Acceptable Christianity

“The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over.”

Take a close look at that statement. Take another moment to ponder its meaning.

Those are the first words of Princeton Professor Robert P. George from his recent address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. A sobering statement from a man The New York Times Magazine calls “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.” (Another group notes his “anti-gay ideology.”) In subsequent comments, George explains the basis for his thoughts.

St-Liborius-Church_144802_2I’m not a Catholic but I recall a time in this country when Catholics sincerely respected their church’s doctrinal positions on common issues including questions of birth control and abortion. I remember a time when it wasn’t unusual for a husband to say apologetically, “I know the Church doesn’t approve of birth control, but we can’t afford to feed another child.” Or a woman might sadly admit, “The Pope says abortion is a sin, so I’m doomed to Hell.” These were people who cared deeply that their personal actions didn’t match up with the teachings of their church.

Then culture found itself on shifting sands …

No matter how ingrained the doctrines of the Church, people daringly ignored the counsel of their religious leaders, knowingly defying church teachings. Over time, a religious divide separated “practicing Catholic” from “cultural or lapsed Catholic;” that is, between people who adhered to church teaching and others who were raised Catholic but had abandoned doctrinal constancy. For the latter group, church teachings were dismissed, creating a disconnect between church life and daily life. One was irrelevant to the other.

Professor George references this cultural shift that is (and has been) transforming society. This societal transformation insists: marriage is for all. But the professor bravely challenges that cultural orthodoxy. I agree with him. If marriage is for all, then it’s for no one, the concept is rendered meaningless.

In his prayer breakfast comments, George challenged his audience to consider fidelity to the whole Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ – because “Marriage is inseparable from the gospel … “ Christians may choose one or the other but he maintains a tepid, socially acceptable Christianity is no longer possible.

Recent news provides abundant examples of how this new cultural orthodoxy compels our fealty. Former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned under pressure in April after his misstep into heresy (donating money to the 2008 campaign for California Proposition 8, a one-man/one-woman marriage initiative). Heretic! How dare he?!

Entrepreneurs David and Jason Benham paid a price for their stance on traditional marriage. (The Benham brothers were terminated from their starring roles in an HGTV reality show.) The Benhams exemplify Professor George’s warning that the “costs of discipleship [are] heavy costs … [sometimes] burdensome and painful to bear.”

Professor George also challenges the cultural orthodoxy that elevates abortion to the level of sacrament. If it’s defensible to abort (kill) a fetus in the womb, how does that differ from destroying a six-month-old infant or a three-year-old child? George challenges his students (and generally, all Americans) to reconsider the logical coherence of abortion.

I was thinking about George’s address when I came across a news article today. This was the story of an Australian woman who gave birth to conjoined twins with a rare condition, diprosopus. The twin girls share one body but have symmetrical faces and separate brains. During the mother’s pregnancy, she was advised to abort after an ultrasound revealed her daughters’ unusual plight.

When reading the DailyMail report, what struck me was a headline on the Current Affair video (pictured below). It reads: Baby born with rare disorder causing two faces.twins

Baby! Not twins, not two little girls, but the singular word, baby! Such a disconnect as this reminded me how the multiple aspects related to so-called “reproductive freedom” have robbed us of our inherent and individual humanity. (And I refuse to engage in any debate that suggests because these children are differently formed from other children that somehow they’re not entitled to the same human dignity and protection as we all deserve!)

Professor Robert P. George observes that “Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the Gospel—ashamed of the good, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”

Yes, as Prof. George contends, I believe Christians will either be devoured by the current cultural orthodoxy or decide to take their stand for an unequivocal Gospel (in all its aspects) … because personal comfort is no longer an option.

Renée