While resting at home yesterday with my cold, I managed to make it most of the way through my new issue of First Things, my absolute favorite conservative Catholic magazine. One article from this month's issue is available on line: Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism, by a Father Raymond deSouza.
DeSouza writes about the gay rights struggle in Canada from a traditionalist Catholic perspective. He bemoans what I celebrate, namely last year's extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. But DeSouza's real concern is the uncertain fate of a "clergy exemption" under Canadian law. Instead of merely extending the civil right to marry to Canadian GLBTQs, the courts in Canada (according to DeSouza) are well on their way to insisting that those rights be recognized by religious bodies as well:
The public policy goal of rooting out discrimination against homosexuals has opened a huge new area of civil life to the power of the state, as it now seeks to regulate the socializing policies of schools, the practices of private businesses, and perhaps even the preaching and teaching of churches... First it will be churches forced to rent out their halls and basements for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception. Then it will be religious charities forced to recognize employees in same-sex relationships as legally married. Then it will be religious schools not being allowed to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage. Then it will be a hierarchical or synodal church not being allowed to discipline an errant priest or minister who performs a civilly legal but canonically illicit same-sex marriage.
Canada has no inviolate First Amendment to safeguard religious freedom, and DeSouza concludes that with the likely erosion of religious liberty on the issue of homosexuality, totalitarianism will triumph:
A full-fledged totalitarian state recognizes no limits to state power. There are no spheres where the state is not competent to act. But before totalitarianism triumphant, there is the totalitarian impulse, which may be understood as the ambition of the state to extend its authority to realms where it has no authority. The totalitarian impulse is a threat to democracy because it seeks to overturn the democratic value of limited government. The totalitarian impulse necessarily seeks to limit religious liberty...
There are no restrictions on freedom of worship in Canada today. Canadians can practice their faith unmolested by the state. But increasingly, full participation in civil, commercial, and professional life is requiring that religiously grounded beliefs be left at the door. The threat is coming not only from courts and legislatures, but from tribunals, regulatory bodies, and professional associations. The gay marriage issue has attracted most of the attention. But the threat to religious liberty reaches much farther. It reaches toward everything, as in “totality.”
Though the progressive within me winces at Father DeSouza's use of "totalitarianism", I confess I concede him his point. I very much want gay marriages to be legalized by the state; I also want Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army to be able to refuse to hire gay couples. I want firm anti-discrimination laws in the public sector; I want churches and church schools and hospitals to operate according to their own faith traditions, and not according to the ethics of the state. I favor a firm quid pro quo on the issue: the churches do not question the authority of the state to legitimize whatever relationships the state feels are appropriate, and in return, the state allows the churches to refuse to recognize those relationships as legitimate. Will this lead to chaos? No. It will simply be one healthy step away from "Constantinianism". It is both unrealistic and unbiblical (not to mention unhistorical) to expect congruence between the laws of the church and the laws of Caesar. The sooner that the churches (both Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative) begin to see themselves as "resident aliens" in Caesar's country (the phrase is from Hauerwas, my hero as many of you surmise) the better.