“America” magazine is wrong to raise the white flag

The Jesuit weekly appears greatly impressed by the shift in public opinion, including Catholic opinion, that’s swung in favor same-sex marriage in the last few years

Does the Supreme Court decision constitutionalizing same-sex marriage mean we’ve lost the culture war and need to raise the white flag? (As should be obvious, “we” here are traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and others who hold similar views on social issues.)

The Jesuit weekly America thinks that the answer is yes. An editorial in the magazine’s July 20-27 issue, saying what the Church ought to do after the court’s June 26 ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, says this:

“With the Obergefell decision, it is increasingly clear that those who believe the civil law ought to reflect traditional Judeo-Christian values have lost not just these most recent battles but the war itself. New York Times columnist David Brooks, a self-described conservative who is sympathetic to religion, recently called on ‘social conservatives’ to ‘consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.’”

It would be interesting to know which values America believes the law should reflect instead of traditional Judeo-Christian ones. But leaving that aside, there are several reasons why the magazine is wrong.

For one thing, the culture war isn’t, and never has been, a single-issue struggle over sexual morality. At its heart are issues like abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and other horrors just visible on the horizon that threaten the sanctity of human life. Abandoning the fight for laws that defend life would be an irresponsible response to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision favoring same-sex marriage

Besides, even on marriage—or perhaps especially on marriage—why suppose that our opponents, having won in Obergefell, will now call it a day? After all, they themselves have made it clear they mean to use coercion to force compliance with the new regime.

Suppliers of wedding services—bakers of wedding cakes, wedding photographers, florists—are already targets. The tax-exempt status of church-related schools that decline to teach the merits of same-sex marriage may be next (the Solicitor General of the United States said so earlier this year). Should we throw these people and institutions overboard in our rush to quit the culture war?

And then there’s the unavoidable fact that giving up the fight in the present circumstances would amount to implicitly conceding that a de facto redefinition of marriage leaving out procreation—something that’s necessary to the acceptance of same-sex unions as marriages—is an acceptable and even healthy thing for society. As a matter of public policy, that is a perilous step for a nation to take.

The America editorial writer appears greatly impressed by the shift in public opinion, including Catholic opinion, that’s swung in favor same-sex marriage in the last few years. The shift certainly has taken place, but frankly I’m not so impressed.

For years, after all, the media of news and entertainment have waged a relentless campaign to persuade Americans that the gay rights agenda deserves their support. It’s hardly surprising that this steady battering by propaganda has produced its intended result.

And Catholics? People sometimes suppose that Catholics are getting an earful on social issues every Sunday at Mass. But in the two decades that gay marriage has been an item on the national agenda, I can recall having heard it mentioned exactly once by a priest speaking from the pulpit of a parish church. Add to that the existence of a large body of distracted, inarticulate laity, and you start to see why the Church hasn’t done so well in the culture war lately. Keep it up, and we really will need that white flag.

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About Russell Shaw 286 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).