Two weeks ago, I got an email from our campus Roman Catholic ministry inviting me to their weekly speaker series. This week, they were hosting a speaker from San Diego, a woman who had started her own affiliate of the National Organization for Marriage. She would be speaking on “Re-defining Marriage: How Same-Sex Marriage threatens Religious Liberty for all of us.” *
Wear heels. Dig them in.
My immediate reaction was confusion. The Lutherans, and the United Christian Ministry were also invited, and all of us had had the “come to Jesus” conversation of progressive Christians with the other Christian ministries on campus over the summer. This boiled down to: Lookit! Be nice to the gay kids, and if you find that you can’t pull this off, then send them to us, and we’ll do it for you, and save face for you. If you can’t one of the Allies, then at least be Switzerland, for crying out loud.
But, clearly, the Catholics were not being all Swiss about this issue this week. So what was I called to do in this moment?
There’s a case to be made for staying away. I could plead ecumenical unity, I could listen to the voice of my Paranoid!Bishop in my ear, asking why I was stirring up things again**, I could point out that it’s not like the Catholics had ever done anything to me personally (lately), and we’re all the church, and the church should stick together!
And sure. Ecumenical unity is fine (though long gone) as is avoiding any theoretical confrontation with the bishop. They are perfectly nice sorts of things.
But right now, the sorts of things this woman was saying is passing as mainstream Christian thought in much of the country, and I have not elected her my spokesperson.
So I went.
I went, and I sat towards the back in my collar, and my “I’m wearing a grown-up, respectable suit!” suit, and heels. (I had been invited, after all.) I informed my students of what was happening, and asked if they wanted to join me. Because they are uniformly awesome, they turned out in force, and asked if they could make t-shirts for the occasion.
I sat in the back and listened quietly and peaceably, while taking incredibly sarcastic notes. The speaker basically achieved the perfect storm of right-wing social theory. Marriage is for the sole purpose of creating and nurturing children. Biological ties only create a family, and these ties cannot and should not be broken. (This really surprised me–I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone advocate against adoption the way she did, although she allowed it in ‘special circumstances.’) Birth control is evil, as is gender neutral language, economic equality between the sexes, and the ‘blurring of gender roles.’ The Obama Administration is apparently out to get religious people, in its requirement that everyone (except churches and other religious institutions) have to provide birth control coverage to employees cost-free. (The nerve! Asking women to decide for themselves whether to purchase it or not!)
So she was very thorough. She even threw in a condemnation of the estate tax (because I think it’s a rule at this point for speaking publicly as a conservative.)
But then came the Q&A.
The questions were pretty benign. There was really mild pushback from the students, but none that she appeared to hear.
Then I got the mike.
I pointed out that really, her main problem seemed to be with the Kim Kardashians and the Britney Spears of the world: straight people who were extremely bad at marriage. People who abused their kids and each other, people who were trapped in the cycle of addiction, people who were unfaithful, people who were unable or unwilling to be good parents, people who got married in elaborate weddings then divorced 72 days later, etc.
And none of those things applied to the committed gay couples I knew, people who were lined up, knocking down the doors of my church, asking to make public vows of fidelity and love to each other–the sort of thing my church preached was the sacramental self-sacrificial love that marriage signified.
And since that was the case, then why on earth not encourage these people to get married?
Well, she said, looking stormy. Marriage isn’t about love. It’s about children. There are lots of different sorts of love, and lots of different sorts of relationships, but marriage is about producing and caring for children.
(……..Honestly. I got nothing.)
That’s pretty much where it ended.
After it was over, several students unaffiliated with Canterbury came up to me and said how glad they were that I had asked my question. The Catholic priest at the Newman Center came over, and said he was glad I had spoken up. “I was waiting for someone to introduce the concept of real people into her speech.”
Theology always, ALWAYS involves real people. Theology is never without consequences, and never exists in a bubble.
Stand in public, and proclaim that “marriage is about children, and not love” and immediately, you have sent the message that people who cannot have children, or choose not to, are not really married.
Stand up and say that biology, and not the courts, create a family, and now you’ve started casting doubt on the legitimacy of people who were adopted. (Which, really, for a conservative Catholic– is quite a mind bender.)
And each time you say stuff like that, you’ve told people that there is something wrong with them. You’ve told them that for some reason they may not be able to control, God is angry with them. God is seriously displeased with huge swaths of the population. “Horrible people!” God evidently says “Why can’t they live up to these impossible and unachievable standards that exist out here in the ether?”
By virtue of the Incarnation, if there is one thing in the cosmos God is concerned about, it’s actual people. Not theories, not pretty dreams about what people should be, but actual, honest-to-Jesus, people. People as they lived, and died, and celebrated and suffered.
Jesus called actual people to be disciples. Peter, if you’ll note, was a complete doofus, albeit well-meaning, for much of his life. Paul contradicted himself enough to rival a pretzel. There were enough rough-and-tumble arguments in the nascent church to bring succor to the current watchers of the HoB/D listserv and England’s General Synod. I’m not even going to go into the rumors and issues around the women Jesus hung around with.
The point is, he hung around with people. Actual people.
His teaching served them; people weren’t meant to serve it. (Wait, that sounds awfully familiar.)
The Spirit works through people. Woe betide us when we stop paying attention.
*I’m not linking to her site. You can Google “The Ruth Institute” if you want, but I’m not inclined to give this lady any more site views than she already has. Aside from the many (MANY) issues I have with her espoused (ha!) policy positions, the irony is more than I can stand. Their logo is virtually identical to that of Greendale Community College, of “Community” fame. Really, I’ve not entirely written off the notion that we were all being punked.
**This is a song in my head now. It is sung to the tune of “You’re making things up again, Arnold” from “The Book of Mormon.” It is very catchy. And features hobbits. And Yoda.