From Rod Dreher of beliefnet.com via Stand Firm:
Monday March 23, 2009
Andrew Sullivan hears from a reader. The reader went to some sort of Lenten event at the local Catholic parish, and saw something unusual. Excerpt:
The other guy was one of those healthy-looking mature men who looked and sounded typical of the gray-haired man you might see in a TV commercial -- which made it all the more striking as he spoke very simply of his extraordinary "second career" working with people at risk of becoming homeless. He then mentioned the other folks in his life to whom he has responsibilities. Among these he listed "my husband." Nobody blinked an eye, and the focus stayed on the subject at hand.
It's impossible not to be struck by the wide implications of this sort of thing.
I think this is exactly right, and so does Sullivan, though we take the opposite, or near-opposite, lesson from it. That a man can sit at a Lenten retreat at a Catholic parish and not only feel comfortable talking about his "husband," but get no negative response, or response at all, from it tells us something important. There really is a sea change in American life underway.
What this means is that in this parish, and in parishes like it, authoritative Catholic teaching on human sexuality means little or nothing. If gays and gay relationships are going to be mainstreamed into American religious life, then that will require adopting a heterodox position in churches and synagogues. That's a lot easier to do in Protestant churches, which have no Magisterium, and in Reformed synagogues, whose relationship to Scripture is by definition a lot looser than traditional Judaism's. But in Catholic churches, it wouldn't be possible if the parishioners hadn't already decided that what the Church has to teach about sexuality has no power over them.
Gay-rights supporters typically believe people like me hold to our opposition to gay marriage and so forth because of some animosity towards gays. I know that it's true for a lot of conservatives, but in my case -- and in the case of most people I know who share my views -- it's not an emotional matter. We have gay friends, are comfortable around gay people, and simply don't share that visceral reaction that used to be commonplace in American life, and (regrettably) still is in many quarters. Our position comes out of a deep concern for two things: 1) the moral and sociological importance of maintaining the traditional family as the center of society; and 2) a high view of religious authority.
That is (on the second point), we believe that you simply can't discard a teaching on which the Bible -- in both testaments -- and (for Catholics and Orthodox) authoritative church tradition could not be more clear, simply because it doesn't suit contemporary mores. Once you start doing that, where does it stop? It's a serious question, and it deserves a serious answer. Because if you accept that man as having a husband, and do not challenge it in some way, you have given up an enormous amount of ground.
Andrew Sullivan would say that's progress; I'd say that's regression. We have fundamentally different stances toward the role of religious authority. We would agree, though, that the presence of that man speaking unchallenged in his Catholic parish about his "husband" is an event of enormous cultural significance. This moment was made possible in large part, I believe, because those who ought to have been explaining and defending church teaching, especially the teachings that are hard to understand in our culture, failed to do so. I'm talking about bishops, priests, catechists and parents. You can do as much harm by failing to effectively proclaim the truth as by proclaiming a lie. Emphasis on "effectively," because clearly, different arguments are necessary for our postmodern cultural environment, in which the autonomous individual is widely considered to be the source of authority.
We traditional Christians have a very, very difficult job ahead of us, forming the consciences of our children in accord with what we know to be true, given the world we live in.
(I know that every time I post on anything related to homosexuality, these comboxes heat up. Please know that anything that gets posted here by either side that makes a serious exchange of ideas more difficult than it ought to be will be unpublished without apology or explanation. Whichever side you're on, make your case with respect for those who disagree.)