Reeling from the Supreme Court ruling on ‘gay marriage’ American Christians are quick to react by explaining the biblical teaching on marriage. Practicing Catholics are keen on clarifying the ignorant public on Marriage, a public that often views it as a mere contract of individuals and state. Even if people view human rights as bestowed on the state, the constitution defines rights as protected by the state and endowed by the creator. Likewise Catholics want people to see this isn’t something that the state does.
Yet, I wanted to write something a bit different. I decided to wait for a day that American Catholics were not feeling as if they have lost to the cultural tide. I also wanted to wait for a day when proponents of Gay Marriage were not also feeling as if they have lost to the reactions of the issue dearest to their heart. I do not endorse, nor propose to defend Gay Marriage, this post has a lot more to do with the public perception of the Catholic Teaching of Marriage.
An explanation in defense of marriage, by your average passionate young Catholic typically falls on deaf ears. These Catholics have felt liberated from the oppressive over-sexualized culture by a beautiful Church teaching. They have been instilled with profound personal and spiritual meaning in a way that secular materialism never has. They are then befuddled by how it this beautiful and liberating Church teaching on Sex and Marriage can be ugly or constricting on others. For example, that the Church teaches that I am created in the image of God, I am free from a life of uselessness. Since the Church teaches that I have a life of unique and profound meaning, I am free from a life of meaninglessness. Since the Church teaches that God sent his Son into the world, I am free from a life of loneliness. I could go on.
Each of these profound truths demands that I take responsibility for them, and that responsibility is sometimes scary (because I am a feeble sinner). However, it is still ugly, it is still constricting, it still feels wrong to many people. I could go on about putting aside one’s feelings, but still the truths of our faith make me feel wonderful. (Too many Catholics put feelings aside, but being Catholic FREAKING FEELS GREAT!!!) I am really putting aside the sort of canned cliche response you see on all the Catholic blogs everywhere all the time, that your feelings, gay people, are not important because TRUTH!
See, people do know that the Church opposes Gay Marriage. Forget that we are for families, forget that we are for all the good stuff we uphold, it is Vividly clear to people that we are not for gay marriage. Maybe people misunderstand why we are against it, but they have no doubt that we are against it. So… they are very certain that we are against gay marriage because we “hate” gay people.
When the Supreme Court Ruling passed, the official hashtag is #lovewins. Meaning, were gay marriage not recognized, it would be #hatewins. Such was the case when Prop 8 passed in California, the tagline became No H8. Putting aside the fact that this ignores the many nuances and varieties of opinions which do not favor gay marriage, it is simple enough to be deeply convincing.
It is as clear as day to the world that Catholics hate gay people, that we do not want them to experience love, that we do not want them to experience freedom, that we do not want them to be! (Catholics please re-read that out loud) This is what the world is deeply convinced of at the core of their being. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that it makes any dialogue impossible. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that they feel they must do a good thing and prevent the further hurt they experience from all this hate and evil, by outlawing us, etc. People outside the Church are so convinced of this that they must rescue all gay people everywhere from the oppressive and hurtful Church teaching.
Let’s face it, at this time, there are no Secular Liberals locking up Catholics, and subjecting them to electro-shock therapy to cure them from their Catholicism. At this time, there are no Catholics dying of AIDS in a hospital bed, while their entire family believes that they deserve to suffer and die for the lifestyle that they chose. Perhaps Gays are not going through the same sort of physically traumatizing suffering, but American Catholics are not (Just for the sake of focusing on a unique and particular issue, we can talk about Catholics persecuted elsewhere in the world).
The big misunderstanding of the world may not be that they don’t understand marriage. The big misunderstanding of the world is that we actually don’t hate gay people.
Before you, Catholic reading this, want to react with the canned cliche response that we love them, by correcting them, stop, stop for a second, stop for a minute, stop for a good while, and let this sink in.
The world is convinced that we HATE gay people. The world is convinced that we are commanded by the Bible to hate gay people. The world is convinced that the Church, and Popes, and Priests have mandated that we hate gay people. The big misunderstanding of the world: They think we must hate gay people, but we don’t.
The fact that we believe that every person is made in God’s divine image with a wonderful dignity is completely overshadowed by this malignant lie that the “Church hates gay people!” I mean, it is so bad, that people literally think that Pope Benedict, word for word, would tell his bishops, or tell priests, “go hate gay people!” Most people have not the mental acuity to distinguish the Catholic Church from the Westboro Baptist Church.
So, before any explication on the Church’s true teaching of marriage happens, it needs to be made clear that the Church does not teach us to hate gay people. Just as any discussion with scientists needs to begin that the Church not only doesn’t require us to disregard science, any discussion about homosexuality needs to begin with the fact that we believe that they have a profound and wonderful dignity.
Any Catholic that I have talked to, has found that citing the Catechism on this issue human dignity to be eye opening for everyone in the room. People start off with the idea that the Church teaches us to hate gay people, and are stunned to discover that we do not. This is a fact, try it. Try to do this, without making all sorts of sublte remarks about that the Church does not accept gay marriage, or why we do not. If you put this aside for a moment. They know that the Church does not accept gay marriage. They do not know that the Church accepts them as human beings.
I know, it seems risky to let them walk away without a correct understanding of marriage. The fact is, they already have an incorrect understanding of marriage before talking to us, and we have never done anything to contribute to it. There is so much noise out there bogging them in, entrenching them in their error. Rarely do they ever hear the very true Church teaching that each person is invaluable for being made in God’s divine image. It may be worth the risk for people to know the truth, that God loves gay people.
For a person who is gay, lesbian, transgender, etc, some claim to experience a high degree of identity confusion which is itself frustrating. Many, further, have always felt left out, have always felt different &unaccepted. I am convinced that there is a specific degree of pain, unique to a person who experiences a homosexual attraction or inclination, that would, and will be there regardless of what the GOVERNMENT does about marriage. I believe that there is a unique sort of suffering that is not experienced by people who are not gay, lesbian, or transgender, just as there is a unique sort of pain for having a loved die, for having your parents divorce, by being betrayed by a lover, or by being abused as a child.
They only have two things in common, that in this life, they may never experience a full and complete alleviation of this pain. Gay Marriage can’t fix this hurt in the same way that Heterosexual Marriage won’t fix the hurt of child abuse or post traumatic stress. I believe that is only in heaven. Likewise, none of them are beyond redemption, all who experience any suffering, are united to Christ abandoned, rejected, and suffering on Calvary for all of our redemption. That in itself is near to some sort of relief.
This is why straight marriage cannot even be a right created by the state, complete happiness, and freedom from suffering in this life are absolutely futile. Yet, Christ’s response to those who suffer is not simply a demand that they take up their cross, he often relieves them of their suffering. How does he respond to the leper, to the demoniac, to the adulterer, to the sinner, he does not tell them “Pick up your cross, suffering is redemptive!” He saves the comment about taking up the cross for those who are public disciples of the Gospel. Neither does taking up a cross mean that one deliberately seeks out unreasonable suffering, but only accepts the sort of reasonable suffering that may (or may not) happen.
A young person with a homosexual inclination, ashamed that they are not like any of their friends, seeing all the important people in the Church campaign to save marriage from the homosexuals, watching his friends straight parents get a divorce without a bat of the eye. He feels alone, he probably will use drugs, self abuse, unhealthy sexual relationships as a way to alleviate that loneliness. Because he knows that the Church hates people like him, and because even a mild addiction is still weaker than the self-shame in his heart, he would rather wallow in his addiction than experience redemption. It probably felt great for him to acknowledge that he is gay, to tell that to people, to feel some sort of acceptance. An intellectual knowledge of the Truths of the Catholic Faith may not be the first place to go if you are talking to him.
And it may not be this sort of young person that you are talking to, it may be someone who has gone through something similar, it may be someone who has watched a close friend go through that sort of spiritual alienation.
If you are unwilling to enter into the messiness and complication and suffering and terror that a Gays and Lesbians experience, it might be impossible for you to make a breakthrough with clarifying Church teaching on Marriage. One reason that St Theresa of Calcutta is so reputable is that she unflinchingly lived by charity.
For those of us not immersed in the thick messiness of it all, the very true Church Teaching, that they are created in God’s image make take ourselves very far, and may bring them a lot closer to God.