Among the unsurprising but very disappointing results from yesterday’s elections was the approval of Same Sex “Marriage” by Maryland residents 52 to 48%. Maryland is one of the most liberal states in the union, and it is been known for at least several weeks now, through polling, that the bill was likely to pass.
Here again it is a time for a kind of post mortem analysis of how the Church could have more effectively taught the faithful, and have opposed the referendum more successfully. A reader from yesterday’s blog reflecting on this very matter wrote the following:
I was very disappointed at the lame, almost non-existent reaction of the Catholic Church to the same-sex marriage vote in Maryland. Where were the commercials? Where were the road signs? Where were the interviews and lectures and public forums? Where were the homilies?
While I’m not sure that all these reflections are fair, it does remain true that the work we did in opposing the bill was unevenly experienced and, given that we lost quite soundly, our work could well have been more effective.
Perhaps a brief review of what we did do is in order.
Beginning, almost four years ago, when gay “marriage” was being forced on the residents of the District of Columbia by a mere City Council vote, the Church joined with many other Christian denominations in seeking at that time to have the matter brought to a vote for the citizens of the District of Columbia. This attempt was denied by the DC Board of Elections who claimed that “human rights” could not be a matter for referendum.
In the midst of that battle we began a campaign to teach on marriage entitled Marriage Matters. The goal here was, through sermons, published materials, and Internet sites, that we could lead to the people of God to back to a better understanding of the roots of traditional marriage in Natural Law, as well as Scripture and Church teaching. In the context of this wider teaching, we also sought to demonstrate why Gay “marriage” was not an acceptable understanding of marriage that Americans ought to adopt.
More recently, these materials were re-presented in a more focused way to the citizens of Maryland. Pastors were instructed to read several letters from the Archbishop, were asked to preach one Sunday on the topic of Marriage and why Catholics should vote against the recognition of Same-sex “Marriage.” We were also to provide written materials and other references to parishioners. This was to have been done on one of the Sundays back in September.
It is unclear to me whether the reader who commented on the blog yesterday attends a parish where, for some reason, this was not done. But the fact is, it was something that was expected of every pastor by the Archdiocese. Although I, have a parish in the District, not Maryland, since many of my parishioners live and vote in Maryland, I took part in this campaign. I read the letters, preached the sermon and presented written material to the congregation.
There was also an advertising campaign, in which the Archdiocese joined with others to purchase radio spots, and some TV spots as well. Initial funding for this advertising was good, but there was donor fatigue which set in when it became increasingly clear that the polls showed that gay “marriage” was likely to pass in Maryland. I received an urgent call from the Archdiocese three weeks before the election seeking to help identify donors who might make last-minute donations. I am also aware that some of the bishops personally sought donors as well. So, there were strong efforts made to raise the money and increase the advertising, but the money was generally not forthcoming in large enough numbers to afford major P.R. and advertising especially into October as the polls indicated we were unlikely to prevail.
Could we have done more? Certainly. Without simply excusing our less than adequate efforts, I would like to make a few observations however, about some things which make our efforts difficult.
In the first place, the Archdiocese of Washington is not a professional or full-time PR firm. Nor do we have endless monies to hire such firms. It is clear that, as we move forward, more monies, and fundraising are going to have to be done. We just have to get better at doing what is frankly, costly, complex, and requires great sophistication.
Secondly, there is also the problem of there being numerous fronts in which the Church must currently fight. There is Gay “marriage,” but there is also the HHS mandate, abortion and other life issues. Every year, the Archdiocese spends an enormous amount of money on the pro-life march. The Verizon Center is rented at great expense, as are other sites. There is also extensive time and money spent by the staff of the Archdiocese to coordinate with police and get marching permits etc. All the sophistication, fundraising, and coordination has taken decades to emerge. As we go forward other topics will require similar sorts of attention.
This brings a third point which is the pace of change. Many of the cultural issues have come upon us quite rapidly. Gay “marriage” has emerged as a credible threat, really only in the last five or six years. The HHS mandate, and the question of religious liberty, emerged only last year, though we have been fighting legal battles for many years over the attempts to exclude religious voices in the public square.
Fourthly we struggled to maintain a coalition with other denominations when it came to the gay marriage bill. While we are deeply appreciative of and respectful of the hard work done by many of the Protestant denominations, there remain some differences between us in the way in which we articulate and understand the problem of homosexual activity. The Catholic approach is to make careful distinctions between orientation and behavior. Many Protestant denominations do not speak with these distinctions, and sometimes consider the orientation itself to be sinful, not just the behavior. These differences have made it somewhat difficult, and or awkward for us at times to speak with a common voice and to stand together easily. The Catholic position on homosexual activity, and so-called homosexual “marriage” is clear but our pastoral practice is to maintain important distinctions, as a matter of pastoral practice and out reach to those who struggle with a homosexual orientation. All of this makes building coalitions, while not impossible, more delicate and difficult.
Fifth – teaching on this matter at the homily moment, as pastors were instructed to do can be effective, but also depends upon the capacity of preachers whose skills are often very uneven. It is a sad truth, that over the last decades, most Catholic priest instinctively avoid speaking about controversial issues, and as a body, have a poor skill set in addressing matters of controversy forthrightly and with charity. This is beginning to change with younger clergy, but the fact remains that when too much depends on the individual priest, the overall effect is very uneven.
Six – Another problem in using the homily moment, is a matter of time. Most Catholics have an expectation that the homily should be 7 to 12 minutes, no more. Setting forth the Catholic teaching on marriage, and why we oppose so-called gay “marriage” does not easily fit into such a brief format.
Of course then, if it is not the Homily moment, when can such information be given the people of God? Would they attend special seminars, would they come to a parish meeting? Not likely in large numbers.
Surely then we should use the Internet, and we have. But it remains a fact that most religious people, especially Catholics, do not get most of their religious information from the Internet. There are also email outreaches, flyers, bulletin inserts, etc., but frankly, most people no longer read much.
Yard signs etc. could have been more ubiquitous, as could have bus ads etc.
In the end however the greatest challenge, it would seem, is simply to get our own house in order.
Most Priests are well aware that increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones, have no idea why we oppose so call gay marriage. Further, marriage has been in such disrepair in the Church for over fifty years now that almost no one even knows what marriages is at all. Contraception, has shredded the meaning of sex and marriage and severed their intrinsic relationship to bearing children. Divorce has also shredded the meaning of marriage. Pornography has destroyed innocence and, after over fifty years of heterosexual misbehavior, most people think of marriage as little less than two adults being happy with or without kids, whatever they choose, for only as long as they please.
Yes, we have sown in the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. If most people merely think of marriage as two adults being happy for as long as they please, of course it is difficult for them to understand why to Gay people can’t get married. If marriage is not intrinsically about children in its fundamental meaning, why should it either be stable or heterosexual, necessarily?
Increasing numbers of Catholics, especially younger ones just don’t get it. Marriage of course is fundamentally about children, and takes it structure as heterosexual and stable because they are Integral to the meaning of marriage.
That is why marriages should be stable, lasting unions, and why divorce is wrong and why a child should have a father and a mother, because this is what is best for children. This is why contraception is wrong, why marriage must be heterosexual. But a lot of this doesn’t make sense to modern people who reject many if not all of these premises.
We have a lot of work to do to restore a biblical understanding of marriage.
Yes, even more than publicity issues, here is where the Church needs to do some very deep soul-searching. Too many of us clergy have said little over fifty years of heterosexual miss behavior, and deep misunderstanding about marriage has gone largely unaddressed.
When no-fault divorce railroaded through this country in 1969, it is hard to note that the Church said much of anything We were inwardly focused at the time, turning around altars, tuning up guitars, debating liturgy and authority etc. Yes, for over 40 years we have been inwardly focused and we lost the culture.
More than yard signs, or PR in this latest go-round, we have some serious repenting to do. We have not done in maintain the family or preserving marriage in the Church. We have been sleepy and distracted. It will be a long hard journey back to sanity in our culture, and to a good degree we must accept our responsibility for the mess we’re in.
This has happened on our watch.