“A question to conservative Christians on gay marriage: Why draw the line here?” is the title of a recent op-ed by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. The Post’s resident liberal Catholic is referring to oral arguments earlier this month by lawyers representing a Colorado-based graphic artist and evangelical Christian who does not want to create wedding websites for same-sex couples. In what Dionne claims is a question neither naive nor rhetorical, he asks: “Why do conservative Christians want this exemption in the first place?”
Dionne’s question, which he also poses as a (very brief) argument, goes something like this: yes, conservative Christians are opposed to homosexuality on religious grounds; but they are also opposed to adultery and divorce. And yet, asks Dionne, where are the cake bakers and website designers who are refusing to provide their artistic services for adulterers and divorcees? “Why the selective forgiveness? Why the call to boycott only this one perceived sin?” Dionne demands to know.
The answer, says Dionne, has to do with “cultural predispositions,” not religious faith. Though he does not extrapolate, I presume he means that some people just find homosexuality “icky.” Such people have largely come to terms with the proliferation of extramarital sex and divorce, but they retain their bigoted prejudices against the LGBTQ+ community. I find that analysis deficient.
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First, as conservative pundit David Harsanyi has noted, the case of designer Lorie Smith is about compelled speech, not lifestyle choices. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a custom cake or website celebrating an extramarital affair or a divorce. “Congratulations On Your Affair” is not something one typically emblazons on confections. “Check out my custom website celebrating my divorce” is not an exhortation one hears from friends or coworkers. And, as Harsanyi posits, it’s doubtful Lorie Smith or Jack Phillips would agree to make such products.
So, Dionne’s claim of an alleged double standard collapses. The recent Supreme Court case does not, at least necessarily, demonstrate “selective forgiveness” on the part of Lorie Smith. The website designer does not want to be coerced into crafting a piece of art—her speech, as it were—that would violate her conscientious, Christian beliefs.
Yet there is another component to Dionne’s observation that merits further discussion. He writes:
We do not see the same ferocious response to adultery as we do to same-sex relationships. Heck, conservative Christians in large numbers were happy to put aside their moral qualms and vote twice for a serial adulterer.
Setting aside the unique legal cases of Smith and Phillips, Dionne’s comment does have some merit to it. According to Gallup, more than 80 percent of white evangelical voters went for Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Conservative Catholics also predominantly voted Republican in that election, though the total Catholic vote split down the middle. If the Republican candidate had been gay or queer, would evangelicals and conservative Catholics have so strongly supported him or her (or “them” or “hir”)? To Dionne’s point, my guess is no.
Why is that? Why have so many evangelicals and Catholics, despite their vocal criticism of adultery and divorce, been willing to support a politician guilty of both? The answer, I would propose, is not primarily cultural, as Dionne believes, but theological and anthropological.
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Holy Scripture has harsh words when it comes to homosexuality. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” we read in Leviticus 18:22. Later in the same book, homosexual behavior is labeled an offense guilty of death (Leviticus 20:13). In Judges 19:24, it is called “vile.” St. Paul calls homosexual urges “dishonorable passions” and homosexual behavior “shameful acts” (Romans 1:26-27).
For this reason, Catholic teaching has definitively condemned homosexuality. We read in the Catechism (§2357):
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
What the Catechism helps us understand is that homosexuality is not simply an offense against God, it is an offense against nature (there’s the anthropology). Men and women possess physical traits—namely, gametes and sexual organs—that are procreative in function and oriented toward the opposite sex. Homosexual acts are disordered because they abuse the procreative and unitive functions of sex in a manner that inverts and corrupts the natural purpose of the human body. The Catechism helps us understand is that homosexuality is not simply an offense against God, it is an offense against nature.Tweet This
When a man commits adultery, he sins. He dishonors his wife, his marriage, and his God. But he still engages in a natural act, albeit one that he has twisted to serve his own selfish impulses. When he chooses to divorce his wife, he likewise sins. But he has not done something unnatural—rather, he has illegitimately invalidated a contract between him and his wife that was made before God and man. That decision is worthy of censure and even, potentially, ecclesial discipline, but it does not undermine his very body or the natural order.
I’d wager many evangelical and Catholic Christians, albeit inchoately, appreciate this distinction. They recognize that all of these things—homosexual acts, adultery, unjustified divorce—are sins condemned by the Bible and/or Holy Tradition and the Magisterium. But they also appreciate that there is something more deeply problematic about homosexuality.
At some level, perhaps, as Dionne says, that represents a cultural aversion to it. Though even there, it is a cultural aversion borne out of a biblical anthropology. “We just don’t do that sort of thing,” as folks in another, recent era would have said. Sadly, though Dionne calls himself a Catholic, he seems to know neither his Bible, his Tradition, or the teachings of his Church. He, and all those deceived into condoning what the Church explicitly condemns, are deserving of our prayers.
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