We’re living in a world where jocks use words like “relational” – and come to no profit by it. Two days ago in Slate, Mark Joseph Stern gloated over the role of New York Met Daniel Murphy’s fourth-game error in delivering the World Series to Kansas City. Stern’s not a Royals fan; indeed, very humbly, he claims to be “agnostic as to which team deserved to take the crown.” Stern’s grudge is against Murphy and Murphy alone, because the utility infielder, in his view, is a “fomenter of homophobia.”
As far as Stern is concerned, Murphy inculpated himself by making the following remarks about Billy Bean, the first former major-leaguer to publicly declare himself gay:
I disagree with his lifestyle. I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.
Overall, this represents the ideal Christian attitude toward gay people. To Murphy, gay people are, first and foremost, people, and by that token, as likely as anyone else to merit respect, admiration, and – given some reciprocal tact and flexibility – friendship. The word “lifestyle” might smell a little on the musty side, but Murphy goes on to concede that he, too, has a lifestyle that could stand improvement:
Maybe, as a Christian, that we haven’t been as articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree the lifestyle. That’s the way I would describe it for me. It’s the same way that there are aspects of my life that I’m trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There’s a great deal of many things, like my pride.
Whether for the sake of diplomacy or for some other reason, Murphy foregoes referring to sin directly. But that cuts no ice with Stern, who rules that he has no right to express his views “without discipline.” Discipline! The man sounds more inquisitorial than any Catholic bishop, more authoritarian than any rogue cop. More importantly, he sounds perfectly pleased with himself for it.
Here, folks, is one of the likelier outcomes of the culture of encounter: a politically active gay man encounters Christianity at its gentlest and humblest and decides to write it a ticket, if not throw it in a choke hold. For more evidence of a grim future, read Vox pundit Todd VanDerWerff’s piece on Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis. VanDerWerff shows a little more kindness than Stern. In suffering a gay-marriage opponent to come unto him, VanDerWerff reasons, the pontiff was following the example of Jesus, who associated with former prostitutes.
In offering Francis a pass, VanDerWerff fairly preens at his own magnanimity, and maybe understandably so. Confessing he “has trouble imagining myself as someone who thinks gay marriage should be illegal,” he reveals he lives in a nearly airtight cultural bubble. In his eyes, people who hold religious objections to gay marriage are as bizarre and repugnant as practitioners of suttee. Squeezing into their cramped headspace is a benevolent act – no, make that a paternalistic act, the mark of a pukka sahib.
Stern claims to be acting on behalf of the “hundreds, perhaps thousands of gay and bisexual kids” who kill themselves annually “precisely because they are pummeled with homophobic ideas like [Dan Murphy’s].” That causal relationship is anything but precise, but Stern’s willingness to unload on such a mild-mannered target demonstrates the effects of belonging to a generation that has known nothing but quick success in the culture wars. Why should he bother picking his battles when his side is destined to win them all?
In their respective bad cop-good cop ways, Stern and VanDerWerff seem to be engaged in a kind of mimetic rivalry with formerly oppressive powers – or rather, with their notion of how those powers once behaved. This will make co-existing with them – never mind evangelizing to them – into an excruciating affair. The love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin approach is out, as Stern’s censure of Murphy illustrates. To generation Vox the only sins are sociological. By picking on a “protected class” or a “historically disadvantaged group,” we’re the sinners.
My fear is that the simple, human reach-out-and-touch-someone approach is also closed, at least for the time being. An Anglo-Catholic friend of mine recently told me about a gay friend of hers who asked, “Will your theology permit you to celebrate my wedding?” Her answer, “Nothing in my theology prevents me from loving you,” satisfied him. But he was an age-mate of hers, which is to say about 10 years older than me. Super-charged with a sense of historical momentum, and its corollary belief that a final, annihilating victory waits just over the next hill, Millennials like Stern and VanDerWerff probably wouldn’t accept it. They probably wouldn’t even bother asking the question.
A couple of weeks ago, Austin Ruse accused leading Church figures of playing at a kind of respectability politics, ostentatiously distancing themselves from the people on LGBT-rights activists’ black list – in this case, Kim Davis. Though not completely convinced he’s read their motives right, I have seen indisputable instances of this elsewhere. If the goal is, in fact, to cut some kind of deal, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The winners want capitulation, not compromise. During last year’s synod CNN’s John D. Sutter expressed nothing but contempt for the draft document praising the “gifts and talents” of LGBT Catholics. Reading it as a thrown bone, a PR stunt, he wrote, “the Catholic Church can’t have it both ways.”
The pastoral shouldn’t be political. For the Church, having it both ways – that is, teaching on sexual ethics while appreciating the gifts and talents of LGBT members – is the only way forward. It’s good Christianity, not to mention common sense. But we shouldn’t expect it to score any points with media opinion-makers, certainly not with those too young to know Christianity as anything but a fall guy.