Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George has weighed in again on the Chick-fil-A controversy, warning that poorly-framed public debates over marriage can become a “formula for tyranny.”
“Unfortunately, when the only permissible context for discussing public values is that of individual rights protected by civil law, then it is the government alone that determines how it is acceptable to act,” he wrote, responding to critics willing to discuss marriage only in the context of “civil rights.”
In fact, Cardinal George pointed out in an Aug. 6 online post, there are several different contexts in which the definition of marriage must be considered – including “the field of activities defined by nature and its laws,” as well as “the realm of faith as a response to God’s self-revelation in history.”
But many commentators in the Chick-fil-A debate seemed unable to address the question of marriage in these context, instead speaking only of “civil rights” granted by the government.
By framing the question of marriage purely in terms of government-granted rights, same-sex “marriage” advocates were giving the state a dangerous degree of power over the whole of society, Cardinal George warned.
“Every public actor – including faith communities – then becomes the government’s agent. This is a formula for tyranny.”
Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy was accused of anti-gay bigotry in July 2012 after telling a Baptist publication that the Atlanta-based company's leaders supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”
The controversy intensified in major cities including Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” Alderman Proco Moreno also said he would block the company from opening a restaurant in the city's First Ward.
In a July 29 blog post, Cardinal George said Emanuel did not have the authority to define the city's “values,” or to identify them with particular policies enacted by the government. He also questioned whether the mayor would consider Christ's own teaching on marriage as contrary to “Chicago values.”
As he revisited the topic Aug. 6, the cardinal observed that public response to his initial comments “fell into two camps.” Many readers supported the idea “that the government should be concerned about actions and not about thoughts and values.”
But some of these supporters “deserted the field of argument” when it came to the notion of “gender-free marriage” – which Cardinal George's first column described as an impossible contradiction in terms, “like a square circle.”
In Monday's column, the cardinal stressed that proposals for “gender-free marriage” could not be rightly evaluated through an exclusively political lens.
“Getting people to think outside the context of 'civil rights' is difficult. It’s as if Americans were forbidden to think beyond politics,” the cardinal archbishop observed.
“What is singularly peculiar about the 'gay marriage' argument,” he pointed out, “is the way its proponents dismiss the field of nature itself as in any way normative for human actions.”
“We would think it odd if the government, in order to please those who desire to fly without an airplane, were to repeal the law of gravity. If nature gets in the way of a new civil right to 'gay marriage,' however, that’s too bad for nature. This strikes me as bizarre.”
Religion, Cardinal George stressed, can also make a valid contribution to the common good on the same subject. “The God who created order in nature also reveals his plan for us in history; and the religious teaching on the nature of marriage is eminently clear.”
He contrasted this view with a form of secularism that would “dismiss any religiously based argument as simply private” and of no public merit.
While the debate over Chick-fil-A's Christian values may strike some observers as trivial, the Chicago Church leader suggested there is a real concern over how religious and moral viewpoints are portrayed by those who shape public opinion.
“When the government, the media and the entertainment industries agree to agree on how to use words and shape the argument, society itself is deliberately transformed,” he argued.
By controlling the debate over controversial issues like marriage, media professionals and governing authorities can “bring academics, judges, legislators, lawyers, law enforcement officers, newspaper editors, actors, psychiatrists, doctors and every other public professional into public agreement.”
“Anyone opposed to the new consensus, no matter the reason, is dismissed as a throwback to an earlier age, to be tolerated, perhaps, but removed from public life and, eventually, punished,” warned Cardinal George. “It’s a very old story.”