The Two-Party Coalition to Destroy Marriage, Part II

Henry VIII's divorce was only a prelude to his subsequent divorces and remarriages--to say nothing of the judicial murders of two of the women he claimed to be his wives, and it  was a symbolic beginning of the mischief, when political rulers, in pursuing their own interests, seized power not just over the church but over the institution of marriage.  In the succeeding centuries, their descendants have legitimated first divorce, then abortion, and now same-sex marriage.  And what has been the typical conservative response?  Unending efforts to persuade cynical and corrupt politicians to protect marriage and the lives of unborn children.  But these same rulers are not only not Christians:  They absolutely hate Christianity.  Political leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump may keep up appearances by going occasionally to Church, but no one takes their religious professions seriously except other non-Christians.

The campaign to destroy marriage has been waged in several stages.  Stage one began in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, when all the moral traditions of Christendom were subjected to ridicule by people like Michel de Montaigne and Voltaire.  This was the softening up stage in which young men learned that female chastity and marital fidelity were not simply difficult ideals but utterly foolish, relics of Christian barbarism and not at all consistent with the enlightened practices of the ancient world.

Stage Two was launched during the French Revolution, when marriage was taken away from the Church and nationalized.  Marriage eremonies were brief and inconsequential, no-fault divorce was enacted, and a beautiful divorce ceremony created.  This phase hit the United States more slowly, but one by one the states of the Northeast and Midwest liberalized their divorce laws until, before 1900, an English expert on American law (Lord Bryce) was appalled by the ease with which Americans could get divorced on the most trivial pretext, e.g., wives sued for divorce on the grounds that they were tired of hearing their husbands quote the Bible on the wife's duty to obey here husband.  Conservatives like to pretend that the divorce revolution began in the 1960's.  In fact, it was well underway in the 1860's.

Stage Three has been a two-part campaign to promote same-sex marriage.  As always, the first phase was the softening up of American minds by pop psychology books, television comedies and dramas, public school sex education courses, etc.  The second phase has been the legalization of same-sex marriage.  The third phase will be the requirement that anyone empowered to perform a marriage ceremony—priests, ministers, churches—be required to marry two men or two women.  The first question we have to address is not whether or not this will happen but when and how.  The second question is how will the churches respond.

We can already hear some of the arguments.  There is a constant drumbeat in the media that Christian Churches have to enter the 21st century.  It is the old argument of aggiornamento—adjusting the church to each new day's fashions, if I may be blasphemous, "Give us this day our daily bread is replaced by give us this day our daily fad. 

This is exactly what we have been warned against by St. Paul at the beginning of his Epistle to the Galatians, where he declares that Christ…"gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil [age].."

Paul is not so much talking about the routine moral shortcomings of pagans and Jews as the tribulation that is about to visit the infant Church.  In that age, Christians were threatened with persecution and death, if they did not abjure their faith; in our own age, the technique is vastly more subtle and deadly:  We are bribed with government grants and tax breaks, teased by the pornography of television and the internet, numbed by prescription tranquilizers, and dumbed by education and the media into believing in the myth of progress.  

We are like the followers of the French crank (Émile Coué) who taught his followers to hypnotize themselves by saying, "Every day in every way, I am getting better and better."  In fact, the patients only became more infatuated and more dependent on the occultist quack.

Most conservative Americans have been lulled into accepting the present conditions of life as if it were reality.  If you want to understand something important like marriage, it is best to consult an expert.  In America, this means listening to Hollywood celebrities who get paid to pretend to be people they are not.  Here is the final word from our greatest living expert on all things: “At some point in our lifetime, gay marriage won't be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.”  Call anything a civil rights issue, and you win the battle, especially if your name is George Clooney.

And, while a large majority know that same-sex marriage will soon be legalized everywhere, they do not seem to understand that it will also be imposed.  I cannot predict in what form the blow will be delivered, but it will come in the guise of religious freedom. In  a recent essay , I dreamed up a "Universal Freedom of Religion Act" (UFRA), making it illegal for churches to deny any sacrament or ceremony to anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, age (so long, of course, as they have reached the age of 12 or even 11), sex, or gender.

This is America, where every absurdity and any perversity can be promoted by government so long as it is described as a universal human right.  Driving is a privilege in Illinois, but free government education is a right.  Women have a government-guaranteed right to privacy that includes the right to kill their own babies.  Even illegal immigrants who have broken US law in coming to the United States have rights.  The children of home-schooling families have been taken away by state agencies because all children have a human right to receive modern sex education and political propaganda.  We are fighting in Afghanistan, according to Hilary Clinton, to liberate women from Islamic traditions.  Once marriage is described as a human right, then it will not be up to a family or a church to decide whether or not they wish to protect or advance that right.  

Many Catholics have used this language of human rights to protect the lives of unborn babies.  While I am entirely in sympathy with their efforts, I have to say, frankly, that such a tactic is a mistake.  The moral theology of  Christianity—St. Paul, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin—does not speak of rights but duties, and Thomas Aquinas is quite specific in stating that what we obligated to do on the basis of natural law or right is not a claim on anyone.  The language of human rights has been borrowed from liberal anti-Christian philosophers:  It is, from one point of view, an outdated relic of a discarded philosophy (liberal social contract theory) ,but it remains a very dangerous weapon.  A WWI shell can be pretty and shiny, but start to fool around with it, and it is liable to blow you to smithereens. 

Since we are used to speaking the language of rights, many serious Christians may be misled when they are taught to regard marriage to the human beings of our choice as a right.  The mainline churches—United Church of Christ, ELCA, PECUSA will, of course,  cave in immediately.  It is an open secret that in England, some Church of England ministers have already been performing same-sex weddings on a regular basis, even though they have not admitted it.  In the Catholic Church I think we can expect some of the more liberal bishops to begin to temper their opposition to same-sex marriage.  Some of their arguments will sound familiar because they have been used to promote women ministers.  

Of course they will continue to say that gay marriage is canonically impossible, but, on the inevitable other hand, they will invoke the non-judgmental language of liberal theologians who insist that Churches should not cut ties with the Boy Scouts, because our Church's first principle is not to make sinners feel too uncomfortable about their sins.  

In my little fantasy, written a month ago, I suggested that liberal bishops around the world take a page out of the Republican Party's advocacy of Civil Unions and call for some new rite, conferring a blessing on the extraordinary friendships recognized by the state.  By now I should have learned never to make satiric predictions because they always come true.  Recently, Sandro Magister wrote a frightening piece for his blog,  The article, entitled "Six More Votes for Gay Unions," lists three cardinals, two archbishops, and the Vatican spokesman as supporters of some sort of homosexual marital union.  On June 4, Cardinal Goddfried Daneels, Arcbishop-Emeritus of Brussels, took the occasion of his 80th birthday to make the bizarre assertion that the Church:

“has never opposed the fact that there should exist a sort of 'marriage' between homosexuals, but one therefore speaks of a 'sort of' marriage, not of true marriage between a man and a woman, therefore another word must be found for the dictionary.”

That's the stuff.   We won't change our moral theology, only the meanings of words.  You all recall the response of Humpty-Dumpty, when Alice challenged his definition of glory 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

The worthy cardinal added this preposterous conclusion, “About the fact that this should be legal, that it should be made legitimate through a law, about this the Church has nothing to say.”  Then why does the Church oppose abortion or the exploitation of the poor?

According the Belgian press, Daneels' more discrete successor shares his view.  Six weeks earlier, the “Vatican spokesman,” Fr. Federico Lombardi, commented on the French legalization of same-sex marriages.   Conceding that "marriage between a man and a woman is a specific and fundamental institution in the history of humanity," the spokesman went on to say that this "does not change the fact that there could be some recognition of other forms of union between two persons.”  So that is going to be the line taken by the leftists in official positions, no gay marriage—we'll agree not to use the word—but only civil unions.  Although it is unfair to characterize clergymen one does not know, I think it is safe to say that no believing Christian will put current fashion above the unchanging laws of nature and its creator. 


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina