In C.S. Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength, a literature professor muses with his wife that both good and evil are becoming clearer, sharper. He refers to a poem in which heaven and hell are eating away at Merry Middle Earth, moving closer and closer to the center. In the novel, the choices of good and evil become clear for ordinary people who had no real ideas on what good and evil were. One of the main characters, Mark, gets swept into a demonic system – not because he himself is evil, but because he craves human approval and insider knowledge, because he would give up his soul to be part of an Inner Ring. Evil was not particular; it was eager to swallow Mark whole if Mark was willing to give up his own identity.
This week has been a difficult one for me, and for anyone who craves peace and approval above all. I hate conflict, and I hate not being able to please everybody in my life. I don’t even like being around fights that don’t involve me; I’m that annoying person who makes a joke on contentious Facebook threads because I can’t stand the tension. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) we do not live in a world that allows for such cowardice. Among other issues, the matter of gay marriage has cloven in two American society, with very little patience for indecision. You’re either with us or against us, on both sides. I’ve been saddened to see friends of mine post that they will be deleting anyone who disagrees with the recent SCOTUS decision. I’ve heard my mom read to me, in significant tones, a statement from a PCA group saying that any church that approves of gay marriage is apostate. Almost everyone on Facebook has something to say about it, sometimes charitable but often not. Those who see themselves as the future, as being on the “right side of history,” can be harsh and (dare I say it) intolerant of those who disagree. If you are on the fence about this, as I am, there is a great deal of pressure to get with the program. I dread anyone asking me what I think, because I fear that “I don’t know” will cause consternation on either side. In spite of how some have derided the notion, I can see how this decision could curtail religious freedom. On the other hand, I don’t personally have an issue with gay marriage; very recently, I would have said I was all for it. So why the hesitation?
There are two issues, two very important issues, that this brings crashing to the fore. On the one hand is civil liberty. Will this increase liberty for those who wish to marry their same sex partner? Yes. Will it decrease liberty for those whose consciences will not let them approve of gay marriage (by not hiring someone in a gay marriage, for instance?) I think it’s likely. Will it make it a thought crime to suggest a different definition for marriage? That is already happening. And as a strong supporter of free speech, that’s what worries me most. The social pressure to think in lock-step is significant at this point.
The other issue is that of sexuality and gender in general. Frankly, I don’t think that this is something that can be handled by the courts. Perhaps I’m a libertarian at heart, but this is the realm of families, churches, communities. The court has made a decision on the civil government level, but how should churches respond? The Catholic Church’s stance is well known. There are a multitude of evangelical stances, but none of them have a long-term chance of success. If you stop seeing sex and procreation as tied together intrinsically, then what reason do you have to see gay sex in particular as abhorrent? Simply saying “the Bible says so” will not do, not when you look into the actual translations of what Paul is talking about in Romans 1, not when you disregard Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and still claim to be “sola Scriptura.” It looks like simple bigotry.
The more liberal churches, like the one to which I belong, do not claim to be Sola Scriptura, but we also do not have a Magisterium. We work within the church’s tradition, with Scripture, with reason, with experience. The Episcopal church in particular allows a lot of lee-way with regards to what individuals believe, which is why the “liberal church” stereotype is flawed. I know many individuals, priests and laypersons, who would describe themselves as conservative or traditional, and not just concerning liturgy. However, it is true that the Episcopal church as a whole is moving towards a more liberal view of human sexuality.
For myself, I don’t want to just go with the flow. Nor do I want to react for the sake of reaction. When discerning what is good, what is true, the approval of others is a terrible motivation, only as good as those surrounding you. When the choices are this stark, when the differences are this clear, indecision ceases to be a valid option. This is good; it is good to know that one must look for truth as a good unto itself, and that just going with the flow cannot suffice. That doesn’t make it less terrifying.
In the meantime, Julia, if you want to post something on the topic at These Walls, I’m sure it will be meaty and thought-provoking (hint hint).