Would Jesus Defend Marriage?

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL

It was a controversy tailor-made for the TV cameras: A lesbian couple in the liberal bastion of Boulder, Colorado, had enrolled their children in a Catholic parish school, only to see those children denied re-enrollment once the parish priest learned of their home situation.

When the story leaked last week, Boulder's vociferous gay-rights activists mobilized to protest the priest, the parish and the Archdiocese of Denver, brandishing signs outside the church that plaintively asked: "What would Jesus do?"

For the reporters breathlessly covering the story and many Catholics, the answer was obvious. Jesus would allow the children to stay in the school. He would tell the teachers not to worry about the conflict between their duty to teach Catholic doctrine on marriage and their desire to protect the feelings of students being raised by a couple that flouted that doctrine in a particularly obvious way. The solution, he would say, is simple: Drop the doctrine and focus on feelings.

At least, that's what the Jesus of our contemporary imagination would say. He has a habit of endorsing what we wanted to do anyway, especially when it comes to sex. And unlike that intense and unsettling figure in the Bible – the one who talked about marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life – this Jesus never talks about tough choices or objective truth. He's all about hugs, rainbows and doing what feels right – a sort of human Hallmark card in Birkenstocks.

Appealing as this Jesus may be, his do-your-own-thing dogma has its drawbacks in the context of Catholic education. For starters, it's difficult for Catholic schools to justify their existence when their organizing principle is fidelity to a milquetoast figure with such malleable teachings. And it's difficult for students at Catholic schools to understand why they should be willing to suffer ridicule for defending their faith when so many of their pastors, parents and teachers are not.

It's no coincidence that after nearly half a century of Catholic education based largely on the Hallmark Jesus rather than the real McCoy, many Catholics have reacted with indignation to the Boulder situation and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput's response to it. An articulate defender of Catholic orthodoxy with almost as many media critics as former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, Chaput described the Boulder pastor's decision as an appropriate application of the archdiocesan policy that requires parents to "subscribe to the school's philosophy" – including what Catholic schools teach about marriage – if they wish to enroll their children in archdiocesan schools.

"Many of our schools also accept students of other faiths and no faith, and from single parent and divorced parent families," Chaput wrote in his Denver Catholic Register column this week. "These students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions. Our schools, however, exist primarily to serve Catholic families with an education shaped by Catholic faith and moral formation.... If parents don't respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church."

And unlike that intense and unsettling figure in the Bible – the one who talked about marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life – this Jesus never talks about tough choices or objective truth. He's all about hugs, rainbows and doing what feels right – a sort of human Hallmark card in Birkenstocks.

Anyone who thinks Chaput exaggerates the threat of weak Catholic identity at Catholic schools should look at the recent study of Catholic college students by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The study suggested that Catholic students at Catholic schools may fare better than those at secular schools in retaining the faith. Yet their levels of Mass attendance and support for Catholic teaching on marriage and abortion are more likely to decrease than increase during the years they spend on a Catholic campus.

Disciples of the Hallmark Jesus may consider that encouraging news. For those who want their children to learn a more robust and countercultural form of Catholic Christianity, the Boulder decision was a necessary step toward reconciling belief and practice, even in the hard cases.


 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Colleen Carroll Campbell. "Would Jesus Defend Marriage?" St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 11, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.

THE AUTHOR

Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network.  Her website is here.

Copyright © 2010 Colleen Carroll Campbell




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