Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Ruling

1)  ALL PEOPLE are beloved of God.  You don't have to earn that.  You don't have to qualify that statement.  God loves all of my gay brothers and sisters.  Let's all agree to retire the phrase, "Hate the sin and love the sinner," shall we?  Let's agree that God loves all, and stop at that.

2)  The Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality is actually compassionate, not hateful or bigoted. It is very important to clarify and to understand what the Church teaches about this.  Unlike many of our Protestant brothers and sisters who are also "against" gay marriage, the Catholic approach to this issue doesn't believe you can "pray the gay away" or that simply by having same sex attraction, you sin.  The Catholic Church distinguishes between the person, the attraction, and the actions.  The person is always, without question beloved of God (see #1).  The attraction is understood to be a deeply psychological issue, largely unexplained. (The removal of homosexuality from the DSM was not based in science, but in politics. "What’s noteworthy about this is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough. There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change."  See this article for one explanation.)  While you may not be able to control your attraction, that does not necessarily mean you were born with it.  Nor does it mean that you can be accountable for having the attraction, by itself.

It's action that brings in culpability.  And why does the Catholic Church condone the act?  Because of natural law.  If you study the human body, it allows you to see how the design contributes to purpose.  Our "reproductive organs" are called that for a reason...that's their purpose!  And, it is "disordered" to use them for another purpose.  That is why, difficult though it may be, the Catholic Church teaches that all sex outside of faithful, married, open-to-life-sex is wrong.  What about infertile couples?  What about people who don't want kids?  What about those who are too old to conceive?  What does the Church say to them?  Well, the same thing, essentially.  We can use our bodies in the way God created us.  A male and female body are naturally ordered toward one another and procreation. If procreation is not possible, due to age or defect, that is qualitatively different from a couple of the same sex.  If procreation is not wise, due to finances, health issues, or other serious reasons, then you refrain from the act.  You don't participate in the act, and then thwart it.  It's like being on a diet - you refrain from certain foods.  You don't eat whatever you want and take a pill to remove its effects or throw it up to prevent the effects.  We would call that an eating disorder.  In the Western world, we now call that "contraception" when we do the same behaviors with sex.  We are not declaring that gay people "have a disorder."  But the Church, based on natural law, upholds that our sexual facilities and the acts they are capable of have a purpose and an order.  It's the difference between an apple tree that cannot produce apples or has a disease, and an orange tree, which you expect to create apples.  One is ordered toward creating apples.  The other is not, and never will be ordered toward creating apples.

Here is a fascinating article in the New York Times about the role that procreation has had in marriage law.     

3)  To the extent that this legal ruling will allow long-standing couples visitation rights at the hospital, insurance benefits, or the rights to raise their children or care for children, this is a WIN.  It is not right to separate life-long partners at the end of life or in critical care situations.  Often this person is their next of kin and ONLY kin, as families have sometimes abandoned their gay relatives. It is not right that spouses cannot receive benefits, such as insurance or retirement, when they have spent their whole lives together, and that is the wish of the other spouse.  It is always good to give better care and provisions to children who need a loving home.  Do I think children should be purposely deprived of a mother and father?  No.  But, I think caring adults who want to adopt or provide for children are better for that child than putting them in a foster care system or worse.  I do think that all of the above could have been accomplished with civil unions, rather than marriage, but the fact that these issues are resolved is only fair, in my opinion.

4)  Where all of this gets sticky is the separation of Church and state.  Will the Catholic Church be allowed to continue teaching and practicing sacramental marriages?  We have seen legal precedent that forces business to do things that do not comply with their religious beliefs.  As ministers of the church AND the state, when a marriage is performed, will the state eventually force ministers to perform weddings with which they do not agree?  I think this is a valid, not paranoid question.  One easy resolution is to do what many European countries do and require a civil ceremony with the court/justice of the peace and a separate religious ceremony, if so desired.  To me, this is the clearest way.  The future is uncertain as to the federal funding, tax-exempt status and other governmental benefits afforded to churches.  Gay marriage is federal law now, and it's possible that not performing a gay wedding will be punishable by law, that teaching gay marriage is not morally accepted will be deemed discriminatory hate speech.

By the looks of the way this played out on social media, this seems extremely possible, if not imminent.  I wish I could say that all were treated with respect and tolerance after this decision came out, but it was truly concerning and disappointing to see the way the debate played out within my social media network.  Lots of people took giddy delight in announcing that they would be "cleaning up" their list of friends, based on the "haters" and "bigots."  There is no room for public discourse.  I can see that if you viewed a traditional-marriage stance as equivalent to white supremacy, then you wouldn't want to dignify that with a "discussion."  Obviously, the two arguments are not parallel.  But, we have reached a time in public debate which reveals a complete LACK of rational, logical discussion.

5)  Sola Scriptura does not work.  My point on #2 about why the Catholic Church teaches what it does about sexuality is not based on Bible verses, text-proofing, "Jesus said ___ about gay marriage," "to lay with another man is an abomination," etc.  That is flawed, faulty logic.

(Side note, the Bible does not declare itself to be the pillar and foundation of truth, it declares the Church to be the ultimate authority.  Also, it's not a self-asserted document that compiled itself into canonization, it took humans and spiritual authorities.)

For all the well-meaning Protestants that are holding fast to their biblical interpretation on either side of this argument, it will fail.  First of all, those who do not believe the Bible will immediately ignore you when you quote the Bible at them, especially if it is used against them.  Secondly, lots of atheists and Christians who disagree with you can and will quote the Bible right back at you to prove their point.  They'll use the book of Leviticus to say, "you probably wear clothing with blended materials or eat shellfish - are you an abomination too??" or they'll say, "Judge not, lest you be judged," or they'll tell you why the Bible condemns same-sex relationships.

The Bible was not meant to be used as a means of defending our beliefs, taking verses out of context and saying, "See??!!  It's in the Bible, it must be true."  You can twist it any which way.  Just like in real estate - location, location, location - the Bible needs to be taken in context.  The Bible is not "a book," it is a library of books, written over time by multiple authors, in multiple locations, with multiple purposes.  To say something is "in the Bible" therefore it is true, is like saying a book regarding slavery is "in the library," therefore slavery is condoned (or condemned) by that library. Context, context, context.  

Case in point, Rachel Held Evans, God love her, even revealed her Sola Scriptura bias in a Twitter fight earlier this week.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  She has grappled publicly with her Evangelical upbringing, but found her way to liturgical worship in the Episcopalian church.  While she has a much less literal view of the Bible than many evangelicals, nevertheless, she's still a Protestant, and reveals as much when arguing that the Bible is silent on condemning gay marriage, therefore, a committed relationship between two people of the same sex is okay.

I've heard Rachel speak in person and read several of her books.  I relate to her rejection of evangelicalism.  I don't relate to her nostalgia for it, since it was mostly a negative, abusive experience for me.  And, we ended up in different places after rejecting it.  Here I am in the Catholic Church, thinking...she's just still so...Protestant.  I guess I'm surprised that people like Rachel Held Evans are even looking to the Bible for literal, prescriptive verses to support such viewpoints to combat those who look for literal, prescriptive verses to support their viewpoints.  It fails.  It comes down to interpretation of the scriptures, not the scriptures themselves.

Using the Bible on either side of the gay marriage argument has made me so glad to be Catholic.  We get to use natural law, reason, philosophy, the Bible in context, and a myriad of other reasons for our beliefs.  We have an entire philosophy of the human person.  We are consistent.

6)  It is time for the Catholic Church to support communities of families - host adult events with FREE child care, form groups within the church of young married couples, couples with children, couples practicing NFP, single people.  Create mentorship relationships between older "been there, done that" couples with younger "what are we doing?" couples.  Help single parents by changing their oil, offering babysitting.  Help new parents by bringing a meal or cleaning the house.  Maybe it's just my parish, which I love...but Protestants have us Catholics way beat on this fellowship thing.  If I were to attend a Protestant church, I could immediately get "plugged in" with people in my age group or stage of life.  They are great at community and small groups.  Maybe I wouldn't have deep friendships immediately, but I could have 10 new friends, with phone numbers, that I could call for coffee or an emergency.  And these would be people I trusted, at least at a basic level. If it weren't for the truth of the Catholic Church, there are days that I think I'd leave it to find the fellowship that's so available in Protestant circles.

7)  We are making marriage too difficult and divorce too easy.  Yes, couples should go through marriage preparation.  We are clearly not catechized or prepared for marriage well enough to have the divorce and annulment rates that we do.  We don't have tons of great examples. And, by the time we want to walk down the aisle, a couple is usually just jumping through the hoops to have a Church wedding.

I have to say our marriage preparation was mostly a waste of time.  Our church didn't offer anything on NFP, which I wanted to learn about.  Instead, we took a personality test and discussed compatibility with a non-counselor.  There were no skills learned.  Aside from about an hour in which our priest talked about marriage and sacrifice, the rest of the marriage preparation weekend was pretty mundane, nothing I would refer back to in times of crisis.

In our case, since my parents don't have tons of money, and since they expressly did not give their Protestant blessing to our Catholic wedding, we were on our own paying for it.  Everything is more expensive when it's "for a wedding."  And, gone are the days in which you can have a cake and punch reception in the church fellowship hall.  These are the days of Pinterest and Instagram.  There is a lot of pressure to feed people, give them something to drink, and make their cross-country trip to your wedding worth their while.  Even with the smallest of budgets and lowest of expectations, it is hard to have a simple wedding these days.  That shouldn't be the case.

The church needs to do everything they can to help people get married (not rush them into a marriage, but help them have a wedding).  As a community, as a culture, we need to bring back the days of all the momma's pitching in, baking a cake, or sewing a dress.  Maybe it's because we live in a big city and had no support from my (the bride's) parents, but even with my secondhand dress, not buying clothing for the bridesmaids, DIY programs and invitations, etc., our wedding was expensive. I had sticker shock.  We should not let cost be an impediment to Catholic couples who want to get married.  We need to do better supporting that process as a community - donating goods and services, giving people options, etc.

8) Similar to #7, we need to make child-rearing a community effort again, and the Church should be front and center with that.  One of the reasons we practice NFP to avoid pregnancy right now is financial.  The cost of having a child even with insurance is extremely high.  We also have a very high maternal death rate.  We also have some of the worst policies in the western world when it comes to missing work.  Let's say, you can afford to have the baby.  What about caring for the child?  Well, we are failing there, too.

I would love to have as many children as possible, quit my job or work from home, homeschool, and spend all my time with my family.  However, that's just not possible for multiple reasons, finances being one of them.  We used to raise children in community, but now, each home needs its own set of equipment.  Stay at home parents are often isolated and overwhelmed.  Many don't live close to family for help with childcare.  Institutionalized child care (or day care) is extremely expensive.

Why am I harping on this?  What does it have to do with gay marriage?  Well, I am pro-family, pro-marriage.  But, when it comes to having the ability to live this out myself, it's not possible right now. The Church needs to be creative here and see how we can truly change the culture.  Not just by teaching people more about Theology of the Body, but helping them out when a marriage or a baby comes along.  That's all I'm saying.  We will only succeed in changing the culture on a grassroots level.  It is hard enough to be counter-cultural, but it's even harder when your Church talks a big theological game with no practical community in place to back it up.

9)  My final, closing thought on gay marriage is that God loves my gay brothers and sisters.  I am slightly worried about the direction our country is going.  And for that reason, I encourage all of us to pray for others, our country, marriages, and our gay friends.  We will never convince someone of their sin, the Holy Spirit does that.  We must build loving relationships to have any effect on others whatsoever.  In the meantime, we need to be building a strong culture of healthy marriages and happy families in the Catholic Church.  We need each other.

And, if we create a civilization of love, that truth will be attractive.    

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