Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Redefinition of Rights?

A reader posted a thoughtful and interesting comment on the Referendum 74 post this morning. I was going to just respond to that post personally but as I thought about it throughout the day, I thought I would write a separate post about it.

Here is the comment: Sister – thank you very much for your thoughts on this. While I agree that what you say is the truth, I struggle with the issue of using political means to obtain religious ends. “Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.” While true, the secular world treats it as a contract and will continue to do so no matter what it’s called (marriage, civil union, etc.). As you pointed out in the video, people wonder why they need a piece of paper to tell them that they’re married. Restoring marriage won’t change this attitude of secular society, they will only see it as redefinition because they see marriage as a contract, not a covenant. The Church gave up control of marriage when it allowed civil authorities to perform marriage ceremonies outside the Church and without a priest; regaining control in this realm is unlikely.

Should the Church continue to proclaim the Truth and insist on marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman? Yes, it should. Will doing so cause civil authorities to adopt this definition of marriage? Most likely not. Even if civil authorities DID adopt the Church’s definition of marriage, it would be a semantic victory only: adoption agencies would still adopt children to same-sex couples, civil authorities will still perform “civil unions” for same-sex couples and traditional marriage will still be regarded as a contract by the vast majority of secular society. Referendums will not produce the change of heart necessary to alter people’s thinking about marriage (and abortion, and contraception, etc.); only by accepting Christ and the teachings of the Church will people’s hearts change.


I think this person makes some good points here that I will address and add some things maybe we can think about more deeply.

Is Referendum 74 a political means of obtaining religious ends? To answer this question I think we would have to closely examine the role of the church and state. We in America have a severe allergy to any seeming encroachment of the church upon the state and vice versa. And in a certain, sense, rightfully so. The church needn't dally in the business of , say, the day to day economic decisions of the government, and nor does the state have have any business legislating morality of its own making. Is marriage between a man and woman merely a religious good or is it a societal good as well? Is this issue merely about control of marriage or about something much deeper?

I think the commenter is right when he mentions that even though the church continues to proclaim that marriage is a covenant, not a contract, the plausibility of the state adopting that definition is slim. True. Even if we overturned Roe v Wade today, it doesn't mean that people would automatically refer to the creation inside the womb as a child, many people would still choose to refer to that creation as "a bunch of cells". Law do not produce change of heart, indeed.

However, language, words and laws do matter. For when a law is passed, it is deemed by the people as permissible and ethical. People put faith in laws. Symantics and words that are used do matter. The state's job is to enforce and create laws that are ethical, not create ethics themselves. They do not have the wherewithall to do such things. The church is the guardian of what is moral and ethical, we do not create ethics either- only interpret and safeguard the teaching of Christ.

At the heart of the new evangelization is the person-to-person witness. As we authentically stand up for the truth, we spread the light of Christ.Yes, we may lose this temporal, legal battle with the state over its desire to "redefine" marriage but the truth is that marriage will never be redefined. No one has the power to do that. As we engage in the respectful proclamation of the truth, it at least forces people to look at what they really believe; consider how much discussion has come out of the healthcare mandate debate.

Many people criticized Mother Teresa for her seemingly worthless work with the poor. They criticized her for working person to person and caring for the sick and dying. They told her she was wasting her time and that she would never cure poverty doing something like that. But she kept going- remaining attentive to the individual person, igniting the fire of Christ wherever she went. She knew the dignity of the person and she never gave up. We too, will never give up. We will be mocked, scourged and crucified but we will never give up for we know the deep dignity of every human person.

Thanks for all of your thoughts, comments and questions.

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