SAN FRANCISCO -- Whenever an African-American church is burned by hate, whenever graffiti is smeared upon the walls of a synagogue, then priests and ministers and rabbis link arms to denounce "hate crimes." Yet throughout American history -- and to this day -- love crimes have been a larger preoccupation of many churches. On March 7, California voters will consider Sen. William "Pete" Knight's Proposition 22 which would restrict the state's definition of marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
Though some mainline Protestant churches have denounced the initiative as malicious, many other churches are supporting the Knight Initiative, particularly fundamentalist Protestants, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and my own Roman Catholic church.
If, nowadays, it's homosexual love that disturbs church leaders, in earlier years the injunction was against miscegenation. Only two years ago, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Conference apologized for their long support of segregation. And there still are odd-ball Protestant sects -- notably Bob Jones University -- that adhere to the color line: Thou shalt not flirt with anyone outside your race.
Poor Governor Bush! When he recently appeared at Bob Jones, he thought he was only flirting with the Christian Right. By the next morning, the press corps had pronounced him wedded. The buzz was that the Texas governor had alienated northern Catholics by consorting with Rome-hating, bible-belt Protestants.
While it's true that an old antagonism separates Roman Catholics from fundamentalist Protestants like Bob Jones, it is also true that in their public elaboration of "family values," the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the faculty of Bob Jones U. sound alike.
A stumbling block: I must admit to a personal sense of scandal in all this. In San Francisco, the gay capitol of California, Archbishop William "Bill" Levada has lifted a hefty amount from the collection plate and placed it on Number 22. Levada's generosity with other people's money is all the more demoralizing because the Archdiocese is staggering from legal costs incurred by the misbehavior of sexually dysfunctional priests.
I cannot think William Bill's purple hat should have been tossed into this particular political ring. But there it is. I am more scandalized as I regard that hatful of money than I am by any number of child-molesting priests; any number of childish sermons.
"Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: He likens them to sheeps' clothing." (Catholic Catechism.)
As a homosexual and a Roman Catholic, I have long noted the refusal of my church to grant me a claim on the word "love." All my life I have listened to sermons which pointedly describe homosexuality as "life-style." But homosexuality is not a life-style. It is emotion, Physiological departure from homeostasis. (Roughly translated: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.")
The wish to describe marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman says nothing about marriage, or nothing positive; rather, it attempts to define marriage by exclusion. The Catholic church has long maintained that homosexual couples cannot provide an "outward sign" to the community (which is how the Church defines sacramental marriage).
From the Catholic catechism: "What does the sign consist of? It is the simplest imaginable: the mutual promise and the life in accordance with this promise. Hence the form of the sacrament is no particular juridical formula taken by itself, nor the marriage ceremony, by itself, but the will to belong to each other in love and fully chosen loyalty, till the day of death."
I remain a Catholic. I am yet convinced of the charity of the Church.
The Church is charity is it not? If it is not, it is nothing. Nevertheless, I am no longer able to observe that the hierarchy of the American church exercises any moral authority. Once the Church resorts to a secular persuasion -- substituting legality for morality -- then the American church has abrogated its deliberative and teaching function to Judge Judy.
Mormonism, once a cowboy religion, now represents itself as a global religion. Not so long ago, however, the Church of Latter Day Saints relegated the African to an inferior tribe. It required a private revelation from God to enable church elders to read the writing on the wall.
Today, Mormons favor a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman (note the singular). But in an earlier century, Mormons suffered mightily for their adherence to an eccentric version of family values that went by the name of polygamy.
Evangelical ministers, Mormon elders, Catholic bishops -- none of them have sufficient moral authority to stem the tide of divorce in heterosexual America. But it's not only that one in two marriages is ending in divorce.
Many Americans are forming unions and, indeed, families without churchly sanctions.
The Catholic church, the Mormon church, the evangelical sects are powerless to prevent such sacramental unions. They only hope to deny legal benefits of marriage to homosexuals. But can these churches describe a sacrament legally and hope to retain a moral authority?
Homosexuals look to corporate America to uphold -- through "domestic partners" benefits -- an inclusive description of human fidelity. Meanwhile, William "Bill" Levada and William "Pete" Knight and Bob Jones III, backed up by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in full throttle, link arms to assure the electorate that the greatest commandment boils down to: Thou shalt not love.
Copyright © 2000 Pacific News Service.