After rulings, it's time to preach love, not fear

The Supreme Court’s decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 have caused considerable consternation among social conservatives. Many seem to see this as the final nail in the cultural coffin — an attack on human life, Christian freedom and the very foundation of society itself.

I’m familiar with that point of view, and with the arguments that support it, but I think it misses the point. The Church has a long history of engaging in religious wars in an attempt to protect Christendom from external threats. Today, in America, Christians are engaged in a culture war to try to defend a Christian nation from falling into secularism. I would argue that we will necessarily lose this war, and that only by losing it will the Church be reborn in the third millennium.

To understand this, it might help to look at the very first holy war in Christian history. On the eve of the Crucifixion, St. Peter drew his sword to protect Christ from those who had come to arrest him. It is highly significant that the only damage that Peter succeeded in inflicting was to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. In his zeal to defend Christ, Peter wounded this man’s ability to hear the Good News.

Given that our first pope made this mistake, it should not come as a surprise to find the same pattern repeated throughout history. The best known examples would be the Crusades and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation. In both of these cases, the Church was motivated by fear of losing what it already had, and in both cases the result was an evangelical disaster. Muslims and Protestants may have been put to the sword, but very few were converted to the Faith.

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People of all sexual orientations deserve love. Thinkstock

The contemporary culture war may be relatively bloodless, but the fundamental error is the same: seeking to defend Christendom rather than seeking to spread the Gospel. The Church is called to be a fruitful mother who labors to give birth to the whole human race. It can’t play favorites. It can’t love its children only when they are obedient and come willingly under her protection. Nor is it necessarily true that the obedient child is always the best behaved. There is an analogy here that parents will readily recognize. We’ve all walked into a room to find our children at each others throats, screaming, yelling, possibly biting, and when we ask why one of them will claim that they were trying to uphold the rules of the house. Their sibling had broken one of Daddy’s laws, and so it was necessary to call the child names and deprive her of her favorite toy.

No parent approves of having their rules upheld in this way, nor is there any evidence that God approves of us doing the same. If God was truly on our side in the culture wars, we would be winning. The fact that we have been consistently losing suggests that we’re doing things the wrong way.

In recent years, the pro-life movement seems to have noticed this. We’ve seen that countries with anti-abortion laws on the books do not necessarily have lowered rates of abortion, and that trying to elect nominally pro-life political candidates rarely results in babies’ lives being saved. Efforts have therefore moved toward crisis pregnancy support and sidewalk counseling. Helping pregnant women to make the right decision by supplying them with the physical and emotional resources necessary to do so has proved much more effective than solely marching around in Washington, D.C.

It’s time to start applying that logic to LGBTQ issues. Passing a law against gay marriage will not prevent a single instance of gay sex or AIDS. It will not lead a single homosexual person to know and love God. If anything, by turning homosexuals into political enemies, we make it harder for them to know God as a loving father, or the Church as a loving mother.

We must put away the sword in order to allow Christ to heal the wound. We don’t have to deny the truth about marriage in order to begin this healing, but we do have to change the tenor of the discussion so that we are able to communicate love instead of fear. 

Melinda Selmys is the author of “Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism” (OSV, $15.95).