Christian Agitation and the Equality Act

I don’t know about you, but I find myself getting agitated pretty easily these days, often in ways that are not fitting for a believing Christian. I have been thinking a lot about the perils of living in a society which is becoming more and more overtly hostile to many of the norms that were simply taken for granted by the vast majority of our fellow citizens a mere 20 years ago. I’ll come back to that in a minute. 

Read a letter to from the Colorado Bishops on the Equality Act here.

First, in order to avoid inciting unchristian agitation in you, I want to share a blessing I received from my husband a few days ago, just as I was launching into a bitter rant about how hostile so many have become to basic Catholic ideas.  As part of his Lenten discipline, he has been reading through all four Gospels, and that morning he interrupted and extinguished my rant by reading aloud the words of Jesus that he had just read:  

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5: 43-48). 

That caught me up short.  The words “your heavenly Father … causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust,” especially reverberated in my mind.  Maybe it’s just that I am anxious to get out in my dry Colorado garden, but for the rest of the day I kept coming back to those words and to the fact that the Father is the one in charge and that while it’s okay and maybe even necessary for me to do my little bit and do it energetically, it’s not okay for me to hate or fear or malign those who respond to my Catholic witness by calling me a “hater.” The Father causes the rain to fall on all of us, and I must do my part in his vineyard without undermining his work in me by succumbing to bitterness or reveling in outrage, temptations that my personality is all too prone to.  

The flipside of my temptation is felt by those who are so overwhelmed by the rapid change in “acceptable ideas” that they lose their confidence in what the Church teaches or even try to alter Church teaching in order to make it compatible with the culture’s new ideas. We are called to witness to the truths of our faith in season and out of season, but Catholics in America have become so accustomed to being accepted in the mainstream that it can be very hard for us to appreciate just how “out of season” core teachings of our Church are right now.    

The fact is that there are a number of non-negotiable teachings of our Church which we once could have confidently and respectfully proposed for consideration, but which many are now afraid to speak out loud. For example:   

  • That marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that it is not only meant for the “actualization” of the spouses but also to provide the best setting for raising physically, emotionally, and socially healthy children;   
  • That children are not commodities and should not be conceived in petri dishes and sorted for life or death according to pre-ordered specifications;  
  • That human beings are, from conception, immutably male or female;   
  • That hard-won civil rights protecting people from unjust discrimination based on immutable race or sex should not be co-opted to undermine the protections extended to women to protect them from male violence and from men having unfair advantages over them in the workplace, the marketplace, in education or in the sports arena;   
  • And, finally, that people should not be forced, either legally or economically, to violate their own consciences by participating in others’ violation of these norms.    

These ideas, all of which conform with the Church’s continuous teaching, are now regularly denounced in public as naked bigotry comparable to that of an unrepentant leader of the KKK.   

The last three on the list will be undermined by the law itself if the U.S. Senate passes the misnamed Equality Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and which President Biden has promised to sign into law. The consequences, especially for women and children, will be severe. Here are just a few examples of the foreseeable consequences:    

  • Girls and women who compete in sports won’t be protected from having to compete with athletes-who-identify-as-female who have gone through male puberty, whose muscles have been bathed in amounts of muscle strengthening testosterone far in excess of any female’s, and whose metabolisms release energy at a rate with which no female’s can match;  
  • Parents will not be able to protect even young children from exposure to or encouragement of confusion about sexual identity;
  • Physicians and mental health professionals who question whether “gender transition” is really in the best interest of a particular minor will not be able to give those in their care their best counsel;   
  • In addition, the Equality Act would force physicians and nurses to participate in abortions, undoing longstanding legal protections for conscientious objection, because the Act redefines objection to abortion as “pregnancy discrimination” and explicitly forbids accommodation for religious or conscience objections by “providers.”  

Any one of those foreseeable consequences should agitate all of us. We should all be stirred at least to refuse to lie when we are asked what we think.  And any of us who claim to profess and teach the faith must muster both the courage and the love to face being denounced as a hater, knowing that if we do not stand against the force of these lies, those who denounce us will have no one else to witness to the truth for them.   

Our Father in heaven makes it rain on all of us.  Let us stand firm in the truth that we are all his beloved children, that we are all made in his image, that he made us male and female, and that it is not good for any of us to attempt to re-make ourselves in an image of our own choosing.  We hate no one.  It is because we love our fellow citizens that we insist on witnessing publicly to the truth. 

Dr. Selner-Wright holds the Archbishop Chaput Chair of Philosophy at St. John Vianney Theological  Seminary and is a member of the leadership team at the EPPC’s Person and Identity Project, which offers a Catholic response to gender confusion:  personandidentity.com  


Featured Photo by Julien Gaud on Unsplash

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.