Tom Krattenmaker, a commentator on religion and public life based in Portland, Oregon, published an interesting piece this week arguing that sooner or later, most Christians (in North America and Western Europe anyway) are going to have to adapt to a politics and society in which queer people bear and exercise more rights than they have before. Our rapid political and social progress on this issue over the last ten or twenty years should not of course be taken for granted—no change is guaranteed, or permanent—but Krattenmaker calls attention to the one and only fact which makes me (very cautiously) optimistic about our near-term prospects inside the Church: a new generation of faithful are coming of age, some of whom are beginning to be ordained, many of whom have quite consciously been formed and educated right alongside their openly queer brothers and sisters. Pure, distilled, irrational hatred remains real enough, but own experience has been that even the most conservative elements in the Church, who are of my age and background, have substituted for that former hatred a kind of hypocritical and almost regretful condescension. That may not seem like much just now, but I think it’s telling. Krattenmaker:
It appears increasingly obvious that social acceptance of gay men and lesbians and insistence on their equal rights are inexorable. If the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” weren’t enough to signal the turning point, or the classification of several gay-resisting Christian right organizations as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there came news that [the ex-gay advocacy group] Exodus International was ending its involvement in the anti-homosexuality “Day of Truth” in U.S. high schools. “We need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace,” Exodus President Alan Chambers explained, “while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether we agree with them or not.”
Add it up, and you see a decision point at hand for socially conservative Christian groups such as the Family Research Council that have led resistance to gay rights. Do they fight to the last ditch, continue shouting the anti-gay rhetoric that rings false and mean to the many Americans who live and work with gay people, or who themselves are gay? Or do they soften their tone and turn their attention to other fronts?
Prayerful discernment and simple Christian decency would strongly suggest the latter. The alternative looks worse by the day—a quixotic battle more likely to discredit its fighters and their fine religion than win any hearts and minds for Jesus. Christianity has far worthier causes than this.
Two points here re: Krattenmaker. First, the public discouragement of homophobic groups like Exodus—and the private regret of individual priests who feel compelled to enforce church law on this matter, though they would really rather not—are evidence that the “conservative” party knows, on some level, that it has lost the argument, but does not yet know how to make the admission, or what then to do about it. Fr. Hopko’s book strikes me as falling into this category, too. The honest conservatives are fearful, above all for Holy Tradition’s integrity.
But fear, by itself, cannot long sustain a belief system, or a policy. It requires too strained an expenditure of energy, to hold it all together. Or so I found, at least. Sooner or later a critical mass of Christians are going to yield to the actual logic of natural law; and to the obvious implications of their otherwise positive and entirely harmonious relationships with actual queer people in their own families, schools, and work places.
Second, the institutional churches are, in the great sweep of history, ruthlessly pragmatic bodies. (Which is a good thing.) Christians have successfully lived under, and sometimes taken on the trappings of, a wide spectrum of political orders. An institutional religion which can come to terms with Byzantine and Russian emperors, Germanic feudal kings and kinglets, Islamic caliphs, the commercial republics of the Renaissance and Reformation, the democracy in America, and even conclude concordats with the likes of a Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin (however distasteful those concordats may have been), can surely come to terms with this one component of contemporary liberalism.
That is not to say that all those different political forms I have just named are equally just or unjust, or equally useful or unuseful for the preaching of the Gospel. They are not. But it is to say that prudent people, ecclesiasts included, do tend to know where their real interests lie, and where and when to compromise.
For Christians, the answer to the question of who Christ is, is (truly) a hill to die on. (So is the question—pace my more radical Protestant friends—of what is the Church.)
Call me crazy, but sexual ethics is not.
Victor de Villa Lapidis