During Thursday’s Direct to My Desk segments we discussed the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing same sex marriage as a fundamental constitutional right. I wanted to follow up on it because there seemed to be some considerable misunderstanding. Tomorrow we should have a video of this commentary which I will deliver on the air today, Monday, July 6, 2015. Here are the most important points.
One, I think that bakers, florists, photographers, etc., should be free to live out their faith. They are the best ones to determine if they are having a crisis of conscience regarding their retail services or not. I despise the way the gay rights activists baited them and set them up.
Two, I don’t believe, however, all such merchants were conscience bound to withhold services. Only they and God know. While obedience to God is absolute, religious liberty in America is not. Merchants operate in a legal environment in which they provide public accommodations. This is why restaurants in the south that refused service to blacks ran afoul of the law. When the state believes it has a compelling governmental interest in eradicating certain forms of discrimination, they will exercise authority over what you think is your property. You can withstand them to their face and appeal to God. But you need to count the cost. For instance, Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Protestant institution of higher learning claimed that they had a sincerely held religious conviction that inter-racial dating was forbidden. The IRS said no and stripped them of their tax exemption.
Now we know that racist practices and moral objections to homoerotic behavior are very different. But the United States government no longer believes that. So if you refuse to sell a cake or make a floral arrangement or take a photo because you don’t want to participate in any way with homosexual marriage, you must count the cost to your own family and to the overall cause of protecting religious liberty. I’ll discuss this more later.
You do not have absolute control over your business because when your private property serves the public, the state protects the public and you lose some measure of control over your private property. Again, from the state’s point of view, you are simply selling goods and services. Except in very rare situations, the merchant bears no responsibility for the customer’s use of them. Are you cooperating with evil by selling a wedding cake to same sex couple? Is your cake going to make any difference in whether or not a homosexual wedding takes place? Are you, in any way, aiding and abetting, the commission of sin? How consequential are your actions? Should you write “Gay is Good” on the wedding cake or does that violate Jesus’ statement about giving an account for every word? Can you sell the cake and have Bob down the street do the cakewriting? If you drive a person to an abortion clinic, you are cooperating in evil. If you sell her Ibuprofen before or after the abortion, you are not cooperating in evil. There are many distinctions involved here.
In the past we have always supported those merchants who had a crisis of conscience over these matters. What I am saying, however, is that not all these merchants culpable if they do sell a cake. As I said on Thursday, a photographer’s creative activity in a wedding may make it more difficult for him to in good conscience cooperate with the couple. This is not a simple one size fits all matter.
Three, Many people, including myself, reject the wickedly false analogy between irrational discrimination against blacks and rational moral objections to homoerotic acts. To blur the differences is an insult to blacks and to those of us who are interested in the well being of people who experience same sex attraction. The only settled commonality between blacks and “gay” people is that they have been poorly treated. With blacks, however, there was systematic oppression called slavery. With homosexuals, the suffering was due to widespread ostracism and the acts of physical and emotional violence that outsiders and minorities often endure at the hands of the majority. Catholics, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews have all experienced, at various times, social ostracism in American life.
Four, Many Catholics are still arguing about how wrong the analogy is as though there is still room for a public debate. Unfortunately, the false comparison between racism and moral objections to homoerotic acts is a done deal. It is a glaring, egregious, intellectual error which is now part of our common American life and our legal life. We should still argue against it when we have a chance. But the public debate is over and we need to fashion a new strategy to protect institutional as well as individual religious liberty. The strategy to protect one may clash with the strategy to protect the other.
Five, the aftermath of the SCOTUS decision requires two new emphases: one, new, one perennial. The new and first is the Church’s upcoming struggle for institutional religious liberty. As I’ve pointed out in a series of videos at avemariaradio.net, opponents of same sex marriage are now considered irrational bigots. All of us should be prepared to hear that said of us. We must also be prepared with an effective answer that not only protects our personal character but reaches out to the accuser to rethink aspects of this debate.
The enemies of the Church will now bring law suits against Catholic universities to include same sex couples in married housing. They will sue Catholic schools for teaching Catholic moral theology to students of homosexual parents. They will try to force non-clergy to stop speaking or publishing or broadcasting about the immorality of same sex marriage. While such speech will be allowed in the privacy of one’s home or house of worship, it will be stifled in the wider cultural arena.
When we describe God’s design for marriage, we may be interpreted as though we’ve uttered “fighting words” on a par with the n word – demeaning, belittling, derogatory, etc. The enemies of the Church are hoping for the same kind of self-censorship regarding homoerotic acts that I just exercised about the n word. We cannot go along with that. We must continue to use mother and father, male and female, complementarity to the degree that people still understand the concept.
The enemies of the Church will try to change behavior in non-parish Catholic institutions like soup kitchens, St. Vincent de Paul shops, publishing houses, college classrooms, radio and TV stations, therapy sessions, etc. This is where our Bishops must stand strong. The lay faithful need their leadership. Without our bishops engaging the battle on our own ecclesial turf, we are toast. Once we are on our turf and not the public’s, we can turn the tables and the enemies of the Church will appear as the bullies, they have often been. The battle for institutional religious liberty is winnable. This can be portrayed in a way that shows that we are being deprived of our rights as citizens. By contrast, I am not confident that bakers and florists can win because they are providing a public accommodation. If they don’t handle the public perception, they will end up looking like southern racists who refused to serve blacks at lunch counters. Those images are iconic in the American imagination. We don’t want that comparison. It is deadly in the fight to win hearts and minds. Our legal defense experts at Thomas More Law Center, American Freedom Law Center, Beckett Fund, the Alliance Defending Liberty and others need to be working together in a united strategy. These are not merely individual cases we need a broad legal strategy for protecting institutional religious liberty and showing the other side as bullies.
Six, the second important task in the aftermath of SCOTUS decision, is to recommit to building the church. This world needs to see the reality of Christ in His people. We can no longer count on the props of American culture. They have said through this Supreme Court decision, that America is formally a post Christian nation. Before this decision, we had already lost any creative or controlling influence in the areas of culture most influential in modern life. Consider that centralized, bureaucratic government, multinational corporations, the universities and colleges, the government elementary schools, the entertainment industry, the new media, the science, medical and technological research industries are completely without any creative or controlling influence from Christianity. The only two areas of culture where the gospel still exercised influence was the Church and the family. Now the Supreme Court has formally defined marriage in a way that expressly rejects the Christian understanding. Those of us who stay with the historical definition of marriage are being called irrational bigots and haters.
Before the watching world, we must become what Christ claims we are. It is time to live up to the calling wherein Christ has called us. At the moment, sociologists tell us that self-identified Catholics in America are indistinguishable from the rest of America. If that remains true, we are on the path to irreversible decline.
That begins to change when we factor in weekly Mass attendance. It looks even better when we consider other forms of spiritual engagement like Bible studies, retreats, association with a lay movement, listening and reading Catholic radio and books. Where the gospel is applied, people live different lives.
Only if we retain our identity as a distinct community in which human flourishing abounds, will we be able to bless the nation. America has made it clear they don’t want our arguments or opinions. They do, however, want the life of Christ. They just can’t see it among us. We must be remarkably dissimilar. Think of the Amish without the radical separatism. We are to be in the world but not of it. The Church is the projection of the Kingdom into this world. Freed from the burden of trying to prop up America, we should be building the Church.