bioIn my post yesterday I referenced the response of some conservative Christian ministers and leaders to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage announced last week. A Chicago news report noted that Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich, on Sunday, July 5, urged Chicago’s Catholics to adopt “mature and serene reflections as we move forward together.” Cupich noted that the Court’s decision had “redefined civil marriage.” He also said that the Catholic Church has “an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons.” But, he added, “It is also important to stress that the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church. In upholding our traditional concept of marriage, we are called to support those who have entered into this sacred and loving bond with God and each other.”

Can you not see the striking difference in both wording and tone in the archbishop’s response and that of stridently conservative evangelicals and Catholics in other parts of America? I believe that every word he spoke must be weighed with great care. I feel sure that he crafted them with this intent. He is saying:

1. The church has not redefined marriage thus this recent action is a civil one, not an ecclesial one. (The Catholic Church is not going to be swayed in its understanding of marriage by culture!)

2. The Catholic Church is not going to launch an all-out war against those who enter into such a civil marriage but these marriages are not sacramental and thus not defined as Christian marriages.

3. We should love gay people and civilly married couples and we must protect their dignity as fellow citizens and neighbors.

4. Finally, we need to engage in “mature and serene reflections as we move forward together.” This, to me, is his way of saying we the Catholic Church does not plan on using the tactics of cultural warfare. The church is here to minister to people, not to drive them away. At the same time he is saying that our view of marriage is unchanging as a church.

To draw out this fourth point I will quote from Archbishop Cupich.

This will be especially important for the members of our own Church as we walk together, respectful not only of the political demands of equality, but above all else, guided by the higher claims of divine revelation. Our aim in all of this will be to hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God.

 I believe that Archbishop Cupich has spoken well. He has maintained the church’s understanding of marriage as God’s sacrament, not as a civil arrangement decided by the courts. At the same time he has clearly affirmed human dignity and Christian love for all our neighbors. He has also urged his fellow Christians who disagree with the church to love one another. And, finally, he has plainly taught his flock how to do all of this in a most gentle and Christ-like way. I cannot do better. Thank you archbishop.

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  1. Andy July 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Is your understanding of Christian marriage sacramental? If so, do you take this as meaning that (1) Christian marriage is a means by which we share in grace, or that (2) Christian marriage is a sign of (pointer to) God’s redemptive activity, or something else? My (rough and ready) understanding is that Catholics tend toward (1) while Protestants at best incline to (2), and that these are significantly different. So I’m wondering whether the way we understand “sacrament” here is going to affect whether or not this line will be helpful, especially to Protestants.

    • John Armstrong July 20, 2015 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Andy, I lean toward #2 but not strongly. I see truth in #1 as well. Protestants, in reaction in the 16th century, did not want to make anything a sacrament unless it was instituted directly by Jesus, thus only Eucharist and Baptism. I believe Jesus blessed marriage, given at creation, with a unique blessing and presence that makes it a gift for the church to give to those who wed in grace, thus it is sacramental.

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