Repent, secular heretic, and embrace the revelation du jour! Over the weekend, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke at a Human Rights Watch event, extolling the virtues of his running mate on LGBTQ rights and dismissing Donald Trump’s claims to championing their interests. Kaine took a detour from that mission, though, to offer a campaign promise unlike anything ever seen. Kaine, a Catholic, noted that his unconditional support for same-sex marriage puts him at odds with his church, but predicted that the Vatican would adopt the progressive gospel in the future:
“My full, complete, unconditional support for marriage equality is at odds with the current doctrine of the church that I still attend,” Kaine said at a dinner celebrating gay rights. “But I think that’s going to change, too.” …
Kaine said he wanted to be honest about his own struggles with reconciling his advocacy of equal rights with the teachings of a church that restricts marriage to a man and woman.
“My church also teaches me about a Creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said, ‘It is very good. It is very good,’” Kaine said.
“Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?” he added. “I think we’re supposed to celebrate, not challenge it.”
Let’s start with Kaine’s set-up on this issue. He refers to the Catholic Church’s position on marriage as “the current doctrine,” which makes it sound as though it was a recent development on a changeable practice. In Catholic theology, though, doctrine doesn’t change, even though practices can and do. Doctrine, once revealed in both scripture and the magisterium (a fancy word for teachings by the doctors of the church) and accepted by the Pope and the synod of bishops, remains unchangeable. Acknowledging it as doctrine contradicts the pretense that it is changeable at all.
Even putting aside the obvious contradictions to this claim that can easily be found in both scripture and the Catholic catechism (CNS News has a starter list of citations), recent events make it clear that the Vatican has no intention of opening up the sacrament of marriage for revision. The Synods on the Family, on which I reported from the Vatican during the opening session in 2014, only discussed same-sex marriage in the context of welcoming the children of such secular unions to the Gospel to ensure universal evangelism, while reminding gays and lesbians that they are welcome to join the church on the church’s terms, like any other voluntary association. The bishops rejected an attempt to allow for divorce and remarriage without a finding of sacramental nullity among heterosexual couples, let alone propose and discuss changing doctrine on the fundamental nature of marriage as a union of man and woman and a reflection of the creative power of Trinitarian life.
It seems that Kaine suffers from the same malady as Nicholas Kristof earlier this month, who mused in a New York Times column about whether Jesus would be Christian when he returns. “Jesus never focused on gays or abortion, but on the sick and the poor,” Kristof wrote. True, but St. Paul certainly wrote against homosexuality in letters accepted as canonical by every Christian denomination, and the Christian church has advocated opposition to abortion since the first century of its existence (in the Didache, among other teachings of the time). These also are not “current doctrine” but two-thousand-year-old doctrines in the church.
That’s the problem, according to Kristof. He quotes Brian McLaren in arguing that Christians should dispense with doctrine altogether, which is at least a more honest approach:
“What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?” McLaren asks in “The Great Spiritual Migration.” “Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”
In other words, Kristof and McLaren propose an end to faith and religious belief, and replacing it with philosophy. Philosophy has its uses, but it’s highly malleable, and in the end makes each person the center of their own morally relative universe rather than putting God at the center of the objective universe. To say that Jesus taught people to orient themselves in the opposite direction would be an understatement. We most certainly should endeavor to live our lives in a loving way, but we worship God, not ways of life — and the most loving ways of life are those that reflect both His truths and His charitable love. That worship of the Creator separates religion from philosophy, and requires doctrinal education to be aware of those truths passed to us through the Gospel of Jesus’ ministry, scripture, and the teachings of the Apostles.
Speaking of charitable love, I’d sneer at this attempt to fit Jesus into one’s own political perspective if it wasn’t such a universal impulse and universal failing, and one into which I’ve fallen at times, too. All those who imperfectly try to follow Christ and discern His will fall at times into the trap of measuring Jesus by our own yardstick, rather than measure ourselves to His. Rare indeed are the people who can resist that impulse, and those who operate in the public square face more temptations and incentives to do so publicly. As one of those who also work in that same marketplace, the episode of Jesus’ ministry with the stone-throwers and the sinful woman comes to mind here.
However, while we should recognize that fault within ourselves before judging others on it, we can certainly point out the error into which Kaine (and Kristof) fall. In this instance, Kaine’s talking through his hat, whatever his motives might be.