Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

World Vision, Mozilla, And Other Arenas of Insanity

In the best days of the Middle Ages trials might take place and tortures be both threatened and applied -- more often perhaps threatened than applied. But the cases of acquittal were fairly frequent ... [E]ven with Gilles de Rais, the spectacular scene of the Bishop of Nantes embracing the convicted prisoner shows that something of the sense of Christendom remained vital and active. ... But now all was changed. The Middle Ages had, as it were, abandoned that effort and dream of sanctity. The awful strain had been too much for them. They had learnt the great fundamental lesson, produced by all individual and social experience, that it is much easier, and in a general way as profitable, to blame someone else rather than to blame oneself. They had discovered that it is always agreeable to hold someone responsible. ... Contrition for sin had largely vanished from Christendom; conflict about sin took its place.

-- Charles Williams
From Witchcraft, Chapter Eight: The Grand War, pp. 174-175

When I first heard about the disgraceful controversy over World Vision, I mostly wanted to bury my head under my pillow and hum loudly until it went away. Really, guys? We're having this conversation? Did everyone do a bucket of meth while I wasn't looking? Eventually I fired off a pissy status update, in which I tried to take no sides, largely out of habit: I almost never feel that either side is unambiguously right or wrong in the kulturkampf.

But as I've continued to reflect on it, even my attempt to make allowances for tender consciences has broken down. I find it impossible to feel anything except anger and disgust, that someone would consider merely employing a partnered gay person such a profound moral offense (after all, the Bible and sacred Tradition say so much about it) that they needed not only to withdraw their support from children by the thousands, but apparently felt the need to be abusive over the phone to World Vision's surely quite helpless representatives.

Well, the conservatives -- if that is the right word; I was raised in a strongly conservative household and as a practicing evangelical, and I don't think I know anyone from that milieu who would have behaved that way -- anyway, whatever they should be called, they got their way.

World Vision: Faggot-free since last Wednesday.

Congratulations, I suppose. You have displayed openly to the word that the culture wars, which Scripture does not command, are more important to you than the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked, which Scripture does command. And you presume to wonder why people hate Christians and call us bigots and hypocrites. When the whited sepulcher of social orthodoxy ceases even to conceal a heart liquid with corruption, such that it would sooner let a child starve than let a sexually active queer person assist in feeding them -- I can't write rationally about such a perspective.

Note that I say social orthodoxy, not theological orthodoxy. I believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, which is a good deal more definite and restrictive than what even most conservative Protestants believe. And nowhere in the teachings of the Catholic Church does it say that the works of mercy are somehow polluted by contact with gay people. Or, indeed, with anyone whose life is out of accord with Catholic moral teaching -- which is handy, considering that that list includes "everyone who does the works of mercy."

This is exactly what the parable of the Good Samaritan was told about. The point does not lie exclusively in the fact that the Jewish audience of the parable were prejudiced against Samaritans. Part of the point is lost if we don't realize that the Samaritans really were in the wrong, theologically. Their redacted Scriptures and religious practices were genuinely incorrect -- which Jesus touches on, almost as an aside, when He speaks with the woman at the well. And they were incorrect about the right worship of God, which was the center of the covenant that God had made with Israel through Moses. And it is one of them who is held up as an example, in contrast to the priest and the Levite. Translated into the terms of this conflict, one can see Jesus telling this parable featuring a gay, progressivist Christian who chooses to help the victim of the roadside thugs, while a pious devotee of the Latin Mass and a Spirit-filled evangelical preacher cross the road on the other side.*

For God is no respecter of persons. The love that flows from a heart that has accepted and made use of Divine grace is more pleasing to Him than the theological accuracy of a Pharisee. But ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing -- are ye not then partial in yourselves, and become judges of evil thoughts?

But then, as if on cue, the other side of the kulturkampf decided that conservative Christians shouldn't have all the fun in behaving like cowardly bullies and embarrassing their own ideals. And so Brendan Eich, whose crime consisted in using his own private money to donate to a political cause that accords with his beliefs, was compelled to resign from the nonprofit that he helped to found (which has provided a free, open-source browser to the public). I can't express it better than Andrew Sullivan of The Dish -- who, if you aren't familiar with him, is legally married to another man:
The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists. ... Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me -- as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today -- hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else -- then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.
Make no mistake: I don't regard the boycotting which brought about Eich's resignation as being half so reprehensible as literally pulling funding from impoverished children. And I am always disposed to criticize Christians more severely than non-Christians, because we have a special cause and a special call to be at once more just and more merciful than the world at large. What this move on the part of LGBT activists is, however, is juvenile hypocrisy. We of all people ought to know better than to try to get someone fired, or celebrate it when they are, on the grounds that their moral stands don't line up with ours.

I am a Catholic Christian. I am also an openly gay man. I was raised in the midst of the culture wars, and I have strong reasons to take either side. So whose side am I on?

Of course.

I am a pacifist; that is, in the Latin, a peacemaker. Or I aspire to be a peacemaker -- to stick with the Lord of the Rings references, I partly find and partly anticipate that the work of the pacifist is through the ages of the world to fight the long defeat.** That doesn't mean pretending that evil is not evil, or refusing to call a spade a spade; but it does mean refusing every form of coercion, making use instead of the persistent invitation to the other side, whatever that other side may be, to drop their weapons and be reconciled, and to begin by dropping your own and being reconciled to them for your part.

I am not a pacifist because I believe that pacifism guarantees the victory of my cause. On the one hand, my cause will assuredly fail and fall, over and over, because we live in a world that is broken, whose good is continually in peril of returning into its own evil. On the other hand, my cause (say rather, the cause that has made me its own) is already and perpetually victorious, because Jesus is alive, and all things exist in Him, and I know all things only in Him, for I determined not to know any thing, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified; and every evil is suffered in Him so that a good that is greater still may redeem that evil. Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.***

More than that -- in knowing all things in Christ, I know all things as coinhering with one another; all interdependent, all sharing in one another for both good and evil. Physicists tell us that subatomic particles of matter seem to act upon one another at distances of light-years; so much the more do souls interact in intimate inter-animation, or, to give it is theological name, the communion of the saints.

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 ... No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine ... 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.****
How then could I do violence to, I do not say my brothers, but to my own body? And if I cannot do violence to the body, how much less can I do violence to the soul? What adequate response can there be to the image of God in one's neighbor, except to love: to delight in all their good as though it were our own and yet more because it is truly theirs; to grieve their faults as tenderly as our own and rebuke our own as sternly as theirs; to cry out for reconciliation and mutual delight, rather than for my "side" to beat their "side"?

I refuse to fight in the culture war because I refuse war. Christ Jesus Himself did not come as a conquering king, but as one who suffered for His people. Those whom Christ loves, I love, and that which Christ does, I do, with whatever errors and delays. That does not eliminate violence from the world; but our Lord's own response to violence was to receive it willingly in His Person, and return nothing, nothing, except love, flowing generously out of His veins. His is the only side I want to take, and He came exclusively out of a deep and tender love for the damned. How then am I to refuse love to anyone?

"Friend, wherefore art thou come?"

I desperately want the witch-hunts and the maledictions to stop: whether it is Christians tearing at the gay community, and at one another, and at gay Christians; or whether it is the gay community tearing at Christians, or at one another, or at Christian gays. Whoever you are reading this, I beg of you, examine your conscience for your own contribution -- not attending to other people's contributions, which you can do nothing to prevent. And then -- whether you have done much or nothing to contribute to this seething cauldron of hatred -- assume responsibility for all; atone for the corruption of others with a return of forgiveness and love, because nothing else can put an end to this. No one could call this an easy or an attractive answer in the heart of pain. But continuing the mutual hatred only perpetuates the pain; it fuels it, because all revenge carries within itself the seeds of the revenge that will answer it, and the act of vengeance sows those seeds in the soil of the enemy's heart. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, rather than as they have done unto you, is, it turns out, an exacting rule.

I do not side with Christians in the culture war, because I do not believe in waging war upon non-Christians. I do not side with the LGBT movement in the culture war, because I do not hate my Mother, which is precisely why I hate the diseases that afflict her. Put down the swords. You might impale someone's body with them. You will assuredly impale your soul.

*I use these two examples partly because they seem to constitute a lot of my readership, and partly because they are fairly close to my own character. They therefore seem to possess the kind of pertinence that the parable ought to have, insofar as it is a challenging summons to an examination of conscience, and not a pretty little tale designed to make us feel good.

**"'Your quest is known to us,' said Galadriel, looking at Frodo. 'But we will not speak of it here more openly. Yet not in vain will it prove, maybe, that you came to this land seeking aid, as Gandalf himself plainly purposed. For the Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.'" -- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 7: The Mirror of Galadriel, p. 372.

***One of the most famous lines from Lady Julian's Revelation of Divine Love, from the Thirteenth Showing. "Behovely" here more or less equates to something between necessary and educative, the concept being that, being such creatures as we are, we will surely fall into sin often, but that these sins are occasions of Divine grace and teaching for us.

****A selection, including the often-ripped-from-their-context last lines, from John Donne's Meditation XVII from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, written while he was deathly ill and dedicated to Prince Charles (later King Charles II).
If anyone is disposed to point out, not untruly, that Donne here is speaking specifically of the supernatural coinherence of the Church, I would reply that, insofar as all men are designed for the vision of God, all men are meant for the Church and are potential members of the Church, and that her universal maternity is the appropriate way of relating to those outside of her as well as those within her.


  1. When you said that that those who stopped giving to World Vision would sooner let a child starve than let a sexually active queer person assist in feeding them, I think you are presuming that they've stopped giving money to starving children altogether, rather than switching to a different charity.

    I have no data on this, but I still think it was a hasty generalisation.

    1. A very just point. I said as much when I fired off the aforesaid pissy Facebook update, but I let my temper run away with me when I was writing this, and I shouldn't have.

    2. I think the problem is that may of those who reacted did not say whether they were giving to another organization instead or just withholding funds altogether.

      This isn't really an issue of whether fund might have been redirected but of the witness it gives. To outsiders it looked like thousands of Christians were willing to withhold funds from starving children in order to penalize WV for hiring gay people.

      The manner in which we choose to respond to issues like this is, often, just as important in our witness as what we actual do or do not do with our money.

    3. Although they may have continued donating to the poor in some sense, I don't think that made a difference to the particular child they were sponsoring. That child, or those who care for him/her, had their personal funding pulled because of political brinkmanship. Considering one of the most valuable things that funding a child provides is stability, I cannot imagine the level of anguish this sort of waffling incites.

    4. @Lucas I don't know what perspective you're coming from, but presumably there are some ethical stances which a charity could take which would cause you to re-allocate your giving. And, if you did so, I doubt you would be swayed by the objection you raise here.

      How do you think Christians who hold traditional views on sexuality should have responded to this change in policy? Do you really think that if every denunciation of WV was prefaced with "but you should still keep donating to this kind of aid work" then Savage, Sullivan and others of their ilk would be pacified?

  2. Thank you for this. I'm not much of a pacifist, but this culture war has gotten ridiculous, and it seems difficult for a day to go by without me reading something about either side that feeds my pessimism about where we're going, or otherwise just acts as a near occasion of sin for me to start fuming in front of a glowing rectangle. Evidently not wanting to see people I care about get shamed into nonexistence means I'm not Real or something.

  3. Another awesome post that leads me to take pause and think about my felliw members in the body of Christ with whom (though I might disagree with) I am one with.

  4. My husband doesn't boycott/buycott anything. We have somewhat different experiences. His father was president of his union, and my mother was in a union for some time. The idea of collective bargaining is something I see as a 'good' with positive outcomes.

    When the pasta factory was bought out 25 years ago and production was moved out of the city of Lowell, we boycotted that brand of pasta (Prince). I still will not buy Prince Spaghetti.

    When my mother's nurses unions bargained for a raise, the construction workers who were building a new wing for the hospital went on strike themselves and stopped working.

    But for my husband, he saw 'the negative'. The employees working in the pasta factory already lost their jobs. And he saw his father's negotiating tactics in which professors with tenure were poor in their occupation and the union protected the 'good and the bad'. And more then a decade ago, when UPS went on strike my husband's shipments of medical goods sat in warehouses and surgeries had to be delayed. He couldn't even retrieve the medical devices himself, if he wanted to.

    So he doesn't boycott or buycott anything.