A few years ago, my home state amended its constitution specifically to prevent gay couples from being allowed to marry. They called it “defending” marriage, but of course what they really meant was “denying marriage to anyone who does not fall in love the same way we do.” I stewed about that for quite some time, and then decided that I was going to start a blog about religion (“better to light a candle” and so on).
For a while, the fight against homophobia was both depressing and infuriating, as state after state joined the mad rush to stomp on teh gey. But now it looks like public opinion may be swinging against this sort of bigotry at last. That is to say, the tide is turning in most arenas except one: religious conservatism. And that, to me, does a beautiful job of exposing what’s fundamentally wrong with the Church.
For thousands of years, the Church (and the synagogue, and Temple, and Tabernacle) have been pointing the finger at gays and calling homosexual love a terrible, perverted evil, even an abomination. And why? Homosexuals happen to fall in love differently than heterosexuals do, but other than that, they only want the same sort of things that heterosexual couples want in love. They do no harm to themselves or to anyone else. Despite the very strongest of condemnations and penalties allegedly from God, there’s nothing inherently bad about homosexuality to warrant such abuse from Him and His followers. Clearly this whole anti-gay polemic is just wrong.
Most people are finally beginning to see that, but the Church cannot. Not just “doesn’t,” as though they might be persuaded some day. Can’t. The whole authority of the Church is based on the assumption that its doctrines come straight from a God who cannot ever be wrong. It’s an absolutist, authoritarian position. It has the advantage of giving the Church the ultimate authority on earth, but it has the obvious disadvantage of being an all-or-nothing proposition. If the Church’s “divinely revealed” doctrines are ever wrong about anything, they are no longer a genuine authority regarding anything. Upset the foundation, and the whole cathedral crashes down.
That means the Church can never really learn from its mistakes, or correct them. The best it can do is try and rationalize to itself the idea that somehow it has never really made any mistakes in the first place. It’s gotten away with this gambit many times in the past, but I don’t know if they can really pull it off in the case of gay marriage. They’re flatly, obviously, morally wrong about homosexuality being bad, but they can neither admit it nor deny it. So what will they do?
It will be interesting to watch how this plays out. Will the Church finally be marginalized in America as it has been in Europe? Will the pendulum swing back again, and unleash a new wave of homophobic bigotry? God alone knows, and even He doesn’t seem to sure of Himself these days.