Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Gay marriage is not the end of the world. Really, it's not.


I understood -- or thought that I understood -- that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage would inspire some serious rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among those who opposed such a ruling. But I confess that I didn't begin to imagine how deep it would run, or what heights of melodrama the fears of persecution might inspire.

Let's start off with a piece by Todd Starnes at Fox News, citing an interview with evangelist Franklin Graham in which Graham warns that “I believe God could bring judgment upon America” for the decision.

Starnes writes:

"The Supreme Court's decision means gay rights now trump religious liberty. And if you think the cultural purging of the Southern States has been breathtaking, wait until you see what LGBT activists are about to unleash on American Christians.

“If pastors are going to be forced to provide marriage services for gay couples, I’m not going to do it,” Graham declared.

Churches and faith-based business should prepare for lawsuits and government investigations. Pastors who refuse to perform gay marriages and preach from the Bible should prepare for hate-crime charges. All dissent will be silenced by the government and the activists."

Hate-crime prosecutions for refusing to perform gay marriage? Any dissent silenced by the government? Ranked on a melodrama scale of one to five fainting couches, such rhetoric might seem to be high on the scale. But for reasons explained below, I give it a rating of two fainting couches:

In our next entry, George Weigel at National Review uses the religious persecution suffered by Catholics in Elizabethan England as an example of what is coming for American Catholics today. He cites Jesuit priest Edmund Campion as the hero of his piece, noting that in 16th century England, Campion had been hunted down, tortured, convicted of treason, hanged, drawn and quartered for refusing to give up his Catholic faith.

Weigel writes:

"As recently as 20 years ago, recusant Catholicism seemed a thing of the past, save in Communist or Muslim countries. In the developed, democratic world, it seemed impossible to imagine that Catholics would once again live under penal laws or their cultural equivalent, scorned (and worse) for being threats to the state and civil comity by reason of their faith. It’s no longer impossible to imagine that. And those who deny the possibility are living in Fantasyland."

Like his colleagues, Weigel warns that "It is only a matter of time — days, weeks, months — before a same-sex couple presents itself at a Catholic church, requests to be 'married' there, is (politely) refused, and then takes the pastor, the parish, or both to court."

I think that's fear-mongering nonsense. Gender discrimination has been illegal in this country for a long time, yet the Catholic Church, with its insistence that women cannot be priests, has never been successfully or even seriously sued for discrimination. The same is true of other sects, such as the Southern Baptists, who believe that women are biblically barred from positions of church leadership.

Everyone understands that such beliefs fall easily under the protection of the First Amendment. It's not an issue in the slightest. So I'm not sure why Weigel and others believe that gay marriage won't be treated in similar fashion. Maybe it's because if they acknowledge that fact, it would ruin all the fun and deprive them of the thrill of being persecuted.

As to the rating: Despite the lurid parallels that he attempts to draw, Weigel does at least acknowledge that he and other marriage traditionalists aren't likely to be drawn and quartered for that belief. Instead, they face "legal pressure, ridicule, bullying, social ostracism, and professional disadvantage," a deal that Edmund Campion would have taken in a minute. So overall, Weigel gets:

 

Next we have Rod Dreher, writing at American Conservative. Like Weigel, Dreher notes that "Christians have been here before" in facing persecution for their beliefs, but he reaches back still further into time for his comparison, likening the current situation to "a Fall of Rome-like catastrophe, one that is concealed by our liberty and prosperity."

How should Christians respond to this Second Fall? Dreher explores what he calls the Benedict Option, named after the sixth-century Saint Benedict, who chose to lead others into a retreat from society by seeking protection in monasteries. There, they could find safety against the chaotic world that threatened their lives and their faith.

"Rome’s collapse meant staggering loss. People forgot how to read, how to farm, how to govern themselves, how to build houses, how to trade, and even what it had once meant to be a human being. Behind monastery walls, though, in their chapels, scriptoriums, and refectories, Benedict’s monks built lives of peace, order, and learning and spread their network throughout Western Europe.

They did not keep the fruits of their labors to themselves. Benedictines taught the peasants who gathered around their monasteries the Christian faith, as well as practical skills, like farming. Because monks of the order took a vow of 'stability,' meaning they were sworn to stay in that place until they died, Benedictine monasteries emerged as islands of sanity and serenity. These were the bases from which European civilization gradually re-emerged..."

That's a pretty extreme reaction. And as Dreher notes, "there is no way to have Benedict Option communities without giving up a significant measure of individual autonomy — and the opportunity for career advancement — as the cost of stability." Nonetheless, he believes that such communities "offer a way for believers to thicken Christian culture in a time of moral revolution and religious dissolution," and to project light in the postmodern darkness.

For that, I give him:

 

We have one entry left, and it comes to us from Erick Erickson at RedState. He writes of the Supreme Court decision as part of a raging wildfire that will destroy anyone and anything in its path:

 

For those of us of faith, it appears society has collectively lost its mind. Madness has set in. Yes, in fact, we see what Paul warns of in Romans 1. The people have been handed over to themselves and we are caught in the middle. It is a wildfire of the mind and society....

Certainly there is destruction along the way. Some will be burned up. Maybe that is me. Maybe that is you. But there are always others who survive. There is the tree around which all is burned, but that is spared. There is the burn line where on the other side life thrives and those within the fire take refuge. Maybe that is me. Maybe that is you....

You may need to withdraw from popular culture. You may want to cancel the television subscription, cancel the magazines, tune out most of the internet, etc. But I’ll still be here reminding you that you are not alone. I’ll still let you know what is going on and how you can make an impact.

Because you are not alone though they want you to think you are alone. You have to remember that. The wildfire may burn all around you, but through the smoke and flames there are others just like you."

 

As I think you'll agree, Erickson has an impressive flair for melodrama. In my opinion, however, he earns the top rating because of his remarkable willingness to sacrifice himself on behalf of his readers. While they withdraw from the wildfire, he will keep appearing on Fox News and talk radio, just so they know they are not alone.

On a bit more serious note, I acknowledge that the culture is changing quickly, and in ways that can be deeply disorienting. Endless Viagra commercials and four-hour erections, the prominence of fame whores, the rougher side of hip-hop -- I don't pretend to be comfortable with it all myself. The velocity of change creates confusion and fear, and as always, there will be some who seek to shepherd people through that transition and others who rush to take cynical advantage of it.

And while I make light of some of the rhetoric cited above, I should confess that it also scares me. Even if I disagree profoundly with others on a particular topic, I generally have some idea of where they're coming from and why they might feel that way. I have no such comprehension of the apocalyptic reaction to the gay-marriage decision from some quarters, and it leads me to worry for the first time that the chasm separating us has grown too large to be closed.

I hope that's wrong. I hope that the sentiment among some in the evangelical community to withdraw into a quasi-Benedictine Option is only a passing thing, because both they and we in the larger community have something to learn from each other. We're all in this together.

And I should stress as strongly as possible that nobody is going to force churches or ministers to perform gay marriage against their will. Nobody is going to make a serious effort at denying tax exemptions to such churches, just as no one has challenged tax exemptions over gender discrimination. And in the secular world, those who still believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman ought to be able to thrive and succeed as long as they show the same respect for others that they expect and deserve for their own viewpoint.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.