Politics & Policy

Why I Can’t Repent My Defense of Marriage

(Vadimlabinsky/Dreamstime)
Recall Saint John Paul II and his theology of the body.

Après-deluge, I said I would not fight over the Left’s stigmatization of Christianity over the dead bodies of 49 Americans massacred in a gay bar. But when it comes to the point, or very close to it, that the bonds that once held us together are to be severed, one ought to speak.

I do not propose to sever these bonds. I only observe: To refuse to let other Americans mourn with you is to refuse the most basic bond of fellowship across our differences. It is happening not just in the festering bogs of the Internet. It is erupting in what is left of mainstream liberal institutions: the New York Times editorial board, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, even the Washington Post, which highlighted the story of the next generation of Westboro Baptists – a disgusting man claiming to be a Christian pastor celebrating the murder of 50 human beings. Not even John Stemberger’s lovely attempt at solidarity was accepted.

In an opinion piece in the Times, Julie Rogers, a Christian LGBT advocate, focuses on the question of Christian responsibility for the massacre. She says that the one thing that Christians can do is “repent” of the traditional Christian understanding of sex and marriage, because it excludes gay people. Christians should “begin to tell a better story about us in their circles.”

Anderson Cooper accuses us of saying that gay people should be killed.

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Just over a decade ago, when I entered the fight over gay marriage, we were told that being for civil unions would buy us tolerance, permit us to be part of the fold of good citizenship. After California’s passage of Proposition 8, which kept civil unions but rejected gay marriage, the line was redrawn so that only support for gay civil marriage would do. Now it is clear that only rejection of traditional Christian views on sex and marriage will do. Otherwise, we are saying gay people are “worthy of death,” and therefore we are responsible for mass slaughter.

I will not fight over the dead bodies of my fellow Americans. I will only explain why I do not and can’t repent. My reason is different from that of Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family. He said he is bound to obey the Bible and the teachings of Christ:

But as a Christian, I don’t have the luxury or authority to slice and dice (though some try) and adhere to only those passages of the Bible that are culturally acceptable. From beginning to end, I believe the Bible is the infallible word of God and I accept it in whole, not in part. As such, I believe the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin.

That should be my reason, but I’m really not that good a Christian. I try, but I weary of my failings too often to wax evangelical today. I’m not a theologian, or a preacher, or a priest, or a saint. All I can do is tell the truth, within the limits of my insight and ability.

When in the course of human events you are separated from your fellow citizens by a set of deeply held beliefs about the nature of the good, and when the demand is placed on you to change your beliefs, decency requires that you put into words, as best you can, why you are not sorry for what you believe about human life, about sex, about marriage, and, yes, about God. You must explain why, even if they will declare culture war on you and eject you from the circle of human fellowship, you will not change.

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Here’s the thing I won’t surrender, the thing that is good, the thing of which I do not repent:

It begins, fittingly this week, with the reality of death. We evade it. We ignore it. We distract ourselves in busyness, status-seeking, petty feuds, entertainment, lusts and wars, but life remains stubbornly very short.

No matter what we do or say, all too soon our bodies will be destroyed, eaten by worms, burned into ashes. Between cradle and tomb we will be tormented by desires we cannot satisfy, suffer pangs of longing and loss, be disappointed in ourselves and in others. If we are lucky, we will watch our parents die before us. To be human is to know this in our bones, and to know that it is intolerable.

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There are, as far as I can tell, only three ways that human beings attempt to transform and transcend death, to make a human life worth living: religion, children, and art. Of these three, the one which is most real to me, about which I know the most, is children. Yes, I know that this is un-Biblical; Christ calls us to put Him first. As I say, I weary of my failings – and also of false pietism.

Coming of age in the blooming sexual revolution, unprotected by any particular religious belief or community, for protection against the doctrine of sexual desire then flourishing – “Do what you will, as long as you don’t directly harm another” – I had only the armor of parents who loved me. I saw very clearly how that dogma led us to redefine reality so that the harms we inflict directly become invisible to our hearts: We abort our own children and deny that they existed. We break up our families instead of stubbornly loving them – and tell ourselves that our children are better off for learning that families cannot be relied on. Some of us do puppies and porn instead, or other pale substitutes for the love that humans were meant for.

#share#Are we meant for love?

The transformation and transcendence that children offer us is extraordinary, and it is rooted in the mysterious and stubborn reality of the human body. Adoption, like marriage, is a wonderful form of love. Biology is far from everything, but it is something, this human body of ours, something we were given and did not make. Does it have any meaning at all?

For all of us, nothing but death lies ahead, unless we take one of these three paths: God, art, children.

The sexual revolution now being consummated in the rejection of traditional Christianity of those who adhere to it instructs us that our identity and being lies in our desires: Attachment to them and expression of them is the sacred pathway to human flourishing. Our bodies should be used to express our sexual desires and, if necessary, remade to incarnate them. (This is why gay marriage lead so directly to the idea that Caitlyn Jenner is not only now a woman but always has been a woman, according to the Human Rights Campaign; to President Obama, who threatens to withhold funding from school districts if they refuse to permit transgender biological males to shower with your daughter; and to the furies that have been unleashed against any who disagree à la North Carolina).

The other view, the one being rejected, is that a man’s manhood and and a woman’s womanhood are real, that our bodies are real, that our bodies and our sexual desires contain within them even the germ of an object greater than ourselves, something to which we are called to aspire and to conform, not merely express.

These are the truths and the ideals that we are being asked to surrender by the Julie Rogerses of the world: Men and women are made for each other. Our bodies are not random collections of molecules but rather tell a story about who we are and what we are meant to do. (This is what John Paul the Great called “the nuptial meaning of the human body.”) Our bodies are life-giving and love-giving. Sexual desire is not an appetite; it is a great calling to participate in life-giving love, in a reenactment of the idea that love is the groundwork of being in the universe. Marriage is the incarnation of this idea and this ideal, which is why its redefinition as merely a civil contract to love and care-take whom we will is experienced by so many of us as a wrong in which we cannot participate.

One of the most beautiful Stephen Sondheim songs in Sunday in the Park with George is “Beautiful,” a mother’s lament for flux, for fleetingness, for the failure of memory, for the death of all we love, for the death of the beloved child, the death that is the end of every successful mother who raises an adult. The artist son responds, “Pretty isn’t beautiful, Mother. Pretty is what changes. What the eye arranges. Is what is beautiful.”

For all of us, nothing but death lies ahead, unless we take one of these three paths: God, art, children.

I love art, but without the other two it is, for me, mere make-believe, a valiant and beautiful attempt as human self-creation that, however, distracts and deludes. Here’s the worst thing: We are worthy of death. We have no claim on God to save us. We have only his free gift of the Love that will not fail.

#related#Where does this leave gay people? In the company of the rest of us who try and fail, who aspire and doubt, who love and fear. In the good company of the mate-less, the infertile, the less than perfectly erotically happily married, the children betrayed by their parents, the parents whose children fail and hurt them – in the company, indeed, of the vast majority of humans. We seek a transcendence we cannot fully find on our own, and yet cannot surrender the yearning for it, either.

Catholicism, which has always sacralized forms of community in addition to the marital family, and which indeed for most of its history has valued ascetic forms of love over those that can be realized through sexual desire, has a home for each of us, with all our frustrations, our fears, our sins, our unrealized desires, our stubborn aspirations for things we cannot reach and yet cannot cease to long for, either. One does not have to participate in a physical marriage to participate in the nuptial meaning of the human body. No one is barred from that experience of transcendence.

Many gay people have suffered directly and personally from cruelty and threats. Some have been rejected or ejected from their families. I have done none of these things, but in Christ’s name I am sorry for what has been done to each of them. Such could be some of the better stories we could tell about gay people, whether they applaud us for it or not.

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