by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I read a fascinating book entitled “The Apostasy That Wasn’t” by Rod Bennett, a convert to Catholicism.
The book examines the popular claim by some Protestants that Christianity was hijacked by Constantine in the early fourth century. According to this hypothesis, it was only with the Protestant reformers and their successors that Christianity reclaimed its true identity. Bennett debunks this myth by sharing how his study of the actual historical realities convinced him of the falsity of this theory and how it led him to Catholicism.
In the course of studying the fourth century, Bennett describes that the real threat to orthodox Christianity was not Constantine, but the denial by Arius and his followers of the divinity of Jesus. It is amazing how rapidly and thoroughly the Arian heresy spread. Bennett quotes the famous words of St. Jerome, who observed: “The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian.”
In recent weeks, many people have expressed their amazement at how rapidly our American culture appears to be changing. They are feeling something akin to what St. Jerome experienced. In our case, it feels like we went to bed one night and woke up the next morning to discover our nation had become pagan. In reality, what we are experiencing today is the result of decades of moral erosion.
Evidence for this cultural shift is abundantly evident in what is considered as entertainment. Recently, in scrolling through the cable channels to see what baseball games were being televised, I ran across a promotion for a “drag queen” contest. I wondered to myself: When did this become acceptable as a mainstream form of entertainment?
A few weeks ago, one of our pastors related to me that a distraught parent informed him that one of her sons, who attends a public high school, had been given the assignment to purchase condoms in local drug stores. He and his classmates were required to report back which stores made them feel welcome and which stores made them feel uncomfortable.
This past week, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission judged that a Denver baker engaged in unlawful discrimination when he declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. What’s more, the commission ordered the baker: 1) to document the rationale for the future denial of service to anyone; 2) the baker and his staff are required to undergo anti-discrimination training; and 3) the baker must make quarterly reports to the commission about the progress of his re-education. The baker has actually stopped making wedding cakes for anyone.
If you remember the arguments being made in favor of government recognition of same-sex marriage, it was all about tolerance. If you did not personally approve of same-sex marriage, we were assured that government recognition of these ceremonies would not impact us. The Civil Rights Commission ruling against this Denver bakery is just one of several cases where small business owners are being coerced either to participate in same-sex weddings or lose their livelihood.
On top of this, federal regulations are forcing higher education institutions to accommodate biological men, who perceive themselves to be women, by allowing them to live in women’s dorms as well as to use the women’s restroom and locker rooms. Once again, all of this is being imposed under the guise of enlightened tolerance.
In recent years, when states have attempted to provide some form of protection for small business owners and other institutions from being forced to have to allow men to use the women’s restrooms or being coerced into providing services for same-sex wedding ceremonies, corporate America has threatened draconian economic consequences. In several cases, state legislatures and/or governors have been successfully bullied into conformity with the “new normal.”
I want to be crystal clear that Catholic moral teaching requires us to treat every person with the respect and dignity that is owed to one who is created in the divine image and for whom Jesus gave his life on Calvary. It is morally wrong to mock or disrespect individuals with same-sex attraction or persons suffering gender identity confusion.
However, this does not mean that we support, much less applaud, behaviors that violate both natural law and Catholic moral teaching.
While we can and must sympathize with the struggles these individuals experience, this does not translate into supporting their moral choices. It is not compassionate to encourage individuals to engage in behaviors that are detrimental to their own well-being. Our effort to extend genuine friendship and authentic love to individuals who experience these struggles does not mean that we re-enforce the denial of what are biological realities.
What is a faithful Catholic to do in the face of this tsunami of social change? First of all, we must not concede that our culture must inevitably trudge down this disastrous path. This cultural revolution is being driven by a well-organized, well-funded and very vocal minority.
One important vehicle we have to reclaim our culture is choices that we make as voters. Since much of this is being driven by the courts and governmental regulatory bodies, the election of the president and governors is extremely important.
The president and governors appoint judges. The president and governors appoint the leadership for the federal and state agencies that develop regulations based on their interpretation of the law. We also need to elect individuals to represent us in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures who consider the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights to be a priority.
We also need to exert economic influence by the choices we make as consumers and investors. Sadly, in boardrooms across America, chief executive officers and/or corporate boards have decided that it is a good business decision to engage in economic bullying of states seeking to protect religious liberty and conscience rights.
Corporations and enterprises that engage in this type of coercive behavior need to experience consequences to their financial bottom line. They need to know that a significant number of customers are offended by their efforts to diminish religious liberty and conscience rights. Sadly, because there is group think in corporate America, we need to target particular corporations and, in the process, send a message to the entire business community.
Currently, the American Family Association is sponsoring a boycott of Target stores, because of their corporate policies allowing men to use the women’s restrooms or changing rooms. More than one million consumers have joined the boycott thus far.
For those who wish to engage in a more positive approach, some groups are sponsoring what is termed a buycott for states that have remained strong in protecting religious liberty. Families and individuals are encouraged to vacation in North Carolina and Mississippi to show support for the positive public policies in these states.
What type of nation will our children and grandchildren inherit? As citizens and consumers, we have the ability to make choices that can influence the moral trajectory of our culture. We also have the enormous power of prayer at our disposal. The reclaiming of our culture is worth every effort and personal sacrifice.