I read an interesting article this morning which, in all honesty, needs to be read for any of my reflections to make sense. It was in the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, and the editorialist reported on her “read” of the most recent decision of the Episcopal General Convention to approve of same-sex unions:
This week, when news broke that the Episcopal Church voted to approve services blessing same-sex relationships, I had a couple of thoughts. First, “Hooray!” And then — *record scratch* — “Wait. They got to vote on marriage equality?”
In the past year, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians all had the opportunity to vote on equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. And though the outcome was not always favorable for the LGBT community, the fact that they voted remains the same. Each of these denominations has structures that are vastly different — and dare I say more democratic — than our own institutional Catholic church.
Now I don’t want to go bashing the Episcopalians or anyone else (including the author), but this take on the issue was, in my view, most curious. Far be it from me to disapprove of democracy – John Paul II explicitly endorsed democratic government in Centesimus Annus, 46, saying, “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices…..” So I’m certainly not disapproving of democracy.
But, for a good Catholic, that phraseology of “they got to vote on marriage equality” implies something far beyond political democracy. Marriage is, for Catholics, a matter of divine teaching in Scripture, in Tradition, in teaching of the Church’s pastors, and even a sacrament instituted by God Himself! It’s a matter of sacred doctrine – the teaching of God. The question is not political democracy, which the Church openly endorses, but whether we should endorse doctrinal democracy!
I am struck with the question: is there really such a thing? Of course we might discover truth in a community (such as the scientific community), but we don’t decide by vote what the truth is! Addressing precisely this concern, Pope Benedict XVI famously asked a rhetorical question in a 1998 press conference, “Is truth determined by a majority vote, only for a new ‘truth’ to be ‘discovered’ by a new majority tomorrow?”
A democracy of “truth” seems to be a complete oxymoron. One has less freedom when one believes complete nonsense. One is impeded from exercising all sorts of choices and seeking opportunities. We certainly don’t allow “democractic” views of truth to shape our daily lives. It’s precisely, for one, contrary to science and technological progress – both are founded on objective, repeatable, and public truth with a capital “T”. Case in point: we make it a point of public good, apart from philosophical considerations, that children are taught accurate science in school. It would be a disaster if we were to teach, for example, creationist anti-evolutionary conspiracy theories. Where would we be – how free would humanity be – if mankind never took to the moon in rockets and disproved the theory of the crystalline firmament? Where would we be if we maintained that we are free to believe that electrical shock or cyanide will not kill us? Where would we be, more realistically, if we continued in our “freedom” to believe that childhood vaccinations would severely handicap children, as many believed at one point in recent history?
Truth is not determined by majority vote, and nobody acts as if it were.
Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as we know from the Gospels (John 14:6). His existence and His voice calling to you right now in your heart are not a matter of majority opinion – they are facts as objective as (and maybe more than) any of those in scientific study. The Truth is what Jesus Christ brought to mankind and why He sent the Holy Spirit – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). The Spirit is a channel for the voice of Truth, which Christ speaks to us.
Even more so, the Church, founded in the same moment as Christ sent the Spirit to mankind, has as its mission not merely to do nice things, but, as the Great Commission reminds us, to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19, KJV). The voice of the Church is an echo of the voice of that same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She is mute outside of that.
Democracy is lovely because it brings in many voices to public decision-making. But that’s precisely why it fails to apply to doctrine. Doctrine is the voice of Christ calling us to believe in Him and His Father, to submit our whole lives to Him in love. It is the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to me the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, speaking with the voice of Christ alone. If I bring in many voices, I no longer am listening to the voice of the Divine Shepherd:
2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”[…]
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:2-10)
Whose voice am I listening to?
[this article was copied from its original placement on preachingfriars.org]
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Dominic, OP