Finding the middle ground in the marriage debate

| Chris Stefanick | July 31, 2014 | 5 Comments

In the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “There are not 100 people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

While some people wage a war on the truth, I think most people who hate the Church today are waging a war against their misperceptions of what the Church is. Perhaps this is truer now than ever before. It’s especially true when it comes to the marriage debate.

After Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign because he had donated money to support Proposition 8 three years ago (it’s worth noting that 52 percent of Californians supported Prop 8, which would have retained a ban on same-sex marriage), the dating website, OKCupid, which spearheaded the attack on Eich, issued a statement that clarified their motives: “Those who seek to deny love . . . are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.”

Since love is willing the good of another, desiring “nothing but failure” for another is hate, by definition. And so, Eich was targeted because he was hated for his ideas.

The same was true for Elaine Huguenin from New Mexico, who was fined $7,000 for refusing to photograph a gay wedding. A baker in Lakewood, Colo., Jack Phillips, has no problem serving gay customers, but he refused to make a same-sex “wedding” cake for a couple because it violated his belief about marriage. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has labeled this “illegal,” despite the fact that gay marriage is not even legal in Colorado, and ordered him to submit quarterly reports showing that he’s changed, and to train his employees to avoid discrimination (a.k.a. to support gay marriage), or he risks losing his business. A priest friend of mine in Vermont was recently asked to perform a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple. They threatened to sue after he refused. There’s no longer any doubt that “gay marriage” is an effective tool to dig up and bludgeon into submission all who disagree with the gay lifestyle, or to force them out of society.

Of course, the difference between these ever-mounting acts of hatred against those who support “traditional” marriage and true “hate crimes” is both clear and tragic: The latter are generally motivated by mindless aggression. The former, by misperceptions.

If the perceptions of the gay-rights movement about people like me were correct, I couldn’t blame them for calling me “enemy,” not that these perceptions are unique to the gay community. Most people seem to think that there’s no such thing as objective moral truth and that disagreeing on a moral issue is an arbitrary attempt to assert control over others. The central dogma of the sexual revolution is that we are primarily sexual beings and that restraint amounts to a denial of who we are. Many have come to see marriage as no more than the expression of affection between two people, making things like lifelong commitment optional and procreation an afterthought. Given those misperceptions, it’s only natural to presume that people like me are bigots, bent on depriving my fellow human beings of happiness for no apparent reason. If all that were true, I’d consider me an “enemy” too. Of course, none of it is true.

Regardless, it’s becoming ever more dangerous to stand in defense of a definition of marriage that is rooted in natural law, divine law, and the good of children rather than a definition that is based solely on the affection of two consenting adults.

So what do we do when we’re the target of hate? There are two “safe” options, and I see countless Catholics retreating to each of them. One is the far “left”: to simply “come down from that cross” and stop addressing the issue. Stop offering cogent defenses for our sexual ethics and teachings about marriage — and not because the world has stopped asking questions, but rather because we think it’s more loving to avoid conflict, or we are afraid. The second option is the far “right”: to see the Church as a fortress designed to keep the “sinners” out (as if we aren’t all sinners!), and to become angry and entrenched.

Actually, we’re called to a different place: A middle ground where we teach the truth in love, remaining uncompromising and clear on moral issues and in defense of marriage, while at the same time offering a supportive community to people with same-sex attraction.

It’s that middle ground of uncompromising truth and undying love that got our Lord crucified. It’s that middle ground that cost St. Thomas More his head when defending marriage before King Henry VIII almost 500 years ago. More didn’t stop teaching the truth, nor did he flee his homeland or stop loving his King. That middle ground, where the cross is planted and where martyrs are made, is where we’re called to dig our heels in today.

Stefanick, a speaker and author, writes at Stefanick’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.

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Category: Commentary