The Most Reverend Mark Steven Shirilau, Ph.D.
Archbishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Church
For the Healing of the
Feast of St. Cornelius, February 4, AD 2004
Today is the feast of St. Cornelius, the Roman centurion visited by Peter just after he had his dream in which he was instructed to eat "unclean" animals. Peter's dream, and his visit with a non-Jewish Christian, represent the beginning of Christianity's wrestling with inclusivity.
Perhaps coincidentally, but certainly prophetically, today the Supreme Court of Massachusetts reinforced its ruling that limiting marriage to different-sex couples violated the state's constitution. The court made clear that "civil unions" or any sort of legal mimicking of marriage without using the word marriage wouldn't be sufficient.
The court is correct. Without the term, the whole content is not captured, and inequality and exclusion still remain. You see, the fight is not just for a set of rights. Many people, including some gay activists, see it that way. But they sell themselves short in doing so. Marriage is not just about legal rights. To say that any number of rights, even the full set of rights achievable by marriage through both state and federal systems, is equivalent to marriage is to reduce a relationship to its financial component.
Marriage is about the heart. That is why only "marriage" will work. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are not the same, no matter how completely the laws parallel each other.
The two best movies in the last five years are Lord of the Rings #1 (Fellowship of the Ring) and Latter Days. The first is most famous. The second is obscurely playing now in only a few theaters. Lord of the Rings is great because it instills in us the vital nature of the quest for good. Although wrapped up in a fantasy world, the message that one must always due his best for the betterment of the world is very strong. Latter Days is great because it represents the two painful dysfunctions of our polarized society but also shows their ability to heal each other.
Latter Days is about a Mormon missionary (Aaron) and a self-focused playboy (Chris). They become neighbors in LA and end up falling in love. The miracle is that neither has ever loved before, but in coming from opposite approaches, they are able to show each other their defects. Aaron's family is so wrapped up in "family values" that they don't know what real family or real values are. Chris is so wrapped up in his world of outward gratification that he isn't even aware of his emptiness. The virgin and the slut are both loveless. Yet Aaron is able to teach Chris that real love comes from the higher purpose of life, and Chris is able to teach Aaron that real love comes from the emotions of the heart.
The power of this movie is far beyond its romantic love story (which is still very good) and is deeply embedded in its symbolism. Aaron is symbolic of all that is wrong with the conservative, so-called "religious" right. Chris is symbolic of all that is wrong with the liberal left. Both spend too much time looking with disdain at the other's errors and gloat in their own self-righteousness. Whether it is self-righteousness that comes from doing what one thinks God wants or from having declared personal independence is irrelevant. It is still self-righteous and it still inhibits love, and love is what God really wants from all of us.
In the course of a few weeks, Aaron and Chris manage to teach each other. We seem them both transformed from two opposite stereotypes into a healed and loving couple. This is fantasy, just as Lord of the Rings is fantasy, but it still shows what God wants of us -- each and every one of us -- and what God wants from our society as a whole.
If we are ever going to heal our society -- if we are ever going to be anything close to the Kingdom of God -- then we must bring about this healing. It cannot happen by fighting. It can only happen through love. No doubt it is easier for romantic love to overcome the barriers between two individuals than between the poles of a society, but God's Love is strong enough for the latter task. We must focus on that if we are to do God's will.
The conservatives are already decrying the Massachusetts decision. That is a battle they will eventually lose because the truth is not on their side. There is no logic to the premise that restricting marriage to one subset of the population will somehow "protect" the marriages of that subset. John and Sally's marriage is simply not damaged by letting Ben and Tom marry.
But the liberals are also wrong when they separate out the components of marriage. It is true that civil marriage and sacramental marriage have different functions and sets of purposes, but in the long run they really are the same thing with the same purpose. They are the joining of two hearts for the betterment of the world. That is why the government sanctions marriage and it is why God pours sacramental grace onto the couple. The sum is greater than the parts. It's not about "rights" or benefits. It is about purpose and duty. And most of all it is about love.
The conservatives are right when they say this as a dramatic change in the social fabric. Their only error is considering that a negative rather than a positive. Just as many first century Christians thought it was an error to allow uncircumcised pork-eaters into the Church, so many twenty-first century Christians think it is an error to allow gays to receive the commitment sacraments of ordination and marriage. In both cases these people are wrong because they are trying to limit God's freedom. That is blasphemous.
The last fifty years have seen dramatic improvements in our society's inclusivity. We have learned that other races are not intrinsically threatening. We have learned that interracial marriage is not evil. Now we are learning that same-sex marriage is neither threatening nor evil, but is one more means by which God makes our world more loving.
Both the conservative "right" and the liberal "left" are well-intentioned, but that is not enough. They must both learn from each other. Religions teach us higher purpose. We cannot abandon religion, the source of ultimate truth, just because it sometimes teaches narrow-mindedness. Liberal thought teaches us about God's exuberance in diversity and love of all. We ignore God's delight in diversity just because it challenges a moral code that was designed to set up boundaries. We must remember that Jesus broke through all of the boundaries, but He did it because of God's Love.
God is Love. That means that God is the sole and only Reason for our existence (as the conservatives see) and that Love is the sole and only reason that God made us (as the liberals see). When both sides really take that to heart, they will embrace each other, teach each other, recognize their own shortcomings, and become the people God wants them to be. Just as Aaron and Chris did in the movie.
Return to ECC Main Page