Friday, July 27, 2012

Chick-fil-A & Chicago: A heads-up for the Church

Timing is everything. This maxim is especially the case if good is to prevail over evil. Whether it be personal sin or political tyranny, response to a crisis is most effective when it is done in the beginning stages. As the spiritual classic, the Imitation of Christ, cautions: “[W]e must watch, especially in the beginning of temptation; for then the enemy is more easily overcome, if he be not suffered to enter the door of the mind, but is withstood upon the threshold the very moment he knocks. Whence a certain one has said ‘Resist beginnings; all too late the cure.’”

What applies to sin in the spiritual order also applies to injustice in the political order. And just as with personal sin, when government is a menace to liberty it must be met with head-on at the outset.

If history bears witness to the fact that secular-liberalism, when unleashed, runs roughshod over human rights, then the HHS contraceptive mandate is only a harbinger of things to come. This mandate bids us to resist the social and political intolerance while there is time to do so. We can anticipate the State not stopping at coercing Catholic agencies to provide abortifacients and contraceptives to her employees. No. There is another demand that is turning out to be- and will certainly prove to be –a more pressing matter. Indeed, the political will to advance same-sex marriage and criminalize its opposition are much more emotionally charged than the demand for contraception. Enter Chick-fil-A.

Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president, also happens to be an outspoken Christian. And thanks be to God, he is not shy about the biblical doctrine on marriage. In fact, he publicly stated, “I think we’re inviting God’s judgment when we shake our fist at him, you know, [saying], ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ And I pray on God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try and redefine what marriage is all about.” Although Mr. Cathy is not a Catholic, this is certainly a position the U.S. Catholic hierarchy can support.

But to Chicago politicians, such a Christian stance on the meaning of marriage is intolerable. For this reason, Chick-fil-A is running into obstacles as it seeks to expand in the Chicago area. For instance, Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, complained that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”

In an attempt to speak for all Chicagoans, the mayor went on to express his political motives for trying to obstruct Chick-fil-A’s attempt to expand in Chicago:

“What the CEO has said as it relates to gay marriage and gay couples is not what I believe, but more importantly, it’s not what the people of Chicago believe. We just passed legislation as it relates to civil union and my goal and my hope … is that we now move on recognizing gay marriage. I do not believe that the CEO’s comments … reflects who we are as a city.”

Rahm Emmanuel is not alone. Chicago alderman, Joe Moreno, also echoes this aversion to the Christian position on marriage: “Same sex marriage, same-sex couples — that’s the civil rights fight of our time. To have those discriminatory policies from the top down is just not something that we’re open to. …We want responsible businesses.”

It is important to note, as many people already know, that this challenge to religious liberty and free enterprise is certainly not restricted to Chicago. The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, made his intentions clear as well when he said that Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. Indeed, not only is America being challenged in this respect, but other nations are as well. Gospel values, which, at one time were sanctuary, are no longer so. The more we read the news, the more we realize that religious liberty and freedom of speech is being eclipsed by the “right” not to be offended; especially as it pertains to sexual preferences.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Scotland, is taking this growing threat to religious liberty very seriously. According to a Catholic News Agency report, “[J]ust a day before the Scottish government announced it would legislate in favor of same-sex marriage, the archbishop predicted, ‘ I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out.’” Just like the early Christians who were accused by pagans hating the human race simply because they were unwilling to accept their unlimited number of gods, Christians in the twenty-first century will likewise be accused of hatred. In fact, they already are. Archbishop Tartaglia said, “I am deeply concerned that today, defending the traditional meaning of marriage is almost considered ‘hate speech’ and branded intolerant. Such a response is undemocratic, closes debate and is highly manipulative.”

Professor Robert George of Princeton once said on Relevant Radio that the legalization of same-sex marriage would be an unmitigated disaster. According to the CNA report, Archbishop Tartaglia gives us a few reasons why:

“[The archbishop of Glasgow] predicted that a change in the law could result in employees being fired for opposing same-sex ‘marriage,’ ministers and priests being sued for refusing to allow ‘wedding’ ceremonies to take place in their churches, school children being forced to attend homosexual history lessons, and couples being rejected as foster parents if they oppose the new legislation.”

What to do? Here, I mention short-term measures only. But they are very important nevertheless.

An honest assessment of the past twenty years or so indicates that the Catholic Church, at least in America, has been slow to publicly defend and join alliances with institutions and organizations whose religious liberties have been encroached upon by the State. Perhaps, a policy change is in order. An example that immediately comes to mind is the removal of Justice Roy Moore's monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court in November of 2003. I do not recall Catholics rallying behind him. In reality, the same secular tidal wave that had once swept the Ten Commandments monument out of the Alabama courthouse is now pressing up against Chick-fil-A and the Catholic Church.

It would seem, therefore, at the very least, it would serve the best interest of the Church if she were, in some official capacity, to denounce the Chicago politicians (and other foes of religious liberty) for not only opposing the Christian position on marriage but for attempting to limit free enterprise because of it. We should know by now that if this rising tide, so to speak, is not immediately dealt with- even though Chicago's intolerance of Chick-fil-A does not immediately concern the Catholic Church itself –such a crisis will undoubtedly overflow and do her harm.

Yet, the divine authority of the Catholic Church is still the greatest power on earth. We forget that Christ gave the Church authority to forgive and retain sins; to bind and to loose. But rarely does the Church bind and seldom does she retain sins. To be sure, the Church has so many unused weapons at her disposal. It is time that they be dusted off and used again.

Four short-term measures to consider:

First of all, it is not a bad idea for the Church to develop non-partisan- but politically honest –partnerships with those agencies that are being attacked for their support for Christian marriage such as Chick-fil-A. In hindsight, it is evident that we should have done this long ago.

Secondly, the pulpit on Sundays is a powerful venue for getting the message out. The threats to religious liberty and free enterprise is getting serious enough that Catholics ought to hear more about these threats during Sunday sermons on a routine basis. To be sure, to re-educate Catholics about the connection between socially liberal values politicians hold, and the unfriendly policies to religious liberty that are sure to follow, would be a most beneficial public service.

Third, Pope Leo XIII reminded Catholics in 1896, “Agreement and union of minds is the necessary foundation of this perfect concord amongst men, from which concurrence of wills and similarity of action are the natural results.” Unity of voice is but the necessary foundation for the communication of truth. As such, truth will greatly influence the minds of those who consider it. As to this latter point, a media blitz through press conferences by individual bishops within the same time period throughout the country will arguably draw considerable attention to the cause for freedom. And if possible, the media presence by the bishops- making radio and television appearances -will create a stronger impression that the public is in favor of religious liberty. Americans are forgetful. They need frequent reminders as to what is at stake.

Lastly, as alluded to previously, the U.S. Bishops, and Catholics who have a public voice, ought to name names in their indictment against the enemies of religious liberty. To do so is far from being unchristian. St. Paul did it with men who made a “shipwreck of their faith,” such as Hymenaeus and Alexander. St. John the Evangelist publicly drew attention to Diotrephes; a man who did not acknowledge his authority. And St. John the Baptist publicly took King Herod to task for his wrongful marriage. This way, politicians who threaten to close down Catholic agencies for not supporting same-sex marriage will more likely pay a political price; they may even think twice before acting. Furthermore, these same politicians- those who are no friends of religious liberty -ought not be allowed to step foot in a church or cathedral.

Let us learn from St. Ambrose of Milan, a Church Father in the fourth century, who publicly withstood Roman emperor Theodosius II at the cathedral door. It just so happened that the emperor had not yet repented from a serious sin. But after the saintly bishop pushed him away…away from the entrance, the Roman emperor yielded and did public penance.

Some of these short-term tactics are unconventional but they do have precedent in Church history. Catholic clergy and laity will have to think outside the box; and do so quickly. After all, timing is everything. “Resist beginnings; all too late the cure.”