Monday, May 14, 2007

Dear Pope Benedict, Yes...and No

Pope Benedict succeeded in rallying the troops to assail Rome in protest of Italian legislation to provide rights to unmarried but committed couples, including homosexual couples.

The 1.5 million people who packed into St. John Lateran piazza exceeded Catholic hopes that 100,000 would come to support the Pope's protest of the legislation.

"Living together is not family," said Anna Manara, 58. "A commitment such as marriage cements the bond, while other models make it easier to be together and therefore end up making it less valuable."

Here we are again: your life makes a statement about my life.

I live a traditional life. I'm heterosexual, am married to my husband, live in the suburbs, and have two children and two cars. Oh, and we're white.

What do I know of bigotry?

I confess: I haven't walked a mile in shoes that face true prejudice (outside of a few incidents due to my gender).

However, I can understand and sympathize.

Also, I don't think that people who live together unmarried, people who live differently than I do have any sort of effect on my marriage---its strength, its meaning, its importance.

I'm not so easily led that "other models" affect how I view marriage, my marriage, or make it easier to not value my marriage appropriately.

I affect my marriage. I assign it meaning. I assign it relevance and importance. Then, I live that way within my marriage and family, and I truly believe that people respond to my marriage and family based on the tone I set.

In fact, I think everyone ought to have this same opportunity.

Maybe I am naive, but I just don't buy this reasoning that anything outside of a church blessed marriage between a man and a woman devalues marriage and must be stopped.

I think the Catholic Church is well within rights to determine that they do not accept, and will not recognize, homosexual marriage. Their stance is

The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage and the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships, but teaches that homosexual persons deserve respect, justice and pastoral care.

Although this smacks of the often misused and misapplied "love the sinner, hate the sin" thought combined with the dreaded "separate but equal" approach to homosexuality prevalent in today's society, I still can't argue that a private instituition ought to be forced by outside agencies to recognize and accept homosexuality.

I think most churches are misguided, but at least they are trying to preach, in theory, some slight degree of tolerance (if you can apply the word tolerance to such a conditional, limited, and unaccepting position on the issue).

The key in my mind is the word "private instituition."

Churches, religions are private instituitions.

There is a line---a confusing line, a shifting line---between how I live, plus my desire to elect officials who will promote my beliefs AND expecting that others must live as I do, or at least not get rights and privileges if they do not.

I suppose it goes back to my belief that in this matter, what you do doesn't affect what I do. I know it goes back my belief in the separation of church and state.

As an Italian politician said, "We can't continually consider legislation from the perspective of 'what would the Vatican think...would the Pope approve?' At some point as the government we have to consider, 'what is best for our citizens, what do they need, what would improve their quality of life?'"

I agree; that's the role of the government.

To block something that provides essential services, promotes improvement in quality of life for citizens...that's the real sin.

I don't support churches expecting that the government ought to bow to their beliefs. And I don't support churches promoting a chasm in society based on religious beliefs. That IS a real sin; it is at the foundation of some of the worst violence and tragedies.

And I will never support the idea, as one Catholic Archibishop put forth, that homosexuality is on par with pedophilia and rape.

Once again, we have a major religious group mistaking "attraction and passion between two voluntary, willing people" for "assault and attack on unwilling, involuntary victim."

If the archbishop had said, "I have a strict definition of what I consider sexual deviancy. This is sex that I---representing my Church---consider sinful, and against the word of God. In this category are rape, pedophilia and homosexuality." I would have disagreed, but not really paid any attention. To equate the three? Is abhorrent to me.

Not everyone believes the same thing. The Catholic Church is large, with many members, and has always been a powerful influence.

But not everyone is Catholic, and not everyone believes as Catholics do.

Lately every religion has felt compelled to come out with a Defined Stance on Homosexuality. It's not new, but many of the statements are. Regardless, not every member of every religion exactly agrees with the official religious statement on this (or even other) issues. Therefore, the Church isn't even necessarily speaking for the exact civil position of its every member.

I can ask, but I can't expect, that every person tolerate (real tolerate, not watered down faux tolerate) each person in his or her sexual orientation and relationship. Some simply will not tolerate that. And as much as it might sadden or gall me, that is within their rights.

However, to demand that the government operate, and require its citizens, to operate as this one part of this one church desires? Is not within their rights.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


Mama Drama Jenny said...

I'm right there with ya, sister.

Karen said...

Yes, the "it devalues true marriage" argument has always completely alluded me; I really don't know what they mean, to they point that I think it means nothing at all. In general people should avoid slapping a label like "Catholic" "Christian" or "Evangelical" on their particular point of view, because as ardently as they might believe it be that way, just as many completely disagree.

Magpie said...

Good rant.

thailandchani said...

Most organized religion is designed to reinforce a certain set of cultural values.

There is no logical basis for the belief that only one configuration of human relationships is a valid one.

I can't even begin to imagine why anyone would honestly believe that it is possible to "devalue" marriage. Most marriages fall apart anyway and the threat hardly comes from the possibility of gay marriage.

It's much easier to lay it on that doorstep than to look at the real reasons.



Julie Pippert said...

Jenny, that's good news!


Karen, yes, that's my exact issue with it. I can usually at elast play devil's advocate when thinkign throgh an issue and end up comprehending---if not agreeing with---the other POV(s). This one though totally eludes me.

The "forgo labels" idea is interesting.


Magpie, thanks!


Chani, I concur that religion is, and always has been, set up that way. Luckily the framers of the US culture learned from that mistake and organized a balance of powers. Then, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries that concept of "separation of church and state" (did T. Jefferson coin it? I creadit him with it.) has held up and held up.

ITA! That's exactly it...there is no LOGICAL basis for the belief in only one configuration of human relationships.

And the rest of what you say...god points.

thailandchani said...

Interesting. I would definitely say that organized religions in this country (as an example) use the pulpit to reinforce the values and customs of this culture. It is a function of the social system, rather than the government.

So.. while the balance of powers might work in the political sense, it doesn't work in the social sense.

As long as the majority of Americans adhere to one predominant religion, it is a feedback loop.

You see what I mean? :)

You have an entire population being brainwashed (conditioned is probably a friendlier term :) with one particular viewpoint.

Then they go to the voting booth.

And I'm not just picking on Americans. It goes on in every society and every culture on the planet.



Lawyer Mama said...

Julie - You are correct. "Separation of church and state" came from a letter Jefferson wrote while he was president.

I find it interesting and completely illogical that many who would impose their beliefs upon others through the government, will parrot separation of church and state if it is not *their* church or *their* beliefs at issue. The argument seems to be that, because the founding fathers were Christians for the most part, they didn't really *mean* to exclude Christianity from government, only every other religion and those that aren't *really* Christians.

Wonderful, thinking post!

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, no no...I agree. I know that ministers stand up on Sundays and say, "Go vote for..."

That's what I was talking about when I mentioned that fine, shifting, confusing line about voting for people who would stand up for my beliefs (which just happen to often be by total coinky dink contrary to what the religious right wants) versus using the power of the church to influence government.

IMO the Pope seems to think of himself as an actual political leader in Italy.

I think it is utter BS for a pastor to tell his congregation how to vote.

I did ask the priest at the last election what he said...and he said, "I say you must vote with your beliefs and is between you and God." Which is more or less what he often says about a lot of issues.

Now THAT I can be okay about.

My dad's though, says, "Go vote for (insert name of candidate here)." Boo Hiss.

I think people in the US have a right to voice their opinion (no I don't think it, I know much as sometimes I'd LOVE to shove a gag in their mouths).

I just get VERY hinky about churches organizing to influence government and elections. (This hinky nerve lies very near to the one that got all skeevy when Howard Whatis did that Vote for the Worst thing to screw up American Idol.)

My consolation is trying to recall the balance of powers, and believing in that, as well as in Independent Mindedness in which the pastor can spew all he wants, but people still vote according to their own conscience and issues above and beyond the church.

So I agree with you, although I will say that I don't think the religious leaders reinforce our culture, I think they fight against it regularly and try to impose their own religious culture (narrow) over the secular (broad) culture.


Lawyer Mama, thanks, whew, had a moment of "Geez, how big of an ass have I made of myself in how many places," moments, LOL.

Oh yes good poitn about the illogic in that. It's rationalization, is what it is.

And the framers of the US were so specific...I think they meant everything exactly as they did it, but I'm not a constituitional attorney, maybe I'll leave that argument for the experts. I don't mean "no room for interpretation," I just mean "don't put words in their mouths." If that makes ANY sense.

And yes, as usual, it means people want the world done their which I say, "be careful what you wish for."

jen said...

i echo the comments here - i too don't understand how other people's love detracts from anything about mine.

slouching mom said...

Not to mention that the argument that alternative arrangements can't be construed as "marriage" because they don't promote procreation is specious.

Plenty of married couples choose not to have children.

NotSoSage said...


Oh, believe you me...this one got hashed and re-hashed up here when the federal government legalised same-sex marriage. Both Joe and I come from Catholic families: his is very conservative, mine is very liberal.

The worst is seeing two people who hate each other but got married because they were "knocked up" and are making everyone involved absolutely miserable who then say, "It devalues my marriage..." No, the only people devaluing your marriage are you and your spouse.

Dawn said...

Ms. J,

I totally agree with you. Thanks for your well thought essay on the subject. Nicely done!


thailandchani said...

Julie, I see your point but will say this much... :)

A lot of preachers do that, they instruct their "flock" directly about voting and political issues. Others do it more subtly by promoting a certain worldview. When that worldview becomes dominant, it will reflect in people's political choices.

If you look at the overall picture, that worldview is promoted fairly consistently in every media outlet, even novels.

At least this is how it appears to me.

In light of that, the real solution is in deconstructing the entire worldview.



Rach said...

I love what you write about only you (and your husband of course) being able to influence and affect your own marriage. I also love the views that challenge this bigoted nad outdated view. Well said, you!!

K said...

"Here we are again: your life makes a statement about my life."

OMG, I couldn't even finish your essay without saying-my husband said the very same thing to a friend regarding this issue just a couple of weeks ago!

Now back to finish!

K said...


A couple of weeks ago during the pastoral prayer, our assoc. pastor asked God to help us fight our tendency to shut out diversity-in color of skin, nation of origin and sexual orientation.

The flip side of pastoral leadership is that sometimes it takes awhile for the flock to get it. The leadership of our church definitely promotes an inclusive worldview, but then I will hear church members in Sunday school classes say the exact opposite and I want to scream "Do you people ever listen?!"

Christine said...

It just drives me CRAZY when the Catholic church (or anyone or any group) claims that gay marriage is somehow "devaluing" heterosexual marriage. The two partners in a marriage make or break it--no one else. I'm with magpie--good rant.

Bones said...

As a Christian, I genuinely struggle with what to make of homosexuality. I know what the Bible says about it, and I’ve heard it explained a thousand different ways.

I met a guy who spoke to me with open candor in a way that no person (including my wife or my parents) has ever spoken about their biggest secrets. The guy, who is a Christian, and I were talking about "the gay issue" as we often refer to it in evangelical circles. And this guy looked at me and said, ya know, I struggle with an inappropriate form of sexual attraction. I assumed he meant he was attracted to men, and he blew me away. He said that since he was around 20, he was sexually attracted to children. Not men, not women, but children. Women or men his own age don’t “do anything” for him the same way a woman doesn’t “do anything” for a gay man. He has zero sexual attraction to adults. But the idea of sex with children, boy or girl, for him, is what gives him arousal.

I was completely blown away at his candor.

He went on to say how ashamed his is by it; how it drives him to have suicidal tendencies; how he struggles with self-loathing and self hatred; how he’d never acted on it physically or even electronically, but the attraction is there undeniably. He’d done everything from intense psychotherapy with drugs and shock therapy to prayer to exorcism. It’s just what he struggles with, the same way a kleptomaniacs have a pathological need to steal.

Meeting him radically altered my view of homosexuality. I have many close friends who are gay and living in committed relationships, and I’d never judge them for it. I have one gay friend who chooses to live in celibacy due to his faith, and I don’t judge him for it, either. If the guy I just described, who is in essence a non-practicing pedophile acted on it, of course I would judge it. And I’m not saying I’m putting his attraction in the same category as a homosexual attraction. But it did offer some interesting perspective.

At the end of the day, the Bible is about love. It all boils down to loving God and Loving others more than yourself. It’s supposed to be an active love that incorporates good works as evidence that your heart is in the right place. So, I’ll punt on the “gay issue.” I’m not going to say if it’s right or wrong, because I don’t really have to. All I’m supposed to do is love my neighbor; gay, straight, or non-practicing pedophile.

Mary-LUE said...

I have always been what might be considered a rebellious conservative Christian. For some reason I have always been uncomfortable in that place where faith and politics come together.

To piggyback on what Bones said, I always felt that trying to legislate certain things was not as important, or even wise, as loving people, listening to them, caring for them, sharing with them the Gospel.

I don't know why I am this way. It wasn't because I was raised to think outside that box. I just do. However, I do think the issue of what happened in Italy is more complicated than it might at first seem. The papal office was a huge power for hundreds of years--and still is. Historically, it held a lot of political power in Europe. While other European countries have transitioned more into a "secular" state, Italy's proximity and history with the Vatican make that transition much more difficult, I think. Regardless of whether you think it is the right direction for the country to go, I think it is a journey that is going to be a more difficult one.

I also think taking some time to understand what goes behind some of the political motivations of people of faith would benefit the discussion. Many, many people are taught that this country was founded as a Christian nation. Believing that, they often believe that America should come from a Christian perspective.

There are also many, many people who don't think America should come from a Christian perspective. They are as vocal about this as those who believe the opposite. This is scary for people who think that their religious freedom is going to be taken away. They are afraid that they are not going to be allowed to believe what they do. So, out of their perspective about America's foundation and their fear, they fight hard to have this country be a certain way.

I was actually taught something different (at a conservative Christian college, no less). I was not taught that this country was founded on Christian principles. While the Puritans fled here to escape religious persecution, by the time the Constitution was written, there was as much concern about political and financial freedom as there was about freedom to practice Christianity without interference. The founding fathers didn't foresee or even intend that prayer would be disallowed in schools, etc., but they also probably never conceived of the diversity of beliefs that the United States would eventually house. I don't think they anticipated all this. It is our responsibility to make sense of all this today, in our culture, in our world.

It won't be easy. It won't always look the way either side wants it to. But it is just the way it is.

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I guess the difference, then, lies in how much of the bathwater each of us believes needs to be thrown out, KWIM? Like I said in my original post there is that line. And I do have my own beliefs, which often coincide with my religion. I do believe in always being conscious and considering about my beliefs, and never, ever have considered myself part of a flock lead by the shepherd.


Rach, thanks...yes, I have really come to learn how much of the tone you do set. If you think about it, what is marriage? Only what we make of it, right? If I don't believe in it, in my vows, then what is it?


K, clearly your husband is of a great mind! :) People all come to issues with their own perspectives, of course. I think sometimes they might say what is expected while feeling quite differently. But it's good, I know, to provide the continual example of inclusion and maybe eventually it does open minds and hearts.


Christine, thanks! Yes, obviously I agree. :)


Bones and two deserve a whoel post of reply. But let me see if I can---and forgive me, I'm already ging over my schedule here so I'll have to be more brief than I like.

Thanks to you both for such wonderful, thoughtful, and great replies. I had to sit and think a bit about them. I love that.

Bones, I have thought and thought about what I would have said or done in your shoes in that conversation. Whereas on the one hand, I accept that we are all people wanting and needing love, on the other hand...when it is a sort of drive that creates real victims in its wake...

I admit in this I have an empathic failure.

I respect his continued attempts to not act on his urges.

I think you make an excellent point that in the end, it is moot: the point is to love your neighbor.


Mary, I think it is (or should be) easy to be uncomfortable where faith (or rather, by my meaning: religion) and politics come together. Upon reflection, that is EXACTLY what this post---and my continual reference to that confusing line---is about.

And this ought to have been the thesis statement, "I always felt that trying to legislate certain things was not as important, or even wise, as loving people, listening to them, caring for them, sharing with them the Gospel."

Reading your occured to me that (possibly as a Christian) that the ideas behind Christianity and their applicaiton in society aren't what troubles me (and probably are not what troubles most people).

A couple of points to that:

* the concept of many laws comes from religious principles

* throwing out an idea simply because it can be labeled Christian is an unproductive throwing out of the baby with the bathwater IMO

The trouble is USING the Christian label and principles to PREVENT, and EXCLUDE, which is generally what happens. You don't hear a lot of Christianity being used to provide unconditional love or better quality of life in politics.

No, you hear the opposite, usually.

My POV about this is probably formed in a few ways:

* descending from involuntary immigrants

* growing up among tremendous diversity

I remember one time asking my Jewish SIL (after we moved here) if the continual Christian celebration in public school troubled her...didn't it bother her to take her kids to an EASTER egg hunt at school?

She tried to explain, and I admit I didn't get it at first.

When I did get it, her point was really that she had trust in her family and their beliefs, and the intent wasn't exclude or disrespect. The kids had fun, and there was no religious meaning attached, no significance. It was just a fun egg hunt. Excluding them on her own would have been more harmful.

I see her point now.

Catherine said...

I've thought a few times that the state should outsource marriage to the church (or other religious body) and not even get involved. I don't know. I'm sure that would have just as many problems?