Living in the World
By Dr. Ken Buckle, Psy.D.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write you today to offer a few words of encouragement. Following the announcement of the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, I experienced quite a number of different thoughts and feelings. Most of these I kept to myself. I actually intentionally avoided social media and the TV for several days because I knew there would be an endless stream of commentary and arguments on all sides. I wanted to have and be with my own thoughts and feelings for a while. I am certainly not interested in arguing with anyone over this, especially not across social media. Discussions yes, but arguments, no. I even considered just keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself, after all I am just one man…and I’m not really anyone special or significant to make any public pronouncement on such a matter. I of course have my own planks to address (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:42) and that can keep me busy enough.
In the end, I decided that I do need to say something, especially a word that would both challenge and support those in the Christian community. We need to talk about what is happening in our culture, because it is not good. Many just want to keep quiet about these issues and dismiss them as “too complicated.” We need to get them out on the table. Keeping quiet about them has been part of the problem I think. After all, if our Christian faith is an important part of our identity, then we are called to share the Good News with others in and out of the community and not keep it to ourselves (Mark 16:15). As a Christian community we are called to strengthen and challenge each other. I know that some, even my fellow brother and sister Christians, will not be happy with my comments for one reason or another…and that’s okay with me too. This particular commentary of mine today is not intended to be a defense of traditional marriage, as that would be a significant undertaking and is not really my point here. Instead, this commentary is a just a sharing of my personal reaction to the court decision…mainly directed at the Christian community. It is also not a commentary on homosexuality.
It is quite a struggle even to know where to begin on this topic of government sanctioned same-sex marriage. I believe that a good position is to start, speak, and act from a place of humility, love, and compassion. I have no authority to judge or condemn. I have family members and friends who have same-sex attraction and some who are bi-sexual. Only God should judge because only God has the knowledge and wisdom to be perfectly fair and just, and I’m completely satisfied with that. This actually releases me from quite a bit of anxiety and gives me some freedom and peace. The God whom I know is the essence of love and mercy (Psalm 145:8; Ephesians 2:4). He challenges me to be like him (Matthew 6:15; Mark 11:26) to the extent that I will not be forgiven by him if I do not forgive others. It is clear to me that we are called to be compassionate toward each other, no matter what. Even if we disagree I see no need to be hateful or angry, and I don’t feel any of those things. I will point out that the Catholic Catechism emphasizes that “They (those with same-sex attraction) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358). So many (but not all) of our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction have experienced horrible emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse. Many struggle with mental illness and addictions. Many have not found the healing they need. There are good resources for counseling and support for our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction. Let us remember that this compassion is the direct teaching of Christ to love our neighbor. None of us is perfect and all of us need the healing that only God can provide. I hope that my family members and friends know that I love them and care deeply about them, regardless of their sexual orientation.
At this recent decision by the US Supreme Court some of us who follow Christ might have felt some panic, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, and discouragement. It is understandable that we might react in this way. However if we have been following the signs of the times, this latest court pronouncement really should not have been all that shocking and surprising. After all, our nation has been slowly falling into deep immoral decay over the past 50-75 years. Not just in the area of sexuality, but also in our selfish materialism and consumerism, our shady business ethics, and so on. The gentle pace of this decline is what has caused many of us not to notice. Here is an example of how it happens: I have known some people who live in old homes where there were termites silently eating away at the wood floor. They were not aware of the damage that was occurring over the span of many years until they stepped on a spot that was weak enough to collapse and break through. After this happens, the homeowner makes a closer inspection and then they began to see the hidden destruction. Many of us have been in some denial about our national moral decline. If we were paying attention, we might have noticed the secular and liberal shift in Europe, which should have given us a signal that the same could happen here. And it has been happening here, and this Supreme Court ruling is just one of the natural and unfortunate consequences. We might have prevented it, but we do not have to panic or feel anxiety because this is not really a new or dramatic turn of events.
We might consider that the problem here is not really those who do not know Christ. Most of those in our country have heard about Jesus. Sure some reject him but most of those in our country say that they actually do believe in Christ. What we have then is a great division in the church. From the beginning it has become commonplace and popular for people to try to make their own determination about who Jesus is (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:15). St. Paul and the early Christian church leaders had to clarify doctrine on a regular basis because there so many new churches and communities of believers. Many saints and the church fathers over the centuries have fought to clarify Christian theology because of a great variety of heresies. I think that it is fair to say that many Catholics do not understand the deeper reasons for Church teachings. Many of us do not really know the Catechism. Instead, we have become lazy in the study and knowledge of our faith. We prefer to get our education about morality quickly and easily from the TV and Internet. The fact is that we simply cannot learn the complete Catholic Catechism from a 12-minute homily/sermon once a week on Sundays. We must work harder than that.
We need to understand the complex and beautiful reasons why the Church is against abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage. As Christians we cannot search and find our own teachers just to suit our personal opinions and then call their words the truth (2Timothy 4:3). The issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage have broken apart some of our Protestant church communities, and this is a real problem. There is a small organization called “New Ways Ministries” founded many years ago unfortunately by a priest and a nun that has made untrue statements over the years about the Catholic Church’s activities and position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their message seems intent on misleading, confusing, and dividing Catholics and consequently they have been reprimanded by their local bishop. As Christians, we have the greatest ability and impact toward continuing Jesus’ work when we stay unified. Saints Peter and Paul worked tirelessly in the early years of the Church to maintain unity. The Holy Spirit acts to keep the church unified if we will just cooperate and put our egos and our differences aside.
These are complicated issues with big questions and long answers. We must do our homework. The catechists of our children in their formal religious education programs have a great importance and carry a huge responsibility in this area. So do the teachers in our Catholic schools and universities. As parents though, we are the primary catechists and must share what we know with our children…but we need to know the Catechism ourselves first in order to do a good job. All of these adults who influence our youth must be familiar with and in agreement with the church teachings and the Scriptures. Do we have a copy of the Scriptures and Catholic Catechism at home? Do we know the Internet links for the on-line versions? When was the last time we looked something up and did some serious study to dig deeper? As you read my commentary here, are you even looking up the scripture verses that are being referenced? So I am confessing that some of the difficulties in our Christian community (and I include myself) are laziness, division, and a lack of humility in the practice and teaching of our faith. But all of this I’m describing so far is mostly an intellectual response.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we need to be on fire in our faith! Our church communities need to be alive with the Holy Spirit. We have been lukewarm, and Jesus wishes that we would not be so (see Revelation 3). We need to have a heartfelt response to the challenges of the culture that surrounds us. We must find some passion. The success of social movements usually have passion as a key ingredient. The civil rights movement of the 60s for example, had great passion. ISIS fights today with deadly and evil passion against the immorality of the modern culture. And the activism of the gay community has been full of passion leading up to the recent historic court decision. When we share with passion our personal experience of the Good News with others, especially in those intimate one to one encounters, great things can happen.
We have a moral obligation to take an interest in the laws and governing of our nation. Because of this we must study the laws and the candidates and vote according to our faith beliefs. The President of the United States nominates the justices of the Supreme Court and the Senate confirms them where they then sit for life (there is no term limit). Therefore, all of those involved in this process of determining the justices then are elected officials. We must take action and vote if we are concerned and want a change in the laws and government. This is something we can do. We are not helpless here. Falling into despair only leads to apathy and inaction. More of us could vote, and every vote makes a difference. The next big election is for the Presidency, and it happens in just under 500 days. The first step is to register to vote. The second step is to make casting your vote a high priority on Election Day.
In conclusion, I want to say again, faithful brothers and sisters do not despair. Take action. I refer to the Gospel of John where we find that not just a few verses but rather several entire chapters (13-17) are devoted to describing the events and teachings of Christ during the Last Supper on that most beautiful and Holy Thursday evening before his horrific death on Good Friday. This was Jesus’ final Passover celebration and he was in the sacred city of Jerusalem. It was an intimate gathering in a secret place. He was sharing and explaining some of his deepest and most intimate secrets to his closest friends and followers. For example, he gives them instructions on how to die to one’s self in order to give one’s self for healing of others. It seems quite significant then that in two different places (chapter 15:18-27 and chapter 17:13-19) Jesus also tells those he loves, those who will remain faithful to him, how to survive and thrive in a world that is all mixed up and backwards. He prepares them to experience rejection from those who have worldly values, beliefs, and behaviors. So I think Christ would say to us today in response to this court decision: “take courage” and “don’t be afraid.” We must and can live full of grace in this world, a world that is messy.
St. Paul echoes these words in his letter to the Romans when he says “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (12:2).” If we are truly followers of Christ, then we will naturally be in opposition to those who do not share our faith (Matthew 10:35). If we are agreeing with everyone and being politically correct all of the time because it is popular and wins us followers, then we may not be actually following Christ. We do not have to be nasty about it. We should however be firm. We can be firm but kind. Let us remember that our Christian faith is a message of peace, not violence. I hope that this is the spirit of my commentary today. May God bless you today and grant you his grace and peace, wisdom and understanding.