Gay Marriage Fight Needs Happy Warriors
On that day it looked as if the pro-life movement had almost nothing to show for twenty years of work—that it was over; the cause was doomed. Abortion then, like gay marriage today, had become sacrosanct to many, the one issue above all others where disagreement with the Left was forbidden.
Pro-lifers could have responded by saying, "Fighting abortion is a lost cause" and given up. But we didn't. We rallied, fought back and, eighteen years later, it is now the pro-abortion movement that wonders aloud if their cause is doomed.
Why? What is the difference between abortion in 1993 and gay marriage in 2011?
One major difference, I believe, is the state of our Catholic intelligentsia. There was always a split not just between the dissenters and the orthodox but, within the orthodox, a split between the upbeat and the gloomy. Today, however, they are almost all gloomy.
Ideas have consequences. So do temperaments.
I was 23 years old in 1993. That was the year I discovered First Things and started reading its editor-in-chief, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Social conservatives had good reason to be gloomy that year. Fr. Neuhaus would not allow it.
Mankind on the edge of the third millennium was philosophically exhausted, Fr. Neuhaus told us. Fascism and communism had been tried, only to produce rivers of blood and mountains of corpses. Against this backdrop the only compelling alternative, the only voice that really resonated, was that of Pope John Paul II, a moral colossus telling a weary world: "Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ."
Blessed John Paul II—and Fr. Neuhaus—believed that humanity was primed for a New Evangelization, that a New Springtime of faith could happen even in the post-Christian West. This hopefulness was infectious, and readers could feel it in other journals of Catholic opinion, particularly Crisis magazine under Deal Hudson and National Catholic Register under Tom Hoopes.
It fired my imagination and made me want to give my life to the causes discussed in the pages of these publications. When the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC) hired Brian Brown—a sunny, upbeat Californian—to fight for social conservatism in my home state, I signed up immediately. Utilizing my position as a district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, we gathered 100,000 signatures for the defense of marriage. Brian went on to found, with Maggie Gallagher, the National Organization for Marriage, which defeated gay marriage in California and elsewhere, and I became the head of FIC.
Fr. Neuhaus' absence from the Catholic scene is palpable. When sizing up the prospects for socially conservative victory in the culture wars, he was always careful to distinguish between hopefulness and optimism. Today, our Catholic intellectuals distinguish between pessimism and despair.
That is a huge shift in tone in just a few years and no one is talking about it. What happened? I think, in part, it was the death of Neuhaus himself. His hopefulness inspired many of us to fight for the unborn at a time when the pro-life cause was supposedly doomed.
And we do need to fight, we do need to be hopeful, because the future will be the result of our action or inaction right now. There can be a New Springtime if we are upbeat, if we recover that Neuhausian sense that we can win, we can turn this thing around.
And if, God forbid, we fail and a New Winter comes, we must be able to say that we tried. That we were faithful. Don't we want to hear the Master say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?
Peter Wolfgang is executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.