It’s late, and this may be a bit incoherent. Sorry in advance. Sometimes I stay up late writing something so that it’s not on my mind when I go to sleep.
I have to be honest here: I find the public debates over sexuality (every kind) really, really tiresome. There is a part of me that feels like so much of what is being proclaimed publicly these days about human beings is a kind of fiction that we’re all supposed to pretend is true, and for which there will be major repercussions if we don’t join in. I was once in a conversation where a person in favor of homosexual behavior said that the fact that sperm and eggs make babies is completely irrelevant to how one uses one’s reproductive organs. Sorry, but that’s just plain crazy.
And, over time, so many people have pretended like this for so long that a lot of folks have become deeply attached to the pretense, so attached that they absolutely do not see it as pretense and would be shocked and indignant that anyone would see it that way. And some people have never known anything but the pretense. They’re not aware that sex and/or marriage can be about something more than deep desire. They’re not pretending.
But it still feels to me like pretending. That’s how I honestly feel.
Now, I also know that some of the people who feel about sexuality in ways that I think are a big problem feel what they feel so deeply that they cannot imagine feeling any differently. And they also cannot imagine that such feelings should possibly be resisted, worked on, unfulfilled, etc.
I get that. We all feel various things that deeply. I will not pretend that people just need to pray harder and expect something to “happen.” We’re all sinners. We’re all just weak human beings who screw up so deeply that we usually can’t see a way out (when we even want a way out). And we’re all under delusions of various kinds. I know I am.
But I’m also tired (yes, tired is the word, maybe even exhausted) of the public agreement that anyone who upholds traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sex and identity is a hateful, evil person. That public agreement is also pretense. Just about every single member of my family believes that way, and they’re not a den of nasty people just looking for a chance to bash someone they disagree with. Just about every single one of my friends believes that way, too, and I know them — they’re not hateful people.
This claim that traditional teachings about chastity and love are borne out of hatred doesn’t square with my actual experience of people who believe those things. The people who believe those things usually do so because they believe that the God Who created everything wants us to live in certain ways, and that living in those ways is not just to please Him but is actually the way that things work best and fulfill human life best — both in this life and in the age to come.
I have been friends with and pastorally worked with people who feel (and act) about sex and marriage in ways that go against what I believe is right. But I’ve never fought with any of them about that. Why would I? They’re human, just like I am. I’m a sinner, too. My sins are worse than their sins. (Yes, I really believe that.)
The recent ruling on marriage from the Supreme Court of the United States was not anything that took me by surprise. I’ve expected this for a while. I also don’t believe that it means the end of the moral debate (or even, in various ways, the legal one; think of Roe v. Wade). And of course I am not in favor of how they ruled. I really do suspect that this is going to make things worse for people who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. This never was about “live and let live.” This is about making people approve of something that their consciences, their deepest-held beliefs, tell them they cannot — that they must not — approve of.
There is a sense in which I am somewhat relieved, though. Why? Because so often traditional Christians and members of other religions who share similar views on marriage (which is almost all of them, by the way) have attempted to have this debate in public by pretending not to be religious — we have tried to convince people based on sociology, law, etc. And there is of course some room for that. Children are shown always to do better when raised by both a mother and father, for instance.
But I’m kind of hoping that maybe this ruling from the SCOTUS will let us off the hook of trying to make a secular case for traditional marriage any more. I’ve never liked that, and I don’t think it works, anyway. Our general societal dogma that you should act on whatever your deepest desires are will trump any arguments made from sociology, statistics, etc. “This is who I am!” is now our culture’s basic creed. (As if anyone knows who he really is! Please. All our entertainment and literature is centered around people having no clue about this.)
It may well be that a time is indeed coming when people like me are going to get taken away in handcuffs when we say “No” to performing a marriage between people whom the Church says cannot get married by the Church. I don’t know. I know a lot of people who are saying that’s going to happen, or that we will lose our tax-exempt status (meaning you won’t be able to deduct donations to the church from your taxes, which could mean a huge hit for churches’ funding, not to mention all the taxes that they’d have to pay). I don’t know. I’m no good at that kind of prognostication.
But you know what? If that’s what happens, then I pray that God will give me the fortitude to stick my wrists out and let them slap the cuffs on, that He will give me the fortitude to tell my people they still have to give to the church as part of their worship of Christ even when they can’t take a deduction from it (lots of people do that now, anyway), that He will give me the fortitude to prepare my people to take heat for this, too.
Orthodox Christianity isn’t going to change its mind about this stuff. Yes, we may see some apostasy. But we might also see some confessors (people who suffer for the faith though aren’t killed) and maybe even some martyrs. That tends to clear the mind a bit regarding what Christianity is really for.
You see, I’m hoping that there will now be an inner freedom (even if the legal one is getting more and more eroded; I care about that, of course, but I also serve the Christ Who has overcome the world) to make the case for traditional marriage not by making a generalized appeal to “religion,” history, tradition, etc., but by making the appeal directly to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-man, the Son of God and Redeemer of the world, Who is coming to vindicate His people and set them free from the temporal corruption of this world.
Jesus Christ is the “priest of mystical and pure marriage” (as is written in my favorite prayer in the Orthodox wedding service). He is the Creator of mankind and the Creator of marriage. Only He can turn the water to wine. Only He can make us whole. There is no “you complete me” that really belongs directed toward anyone but Him.
And so that is how I preach marriage, as a gift from Jesus, a holy mystery of love and martyrdom and conjugal complementarity, of unity in diversity and diversity in unity, an image of the cosmic marriage between Christ the Bridegroom and His Church, the spotless Bride who will be presented to Him at the end of all things.
This is how we welcome mankind, into this love and this sanity that only the Church — the fullness of Him Who fills all in all — can offer in this world. The world may think that it can slake its thirst in this desert by sucking juice from between the spines of yet another cactus, but there is only one Oasis, only one Well from which flows the living water that will never run out.
The Spirit and the Bride say: Come!
NB: I’m not interested in hosting any debate on this here. There are thirty-gazillion other places to have that conversation online. So if you plan to comment, keep that in mind.