Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another tiresome post on homophobia

Yes, I know. There are so many other topics to write about. Nevertheless, between the recent concerns over bullying and the recent SCOTUS case against Westboro Baptist Church, we seem to be approaching a crisis, the shape of which needs articulation.

Back in 2003, in a blog now long disappeared, I wrote about the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (539 US 558). My concern at the time was not public acceptance of homosexuality. Rather, my concern was that SCOTUS was once again misusing the judicial power of review to serve its own sense of good legislation.

Briefly put, the further the Court steps away from the actual text of the Constitution,[1] especially as the text was intended to be understood, the further away it steps from the rationale John Marshall gave for judicial review in Marbury v. Madison (5 US 137, 1803), and hence the less defensible judicial review becomes. Moreover, the more we depend on the Court to give us the results that the elected representatives of the people don’t, the further we undermine representative democracy. While we may like some of the good results that have come from bad decisions, such as the end of racial segregation, judicial activism will eventually prove to be the undoing of the “American experiment”.

Now, SCOTUS is schlepping uneasily towards a decision in Snyder v. Phelps precisely because larger issues are at stake than a hate-filled pseudo-Christian sect and a grieving family. To wit: what is the larger interest here—the protection of the family’s privacy or the right of the hate-filled Christian sect to publicly proclaim its beliefs? Better yet, what really constitutes privacy, and do we really have a Constitutional right to it?

I’ve said before that Fred Phelps and his whole “God hates fags” tribe—who, to put it in an Irish bull, preaches the Bible at the expense of the gospel—distills and crystallizes the dangerously fatal flaws of sola scriptura to an exemplar purity. The guidance of the Holy Spirit[2] either imparts infallibility to the Church[3] in its teaching role or it doesn’t; the Church either speaks with the voice of Christ[4] or it doesn’t; it either has the Christ-given authority to make its decisions binding on Christian conscience[5] or it doesn’t. No body of Christians, no matter how well-educated in theology and doctrinal history, can simultaneously hold Church authority to be fallible and its own dogmatic pronouncements true beyond challenge or dispute without self-contradiction. And therefore Westboro Baptist can continue to preach their loathsome message because they need not bow to any superior body of knowledgeable Christians: they are wrong because they can be wrong. (Who’s “they” … the superior body or Fred Phelps’ tribe? Take your pick!)

In “Is God a homophobe?” I tried to explain how Christian opposition to gay sex is not a priori born of hatred. In “The ‘born that way’ myth” I tried to explain how science fails to support the supposition that gay sex is natural. In “Love and tolerance in the Pine Tree State” the Catholic teaching I brought forth on homosexuality can be extended to all Christians who oppose same-sex marriage in charity and truth; I also illustrated that members of the gay-rights movement tried to bully their opponents into submission in the California Proposition 8 and Maine Proposition 1 votes.

Now, if I tried to tell you that no Christian hates gay people, all you would have to do is point out Fred Phelps and his twisted, hate-saturated family to prove me either a liar or a fool. Nor does my calling his contemptible message “pseudo-Christian” save my position: how do you excommunicate someone when the vast bulk of Western Christianity is ex communio by definition, when indeed there is no visible unity for someone to be out of? Nor, I’m sad to say, are he and his family the only ones to dress up their xenophobia in scriptural language; too many Christians forget that hating sin is no justification for hating sinners, that the only church without sinners is an empty church.

And yet it’s this failure of certain Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—to make the distinction between sinner and sin, not only in their arguments but in their everyday language, that gives the bullies and zealots of the gay-rights movement their opening. In the language of the apostles of “tolerance”, love is not only unconditional but uncritical: “Love me for who I am” means little less than “Keep your value judgments to yourself”.

Mind you, we’re supposed to hate sin, as long as it’s not their sin, because as far as they’re concerned it’s not a sin … and just who are we to be casting stones, anyway? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on getting the planks our eyes before we go plucking the splinter out of theirs? We only think it’s a sin because it’s different; we don’t understand that it’s natural and good and filled with love; we’re letting fear and ignorance push our agenda. Shouldn’t we concentrate on something that is incontestably sinful, like priests raping boys?

We could argue the livelong day how much of a role true homophobia plays in the Christian opposition to the “normalization” of homosexuality without ever coming to agreement. So long as we can argue over it, that’s fine. But one thing many Christians fear is that the “hate speech” card could eventually trump their First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

Until now, the Supreme Court has been careful about the limits it places on free speech in consideration of the need for public safety, precisely because it wishes to protect the ability of smaller social and political blocs to have their say. Theoretically, at least, any limitation on style or manner can be used to impose limitations on substance. For that reason, the Court will go to great lengths to protect even the most disgusting, outrageous and insane rants of the most overt bigot in order to avoid creating a tool for social and political oppression.

However, there is significant pressure on the courts and legislatures to remove “hate speech” from the shelter of the First Amendment. And it’s precisely nutjobs like the Phelps family who make such an action appear reasonable and desirable. And it’s precisely because we Christians include homophobes within our ranks that gay activists feel justified in cleping even the most charitably-phrased opposition “hate speech”. While a public-safety argument could be made for placing restrictions on “hate speech”, the problem remains: who would be in control of the definition? So if the Court chooses to rule against Phelps, they must draw their reasoning very carefully, lest it turn into a tool for the wholesale repression of religious groups’ free-speech rights.

In his book Be a Man! Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, Fr. Larry Richards tells of a time at Penn State Behrend when he was confronted by a pair of homosexual activists armed with cameras:

“Do you believe homosexuals can go to heaven?”
“Why, of course,” I said.
“What? Well, do you believe it’s a sin?”
“Well, of course. Just like fornication. Sex before marriage is a sin. Sin is sin. I am not here to say one sin is worse than the other, but I will say that sin is sin and God calls us to repentance. I’ve had three friends who have died of AIDS, all homosexuals. Every one of them was trying to fill up the emptiness inside. The deepest need in our hearts is to be loved, and that is where God wants to meet us. When we go around and try to fill up the emptiness of the flesh, we have to keep doing it because the emptiness grows.”[6]

In this episode, whatever qualms you might have about Fr. Richard’s theology, you must admit that his presentation was truer to the heart of the Christian gospel than all the “God hates fags” rhetoric. He did not compromise the sinfulness of gay sex; rather, he balanced it against the sinfulness of heterosexual fornication, and charitably made the spiritual argument that sin fails to fill the “God-shaped hole” in our souls.

“For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) …: everything has its origin in God’s love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.”[7] Ultimately, love is the driving force of the gospel message, the love that desires the good the other. We don’t teach against homosexuality to deny the dignity and worth of gay people, but rather that they may seek an authentic love that reflects and strengthens their dignity and worth as children of God.

And that love should not be silenced as “hate speech”.


[1] The phrase “actual text” is meant to include the twenty-seven amendments, which are by definition part of the Constitution since their ratifications.
[2] Cf. Jn 14:26, 16:13.
[3] Here, I refer not to the Church not as a specifically Catholic institution but as a Christian concept.
[4] Lk 10:16: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
[5] Cf. Mt 18:17-18.
[6] Op. cit. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), p. 83.
[7] Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, 2.