A learned friend of mine recently wrote an op-ed piece for a newspaper in which she argued that the drive for same-sex marriage is not simply about same-sex marriage; it is also about winning moral approval for homosexuality. If society, acting through the state, tells us that homosexuals can marry one another, then it is by the same token telling us that there is nothing morally objectionable about homosexual conduct.
My friend is, of course, correct. But I’ll add to this that the drive for same-sex marriage is not simply about same-sex marriage or the moral legitimization of homosexual behavior; it is also about the de-legitimizing of Christian morality. More, it is about the de-legitimizing of Christianity itself.
The taboo on homosexual conduct is as old as Christianity itself (pace the late gay historian John Boswell, who argued — absurdly — that the taboo didn’t appear until many centuries after the foundation of Christianity and is therefore not an essential part of Christian morality). And it is older even than that. It clearly goes back to Old Testament times. And if there is such a thing as natural law, the taboo is rooted in natural law; for nature (or God as author of nature) seems to have designed the anatomy and physiology of human beings in such a way that sex between men and women is sex “according to nature.” Sex between men and men or between women and women, though it can be accomplished in an unnatural manner, doesn’t seem to be what nature/God had in mind.
What’s more, the taboo on homosexual conduct is not only as old as Christianity and Christian morality; it is an essential element in Christian morality, not a merely incidental element. St. Paul made this clear by going out of his way on a number of occasions to condemn it in no uncertain terms. And even though pro-homosexuality speakers and writers, with the intention of surrounding their sexual opinions with a spiritual aura, often contend that Jesus did not utter a word of condemnation of homosexual behavior, this is not exactly so; for He condemned it by implication when He spoke in an unflattering way of the city of Sodom. (See Matthew 11:23-24 and Luke 10:12.)
The Catholic Church has classified it as a mortal sin — a moral offense that merits eternal damnation. This is why Dante (Inferno, canto 15) assigned his teacher, Brunetto Latini, to hell. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some resourceful academic apologist for same-sex marriage contends that Dante sent Ser Brunetto to hell not for his sodomy, but because he gave Dante a bad grade on a term paper. I myself have often had students who would gladly have sent me to hell because of an “unfair” grade.)
The taboo on homosexual conduct is as much an essential element of Christian morality as is the taboo on abortion. And both taboos are strongly connected with the extraordinarily high valuation that Christianity has always given to the virtue of chastity.
So if you wish to overthrow the Christian rules against sodomy and abortion, which is precisely what the prevailing secularist morality of the day wishes to do (and indeed is doing very successfully), then you wish to overthrow the Christian moral system. You don’t necessarily have to be conscious of that wish: Some of those who are out to destroy Christian morality are fully conscious of their intention, others are not. Whether conscious or not, however, the course you will be pursuing is a course tending to the overthrow of Christian morality.
But the Christian moral system is no minor part of Christianity, any more than the heart or lungs are minor parts of the human body. Overthrow the Christian moral system and you will have overthrown Christianity itself. Therefore, those who are pushing for the institution of same-sex marriage are ipso facto pushing for the elimination of the Christian religion. Q.E.D.
Of course, there are objections to the train of reasoning I have outlined above, and the most common is this: While some Christian churches (e.g., the Catholic Church and Evangelical Protestant churches) consider the bans on homosexuality and abortion to be essential to their religions, there are other Christian churches (the more liberal or “mainstream” Protestant denominations) that take a much more tolerant and open-minded attitude toward these former “sins.” Unlike Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism, both of which hold a “fundamentalist” or “originalist” view of Christianity, these liberal denominations contend that Christianity is a “living” religion, much like our “living” United States Constitution. That is, you mustn’t, these up-to-date religions tell us, adhere literally to the classic doctrines of Christianity, for “the letter killeth.”
On the other hand, the spirit giveth life, and the life of the Christian religion is evolution. When we focus on the essential feature of Christianity — namely, love of neighbor — and disregard the incidentals — e.g., condemnations of sodomy and abortion — we realize that Jesus and Paul, if only they had been so lucky as to live in the wonderful and enlightened 21st century, would have endorsed homosexual sodomy and strongly approved of same-sex marriage. Jesus would have been in the forefront of those endorsing same-sex marriage: He would have been on cable TV talk shows applauding the California Supreme Court.
The trouble with “liberal Christianity” is that it isn’t Christianity. It is something else — a new and ever-changing religion that attempts to hijack the old and revered name of Christianity. Liberal Christianity is, and ever has been since its commencement about 200 years ago, an incoherent attempt to synthesize Christianity and whatever is the fashionable anti-Christianity of the day. It began in America with early 19th-century Unitarianism, a synthesis of Christianity and Deism. The fashionable anti-Christianity of today stresses abortion and same-sex marriage. And so today’s liberal Christianity (a religious deviation that used to be found only among Protestants, but is now often found among Catholics as well) says, “Fine, we can do that. We can bless abortion and same-sex marriage.”
In other words, they can — and do — bless the forces that are out to destroy Christianity.
This Crisis article originally appeared in May 2008