18 December 2009

A Report from the Cultural Front Lines

17 DECEMBER 2009. In an interview yesterday with the New York Times, the Mayor of Vallejo, California made the statement that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful. The Catholic News Agency (CNA) article on this storycan be found here.

The outrage, as you might imagine for an elected official from the San Francisco Bay area, is palpable and many are demanding that Mayor Osby Davis resign. But, here is the part of the story that really flies in the face of truth--beyond the false criticism that has been already levied at Mayor Davis:
“I don’t believe that [the homosexual] lifestyle is correct but that’s a decision that they have to make. I don’t stop loving them because they’re gay. [Mayor Davis continues:] They have to make a decision on their own. If I present something to them and they don’t want to receive it, okay that’s well and good. That’s not going to stop me from loving them.”
The pro-family organization Capitol Resource Institute (CRI) reported that the mayor's city, Vallejo, is divided in its reaction to the statement.
“Some have called for the removal of the mayor, the appointment of an openly gay individual to the Vallejo Human Relations Commission, and official recognition of an LGBT Pride month,” CRI said.
The group reported that many of the demands charge that the mayor’s statements violate church-state separation.
“And much of the criticism begins with the accusation that the religious community in general is motivated by hate,” the CRI added.
CNA, Dec. 17, 2009, available at http://www.catholicnewsagency.com (emphasis added).

The accusation that Mayor Davis somehow violated the separation of church and state is preposterous. To hold the opinion that no elected official may ever speak on a matter of faith is to say that faith has no place whatsoever in the public sphere. Not true.

Faith is very much an important aspect of the political and cultural complexion of our country. Each of us, in our faith life, apathy to a faith life, or even hostility toward faith, whatever the case may be, is shaped by those views and beliefs. When we speak in the public sphere that formation of ourselves is a necessary part of what we bring to public dialogue.

It seems that the criticism being levied at Mayor Davis is that he should not share views which challenge the views of others on the basis of trying to discern truth. If our elected officials cannot speak of what they believe is truth, then we had better call off future elections. In that world devoid of truth or principled leaders of faith, all we would need are bureaucrats to run government by implementing the policy choices made by the people directly. And, in this world, those bureaucrats should be good at exercising self censorship to purge their speech of all hint of disagreement with the majority, or any vocal minority that bullies its agenda to the political fore.

No thanks. In our country, the separation of church and state is meant to keep the state from sponsoring religious expression to the exclusion of other differing religious expressions. We believe, in the United States, that the plurality of views in the marketplace of ideas will see those views honed and fashioned through the competition for ideas to be heard.

State sponsored censorship of all religious expression, then, is nothing less than a perversion of church and state separation. Such erasure of faith from the public sphere, in a country where faith plays as important cultural role as it does in the U.S., serves only to protect the views of the faithless few from challenge by the views of the many faithful. Such absolute censorship of all views that may be contrary to the sense of right or truth that a few adhere to--in effect turning the competition within the marketplace of ideas into a stifled  collective conversation where the majority's ideas are termed "dangerous" just because they may by the power of truth push contrary ideas from the marketplace--is, in itself, a dangerous attack on the freedom of religious expression that is the foundation of our country.

How, you might ask, is such a dangerous position touted? By the false characterization of religious belief as hate. "Hate" is the word in the American dialogue that all shy from. No one wants to be hateful. Hate is the opposite of love. While love is accepting, so goes the flawed logic, hate is judgmental. Therefore, religious belief that is used as the basis to judge the conduct of people is grounded in hatred. Pronouncement of any act as sin, then, is hateful.


Truth is truth. Truth is not hatred simply because it provides the measure against which untruth can be clearly seen.

The Church has the authority to teach on matters of moral truth, and her followers and others who are in some way in communion with the Church, and all people of faith, have a right to express themselves in the public sphere.

Pray for our country and all governments that this principle may be given real effect.

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