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Love, Truth, and DOMA

A friend of mine wrote me yesterday and asked if I could say something about how to speak to fellow Catholics and others about same sex marriage in light of yesterday’s Supreme Court rulings.  This, of course, is one of the most divisive issues in our nation and in our Church.  It is very difficult for me personally to write about.  The reason for that is quite simple: there are many gay and lesbian persons who are very dear to me.  I love them and value them, like other friends and family members, more than words can say.  And, honestly, part of me wants to celebrate with them, at the very least their feeling of being honored and respected by the Court’s decisions.  But I also believe that marriage is a natural institution that is ordered to the procreation of children and so requires a man and a woman.  This natural institution is prior to the state and as such cannot be redefined by the state or any of its powers.  I’m not going to argue that case here.

What I want to talk about is this: we are a Church who holds both of these things (the inherent dignity of every person and our obligation/opportunity to love them; and that sex and marriage have a fundamental relationship to the procreation of children).  Yes, most of us seem to give one priority over the other.  Many of us, in fact, are almost completely dismissive of one or the other.  And, what is worse, many of us are completely dismissive of our brothers and sisters who prioritize these two important ideas differently than we do.  I believe that just about all of us can do better at being community with those who carry these commitments differently than we do.

This morning, Dorothy Day’s line, where she committed the Catholic Worker not to be “carping in our criticism” was on my mind, so I looked up the essay (available in its entirety here).  It was amazing to me how pertinent it seems this week.  Day published the essay in January 1942, as the US passed from undeclared war to declared war with Japan, Germany, and Italy.  Of course, many Catholics of good will believed that it was part of their duty both as Catholics and as citizens to join in the nation’s war efforts.  Day and others believed that their Christian faith called them to pacifism and to a rejection of those same war efforts.  I think Catholics who are serious about the moral questions of war and peace (even just war folks who reject pacifism), looking back over the 70 years that separate us from that essay have to be grateful for the witness of Day’s pacifism and for the ways that it makes serious engagement of the just war tradition possible.

Up to the declaration of war, Day had been unrelenting, perhaps even carping, in her arguments against going to war.  But after that declaration, she said:

Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers. Speaking for many of our conscientious objectors, we will not participate in armed warfare or in making munitions, or by buying government bonds to prosecute the war, or in urging others to these efforts. But neither will we be carping in our criticism. We love our country and we love our President. We have been the only country in the world where men of all nations have taken refuge from oppression. We recognize that while in the order of intention we have tried to stand for peace, for love of our brother, in the order of execution we have failed as Americans in living up to our principles.

What would it mean if Catholics on all sides of the same sex marriage issue took seriously the call live the Sermon on the Mount, especially the call to be peacemakers? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and unjust.”  What if we led with love, and made a commitment to criticize with love, and never carpingly?  What if we also took seriously that, despite our good intentions, we have failed to come up with truly peaceful means to address the concerns of everyone around this crucial issue?  What if we found a way to turn to one another and really listen to what others believe is at stake here, and to look together for solutions that make sense?  What if, at the very least, Catholics were able to get on the same page about how and why definitions of civil marriage matter to us?

One of the things that makes Dorothy Day’s witness so timeless is her quiet, constant commitment to love, usually in the concrete terms laid out by the works of mercy (both corporal and spiritual).  Her commitment to the least of these, in the wake of the war, included many displaced veterans.  She never hesitated to offer them whatever care they needed, despite the apparent differences between her and them, between her commitments and theirs.  She managed to show, in concrete ways, that, argue as she would for the truth as she saw it, she would never let her “positions” stand in the way of love, even love of enemies.

If Day is to be a model for us, let me summarize some key lessons.  Day was uncompromising in stating her position, in explaining its basis in Scripture and in the Tradition, and in doing so without carping.  If we are to follow her example, we should be willing to state our own positions and our reasons for holding them truthfully, simply, and humbly.   We also need to live lives that make it evident that we love and value all people, regardless of their convictions on this or any other issue. (Think of Day: this isn’t just lip-service, but concrete, committed service to and engagement with those who think differently than we do.)  We need to really listen to those that come at these matters differently than we do, especially when they believe they are also being faithful to the Catholic Christian tradition in holding the position they hold.  I suspect that doing this well will mean being willing to forgive everyone, on all sides, who tries but fails, who does it poorly, but who tries again.

One of the great truths of our faith is that God is both truth and love.  And this very concept, I think, often turns into one of the great tests of our faithfulness.  When we are tempted to hide or change a difficult truth (even a truth-as-I-see-it) in the name of love, we are guilty of a failure to believe that God is who God has revealed himself to be.  Likewise, when we get so committed to certain truths that we ignore the hurt done to those we are called to love, we fail in faith.  Our faithfulness demands that we speak the truth in love, that we live as though the Truth is true, that we stay committed to loving one another as Christ has loved us, and that in doing all these things, we will be drawn into the fullness of the God who is both Truth and Love.

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6 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post and my personal feelings are very much in line with Dana’s.

    I think that the ability to

    1. Uphold marriage as inherently about the kind of relationship in which the intimate love of husband and wife cooperates with God in generating children.

    2. Accept that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have legitimate human rights which the Church SHOULD BE PROMINENT AND OUTSPOKEN IN DEFENDING (and often is not).

    3. Accept that other Christians may hold quite different positions in good faith.

    is an excellent basis for moving forward on.

    Love the Dorothy Day analogy. Similarly with the Catholic Workers’ stand for pacifism when it was unpopular, I do think that future generations will thank us for defending the unique and special nature of sacramental marriage, because children are so precious and important. To loose sight of that seems to prioritize the rights of adults over those of children.

    God Bless

  2. Leave it to Dana Dillon to get this right. Although I disagree with her on the politics of the thing, she is dead right about not “carping” and accepting fellow Catholics who don’t agree on this emotional issue. For example, one of Dorothy Day’s beloved grandsons went into the military and Dorothy never stopped loving him and writing to him supportive letters all the time. I am a Dorothy Day pacifist but I never had to pay my dues like she did. What I disagree with Dana on, is the neutrality of the state when it comes to sexual issues. I think the state should never stick its nose into a bedroom. If people want to call it marriage between two people of the same sex, so what? Allow them total equality and protection under the law. I know gay same sex married people, people who have adopted mentally and physically handicapped children who would be institutionalized for the rest of their lives if it weren’t for generous, loving gay couples who put the rest of us to shame. I am a social worker and I have seen these children thrive. It goes without saying that the Catholic Church sees marriage as a sacrament under ideal circumstances and that kind of conjugal love, blessed by the Church, is a most beautiful sight to behold. But what about the rest of us? I am lucky enough to be in that number, married, “in the Church,” to a fellow Catholic, both of us single at the time. I think the sacrament gives us sanctifying and actual grace but I also think ‘”Grace is everywhere.”

  3. One of the great truths of our faith is that God is both truth and love.

    Thank you Dana. I think this offers us a helpful way to double check our view of God’s will: anything which appears loving but is not truthful, or truthful but not loving, cannot be God’s will.

  4. I have no problem with two adults getting a civil union. Civil Unions are contractual arrangements that require a license much the way a business partnership does. The state oversees such matters. I think that all people who want to partner up via the state, in order to get the rights that the state provides, (inheritance, tax privileges etc.) should get a civil union- same sex or different..
    Then it would be possible to officially reserve the word “marriage” for the sacramental union of a man and woman who are vowing before God to be open to children and lasting love etc. Even couples beyond child bearing should be blessed — but not “married” in the same way that younger couples are. The language of Rite is pointed toward the young and childbearing.

    In most of Latin America and in many places around the world a couple must first be “united or married” by the state before they can marry in the church. These countries thus recognize that there are two different events.

    Perhaps now is the time for the church to bow out of acting for the state in regard to licenses and the civil side of marriage thus freeing the church to bless and sacramentalize according to church values.

    Many hetero-couples who marry in churches are not looking at marriage in the same way that the Church does. Churches just provide a nice setting for less cost. Many people would be well advised to get a Civil Marriage or “Civil Union” in order to provide care to one another in the even of separation or death. These issues are ruled by the state — not by the church.
    Separation of church and state is called for.
    .

  5. [For context of what I write hereafter, it is my belief that sexual orientation is of genetic origin, and not a 'choice' or 'decision', except in very rare cases of unconscious reaction to childhood sexual abuse.]

    The above article offers a very fine analysis. We must always as actually believing Christians reach out to all others, without regard to their prior conduct or present other activities. We must be future oriented and seek to make that future better for all of us.

    In my own case, when I imagine the woman I’ve been married to for over 40 years no longer being here, a terrible hole in my existence pops into mind, what a terrible loss that would be. This is an aspect of social welfare having nothing to do with having more children.

    Social welfare is on a practical level also promoted by persons sharing a home, in that a team can often marshall a better life than can a person alone, through sharing of duties and expenses.

    There also is a social welfare aspect in that a couple which is loyal to each other sexually is far less exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. Promiscuity, on the other hand, is very dangerous in terms of STD’s.

    In my own mind, the social welfare arguments apply equally well to the homosexual couple as to the heterosexual one, and in both cases offer more stability to the larger communities of neighborhood, municipality, county, state, and nation.

    I find it interesting that many have no objections to a ‘civil union’ that has all the same legal and tax benefits as ‘marriage’— some folks would be very happy with that who are deathly opposed to ‘gay marriage.’ When people speak thusly of being willing to accept ‘civil unions’ for gay couples, ‘but not marriage’ for them, we expose that we are fighting over language and labels.

    In my mind what it all boils down to is that the Church offers a sacrament related to couples of opposite sex who wish to live together for the rest of their lives and are at least apparently open to having children. That sacrament has a label. Meanwhile all the societal benefits outlined above, all the social welfare considerations, apply both to sacramental marriage and to civil unions equally.

    For many, thus, ‘marriage’ has religious connotations, has connotations of ‘our relationship’ which is so different from ‘their’ relationship, that difference among other things often being natural children and grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. The Church certainly thinks in terms of ‘marriages’ being what the Church ‘sacramentalizes.’

    When we have households no one objects to, some inhabited by opposite sex couples, and some inhabited by same sex couples, both households having the same legal relationship in terms of support obligations, inheritance, and taxation, and then a fuse blows in some minds when ‘marriage’ is used to describe both, we really have a semantic problem, a language problem. In the case of the Church, there is the complexity of marriage having a canon law meaning.

    All couples and the Church like the short, simple word ‘marriage.’ The formal label for the Church sacrament is of course not ‘marriage’, but seems awfully cumbersome to start to use all the time … like we are ‘holy matrimonied.’

    Surely somewhere in our society is a linguistic genius who can endow us with a simple label for Church marriage and a simple label for not-Church marriage and a simple label for SSM, all of which are encompassed in ‘marriage’.

  6. Dana argues for a respectful dialog with her question, “What if we led with love, and made a commitment to criticize with love, and never carpingly?” This is a noble sentiment of course.

    To see if we really mean it, we should ask if we Catholics would still desire a calm, thoughtful, patient conversation if we were the minority, victim of a dominant culture which was insulting a most personal and private part of our lives, while passing laws preventing us from marrying, as part of an ongoing pattern of oppression going back for centuries.

    Jesus was a teacher of love, but he wasn’t always calm and thoughtful. He could erupt in outrage when he felt the moment required it. To me, this suggests we might be wary that calmness does not become a method for rationalizing moral complacency.

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