Moral Mess 2

One of the problems facing Catholics in the present moral mess is how to deal with the friends, family members, neighbors and acquaintances who are in, err… irregular relationships.

We’re not supposed to be judgmental and self righteous. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and all that. At the same time, we have a duty to uphold the truth, point out error and protect our children. This is not to assume that all homosexuals are predators. The protection I’m talking about it more subtle than that. We have a duty to protect their moral sense and their developing conscience. They need to know what is normal and acceptable and what is not.
There used to be a system of checks in a moral society through which those who choose to live ‘irregular’ lives are sanctioned by those who live around them.
Ordinary people used to shun those who publicly lived immoral lives. It was a form of social excommunication. The push for total tolerance in all things has eliminated that form of social sanction, and how the only way it happens is for individual families or individual people to cut themselves off from those who live publicly immoral lives lest they cause scandal to others–especially the young.
When a whole community shunned someone no one was individually responsible, and no one was therefore individually judgmental.
Things have changed. The pressure is on all of us to accept all manner of bizarre and immoral ‘alternative’ lifestyles as if they are normal. If we do so, our children will believe them to be normal. What’s to be done?
I guess one has to approach it with care, caution and a sense of humor and sense of proportion. Steer clear of people you do not want to influence your family. When they can’t be avoided explain the situation they are in to your children with tact and a non judgmental attitude, and explain the truth and explain the church’s teachings.
Any other ideas?
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  • While I understand the point of shunning, and for a while wished we had more of it for the reasons you cite, I now think it had its own unfortunate consequence: people lived lies (or “pretended”) in order to fit it. Eventually, this created a duty towards convention that meant everyone went through the motions while more and more lost touch with the essence of the behaviours. I think this is what happened in the 1950’s — as “polite” society went to church, met their obligations, minded their manners, made sure their hem-lines were just right and put the best face forward, until their grown children accused them of hypocricy in the 1960’s. Certainly this is simplistic, but the appeal to what “nice girls” did and didn’t do meant that “human respect” eventually replaced authentic virtue in how to act — and how to treat those who erred. I’ve changed my mind completely on shunning.

  • I’m not actually recommending shunning. I’m just observing what used to happen and that things have changed. I agree with your comments.

  • Whether by shunning or by less dramatic methods, it’s impossible to uphold any level of virtue without creating some pressure on people to become hypocritical when they don’t live up to the standard. The only way *not* to encourage immoral people to live a lie is to teach no morality at all. We still have hypocrites. People might not lie about premarital sex as much as they used to, but they’ll usually still lie about watching pornography. And the day they no longer feel a need to be hypocritical about that, it won’t be an improvement, believe me. “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”I think the charge that 1950’s adults were hypocrites comes mainly from the young punks of the 1960’s who *wanted* to believe them hypocritical in order to justify their own disgusting behavior. Isn’t hypocrisy teaching a moral standard you don’t live yourself? The 50’s adults did by and large live the standards they claimed to have– look at the low divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates of the time.I agree people should have a solid grounding in moral theology and not just “nice girls don’t”. That may have been a problem in the 50’s, but adults couldn’t give what they didn’t have. Religious belief had been fading for centuries, and there wasn’t much left by the 50’s but an empty shell of morality. The problem wasn’t shunning, it was the much earlier loss of moral conviction, starting with the Enlightenment.

  • Maybe an even greater problem than the shunning was that perhaps those people did not pray for those they shunned – or didn’t do it genuinely. To put a spin on your saying, if you don’t mind Father, “Pray forthrightly and without forethought for those you know who are in immoral relationships, but carry a big stick”.We shouldn’t be concerned about the social tension that arrises thus. Fierce prayer, thus mercy, for the people in question, together with a somewhat equally ‘fierce’ honesty about our unwillingness to compromise the virtue and morality that we are trying to teach our children. The focus is taken away from ourselves then, thus protecting us from self-righteousness, and the genuine concern for the sinner comes about.All nice in words of course…but in practise…but it’s not impossible, and hey, at the very least, there won’t be boredom in it.And we have to stop relying on our feelings! It’s so bloody easy to ‘tolerate’. Likewise, it’s so bloody easy to be merely bigoted. It depends on this: how much do you care about the truth outside yourself? That lesbian couple; those two men living together; and even that man and woman living together but not married; their sins are not ‘flaws’ to be tolerated; they are sinning at others peoples’ expense, and not least of all, God’s expense. It’s serious.

  • Reading this, makes me want to slit my wrists.

  • Hmm. Yes, I agree, it is a tricky one. And this in a country (ie the UK – but in fact you could insert eh name of many northern european countries here, and possibly some southern european ones too) where the majority of children are now born outside of wedlock, even (or especially) among the “respectable”, liberal, nominally christian (if not Catholic).Shunning seems going too far if not even unchristian, dropping hints along the lines of “isn’t it time that you two got married” seem both ineffectual (at least in the short term: long term? I dunno) and socially gauche (not that that is of the utmost importance in the scheme of things).Hmm, yes, “a solid grounding in moral theology” is indeed what is required. But how to get that to carry across to this largely post-Christian England?

  • I’m glad you posted on this issue Father, as it’s something that has been in the back of my mind for a few months now.A close relative recently “came out of the closet” and I don’t have a clue how to talk to him now. I know he’s the same lad he was before he said he was gay and I would never shun him for it. But I have my suspicions that he’s planning on getting himself a “boyfriend”. How do I react to that situation? I know the Christian thing to do is hate the sin but love the sinner.I can accept him being homosexual, but I can’t accept homosexual behaviour, so how do I react when he brings home a man??

  • When I read “irregular relationships” in the first paragraph, a picture came to my mind. But obviously it wasn’t the same picture in Fr Longenecker’s mind, because I was blindsided by the word “homosexuals” in the second paragraph.Homosexuality is at the forefront of the culture war, but I don’t think it’s the paramount issue for the Church to be dealing with in terms of human sexuality. To me, Romans 1 has always pointed to the idea that the prevalence and glorification of homosexuality in a society is not the CAUSE of that society’s corruption, but the SIGN that the society has already become corrupt. And I think the progression of history in the last century or so bears that out—from contraception to divorce to abortion to pornography to open homosexuality. I may not have those items in the most coherent order, but they’re all tied together.It seems to me most Catholics are practical agnostics when it comes to homosexuality. They are willing to profess privately or semi-publicly that homosexual behavior is wrong—until it hits home. When a sibling or child (or increasingly, a spouse or parent) comes home and says “Mom/kids/honey, I’m gay,” then suddenly their theology quietly changes. If you wait until it’s in your backyard, it’s too late. But I think the problem is that they’ve failed to deal with the demands of the gospel on all of human sexuality, including the issues in their own bedroom. If we’re agnostic on homosexuality, it’s because we’re flaming atheists on the topics of divorce, contraception, and pornography (which seems to have a grip on so many Catholic men, and more than a few women).So where is the shunning of those things? Where the godly shame and compunction for those sins? The scarlet letter went from “A” to “H”—and bypassed “C,” “D,” and “P” along the way, and the other “A”—abortion. In my town, the faithful prayers of Catholics and other Christians shut down one abortion mill entirely, and are close to doing so with the remaining one. Once that’s done, we need to start a rosary chain outside “Rick’s Toybox” (our local smut emporium). So I would think that if children are raised to understand the RIGHT ordering of human sexuality, then ALL things that deviate from that norm would be abhorrent. The problem is that the sign of our corruption is the most visible sin. We can clearly see that the child next door has two “daddies,” but we can’t see that the neighbor on the other side buys condoms at the pharmacy, takes his wife to an abortion clinic, or commits adultery with a computer screen every evening.

  • Preach it brother…

  • 50 years ago, the easiest thing to do was go with the flow: be a bigot. Laugh at “fags”/”queers”/whatever-you-want-to-call-them.Today, the easiest thing to do is precisely the opposite: pretend like nothing is wrong, like what they are doing is perfectly normal.But the right thing is very rarely the easiest thing; in fact it’s probably always going to be the hardest thing, as Christ says in the gospels we must take up our cross, and people will probably hate us because of it, but that’s OK. Fifty years ago, the cross was in recognizing that the gay person is still a person, even though it was universally seen as a sinner; today, the cross is recognizing that he is sinning, even though he is universally seen as a person.My 2 cents, anyway.

  • That was poorly edited: last line should read,Fifty years ago, the cross was in recognizing that the gay person is still a person, even though he was universally seen as a sinner; today, the cross is recognizing that he is sinning, even though he is universally seen as a person.

  • Luke 6:37 “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” must be balanced with John 7:24 “Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly.” see True and False Tolerance by Philippe Beneton (Crisis Magazine, 1996)

  • I don’t know if even milder forms of shunning are necessarily a good idea. How can we make it fair?The young girl who is pregnant out of wedlock may be shunned wherever she goes, but chances are, her baby’s father won’t be. The sexually active gay man may be shunned, but the father of three little girls who rapes them by turns each night won’t be.The couple living together may be shunned, but the married couple who arranged for his widowed mother to sign over her house and her life savings to them, and then took everything and put her in a nursing home, won’t be.For every sinner who is punished by being given disapproving looks or the cold shoulder, there is another who gets off scot-free and goes on his/her merry way. I ask you, if that’s the case, then what’s the point?

  • My college roommate is finally marrying her long time live-in boyfriend! I would always ask her when would I get to be a Matron of honor. I did not shun her. But I have been praying daily for her. Now her boyfriend has decided that he ‘wants to go to heaven’. They knew. They continued to go to Mass and Communion all these years too. My friend said she did not feel like a hypocrit.I am just glad that finally they will be married in the eyes of God. For years they were scandal to the nieces and nephews.But society condones immoral behavior and folks have no conscience to bother them. Millions live in ‘irregular’ relationships and invalid ‘marriages’.

  • When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?It’s looking less likely all the time.I’m glad I didn’t have kids. This world is nuts. Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never suckled.Maranatha.