I got scolded good and proper at the Vatican conference on man-woman complementarity this week. In an article for Breitbart News I named some of the participants in the conference.
I asked around and no one knew there was an embargo on the identities of the participants. Indeed attendees were busy emailing and Facebooking the names and even pictures of the participants in that packed conference room at Paul VI Hall inside the Vatican walls.
I wasn’t the only one who got in trouble. A major pro-family leader received a phone call scolding him because of the way he had characterized the conference in a press release. He said something along the lines that the conference would set the liberals straight about what the Vatican believes about marriage.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Our crime was being off message.
The concern was that the conference would be pegged as a conservative event. It makes sense that the Vatican would prefer it that way. Though organizers included conservatives, it was a Vatican event, sponsored by various dicasteries including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And the Church quite properly is loath to present the teachings of the Church as either conservative or liberal. What’s more, conference organizers do not want to scare away potential allies who might consider themselves other than conservative.
And it is possible that “complementarity” might mean something other than what pretty much all of the speakers at the conference said it means. Almost immediately Daniel Horan published an essay at America scolding the conference for not presenting a diversity of views on complementarity and used the Pope’s own conference talk to make his case. The Pope said, “When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” See, complementarity is not a single thing.
Interestingly, many conference speakers addressed this issue pointing out that complementarity isn’t “fixed” or unchanging. The point of complementarity is that men and women fit naturally together but also give to each other aspects of themselves so that the man becomes more like his mate and she more like him. As one speaker said, eventually one plus one equals one.
Still, unless you are willing to fudge Church teaching or at least wink at heterodoxy, something called “The Complementarity of Men and Women” might be characterized as conservative because it not only excludes the same-sexes but also presupposes certain unique male and female ways of being. Exceptions were noted. Janne Matlary, the former foreign minister of Norway, said she never liked playing with dolls. Still, nature allows for exceptions and these exceptions do not change or even challenge the norm.
It wasn’t just the topic that set off alarm bells. There was also personnel. Head of communications was Helen Alvare, a law professor noted for advancing social conservative causes like pro-life and traditional marriage. Speakers included evangelical Pastor Rick Warren, Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, plus Archbishop Charles Chaput, and many others hardly chummy with the Commonweal-National Catholic Reporter-America set. Or the Washington Post.
And so, not surprisingly, on the evening of the first day, the Washington Post pointed out that participants in the conference came from the “conservative side of the spectrum.”
Another fiction, one that is persistent in the man-woman marriage argument, was that the conference had nothing to do with homosexuality. And that is true as far as it goes. Homosexuality was hardly mentioned. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brought it up.
Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told the story of math-computer whiz Alan Turing, who cracked the Nazi code during World War II, but was later convicted of homosexual behavior and given the choice of prison or hormone treatments to stem his homosexual desires. Sacks said though we should not return to those “dark days” we nevertheless should not cave in to calls to change the definition of marriage.
In fact, besides Sacks and maybe one or two others, in all the long hours and days of the conference and the few dozen speakers, the word homosexual was hardly breathed.
One of the funny things about the LGBT crowd is they always think everything is about them.
Profound narcissism aside, though, the LGBTs know quite well that all this talk of complementarity must necessarily exclude their couplings. Zack Brown of ThinkProgress certainly got it. He tweeted, “I can’t hear about how men and women are ‘complementary’ without hearing ‘gay sex is icky’ … gay people exist, and we are complementary with the same gender. Just ask us! We’ll tell you all about it.”
They even saw right through the Pope. They had such high hopes for him. A particularly odious blogger named Jeremy Hooper wrote, “People keep telling me that this Pope is new and different and more accepting. Only thing? Just this morning, at the big marriage and family conference currently underway in Rome, he gave a whole speech about marriage being only one man and one woman and how his peeps need to resist any other form.” He accused the conference of “attacking my family.”
There are limits to messaging. In the end, everyone pretty much knows who you are and what you are talking about.
It’s true: the conference was one long beautiful meditation on how men and women uniquely fit together and how this is agreed upon across cultures, across the globe and across faiths. It was also about something else.
A soft-spoken Taoist woman lectured on the Yin and Yang, not the two Yins or the two Yangs.
She made it clear that two Yangs aren’t complementary. They can’t be. Two Yins can’t make a baby. Two Yangs can’t make a family. This does not denigrate or demean them or their relationships. It is simply a beautiful truth that was discussed in depth at the Vatican this week. But totally off message.
(Photo credit: Salt and Light Media)