We are once again having one of those great debates that in modern politics skips right past any sort of compromise and has the views of elite lawyers cast into law by our courts. I am not speaking of gay marriage; the Roberts Court signaled where that’s going. I instead mean whether Christian merchants can be coerced by act of law into providing services for gay “weddings.”
The inherent problem here, as countless others have noted, is that there are two camps whose views of the world are not merely in conflict, they are actually not even on the same plane. Christians — here I mean small-o orthodox Christians, Chalcedonian Christians, even some mainline Protestants — believe that sodomy is a sin and that a marriage is by definition between one man and one woman, and that anything else one calls a marriage is not merely not a marriage but itself a perversion of something good and a kind of sin called a scandal. (I don’t mean shows up on E!, I mean this.) This is a teaching that goes back to the Apostle Paul and beyond, a core belief of orthodox Christianity since before there were even Ecumenical Councils, one we inherited from our spiritual big brothers, the Jews.
The currently-winning side believes that the coerced legal recognition of gay “marriage” is a civilizational triumph the equal of the victory over Jim Crow and slavery. While I’m inclined to note that there’s a huge difference between sacramentalizing sodomy and ending the forced dehumanization of a whole class of my fellow humans; between allowing two men to make out on a courthouse’s steps and ending the practice of forcing black Americans to live and learn and die in substandard conditions without even voting rights, I will instead simply note that this view does not merely refuse to admit of any religious objection to the practice, but believes all such objections are a manifestation of a host of historic and present ills directly associated with Christianity — ills that will fall in the fullness of time.
As with the abortion debates, the two sides are not speaking to each other. This is why, despite the counsel of my friends who suggest we need to seek religious accommodations or some other sort of compromise, I know that this is a vain hope: We are a Puritanical nation, which doesn’t mean we hate sex (the Puritans loved sex). It means that we are profoundly anti-Catholic and prone to stamping out dissenters. We used to use social consensus and economic pressure where we didn’t use convictions to accomplish this. Now we use the Supreme Court.
As my side is destined to lose here, I feel it’s a good idea to leave this as a marker so that the other side understands why their grandchildren, insofar as they have them, will be an oppressed underclass in the Republic of Texas under my incredibly numerous descendants. I would like to explain why it’s so important for Christians to be able to refuse to do work to advance gay “marriage” and everything that goes with it.
To an orthodox Christian, to aid in the commission of a sin is itself a sin. The Catholic Church, which has spent 2,000 years indulging a love of classification, has a term for this: cooperation with evil. (Before you tune out at the word evil, understand that it doesn’t mean mass-murderer, it means sin, or committing an act that separates us from God.) Thus, to participate in any way in the setting-up of a gay “marriage” is analogous to helping set up an abortion clinic.
An abortion clinic by its nature mocks a medical care facility, a place of healing, and so is a sin; and its very purpose is to perform sin after sin, murder after murder, and so it is a means of perpetuating that sin. The very purpose of a gay “marriage” is to create a form that mocks by its nature a sacred thing, and so is itself a sin. Its purpose is further to perpetuate the sin of sodomy. It is therefore a sin from its inception through its completion.
To officiate at, to advocate for, to provide the instrumentality of, even to provide a wedding cake for, such a “marriage,” is to one degree or another cooperating with evil; this makes you complicit in the sin. To compel someone to do this is to compel him to sin (put your soul in danger of Hell, or at the very least breach your religious beliefs) or give up his livelihood.
Nevertheless, some argue that denying service in the advancement of gay “marriage” is akin to firehosing African-American protesters. This is incorrect.
At the core of the gay-rights:black civil rights analogy is a logical fallacy. A black man is born with immutable characteristics for which he received abuse, dehumanization, murder, abortion, and a host of ills. It was his nature that was attacked. A gay “marriage” is an act. The gay man or lesbian is not being refused services for being inclined, immutably or not, toward having sex with a member of the same sex. A Christian refusing to provide a wedding cake or photo or, we all see this coming, a liturgy for a gay “marriage” is refusing to aid the commission of an act he feels is sinful.
To believe that refusing to serve a man lunch because of his skin color is morally the same as refusing to take photos of his “wedding” to another man, you must believe that a man and the actions he undertakes are inseparable; that to disapprove of a man’s acts is to disapprove of the man. Speaking as a Catholic Christian, this is at odds with the most fundamental tenets of Christianity. (I leave to the side arguments about predestination, the fundamental nature of sinful man, and depravity, because that will make this a much longer essay.) Christians believe that sins are acts of separation from God that we choose, that we as free agents do because of our decisions and our inclinations. A Christian believes that Christ was born, suffered death, and rose again in order to vanquish the hold sin and therefore death would have over man. If a man is his sins, and is not merely stained and harmed by them, then Christ came to save us not from the consequences of our actions, but rather our very selves. The Lord should not have bothered with the Incarnation, he should not have spoken to Noah, quite frankly he should have roasted Adam and Eve alive and been done with it.
To tell a Christian that by refusing to participate in another man’s sin — and whether you like it or not, it is a sin — he is striking at the sinner himself, is to speak in nonsense. It is to say that a man is his sins, that he can never be forgiven them because they are he, and that therefore he can never achieve Heaven no matter Christ’s sacrifice. This idea is so fundamentally repugnant to 2,000 years of Christianity that every major heresy that embodied it was ruthlessly crushed centuries upon centuries ago. (It is now called the sin of despair.)
To a Christian, a man is more than his decisions, more than his acts. He is a free agent who chooses good and chooses evil, but his inherent dignity arises from the fact of his Creation, not from the good and the ill he does. He chooses his actions, he is not his actions.
The Catholic Act of Contrition — traditionally said at the end of Confession or as a plane loses altitude suddenly during turbulence — makes this distinction. As I learned it: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all of my sins because of your just punishments; but most of all because they offended You, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
If a man is his sins, he cannot avoid their occasion short of killing himself, which is to say, by opening yet another can of worms.
If you compel me to endorse another’s sin by providing services for it — well, if you compel someone else, I’m a lawyer, we always protect ourselves — you do not enforce shared tolerance, you force me to violate my conscience as certainly as if forcing a pacifist to go to war. This is why Christians object to baking cakes for gay “marriages,” and why we are now fighting at law to stop from being forced to do so.
We are not asking for the right to deny service to people based on their identities. We are asserting our heretofore-unremarkable right not to be forced by government to engage in activities that we believe will result in our own eternal damnation. The issue is the actions, not the individuals.
Now, there are several rejoinders commonly offered to this.
Love is not a sin. It’s not. Sodomy is. A caricature of the sacrament of matrimony is.
Who are you to judge? I’m not judging you, I’m choosing not to commit a sin.
Why do you hate? I don’t. Or rather, I do, but I hate traffic, I hate sins, not you.
My love for another (man/woman) is a natural expression of who I am; to hate that is to hate me. Actually, the key term here is expression. I do not hate love. I hate manifestations of sin. I pray for you.
You’re destined to lose/ you’re on the wrong side of history. Almost certainly.
Bigot. Matthew 18:8.
This is cover for bigotry. Now here, while you don’t have a correct point, you have a fair one. Christians have not always been good about explaining that while we hate sins, we actually separate those from the sinners. We have been mean and petty and bigoted, and generous and kind and gracious, and everything else men have done; but like the rest of our society, we have been human. It is very easy to assume, if you believe that someone hates you already, their refusal to have any part in what you believe is your happiest moment is mere hatred. We need to be better about explaining this.
But I don’t think any of this really matters.
I close by noting that I believe we have lost this war, and I offer an analogy to explain why. After Roe v. Wade, Americans overwhelmingly self-identified as pro-choice/pro-abortion. In some ways, the battle was over except among the holdouts. Yet Christians — foremost among them, in one of its finer recent moments, my Church — fought back. We had the organization and the doctrine, and we found that we weren’t alone; what would later be called (incorrectly) the Christian Right rallied and together we fought the mass murder our country legalized at brief-point. (Catholic Democrats largely decided they were more Democrat than Catholic; these things happen.) The trend was slow in coming but we have made inroads; today, we fight at parity or near-parity.
The left learned from this. They learned that a determined, organized, doctrinally coherent organization — something they never have to battle in the Republican Party — could be an implacable foe. They re-learned left-wing hate of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. They learned that to win they must destroy their organized opposition early.
The current fight over bakers and wedding photographers and venues is a proxy war to destroy resistance to their latest pet project. It is not “the gays” against us. It is the professional left. They will stop at nothing until we are broken, hobbled, and fearful. They have the aid of our governing classes and worse, our legal class. The collapsed mainline heavily agrees with them. A large number of nominal Catholics and Orthodox do too. Heck, even some of the real ones do, even if they’re wrong. I fully expect that in twenty years it will be illegal for a priest, pastor, or rabbi to refuse to say a service for gays in his congregation. (I also expect legal protections for Muslims because our leaders are scared of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businessmen who share a faith with demonstrably violent nutters.)
So I say everything I’ve said to this point for one reason and one reason only. I want to leave a marker behind. I want someone to remember why we fight, and so when the tide, perhaps, turns, they will know the seeds of how to fight and how to win. I want men and women of good faith to see this and understand that we are not motivated by hate, but by a passionate desire to protect the Gospel and our adherence to it. I want men and women of bad faith to laugh, and mock, and in thirty or fifty or seventy years, to tremble at a shadow of a memory as all of their dark works come undone.
This war is lost, but Constantinople has not fallen yet.