Private reaction to homosexuality is often something else, of course. The hearts and minds of those who believe, for example, that homosexual acts are sinful have by no means followed today's new rules of etiquette. But in public, few of us who hold such beliefs dare to oppose openly the claims advanced on behalf of "gay rights": claims by the openly homosexual that they should be entitled to head Boy Scout troops, serve in the military, direct employment benefits to their partners, adopt children, and even marry. As a contributor to several publications, I am very much conscious of the change myself. Criticism of gay rights, even in conservative media that once published it regularly, is now neither sought nor welcomed. Gays, many of whom are politically libertarian, "have so much in common with us," an editor told me.
On April 19, The New York Times religion columnist, Peter Steinfels, vividly drew attention to this sea change. He described his interviews with three Protestant theologians who are well respected for their work on religion and ethics, but whose support for the gay agenda is less than total. All have "articulated carefully modulated arguments for why Christian churches should not revise their teachings to bless same-sex unions or ordain gay men and lesbians who do not intend to live by their church's existing sexual standards," Steinfels wrote. Asked to tape interviews for a televised discussion of these questions, they all said no. And when Steinfels asked them why, "they sounded like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: Please, God, let this cup pass from me."
These theologians' views were far from conservative when it came to gay rights in the secular arena. One, for example, said that he basically supported the recently passed Vermont law creating a new form of "civil union" that extends to homosexual couples most of the rights and benefits of marriage. Nonetheless, all three theologians "expressed the fear that taking a conservative position on issues involving homosexuality" would eclipse anything else they might say, Steinfels wrote.
A recent incident at Tufts University further illustrates the issue. The Tufts Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Protestant student group affiliated with the InterVarsity Christian fellowship, was banned from using campus facilities and stripped of university funding after it refused to consider an openly lesbian member, Julie Catalano, for a senior leadership position. (The fellowship continued to welcome Catalano as a member.) A student governing body then voted to "de-recognize" the Tufts Christian Fellowship for violating the school's anti-discrimination policy. Curtis Chang, an affiliate chaplain at the Fellowship, pointed out to me in an interview that if this principle were applied uniformly, school officials would also have to prohibit "the entire Catholic Church, all Orthodox Jews, and all Muslims from being able to freely practice their religion."
The Tufts Committee on Student Life overruled the decision and reinstated the Fellowship--but not on the merits of its religious-freedom argument. The committee merely said the students had failed to follow proper judiciary procedures and sent back the case for reconsideration this fall. In a few months, the Fellowship could again lose its funding and official recognition. Meanwhile, who has spoken up to defend the Tufts Christians? Hardly anyone. The Catholic chaplain at Tufts in particular refused to speak out, saying that the dispute over leadership of a Protestant group was not his concern. When I mentioned to Curtis Chang the "fear" issue raised by Steinfels in his column, he said that he was "painfully and intimately familiar" with the pressure to conform to political correctness that prevails among college faculty. Chang declined to talk specifically about Tufts while the Fellowship's case is pending, but he did say, "I have 19-year-olds here who have displayed more courage than those three theologians."
Across the board today, people in leadership positions fear the wrath of homosexual activists. Editors are afraid, clergymen are afraid, politicians are afraid, business executives are afraid. A gay and lesbian organization recently persuaded Procter and Gamble to withdraw its sponsorship of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio talk show because she continues to espouse biblical standards of sexual morality. Other colleges besides Tufts are trying to force their InterVarsity affiliates to accept gays as leaders or move off campus. The attitude of the general population, overwhelmingly, is that it doesn't want to get involved. People are aware of "gay rage," and they want to avoid it. They don't want to be accused of gay-bashing or of undermining the rights of people who say they are not responsible for their own "orientation."
Despite the Catholic clergy's failure to come to the aid of the Tufts Christian Fellowship, gay activists are unlikely to enjoy the same success with the Catholic Church that they have with many Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church is universal, and its governing curia and College of Cardinals represent all parts of the world. The fear-instilling tactics of the activists have little impact outside North America and Western Europe. Most African and Asian Catholics take the biblical injunctions against homosexual acts seriously. So do many of their counterparts in other Christian churches. It was African bishops who thwarted a move two years ago to force the Anglican churches to bless homosexual relations at its Lambeth Conference in London. Arguing that such arrangements were "contrary to Scripture," the African prelates threatened to walk out.
By the same token, international governance makes doctrinal change with respect to homosexuality even less likely in the Catholic Church. Militant gays may succeed in intimidating theologians, university chaplains, and clergy here in America, but outside the complacently materialistic West, bishops and their flocks are standing courageously by the Church's traditional teachings on sexual matters. Pope John Paul II constantly reminds us, "Be not afraid." The Christians of Africa and Asia are providing edifying examples of how to follow that advice.