How I See Things After the SCOTUS Ruling on Marriage

(From Wikimedia Commons)
(From Wikimedia Commons)

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.

54 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. Wonderful perspective and wonderful words. There are those who worship the State because that is what empowers them. There are those who seek God humbly because they know they are saved in weakness before Him. God bless and save His Church. Blessings and Prayers for you as you prepare both yourself and your parishioners for whatever is to come.

  2. Hey Father! Thank you for posting this. You’ve done a much better job of expressing my thoughts on this than I have 🙂

  3. You have shared wisdom and peace through the our Lord and God Jesus Christ. Thank-you, I am now not on the edge of anxiety and despair, but at Hope.

  4. You may have written this when it was “late” but it was far from “incoherent!” Thank you, Father, for expressing what so many of us are feeling today.

  5. For what it’s worth (and my “day job” is lawyer, with a strong interest and training in religious freedom law), I don’t think handcuffs are coming for any pastors who decline — only civil discrimination complaints. But I especially believe they’re not coming to priests in traditions where marriage is sacramental, and where at least one spouse must be a member of the tradition. How could you ever be required by the state to intone the Crowning prayers for fertility over a same-sex couple?
    That doesn’t mean all is well. There are hard times coming much sooner for Churches that have functioned like wedding chapels, servicing anyone who wanted a “church wedding” and mumbled assent to Christianity as the price of admission.

    1. Thanks for sharing your lawyer’s perspective. Would you say that we ought to be able to get some insight by looking at the aftermath of Loving v. Virginia when the court invalidated interracial marriage bans? Were there ever any instances of pastors who refused to marry interracial couples being put in jail? I can’t imagine the government forcing churches and pastors to take part in weddings that contradict their religious beliefs. From a practice perspective, I can’t think of why two people wanting to celebrate their loving commitment and devotion to one another would want to do it within a church that is hostile to their relationship, much less have the ceremony led by an unwilling pastor. While there may be a few folks of hard heart who just want to stick it in the eye of those who disagree with them, the vast, vast majority want to be surrounded by people who have nothing but unconditional love and support for their relationship.

      Purely for-profit wedding chapels and other wedding-related businesses are another matter and we’ll have to see how that works out in terms of the anti-discrimination laws that will be passed and enforced at the local, state and federal levels. At this time, I don’t see anything in the current decision that forces participation of unwilling persons. The sad fact is that while the states are now required to recognize same sex marriages, in many states there is currently nothing protecting newly married same sex couples from being fired from their jobs if their secular employers don’t like the fact that they are gay. Hopefully that will change.

      1. To the two attorneys above: I too practiced law before I became a priest and an Army Chaplain. I too am not worried about priests being taken away in handcuffs unless the SCOTUS completely ignores the free exercise clause. However, I am more concerned with the traditionally Christian minded justice of the peace or local court clerk who will object to marrying same sex couples or issuing a license for same-sex couples on religious free exercise grounds. Will future court decisions now allow selection and service for public office (i.e. local judge and court clerk) to exclude people for their religious beliefs amounting to public employment discrimination based upon religion? That would violate Title VII as has traditionally been understood, would it not? Will be watching for something like this to come up.

  6. Reader Mo said, “I’m still waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on what constitutes a valid Eucharist.”

    But it seems to me it’s not far fetched for them to tell us who can a can’t be allowed or denied the Eucharist.

  7. Father,

    I deeply appreciate your words in a time where it can be tempting to be emotionally swayed one way or another by the commotion in the media and social sites.

    Within the idea you’ve presented, do you think that self-accusation can be a healthy path? I find so often that secular society demands that we choose a side and have a litany of sources (whose validity is perpetually in question) to defend our argument. In the case of homosexuality I simply have little to say. I acknowledge the large body of spiritual, societal, and scientific evidence against the efficacy of active homosexual behavior and yet I am exhausted, and frankly, beset by the awareness of my own sins.

    Perhaps I’m asking…Where can we find the bridge of love between our discernment and the pain/rejection experienced by the LGBT community?

    1. Mr. Tucker, that is my question, too.

      And Father,

      Thank you for posting this. Your essay and the resulting comments and questions have been an immense comfort.

    2. Actual loving relationship with individuals. I don’t see how there can be something on the level of “the LGBT community,” which is not a real community (people living with each other) but an ideological movement. Christ said to love our neighbor. Loving movements is to aim at a moving target whose chief representatives will be the most resistant to love.

      1. Dear Fr. Andrew, you keep answering questions the same way I would answer them before I even get there….:) I keep seeing people from the pro-SSM side talking past what traditionalists (for lack of a better term) are -actually saying-, and reacting instead in a knee-jerk manner to the assumption that individuals will be hurt or offended if anyone disagrees with this new definition of marriage, and defining anyone who believes we should put the brakes on it as a ‘hater’ .

      2. Fr. Andrew,

        Fair enough.

        However, I should clarify that by “community” I simply meant the collective of those who are LGBT. I agree that aiming our love at such an ideology isn’t wise or fruitful.

        And yet, still I grieve that the Orthodox often (there are always exceptions, of course) don’t seem to have a method for outreach to these folks unless they enter into our midst. I suppose I can only pray that my interactions with them in the future are steeped in love and compassion and that I save my judgement and accusation for myself and the mite in my own eye.

          1. Fr. Andrew, there’s no reply button on your response to my comment, so I’ll put it here:

            you said: “I’ve done it and have seen it done many times. We as a community just don’t tend to do it very often.”

            ^ fodder for future blog posts! 🙂

          2. Fr. Andrew,

            The things “you’ve done and seen done” was the heart of my original question. Could you point me to the posts you mentioned above, or will a cursory search of this site lead me there?

            Also, I had a major Freudian slip with the Log & Mite analogy 🙂 Obviously the log is in my eye…not the mite!

    3. Mr. Tucker, the only bridge I can see it the one I know, which is the same for all sinners whatever their particular besetting sin(s) may be: to be so beat down by life and your own problems that all you want to know is the truth.

  8. From Father Panayiotis of Holy Transfiguration: https://www.facebook.com/frpanayiotis/posts/10205789438126434?

    The Supreme Court of the U.S.A, sexuality, spirituality and salvation.
    It is very interesting that Justice Kennedy in his support of homosexual marriage claims that such unions will lead to other freedoms ….including spirituality. It seems to me that the U.S. Supreme Court Justices are turning their role from a body of legal opinion to Spiritual Directors for the nation. In this they are advising sex (of any kind) as a way to spirituality and ultimate freedom for humanity. This is the ultimate perversion of what the responsibility of the Supreme Court is about. These Justices are now trying to assume the role of the churches and override the opinions of Spiritual Leaders of thousands of years. This is the most arrogant aspect of this decision. The Justices are now assuming the role of the Church to “help lead people to liberating spirituality” through sexual activity. What a perversion!!!!

  9. Thank you Father. I totally agree and also believe in the separation of Church and State. I don’t think or believe that the government has any right to dictate how the Church conducts its affairs. I hope that they will not take it upon themselves to do so. Jesus said to render those things that are Ceasar’s unto Ceasar and those things that are God’s unto God. We are a democratic state with religious freedoms that allow us to worship as we please and to follow those beliefs that we choose to follow. And I don’t think the government can or will take that away from us.

  10. This is very well said. I do not agree with your views on human sexuality, but I can say that even so, if the US Government tries to force religious institutions to perform a Sacrament that the Religion directly teaches against, I will be right next to you demanding they stop. I firmly believe that you have a right to stand by your convictions, to me that is the heart of Separation of Church and State. I am still OK, and even stand behind a Civil Union, which everyone has a right to and a Sacramental Union that can only be issued by the Faith, but having both seen as equal in the eyes of the law.

  11. Fr. Andrew, this has to be one of the best of your writings yet. So simply put it is deeply profound. And each word was quite understandable. You should write more when you’re tired. 😉

    May our God Who Is Wisdom and Strength fill us all!

  12. Thank-you, Father, for your thoughtful words. There is a lot of insanity out there about this issue… Here in Canada we’ve had legal same-sex marriage for nearly a decade and relatively little has changed regarding the experience of the average citizen. For the most part, life just continues to go on once the hype dies down. This is not to say that we can be complacent in our witness to the truth, but simply that we do not need to become so caught up in the hype that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

    1. I read a post from an adopted child of a same sex couple who has written a book about the damages done to the adopted children in these unions. Never knowing who either of your biological parents are, not having the example of a real mother or father (depending on which sex the adopted parents are), and being made to feel different by classmates, etc. The author states that no one considers the children in these unnatural families. Something to think about…

      1. I might not have given the SCOTUS ruling much of a thought if it wasn’t for children. Once again, the weakest among us may take the worst hit.

        Children need guidance, but instead they are being taught that they must wade through a bog of gender/sexual/presentation/preference etc. choices (Google “The Genderbread Person” for more on this) rather than accept their given “cisgender” identity as a gift and a vocation from God.

        And then there’s this: http://thefederalist.com/2014/02/19/the-brave-new-world-of-same-sex-marriage/

        In this article, the author describes another disturbing outcome of the normalization of same-sex marriage.

  13. If lets say..IF… ur son or daughter apparently realized that they are Gay… and maybe one of them want to free the real gender inside of them from the false body they imprisoned within (to go through transgender operation)… what will you do? WHAT WILL YOU DO in the name of Compassion and Love taught by your Son of God, Jesus Christ. pls answer as simple as you can, from deep in your heart, REALLY deep in your conscious, what … will… you … do… Father?

      1. Axios!

        Well said Father Andrew – both your article & this comment.

        I am also at a loss as to why it is apparently incomprehensible to so many people that we who believe in tradition sexual morals can hold that LGBT & many aspects of heterosexual inclinations & behaviors are immoral / pathological, yet we can still be civil & loving to those same people.

        It’s not an either/or scenario. It is a both/and reality.

        Thanks for your articulate contributions.

        1. Labeling people as hateful is a way to shut down any actual discussion about the merits of the issue. And of course some people really are hateful and nasty about it. But in my experience, such people are very rare. They do get more air time, though.

          1. The issue is found in stating there is a “real gender inside a false body”; that is essentially nonsense. The body and spirit together are a reflection of the whole human being and we are called to love them as a whole person.

  14. Thank you Father for writing this. I feel like I’m so alone in my traditional Christian thoughts about the SCOTUS ruling, sometimes I think I’m going crazy.

    Thank you for reorienting me to the reality of Christ and our church.

  15. There is something deeply “protestant” in the gay ‘marriage’ juggernaut. I was reared by Lutherans in Indiana and there is a comparatively large Lutheran presence where I live. Especially, though, it is conversation with a Lutheran who is very dear to me that prompts my suggestion of “thinly veiled Protestantism” as a chief component of the homosexual ideology.

    Specifically, my friend began, a few years ago, to make incrementally more urgent suggestions that, “really, we’re pretty much the same” as Orthodox. It has been fascinating to call this person out on what, exactly, is meant by “same.” Leave aside the ELCA, which continues its unresisting drift with the dominant culture; the classic Lutheran is fairly doctrinaire and intent to show that, far from being innovative, he is “consistent with the Apostles” if not necessarily “Apostolic.”

    I’m reminded of Pope Benedict’s issuance several years ago that the Orthodox had “churches” but that protestants had “communities,” since they lacked numerous constitutive elements necessary for Churches. Protestants have, before and since, argued that these “constitutive elements” are meaningless, and then proceeded to argue that they actually do have these elements, only they’re organized differently. The intent is resolutely different; we are to believe that it is, at the same time, “same.”

    One could easily replace “we’re pretty much the same” with “just as good as you,” now a common rah-rah chant among homosexuals. “Just as I am………..,” as the hymn goes. Protestantism is many things but it is certainly about changing “this” into “that.” Numerous Protestant bloggers (Peter Leithart comes to mind here) make assaults on the “closed” table of Orthodoxy and Catholicism with similar “good as you” lament without owning up to the fact that, sans priesthood, sans “change” of elements, sans meaningful accountability to historic Christian practice and belief, when they “do this” they are not at all doing what we are doing on Sunday morning. They are correct only insofar as priesthood, Eucharistic mystery and holy tradition are optional or irrelevant; if these are not optional than the Protestant is simply wrong and they are no where near being “same as.”

    The homosexual uses a remarkably similar playbook when he or she insists that, without opposing genitalia, without commitment to biological children, and limiting the undertaking to (and therefore totally enshrining) their “feelings,” we are supposed to consider it identical with traditional marriage or normal sexual inclination. The dishonesty is breathtaking, and the steamroller effect has been rather frightening, more or less like the Catholics must have felt in Henry VIII’s England.

    The difference , of course, is that my Lutheran friend doesn’t call me an “Augsburg-o-phobe” who uses “hate speech” when I challenge is assertions of “sameness.”

  16. Thank you Father. I am a recent convert from Traditional Catholicism (pre-Vatican II variety) and attend Divine Liturgy at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Thomas Begley is my Spiritual Father. I listen to your podcasts frequently (especially the two comparing and contrasting Orthodoxy and Catholicism) and have learned so much from you. This was an informative and useful article. God bless you and I look forward to continuing my journey into Orthodoxy with your assistance.

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