrew on behalf of Christians for vicious treatment of homosexuals. “I know many people did what they thought was right in the name of Jesus,” Lyons said. “I ask for your forgiveness as well.”
“You have it,” said Andrew.
It was a great moment. But there were other things to be discussed. Lyons asked where the lines are to be drawn going forward?
Andrew said that in the early days of marriage debate, when religious freedom would come up, he couldn’t see how gay rights would possibly infringe on it. Who’s going to go around interfering with educational institutions and so on? he asked himself back then. Andrew didn’t see it coming.
His advice to the gay community: quit turning every Christian florist and baker an opportunity for a showdown:
“If you find someone who’s genuinely conflicted about doing something for your wedding, let them be. Find someone else. It’s a free society. Similarly about florists: if you can’t find a gay florist…? It’s not the hardest thing in the world.”
Lots of laughter at that.
Andrew said that we have to be able to get along, to talk to each other, to live in pluralism.
On the matter of Christianity and living a chaste, celibate life, Andrew said that it isn’t possible, that “it’s not happening.”
“It is happening,” Gabe Lyons said.
“Not without psychological damage,” Andrew replied.
He said that sexuality is part of human identity, and his identity. This point is a fundamental and irreconcilable difference between orthodox Christians and their opponents. Christianity teaches that sexuality is part of what it means to be a human person, but it is not the defining quality. Chastity has always, since the beginning of Christianity, been a Christian virtue — chastity meaning the right, ordered channeling of sexual desire, which in some instances requires withholding its expression.
Andrew ended his presentation by saying he was glad to come talk to an Evangelical conference because it’s so much better to see people face to face instead of arguing on the Internet, where it’s easy to dehumanize others.
His parting words were, I believe, a shot at me and my presentation the day before (I consider it friendly fire, just to be clear). He said that we must not think of the conflict between pro-LGBT folks and orthodox Christians as a “war,” because “it really isn’t.” He said it ought not be spoken of as an “apocalypse” — a word I used the day before. Perhaps he didn’t grasp that I used it in reference to “the end of the world,” but in its original meaning, which is “an unveiling.” I called Indiana an “apocalypse” in the sense that it revealed to Christians and others concerned about religious liberty where we actually stood in this culture on that front.
Here’s his key statement: “If you make this subject the linchpin for Christianity’s survival — it misses the Gospel.”
Andrew got lots of cheers for that, but I do strongly — but respectfully — disagree.
Rather than rehash old arguments here, let me simply link to something I wrote in this space a while back. This excerpt is especially relevant:
This raises a critically important question: is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?
Though he might not have put it quite that way, the eminent sociologist Philip Rieff would probably have said yes. Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph Of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been underway since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people—least of all Christians—recognized.
Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.
You don’t behave this way and not that way because it’s good for you; you do so because this moral vision is encoded in the nature of reality. This is the basis of natural-law theory, which has been at the heart of contemporary secular arguments against same-sex marriage (and which have persuaded no one).
Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.
It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.
In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.
It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.
What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.
Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.
Put simply, the church cannot be the church by being unfaithful to the clear witness of Scripture on the question of sexual behavior (both heterosexual and homosexual), and by deciding that it can jettison the witness and authority of Scripture and Tradition. If you can do this — and many Catholics and Protestants, and even some Orthodox, are doing it and are willing to do it — then what else can we jettison because it’s hard to live by?
As Rieff — again, a visionary social scientist but an unbeliever — recognized, one core thing that makes Christianity different, and that made the early church different from the pagan culture into which it was born, is the way it regarded sexuality and the human person. The church is full of sexual sinners; always has been, and always will be. But if we lose the unambiguous standard of sexual purity, and if we lose the plain understanding within Christianity that holiness depends on submitting our hearts, minds, and bodies to Christ as revealed in Scripture and in the Church — well, then we are lost without a map. A fundamental link is severed.
This is personal to me. As I told the Q audience yesterday, it’s not that I am a scold who resents that others are having more fun than I am. It’s that I was saved in my twenties from the mess I had made of my life by my pursuit of hedonism and sexual individualism. I wanted God, and was determined that I could have him without having to sacrifice my sexual desire, which is to say, order it to what the faith commands. For a short time in college, I attended a church where they gave me no hassle about that. But I knew it wasn’t true. I wanted everything to be okay, I wanted a God who was happy to let me be sexually active outside of marriage. I could not shake the plain fact that this was irreconcilable to Christianity, full stop.
More importantly, it was clear to me that a God I was willing to follow only when the cost of discipleship was something that was easy for me to pay was not a God worth following — indeed, was not God at all. And it was certainly not a God who could save me from my own destructive passions, which, as I point out in How Dante Can Save Your Life, led to a pregnancy scare and the prospect that I would be implicated in the abortion of my own child. Thank God that there was no pregnancy, but the prospect of having to face the nature of my own disordered desires, and the real-world consequences of living them out, pushed me towards conversion.
The church I attended briefly, and which gave me no hassle about my sex life, would never have been an agent of my deliverance from bondage to that particular passion. After I became a Catholic, I got no practical help from any priest or parish in living a chaste life. I was pretty much on my own. But I did have prayer, and I did have the sacraments, and because I had the firm witness of Catholic teaching, rooted in Scripture, about what constitutes a holy use of our gift of sexuality, I had hope that the painful loneliness, and dying to self, that I was undergoing would be for my own salvation. From How Dante Can Save Your Life:
Many Catholics think the Church makes too big a deal about sex; some think the Church should say nothing about sex at all. But practicing chastity after my experience with sex, I understood the Church’s teaching. All the lies I had told myself, and that our culture tells us, about what sex is for left me feeling hollow and unsatisfied.
I didn’t want sex; I wanted love. I mean, yes, I wanted sex, but when it was decoupled from love, that desire was a counterfeit, a false idol. It was destructive to me and to the women I had been with. I realized around this time that by trying to banish that guilty feeling so I could be as free as I wanted to be and thought I had a right to be, I was killing off the most humane part of myself.
When I embraced chastity, I had no idea if I would ever get married. The thought that this might be a lifetime thing filled me with dread. But the prospect of going back to the Egypt from which I’d just been delivered was worse. So on I went, trusting that God knew what was best for me, and that I would rather die to my body with him than live in my body without him.
I was not entirely successful in those first years, but I was a lot better than I had been. Prayer and the confessional helped me with my repentance. Learning to tell myself no was a new thing, and an important one. I learned to steer myself away from getting involved with women who didn’t share my faith and my commitment to chastity before marriage.
My secular friends thought I was a very odd duck because of this. But I didn’t care. I knew what I was being saved from. I knew the kind of man I was and the kind of man I wanted to be. By practicing chastity, I began to understand better the workings of my own heart, and how I had fallen into self-deception (and deceived others) in past relationships.
But here’s the thing: I was still blinded by my habit of exalting romantic love. For my twenty-eighth birthday, my friend Tom Sullivan gave me a copy of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. On a cold February morning, I sat in the living room of my Capitol Hill apartment and cracked open the book. A 1941 letter Tolkien wrote to his son Michael caught my attention. The older Tolkien warned his son to be wary of courtly love, which exalts “imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady.”
“The woman is another fallen human being with a soul in peril,” Tolkien wrote, adding that the courtly ideal “inculcates exaggerated notions of ‘true love,’ as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose.”
That was an epiphany. I had thought my high view of women and love was something wholly noble, especially when joined to Christian conviction. Tolkien showed me that I was actually engaged in idol worship of “Love and the Lady,” obscuring the truth and making it harder for me to find what I deeply desired: true love and companionship with a woman.
Later that morning, I took the Betty Blue poster down. I was turning away from the vision of romantic love that books and movies told me was true, because now I knew better.
Later that year, I took a journalism job in Florida, where I made great friends, but none who shared my faith. I had no religious community. From a spiritual point of view, this was the desert. I was all alone, and agonizingly lonely. This was when the purifying flame burned the hottest. All I could do was pray, hope, and keep struggling.And then I flew to Austin, Texas, one weekend to meet Frederica Mathewes- Green, a friend who was giving a speech. The Texas capital is one of my favorite towns, and I wanted to show her around. On a Friday night, Frederica gave a reading at a bookstore. There I met a University of Texas journalism undergraduate named Julie Harris. The moment I took her hand, I knew that something unusual had just happened.
“Here is a god stronger than I who is coming to rule over me,” said Dante to himself when he first saw Beatrice. That’s how it was with me when I laid eyes on Julie. Nothing like that had ever happened to me—or, as it turned out, to her.
We went to dinner that night, and out for a late coffee on Saturday. We spent Sunday together, and had our first kiss in the parking lot of Waterloo Records. Three days later, me back at my job in Florida and her in Austin, we were emailing, talking about marriage.
It was crazy. But we both knew. Four months later, after only a few weekends spent together but many, many emails and phone calls, I flew to Austin and, kneeling in a chapel in front of an icon, proposed marriage. She accepted. We drank Veuve Clicquot and ate chips and salsa. Late that same year, 1997, we married, and began our life together.
How in the world had that happened, and happened so quickly? Sure, I’m a hopeless romantic, but I am convinced that if my own heart had not been purified by those three years I spent walking through the fire, I would not have recognized that the smile of the beautiful, pure-hearted woman who was my own Beatrice, for whom I had been praying and longing for many years.
So when the pilgrim Dante meets two condemned lovers in the Circle of Lust, they were not strangers to me. I could easily have been one of them. Standing on the edge of the tempest, watching the souls of the lustful whirl by, Dante calls out to a pair physically bound together for eternity to descend and speak to him.
Read the whole thing. The hard, hard teaching of the Church on chastity set me free from my own disordered passions, and purified my heart so that I would be able to give and receive the love of another. I am certain that if not for accepting the ascetic discipline of chastity out of fidelity to Christ, I would not be married today. I would be a much worse mess than I had been in my early 20s. And if it had not been my blessing to marry, I would still rather be wandering in the desert, as hard as that is, rather than mired in the slavery of that particular Egypt.
The churches today that accept an unbiblical and unchristian teaching on sexual morality not only fail to be faithful to what we have been given, they also leave people like I once was stranded in Egypt, and counsel us to see it as the Promised Land.
The irreconcilable difference between my friend Andrew and me on this issue has to do with these issues:
1) What is a person?
2) What is sex and sexuality for?
3) What is the authority of Scripture and Tradition?
But that is a discussion for within the church. Religious liberty is a different, but related, issue.
As much as I would like to say that this is not a “war” we are in, I would point out that the view looks very different from the point of view of men and women who are losing their jobs and their livelihoods, or who are facing that realistic prospect, because of this. An insider at a major US Christian college today sent me a shocking report about some behind-the-scenes activities in which a senior professor is facing the loss of his job for defending his own church’s position on LGBT issues. It’s happening.
The fact that Christians treated gays and lesbians shamefully and unjustly in the past, and some still do today — a sin for which we Christians must repent — does not make this any less of a war. Andrew is not the enemy here. He is not a sore winner, and for that I’m grateful. But a winner he is, and unfortunately, he is not within the LGBT community a Nelson Mandela figure — a personage who fought a long, victorious struggle, and who has the power to lead his winning side to a position of magnanimity and reconciliation. I wish he were able to serve in that role; I have no doubt that he would gladly so so if that role existed. If he and people like him were running the LGBT movement and directing their allies, I would feel much more comfortable about the future of religious liberty in this country.
But the revolution has passed him by now.
The above text comes from Foundations of our Faith & Calling, a publication of the Bruderhof, a pacifist Anabaptist intentional community founded in the 1920s. It is, in effect, the Bruderhof Rule. I had coffee this morning with two members of the Bruderhof who are here at the Q Ideas conference. It was an enlightening time, and I made plans to visit them and learn from them as I research the Benedict Option book.
We agreed on the radical nature of the present moment in American life. One of the men told me that an Evangelical pastor told him yesterday, after listening to my speech about the Benedict Option, that conditions have changed drastically and quickly for his own community. It used to be that people in his area who weren’t church folks would nevertheless drop their children off at the church for day care and the like. Now, not only have many stopped doing that, they are actually organizing other parents to withdraw their children from the day care on the grounds that the Christians are “extremists” who are poisoning the minds of the young.
It’s happening. It’s not happening everywhere, yet, but it’s happening. And all the winsomeness in the world isn’t going to turn this back.
One of the Bruderhof men said that the rest of the American Christians world is going to have to learn, and learn quickly, that its present way of life is unsustainable in the world that is fast emerging. Said he, “It’s going to be community, or capitulation” — meaning that if we are going to remain authentically Christian, we are going to have to come together and help each other, or we are going to cave in to the anti-Christian culture.
Community or capitulation. There it is.
I would add that it cannot be community for the sake of community. There are many churches that worship the community itself, not a community constituted by a common faith and common worship of God. This is not going to work. I remember a parish I was part of in the past in which I concluded that it was not really a church community. I mean, there was truly no telling what the man next to you in the pew really believed, and no real expectation that you would agree on anything other than you both wanted to be here in the same place at the same time. That’s a crowd, not a community.
We are all going to learn these lessons, and soon, or we are going to dissolve. I can hardly wait to get started on this book, and to visit the Bruderhof and to discover what the rest of us can learn from their experience. These men were very friendly, and said they look forward to building ties with other Christian communities trying to live out the radical Christian faith in these difficult times. This too is a form of community, one that we will find, I’m certain, is not only desirable, but necessary.
So I wonder if a better way to think about the Benedict Option is not as a strategic withdrawal from anything in particular but a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish. In other words, Rod’s post is the right starting place, and the language of “withdrawal” something of a distraction from what that post is all about.
My own inclination — but then I have been a teacher for thirtysomething years — is to think that our primary focus should be on the two chief modes of Bildung: paideia and catechesis. And I do not mean for either of these modes to be confined to the formation of children.
If we ask ourselves what genuine Christian Bildung is, and what is required to achieve it in our time, then we will be directed to the construction and conservation of institutions and practices that are necessary for that great task. And then the necessary withdrawals — which may indeed vary from person to person, vocation to vocation, community to community — will take care of themselves.
Strategic attentiveness. I like that emphasis. Withdrawal is a logical effect, but it reframes the action as moving towards something rather than away from something, though it refers to the same thing.
I said in my Benedict Option talk yesterday that we small-o orthodox Christians could take a lesson from Dante, and allow our exile from the mainstream — both chosen and unchosen — to humble us, to bring us back to fidelity and the life of the Spirit, and renew us. We must try, anyway, because if we are going to hold on to the orthodox Christian faith in this increasingly anti-Christian culture, we are going to have to learn how to endure, and to endure joyfully.
I ran out of time this morning on the stage, but I wanted to talk briefly about how we will have much to learn from the African-American experience. A black friend’s grandmother, encouraging her children in the 1940s not to let their spirits and their dignity be broken by white hatred, counseled, “Don’t be the kind of person they think you are.” That’s great advice for Christians going forward.
That said, I think a lot of us Christians have a problem with naivete on this culture war front. The Evangelical writer Matthew Lee Anderson hits it square on the head in this post. Excerpts:
But there is a wide gap between disliking the fact that the pursuit of LGBT rights makes some people mean (as the unfortunate pizza owners discovered) and providing principled reasons for why, given the logic that the LGBT cause has used to advance its own rights and that sympathizers have adopted, such restrictions and prohibitions should not be pursued.
Such are the stakes of the great dispute that is upon us about how gay rights can co-exist with religious liberty. Which is why it’s curious to read libertarian writers like David Harsanyi or Conor Friedersdorf or Ben Domenech seem surprised by the pervasiveness of the conflict. Friedersdorf thinks that it is only a “faction” of gay marriage proponents that want to exclude those who have objections (religious or otherwise) from meaningful participation in public life. But while he’s right Julian Sanchez persuasively argues our current situation with respect to gay rights is nothing like Jim Crow, the LGBT community has made all of its legal and political gains the past twenty years by arguing that those who object are motivated by animus or bigotry. The one lesson that everyone in the gay marriage dispute should agree on is that the law has a pedagogical function: having been told (now) by the Supreme Court that objectors are motivated by animus, our society is simply starting to believe it. What else would we expect? It is precisely what conservatives have been arguing about the institution for the past twenty years, and on this they have once again been vindicated.
There is no room for naivety about our current cultural crisis. Only within the evangelical world naivety is the dominant problem. Young evangelicals who are increasingly sympathetic to their cause want to make nice with gay marriage while supporting religious liberty, but until we are given arguments for how they can coexist given our current legal and political history, we have no more reason to think that is possible than that we could unwind marriage from politics altogether (which is the ultimate libertarian fantasyland). The people who are now shouting about “religion-based bigotry” may be outliers now, but if Frank Bruni has his way they’ll be the future of the movement. After all, Rachel Held Evans thinks that conservatives have blood on their hands. If that’s not sufficient reason to do whatever it takes to eradicate such views, I don’t know what is.
So while it’s nice that Jonathan Merritt recognizes Bruni’s “strong-arm tactics” are “deeply troubling,” a careful reader will observe that he does not object to Bruni’s construal of the backwardness of religious conservatives. In fact, Merritt’s main argument against Bruni is that he’s going to embolden conservative evangelicals by framing them as persecuted. Apparently Merritt thinks its better to be nice to us so that none of us say anything, ever. With friends like these…
I don’t know the Evangelical world, so I am in no position to determine whether or not Anderson is right or wrong about their supposed naivete. But I do believe that there are very many Christians, including Catholics and Orthodox, who have no idea what’s at stake in all this, and how much they stand to lose. It never seems to touch them, this culture war, so they believe it doesn’t exist, or it’s much ado about nothing. They really do believe the quaint cliche that the marriage of their gay neighbors doesn’t affect them.
But when they start seeing their friends losing their jobs, or having to live in constant fear that somebody in the office will discover that they’re a Christian, they’ll realize how far things have gone. They may hope that the LGBT movement and its allies will satisfy themselves by dismantling non-dhimmi institutions like Gordon College, and that if they keep their heads down the bullies will pass their favored schools and institutions by. They’ll find out.
Many Christians have trouble accepting that all their service to the poor and vulnerable will avail them nothing in the world that’s here, and that is coming. The city of Lynn, Mass., tossed Gordon volunteer interns out of the impoverished city’s public schools, which are full of low-income kids. Why? Let’s ask school committee member Charlie Gallo, who led the push to evict Gordon:
“Their volunteer involvement was very limited. You have to draw the line somewhere,” Mr. Gallo said. “If the Ku Klux Klan, for example, made the best school lunch in the world, we’re not going to hire them to make the school lunch in the Lynn Public Schools.”
Cross-burning racial terrorists, young Evangelicals volunteering to teach in schools filled with impoverished minority kids — well, gosh, who can tell the difference?
I swear, this must be what McCarthyism was like: the moral panic, the fervor to root out the impure, the fear people who were guilty of nothing had of being suspected of disloyalty.
Anyway, I heard someone here say in conversation that a period of persecution might be good for Christians because we have grown too comfortable. It’s a position that I sometimes think is true, and in any case we are obliged to join our sufferings to Christ’s and try to be strengthened by our trials. Nevertheless, it is also true — and probably more important to think about — that it’s awfully glib to assume that persecution always makes the church stronger. As another person pointed out in that same conversation, the church in Japan never recovered from its persecution. There are other examples.
Optimistic Christians love to quote that line from Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” but that’s mighty easy to do when it’s not your children’s blood at risk of being spilled. And it’s easy to do when you can’t imagine losing your family business or job over your faith, or imagine what it’s like to live in fear that somebody in the workplace is going to ask you a question, and you answer it honestly instead of lying, and you will be branded a bigot forever. And so forth.
Maybe this kind of thing will make some people’s faith stronger. But we should not be eager to be put to the test. None of us know for sure how we would bear up. As an ardent Catholic, I really did believe that nothing could make me lose my faith in Catholic Christianity. I learned otherwise the hard way.
So, look, you tell me what you’re seeing where you are: do you think Christian conservatives are naive about the nature of the opposition? Examples, if you have them, please.
UPDATE: A reader responds:
“But I do believe that there are very many Christians, including Catholics and Orthodox, who have no idea what’s at stake in all this, and how much they stand to lose. It never seems to touch them, this culture war, so they believe it doesn’t exist, or it’s much ado about nothing. They really do believe the quaint cliche that the marriage of their gay neighbors doesn’t affect them.”
It will touch them even if they have no interest. This was the case for some friends of ours until recently. One of them took his boys out of Boy Scouts because of where he thought the organization was going. He didn’t say anything about allowing gays in to the scoutmaster and this was over a year before those changes were made. Just said that they had other priorities. The scoutmaster berated him for being homophobic as the real reason they were leaving. He started getting threatening calls from another parent about being intolerant. Then he had problems at work because one of the other parents in the troop he works with told co-workers about him leaving scouts, and a gay manager then did everything she could to get him fired. He’s safe for now as a top sales producer but he’s not sure for how long.
Another close friend is a public school teacher. This past summer, they rolled out transgender curriculum for her grade school kids and she has a 7th grader using girl’s restrooms because he identifies as female. She can no longer use terms like “he” or “she” when referring to students. Next year, they will start queer studies. She needs to affirm kids in the classroom and the coursework. She figured a mandate not to use gender terms isn’t actually in the Bible so it wasn’t a big deal but has no idea what to do about teaching the gay coursework. She left working in a Christian school because they could not pay the bills. Now in the public school system she’s the family breadwinner with her husband working as a pastor. If she teaches the curriculum will her husband get fired? Or will the church be tolerant because they need him as a pastor and can’t pay him very much?
Our friends where taken by surprise by this. As in, hit with the proverbial bus. My friend who was in scouts remarked to me how quickly things spiraled out of control when he made what he thought was an insignificant decision to leave Boy Scouts, and this was almost three years ago. What shocked him is that he never even mentioned leaving scouts due to the policy changes. Everyone just assumed that was the reason because they knew he was active in his church. He has no doubt he would no longer be employed if it wasn’t for the amount of revenue he brings in for his company.
UPDATE.2: Reader Smitty:
As an Evangelical, the naivete is quite strong, in two distinct strands.
In the older generation of Evangelicals (I would say, Generation X and earlier), there is a naivete that because the “silent majority” is with them, they will be fine. This generation believes that there is a silent, moral majority that disapproves of homosexuality and that this will be the bulwark that stems the tide. This thinking arises out of the culture wars fights of the 1970s and 1980s, where there really was a moral majority that was sick of the way that the popular culture was headed. These Evangelicals think that this is a similar fight and they will prevail or at least battle to a draw. They really don’t see/understand/realize the stakes or how our side is being demonized. And where I am at, people take a great deal of false comfort in the idea that “We live in the Bible belt. This is something that happens in big coastal cities. But we’ll be safe here.”
Among the Millenial generation, they do have the naivete that there can be peace. They believe that there is a compromise that can be found where they can oppose same sex marriage, have gay friends and not be ostracized. I am a youth leader of a Pentecostal church in the southern U.S. Gay rights and religious liberty isn’t really talked about among my group and I don’t really see it talked about in other youth groups.
I think because there is a naivete that if we don’t talk about it, it pass right over us, like a storm that never quite hits. I’ll admit that I find that line of thought tempting, because this isn’t an issue that is easy to talk about.
And what that generation faces is something far different that our most recent predecessors faced. I commented to someone recently that things are about to completely flip for Evangelical teenagers in public schools, if they haven’t already. When I was in middle school/high school in the 90s, living as an Evangelical Christian meant facing social opprobrium (the fear of every teenager), but the pushback came in the form of “Oh, you think you’re better than us?” By living as a committed Evangelical, you were at risk of being thought of as someone who fancied themselves better, more moral than everyone else. And that attack could be largely thwarted by combining the traits of Christ: being kind, approachable, friendly, etc., with proving yourself to be principled.
But for a teenager today and the coming years, living as a committed Evangelical puts them at risk of being labeled a bigot and a homophobe. So instead of being as someone who has tried to make themselves better than everyone else, they will be seen as beneath everyone else. They will be seen as a denizen of a hateful gutter. And that cannot be easily thwarted. No amount of kindness can overcome being seen as a bigot. The pressures on Evangelical (as well as Orthodox, Catholic, etc.) teenagers to give in will be immense. I am quite fearful for our future.
Look what I’m bringing home from Boston. The two books on either end I got from the used bookstore, and the one in the middle, Medieval Christianity: A New History, was a gift from Carrie Bradley, a reader of this here blog who came to hear me talk at Boston College tonight. Carrie was the research assistant on the book; the stunning image on the cover is a detail from a window at the Chartres Cathedral.
It is becoming very, very easy for me to lose myself in the world of the Middle Ages. I’m starting to think it’s a damn shame that William of Ockham didn’t fall down a well or something before he caused all that trouble.
I had a really good time at BC. I got to meet several longtime readers of this blog, and the audience asked really good questions. But you know what? It is freaking cold in this city. Get this: there’s still unmelted snow on a sports field near the BC campus. I cannot imagine how these poor Bostonians lived through this past winter, given these narrow, London-like downtown streets.
One thing I love about Bostonians: when you praise their oysters, they agree with you that nobody grows ‘em better. It ain’t braggin’ when you can do it.
I posted yesterday about my friend Frederica Mathewes-Green’s publicly stated position on same-sex marriage. As soon as I did, I wanted to go back and amend what I said because my own position differs significantly from hers, though I do believe, as I said in the earlier post, that she gets a lot right. But the plane from Houston was boarding, and I didn’t have time connecting through DFW to Boston to revisit the post.
I’m doing so here — and I’m going to highlight something that a reader said in the comments section of that Frederica post. It expresses my point of view much, much better than I could do. When I said in my earlier post that what Frederica said was “good,” I meant her focus on the destruction unfaithful heterosexuals have done to the institution of marriage, and her recognition that there’s no point in having a discussion anymore, because from the left, mostly, this is all about an exercise in will to power (i.e., “Shut up!” he explained.) But I think my friend, who is just about the most irenic person I know, misses something important about the stakes here, and the nature of the argument.
That reader posted a link to First Things editor R.R. Reno’s response to two readers who wrote objecting to certain things about the magazine’s Christian orthodoxy on same-sex matters. The first letter (Peter Blair’s) says that because orthodox Christians have not been outspoken in opposition to contraception, they weaken their stance in favor of traditional marriage. The second letter, from Ian Markham, complains that the magazine won’t allow conservative Christians who accept same-sex marriage to publish in its pages. Here is Reno’s complete response, which I quote in full because I think it is strong, true, and courageous:
The architecture of the Christian intellectual tradition admits of careful parsing. For this reason, I find Peter Blair’s claims unconvincing. The use of a condom in the sexual intercourse of a man and a woman has a different moral meaning than the intercourse of a man with a man. The first impedes by artificial means the intrinsic potential of the sexual act to give rise to new life. The second is an act that’s intrinsically sterile. The first enacts in an imperfect but real way the one-flesh union of a man and a woman, something Scripture suggests is fundamental to the human community. The second does something else entirely. In both regards, the procreative and unitive ends properly sought in our sexual lives are complex rather than simple, admitting of nuance and degree. For this reason, Evangelicals and others are not being incoherent when they allow for the use of contraception (a mistaken judgment) while judging homosexual acts immoral.
Casuistry aside, I find it very hard to understand how some Christians, perhaps most, fail to see the fundamental threat same-sex marriage poses to the biblical view of marriage. Divorce wounds marriage. Cohabitation and a contraceptive mentality reflect a private indifference to the goods of marriage. But same-sex marriage does something much more fundamental: It asserts public control over marriage, detaches it from the reality of our bodies as male and female, and remakes it into a purely affective union for the sake of . . . affective union.
Only the blind can fail to see the difference. Using pornography, a contraceptive mentality, premarital sex, divorce, adultery—all these transgressions ignore divine law, sometimes with a haughty disdain that says “To hell with traditional morality; I’ll do as I please.” Same-sex marriage is different. It insists on claiming the public sanction of the marital bond. Nobody is calling for a blessing of the condoms. Meanwhile, wedding photographers are being taken to court for failing to join same-sex celebrations.
Let me put this a different way. Onan reminds us that human beings have always sought sex without consequences—the contraceptive impulse. The Old Testament allows for divorce as a concession to human weakness, as have other religious systems. Prostitution, adultery, fornication: These are perennial. All reflect our failure to live in accord with the biblical view of sex and marriage. But same-sex marriage? It’s not an all-too-human failure. Instead it’s an assertion of human will, the conscription of a sacred institution to serve a contemporary ideology. Where is that to be found in the Bible? In the prostitution of Israel to Baal.
Blair worries that prioritizing the wrongness of gay marriage will make us seem anti-gay. Seem? Christianity is opposed to the contemporary ideology that equates us with our sexual desires and tells us we’re entitled to their satisfaction. We oppose the Gnosticism that says our bodies have no intrinsic moral meaning and are mere instruments in the service of our fine inner feelings. We assert the male-female union as normative, surpassed only by the sublime, supernatural vocation of the celibate life dedicated to divine service. Christianity can’t avoid being seen as anti-gay, because a failure to be “pro-gay” today is invariably regarded as “anti-gay.”
Christianity is “pro-person.” I am profoundly sympathetic to Christians who want to provide hospitality and companionship to our gay friends—and that includes friends who don’t obey biblical norms, and even gay friends who have married. I have such friends—along with divorced friends and friends who cohabit—and friends who have stolen, cheated, and lied. The company of the perfect is vanishingly small, and I’m not among them. But we need to get a grip on reality: We are the bad guys of the sexual revolution. We are the heretics of our time: We forbid when it is forbidden to forbid. No appeals to the great cathedral of Christian doctrine are going to change that.
Ian Markham is mistaken. The overwhelming majority of people do not enjoy heterosexual marriage. Forty years ago, 70 percent of American adults were married. Today 50 percent are. The decline comes from the collapse of marriage among the working-class and poor. Only those living in the gated moral world of elite America can possibly imagine that our grand experiment in sexual liberation has not come at a great cost to the most vulnerable. Gay marriage is a luxury good for the rich that will be paid for by the poor.
I’m glad Markham raises the question of whether First Things welcomes articles arguing for the validity of “lifelong, monogamous gay relationships.” I appreciate the delicacy with which he cordons off the question of gay marriage. But, no, we won’t. In the present climate, it is for all intents and purposes impossible for a person who publically dissents from gay rights orthodoxies to get a job teaching in higher education. It’s increasingly impossible to be the leader of a major corporation or to get a job at a major law firm. The New York Times certainly won’t publish the most modest demurrals from these orthodoxies. And I dare say one cannot find preferment in the Episcopal Church unless one subscribes to the same orthodoxies. Pretending that there is an honest public debate about the gay rights agenda is an act of dishonesty.
And not just dishonesty. There are many courageous people who have refused to capitulate to the ruthless Jacobin suppression of all dissent. Many have paid a heavy price, including gay writers who defend Christian teaching in our pages. Were we to play the idle game of “dialogue” on this issue, the implication would be clear: These people foolishly sacrificed their livelihoods and reputations for the sake of an ambiguity, not a truth. That’s an act of betrayal First Things will not commit.
Read the whole thing; you’ll get both letters there. Rusty Reno’s remarks are exactly right. Same-sex marriage is not simply a variation on marriage, but something that changes its essence. It’s a change that reflects how our broader culture has flipped on the meaning of marriage, seeing it as something purely expressive, and disconnected from any larger metaphysical meaning that inheres gender, and in the ability to produce life. As Rusty points out, there are more or less disharmonious forms of sexual expression, both within and outside of marriage, but same-sex genital expression, and same-sex marriage, is categorically different. Because, as Rusty says, our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning. Christian orthodoxy is not nominalist.
Most of the culture today does not agree. I get that. This is the fruit of nominalism, which says there are no essences, and that things mean what we say they mean. Same-sex marriage didn’t come from nowhere, of course, but it really is a Rubicon. A Britney Spears quickie Vegas marriage is a travesty, but it is still a version, however distorted, of something essentially real. Same-sex marriage, which I agree can refer to a pairing of two men or two women who genuinely, deeply, and sacrificially love each other, is simply not marriage.
The difference is metaphysical more than moral. Or rather, it’s moral because it’s metaphysical.
We orthodox believers — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — are heretics who are going to be despised on this no matter how kind and generous. Frederica will find that she’s no better than Fred Phelps in the eyes of many. I have spent the last week talking to professors and students in several colleges, and the fear they have about what’s happening now to freedom of speech and religion, even within the faculties and in the classrooms of Christian universities, is very real. I tend to be Chicken Little about this stuff, but even I wasn’t prepared for some of the things I heard. This is McCarthyism. It really and truly is. I must have had at least a dozen people, professors and students, come up to me privately over this past week to say that it’s exactly as bad as I think it is, and in some cases worse — and then give examples.
At Q this morning after my talk, I had an intense private discussion with a man who has deep and high-level experience in Democratic politics. He has been shocked by how quickly and how decisively his party at the senior level has moved on this issue. As I have been hearing over and over, from a diverse array of people since Indiana, he said that it’s worse than most people realize.
Half an hour ago, I taped the Ricochet podcast. I was on with a gay Millennial conservative. It was a good talk, but then he said that someone who would refuse on principle to attend a same-sex wedding is “loathsome,” and should not be president.
Wait, I said, the goalpost has now shifted. It is not enough to favor gay marriage as a legal right. Now you have to show up to indicate your approval, or you are not just wrong, but “loathsome”?
Yes, he said.
There you go. I don’t advocate giving up the fight, but I do advocate understanding the stakes and how useless it is at this point to hope for anything better than some small legal space within which to carve out breathing room for religious dissent. Whatever happens in the law, though, there can be no doubt that in the world rapidly coming into being, to be known to be a traditional Christian on this issue will subject you to loathing, and will exact a tremendous social cost. A lot of people will yield, and rationalize it. Those who will not yield will be made to pay.
Let me be clear: we must not respond with hatred, because that would be a betrayal of our God. But we must not allow ourselves to believe that this is not a big deal. It’s a very big deal, though this won’t become clear for some time yet. Anyway, if we’re going to go down, let’s do it with clear eyes and heads held high. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, but they mustn’t get from us the satisfaction of having a clean conscience.
At National Review, David French has a thoughtful criticism of the Benedict Option. He writes:
In reality, Christian conservatives have barely begun to fight. Christians, following the examples of the Apostles, should never retreat from the public square. They must leave only when quite literally forced out, after expending every legal bullet, availing themselves of every right of protest, and after exhausting themselves in civil disobedience. Have cultural conservatives spent half the energy on defense that the Left has spent on the attack?
After all, the theological base is still strong. As I’ve pointed out before, not one orthodox Christian denomination is even contemplating shifting its stance on sexual-revolution issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and the traditionalist faiths are holding the line in membership or growing. By contrast, the mainline, progressive churches are collapsing in membership, continuing a long slide that could see some of America’s historic denominations essentially vanish in our lifetimes.
I wish I agreed that this is true, but it’s not. I was at Notre Dame earlier this week, and saw hanging in the student center a big banner advocating training for how to be an LGBT “ally”. The training program was co-sponsored by campus ministry. I’ve heard from professors at other Catholic and even Evangelical universities that if you believe in orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality, you had better keep your mouth shut. You keep finding things like this if you to to Christian colleges. Even at Houston Baptist University, a much more culturally conservative place, talking to students I discovered that the general view is that SSM is fine, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.
I have been hearing also from several independent sources that we are going to see a major crack-up among Evangelical colleges over this issue. The theological base is not nearly as strong as French thinks. Look at Christian Smith’s work on this. The official position of the churches does not necessarily reflect what the people in the pews believe. Again, I wish it were so, but that’s just not true.
We have to keep fighting for our religious liberty. But we must be clear-eyed about our prospects for victory.
My friend Ryan Booth speaks my mind on this on his FB page:
I think that Rod Dreher is correct is viewing the culture war as largely lost, but his bigger concern (and mine) is for the church, not the culture, because the church cannot be (for long anyway) much of an influence on the culture if is corrupted and thoroughly enmeshed in it. When teachers at Catholic schools get fired because they refuse to support LGBT initiatives, those Catholic schools have failed to be a witness for Christ.
And that’s where we are. The overwhelming pressure against traditional Christianity is such that we have no shot at raising our children to be authentic Christians unless we set up better support systems, unless we form better communities amongst ourselves, unless we improve Christian education. That’s what the Benedict Option is about.
Beyond that, if Christianity is only seen by the culture as a bunch of hateful bigots who oppose people having the freedom to marry whom they love, then we Christians have no chance to present Christ as Savior and Redeemer. The Gospel isn’t about political opposition or cultural protests. That’s part of why I resigned from the Republican State Central Committee and am planning to enroll in seminary.
And we can’t show people the life-changing power of Christ if we’re fully enmeshed in the culture. If our lives don’t look any different than those of non-Christians, then why would anyone decide to become a Christian?
Enough for now. I’ll come back with more about my Q Talk later.
I’m in Boston tonight, and have been away from home for a week. I’m missing some folks. From How Dante Can Save Your Life:
What did I see in Julie? I can’t guess what leaped in my heart the moment we met, and listing all the things that I adore about her — her love of books, cooking, and travel, her sense of humor, her kindness, her beauty — doesn’t quite tell the story. Until I read the Commedia, I could not articulate what made me fall in love with her, and what makes me fall ever more deeply in love with her every day.
For years I explained it by saying, “She was the first woman I met that I couldn’t see to the bottom of.” After seventeen years of marriage, I know many more things about her but, happily, have yet to solve the mystery.
And then came Dante and Beatrice, who taught me that my Julie was and is an icon of divine love. I had dated beautiful women, women who were bright, funny, and bookish. But I had never met a woman who was all those things and who also put her love of God above everything else. She insisted, rightly, that I do the same.
We stood at the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary church in New Orleans, making our vows to each other. The priest introduced a custom he had learned in Bosnia into our ceremony. He had Julie and me clasp our hands together over a crucifix, and as we held it and each other, the priest said that as long as we hold on to Jesus, we will find the strength to hold on to each other.
That crucifix hangs over our bed today. The priest’s promise is near the center of our life together. Because we both strive to love God above ourselves, we have found the strength to bear each other’s burdens (including at times the daunting weight of the other’s ego), to ask and to offer each other forgiveness, and to show care and compassion beyond what we think we can manage.
I freely confess that I have received far more of that care than I have ever given to my wife, never more than in the three years of my illness. I saw in Julie’s weary but patient face a window into the infinity of God’s love; in fact, I had seen it all along, though I did not understand what was in front of my eyes. I could not accept that the Father loved me, but I could believe that this girl from Texas did. Twenty years ago I prepared my heart for her, and then she, over the course of our marriage, prepared my heart for God. She held me up when my legs were too weak to stand and held our family together when my arms had no strength.
She was—she is—my Beatrice. It took the words and dreams of a medieval Tuscan poet to gentle my heart, and to open my eyes fully to the wonder of my wife and the unmerited grace of her love.
The official Walker Percy Weekend t-shirts are in! That’s Walker’s signature, for real. Anne Percy Moores and Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell kindly gave us permission to use their father’s autograph for these exclusive t-shirts (all proceeds will go to fund the festival and the Julius Freyhan Foundation, the not-for-profit arts and culture organization sponsoring the festival). We will have a way for you to order them online in a few days. Watch this space for more details. I just had to show it to you tonight, as soon as I got the photo.
You coming to the Walker Percy Weekend this year? I think there might be a few more tickets left. If not, well, buy you a t-shirt. Again, watch this space for ordering info — and tell your Walker Percy-loving friends.
I apologize. That is a terrible image. The light was low, and I couldn’t see what I was doing. But the historic moment needed to be captured. That there, amici, is a dozen Massachusetts oysters. Local ones. A friend invited me to dine with him tonight at the Oceanaire Seafood Room, where I asked our waiter, a self-described “oyster nerd,” to deliver me a good tasting of the local fare. He brought me four each of the bivalves from Katama Bay, Pleasant Bay, and Island Creek.
This side of Paris, it’s as as close as I’m ever going to get to the happiest place on earth (I speak, of course, of Huîtrerie Régis). These oysters were transporting. They’re briny, minerally, metallic — just everything you could possibly want in an oyster. The Island Creeks were my favorite, because they had a hint of melony sweetness in the middle, just like the Marennes-Olerons chez Régis.
Mark my words: I am going to have every possible meal at a Boston oyster bar while I’m here. If an oyster bar opens for breakfast, I’m there. I could not imagine living in a place where you could just walk in off the street like you were the Tsar of Russia or something, and purchase such goodness, and slurp it right off the shell.
“Where are you from?” said the waiter, amused by my enthusiasm.
“South Louisiana,” I said.
He screwed his face up. “The oystahs theah are terrible.”
“Well, I can’t defend them, not after this,” I confessed sheepishly. “These Atlantic oysters are in another category entirely.”
“The wahm watah,” he said. “S’no good.” And then he discoursed on oyster terroir. I was in heaven. Am in heaven. You know where to find me for the next couple of days: either at the Q Ideas conference, at BC talking about Dante, or communing at an area oyster bar with all that is good and holy in the great state of Massachusetts.
Better photo next time, though…
UPDATE: I didn’t mention that I found a fantastic used book store, Commonwealth Books, just down the street. Bought a copy of Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Paradiso for $6, and The Dissolution of the Medieval Outlook by Gordon Leff for $11. And if I hadn’t had to run out to make my dinner engagement, heaven knows what else I would have carried out of that store.
My dear friend Frederica Mathewes-Green has never taken a public position on same-sex marriage, but recently caused a row when she said on her Facebook page that she is not particularly against it. In a long, good post today, she clarifies her stance. Excerpts:
It was a nerve I never intended to strike, for I am not actually in favor of gay marriage. I’ve just never opposed it publicly (what I meant by saying I “don’t” oppose it). I don’t think it’s the catastrophe my friends do.
FMG says that she is not for gay marriage, because she doesn’t believe that it is a marriage, not in the sense that Christians do. More:
That makes me not worry about it so much. As a conservative Christian, my beliefs about the meaning of marriage already diverge from secular assumptions at a number of points. If the differences between Christian and secular marriage become even more clear, that’s not a bad thing.
In fact, I wish those differences were more clear. What’s the main reason I haven’t joined up with the anti-gay-marriage movement? Sheer exasperation. It mightily annoys me when opponents of gay marriage use the term “traditional marriage” to mean solely “not gay.” Straight marriage is much more threatened by the things straight people do: internet porn, adultery, and most obviously, divorce. To blame gay people for destroying marriage seems a classic case of “Look over there!”
Here’s what I mean. Some years ago I received a Christmas letter from the head of an evangelical organization. About halfway through he shared that, sadly, he had gotten divorced that past year. But in the next paragraph he had great news: God had given him a new wife!
Well, maybe there were extenuating circumstances, maybe I shouldn’t judge—but it still irritates me how blandly Christians accept this sort of thing. It used to be that, if gay people were expected to live celibately, married people were expected, at least, to preserve marriage for a lifetime. Even if divorce was unpreventable, remarriage wasn’t assumed. That line about “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder” comes from Jesus himself. (Mark 10:8-9).
Gay marriage is only the last in a long series of shifts in sexual morality. Why didn’t premarital sex or cohabitation galvanize our attention, like this has? Where were the protests then? How did divorce and remarriage become about as frequent among Christians as in the general population?
When reminded of those higher standards, of not that long ago, people say, “But it would be too hard for divorced people to remain unmarried. It’s too hard to live without love.” Yet that’s exactly what we ask gay people to do. We should at least admit that it is not easy; it is in fact a kind of heroism, and we should honor it better than we do. I don’t advocate relaxing the rules (of the faith) for gays, but I wonder how straight people came to relax the rules for themselves.
So I don’t care what other people do in bed, and I don’t think that a gay couple living down the street undermines the marriages around them. But I do think that gay sex damages the soul, and I’ll tell you why.
She says that she’s not joining any movements over this, because the other side isn’t listening. FMG says her “live and let live” perspective only gets her branded a bigot and a hater by the other side, so she’s willing to bear the scorn of others, but not going to bother trying to change their minds, because they don’t want their minds to be changed. I think this is right. I think people on our side should gear down and expect the worst, because it’s coming. And be of good cheer: it will be okay. We will know who we are by this.
At Q Ideas, I will be talking tomorrow morning about how we should prepare.