In the days and weeks since the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, I have read countless Facebook posts and articles both in support of and against the ruling. For the most part, I have been hesitant to jump into any Internet discussions. Most of these discussions have been heated, and in many cases, downright ugly. I’m not a huge fan of online shouting matches. Also, I am still prayerfully considering how to best articulate the Church’s position on gay marriage in a way that is clear but at the same time charitable and hopefully convincing.
Unfortunately, there are people who are jumping right in and in some ways, making it harder for the rest of us. (I have also read some excellent online commentary.) I’m not suggesting that every Christian hold back until he or she has formulated the perfect argument. But I have seen and heard some things from my brothers and sisters in Christ that I do not think are helping the cause of tradition marriage.
Here are four things Christians who oppose gay marriage need to stop doing.
- Using loaded words.
It’s an old, yet brilliant propaganda technique. Most of us aren’t interested in logic and reason. We prefer labels. They are quick and easy and don’t require us to think. The gay lobby has done a brilliant job of employing the use loaded-words to defend their cause. By tossing out words like hate, bigotry, and discrimination, they have effectively won their argument by default. After all, who is going to argue in favor of hate, bigotry, or discrimination? Good people, Christians and non-Christians alike, find themselves thinking things like, “Well, I guess I do support gay marriage. I’m certainly not a bigot.” As Christians we have to be careful not to fall to the temptation to take the same shortcuts in logic. For example, I am uncomfortable with phrases like the war on marriage. It might feel like a war at times, but to a gay couple seeking to gain what they believe to be an equal right, using such combative language only puts them on the defensive and makes it look like we lack a valid argument. After all, the vast majority of homosexuals aren’t actually out to destroy marriage. They want access to marriage. As Catholics we know that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, but let’s begin the discussion there – not by accusing homosexuals of trying to destroy the very thing they seek to gain. When we do that, we demonstrate a lack of compassion and understanding toward their particular situation and, by misrepresenting their intent, we quell any hope of a fruitful discussion.
2. Using scripture alone.
I love Holy Scripture. May it always be a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path. But when debating the issue of marriage with a non-Christian or a Christian who holds a different interpretation, using the Bible as the primary basis for our argument comes across as weak and even a bit arrogant. “Because the Bible says…” arguments can make us look like we haven’t bothered to reason through the issues.
Also, we are all familiar with people who take passages in Leviticus about stoning fornicators or mixing fibers to argue that the Bible has nothing valid to say about homosexuality. Of course those laws that we are no longer bound to follow do not negate the laws that still very much apply to human sexuality. But when our entire argument is based in scripture, we often end up defending our interpretation of the Bible rather than actually making a case for marriage. We can’t assume that everyone is going to care what the Bible says about marriage – or see it the way The Church does.
This does not mean we should shy away from talking about the Catholic teaching on marriage, but we have to be able to reach non-Christians too. Catholics must be able to do two things. One is to explain how and why our faith forms our beliefs about marriage. Second, we must be able to make secular and rational arguments in favor of traditional marriage. In reality, the Church’s position on marriage is beautiful and complex. It cannot and should not be reduced to a few carefully selected passages from the Bible.
3. Watching The Bachelor (and other forms of entertainment that devalue marriage).
It drives me crazy when I see someone post an article supporting traditional marriage to her Facebook page one day and the next day post a comment about who she is rooting for on The Bachelor. It isn’t enough to oppose gay marriage. Christians have to be pro-marriage. The Bachelor franchise makes a mockery of marriage by setting up scenarios in which people compete for a man’s (or woman’s) hand. The fact that millions of Americans (Christians included) tune in each week to watch, shows just how little we actually value the sacrament of matrimony. We live in a country in which there is a highly successful, long-running game show for choosing a spouse. I would argue that when it comes to the destruction of traditional marriage, that horse has long been out of the barn. Of course The Bachelor isn’t the only offender. Few television shows or movies actually portray healthy marriages, but surely we should make a special effort to avoid those forms of entertainment that root for its destruction. It is difficult to simultaneously argue in favor of the sanctity of marriage and at the same time be entertained by shows that set marriage up as a game to be won and lost.
4. Dismissing the feelings of homosexual couples
As Catholics we believe that homosexual activity is a sin. We believe that marriage, by definition, can only exist between a man and a woman. This does not mean that the feelings that a gay couple has for one another are not deeply real. It also does not mean that gay couples can’t be fully committed to each other. When Christians act as if homosexual feelings are somehow less real, we devalue our gay friends and downplay the struggle it is (or could be) to overcome homosexual sin. We are all called to live out our sexuality in faithfulness to Church teaching – whether married, single, gay, or straight. No question this is more difficult for some people than for others. But the best way to help another people is to acknowledge their struggle.
People on both sides of the issue have strong feelings about marriage. This can make the Church’s position difficult to articulate because her understanding of marriage is not based primarily on emotion. I try to steer clear of highly emotional or uncharitable online discussions. Maybe that’s a copout , but it is too easy to misread intent and tone. But aside from avoiding the issue, I am also trying to do the following:
Know and be able to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality for all people (married and single). After all, gay people are not the only ones who fail to live up to Church teaching.
Be ready explain what bigotry actually is – the denial of another’s intrinsic value. Catholics should never deny the human dignity of another person regardless of sexuality.
Try to live out my vocation as a married person faithfully and be a living example of Godly marriage.
Pray, pray and pray some more – for wisdom, for courage, for opportunity, and for all who struggle to live out their sexuality in faithfulness to God’s plan. May the author and giver of life always be our guide and His love the motivation for all that we do.
A Conversation With My Gay Friend (http://jenniferfulwiler.com/2012/07/a-conversation-with-my-gay-friend/)
The Truth About Same Sex Attraction (http://catholicexchange.com/the-truth-about-same-sex-attraction)
What Does it Look Like to Be Gay and a Practicing Catholic
Opposing Gay Marriage is Rational Not Religious (http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/08/opposing-gay-marriage-is-rational-not-religious)
The Other Case Against Gay Marriage (http://www.npr.org/2013/03/20/174848127/severing-love-from-diapers-gay-marriage-opponents-make-their-case )
written by Kate Kiper-Brown, Guest Contributor