The recent attempted lynching of the O’Connors and the Great Walkerton Pizzeria Siege are now in our cultural rearview mirror, but I think a little reflection on what happened might be worthwhile. Here are my noodlings, for what they are worth.
First, a bit of background. I have always tended to avoid telling same-sex-attracted people what they need to be doing. A careful reading of my remarks on the subject of homosexuality will show that my habit is to play defense, not offense, on the topic. I don’t want aggressive, militant gays telling me that I have to approve of homosex and the pretense of gay “marriage”, but I seldom run around handing out free advice to same sex attracted people on what they need to be doing with their lives.
Why? C.S. Lewis explains it all for you. He tells us in Surprised by Joy that he never commented on two sins: pederasty (rampant in the school he attended) and excessive gambling. That was because they were two sins to which he himself felt no temptation and since he always resented it when army officers gave moral lectures to their subordinates on matters they themselves were not struggling with, so he refused to do it himself.
Likewise, the reason I don’t hand out free advice to homosexuals is that I have never been tempted to homosexuality. I also don’t hand out free advice to heroin addicts for the very simple reason that I have never been tempted to drug abuse, particularly with any drug involving (brrrr) needles.
In addition to this, my experiences surrounding the issue of homosexuality have included a) faithful, devout, and obedient same-sex attracted people–one of whom I regard as a saint; b) faithful and good heterosexual Christians (that is, most Christians) who don’t want a fight and who really do regard homosexuals with respect and charity; c) militant and intolerant Christians who treat even faithful and chaste homosexuals (and those who speak well of them) with lynch mob contempt; and d) militant and intolerant homosexuals and lefties who are bound and determined to force Christians with qualms of conscience to approve of homosex and gay “marriage” or use the full force of the state to punish them for not bending the knee.
As a Catholic who gets his cues from the Magisterium, the first thing I note about Catholic teaching, as I mentioned the other day, is that homosexual desire is just one more species of disordered appetite arising from concupiscence as far as I am concerned. And since it is not one that affects me, I spend little time thinking about it and even less time worrying about meddling in the lives of those who are affected by it. “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me” is the salient biblical text here, as well as the dust mote/log inversion ratio principle that Jesus recommends for our contemplation. The most dangerous and deadly sins I encounter in my daily life are committed by the Man in the Mirror. So I tend not to try to police the sex lives of those around me. Consequently, I am generally woefully ignorant of people in my circle of acquaintance who are even same-sex-attracted, let alone actively living the gay lifestyle, unless they flat out tell me.
I reckon most people are in this boat most of the time. The pizzeria owners in Walkerton, Indiana, seem like the sort of people who wouldn’t hurt a flea. They certainly were not on some witch hunt against gay people, but they just as certainly wound up as the victims of a gay witch hunt and lynch mob, something that even gay people and ardent supporters of gay marriage were chagrined to watch. In a word, innocent people who had never so much as thought of denying a gay person service because of who they were became the victims of a lynch mob bent on their destruction and death for the Thoughtcrime of not wanting to be made participants in an act they regard as sinful. Again and again, the false charge was made that these people were “bigots”, not because they rejected gay customers, but because, in the words of St. Thomas More, they “would not bend to the marriage”. The logic was simple and wrong: “Approve everything I do, or you hate me, you bigot.”
Now, a word here on behalf of the lynch mob before we continue. This kind of fury does not spring from a vacuum. The reality is, as I discovered at the hands of a Christian lynch mob a couple of years ago, it is true that there is no shortage of believers for whom even chaste, celibate, faithful and completely orthodox homosexuals are not good enough. When I spoke well of such a Catholic, I was hit in the face with a firestorm–itself an attempt to destroy my livelihood in precisely the way that a far larger and more powerful mob tried to destroy the O’Connors–that taught me a powerful lesson about the hostility that even faithful homosexuals receive from some Christians. That along with numerous similar experiences of watching faithful gay people be treated like fifth columnists whose temptations, not sins, make them objects of suspicion and muted reproach among the Righteous has made clear to me that there is, indeed, a hostility to gay people in some sectors, whether they act on their orientation or not. Some are shut out of bearing witness to the faith for the “crime” of self-identifying as “gay” even when they are chaste–and this by Catholic communities who have no problem with honoring Catholics who celebrate acts of anal rape, just so long as they are committed against defenseless prisoners.
Gay Catholics who have to put up with that kind of double standard are, I think, to be applauded for their fidelity to Jesus and forebearance. And Christians need to reflect on the fact that if we do these things to same-sex-attracted people when the tree is green, what do we expect will happen when the it is dry? Should we really be too shocked that not a few gay people and those who sympathize with them believe we will despise them no matter what when we treat even those faithful, chaste, and obedient ones in our ranks so badly?
That said, this is no excuse for the lynch mob that went after the O’Connors and have likewise gone after various other folks who have failed to bend the knee to gay “marriage”. Nor does it justify the militancy and intolerance that gay culture so often displays toward those declared guilty of Thoughtcrime. Nor does it justify the lying doubletalk of that subculture as it operates according to the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”) Nor, once the lynch mob fails to destroy a victim in a frenzy of Girardian violence, does it justify the ridiculous lie that “Gay culture would never do this. This has to have been a false flag operation by right-wingers. And besides those bigots had it coming to them.”
No. They were not bigots and they did not have any of the terror visited on them by intolerant lefties (who were solely responsible for it) coming to them. They were nice people who have never denied service to gay people and who feel–as millions of Americans do–that while they don’t want to get up in the faces of gay people about their sex lives, they also would rather not be forced to approve of them or give the appearance that they do. It is the naked, aggressive demand that people be made to bow and approve and not merely tolerate (or be punished at law or by a lynch mob) that is the nub of the argument. And the Left is simply wrong when they try to settle it with force and fear. That, and not some money-making conspiracy on the part of the O’Connors, was what we saw in the volcanic response which put nearly a million dollars into a fund set up to help them as the lynch mob tried to destroy them. People deeply resent being forced to have to make professions of faith (or ideology) they do not believe. It’s as simple as that. The lie that this was about bigotry against gay *people* is calculated to ignore the simple truth that this was (for the O’Connors and millions like them) about being forced to be seen as approving gay “marriage” and gay sex. Those who cannot or will not see this all-important distinction (and especially those who keep making the comparison to Jim Crow) need to ponder Steven Greydanus’ elegant and simple description of the difference:
Now, of course, this leaves us with the question of how we as Christians are to navigate such matters. The irony, for me, about the lynch mob against the O’Connors is that, while I fully support their right to obey their conscience, I’m not especially convinced that their catering a gay wedding would have been a particularly sinful act. I think that, for a properly formed Catholic conscience we are looking, at worst, at an act of remote material cooperation with evil, and I’m skeptical about that much. But far more gravely, what I am utterly convinced of is that the attempt to beat them into capitulation by the leftist community was absolutely and completely (and, I think, mortally) sinful and a naked assault on human dignity and liberty.
I find it helpful to think of this discussion in the context of two deliberately NON-PARALLEL control cases: a) racist or bigoted objections to accomodating minorities or other targets of prejudicial sentiment, and b) minority or non-racist objections to accommodating racists or others with offensive views. (Did I say NON-PARALLEL emphatically enough? Do I need to clarify that this explicitly excludes and rejects any suggestion of moral equivalency?)
We decided in this country about half a century ago that anyone has the right to sit down at a lunch counter, or to walk into any business or other place of public accommodation, and get the same service as anyone else, regardless of prejudicial attitudes about factors like race.
Let’s agree that this principle applies to gays, and to same-sex couples, and also holds true of racists and others with offensive views. So if a skinhead or a known KKK member walks into a diner, even if it is owned and staffed by minorities or by non-racists who hold the strongest possible objections to his views, he should get the same service as anyone else.
Likewise, I can fathom no basis for saying that religious proprietors or employees of any business should be permitted (or should wish) to refuse service to gays or to same-sex couples.
On the other hand, we recognize the right of advertisers to refuse to accept advertising projects with messages they deem offensive, for instance. A KKK member has a right to the same diner service as anyone else, but he does not have the right to ask graphic designers to create a hateful message for him or ask billboard owners to display it.
Why? Because the latter involves a form of speech or expression. A graphic designer doesn’t simply provide a service, he invests his work with his creativity and energy in the cause of making a statement. It doesn’t have to be a statement he agrees with, but if it’s a statement he finds sufficiently offensive, it becomes problematic to ask him to participate in that speech. Likewise, the right of equal accommodation doesn’t mean the billboard owner owes anyone a forum to express their message.
If a racist walks into a bakery owned by blacks or Jews and asks for a cake, he should get one. If he asks for a cake decorated with a frosting swastika or a burning cross, I think it should be the right of the owners to refuse, even if they otherwise accommodate requests for decorative images.
For me, the starting place for thinking about such issues is 1 Corinthians 8. Paul faced a problem very like what the O’Connors struggled with. Converts to the faith in Corinth had scruples about eating meat. That’s not because they were vegans but because, in urban areas, the meat you bought in the agora had been obtained from the local pagan temples where it had been offered in sacrifice to a pagan god a few hours earlier. The fear was that, by eating the meat, the person consuming it was somehow participating in the worship of the god. Paul’s response is gentle and nuanced:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being until now accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall. (1 Co 8:1–13).
I think the analogy to this is that if the law demands that you make the pizza for the gay wedding then this is, at most, remote material cooperation with evil and that nobody can, or should, assume that your cooperation with the law is approval of gay “marriage”. So people with qualms of conscience can relax. On the other hand, I also think that it is absolutely wrong for those adamant about approval of gay “marriage” to force cooperation and that it is entirely right to resist such attempts at force.
Another question that arises is “What constitutes cooperation with evil, remote or otherwise?” When those sorts of issues, so vexing to the scrupulous, arise I’m always reminded of a hilarious essay by Woody Allen called “The Schmeed Memoirs” in which Hitler’s barber tells his story of giving haircuts to Hitler and the Nazi leadership and remarks, “I have been asked if I was aware of the moral implications of what I was doing.”
I think that provides a handy touchstone for sanity here. What, precisely, does the Church say is sinful about homosexual relationships? Just two things: non-heterosexual sex (including homogenital sex and such contrivances as in vitro fertilization or surrogate parenting) and Gay “marriage” since it is an ontological impossibility. But aside from that, the Church is remarkably circumspect about what to construe as a sinful act. It is not, for instance, sinful for gay people to eat, sleep, have a roof over their heads, use electricity, have a job, choose to share material resources, will each other money, etc. Accordingly, it seems to me to be none of my business to police people’s sexuality in these and countless other spheres of life. Not my business to know what you are doing in your bedroom and emphatically not Caesar’s business. The notion that all sin is a matter for the state to address is a Calvinist, not a Catholic one.
At the same time, the delusional attempt by Caesar to pretend that there is such a thing as gay “marriage” is just that: a delusion. And the intolerant and militant attempt by homosexuals to use the might of Caesar to force those who believe that gay sex is a sin and gay “marriage”is a delusion won’t end well. When Caesar starts backing lynch mobs, that’s, y’know, bad.
All that said, I want to conclude with a little perspective for American Christians inclined to see a dawning age of persecution in all this. Christianity has it in its DNA to expect persecution. “What they did to me they will do to you” is a key Dominical teaching and history has borne it out. American tendencies to the apocalyptic have only tended to intensify the fear that a Great Tribulation is just around the corner. Which is exactly why Catholics must resist this Protestant funhouse mirror and live in reality. Prudence must rule and keep our heads cool. Was this an act of persecution? Damn right it was. Would the persecutors like for it to be something they could inflict on the whole Church? Heck yes! In fact, they are such Jacobins that they would inflict it on fellow gays who are not ideologically pure enough, such as Andrew Sullivan or Dolce and Gabbana.
But: Was it a big act of persecution? No. It just wasn’t. To be sure it was big for the victims and my sympathies are entirely with them and with good folks who rescued them from the mob. But it wasn’t big for the Church in the US, it only targeted on business, not all Christians (because it couldn’t) and it ended… rather well. The victims are now worth nearly a million dollars more because good and generous people came to their aid and the would-be lynch mob stamping their tiny feet in impotent rage and concocting idiotic conspiracy theories to account for their failure instead of just facing the fact that they are the real bullies and bigots. If every story of Christian persecution could have such a fairy tale ending the world would be a much happier place.
Meanwhile in the week this occurred, we discover that Boko Haram has butchered the 200 girls they kidnapped last year and in Kenya, Islamic monsters in human form slaughtered 147 Christians and laughed because they were killing them for Easter. We in America are living on Easy Street when it comes to persecutions. It’s good to be vigilant, but bad to indulge in self-pity. The Legion of Menacing Visigoths for Tolerance tried and failed to crush innocent people in Walkerton and for that we should give thanks. But let us remember our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who face things far more terrible than a bad Yelp reviews and threats on Twitter. Thanks be to God for his goodness to us and may we pray for and help those across the world who are facing martyrdoms far more terrible–and one much less amenable to the lazy reportage of a media that cares nothing for their plight.