Monday, November 18, 2013
HATS OFF TO CARDINAL GEORGE: GAY MARRIAGE, PICKING FIGHTS, AND WHAT REALLY MATTERS
In a letter distributed through the 11/11 parish bulletins to all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George reiterated his stance on same sex marriage; i.e., he said that the law passed by the Illinois legislature legalizing such unions “will contribute over the long run to the further dissolution of marriage and family life, which are the bedrock of any society.”
No surprise there. But it was his proclamation that
“We have lived with bad laws before, and we will do our best to adjust to this one for the sake of social harmony.”
that was amazing.
Depending on where one stands on the issue of gay marriage, this is either profound progress or outright surrender on the part of the Cardinal. No matter where one stands on the issue, however, one has to be shocked by the Cardinal’s concession to social harmony and has to ask one’s self what happened to bring about such a change in the Cardinal’s attitude. Perhaps Pope Francis talked with the Cardinal and his colleagues about framing one’s opposition to gay marriage or maybe Cardinal George and his confreres simply got the message that, yes, opposition to gay marriage remains a tenet of the faith but that how one opposes gay marriage, or stands up for any of the Church’s beliefs, has consequences for the Church, for the world, and for fulfilling our missions as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Note that the Cardinal minced no words in decrying gay marriage as an assault on the bedrock of society. So some of those who share his belief that such unions are abominations before God are doubtless confused, angry, or both. Why, they might ask, isn’t the Cardinal standing up for his beliefs and the beliefs of the Church? Is he backing down just to keep the peace? If so, wouldn’t that run counter to the way the Cardinal, and the Church, normally operates? They might even argue that Jesus never backed down. Jesus stood up for what He believed in regardless of the consequences; after all, that is what got Him crucified and, ultimately, what led to our salvation.
Those who make that argument are for the most part correct; Jesus did stand up for what he believed. But He also picked his fights carefully. When it really mattered, he fought, fought hard, and suffered the consequences. But discretion was often the better part of valor for Jesus. He didn’t fight for the sake of fighting; that would be very unlike Him, though not, it would appear, unlike many in the Church hierarchy, but I digress. And when it didn’t really matter, or didn’t matter all that much, Jesus didn’t bother. It simply didn’t make sense to make enemies over tangential issues.
The best example of this can be found in Matthew 17, 24-27. The collectors of the temple tax asked Peter if Peter’s “teacher” (Jesus) paid the temple tax. Peter, being the impetuous guy he was (see my 11/21/12 piece, WAS ST. PETER AN ALCOHOLIC?), first answered “yes”… and then checked with his teacher. Jesus first firmly made the point that He and his disciples, the “subjects” of the
, are exempt from paying the
temple tax. But then he went on to say kingdom
“But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth, and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.” (emphasis mine) Matthew 17, 27
This is more than an entertaining, humorous, some might say cute, story. And, like every miracle story, it tells us a lot more than that Jesus was capable of doing miracles.
The story was designed to tell the people for whom Matthew wrote, largely Jewish Christians, that, yes, as Christians they indeed no longer had to pay the temple tax. They were no longer subject to the law and rarely, if ever, worshipped in the temple, and thus were under no obligation to pay for the temple’s upkeep. But, even though members of Matthew’s congregation, if you will, were under no obligation to pay the temple tax, they should do so anyway because it wasn’t worth the fight, wasn’t worth the price they’d pay just to make an ancillary point. Why make the Jewish authorities angry over something that, in the great scheme of things, wasn’t all that important? Did it make sense to antagonize devout Jews, or even not all that devout Jews, and thus lose any chance of winning them over to Christianity, just to make a point about something that didn’t go to the core of the faith?
While some might argue about whether civil gay marriage goes to the core of the faith, the message that Matthew and Jesus were sending to the early Jewish Christians is the same message that Jesus is sending us today: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Even if you are right, is it worth it in the larger scheme of things to send a message of intolerance to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Wouldn’t we be better off promoting harmony among our brothers and sisters than we would be promoting misunderstanding, and even hatred, by standing firm in order to make a point?
Yours truly, for one, applauds the Cardinal on his desire to promote harmony rather than make a point on civil same sex marriage. That I feel that civil same sex marriage is, at best, an ancillary issue for the Church doubtless contributes to my warm feelings toward the Cardinal’s new approach. What is important is the greater emphasis the Cardinal places on promoting harmony in society, which is without a doubt one of our duties as followers of Jesus Christ and indeed goes to the core of our faith.