Who Should ‘Scape Whipping?

LORD POLONIUS
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

HAMLET
God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man
After his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
They deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Take them in.

“Use every man after his desert and who should ‘scape whipping” is one of my favorite lines from Hamlet. It came to mind today as I read an article in Bondings 2.0.  Bondings is an LGBT positive Catholic publication which does a lot of reporting on how the church as an organization and how Catholics as individuals respond to social change.

In one article Jesuit friar Thomas Reese makes a well-reasoned case that U.S. bishops have a tradition of making accommodations with civil laws that do not match their stated beliefs, notably the way the church responds to divorce and people who have been remarried. Therefore, he writes, there is no reason the church should expend resources and energy trying to fight same sex marriage.

(Christian ministers of many stripes have become so accommodating to divorce that they use a passage from the New Testament in which Jesus specifically says people should not divorce as if it were instead a prohibition against gay marriage.)

Bondings said Reese’s  “analytical response (to the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality) stands out over the rest of them for its incisive distinctions and its hopeful suggestions.”  While I applaud the article overall, one troubling thing kept jumping out at me. Reese repeatedly makes the case that the Catholic church can change its approach without “endorsing the lifestyle.”

Today, Catholic institutions rarely fire people when they get divorced and remarried. Divorced and remarried people are employed by church institutions, and their spouses get spousal benefits. No one is scandalized by this. No one thinks that giving spousal benefits to a remarried couple is a church endorsement of their lifestyle.

If bishops in the past could eventually accept civil divorce as the law of the land, why can’t the current flock of bishops do the same for gay marriage? Granted all the publicity around the church’s opposition to gay marriage, no one would think they were endorsing it.

Reese goes on to say:

…Catholic colleges and universities that provide housing for married couples are undoubtedly going to be approached for housing by same-sex couples. Unless the schools can get states to carve out an exception for them in anti-discrimination legislation, they could be forced to provide such housing.

But since they already provide housing to couples married illicitly according to the church, no one should see such housing as an endorsement of someone’s lifestyle. And granted all the sex going on at Catholic colleges and universities, giving housing to a few gay people who have permanently committed themselves to each other in marriage would hardly be considered a great scandal.

The italics in these quotes are mine. Reese re-assures his peers that churches still have the right to express anti-gay views and to fire clergy for being gay, or for whatever reason they see fit.

I’m struck by all of that hang-wringing over whether or not an institution can be considered to be “endorsing” the lifestyles of anyone it does not actively condemn. In this, the church seems to have the mindset of a junior high school student who is afraid that if she is seen with the wrong people she will be judged uncool. It is generally taken to be a sign of maturity when you stop shunning those who you think might make you look bad and stop worrying about how other people might feel about your friends.

Putting that aside, there is a practical problem with this whole “endorsing” thing. What aspects of a person’s “lifestyle” warrant scrutiny? Look around you at the vast variety in the ways of life of your friends and associates. I am willing to bet that there are life choices that almost everyone makes that you would not personally “endorse” but then, who asked you?

If you wanted to play judge, though, I am sure you could find a Bible verse or several to support your distaste for your neighbor’s choices.

Should churches allow people with poor dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles to take part in services, even to serve as ministers? Does that constitute an endorsement of gluttony and poor health? Should the faithful refuse to serve obese members at the church potluck in order to demonstrate their disapproval of the lifestyle? Should pious business owners have the right to refuse to serve fat customers to preserve their religious freedom?

If you allow parents who are too strict or too lax with their children to take part in your religious education program would doing so constitute an endorsement of their parenting styles?

If you allow the church gossip (or gossips) to take part in coffee hour, are you endorsing gossip?

Is allowing a banker to be a prominent member of the church an endorsement of usury?

Incidentally, my book Broke is Beautiful recounts the story of the 19th Century Irish priest, Father Jeremiah O’Callaghan who gave many sermons against church’s tacit endorsement of usury and his outspokenness did not sit well with his superiors. While the church was not ready to reverse its stand that usury was a sin, it was too pragmatic to be comfortable with a priest who branded some of its most influential and prominent members as sinners. O’Callaghan was dismissed. He spent years protesting his firing and writing pamphlets about the sin of usury before eventually resettling to the United States.

I really could go on and on, but I won’t. My point is that if you only want to associate with those whose lifestyles you can fully and unquestionably endorse in every way, you’re destined to be very lonely indeed.

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