Those of you who have taken the time to read Life at 25 on a regular basis know that repeatedly there have been entries here about the state of Matrimony in American life and society. Marriage suffered another blow this week as the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted overwhelmingly to allow for its pastors to perform so-called “gay marriages” in those States where the practice is already legal. The denomination’s Book of Order will be changed so that marriage is defined not as a union of “a man and a woman” but as a union of “two persons.” If a majority of regional presbyteries approve the change, something that observers expect will happen, then the country’s largest grouping of Presbyterian ecclesial communities will allow for “gay marriage.” It won’t be happening in Tennessee for now, until a federal judge says differently at some point. The Presbyterians’ decision comes on the heels of the Southern Baptist Convention apparently deciding not to address the developing controversy over an SBC-affiliated congregation whose pastor has said that he no longer believes that homosexual behavior is morally wrong.
Of course there are plenty of members, and even ministers (I know at least one PCUSA minister in our area who has made their feelings on the matter quite clear in a charitable way) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) who do not agree with their denomination’s decision to allow for so-called homosexual “marriage,” but most of those people clearly weren’t present at the group’s General Assembly. Further, if projections in various religious media are in any way correct, the majority of the denomination’s regional presbyteries are said to be keen to approve the decision. In addition to the Presbyterians in the pew who may be discontented in the PCUSA, there are other groups of Presbyterians such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) for whom a move such as allowing for “gay marriage” would be absolutely unthinkable. Further, it is quite doubtful that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to be allowing for “gay marriage” anytime soon. Nevertheless, the fact that the largest Presbyterian ecclesial community in the United States is changing the very definition of marriage, while the largest Protestant denomination in the country (and traditionally one of the most morally conservative) remains officially silent while a congregation affiliated with it (however loosely) now has a leader who has publicly said that a sinful act is not a sin shows just how far down the moral abyss that some “reformed” ecclesial communities appear to be moving.
It needs to be made clear that as Catholics, we do not advocate the mistreatment of people who are gay, and indeed the Church goes so far as to say that the homosexual orientation is not the sin, but that homosexual activity, which is not inherently life-giving, is what is sinful. Indeed, there are ministries in the Church just for those persons who struggle with same-sex attraction. The Church’s teaching on homosexual tendencies, and how people might best live those teachings out, is masterfully addressed in a new short film called The Third Way.
The great difficulty, however, with the decision by the PCUSA to allow for the perversion of marriage in this way is less what the formal change does (though it is arguably bad), and more that in changing clear Christian moral teaching on the nature of marriage to suit the spirit of the age further undermines the moral authority of Christian religious institutions in a society that is increasingly becoming more and more secular, and it is doing so in large part because there is no clear message from the Christian world on how a Christian is supposed to live. Some ecclesial communities, such as the Episcopal Church, which is a part of the Anglican Communion, go so far as to ordain actively homosexual bishops. Other communions will allow for contraception, and don’t treat divorce and remarriage any differently than a couple who has been married for a lifetime. Some say this is a sin but that is not, others that is a sin but this is not. Up is down, bad is good, lies are truth, and white is black. The words of St. Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 seem particularly apt:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.
Many good people, including many good Catholics, have taken to the notion that somehow social justice or social doctrine trumps moral teaching or the moral law. Catholics believe that sound social justice teaching really is an important part of the Gospel message, so much so that there is an entire Compendium of the Church’s Social Doctrine. However, social justice that is divorced from moral justice and the moral law is not Christian, nor can it be said to be just. The great martyr, the Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Romero said as much when he explained that the Church rejects all atheistic forms of ideology and all forms of materialism. Justice without the moral law is atheistic, and anything which masquerades as social justice without the moral law does not come from God.
What we now see from the PCUSA is merely the latest salvo in the 500 years of confusion wrought by Christian division in the West. This division is not the fruit of Christ, who prayed that his disciples may all be one (John 17:11). God’s truth cannot be changed by men’s majority votes.