The reactions surrounding the Chick-fil-A stance on marriage are indicative of not only the steady advance of relativism and secularism, but of a nation suffering from the effects of Christian division.
By F. K. Bartels
6 August 2012
When Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that, as “an organization,” Chick-fil-A “can operate on biblical principles,” he was simply stating his family’s long-held religious conviction that their chicken sandwich business be conducted according to Christian values. In fact, about six decades ago that was the guiding principle of the majority of American businesses. If that alone were all he said, while it would have attracted some attention, today’s obdurate critics of Christianity would soon have turned their gaze elsewhere.
However, given the present moral climate of widespread relativism, when Mr. Cathy publicly stated that those same values meant opposing same-sex unions, the fires of outrage against the truth were ignited.
No one minds much when someone insists on principles; however, once those principles are articulated in such a way so as to make clear their opposition to moral relativists who deny, either in word or deed, the existence of the natural law, the divine law, and an absolute truth about what marriage is and about what the human person is, the banners of “discrimination,” “intolerance,” and “homophobic-hate-speech” are run up against anyone who even suggests that there is a divinely created order and reality intrinsic to human nature which the human person is not free to ignore.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco have all told the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain to “keep out.” Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel trumpeted: “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.”
Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, one of fifty individuals who make up the Chicago City Council, showed his own distaste for Chick-fil-A’s support of marriage when he voiced his intent to exercise a government strong-arm maneuver blocking the building of a second Chicago restaurant.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong advocate of homosexual unions, stated on a radio show that he doesn’t think it’s the local “government’s business” to ban the building of new Chick-fil-A’s based on the restaurant chain owners’ views on marriage. “You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a [building] permit. That’s just not government’s job.” Taken at face value, his comments appear to be on the right track. However, less than a week earlier Bloomberg and other city officials gathered to celebrate the first year anniversary of homosexual unions in New York. Apparently, Bloomberg and his political colleagues do think it is the “government’s business” to attempt to force a redefinition of marriage.
We should not be surprised by the anti-truth and anti-religious-freedom mentality displayed by these politicians. After all, they are simply following the lead of the present Administration’s open, blatant and historically unparalleled-in-America attack on religious freedom and freedom of conscience recently manifested by the HHS mandate. We should also recognize that America has been on a steady march toward secularization for decades. Therefore the relativistic philosophies often displayed by our nation’s politicians are but a reflection of the views of a wide section of the populace. After all, these public officials were elected.
But it is not only politicians who are sounding off. So-called ordinary Americans on both sides of the issue of homosexual unions are readily offering their opinions on Facebook, Twitter, and the millions of personal blogs scattered over the electronic social media landscape. There are people who are, both Christian and otherwise, “ashamed of the intolerance of Christians”; and others who “can’t imagine why heterosexual people would deny homosexual persons the ability to express sexual love.” There are those who are apparently allergic to an objective judgment about what is good and right and what is not, and what is aligned with the nature of the human person and what is out of sync with it. And there are still others who insist that “God’s love is without limit, and Jesus accepts everyone exactly as they are, so nobody can say how anyone else should live.” What is perhaps most disturbing, is that, given their context and phrasing, the majority of these often theologically bizarre and ignorant statements were apparently posted at the hands of reputed Christians.
Of course, there are many comments that reflect a correct understanding of theology and Christian doctrine. Also, as is clear from the response in support of Chick-fil-A, many Americans believe in the unchangeable institution of marriage as God himself authored it: the union of one man and one woman. Praise God! But it is a mistake to ignore the widespread confusion, the doctrinal error, and the unbiblical statements surrounding the issue of marriage that have arisen from Christians who claim to be “following the Bible.” Welcome to the age of individual infallibility.
All of this serves to highlight the critical situation presently enveloping America. We find ourselves in the midst of a post-Christian era in desperate need of the truth; one in which reputed Christians who, steeped in an individualistic and subjective interpretation of Scripture, claim to adhere to the Bible yet no longer widely agree on some of the most basic tenets of the Christian religion. Christians do not even agree on what it means to believe in and follow Jesus Christ. Nor do we agree on whether Christ founded an organic, definite and specific, visible and invisible Church (see Mt. 16:17-19; 18:15-18). Nor do we agree on whether Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, or whether there is such a thing as mortal sin, or whether the gift of God’s love obliges us to respond to him in the manner in which we live our lives physically and spiritually, and so forth.
Catholics are not outside of this mess either. We have for far too long given ourselves over to pragmatism, with an emphasis on material success and achieved status in society, standing silently by in the public square while the tenets of our Catholic Faith are trampled underfoot, all the while living out our days in tepidity, displaying a lack of zeal for Christ and holy mother Church. Rather than lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, we have laid them on earth (Mt. 6:20).
America used to be a nation of weekly church-goers. Not anymore. We used to be a nation in agreement on the intrinsic evil of the use of artificial birth control. Not anymore. We used to be a nation whose view of the institution of marriage was understood in an overwhelmingly and emphatically singular way: as the union of one man and one woman, forming the foundation of the family and society. Not anymore. And we used to be a nation in which very nearly everyone was appalled at the idea of intentionally killing innocent children through abortion, let alone legalizing it. That too has long passed.
What is the solution? It is complex yet also as simple as an authentic, repentant encounter with Jesus the Christ.
However, in the first place, we must get it into our heads that we are ordinarily brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit working through the Church. It is normally within the sacramental womb of holy mother Church that we are made children of God, not outside of her. Within the Church, the sacrament of salvation, as we assist in the divine liturgy and the work of our redemption is carried out, we are sanctified in Christ, and thus learn how to live a fully human life and are given the grace to do so. Within the Church’s arms, we are nourished with the words of truth and the sacraments of life, which heal, elevate and perfect us by the power of the Spirit, raising our human nature beyond what it formally was by the gift of sharing in God’s own supernatural life. To be fully Christian and fully human is to reside in full communion with the Church as a disciple of the Risen Lord. Therefore a culture infused with Catholic principles, guided by the influence of the Spirit through the Church, is a truly enlightened one.
The climate of America indicates that we have lost sight of the definitive revelation of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection—a tragedy that is not unrelated to negative attitudes toward the Church. It follows, then, that we often misunderstand who and what the human person is, as well as how man is to relate to God. We need to answer the question: “Who is man?” and, inseparably bound to that question, is man’s relationship to God who, in his divine wisdom, created man in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). While the human person is the “Imago Dei,” we need understand what it means to live out that sublime reality in fidelity to the Creator. It is the Church who is the expert par excellence in these areas.
All theological questions, including those of an anthropological nature informed by the light of faith that are crucial to the full truth about the human person, are definitively answered only in the Person of Jesus the Christ, since it “is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22 § 1), who is, as the perfect image of the Father (cf. Col. 15:1), the totality of God’s revelation to humankind. However, it is the Church who is an expert on the Word made flesh since she is his one body, and in a real way is Christ. The Church was instituted by Jesus Christ according to the salvific plan born in the Father’s heart. She is, then, as the city of truth for which Christ gave his own life, “endowed with light from God” and therefore offers solutions to man’s irrepressible quest to know himself (GS 12). If we want to know who man is, what is compatible or incompatible with human nature in its relation to God, the Church has the answers.
Further, “God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church” (CCC 760). Therefore St. Epiphanius was able to observe that the Church is the goal of all things, since the Church is the “Reign of Christ already present in mystery” (Lumen Gentium 3). Full communion with the Church, as Christ’s body in union with the Spirit, is the goal toward which the Father is directing the whole of humankind, one which is ultimately for the sake of our reception of divine love. By calling us into the Church, the Kingdom of God present in mystery, the Father is moving us toward the goal of eternal human fulfillment and happiness found only in himself.
The Church, then, is not simply one institution among others, for she is crucial in attaining the full dimension of human life. Nor is she a strictly invisible, abstract, vague and unreachable reality that cannot be seen nor heard, and who has nothing definitive to say on the tenets of the Christian religion. On the contrary, she is a specific and definite reality, vital to the full truth of the human person and the full flourishing of every culture and society. The Church is God’s fraternal plan of love and happiness, peace, security, knowledge and truth for humankind, a wondrous divine and human, visible and invisible community who is one single reality, and whose life was gained at an infinitely great cost: the death of the Son of God by crucifixion.
The solution to the present disunity and doctrinal confusion in contemporary Christendom, the answers to questions about who man is, the nature of the human person and the nature of the institution of marriage, and much more, are all found within the womb of holy mother Church, where we learn how to live a fully human life in loving freedom as God’s adopted children, for it is through the Church that the mystery of the Word made flesh is revealed, bringing sublime and revealing light to the mystery of man.
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Photo Credit: flickr, AK Rockefeller
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.