My professor once asked me if I thought the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade was logically decided. Being the devout pro-life, traditionalist Christian that I am, I said yes. It was perfectly logical, if of course, we accept the two decisions upon which Roe was built. In Griswold v. Connecticut the court essentially invented a right to privacy by striking down a statute banning contraceptive use. Thanks to our undying commitment to equality, the Court further extended this right of privacy to un-married couples in Eisenstadt v. Baird. Assuming the reasoning of these cases, Roe was perfectly logical, just as the will to power is perfectly logical if we assume God is dead. Rather than stop to question its assumption about equality, privacy, and universal rights, the Court acted on its bias in favor of progress. We cannot go back; the only way is forward.
We see this play out in the political arena all the time. It was only a few years ago when the major contenders for the Democratic nomination all opposed a changed definition of marriage, but they were already committed to equality in principle, and it was therefore only a matter of time before the logic played itself out. Republicans are no less guilty. They have bought into the same notions and consented to play politics in a field where only liberal terminology is allowed. “Conservatives” these days speak only of universal rights, equality, and even of progress. I find myself sympathetic to the sentiments of Evelyn Waugh, who confessed he never voted for the Conservatives because they “never put the clock back by a single second.”
Unfortunately, we are witnessing this same bias for progress in the Church.
It has become commonplace to see people leave the realms of historical orthodoxy for no other reason than a logical extension of beliefs that are commonly tolerated within the orthodox fold. A striking example of this is the recent World-Vision controversy. When announcing they would begin hiring couples living in same-sex unions, the President of World-Vision justified the decision by pointing out that they had no restrictions or established teachings about divorced and remarried couples. Extending that toleration to same-sex couples seemed perfectly logical. In all fairness to World-Vision, this reasoning was perfectly logical
This sort of reasoning is all too common for Christians who “evolve” on marriage and gender issues. I can recall a pastor once telling me it made no sense why the divorced and remarried could become welcomed and accepted members of his church while those in homosexual unions could not.
The reasoning is actually quite compelling. If no-fault divorce and remarriage are not challenged, then marriage is not an existential commitment about two people giving of themselves to raise children. It then matters little who can enter into marriage. The only problem with this analysis, and the mistake World-Vision and others frequently make, is that they never pause to consider that their assumptions may have been wrong. Yes, it makes sense to endorse same-sex unions if we have no reservations about divorce. World-Vision was actually right about this. But rather than move forward hastily, would it not be prudent to at least stop and ponder whether we should re-think divorce?
Too often we build logical answers without questioning the premise. The logic is solid, but it is built on shifting sands. We all know two plus two equals four, but if we discover we added three instead of two we cannot go on insisting we have four. We must go back and do the work over again.
Faithfully arguing for the sanctity of the home will require Christians to dig deeper and face many uncomfortable issues that many of us have never questioned before. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, pointed this out by saying, “In a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”
It is interesting that it was Rowan William’s Church that was the first to endorse contraception, and is now at the brink of schism in trying to respond to England’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
We will find that arguing against gay marriage and abortion requires us to take the argument where even many committed Christians are unwilling to go. There are many Mississippians devoted to overturning Roe and who are opposed to abortion, but when asked to vote on a personhood amendment they refused for fear it may have outlawed contraceptives. Similarly, there are many Christians who would oppose any change in the definition of marriage, but who would hard-pressed to campaign against no-fault divorce. In this sense they are hardly conservative at all. They truly represent the worst charge laid against conservatism: that it only seeks to preserve the status quo.
Sooner or later we all have to grapple with these difficult questions, but too often, when that moment comes, we refuse to examine our presuppositions and surrender to the logic of progress. Once we admit contraceptives are here to stay, there is no reason why abortion is not also here to stay. Once we admit no-fault divorce is here to stay, there is no reason marriage cannot be about the emotional fulfillment of any number of consenting individuals.
Lest anyone think I am advocating all the positions and doctrines of Roman Catholicism, I must confess I am a committed Anglican. The Romans have their own problems, as evidenced by the fact that hardly anyone in the laity and even a good many of the clergy do not give a whit about these issues. I am not prepared to say that there is never a justified use of divorce or contraceptives. In the words of C.S. Lewis, I admit I can never be anything but an armchair critic in these matters. What does seem clear is that if the Romans are guilty of focusing on the rule at the expense of the exceptions, then the Protestants are guilty of focusing on the exceptions at the expense of the rule.
The Christian in the modern world will be called upon to “wake-up” to the many ways in which he has just gone with the stream of progress. As the world grows more metaphysically mad, and as we see many former friends “confessing strange doctrines,” we will be forced to challenge the validity of a good many assumptions we have long innocently held. But there is no innocence after that moment. After that we are responsible for our decisions. After that moment we find out whether we are committed to progress or to truth.
Chesterton once told us that if we find ourselves on the wrong road, the truly progressive man is the one who turns around first. Unfortunately, too many Christians have refused to live up to their convictions. Now more than ever we need people with the courage to turn around. We need the Tories and the Thomists to insist there are some things that simply do not change with the tides of progress, and that there is an orthodoxy in manners, sex, art, business, and government just as much as there is in the creeds and doctrines of the Church.
We need to be reminded of the “tremendous trifles” of life, for the fate of the world often turns on the things we have forgotten and cast aside as insignificant.
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