Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gay Marriage and the Lambeth Moment

Over the course of the last week or so, I've been participating in conversations over at Rod Dreher's blog on the topic of gay marriage. It isn't particularly fun for someone of traditional beliefs to get involved in those kinds of talks; the conversation usually goes something like this:
Traditional Marriage Supporter: Redefining marriage will reshape society in ways we don't yet know; we do know that the idea of biological parenthood as a quality of marriage will probably disappear altogether, and kids get hurt when that happens.

Gay Marriage Supporter: Only bigots oppose gay marriage.

TMS: Do we really want the law to say that children don't need a mother and a father?

GMS: You just hate me and my spouse.

TMS: When something has formed a part of social reality for hundreds if not thousands of years, undoing it may have destructive and harmful consequences.

GMS: You must not know any gay people.

TMS: The point is, why is marriage a social good? Why should the law be involved in people's relationships at all? If the point isn't to encourage people to take care of the children who are the natural and expected biological result of the relationship, what is the law's compelling interest to be involved in marriage in the first place?

GMS: You just don't want my partner to be able to visit me in the hospital.

TMS: Doesn't it concern you at all that we're taking words like "marriage" and "family" and completely altering what they mean, then imposing those new definitions on a society that overwhelmingly votes against gay marriage whenever the opportunity presents itself? Don't you think that's overstepping the bounds of democracy?

GMS: Quit imposing your religion on me. You obviously don't have any secular reasons to continue to deny me the fundamental human right to marry anyone of any gender which every civilization until ours has been too bigoted and backward to recognize as the zenith of human existence.
And on and on and on.

Why do it? Why get involved in these conversations at all? Why not just step back, ignore the issue, and take comfort in the notion that most Americans are still sane enough to recognize that you can't throw gender out the window and still have a coherent definition of marriage?

Because that's increasingly not true:

Two mainline Protestant denominations, after decades of wrestling over the place of homosexuality in the church, are considering allowing local congregations to select pastors who are in long-term, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

The church council of the largest Lutheran body in the US, the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), decided this week to send such a recommendation to its national assembly. The proposal would take effect if supported by majority vote at the assembly's biennial meeting in August.

The 2.3-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) approved the idea at its national assembly last summer, but a majority of the church's 173 district bodies, called presbyteries, must vote in favor by June for it to become church policy.

While it's not clear that either denomination will embrace the change, their actions reflect the shifting views on homosexuality in society, as well as an acknowledgement that the old consensus in the churches has broken down and a new one is not likely to arise soon. The churches are seeking to accommodate differing views and avoid a denominational split.

"There is no question that attitudes have shifted in the church in the way in which this issue has been interpreted theologically," says the Rev. Peter Strommen, chairman of the ELCA task force for studies on sexuality, which developed the recommendation.

"People of sincere faith are coming to different, strongly held conclusions" based on different interpretations of scripture and tradition, he said during a Tuesday teleconference with reporters. "It's hard to imagine that as being possible 15 years ago."

The task force has spent eight years developing a new "social statement" on human sexuality to serve as a theological and teaching document of the church, and in the process, it held more than 100 public hearings. In 2007, the national assembly asked the group to also recommend changes to any policies "precluding homosexual persons" from church leadership.

As society has grappled with the hot-button issues of civil unions and gay marriage, some mainline pastors and churches, such as the United Church of Christ, have moved to support gay unions and gays in church leadership. But most churches have been wracked with controversy, often spurring losses in membership.

I think future historians of the United States (assuming it's still around) will someday be able to identify some development like one of these as the gay-marriage equivalent of the 1930 Lambeth Conference. Within a half a century of Lambeth, nearly every mainstream Protestant denomination was fine with contraceptive use, and society had gone from approving it for the married to handing it out to the unmarried; just a short time later it would begin to be handed out in the schools.

Once the Protestant churches in America (except, perhaps, for a few fundamentalist holdouts) approve gay marriage or gay civil unions or openly gay pastors or some other aspect of gay identity, it won't take long for society to decide that gay marriage is inevitable, and that it is a good thing, too. Opposition will be swept away or marginalized as mere religous disapproval from a handful of hidebound traditional churches.

And we can see the lessons from contraception here, too: many Catholics defy the Church's teachings in this area, Catholic organizations and even dioceses are being forced to supply contraceptive coverage to their insured employees in some states, and there is growing clamor for Catholic doctors and other healthcare workers to be forced, not only to distribute contraception, but to perform or assist at abortions, as well. Gay rights activists will use the law to force Catholics to "participate" with gay marriage in myriad ways, all while claiming that so long as no Catholic priest is being forced to marry a gay couple there's no religious discrimination going on.

If there is ever a day when it becomes impossible to be both Catholic and American, it will be gay marriage that has brought that day into being. I hope that we, or our children, or our grandchildren, will not see that day. But if we do, I hope we will have the courage of our ancestors, many of whom came to this new world because it was no longer possible to be Catholic and a citizen of their homelands, and who decided that it was more important to remain Catholic than to bow to their oppressors.


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

...the conversation usually goes something like this...

Yeah, we get a lot of that on my blog, too, and it looks very much like that. Do you mind if I send some of my readers over here?

If there is ever a day when it becomes impossible to be both Catholic and American, it will be gay marriage that has brought that day into being.

I am certain you're right about this, and have said as much many times myself.

Anonymous said...

I teach a program on sexuality and marriage in the Archdiocese of Boston. We aim at 7th graders, alas, because that's what the public schools do around here. I showed a clip of a couple discussing marriage with three eighth graders (it's a good video clip), and the moment the wife said "one man and one woman", a group of the students exploded: "That's not true!" Legally, in MA, they are correct. So I took half an hour out of a four-hour program to discuss the issue with them, both as to the difference between law and moral truth and the definition of marriage. We use the "full, faithful, fruitful, forever" definition. But the sad reality is that after forty years of no forever (divorce) and no fruitful (contraception), there's no reason why these kids should see marriage as necessarily one man and one woman. The toughest moment for me in the whole four hours was making the speech against contraception within marriage, in front of their regular CCD teachers, who are probably not living Church teaching. And if we restricted teaching to those who do, we'd have a hard time finding teachers! We bring our doom upon ourselves.

Scotch Meg

Anonymous said...

I feel for you going through those conversations, mostly because they are likely pointless. The supporters, most of them will not change their minds. You need the thoughts of the masses in the middle on your side.

Here's the thing, if the Canadian example is anything to go by, you will likely lose because emotion trumps reason.

Gay marriage supporters will be able to plant story after heart-wrenching story out there about a couple who just want their love recognized. Pictures of the joyful couple celebrating their gay wedding in Niagara Falls, Canada before heading back Stateside will show that by denying gay marriage, America is just mean.

In the world of TV, emotion trumps reason and pictures tell emotional stories. Outside of PBS its tough to have thoughtful discussions of issues on TV.

Why keep bringing up TV? That's where those masses in the middle will get their news mostly, unless we can switch them all over to your blog Erin.

matthew archbold said...

I remember Flanney O' Connor wrote a book which she had a character start the "Church of Christ without Christ." I'm seeing a lot of that church in numerous denominations.

eulogos said...

Red Cardigan,

How do you deal with your old college friends who are in gay relationships? Do you say something when a college acquaintance announces her upcoming gay marriage on facebook?

Last time I went to homecoming, I stayed with a very dear friend and her "partner." She knows what I think, but invited me anyway. Perhaps she wanted to educate me, but we did not discuss it. Someone made a remark anyway, during a meal, and I said, "Oh, well, ALL of my friends are sinners. " My friend winced at this but did not get angry with me.

I suspect you would not have stayed there.
I was trying to show my friend that I did still love her, despite believing that what she is doing is wrong. But let me ask you this...would you refuse to stay with a married couple you knew was contracepting? I think people who spend their whole marriages contracepting except for two months when they conceive their two kids, are sort of trying to turn themselves into a gay couple. There is a difference, but it might not be such a large one.

Our kids have to deal with this stuff not occasionally, but every day, in high school and college, where they have openly gay friends who discuss their boyfriend-boyfriend issues or their girlfriend-girlfriend issues, right along with people discussing boyfriend-girlfriend issues.

I think the time you are thinking will come sometime, is already here.

Susan Peterson

Deirdre Mundy said...

Susan -- I'd say the difference about where to stay depends on whether you have kids in tow.

We have college friends who contracept (they're not Catholic) and I don't get into it with my kids. When they ask why this couple doesn't have a baby, I just say "God hasn't given them one yet" and leave it at that.

So their contraception doesn't really effect my kids. (Other then that they constantly pray for this couple to have a new baby--but they pray for babies for EVERYONE we know, so not a big deal. =) )

Gay couples are harder to explain to a 5 year old's satisfaction.

MommaLlama said...

Wow Erin, because my curiosity was intriguied... I went and read the comments of that one particular thread...

My question is why do these people always get their underpants all in knots and feel they have to comment OVER AND OVER AGAIN... especially on a blog that they probably don't agree with anything that is said there?

I thought your comments on family law were quite interesting, by the way. I don't see how those who support gay marriage think it will be oh so simple to switch everything over.

eulogos said...


My youngest child is 19. She is the one I was thinking of who had the close gay friends in high school.
No, it was just myself who was concerned.
I stayed in the basement rec room. In the adjoining basement apartment there was a gay black man with AIDS staying. When I first got there he was leaving for a Renaissance fair dressed in an outfit which included tights and a codpiece...and different colored arms and legs. He was very kind to me that night, however, gave me some herbs he grew, advice on something to improve my posture which I have difficulty with, (he does something with natural health and physical therapy) also got up late in the night to help me reboot their wireless modem so I could go on writing my paper. My friend and her friend just seem like comfortable good friends. I don't like to think about any of them going to hell. I lift them up before God, but leave the judgement to Him.

I am glad your kids pray for everyone to have babies. Maybe they could pray for my son and his wife, who got married very young when they should have been most fertile, and when they should have been open to kids, but who have not yet been so blessed. And another young couple I know also, who have been 'trying' for a year.
I am like your kid; I wish everyone would have lots of babies. Maybe your kid's prayers will change the hearts of some of the contraceptors.
Susan Peterson

Deirdre Mundy said...

Take heart-- It took us 2 years to get pregnant!!!

My OB at the time said the keys were
1. good hydration
2. lots of fruits and veggies
3. low stress.

(We got married and were both forst year teachers at the time.

At my first OB/GYN visit ever, I told the doctor how worried I was because it had been 4 whole months and we werebn't pregnant! She nearly fell over laughing and then said with all the stress in our lives there was no WAY we'd get pregnant that year (her husband was a teacher at the same school, sp she knew what we were dealing with....)

I'll add both families to our prayers. Sometimes it seems so unfair that God doesn't give babies to the couples who want them, but gives babies to couples who DON'T.....

As for visiting gay friends without kids in tow-- I do. Shunning people just sours them on religion and God ..... And if they do come around, they may need friends to talk to about it!

eulogos said...

No matter the stress, I always got pregnant. I did, I think, have an early miscarriage after the stress of losing our house in a fire.

I have another couple in mind who are about 40, a late marriage, very faithful Catholics, who really want children. She has had three miscarriages. I keep thinking that maybe if they got out of New York City, away from the constant stress of noise and crowds and having to think about danger from other human beings, that maybe she would be able to hold on to one. We went to their wedding, a sung mass with Gregorian Chant, absolutely beautiful. While you are praying, they are probably most urgently in need.

Thanks for your letters. I really expected criticism and I am relieved to find someone who understands why I accepted the invitation.

Anonymous said...

When gay "marriage" became "legal" in MA, one of my gay neighbors asked me if, if invited, I would attend their "marriage." (He knows I'm a believing Catholic -- we get along great by the way.) I said, "Absolutely! The MINUTE you can produce a natural child and name it Paul or Paula [my name's Paula], I'm THERE!" He could only laugh -- there was no further comment he could make, and I was off the hook.

Shacoria Robinson said...

i just think that marriage is one man and one woman