Culture Wars: It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt

From the mind of Deacon Greg.

So, yesterday was a most interesting day. Having worked until the wee small hours of Tuesday morning, I decided to sleep in a bit and then do an hour on my bike before getting down to serious work. As I biked, I checked email and learned that there was a twitterconflagration in effect, concerning this piece at First Things.

As our culture wars progress, we’re apparently supposed to stake out purist territory, declare “Here I stand, I can do no other” and then battle relentlessly; since we’re all completely and 100% certain of the rightness of our positions — every one of ‘em — we battle in absolutes. Things are so black and white that shades of grey do not exist and therefore there is no need to listen to an opponent, no need to even state his argument back to him to his satisfaction before telling him why he’s wrong. There is only the thrust and the parry. And the thrust. And the thrust. And the damnable thrust.

The First Things piece was an attempt to really hear and address the varied concerns of the Great-Gay-Marriage-Wedding-Cake-Debacle-of-2014, but I made a lot of people angry, either because I wasn’t agreeing enough with them — because one must utterly and absolutely agree with everyone’s every point or be damned — or because I had been too respectful of the “other side” (whichever it was) or because I just wouldn’t find my assigned place of purity and stand.

But I could do no other.

I can’t help it. I get the point of the people who are fretting about protecting the individual conscience, particularly if that conscience believes that a seemingly innocuous action may imperil the soul. I’m sure it is not the place of government (or the punditry) to tell someone else, “oh, baloney, there is no sin in that!”

That’s a sentiment that makes me shudder, perhaps because at one point in my life (this may shock you) I thought I knew everything and dared to pretty much say those words to others. And I had been quite mistaken, and quite wrong to run my mouth, because in doing so I led others into sin and irreverence.

I don’t ever want to do that, again. It is, frankly, too heavy a burden for my own conscience to bear.

More importantly, and absent any specific argument, to chip away at the value of individual conscience could lead us where we do not wish to go, a place where individual actions are trumped by erroneous consensus. Rosa Parks followed her conscience. The Stonewall protesters followed their consciences. People willing to toss the importance of individual conscience into the wind should bear in mind that they might want to claim it for themselves someday, and not be able to.

That said, I can also see the point of those who argue that baking-the-gay-wedding-cake might be a primary means of evangelization. I said so myself in my piece:

While Jesus socialized with those the temple priests would condemn, and healed the “unclean” lepers, he used those opportunities to teach about the love of God and the wideness of God’s mercy. . .Jesus’ service, then, was a means to gentle evangelization and that is perhaps something these Christian businessmen and women should consider, even if it seems counterintuitive to the character of evangelization, as Americans understand it. . . baking a cake for a same-sex wedding, even if one does not agree with the concept, may well come under the heading of walking along a road for two miles with someone who “presses you into service” for one.

That jibes, I think, with a similar theological point being made by Baylor University’s David Garland: ‘How can you witness to someone to whom you will not serve?’

It’s extremely difficult to spread the Good News of Christ when you are crossing your arms against the very people you say need redemption as much as you do.

There is a note of Nikita in this battle, a sense that people on both sides would like to just come out and say “we will bury you”, and it’s really beginning to trouble me, because it is letting hate overrule simple humanity.

I saw it in my email, last night, when a guy who seemed to be Yosemite Sam Incarnate all but called me a “religious nut-job varmint” and challenged me to a duel.

Not having a wired piano handy, I respectfully declined.

I saw it again — much more dramatically and appallingly — in a social media thread, where a Catholic, running on the cheap fuel of emotionalism and revved up with righteousness, was willing to be publicly cruel to a very kind homosexual man.

Can I just say, it’s hard to credibly argue that you feel baking a cake will imperil your soul if you’re doing it in such an ugly manner as to imperil it, all by yourself.

Perhaps while we’re worrying about leading others into sin, we should always worry first about leading ourselves there, and remember that what comes out of our mouths, Jesus taught, is what defiles us.

And then, this morning, my email was full of “pro-gay-cake-baking” folks slamming one link after another at me to make their case, and rather venomously — the Nikita note, again — while a Patheos writer, another gentle soul who doesn’t know how to be unkind, reported being devastated by a neighbor shouting all manner of “hateful bigot” ugliness, for the crime of being Catholic.

I feel like I’m watching my gay friends get mauled and then watching my Catholic friends get mauled, both by people who have lost the ability to do anything but feel and seethe.

Thinking seems not to be coming into play, at all. Praying, even less so.

Years ago at First Things, I wrote about the “tolerance disconnect” that we are now experiencing. I warned that we, as a church, were going to have to improve on how we teach and speak on homosexuality, and that gay-rights-and-the-church was going to be the great confrontational issue between us and society, dividing us, even in the church.

This morning, after talking to our writer, I thought about this coming, catastrophic confrontation into which we are irrevocably headed and I think maybe I understand why people are staking out their territory and defending it with absolutes; it’s because things are about to become more and more confusing. The evil one sows confusion and we will begin to feel disoriented.

I see it in myself. Last night, I was outraged and offended by the behavior of a Catholic, and could only stand with my gay friend, and pray. This morning, I could only stand with the unjustly maligned Catholic writer, and pray some more.

I don’t care to stand among the judgy-smug, “shut up about your soul, just fall in line” know-it-alls. And I don’t care to stand with the judgy-relentless ever-scolds, either.

They’ll all be claiming to stand with Christ Jesus, the Judge who died for all.

At this point, I only care to move Christward. When the fissure in our society comes into the church, and it will, where will I stand? Where will I find him?

I have reveled in the fast-paced give-and-take of the internet for many years, but increasingly, no one is listening to anyone. There is no more give-and-take, there is only take-and-shove-down.

I’m beginning to hate it. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • ahermit

    Not arbitrary rules, fair rules equally applied to all. Rules which do not make exceptions based on arbitrary qualities like skin colour, religious belief, sexual preference or gender. That’s the only way you can have a truly free market and avoid the anarchy of that libertarian nonsense you so rightly dismiss.

  • MeanLizzie

    Be Aware that comments on this blog automatically close within 72 hours of a post. I may close this one early because I’m really getting tired of moderating redundancy. This conversation seems exhausted to me.

  • Gaffer7

    Elizabeth — You write with great Objective CLARITY, and anyone who reads your articles – if we are open to “GRACE” will receive blessings. We all have our SUBJECTIVE views, and as you say – no one is OPEN to receiving – the TRUTH of the matter – we are all in a state of CONFUSION, and think we are on the right side of the road — St Thomas said to cross over the road – where the BLIND man stands, and help him cross over to the other side – Can’t do that if we refuse to get to the other side! I just read that – ANYTHING against the DEPOSIT OF FAITH – is not from GOD – and years ago over 70 percent of Clergy, and Laity rejected HUMANAE VITAE — there are OBJECTIVE ABSOLUTES — The slippery slope began years ago, we have not been catechized – and we are listening to the LIES in the secular press — will end this with the SIMPLE WISDOM OF POPE FRANCIS — “HOLD ON TO HOPE”

  • Theodore Seeber

    Since when are you treating the defendants in HRC cases as anything other than second class citizens to be prosecuted?

    You’re committing the exact same violation you accuse others of committing. And you wonder why I fear for my life with people like you around.

  • Theodore Seeber

    And that’s why I fear your kind will be lining my kind up in front of the firing squads.

  • Dominicus

    I don’t think that revoking the tax-status for churches is a fantasy if the civil authorizes feel that a so-called “civil right” is being infringed.
    A ecclesiastical community called “The Church at Pierce Creek” in Binghamton, N.Y., lost their tax exempt status because they published an ad in the newspaper claiming that voting for a certain candidate was a “sin.”
    As a tax-exempt entity you have to play by certain rules and when definitions are changed, not the rules themselves, you find yourself having to comply with laws against your religious belief. This is not fantastical conspiracy theory stuff – this is non profit management 101.
    Sadly, this is the tactic of many in politics. Sometimes you don’t have to change the law to change the way the rules operate. It happens all the time.

  • Nick_from_Detroit

    You’ve got it backwards, I’m afraid.
    The Civil Rights Act stopped the Jim Crow laws that made it illegal for someone to have an integrated lunch counter or swimming pool.
    It was the perversion of the Act by liberal judges that twisted this into meaning that a private person couldn’t contract with whom they pleased.

    Also, I didn’t claim that the free market would “fix everything.” I only stated that the market should decide and that the government should butt-out. There is less chance for abuse that way.
    Since you seem to like the “nanny-state” you should stay in Canada.
    God Bless!

    [Edit: My apologies to Ucfengr, below, who summarized the history of segregated lunch counters better than I did. I didn't read your comment until after I posted my own. Oops!]

  • Nick_from_Detroit

    He didn’t write “violent threats” by you own admission. It was overturned on appeal. So, the preacher was harassed because of his religious beliefs. Something you find absurd, despite the evidence to the contrary, presented by me.
    You keep trying, and failing, to move the goal posts.
    Nice try though…

  • Nick_from_Detroit

    Just because there are public accommodation laws does not make them constitutional, or moral.
    All transactions a business makes, even if they are open to the public, are private and both parties must agree on the terms.
    You keep claiming that denying to do business because of “someone’s religious belief” is prohibited, but, again, homosexuality is not a religion. So, your argument fails.
    God Bless!

  • radiofreerome

    On the contrary you, as a Catholic and a woman, were given special rights by Titles VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I can’t refuse service to you because I’m gay and you’re a member of a Church that actively denies me the same rights that you take for granted.

  • Oshtur

    Since the civil rights laws have the same basis for regulating both their offers of accommodation and offers of employment, do you think both should be free of religious discrimination prohibition requirements?

    And Arizona specify notes in Article 2 Section 12 of its constitution that religious conscience doesn’t justify acts of licentiousness, which in 19the century legal parlance is “Doing as one wills without regard for the rights of others” which in this case would be the religious liberty rights of the customer.

    The bill was simply unconstitutional, there can be no bill facilitating religious discrimination against the public, the universal right of religious freedom prevents it.

  • radiofreerome

    I don’t see how baking a wedding cake is related to religious belief at all. Wedding cakes are a pagan custom and have no sacramental meaning. They don’t facilitate sex, either. OTOH, I don’t see how refusing to bake one is an interference with federal regulation of interstate commerce, as refusing service at a restaurant or gas station or hotel in a small town might be.

  • Truthbetold

    Here we go again using the stupid term “bigot” because YOU have no argument. Two guys sodomizing each other is not a marriage, it’s a mental illness. The business owners do not want to become ENABLERS to immorality and MENTAL DISORDER. YOU CAN’T FORCE ANYONE TO CELEBRATE SIN!
    Now, let’s turn this around. Would it be fair for a homosexual baker or photographer to provide services to an anti-gay marriage rally conference????? No, of course not.

  • Truthbetold

    She doesn’t need to “consider a different career” just because she is a Christian. She is there to witness to the MORAL FILTH of the pagans.

  • Truthbetold

    God bless you, Oregon Nurse!

  • ahermit

    In some places that was true but not everywhere.

    You should be troubled because allowing such discrimination has the effect of marginalizing minorities and preventing them from participating in the market. It creates a situation where certain people can effectively be excluded completely if the majority in their community decide to shut them out.

    You should be troubled because such bigotry is divisive and destructive.

    You should be troubled because if we allow discrimination against one group we could be next. Remember Niemoller?

    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–”

  • Oshtur

    So you are a libertarian – I get it, wishing the nation ran the way you want, not the way it does but it does make discussions about the way it is kinda pointless.

    Because how contracts must be negotiated are regulated in many ways, including the ones of accommodation and employment, whether you like it or not. When you have repealed the Civil Rights Acts at the federal and local levels you’d be right but until then why not discuss the way the country is rather than the way you wish it was.

    And as the business owners have made clear in so many of these cases they aren’t discriminating because of sexual orientation. Do you think the problem would go away if the couple had sent the straight bridesmaid in to buy the wedding cake? This discrimination is because the customer’s beliefs that let them do things that the beliefs of someone at the business doesn’t and the business is rescinding the offer of sale or service with the customer as a result.

    Religious discrimination – and not legally allowed in either sale or employment contract negotiations as the result of offers made to the general public, hasn’t been for 50 years federally, longer in some states.

    Sorry, but there is no right to religious discrimination, if a person has a right to buy a pig for sacrifice backed up by a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling, they have a right to buy a wedding cake freely offered for sale to the general public for a marriage consistent with their beliefs.

    God Bless.

  • ahermit

    No, sanctioning some one for threatening and harassing their neighbours is not treating them like second class citizens, nor is expecting them to follow the same rules as everyone else when running a business.

    Why do you think they should have special privileges?

  • Me

    Sorry we’re boring you. We’re you just lecturing the world about doing things with love?

  • Truthbetold

    And you be an Enabler to IMMORALITY, SIN and the SPREAD OF DISEASES in ‘your own time’, Alice.

    And why don’t you get an education Alice because you are liberal ignorant BULLY who failed to understand about the facts of life:

    “An estimated 90% of men who have sex with men…engage in receptive anal intercourse.” –
    “There are a number of health risks with anal sex, and anal intercourse is the riskiest form of sexual activity for several reasons, including the following:

    The anus lacks the natural lubrication the vagina has. Penetration can tear the tissue inside the anus, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter the bloodstream. This can result in the spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Studies have suggested that anal exposure to HIV poses 30 times more risk for the receptive partner than vaginal exposure. Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) may also lead to the development of anal warts and anal cancer. Using lubricants can help some, but doesn’t completely prevent tearing.” –

  • ahermit

    Firing squads? Are you serious or is this a joke?. I’m talking about treating people with respect and dignity and you think that leads to firing squads?

  • ahermit

    Well I guess the lesson there is don’t use your religion as an excuse step on other people’s rights.

  • ahermit

    The effect is the same; you would create a segregated society with separate services for different races/classes of people. And separate is never equal.

  • ahermit

    No, he wrote a vicious, slanderous article which contained threatening and violent language and was sued by the people he was attacking.

    And even so, as you noted, the case was eventually rejected. So your religious beliefs give you quite a lot of leeway in saying awful, dishonest, abusive things about other people.

    You call it harassment when people stand up for themselves and combat the lies that are told about them but you’re OK with the harassment in Boisson;s letter which compared homosexuals and those like me who support their struggle for equal rights to pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps and said it was time to make war on them.

    What are you really defending here? The “right” to lie and threaten people?

  • MeanLizzie

    Oh, love can never get bored? That’s baloney. There’s nothing unloving in saying “this converstaion is exhausted” when I’m watching ppl become cyclic in their comments, and my day is extremely busy. And if you are who I think you are you know I don’t have much patience for passive-aggressives either. Because I’m a big old hater.

  • ahermit

    Just to be clear I do think the court got it right in the end. But I also think that the people who felt threatened and disparaged by the preacher’s remarks had every right to sue him.

    You don’t take away the right to seek redress from disparaging and threatening comments just because some marginal cases go the way of the defendant.

    It is not “harassment” to seek such redress, even if it is not forthcoming in the end.

    And if there are so many cases of such “harassment” why is this the only one that ever comes up? Could it be the problem isn’t actually as bad as some people suggest?

    Finally, my initial objection here was to Mr. Seeber’s comments about people being arrested thrown in jail and threatened with execution by the HRC’s. I would hope at the very least you would agree with me that this characterization is at odds with reality…

  • Me

    I’m pretty sure you’re mistaken about who I am. I read your blog often, but have almost never commented here. I’m not typically accused of being passive-aggressive. Perhaps I am – but its just not a criticism I’ve heard about myself. I agree that even loving people can be bored, but love is also generally patient.

    This is an issue that has inflamed passions on all sides. Perhaps people are repeating themselves because they think they’re not being heard. Real people are being threatened with the loss of their business and livelihood, and with potential jail time. Others are worried about how this will affect their religious liberty (and some are just argumentative. But isn’t just talking about ‘ideas’ (Look up the Masterpiece Cake Shop case in the Denver area. The owner is not a hateful meany. He just has strong convictions.)

  • Me (or Lily)

    And, I’ve posted in this thread as Lily below (don’t know why I switched to using “me”, sometimes I post under that nom du plume) So, go look. If I deserve your criticism for being boring, repetitive or passive-aggressive, then so be it.

  • Truthbetold

    And, why should you be granted a “right” since YOUR RIGHT is a destructive lifestyle?

    Why should you be granted a “right” to promote gay propaganda in schools so that children can perform sexual experimentations and get diseases???

    Since you can’t see the BIG PICTURE, perhaps I need to educate you:
    “An estimated 90% of men who have sex with men…engage in receptive anal intercourse…” –

    “The anus lacks the natural lubrication the vagina has. Penetration can tear the tissue inside the anus, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter the bloodstream. This can result in the spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Studies have suggested that anal exposure to HIV poses 30 times more risk for the receptive partner than vaginal exposure. Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) may also lead to the development of anal warts and anal cancer. Using lubricants can help some, but doesn’t completely prevent tearing.” –

  • Truthbetold

    Then it is up to us to show the liberal bullies the destructive lifestyle of homosexuals.

  • ucfengr

    It should be noted that the “they” in Niemoller’s quote was the government and the powerful; not a couple of bakers or wedding photographers. .

  • MeanLizzie

    Why would you assume that when I complained of redundancy, that I was talking about you? Why would you take such a general statement so personally? I can tell you it had nothing to do with YOU specifically. And I thought I knew you b/c it seemed to me the first comment was coming from an email I have recognized and dealt with before for extreme passive aggression. If I misread or confused that email address with yours by accident, my bad, and I apologize to you. But I still don’t see how observing that the conversation has grown repetitive and boring has anything to do with whether I am loving or hating.

  • MeanLizzie

    Love is “generally patient” — I’m sorry that my using time I don’t have to moderate hundreds of comments that have begun to say the same things over and over again isn’t patient enough for you. :-)

    I’m fully aware of the inflamed passions; I’m fully aware that people are worried about losing their livelihoods, and that they fear a furtherance of this “movement” that will obliterate fundamental rights. It’s why I have argued CONSISTENTLY that the people yelling that they want tolerance need to have a little, themselves. That’s sort of the whole point of what I’ve been writing here and at First Things. We need to see each other as persons, not forces. That would go a long way toward helping. But I don’t hold out much hope for it. And I am going to have a nap and then go to a party tonight…so in a couple of hours, comments will have to hold until the morning. :-)

  • guest

    But that’s not what you said. You said the preacher advocated for violence against homosexuals. Then you said that as a result of the preacher’s speech, a gay man was beaten. None of that is supported by what I can find.

    As far as other instances of the HRC, several others were cited by other people in this thread. Follow the links. Do a google search. There have also been Catholic priests and a Catholic bishop investigated by the HRC for nothing more than what the Catholic catechism teaches.

    You may think it’s appropriate to prosecute people for saying what is interpreted as a disparaging remark or having their feelings hurt. In the US, our Constitution supposedly grants freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, such that we all have to live with some disparaging remarks and hurt feelings. Thus, the Nazis had the right to a peaceful parade in the heavily Jewish suburb of Skokie. We Catholics get to listen to people tell half truths, lies, make fun of our pope and our faith, etc. It’s all part of living in a pluralistic society.

  • Truthbetold

    No, the lesson is this:
    Leave our children alone. Do not go into the schools to promote gay propaganda to sow sexual confusions and sexual experimentations. This is EVIL. This is DESTRUCTIVE.
    Corrupting kids is pure satanic. People getting diseases and dying from it is Evil. And YOU ahermit is spreading this Evil.

  • ucfengr

    Number one, it was government that forced businesses to put up those signs, most businesses didn’t care who bought their products. Number two, there is quite a difference between a private individual declining to participate in a particular private ceremony and wholesale discrimination against certain groups. None of the bakers have said they won’t sell to gays in general, they just decline to participate in a same-sex wedding. They wouldn’t have a problem selling a birthday cake or box of cookies to them.

  • Nate Whilk

    “…they have no power to arrest or jail anyone and certainly none to execute people.”


  • Theodore Seeber

    For the same reason you think homosexuals should have special privileges, and for the same reason you think heterosexuals shouldn’t.

    Bigotry is a sword that cuts both ways.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I’m serious. I’m extremely frightened of those who claim “treating people with respect and dignity” with one hand, while being for laws that specifically remove respect and dignity with the other, all while supporting their political aspirations with violence, vandalism, and bigotry.

  • ahermit

    “They” were the majority who discriminated against and scapegoated the minority. Including, it should be noted, homosexuals…

  • ahermit

    He did advocate violence by calling for a “war” against homosexuals. And the beating victim was too intimated to testify which is why the link between the article and the beaten couldn’t be proven in court.

    Yes, the HRC’s are imperfect, there have been legitimate criticisms of them, (most of which have been dealt with years ago) but the suggestion that they are seeking out arresting and imprisoning people for their religious beliefs is simply absurd.

    Unlike the|Catholic Church no HRC has ever ordered anyone burned at the stake for holding an unpopular belief…

    And no one has been prosecuted for a disparaging remark; they have been sued by other individuals who felt they were being slandered and threatened. Don’t those people have a right to make a complaint? Would you do away with the right to sue for libel too?

  • ahermit

    How does someone buying a cake for their wedding hurt your children or spread disease?

    And if you’re concerned about stopping the spread of disease convince your Church leaders to stop resisting sex education and the use of condoms.

  • ahermit

    Don’t kid yourself, the business community was perfectly happy with the segregation policies.

    And no baker has been asked to participate in any religious ceremony. Baking a cake for a reception is not a religious act. A reception is not a religious ceremony.

    And if a Christian baker will bajke cakes for Jewish or Hindu or non-religious wedding receptions how can they reasonably refuse to bake one for a same sex wedding? Why sibgle out out just one group for such discrimination?

  • Theodore Seeber

    Precisely because gays aren’t prepared to treat their Catholic neighbors with the same respect.

  • ahermit

    Actually the contentious part of the act which established the Human Rights Commissions (the “hate speech” provision) was overturned last year, so they actually have even less power now.

  • ahermit

    I don’t think homosexuals should have special privileges. I’m arguing that they should be treated the same as everyone else.

    That would be the opposite of bigotry…

  • ahermit

    How do you make the leap from someone being sued in a a civil court to fearing for your life? Do you realize how silly you sound?

    And as I pointed out in another comment the “hate speech” provision you’re so worked up about has been repealed, so your Canadian KoC friends can be as insulting and nasty as they want to gay people. That should make you happy…

  • AnneG

    Mark Steyn has been targeted and hounded.

  • AnneG

    Being mean, disrespectful, calling names is not christian behavior and is wrong and sinful but not dangerous. Why should the government be able to restrict even vile speech? Btw, lots of the speech and behavior at gay rights parades is much worse, more insulting, obscene and pornographic. Do you think that should be proscribed as well?

  • Oshtur

    Its sad when people claim a right to religious discrimination as their ‘most fundamental right’

    Again, your religion requires you to religiously discriminate then, yes, in a country with a universal right to religious freedom that is going to require some work to do it while still respecting those rights of others.

    I’d pick a Christian sect that doesn’t require such discrimination myself, but it is your choice, not mine.