Collect for Candlemas

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only-Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona Versus Uganda: Which Is Worse?

I wrote a rant yesterday about the ghastly bill signed into law in Uganda recently. I hadn't really finished letting off steam, so I got in touch with a pastor friend of mine and cantankered* at him for twenty minutes or so. As I was finishing off, I said, "It just feels like nobody's listening."

"Can I tell you something?" he asked me.


"Nobody's listening."

How awkward was it, you ask? Look no further.

He went on to give a nod to the controversy surrounding the Arizona bill that Governor Brewer recently vetoed, and similar stories (look at the collective "meh" our society gave to Ellen Page's coming out last week), and the way they saturate so much of our current media. People are sick of hearing about it, he said, and the LGBT community reacts with such ferocity to such minor affronts, it's no wonder that something like the Ugandan situation should hardly merit a blip on their radar.**

Frankly, I kind of agree with him. From what little I can discern of what the Arizona bill actually says, as opposed to what people say about it (and even the link I've provided is partisan -- though, it seems, sound enough -- and doesn't help you find the bill's text easily), I honestly agree with Matt Walsh's view. It may well be that the language of the proposed bill was too broad, but the principle that people should be free to operate their businesses according to their consciences surely stands: private businesses are by definition not departments or extensions of the government, and the First Amendment applies to them as much as to anybody else. You don't charge a Jewish deli with religious bigotry because they won't cater Saturday's pork roast. Likewise, if, say, a gay couple want wedding pictures from a Christian (or Moslem, or Jewish) photographer, and he declines to provide this non-vital good or service, the photographer is within his rights, and the gay couple is perfectly free to find another photographer. The photographer may well also be a jerk about it, either forthrightly or in the privacy of his mind, but there are no laws against jerkdom, nor should there be.

That is the price of a free society. Some people believe that gay marriage, for example, is wrong, and therefore decline to imply otherwise by providing for its trappings; I don't know that I consider such a stand necessary, but other people's consciences are not my business (thanks be to God). However, I am fairly certain that no one's conscience binds them to receive non-vital goods and services from any specific person or business; and I have absolutely no sympathy with the perspective that being inconvenienced by having to find another business to patronize, is an evil commensurate with legally forcing someone else to choose between their principles and their livelihood.

You may, if you like, argue that the price of a free society is not worth paying. But let us at least be clear who is arguing in favor of what.

The fact that this bill, or the off-the-cuff words of the star of Duck Dynasty (who is of no importance whatsoever and never claimed to be), can cause a media sensation, while there has been approximately no reporting on the Ugandan tragedy -- except, as far as I can see, from a small handful of gay Christian blogs like this one, whose interest is topical and long-standing -- is an appalling commentary on the narcissism and frivolity of our nation. It would be pathetic if it weren't so ridiculous, and ridiculous if it weren't so pathetic. That Jim Crow laws have even been brought up in the same context as the Arizona bill is an outrageous insult to the plight that has afflicted blacks in this country, and should have shamed those who mentioned it into silence. Kidnapping, torture, slavery, and disfranchisement are in a different category from even the most intense distress that faces a wedding planner.

Slightly worse than checking the second page of Google search results.

My pastor friend (as I knew, and as he took the trouble of saying for clarity's sake) didn't mean by his remarks that the cruelty of the Ugandan bill was genuinely unimportant; his point was that the childish caterwauling over the Arizona bill, et al., was one of the things that made people, Christians included, unresponsive. The LGBT community has had a hand in making people sick of hearing about this through its own lack of perspective: not the only hand, and it's happened for understandable reasons, but a hand nonetheless. All the more reason to be intellectually and morally rigorous with ourselves first, and only after that start being rigorous with other people.

As for the Christian response, or rather, the lack of it -- I don't know that I can trust myself to write rationally. But I will say that no matter how tired one is of hearing of the afflictions of others, they are important in and of themselves. We are not omnipotent, and must accept that we cannot fix everything or help everyone. But what we must not do is be complacent. What we must not do is regard Uganda, or anything, as merely somebody else's problem.

Pictured: a real place that is not in America.

For Christians, there is no "somebody else." We know all others only through Christ, the Second Adam; we all coinhere with one another in Him, and He is the principle and the Person who interanimates us, all and each; for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. John Donne said it well, in his Meditation XVII, which I have been intoxicated with today:
Perchance hee for whom this Bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knowes not it tolls for him; And perchance I may thinke my selfe so much better than I am, as that they who are about mee, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concernes mee; for that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my Head too, and engraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another ...  
If we understand aright the dignitie of this Bell that tolls for our evening prayer, wee would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might bee ours, as wel as his, whose indeed it is. The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. ...  
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. ... [I]f by this consideration of anothers danger, I take mine owne into contemplation, and so secure my selfe, by making my recourse to God, who is our onely securitie. 
            At inde                                                         The Bell rings out, and tells
Mortuus es, Sonitu celeri,                                            me in him, that I am dead.
    pulsuque agitato.***

*A verb form of cantankerous that I made up today.

**Go ahead, make the joke, get it out of your system.

***From Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a series of reflections Donne wrote while seriously ill. I've preserved the spelling and use of italics according to the collection I own (which has followed the manuscripts very closely) -- I object to emending authors' work when it isn't strictly necessary, though I have gone as far as to introduce paragraph breaks for the sake of readability. The second paragraph I've quoted, which is perhaps a somewhat dense "Metaphysical" conceit, is using the imagery of a bell summoning us to evening prayers as a symbol of death and of the life beyond death; it is something like, and unlike, Keats' famous lines: Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain. The likeness is plain enough; the unlikeness is that Keats was referring to a purely aesthetic experience (total aesthetic satiation upon hearing a nightingale sing), whereas Donne was looking to the coinherence with God and with mankind-in-God that awaits on the other side. The English lines at the bottom right are a very loose translation of the Latin epigram at the bottom left.


  1. This, sir, is an excellent post. That's all that my pre-5-am as-yet-uncoffee'd bleared-with-the-blurriness-of-middle-age cerebellum is capable of saying right now. But I have shared this post with friends both progressive and conservative, as I do feel that it says much which needs to be said. Thank you for writing.

  2. You don't charge a Jewish deli with religious bigotry because they won't cater Saturday's pork roast. No, because they would refuse to do this for all, indiscriminately. Not so the Christian fun dies

    1. That is quite true, but whether Christian fundamentalists are in point of fact jerks isn't at stake. I have a very low opinion of every variety of fundamentalism, on practically every ground there is, but that isn't at stake either. What's at stake is whether this should be considered a matter of personal liberty and of conscience, which I do believe.

      Consider. Discriminating against someone simply for being gay -- that is, simply for being attracted to the same sex -- this is precisely targeting people, and a person's freedom to do that, even if they dress it in the language of conscience, is rightly curtailed.

      But being gay as such is not commensurate with getting a gay marriage. For simply being gay is just there; there are no decisions attached to it (though it provides material for decisions), there are no views attached to it (though it may raise questions that suggest this or that view). Being sexually active and getting married are decisions, and the latter especially carries with it a specific view about marriage and about sex, namely, that gay sex and straight sex are morally equivalent (which is a quite different claim from the claim that gay people and straight people are equally people). If someone declines to accept that view or approve of those decisions on grounds of conscience, that is not necessarily a criticism of a person -- only an assertion of one's own philosophy. Of course, it is often accompanied by a reprehensible attitude towards persons, and, when that attitude occurs among Christians or is defended on supposedly Christian grounds, that is a sin and a shame upon the name of Christianity; but that is beside the point, because, again, there are no laws against being a jerk, and holding a particular opinion and being a jerk are not the same thing no matter how often they're correlated.

      Hence, to demand that someone provide some service that, for them, implies that they think something they don't, is an intrusion upon the rights of conscience. It is a demand that they not simply tolerate, but cooperate in doing, something they think is wrong, and their own unpleasant nature (if/when it's there) doesn't enter into the question.

  3. I think we must make a distinction, and legal precedent has to organically develop for sorting out the details, between acts of business which constitute expression, and those which don't.

    For example, in the wedding cakes and photographer situations...I believe strongly in allowing the photographer to refuse service, but do not believe the baker should get an exemption unless the customer wants them to put some message or image on the cake which is specifically gay.

    A public accommodation needs to offer its goods "blindly" to all. The attitude towards "how will it be used?" must be "don't ask, don't tell" because once a product leaves the store, it is no longer the owners business.

    It is very important to uphold the right of free expression and that no one be forced to express something they disagree with. But I think it is almost equally important, for the sake of making civil society possible, to reject the idea that selling a generic item constitutes expression or constitutes some sort of approval of how it may be used.

    If a baker's catalog contains a "white three tiered cake," offered to the public...then it's really none of his business whether, once it leaves the store, it is used for a straight wedding, a gay wedding, a prop in a movie, for throwing at a clown (including politicians), or for an obese man's midnight snack.

    If we don't admit this, we wind up with an absurd situation where busybodies can interrogate "how are you going to use that??" regarding their products, which only encourages secrecy and lies.

    "Don't ask, and if they tell pretend you didn't hear" is the only sensible policy for people with such qualms.

    For our market to work, and in exchange for the privileges that come with being a public accomodation in said market (we're not talking about private deals arranged between individuals, were talking about goods "put up for sale" to the public-at-large) cannot "excommunicate" this or that person, or type of person, nor distinguish based on suspected intended use of said product.

    Otherwise we wind up with an "eye for an eye makes us all blind" world where in retaliation for not selling cakes to gay couples, the grocery store owned by a liberal denies flour and eggs to the baker because they don't believe in "enabling" a homophobic business.

    The lines are still blurry. I don't think a cake or a dress (even "wedding style") constitutes expression. But photography or live music would seem to (besides, they require knowing participation and witness of said ceremony, unless you put an "eyes wide shut" blindfold on them and don't mention what the celebration is for). Yet other things seem more foggy. What about decorating the hall (which presumably would be non-controversial if you lied, said it was a straight wedding, and then the decorator wasn't present...but should people feel compelled to lie like that?) Same thing with typesetting invitations (people could always give a fake name then change it once the have the file/template on their computer).

    But we need to be reasonable here. A white tiered cake may have cultural connotations, but the mere act of making it and selling it (involving as it does an alienation of said cake)...does not constitute expressing anything in particular, and the material cooperation is remote so the law need not take it into account.

  4. Thinking about this some more I think we can really only allow two exemptions unless we want civil society to collapse:

    a) no one should be forced to be present at a gay wedding or event they disagree with. However, transportation between venues should not count as "being present" unless there it is integral to the ceremonial or celebration as opposed to accidental (ie, the couple wants to arrive at church in a horse-drawn carriage or expects to be taken to the reception in a "just married" Rolls Royce with tin cans). You can't excommunicate places either. Not wanting to be part of an event is one thing. But people and places as such cannot be under a ban. Otherwise you just wind up with a lot of winking "oh conservative Christians cab driver, drop me off at that pet store next to the strip club" instead of admitting you're going to the club itself. Likewise I don't think being the janitor before or after the event, or even renting a venue, should be exempt (religious organizations probably shouldn't rent halls for-profit in general, unless through a generic front corporation that people won't associate with the church.) But you shouldn't be forced to BE there whether as photog, bartender, entertainer, or cook. Caterers who merely sell and drop-off pre-prepared food should not be exempt, though, nor security guards who (like police) often must guard things amorally and without making ideological distinctions.

    b) free expression. You should be forced to say or write or engage in an expressive act you disagree with. You don't have to put the gay triangle on a cake if you don't want, put two little men on top, photograph, provide live entertainment, etc. What constitutes expression? I'd say the standard should probably be: is your objection to this objective, or merely contextual? Which is to say we should look at the situation and ask "if the customer lied about their intended use, could you do this?" If the answer is no, if you wouldn't do that no matter who asked or in any context...then that's free expression. But if you're willing to sell me a flower arrangement if I lie and say it's for a funeral instead of a wedding...then that's not expression, because the gesture obviously admits of multiple messages (and all you'd be encouraging was a "lie and cross your fingers" culture of eggshell-walking and non-openness). Printers and film developers shouldn't even look at the content of what is being printed, and typesetters might be allowed to say "I won't write that" BUT they should have to make the template available so that, formatting in place, the customers can write what they want themselves.

  5. Hi Gabe -

    I think your premise of "gay fatigue" is belied by the rapid pace of change in attitudes towards people who are gay. The media wouldn't feature these stories so prominently if they had no audience.

    People are listening. And getting it. Even in the Church. And I believe the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with that.

    You seem to be more libertarian than me in regards to public accommodation laws. I think it's OK to protect the rights of a despised minority in this regard. I also think it's understandable that gay people would take offense at being treated as morally inferior. Should we have no compassion for those who are discriminated against?

    I'm in the catering business (we actually have an operation in Charm City). For years I worked as the restaurant manager (actually in Baltimore for a couple of years). I was present at many bar mitzvahs. In no way did I ever feel like I was participating in this Jewish rite of passage. And in no way did I feel like I was in any way supporting non-believers in their sin of disbelief. The same holds true for the pregnant brides. I think your "be present" carve out is a suspect rationale for condoning intolerance.

    I don't know if you're anything like me, but I tend to internalize some of this stuff. My hope and prayer is that we can have compassion for one another and for ourselves in the midst of this robust disagreement.

    I wish you my very best

  6. Oops, My goof. I mistakenly thought that A Sinner's comment was one you authored. Sorry about that.

  7. Right now in the 'culture disputes' there is a social push to include gay advocate groups in the Saint Patrick's Parade in Boston. I sadden that the organizers couldn't come up with a better response, within the teachings of the Church. Maybe have a float that can express something the Catholic Church and & Mass Equality agree with, such as the need for non-violence against people who are gay in Uganda and other parts of the world?

    But no.

    The parade has little to do with the Feast of Saint Patrick, because if the parade was about the Saint and Catholicism there would of been a better response then an absolute 'no' to marching in the parade. There is no Catholic message in the parade, simply being Irish with no rhyme or reason on why being Irish is so important. Saint Patrick wouldn't of been able to march in this parade, because he wasn't Irish.