EXPERIENCE:Amy Welborn makes a good point today that one of the many issues raised by the debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is “experience vs. idea.” In the past, Amy notes, if your experience didn’t mesh with Church teaching, too bad. You were in the wrong and the Church was in the right. That has changed over the past couple of centuries, particularly in the last century. I think that goes to the heart of why so many Catholics, including many of us who are not gay, struggle with some of the things articulated in the recent CDF statement.
I’m well aware what Christianity has historically taught about homosexuality. While I’m no biblical literalist, I’m skeptical of efforts by some contemporary exegetes to suggest that Saint Paul really wasn’t talking about homosexuality per se when he wrote Romans 1:26-27. As a Catholic, I am conversant with the natural law tradition and I think the idea that sexuality, marriage, and procreation are inextricably bound together seems to me a sound general principle even if many of us struggle with some of the applications.
But there’s no question that my personal experience leads me in a different direction. Unlike my parents and grandparent’s generation, I grew up knowing gay men and lesbians as friends and family members. I had a buddy in drama club in high school who came out after graduation. He had dated the same girl for four years and everyone thought they were going to get married. But he was living a lie and he knew it. When he came out, his parents were devastated and his brother hasn’t spoken to him since. In college, I knew a number of gay men and lesbians. Some were heavily involved in the bar scene, but most weren’t and yes, a few subsequently died from AIDS and I can tell you the world is significantly poorer for the loss of such vibrant and creative men.
As I’ve grown older, of course, I’ve come to know gay and lesbian couples, some of whom have children. I have an old union buddy I see every once in a while. Her partner was pregnant the year after my son was born and I was giving her pointers on how to deal with sleep deprivation. I’ve seen photos of her daughter and she’s an adorable little girl. My friend and I joke that neither of us expected to become sole breadwinners.
If you read Romans 26-32 it says twice that God “gave them up” to the sinful behaviors that Saint Paul enumerates. The text suggests that the behavior itself is also the punishment. Anyone who knows someone with an addiction can testify to the truth of that statement. In the end, sin usually manifests itself. Pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth, etc., while perhaps pleasurable for a time, all contain within themselves the seeds of future suffering. We’ve all known people—including ourselves—in the grip of one or more of those sins and I think we know what that looks like.
But when I look at the relationships of most of my gay and lesbian friends, I don’t get the feeling that their relationships are particularly more “disordered” than my own. Do these relationships represent the full expression of God’s plan for human sexuality? Perhaps not. But how many of us heterosexuals can say that the emotional and physical aspects of our relationships fully express God’s plan for us? Are we as loving as we can be? As physically and emotionally unselfish as we should be? As nurturing toward our children as we need to be? As open to life as we’re called to be?
Are my “feelings” relevant? Isn’t “objective truth” what matters? Well, yes, I happen to think it matters very much. Many grave sins have been committed by those who didn’t “feel” their actions were wrong. But sins have also been committed by those who would hew to an abstract principle whatever the human cost. Our Lord is Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8). Our tradition tells us that the heart, too, is a teacher who must be listened too even if it must not always be obeyed.
I’ll admit that I am uncomfortable with the idea of the government—or God help us, the courts—simply redefining marriage as something other than what it has been for thousands of years. It would seem an act of profound hubris to so quickly discard the witness of human history, biology, culture and faith. The state has a profound power to shape culture and that power needs to be employed wisely. Only a fool would claim that he could foresee all the consequences of redefining marriage. Given the present weakness of the institution and the deleterious impact that weakness has had on society as a whole, the wise path is one of caution.
At the same time, though, I cannot be unsympathetic to those friends, family members and others who face daily struggles because their relationships do not have legal recognition: the inability to extend health benefits to a partner who wants to stay home and raise their child; the inability of one partner to make medical decisions for a child if the biological parent is unavailable, etc. There are certainly legal ways to navigate around some of these obstacles, but I am told that the effort required to do this continuously becomes emotionally exhausting. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, there are a large number of “facts on the ground,” so to speak. If the legislative authorities fail to address the tangle of legal issues created by the reality of homosexual relationships—particularly those with children—the courts are certainly going to step in.
Sigh. I wish I could think of a good way to wrap this up. But I think that’s indicative of the fact that there is no neat way to square all these circles. This is going to be with us for a while and I see a lot of pain and struggle ahead. Let’s all pray for guidance, shall we?
As the clergy sex abuse scandal has unfolded over the last 18 months, one of the stinging criticisms bishops have had to endure is that they acted like CEOs rather than pastors. I have been wondering lately if that comment is unfair to CEOs.
I don't really want to address Coday's argument right now. What I do want to raise is the question of how "acting like CEOs" became a term of opprobrium. I also heard a bishop recently inveigh against the danger of the Church becoming "Catholic Incorporated," so this has been on my mind lately.
As laypeople, we are told that our mission is to bring our faith to the world. There was, in fact, a whole discussion of the lay apostolate over at Amy Welborn's blog that focused on this very issue. A very large number of us engage the world most directly through our work, as employees, as managers, as executives and yes, even CEOs. How are we supposed to feel when the term of abuse hurled at a bishop who covered up sexual abuse is that he "acted like a CEO" or acted like "he was running a business?"
Well I'll tell you how it feels. It feels like there are a large number of people in leadership positions in the Church who don't really feel, down deep, that working "in the world" is quite as good as working within the official structures of the Church. It feels like those of us who work in the business world are somehow engaged in a morally dubious activity. That may not be what the Church teaches, but it's definitely seeped into popular piety in a lot of places.
I'm not blind to the reality that businesses do some bad things. I used to work for a labor union for Pete's sake! I know there are some bad apples out there. I'm also not suggesting that the Church engage in the kind of blind cheerleading for capitalism one finds in some other Christian denominations. But the gratuitous demonization of CEOs doesn't do the poor any good and it doesn't do the Church any good either.
While we're on the subject of same-sex marriage, I would note that Maggie Gallagher has set up a weblog to debate the issue. The debate has been civil, and posters have included both opponents of same-sex marriage like Gallagher and proponents like Jonathan Rausch.
THE 'NEW' NEW MIDEAST: Tom Friedman argues that the new Iraqi government and the rebuilding of the Palestinian political authority "are to the post-9/11 world what the rebuilding of Germany and Japan were to the post-World War II world — at least in terms of the stakes involved."
PARISH SHOPPING: In U.S. Catholic, Peter Feuerherd inveighs against the increasingly popular practice of "parish shopping," i.e. forgoing your neighborhood parish for one with "better" (however one defines that) liturgy, music, preaching, or religious education. In a recent survey, about one-quarter of Catholics report that they attend a parish outside their neigborhood one.
I think Fuerherd's comments are well taken, but I think they have more applicability to urban areas than suburban areas. Most of us in the suburbs have to drive to whatever parish we end up at because the parishes are more geographically dispersed. Feuerherd seems to long for the days when urban parishes defined the boundaries of neighborhoods, but those of us who grew up and live in the suburbs never knew those kind of neighborhoods or that kind of parish life.
But I think the problems Feuerherd identifies are real ones. What happens when those most likely to volunteer in their parishes instead choose to cluster in a particularly "dynamic" one? Or when Catholics increasingly want to worship with those who share their preferences for liturgy, music, preaching and so on? What happens when the Church becomes not the diversity of the Body of Christ, but merely a gathering of the like-minded? These are all tough issues.
INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT: The generally irenic Mark Shields vents some frustration at his own party, the Democrats, who seem to be doing everything they can to drive Catholics into the arms of the Republican Party. Shields notes that the Democratic Party web site has dozens of links for veterans, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, etc. But under "Catholic" links, there is only Catholics for a Free Choice, which Shields sees as the equivalent of having a only a "Jews for Jesus" link for Jews (the DNC site actually has 13 under that heading). Shields concludes:
The editor of Commonweal, Margaret O'Brien Steinfels -- a cradle Catholic- Democrat -- probably spoke for legions when she wrote, "I can't bring myself to touch the Republican lever ... (but) I find it increasingly difficult to pull the Democratic lever."
Uncritical, unrestricted access to abortion for all has become the litmus test for the national Democratic Party. The DNC may be run by single-issue voters. But Catholics, as they have shown to the consternation of conservatives time and again, are anything but single-issue voters. Will any national Democratic leader have the decency and the intelligence to apologize to Catholic voters for the Democratic National Committee's insults? I wonder.
TOMB RAIDERS: CNS has an interesting piece about the changing role of relics within the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Raiding the tombs of saints for relics has fallen out of favor over the last few hundred years, but vials of blood are apparently still quite popular.
One of the things that a lot of people don't realize is that once you are activated, they can more or less keep you activated indefinitely. I have a friend whose husband is an Air Force reservist and his unit recently implemented a "no attrition" policy that means he will not be coming home for good anytime soon. Luckily, he's a pilot and does manage to get back here every so often, but infantry reservists on the ground in Iraq don't have that option.
Another problem that reservists face is that they live in the community and often aren't as plugged into the kind of formal and informal support networks that career military families often create for themselves. That's not to say the service branches aren't trying to support reservists' families; they certainly are. But there's a difference between living in base housing, where most of your neighbors know what you're going through, and being the only reservist family on your block.
One of the problems this will create in the future is that a lot of reservists, when they finally are returned home, are probably not going to re-up. Since Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs structured the armed forces so that you can't have a large scale mobilization of forces without mobilizing the reserves. This is definitely going to create some difficulties going forward.
Please pray for all reservists and their families, and all men and women of our armed forces. The American Red Cross provides support to military families through its Armed Forces Emergency Services program. The Red Cross is also involved in providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. A donation to the Red Cross can help support these important efforts.
SCOOPS? Slate's cantankerous media critic Jack Shafer methodically shreds the WMD reporting of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Shafer argues that the over-credulous Miller was essentially taken by Iraqi-exile sources and others who had a stake in beating the drums for invasion:
The most important question to unravel about Judith Miller's reporting is this: Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it's proved that she got it wrong? Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller's reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq's WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat.
At the very least, Miller's editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times' incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.
For the record, Shafer is hard to characterize as a lefty. He votes Libertarian and when he was editor of Washington, D.C.'s City Paper in the late 1980s and 90s, it was considerably more scathing in its criticism of Mayor Marion Barry than the Washington Post. Shafer is a tough s.o.b. and probably one of the best media critics currently writing.
THAT OLD TIME RELIGION: The NYT reports on conflicts in a New Jersey parish where the new pastor--a national known advocate of the Tridentine Rite--has been trying to introduce elements from the old rite into the current one and running into substantial opposition from many parishioners. Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.