If you want to understand the clerical food fight portion of this month’s Synod on the Family, what you need to know about is sexting.
Not the Catholic kind, the other kind.
Your must-read article for this month is The Atlantic’s feature Why Kids Sext. It’s long, and you should read the whole thing.
Points to ponder as you do so:
- Louisa County is normal America. There’s nothing “different” that explains why there was suddenly a website full of students’ naked images running on Instagram. What’s happening in this corner of ho-hum America is happening in all the others as well.
- The police got involved because distributing pornographic images of minors is a felony. Rightly so. It looked for all the world like they’d just uncovered a massive criminal ring, perhaps related to gangs and human trafficking.
- If the students at Louisa County High School were instead employees in a private business, they’d be in the middle of winning one of the largest sexual-harassment lawsuits in the nation. Instead, they are required by law to report daily to this place where they are pressured by those around them into consenting to porn.
- We as a nation think this is normal. Just one of those facts of life.
- Once it became evident that there was no criminal mastermind behind the outbreak of teen porn at LCHS, the adults looked around and shrugged helplessly. Oh, just kids having fun. In a couple years they’ll be 18 and they can sext all they want, just like we grown-ups do. Hey, look at that nice boy over there who goes to legal porn websites instead of passing around his classmates’ photos. What a good kid!
Children aren’t stupid. They pick up cultural cues. They copy the behavior they see modeled around them. The teenagers of Lousia County weren’t rebelling. They weren’t being subversive. They were doing exactly what they’d been taught to do.
The Curious Case of the Catty Cardinals
It is in this pastoral context that Cardinal Kasper’s ill-framed comments about the African bishops were made. Everyone deserves a foot-in-the-mouth pass, so take a look at the same message said the other way around by Cardinal Dolan:
Kasper’s Germany is a place where cohabitation, contraception, divorce, remarriage, and homosexual activity are part of the water. Like sexting in American high schools. So normal you can’t see past it. To an outsider, it seems obvious: These things are wrong. Show people a better way. But to someone immersed in the When in Doubt Just Add Sex culture, chastity and faithfulness to one’s marital vows seem like a dream from distant shores.
The Tale of Two PhariseesWe’re frequently reminded that Jesus ate with tax collectors and other sinners. As he told the upright-types who questioned this, the point was not to condone the sins, but to help the sinner go and sin no more.
Even those of us who’ve passed this basic course in anti-Phariseeism still have another level to go.
Immersed in our sex- and wealth-saturated culture, we have a difficult time even seeing what that sin no more might look like. We stand like the unrepentant pharisee saying “at least I’m not like those girls who sext,” or “at least I’m not like that greedy CEO over there,” and imagine that we are thus pictures of virtue. Their sins burn so hot mine seem like cool shade in comparison.
The Christian life becomes a game of Find a Worse Sinner than Yourself.
Not Resuscitation but Resurrection
The hope of Christ is not that we’ll pound a pulse into the near-corpse of cultural Christianity. It is no favor to the prostitute to ask, “I wonder how we can help her be the holiest prostitute on the block?”
If our before-Jesus and after-Jesus pictures look eerily similar, we aren’t yet ready to break open the jar of perfume and anoint the Lord’s feet.
The bishops of Africa are prophetic in reminding us that the role of the Church is to transform culture, not to be transformed by it.
When we see lives transformed by Christ, time and again what we see is change so radical, so overwhelming, that you would never guess what had been there before.
The Hospital for Sinners isn’t short on cures. We just need to use them.
Image: Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons