Editor’s Note: This week’s Reply All section is dedicated to the many thoughtful responses to “After Obergefell" (Editorial, 7/20).
Humility and Truth-Telling
I found much prudential and sensible pastoral exhortation in America’s editorial on the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. And that, in my view, is both its strength and its weakness.
Appeal is made to Catholics to proceed in the decision’s aftermath with “humility” and “respect,” as they engage in the public conversation. Such virtues are, indeed, indispensable. But so are their sister virtues of “truth-telling” and parrhesia (a favorite of Pope Francis), which the editorial largely neglects. Thus the editorial runs the risk of being read to support the disjunction between the “pastoral” and the “doctrinal” that has bedeviled discussions of the coming synod. Citing Cardinal Marx does not dispel the concern that this disjunction may, in fact, be operative.
The editorial does acknowledge that “the Gospel makes radical demands on every dimension of human living.” It would have been considerably strengthened had this perspective been elaborated and, in particular, had it been stressed that such demands very much embrace the sexual dimension of human living.
The editors persuasively quote Pope Francis that “the first proclamation” must be: “Jesus Christ has saved you.” The challenge we face as church, however, especially in North America and Europe, is to proclaim this good news to a culture that too often reduces “salvation” to a therapeutic and individualist “flourishing.” Francis himself understands this. Hence the importance of his discernment of the counterfeits of authentic human flourishing in Chapter Three of “Laudato Si’,” “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” and his insistence in Chapter Four on the imperative for an “Integral Ecology.”
As it stands, the editorial’s well-intentioned pastoral accommodation can slip too easily into cultural capitulation (of the sort one seems currently to be witnessing in a number of Catholic universities).
Thanks to Faith
I commend you for your outstanding editorial on the recent Supreme Court ruling. Your remarks are thoughtful, balanced and forward-looking. I have one complaint, however. You say that the ruling “is part of a larger phenomenon—the transition...to a thoroughly secular, postmodern social politics.” Such comments are common, but that doesn’t make them accurate.
There is much social science research to demonstrate the continued interest in and commitment to authentic spirituality. Public initiatives and personal practices both confirm this. So the larger phenomenon is not a move from sacred to secular but from ecclesiastical/hierarchical to egalitarian/charismatic approaches to the integration of the transcendent into ordinary life.
It is clear that many supporters of the Supreme Court decision ground that support precisely in their conviction that this is what Jesus would do. That’s not secularism. That’s Christian—yes, Catholic—spirituality, alive and well!
Obergefell underscores the dilemma of a church at the crossroads, a church required to present a nuanced articulation of its beliefs and values not only to an increasingly secular society but to its own disparate members separated by levels of religious education, sophistication and generation. Yet the church’s words will mean little without meaningful actions. Its instruction should be, when necessary, accompanied by compassionate outreach to assist traditional and same-sex families alike. Following Pope Francis’ lead, the church must become a sympathetic listener and partner employing a dialogue of concern and encouragement in lieu of pontification.
Nevertheless, in reframing its position the church, unlike the courts, must answer to a higher authority and cannot simply accede to emotions fed by consensus and popularity. Indeed, its task is countercultural: the church must attempt to interpret the will of a loving God who empathizes with human needs yet gently directs hearts toward a greater good consonant with his eternal vision. With due humility the church must compassionately articulate not only God’s design for human sexuality but also his abundant graces necessary to sustain it.
I read and re-read this editorial. I always seek logic and reasoning that speaks to my heart. This was a difficult read, as I already have empathy for people with same-sex attraction. I pray for them and ask them to pray for me. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion and this ruling legalized gay “marriage.” My logical conclusion is we are next looking toward legalizing assisted death. In my view all these laws are fulfilling Satan’s mission of a culture of death. Perhaps Pope Francis will help us to understand and pray for life. He does speak with his example of compassion. In this way we may understand and be straightforward with being in society. The editors of this essay were speaking in a tone difficult for me to hear.
Set Politics Aside
I am a baby boomer and lifelong Catholic. In recent years, I have become frustrated by the insertion of partisan politics into my local parish to the extent that I changed parishes. I attend Mass and retreat-type activities to meet God, meditate on life, connect with others and pray. This past Sunday, a deacon gave a sermon in which he decried secularism and the “recent court decisions.” Many Catholics have been able to separate the right of civil marriage from the sacrament of matrimony within the Catholic Church.
The editorial calls for reasonable consideration of the issues of our times and basic human respect. Thank you for publishing it and keeping in mind that we are all one human family. The institutional church will lose me if it continues to permit politics in the Mass and in the holy services and ministries of the parish. I was taught many years ago by a Catholic nun to think for myself and form my conscience based on Catholic teaching, as well as to live a life nonjudgmental of others. How thankful I am for her wise teaching.
Am I Welcome?
As a gay Catholic, I know that the Spirit is still working in people to fully understand who and what they are. I have participated in church life my entire life. But last weekend when the bishop posted a letter in the bulletin that was complete rhetoric and not welcoming to gay members, I have to question the line about dialogue in the church. Where is the support, the love, the compassion that I get from Christ in the church? More than ever, I feel isolated from the church, but am I not still part of the hands and feet of Christ? Let’s pray that the church can honestly say, “All are welcome.”
Rights, Not Policy
This editorial does not clarify anything but rather confuses once again the role and function of civil society. The Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of these laws, not on public policy. The issue of civil marriage is not a “public policy” issue, as the editors assert, it is a matter of civil rights under the Constitution of this nation. Nobody’s civil rights should ever be up to the discretion of other citizens, elected representatives or the church.
What We Fight For
Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God and said that the consequence was that we would have to become gods, determining our own moral values. This we have done in Roe v. Wade by redefining what counts as human. Now we’ve done it in Obergefell by redefining what marriage is. If we as a society can do this, what can we not do?
Of course, the Holy Spirit still speaks, but those claiming to speak with the Holy Spirit must submit their claims to tests. If The Huffington Post and Pope Francis are in conflict on same-sex marriage (as they are), I would be pretty suspicious of the claim that the Spirit is inspiring the former and not the latter. And if the claim “We can still be inspired and open to learning more about sexuality” simply becomes an excuse to defy consistent church teaching, then again, perhaps we should be suspicious. That risks coming awfully close to gnosticism.
Finally, when a culture so thoroughly rejects God as ours has done, then battle is the only moral option. This does not mean fighting against people. It means fighting for people who are victims of the same culture. Because when we redefine what counts as life, what counts as marriage, a person and dignity (euthanasia), then all society suffers from this culture whether it knows it or not.