This has been a wild weekend. The Supreme Court handing down its decisive ruling that marriage is malleable was not surprising, but it created an air of certainty and solemnity to the fact that proponents of a traditional society—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-religious alike—have lost their voice in our culture and in our laws.
A few days later, on the Catholic calendar, we celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, both martyrs of the Roman Emperor Nero. Biblically faithful Christians often point to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1, as a key text for determining the immorality of homosexual actions. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to argue that St. Paul is not condemning those acts. However, immediately following his powerful condemnation of lust, St. Paul gives a stern reproof to those who judge themselves to be better than their neighbor.
Herein lies the great paradox of Christian teaching. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself.” The Christian must simultaneously condemn sin as being contrary to God’s will and one's own well-being, yet recognize that he himself is a sinner and deserving of God’s punishment. Thus, he is called to forgive his neighbor, turn his other cheek, be careful of casting the first stone, etc., etc.
To one who is not well versed in the Christian tradition, these two legs of Christian teaching can be separated and then become deformed. If one thinks “Judge not” means you can’t speak on moral issues, then relativism becomes the law of the land. St. Paul has no problem with condemning actions, as seen in chapter 1: “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Rom 1:32). Yet, if one thinks condemning sin equals moral superiority over his neighbor, or if he sees himself fit to be a judge of others, Paul chastises him. “Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (Rom 2:3).
Just as God is totally merciful and totally just, so we as his creatures must reflect that in our moral judgments. Christians must preach the mercy of God and how they have experienced it in their own lives and how they continue to rely on it. We can be missionaries to those who want happiness in their lives but suffer from the unhappiness caused by their choices that contradict God’s good design.
No one is totally free from sin, says St. Paul. No Christian is able to be unsympathetic concerning passions and desires that draw us away from the love of God and neighbor. But because we fall short, we know we need a savior. In this way, all men and women are equal in God’s sight. “There is no partiality with God,” says Paul (Rom 2:11).
The stakes, though, are high. “Wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. . . . But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good” (Rom 2:8,10). That is why now is no time to give up on the culture. The culture is made of souls in need of salvation just like everyone else. We who have experienced God’s mercy have a real obligation to tell those who need to come to know Christ the Savior.
God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:3-7).
Now is the time to preach the Gospel of mercy to all those who have never heard it presented lovingly, confidently, truthfully, and faithfully. The harvest is ready because the mores of the day will not lead to personal fulfillment and happiness. We know that only God can provide that. All Christians are called in their own lives to be preachers in the spirit of St. Paul to all who will listen. And may all Christians have the courage of St. Paul, when he was faced with ridicule and ultimately, the sword.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.