Bob and Bob Strike Back

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Bob and Bob Photo (600dpi)

I’ve had the blessed opportunity of collaborating with my friend Bob Lesnefsky, aka “Righteous B”, for almost 15 years now. We first met while he was helping with the Steubenville Youth Conferences. He became a youth minister in a neighboring parish to where I was doing youth ministry and we often ran combined retreats and events. For many years we travelled around the country doing improvisational comedy (some of the best memories of my life!) We’ve also collaborated musically. I’m proud to have been a part of his first studio recording when we wrote “Set Free” together, the theme song for the 2002 Steubenville Youth Conferences (back when we had theme songs). He and I were also in a band, albeit briefly, called “Backyard Galaxy”.

So when I wrote a hip-hop song to go along with the first “Morality” video of the VCAT series, he was the first person I thought of doing it. Of course, he did more than record it. He took the lyrics I wrote and, well, made them much cooler. Look, I listen to bluegrass, okay? I play the friggin’ accordion. Rap is not my thing. But he is awesome at it and he took my idea and ran with it. He also brought Born, who is one of the teens who is a part of his Dirty Vagabond ministry. You can hear him laughing at the end. I invited Taylor, who sang with me this summer, and the next thing you know we had a pretty cool song.

Dan Bozek recorded it at his studio and brought a friend of his, Harrison Wargo, who made a great beat. And then it was sent off to Cory Heimann at Likable Art who put it all together to make this:

St. Maria Goretti

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mariagoretti2

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, St. Maria Goretti. As a young man, I had two medals on my scapular: one was St. Joseph, and the other was St. Maria Goretti. Her story of purity, faith, and forgiveness is one of the most inspiring stories of a teenage saint that I know of. I named my daughter after her (and named her “twin” Joseph.) And when I had a chance to write a script about purity, I knew exactly what two people I’d love to write about.

This picture was drawn by an amazingly talented friend who wished to remain anonymous. And the video was produced by my good friends at Outside Da Box.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Was Jesus wrong about homosexuality?

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gods_design_for_marriage_umjrThis is written for those who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Gay marriage has dominated the headlines in every major media source these past few days. Equal signs are everywhere in social media. Lawyers debate the “legality” of same-sex marriage. Proponents of gay marriage proclaim this as the new “civil rights movement.”

Often missing in this conversation is what God has to say about it.

That makes sense, I suppose, because the focus has been on the legality and not the spirituality of it. The Supreme Court doesn’t care what the Bible has to say. In a legal system that intentionally separates itself from the Church and Church teachings, how could one argue against it? Arguing against same-sex marriage without the foundation of God’s revelation is an uphill, if not impossible, battle. The lawyers tried to do that before the Supreme Court last week, and in a few months will see how that works out.

I’m not here to talk about the legal issues—I think those have been talked to death enough in the media. As a Christian, I’m happy when the law coincides with my faith, but I don’t necessarily expect it to happen. We who follow Christ are, “in the world but not of the world” (cf. John 15:19.)

What is more troubling to me is the common argument that, were Jesus Christ alive today, he would support same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. Few people are brazen enough to say that statement so boldly, but I find that underlying many arguments.

Take for example Dan Savage’s speech in his anti-bullying talks. He says, “the Bible was wrong about slavery and its wrong about homosexuality.” As if the slavery mentioned in the Bible had any comparison to the horrific kinds of slavery that was legal in the United States or currently goes on in the world (slavery in Scripture was more of an indentured servitude than a lack of freedom and rights. If anything, Scripture made it clear that even if someone is a slave, they are still part of the family of God should be treated as such.)

The heart of his argument is that even the Old Testament is out of date with the New Testament. Laws changed from the Old to the New, so why not homosexuality as well?

He has a point there. The morality expected of followers of Jesus Christ is different than what was expected of the Jews. But it wasn’t “changed.” It was elevated.

For example, the Sixth Commandment stated, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” For the Jews that was a specific action: you cannot sleep with another man’s wife. Jesus, however, elevated and fulfilled that commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28.)

He did the same with marriage. “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8.)

The impression that some have that the Old Testament is “really strict” but the New Testament is “really loose” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jesus not only cared about our outward actions but also our inward ones. That means the morality of Christ is elevated, not weakened. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Profits. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17.)

And yet when it comes to homosexuality, many suggest (explicitly or implicitly) that Jesus “abolished” that law. I don’t see that anywhere in the Bible.

Of course, it’s a common argument to suggest that if Jesus were alive today he might say different things, as if he was “held back” by the culture at the time. Such a statement is ridiculous. Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, told the Jewish people that the Temple would be destroyed, and knew that He would be killed in the most violent and reprehensible way a person could be killed. So at what point do you think He was scared to tell the truth? At what moment was He worried and thought to Himself, “Wow, I can’t say that! I’ll just have to wait for humanity to mature a bit.”

Jesus said that He was, “the Way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6.) He was either right or He wasn’t.

There are billions of people in this world who think that he was wrong. In fact, many specifically don’t believe in Christ over this very issue (though most other world religious agree.) I respect that. But what concerns me is the growing amount of Christians who are silent, or even becoming supportive of, these cultural issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Did Jesus ever specifically speak about homosexuality? No, He didn’t use that word. But He did speak about the importance of marriage and what it was really about: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4-5.) In the context of that teaching, His message was clear: marriage is for a man and a woman, and sex is a part of marriage.

Though it sounds culturally harsh to even state this simple truth, people of the same gender can’t have sex with each other. They can simulate it, but that’s all. Their bodies weren’t made for such an interaction. They were not “made for each other.”

Again, saying things like that in today’s culture makes you sound like a bigot. It’s not “right” to suggest that the sexual activity between two men or two women are any different, or better, than a man and a woman. But there is a difference.

The even deeper issue regards our gender. Does being a man mean I just have a penis? If I’m surgically altered can I be a woman? Same-sex marriage argues that gender is irrelevant in marriage. It also argues that gender difference is unnecessary for raising a child. Decades of sociological research that said a child was best served by being raised by a man and a woman, a mother and a father, are being ignored. “That was just in reference to single mothers,” the critics say.

And now we get to the difficult issues. Am I saying that a homosexual couple can’t raise a child with love and support? No. Because a single mother can raise a child with love and support. But it’s not the ideal. There is a reason why God created us as man and as woman, created man and woman for each other, and why their sexual union brings about life. Children should be raised by the mother and father who created them.

But what of all the children given up for adoption? If the mother and father aren’t available to raise those children, then another man or woman becoming their mother and father is the next best thing.

I imagine I’ve upset and even offended some people by writing that last statement. Some writers like to write offensive things to get attention. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to highlight the truth of what Christ taught. And God did not give us his revelation to belittle us or enslave us. He came to give us the truth, “and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32.) God’s truth is often in contrast to what the world believes. But He came to tell us what was right, not what we want to believe.

Again, there are many who don’t agree with what the Bible or Jesus taught. And so their support of same-sex marriage makes total sense. If we were not created in the image and likeness of God, if we were just amoebas who crawled out of some primordial soup, if there is no plan and purpose for our lives and our gender is merely a biological accident, then what does it matter?

If you are a follower of Christ, then it does matter. Gender matters. Sex matters. Marriage matters.

I am heartbroken to hear that many psychologists today are not allowed to help people overcome their same-sex attractions. There are many who argue people are “born that way” when it comes to same-sex attractions, but that’s not accurate. (To be clear: the Church teaches that same sex attractions are not sinful.) There are many who manifest same-sex attractions and behaviors because of conditions, and even trauma, in their life. I know a number of them who through counseling have been restored to heterosexuality.

I actually had to think a bit before I got to the word “restored” because I know “cured” or “healed” would be offensive. And that’s why many psychologists aren’t allowed to deal with the issue. If you can be “cured” of same-sex attractions, aren’t you suggesting it’s a disease?

But I wonder what would happen if a heterosexual came in to a counselor’s office and said, “could you help me have same-sex attractions?” If we truly believe in freedom and equality, and we acknowledge the power and benefit of psychological counseling, why can’t somebody use that science to help them be the person they want to be? If someone doesn’t want to have same-sex attractions, why can’t they have a professional help them?

Christians who are silent on these issues often try to have a “live and let live” mentality. But the real issue here is not about accepting diversity—it ends up being about forcing conformity. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities had to stop providing adoptions because they were being forced to place children with same-sex couples. In England, Christian and Catholic schools are not allowed to teach what the Bible teaches about sexuality because the Bible is “anti-gay.” Already in public schools in the United States children are taught that gender doesn’t matter.

The equality that’s being talked about so much these days ends up being quite “unequal” where Christians are concerned. And here we find the problem with a society that pretends to embrace everybody’s diverse beliefs. When someone believes something is “true,” that implies that there are also things they believe that are “false.” There’s a serious conflict here. And if people of Christian faith aren’t more vocal and respectfully engage in this conversation (which is what I’m trying to encourage with this blog) then being silent means losing our “rights.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking about the second coming of Christ, says that, “the persecution that accompanies (the Church’s) pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of inequity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy against the truth” (CCC 675.) The definition of “apostasy” is: “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief” (The New Oxford American Dictionary.) There are many followers of Christ who are tempted to abandon their religious (and political) belief because it seems the easy solution or because they are deceived into an false image of Christ who taught us to “accept everybody, challenge nobody.” But Jesus was never afraid to challenge his followers, even when it led to persecution.

John Paul II wrote, “Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion” (John Paul II, Familaris Consortio, 11.) Though it’s unpopular to say, I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe Him when He said that marriage was made for a man and for a woman. I believe God when He spoke that we were made as male and as female, and that man and woman were created to be one flesh.

I also believe it when He said that we were all made in the image and likeness of God. I believe it when Jesus said that we are to, “love one another as I have loved you.” I don’t believe anyone should be denied the respect and dignity that comes with being a child of God because of their beliefs, their sexual attraction, their ethnicity, or any reason. That’s not just my opinion but also the Catholic Church’s: “(People with same sex attractions) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358.)

That’s not a small point. The greatest commandment is love. There are those who believe the source of the bullying, discrimination, and violence against people with same sex attractions is the fault of Christianity and the Bible. I won’t deny there are some who claim to be Christian but act like the devil, especially on this issue. But they’re not the majority, and even if they were, they’re not right. Christianity teaches to love those you disagree with, even those who persecute you. I’ll be the first to admit that followers of Christ (like me) don’t often live up to His teachings. But Christ is the only way we can live with our differences and live in peace. For an example of what happens when you completely remove Christian morality from politics, see at what happened to Germany under Hitler. Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals all perished together in those concentration camps.

We all have the right to be treated with dignity. But Christ tells us that sex and marriage isn’t a “right.” It is a gift, and should be honored and protected as such. I’m sure it is painful for people with same-sex attractions to not have been given that gift. To not be able to have sex with each other. To not become “one flesh” and create life together. But changing the legality of marriage does not change the reality of marriage. And the consequences of doing so are far reaching.

PS. This blog wasn’t intended to give a complete overview of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex and homosexuality. For a fuller treatment, go here.

(As always, you are welcome to post comments. I’m not sure how many will read this blog, or how many want to comment, but the last time I wrote a controversial blog I spent the whole day monitoring and editing and responding to comments. As a married man with kids and a full-time job, I’m afraid I don’t have time to do that. I said what I wanted to in my blog; you can say what you like in the comments. Unlike previous blogs, I’m allowing all comments to go unfiltered, and I ask that everyone would be respectful in tone towards each other, free from profanity, and not necessarily feel that every statement has to be responded to. I reserve the right to remove anything vulgar, demeaning, or obscene.)

Chicken, Coffee, and Gay Marriage

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This past January, Starbucks made a statement about same sex-marriage. This is from an executive vice president:

“Starbucks is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples… It is core to who we are and what we value as a company.”

That caused a movement titled “Dump Starbucks” that created an online petition to boycott the coffee company. The result? After a few months of their campaign, they’ve gotten 47,144 people to sign the petition. At the same time, another on-line petition was created to thank Starbucks for their support of gay-marriage. The result? Over 650,000 signatures. Most analysts argue that Starbucks gained more business from the controversy than it lost.

In July, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A said the following:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. …We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

I’m assuming you haven’t been living in a cave the past few months and know what kind of fallout that comment created. (But in case you have been living in a cave—go see the Avengers.) Former Governor Mike Huckabee declared August 1st as “Chick-fil-A” day and all supporters of traditional marriage were encouraged to support the restaurant that day. The result? Hour long waits and the company’s single biggest day of sales in their history. Two days later, some pro-gay groups tried to coordinate a “kiss-in” to protest Chick-fil-A’s statement. In comparison, barely anybody showed up.

In both cases, the boycotts backfired. Now that the dust has settled from the Chick-fil-A support/boycott I wonder, do boycotts even work anymore? So I asked a trusted source: Google. (See? I’m just like my students.)

Aside from the many bloggers who rant their own opinion on their subject (man, I hate those guys!) I did come across an interesting article from the Washington Post back in 2009 by Lawrence Glickman who has written a number of books and articles on economy and history. He wrote, “Despite their frequency throughout U.S. history, boycotts have rarely achieved their intended goals.” So it’s not that boycotts don’t work. It’s just that they rarely work, at least in economically punishing whatever is boycotted.

It seems the real lesson in all of this, no matter what side of the gay marriage debate that you’re on, is most of us would like to have our coffee and eat our chicken, too. Both boycotts were a bust. We live in a culture that would rather support than suspend, rather say yes than say no. It’s easier for people to buy than to boycott. Activists, take note.

But for people of faith I think there is a bigger issue than just the economics. In Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, he wrote that, “every economic decision has a moral consequence.” Where we spend or don’t spend our money is not about just about the institution we denounce/support, it’s also about ourselves.

I’m not convinced that sipping a Starbucks leads our country any closer to gay marriage than I think that eating a chicken sandwich keeps things “straight.” But I do think it’s important, if only for our own conscience, to financially support organizations that line up with our beliefs, whether they be religious, charitable, or even retail, as well as refrain from supporting those institutions that denounce those beliefs. The “fasting” of something is always harder to do than the “feasting” of something else, but I think both are in order if are to live what we believe and make a difference in the world today.

Green Lantern and a new definition of “reality”

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Green Lantern is gay.

And no, that’s not an opinion of the Ryan Reynolds movie.

This week it was revealed that Green Lantern is a homosexual. For those of you don’t know, Green Lantern is a comic book character with a power ring that can create solid constructs (a sword, a car, a large fist, etc.) based on his imagination to create and his willpower to create it.

Headlines have said,  “Green Lantern comes out of the closet” but that’s not entirely accurate. He was never in a closet—the subject was just never addressed. DC Comics (who publish Green Lantern) did a reboot of the super-hero universe and they decided to make this new incarnation of Green Lantern gay. This ends a few months of speculation after DC leaked that one of their major superheroes would be homosexual. There were lots of geeks talking about which one it might be. Me, I thought it was going to be Aquaman. There was always something fishy about that guy…

People concerned that a gay Green Lantern will encourage homosexual behavior, especially among young people, clearly haven’t watched an episode of Glee which is seen regularly by way more people than will read the comic. But GL being gay is a culturally significant statement, especially at a time when the popularity of the super-hero genre is at an all time high.

It’s not that Green Lantern is the first homosexual superhero (or villian) in the comic book world, though he is certainly one of the first “A-list” superheroes to be so. Marvel comics made news a few weeks ago when they announced that one of the X-Men (Northstar, a Canadian superhero who was one of the first heroes to be portrayed as a homosexual back in 1992) was getting married to his boyfriend. But in researching this blog I discovered that the first comic book homosexual marriage has already happened in… Archie Comics? (To which the world replied, “They still make those?”) But neither of the couples in Archie or Marvel has the kind of popularity that Green Lantern does.

The New York Post interviewed James Robinson, the head writer for Green Lantern:

Robinson, a British writer who lives in San Francisco with his wife, is no stranger to gay characters – he wrote DC’s “Starman” comic in the 1990s, a groundbreaking title that starred a homosexual superhero. He said the only agenda he’s pushing is reality.

“It’s a realistic depiction of society,” he said. “You have to move with the times.”

In my opinion, I think Robinson is being honest. Though I’m sure everyone at DC Comics are happy for the publicity (look for the Green Lantern logo to be quickly embraced by the gay community) I don’t think this is a publicity stunt. People who are homosexually active are a part of life and the writer wants to portray “reality.”

But it’s obviously not a real reality. It’s a reality where people have superpowers and wear tights. And though there are real homosexuals in the world, it’s rarely they are portrayed in a “real” way.

The same goes with heterosexuals. How many sitcoms show characters sleeping with one person or another, never dealing with the emotional or physical consequences of their actions? Over the past decade, we (media consumers) have all come to accept and expect a faux-reality of storytelling. Female lawyers are always hot. Crime investigations usually lead to a strip club. Sexual partners can be changed as quickly as clothes. People actually laugh at the dumb jokes written for the Disney Channel.

Sexually active people almost never get STDs (even though the CDC estimates that 19 million people get them each year.) Matters of faith are rarely dealt with. It is often the unspoken assumption that God doesn’t exist (as much as I loved The Hunger Games, notice how nobody facing their imminent death said a prayer for help or mercy?)

And here’s something you’ll never see from this “reality”: Some people with homosexual attractions can be freed from them through therapy.

There is still a lot we don’t know about where homosexual impulses come from. It could very well be that some people are born with them. But it is also the case, often unsaid, that many people develop homosexual attractions through the conditioning and experiences of their childhood.

As I’ve traveled around the country, often speaking on men’s issues, I have met a few men who, because of things in their past, ended up being homosexually active. These men gave their lives to Christ and went through counseling. And now they are happily married now and grateful for people who spoke the truth to them. (An example of one man’s testimony to this can be found here.)

Statements like those above are abhorrent to the gay community and I understand why. To say someone can be “cured” of homosexuality infers that being gay is a disease. They believe that homosexual attractions should be embraced, not questioned. It should be accepted, even celebrated, by society. People who think otherwise are close-minded and bigoted. People who suggest homosexual inclinations can be “cured” should be silenced. Homosexual activity should be seen as normal as heterosexual activity.

But it’s not. The truth is this: homosexuals cannot have “sex,” at least in the classic definition of it. They can simulate it, but not replicate it. They can engage in “oral sex” or “anal sex” but not “sex.” It is clear that the male and female body were created for each other—they have complimentary genitalia that can bring about a positive result: the creation of life. Such complementarity does not exist between members of the same sex.

And yet we don’t think about people involved in homosexual activity as “virgins” (as we might with a heterosexual person who hasn’t “gone all the way”) because as a culture we’ve redefined what “sex” means. And because we as a society have become used to having a false definition of sex (thanks in part to the unreal reality portrayed by the media,) many now push for a false redefinition of marriage.

Here is a key part of the Church’s argument against gay marriage. It’s not that marriage is a right that homosexuals are kept from receiving. Marriage is a reality that homosexuals can’t do. Humanity’s understanding of marriage preceded civilization and the government doesn’t have the “right” to change it.

I have said in a previous post how I feel that there are those in the Christian community who have much to atone for in the way they have dealt with people with homosexual attractions. And while I certainly feel that people shouldn’t be bullied or discriminated against because of their homosexual attractions or the decisions they make because of those attractions, that doesn’t mean I have to accept it as a “good” nor vote for policies that condone it. Loving and treating people with homosexual attractions with dignity doesn’t mean we need to accept homosexual activity as good.

Of course, as a Christian I’m operating with a different definition for the word “good.” The way the world often decides right and wrong is simple:

If you enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt anybody, then it’s good.

That is different from the Christian foundation of morality, spoken by Jesus:

Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

How did Christ love us? He loved us enough to speak the truth to us. Jesus accepted people where they were but loved them too much to let them stay there. He said what needed to be said, even though His words caused Him to be rejected and crucified. People who preach what Christ preached shouldn’t expect any different reaction.

Why not just “live and let live?” The answer is because that wouldn’t be the loving thing to do. Truths revealed by God are not restrictive. It’s just the opposite: “the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) There are many men and women who are trapped in homosexual behaviors and are told there is no hope for anything different. But that’s not true. There is hope. It can be a difficult road and everyone’s journey is different, but there is hope.

Using his power ring, Green Lantern changes reality using his imagination and willpower. It’s fitting that he’s the first major superhero to be gay because that’s exactly what advocates for homosexual behavior are trying to do. We who have received God’s Word can’t stay silent lest we allow fiction to masquerade as fact and abandon people, created for truth, to live in lies. It’s hard to speak that truth in love because many will take it as hateful, but we have a responsibility to try.

The Lines Have Never Been More Clear

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Yesterday, the Internet and news media was abuzz with the latest news from the White House: Obama has publicly stated that he is in favor of gay marriage. This comes a few days after Vice President Biden said he thought gay marriage was okay—clearly testing the waters for Obama’s announcement.

I think this is both very good and very bad.

Let’s start with the good: I’m glad he’s being honest. Though I don’t agree with same-sex unions I don’t automatically think people who do are “evil” or “bad.” What I don’t like is when people say one thing and mean another, which is sadly the way the majority of politics gets done these days (on both sides of the isle.) Obama is for gay marriage and he’s made it public. I’m glad because now his position is crystal clear, as it is also clear in regards to the HHS mandate and pro-choice beliefs.

At this point Obama is not just doubling down but tripling down on his liberal policies. This upcoming election isn’t going to be about subtleties or suggestions. It’s going to be a straight up, bare-fisted, one man left standing brawl.

I know a few Catholics (okay, two) who felt tricked at the last election. They voted for Obama because they thought he would have more of a pro-life impact than McCain would. He talked about a “common ground” that would unite a divided America. But now there is no question about what Obama believes or what he will use his political power to achieve. This means people will either really, really believe in him or really, really disagree. So now you know what you’re voting for, or voting against.

So that’s the good. And that’s also the bad.

Usually elections have both candidates trying to fight to be the “moderate” candidate. But in the next few months I think the left vs. right rhetoric will be crazier than we’ve ever seen. No matter who wins we’re going to be left in an extrememly divided country with a large group of people furious that the other person one. Because this is no longer a fight about economy or foreign policy…

This is a fight about morality.

With a poor economy and a fragile foreign policy that’s always one terrorist act away from becoming another political quagmire, it makes sense that Obama would head into this arena that most politicians would fear to tread. He’s positioning himself to be the leader of the new civil rights: the right to abort, the right to birth control, the right to insurance, and the right for homosexuals to get married. Economic failures and foreign wars, the usual front lines of political debate, will be left behind. This is about right and wrong.

What is insidious is that he’s making himself and the government the Modern Truth and the Church and religion the Out-dated Lie. Have you seen “The Life of Julia” on his webpage? It tells the story of a woman who would grow up under Obama’s policies, and the horrible things that would happen to her if she grew up under Romney. William Bennet made the following comment on it:

Julia’s entire life is defined by her interactions with the state. Government is everywhere and each step of her life is tied to a government program. Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community, except a “community” garden where she works post-retirement. Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship. (You can read the whole thing here.)

That’s Obama’s vision for America. Churchless. Faithless. Religion can be kept inside the Church but has no place in public policy. And people who disagree with is vision aren’t just disagreeing with a political vision, they are morally wrong and hurtful to people like “Julia.”

If all of this is making you reach for your heart pills, then I have a better medication: faith. Remember what Jesus said: “In this world you will have hardship. But be courageous, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) I don’t know what the future holds or who will win the next election. But I know that the Gospel has survived (and even thrived) in worse civilizations than this. Many saints are forged in the fires of such persecutions.

And that’s what we need right now: Saints. Men and women who are unafraid to boldly live the gospel message in both word and deed. We need people whose witness of selfless love will confuse those who think we are close-minded or bigoted. We need scholars whose words of moral clarity can cut through the lies of post-modernism and relativism.

“Fear is useless, what is needed is faith.” (Mark 5:36) That’s what Jesus said to Jarius when he was told his daughter was dead. And that’s what He says to us who are afraid that all is lost.

The battle lines are drawn more clearly than they have ever been. This is a good thing. And this is a bad thing. It’s bad because this threatens to divide our country in a way we’ve never seen in our lifetime, no matter who “wins.” It’s bad because people of faith will be the target of constant attack and accused of being hypocrites and uncaring homophobes.

But it’s good because the light shines brighter in darkness. It’s good because it’s never been more important to be a Catholic in this country. It’s good because… God is good. All the time. And His glory is not diminished by what happens here on earth.

To conclude with the words of St. Paul to St. Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

re:Dan Savage

If you haven’t had the chance to read some of the comments and replies on my previous post of, “The Bible, bigotry, and same-sex attraction,” I’d encourage you to do so. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. I couldn’t be happier—this kind of dialogue is everything I want the blog to be about. The following is one of the many wonderful responses to that subject. I thought the honesty of the question and the length (and hopefully value) of my reply merited it’s own post.

@ Bob Rice: I respect your tone and appreciate you sharing your perspective on the video. Part of me wants to say “It’s Dan Savage. This is what he does.” You might also listen to his speech about his Mother’s death on an episode of NPR’s This American Life to hear a different side of the man.http://youtu.be/ADDo5PT_ToI

Leaving that aside, I get wary when Christians begin to compare themselves to other Christians, and reach a decision that they are on the correct path or know what is “true”. I simply cannot understand what objective measure you use to know that your reading of the Bible is the correct one. I’m sure that research into the cultures that were active around the time of the writing of the Bible are useful to better understand their mindset and intentions, but this demonstrates that the words in the book are decidedly that of men (as in males) and I just can’t see how you make the leap from “men wrote these words in these circumstances” to “this is what God or Jesus would want.”

Is this some kind of revealed knowledge? If so, again, what objective test do you perform to demonstrate that the information you receive is divine, and not manifested within your own brain? What if someone else claims to have had a different truth revealed? Who will be the arbiter? This can be true of revealed wisdom between the full spectrum of Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc.

As for me, I’m all for doing good works in the name of love and compassion. I’d just prefer to do it without the tangle of revealed truth, dogma, and divine commandment.

For what it’s worth, a short comment.

Thank you for your comment. And for what it’s worth, a longer answer.

I appreciate you sharing that video. It’s great to see a more personal, human side of Dan Savage than the one that might be inferred from seeing the one that has gained so much popularity over these past few days.

The divisions within Christianity are a big turn-off to the faith. All of them have Scripture at their center (yes, even the Catholic Church!) and their belief is formed mostly by how they interpret those Scriptures. If you’re not Christian, from the outside looking in, it might seem like a real mess.

To share my view from the “inside”: yes, there is brokenness within the family of Christ. But there is more than unites us than what divides. I have disagreement with some of what other Christian denominations teach—sometimes strongly so. But they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I do believe in revealed truth. You inquired as to what objective test I perform to prove it is real. But if the implication is that my subjective experience can’t be a part of that answer then I have no full answer to give. There are certainly objective parts to what I believe: the beauty of creation, the fact that we exist at all, the universal power of love, the empty tomb and the fact that ten guys gave their lives saying that He rose from the dead, just to name a few.

But there is also the subjective. The experience I had when I first surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ. The way my heart burns when I read the Bible. The times I’ve heard His voice in my heart and the miracles that occurred when I followed His guidance. The wounds I was spared by living the “new life” that He revealed. The healing I’ve received when I didn’t. I think of my wife who I wouldn’t have known were it not for our common faith, the wonderful children we have because of it, and my amazing son with beautiful black skin who, I truly believe, is a total, unmerited gift from God Himself.

You can find objective answers to my subjective experience. Perhaps I was emotionally manipulated at the Bible camp I went to. Perhaps I have heartburn. Perhaps I just got lucky with my choices. Lots of people get married and are happily in love who aren’t Christian. Lots of people adopt and are ridiculously blessed by it.

People can do that with the Bible, too. Perhaps the Red Sea parted because of an earthquake that caused it to temporarily recede. Perhaps the Israelites got lucky by surviving through a time when most cultures disappeared. Perhaps Mary told Joseph about the virgin birth so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Perhaps the Apostles stole the dead body of Jesus in the middle of the night and were even willing to be tortured and die to keep the lie alive. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

But then again, perhaps not.

My faith isn’t blind or contrary to reason. But I can’t answer why I believe by reason alone, just as I hope any Christian wouldn’t answer by faith alone. It’s not a neither/nor but a both/and. I think there are many objective reasons that proves He is there. But just as importantly, I have experienced Him in my own life. I’ve heard Him call my name.

These truths aren’t a “tangle” for me. They are freedom. I don’t mind confessing my weakness: I need them. I need Him. The cross I wear around my neck is a daily reminder of what love and compassion truly are. I confess I don’t always live up to that example.

Savage cannot reconcile the conflict within himself of faith and reason. He shares that the very thing that pulled him away from God is what drew his mother closer. He can’t explain why this happens and neither can I, but it happens all the time. Looking at the narrative of my life, I wonder how the tragedies I’ve experienced brought me closer to God while those same experiences might drive someone farther away. The lives of amazing men and women of faith prove the followers of Jesus weren’t just those who had an “easy life.” If one can be a saint in Auschwitz, one can be a saint anywhere.

I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior and my friend. I believe that the Church, His bride, is both my mother and family. I believe that all men and women were made in the image and likeness of Him and therefore have immeasurable beauty and dignity.

I believe that sin in the world destroys not only ourselves but our relationship with Him. I believe that Jesus so loved the world that He became flesh so that in our flesh He could show us how to live. I believe He died for our sins. I believe He rose from the dead and is still living today—most intimately alive in the sacraments of the Church and the family of believers who call upon His name.

Am I right? Perhaps.

I am strengthened that what I believe is true because it’s not just my belief. I’ve seen and read about the example of an innumerable amount of men and women who have lived this life and found it to be true. I look at people like Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, and Maximilian Kolbe and say, “I want to be like them!” Like the cross around my neck, I don’t always follow their example, either. Yet the heart that beats beneath that cross rejoices with hope that if they can do it, maybe I can, too.

But I can’t do it on my own, nor would I want to. Jesus is both my destination and my companion; the song I sing and the one I sing it to. He is my life. He is… everything.

You didn’t ask for my testimony, but after watching Savage speak so beautifully about his own story I felt inspired to share mine. Thank you for your thoughtful and considerate questions and the link to this video. Your post and his talk helped challenge and clarify my own beliefs even though they don’t mirror them. Perhaps this sharing of my own faith might do the same for you or other readers of this blog.

Perhaps.

The Bible, bigotry, and same sex attraction

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At a conference for High School journalists, Dan Savage gave a talk that was supposed to be about anti-bullying. Instead it was anti-Christian. As he began to talk about the “bullish*t” of what can be found in the Bible, many Christian students stood up and walked out on him—a move he later called “pansy-assed.” Here’s the video. It’s about three minutes, but be forewarned there is some swearing going on in it (not suitable if kids are nearby.)

The video has gone viral since being posted three days ago, the vast majority of people giving it a “like.” The comments below the video are horrifically anti-gay and only go to further the disgusting stereotype that Savage is bashing in his speech.

My first reaction to this video was shock. I couldn’t believe that someone could speak like that in such a public forum. If a speaker in a similar forum talked about how Jesus died for all of our sins he or she would have been rushed off the stage. But I quickly got over that. St. Peter wrote, “Don’t be surprised that a trial is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) Christians should expect to be persecuted.

My next reaction was sympathy. There was a part of me that felt bad for him. Here is a man who has been abused by people claiming to be Christian. He references being insulted and being physically beat up while others have died over this. And for him the source of blame is the Bible.

He suggests that we should overlook the prohibitions in the Bible regarding same sex activity just as we overlook things like stoning women who are adulterers. I teach a course on Scripture at Franciscan and I’ll be honest: it’s hard to read things like that in Scripture. Interestingly enough, the reason we find it hard to read is because we’ve been transformed by Christ who we also learn about in the Bible. For there are many cultures (who don’t read the Bible) who would still agree with those kind of behaviors.

If the law of God seems barbaric in the Old Testament, we have to remember that it was because 3,500 years ago humanity was barbaric, at least by our Western civilization standards of the 21st century. When you hear of the genocides that still occur today you can argue that not much has changed in some places in the world.

God slowly revealed Himself to the Israelites so that through them the world might learn what it truly means to live and love through the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. We don’t stone women anymore for adultery—”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is one of the most famous lines of Jesus (John 8). In fact, we don’t believe in capital punishment at all (unless keeping the prisoner alive is a danger to society—an argument that makes more sense when prisoners were kept in tents and clay houses than billion dollar penitentiaries.)

Savage mentions that, “the Bible is a radically pro-slavery document.” I believe this accusation to be purposefully ignorant. Yes, St. Paul wrote of the respect and duty that slaves should have for their masters and masters for their slaves. But while the term “slave” is used in broad terms in both the Old and New Testament, it is NEVER used in the way it was experienced in America (capturing people from their native land, selling them off for profit, denying rights, justifying abuse, etc.) The Jewish people experienced that kind of slavery at the hand of the Egyptians and a strong part of their Law was to not do that to anyone else.

In the Jewish custom, a slave was more like an indentured servant who could only sell themselves, not be sold by someone else. And after six years they’d have to be released unless they begged their master to be a servant for life (Exodus 21:5) and even then only the judges could decide if that could happen.

But I understand Savage’s deeper point. In the time of slavery in America, some slave owners used the Bible to justify their actions. They were wrong to do so. In our current time, there are many America who bully and discriminate against people with same sex attractions and use the Bible to justify their actions. Guess what? They are wrong to do so, too.

Christianity has much to atone for in the way we have treated people with homosexual attractions. If only we were as shocked at the way the media portrays sinful heterosexual activity! It’s too easy to be shocked and disgusted at the sins we aren’t tempted to commit because we have no sympathy for the offender (whereas we are naturally kinder to people who struggle with our same issues.) Jesus didn’t say, “Love one another… except for the gays.” We are all commanded by Christ to love as He loved us and to treat each other with the dignity that comes from being made in the image and likeness of God. It seems clear to me that Dan Savage has never experienced that love from people who claim to know Christ but instead has experienced the opposite. And that’s why I feel such sorrow when I hear him speak.

However, just because people get the Bible wrong doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. Savage (and others) think the Bible and Christianity is the problem. If that were true then cultures not formed on the Bible should be tolerant and accepting of homosexual behavior… but that is not always the case. In a 2007 Pew Survey that asked if homosexuality should be accepted in society, Latin America, Western Europe, and Central Europe found about half agreeing with that idea. But Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, huge portions of Asia and all of Africa strongly disagreed. It’s hard to suggest that the Bible has influenced predijuce in China and India. (See the study here, page 35.)

And though I feel some sympathy for the man that doesn’t mean I sympathize at all with his position. He’s wrong and I think it was horrible that he used that opportunity with high school teenagers to bash the Bible. He would have been way more effective sharing with those teenagers the pain of being judged and condemned by by people with religious beliefs than attacking Christianity. He was “fighting back” to a group of kids who hadn’t done him any harm. It was immature and inappropriate.

I was proud of the students who walked out on him. It wasn’t “pansy-assed.” It was just the opposite. In Savage’s attempt to teach teens about not discriminating against homosexuals, he became the bully.

The world won’t see it that way. His anti-Christian rhetoric will be justified by “righteous anger” that blames all people of faith for any unjust act done against a person with same sex attraction. More and more in society today, people think to be Christian is to be a bigot. They think that we who believe that sex was made for a man and woman in marriage should hang our head in shame and stay home on voting day to atone for our sins.

Sadly, many Christians are doing just that. These issues are driving many away from the Church. It reminds me of something the artist formerly known as Ratzinger wrote in 1970 (from his book Faith and the Future, this quote taken from here) :

“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.” 

Smaller but stronger. A Church who’s strength is built not on the amount of her followers but the depth of her love for God and neighbor.

So how should we treat those who speak against us? With love. How should we behave towards those with same sex attractions? Love. What should we do to those who support and provide abortions? Love. How should we treat our enemies? Love.

But—and forgive me for using a phrase that Savage employed—not a “pansy-ass” love that says that everything is fine no matter what you do. A love that is rooted in truth. A love that is rooted in mercy. A love that is rooted in Jesus Christ.

Our love of God and neighbor means we can’t silent on these issues, no matter what persecution we will face, no matter what people may think of us when we do. And when we speak we must do so “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than from doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:16-17)

Don’t expect to be understood. Don’t be surprised at the trial. And don’t lose hope for this culture. “Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)