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

Culture Wars: It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt February 26, 2014

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.

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