Ran across an editorial in America magazine that tried to frame a Church response to the recent Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry across the US. The editorial was long -- 14 paragraphs-- which was the first problem. What's hard to understand about two people who love each other wanting to do so in the context of a committed relationship? But the piece also contained some really strange assertions and assumptions.
A few examples:
I applaud the attempt of the editors to cool the rhetorical heat coming from some quarters of the Church over this issue. I also appreciate the desire to be more pastorally sensitive to the LGBTQ community. But there is still so much wrong with this editorial.
First, to wonder whether major policy decisions such as same-sex marriage should be determined by the Supreme Court (rather than by legislatures) betrays a profound, perhaps self-serving understanding of the Constitution. Making such calls is well within that court's purview. When SCOTUS determined in Brown v. Board of Education that separate-but-equal education was unconstitutional, they did so without having to wait for racist legislatures to coming to that opinion on their own. To wait for a homophobic culture to decide that the 14th amendment applies to all people, even those we have historically viewed with distaste, is to use the law to prop our our own religious opinions, which I personally find to be more distasteful than allowing Americans to wed civilly.
Secondly, it's revolting and unhistorical (though very useful to a certain kind of Catholic thinking) to keep repeating the old canard that the culture wars started with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The new movements of the 1960s were the culmination of a rethinking of our cultural values that started with the horrors of World War II. Women, who had been freed from the shackles of household servitude during the war, were re-submerged into it by a patriarchal overculture at war's end. Blacks, long denied their civil rights by a society incapable of facing up to its racist past, continued a long run of civil rights victories, reaching their heights in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Vietnam War made many young people doubt that the government was wise, honest, and even minimally competent. The assassination of John Kennedy made many wary of the government's motives and even its basic ability to keep its citizens safe. Sure, the Pill changed the way that sexuality was expressed. But it was more in the rejection of the shame by which church and government had cloaked normative sex acts. Once the Kinsey Reports came out in 1948 and 1953, it was just a matter of time before the old anti-sex nostrums preached from the pulpit and courthouse were seen for what they were: the hysterical reaction of an ignorant, puritanical and out-of-touch clergy obsessed with masturbation and the supposed purity of the marriage bed. To assert that the Church is sex-obsessed because American culture is saturated with sex is to put the cart before the horse. A society that demonizes any but procreative sex in the context of marriage is just asking for a backlash of sometimes harmful experimentation when the gates of repression are wrested open.
The culture wars may well have had their roots in the 1960s, but that was because a number of strands of history entwined during that period to demonstrate that our civic and church leaders had no special insights into the truth, and should be questioned rather than being blindly obeyed. That the Church is still fighting a rearguard action against those who question its teachings shows how out of touch it is with the tide of history. Catholics have become less tolerant of pat answers about sexuality and morals. They thirst for profundity and are given arid sermons about natural birth control or how condoms cause AIDS. They want to know how an embrace of gay marriage can possibly be out of line with the main gospel teaching of "Love your neighbor as yourself," especially when adherents of the Church line come across as so ugly, self-righteous and hostile to anything that challenges their world view.
What is needed is not the humility to be nice to those insane, gay-loving, "sinful" and unCatholic people in the next pew. What is needed is the humility and courage to admit that Catholic teachings on sexuality are wrong scientifically, hateful socially and deadening spiritually.
Maybe when we have overcome our puerile, celibacy-centered, hysterical understanding of the place of sexuality in a Catholic marriage, we will again attract people to our places of worship. We, as a Church, need to be taken seriously as capable of dealing with the sometimes uncomfortable truths that science and experience have taught us. That homosexuality is a normal variation in sexual expression that arises out of our biology. That there is FAR more to sexuality -- even within marriage -- than conceiving children. That in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandals, celibacy is no longer seen by many as a sign of heroic virtue, but possibly as depraved and even lethal in the wrong hands.
Until that happens, expect a continued dispersion of Catholics of good will to other faith traditions, (or more likely to no faith) and a continued concentration of obstinacy and eye-rolling idiocy within the Church's ever-shrinking ranks. The Church has so much of value to give to the world. It's unfortunate that it insists on repeating its mistakes and cementing them into unchanging teaching. How close to the bottom must we sink before we decide to come up for air?