Monday, May 25, 2015

"Yes" to Persons, "No" to Ideologies-- Part I


The recent "Yes" vote to redefine marriage in Ireland reminds me of a line uttered by a former theology professor regarding the abortion debate:  A Roman Catholic nun, she summarized her own confusion about the issue by asking, "Who could be against life--and who could be against choice?"

Analogously, the dilemma of our day seems to be, "Who could be against marriage--and who could be against equality?"  To stand against choice or against equality seems at best ignorant and at worst bigoted.  To say "yes" to redefining marriage seems the loving, affirming and inclusive option.  After all, if marriage is such a good thing, then how can it be denied to anyone who wants to pursue it--on whatever terms they set? 

Like abortion rights advocates before them who introduced their campaign as a "women's issue" and ultimately attempted to translate it into a civil liberties and human rights issue, those who champion the redefinition of marriage have much emotional momentum directed on a similar social and political trajectory.  The "Yes" vote in Ireland, along with the arguments leading up to the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision, may also confirm an instinct that others have voiced:  Christians have lost the capacity to speak convincingly in the face of prevailing sex and gender theories. 

Whether we have misread the signs of the times or misunderstood the logical implications of the sexual revolution as they continue playing out, somehow we seem to have failed to give witness to the deeper "Yes" about the human person.  Perhaps our own complicity with a culture of contraception and sterilization have paved the way for a world of sex without children and children without sex.  Perhaps the tragic saga of priest sex abuse has paralyzed us, since the vast majority of crimes were homosexual acts with post-pubescent boys.

Perhaps our own efforts to reject problematic ideas with which we disagree have been interpreted as a dismissal of persons with same-sex attractions.  Perhaps our attempts to embrace persons with same-sex attractions led us to make too many compromises with an uncompromising gay culture.  Whatever the fault lines have been, shame on us for not yet having found the proper footing to address this challenge. 

After all, Jesus' timeless teaching about marriage still stands: Marriage is something which precedes and pre-dates human society, and marriage is not for everyone.  Indeed, perhaps the Lord's analysis of the three groups who are not meant for marriage should be revisited in light of current cultural questions:
“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so....
Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

(Mt 19:8-12)  

The Good News revealed by Jesus is that we are precious sons and daughters of a heavenly Father, who knows and loves us more intimately than we could ever imagine.  Our fundamental identity is determined by this relationship, not by our sexual orientations.  Our future destiny is defined by the interplay between our free will and God's transforming grace, not by our sexual attractions or desires.  Marriage is not a civil right but a sacred calling for men and women who are called to bond themselves to a spouse, in order to become father and mother for any children born of their loving union.

The Good News revealed by Jesus is that we have been liberated from the false freedom of simply doing what we want or what we feel like doing; we are offered a new life of that authentic freedom embodied in the person of Christ himself, who renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom.  This new life is articulated in the Beatitudes: Purity of heart is available; the chaste integration of sexual powers within our eternal soul is a real possibility. 

This is the deeper "Yes" to persons which Christians must continue to articulate.  It is as beautiful as it is joyful.  It is a achievable, thanks to God's grace.  (For anyone with a same-sex attraction, this life is heroically witnessed by the group appropriately named "Courage"--check out, or EnCourage for family members.)

If disciples of Jesus have failed to give witness to this liberating message of divine mercy, then shame on us.  If we have failed to demonstrate what a sacramental marriage is, and how it differs from worldly cohabitation or from sterile sexuality, then perhaps we are even partly to blame for the movement to redefine marriage.  We must find ways to give compelling witness to the "Yes" that is too often confused with a "No".
By standing for traditional marriage and against the prevailing gender theory, Christians are not "against" persons with same-sex attractions, nor are Christians "against" equality.  Christians are "for" all those who are open to the possibility that marriage, like life itself, is something.  It is in the interest of society as a whole to respect both marriage and equality, lest they both be distorted.
(NB: Next week's installment will turn to the issue of resisting ideologies.)