Professional Christians, Pragmatic Jesus and Finishing the Race

Joseph bottum 1

So some guy named Joseph Bottum wrote a flabby-blabby essay for Commonweal about how he’s a born-again gay marriage supporter.

In certain Catholic circles Mr Bottum’s decision to change political horses, is BIG NEWS.

I’m barely Catholic so far as the intellectual Catholic culture is concerned, which means that all this carrying-on and hand-wringing went right over my little Okie head. Everybody else seemed all worked up about it, so I googled the guy.

It appears he’s a former editor of a conservative Catholic publication called First Things and the author of several books. He basically sounds like a man who’s been making his living off being a Faithful Catholic bringing The Truth according to him to the uninformed masses. 

Based on what little I’ve read of First Things, it is a big sea change for its former editor to kick the real Jesus to the curb and recommend that we all follow politically pragmatic Jesus and “accept” gay marriage. In fact, such a thing would have been unthinkable — career suicide, if nothing else — for someone with Mr Bottum’s resume even a few months ago. 

But with respect to Bob Dylan, the times they are achangin’ and lots of Professional Christians are going to find that their bread is buttered on the opposite side of what it once was.

What I’m trying to say is that we’re going to see a lot of this. Successful people follow the money. That’s what they do. It’s how they got to be successful people. For a long time now, the easy money on the Catholic side of the street has been to try to out-faithful the faithful, at least in public. John Corapi road off on his Harley as a millionaire.

I have no knowledge of Mr Bottum’s finances. In fact, other than a quick read of his execrable essay and an even quicker google search, I have no knowledge of Mr Bottum.

I’m not writing this about him. I’m writing it about us.

We officially entered post Christian America with the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage last summer. A lot of Christians haven’t gotten the memo yet, but that doesn’t change the situation. As we move deeper into this new reality, the smart money types among us are going to betray Christ. 

They will try at first to broker themselves as negotiators for the other side of this culture war, as Mr Bottum has done in his essay. He’s being hailed as a hero in certain high-profile circles, but that won’t be true of the stragglers who switch further down the road. Professional Christian deserters lose their cachet when there’s a glut of them. 

Mr Bottum’s argument to other Catholics as to why they should abandon Church teaching on marriage is just about the crudest argument anyone can make. 

We’re gonna lose anyway, he contends, so let’s give this one to the culture and concentrate on areas where we can win. 

That, and he had a casual friend who is gay that he sees once in a while who won’t talk to him anymore, which proves that people hate the Church for its support of traditional marriage, which proves … I dunno … that Jesus was right when He said,

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 

Mr Bottum’s viewpoint doesn’t exactly track with the Jesus who said that. In fact, it is so mind-bogglingly anti-Christian that it takes a moment for a Christian to grok it. Who told Mr Bottum that Christians are called to win, and if they don’t win, to walk off the field? For that matter, who told him that following Jesus wouldn’t cost him the loss of friends?

Not Jesus, that’s for sure. 

People are suffering and dying all over the world because they won’t turn their backs on Jesus. They aren’t being pragmatic. They are being faithful. 

More and more of the professional Christians who’ve been living high off the religious fat are going to cut and run. Christianity has been on the ascendant in Western society for so long that a lot of people have built lucrative careers and garnered our respect and trust by posing as super Christians while they were ripping it off the whole time. Now that we live in a post-Christian culture, they’re going to begin, as gay people say, to “come out.”

I don’t know if Mr Bottum is one of these. What I know is that he’s done well by being a professional conservative Catholic and now he’s backing up on an issue that conservative Catholics have long deemed “non-negotiable.”

My point is that we’re going to see more of this and we shouldn’t let it bother us. We certainly shouldn’t follow these guys. 

We need to keep close to God in prayer and through the sacraments and, as St Paul would say, finish the race. 

For more on this story see Why I Am Catholic, Feast of Eden and Catholic and Enjoying It

  • Manny

    Boy this guy has set the Catholic blogging world on fire. I had never heard of him. I commented over at Frank Weather’s blog on how idiotic his position is. It’s amazing to me how everyone is blogging on what appears to be an extraordinarily poorly written piece. I said somewhere how hot button issues like homosexuality get more press than the Holy Father’s encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Who is this guy, Joseph Bottums? His name sounds like it came out of a Dickens novel…lol.

    • hamiltonr


  • D. A. Christianson

    I’m with Manny, never heard of this fool. To misquote Shakespeare, “Traitors and Lechery, nothing else holds fashion”. But there’s really nothing new here, there always been Catholics (and Protestants) willing to prostitute their faith for a bit more Dane-geld. Keep the faith.

  • AnneG

    I read First Things sometimes and Jody Bottum’s articles and comments. I never suspected he was a “conservate Catholic” or conservative anything. His comments are usually sentimental handwringing. I agree with all y’all. Don’t follow his bad example. Reminds me of the sorta trite question, “if it were illegal to be Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

  • FW Ken

    I was an avid fan of First Things when Fr. Neuhaus was running it, and need to resubscibe, now that it’s under Dr. R.R. Reno. The First Things On the Square essays are often excellent and thought provoking. The journal is not specifically Catholic, but draws from protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim writers.
    Here’s a good description of where it’s been, and some questions which might determine where it’s going.
    Jody Bottums essay is more sad than anything. Besides being wrong on the issue, it seems to be saying that opposition to same-sex marriage is imprudent, and should be dropped in favor of arguments we can win. But he also posits fairness as a consideration, which would eliminate any further discussion. If same-sex relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships, then of course, marriage should be an option for them. All in all, it’s remarkably poorly reasoned.

  • FW Ken

    This is a very good response to Bottum’s essay. Most of the comments are good, too.

  • peggy-o

    I would suspect cowardice is at play as well. We only hurt our gay brothers, sisters and friends by not speaking the truth with love. We also hurt children and society. That’s more important than our own comfort level.
    Don’t worry about intellectual snobbery Rebecca…you are a great thinker and writer. As Chesterton said once it’s the long words that are easy and the short ones that are hard.

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      Peggy-O is totally right. If I were to tell you where you rank in my estimate among great and wise Catholics, you would refuse to believe it.

  • Sus_1

    I wish more bloggers followed Rebecca’s example by posting about the mess we have with marriages, premarital sex and divorce between heterosexual couples. The Catholic Church cannot continue to fight same sex marriage without discussing and dealing with all the disordered stuff going on between heterosexuals. If we are going to call out the gays for their sin then it should go both ways. If it were consistent, people wouldn’t be so fast and happy to say Catholics are bigots and hypocrites.

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      You mean they aren’t anyway? They would say that even if the Catholic Church were suddenly turned into the most successful marriage counselling bureau in existence.

    • FW Ken

      What would you have the Church do? Teachings are already there about all these things. The culture rejects these teachings. Therefore, lots of people choose to ignore them. In what way is that anyone’s fault but theirs?

    • Manny

      Who says the church doesn’t speak out against pre-marital sex and divorce? What you’re confusing is that SSM is the hot topic of today, and so it makes headlines. The Church has been very consistent a=on all those issues.

  • FW Ken
    • hamiltonr

      Thanks for this Ken. I’m going to post on this tomorrow. I haven’t seen this article, but am writing from another one. I’ll look at this too.

    • hamiltonr

      Correction: I got up this morning and decided to wait until next week to write about this. The issues here are too important to address over a holiday weekend.