Mark Brumley is CEO for Ignatius Press. He is associate publisher of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is project coordinator for the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, and editor of Ignatius Press’s Modern Apologetics Library, A Study Guide for Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth, A Study Guide for Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and YOUCAT Study Guide. His articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications. Mark lives in Napa, California with his wife and children.
“Aren’t you ashamed of your Church? How can you be so bigoted to oppose marriage equality? Why do you persecute gay people?”
That’s how one supporter of redefining marriage put it to me. Another said about the same thing, only she claimed to be a Catholic. My response: I am not ashamed of the Catholic Church. If I am ashamed of Catholics, it is for my failure and others’ failure to live the whole gospel, truth and love. And I am ashamed when we Catholics are embarrassed by Catholic teaching.
Why is it bigoted to believe, as Jesus did, that marriage is a union of a man and a woman for life? If that’s bigotry, then I am a bigot for Jesus’ sake, I guess. People like to recall the story of the woman caught in adultery and rightly so. We should not be quick to judged. We should ultimately seek reconciliation. Why does that mean, though, we should support so-called same-sex marriage?
Yes, it can be awkward when family members differ with us. We have to find ways of remaining faithful to Jesus and loving to our family. That doesn’t allow us to compromise on the truth: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).
The fact is, following Jesus can be very “divisive”.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery.” Very divisive, Lord.
“You brood of vipers ...”. Very divisive.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood ...” Divisive, again.
“Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of ...”
Well, you get the point.
What’s more, Christians should expect to suffer on account of our fidelity to Jesus and his teaching: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” That’s part of the deal, Christians.
These texts need to be read in the context of “Do unto others ...” and “Love your neighbor as yourself...” and “Turn the other cheek ...” and “Blessed are the peacemakers ...”. They’re not license to go around and make trouble. Yet Christians should not ignore them just “go along to get along.”
It’s not so easy to point the finger of judgment at Christians and let Jesus off the hook, though some people try — even some Christians. More radical unbelievers realize this, which is why they reject Jesus, too, or buy into far-fetched theories that try to make Jesus radically different from what the historical evidence tells us about him.
Back to marriage. You don’t have to be religious or a Christian to see the reasonableness of marriage — the union of a man and a woman. There are plenty of non-religious reasons for it. But certainly Jesus taught that that’s what marriage is. Asked about divorce, he quoted Genesis about God creating marriage based on one man and one woman. It’s that simple.
Contrary to what I have been accused of doing simply by repeating Jesus’ teaching, I don’t persecute gay people. I love them and want the best for them. Just as I do other people with difficulties — we all have “issues” in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean I support the redefinition of marriage.
Some people may not be able to hear what orthodox Christianity has to say here. I understand some of the reasons why. Christians haven’t always dealt with homosexuality as we should. Nevertheless, we Christians still have to speak the truth in love, even at the risk of being misunderstood. Even at the risk of being called bigots. If people falsely accused the Master, they’ll falsely accuse us.
God intends people to be attracted to the opposite sex. That’s how he made human nature. For reasons we don’t fully understand, sometimes particular people wind up attracted to members of the same sex. We can debate nature vs. nurture; we can discuss the role of genes, culture, and volition in the matter. In the end, it doesn’t change the basic issue. Same-sex attraction is a morally-disordered inclination and people who have it need to be loved, but loved in truth. They need to be helped to live chastely, as everybody else does.
The “hard saying” here is that same-sex attraction is contrary to the ultimate fulfillment of human beings. Plenty of things are. Other disordered inclinations are, too, and we all have them in one form or another, more or less grave. Even physical problems — which are obviously different from problems of behavioral inclinations — are contrary to the full good of human life. That’s why we help people who suffer them to thrive as human beings in spite of their physical problems. God mysteriously permits such things to occur and we work to bring good out of them. That doesn’t mean treating bad things as if they are good; it means respecting people who must struggle with problems.
People with same-sex attraction deserve our love and support. That’s no excuse for treating same-sex attraction as a good thing in itself or same-sex unions as consistent with integral human fulfillment.
Some people may regard the Christian position here as bigotry. They may mock faithful Christians or challenge us for holding it. We may get criticized by fellow believers confused or unwilling to endure the ridicule. But, by God’s grace, we should not be ashamed of standing with Jesus here, out of love for him and for those he came to save, even if people mock us and reject us, as they mocked him and rejected him. Christian discipleship and a loving witness to the truth, even if it is misunderstood, demand it.