The struggle over the meaning of marriage is leading to, or has perhaps already led to, a struggle over the freedom of the mind–freedom of thought and speech. So we are reminded by Ryan Anderson in his new book, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.
As Anderson warns, some American figures–not content with having gotten the Supreme Court to redefine marriage in the name of the Constitution–now seek to suppress dissent from the new orthodoxy. He brings forward as an example of this way of thinking Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Writing last spring, Bruni condemned Biblical religion for its teaching on sexual morality. He ended his column by quoting approvingly from an activist who had said that “church leaders must be ‘made to take homosexuality off the sin list.'”
We should pause for a moment to note the ignorance in that remark. Mainstream Christian Churches–most especially the Catholic Church–do not teach that homosexuality is a sin. On the contrary, the Catholic Church at least has gone out of its way to remind people that homosexuality is not a sin, although homosexual acts are. That is, a disposition of one’s passions cannot be a sin, although the acts prompted by the passions may be.
But ignorance and misrepresentation of Christian thinking are pretty commonplace. So what is really striking is the suggestion that somehow churches will have to be made to change their teaching. This is a remarkably illiberal policy to be endorsed in the country’s leading liberal newspaper.
Bruni’s principles, if followed impartially, would swallow up all freedom of thought and expression. The reason churches should be made to change their teaching on homosexual conduct, Bruni suggests, is that the teaching is troubling to homosexuals. But if we make a principle of that kind of argument, then we are committed to the idea that no one should express an idea that bothers anybody else. And then freedom of thought is at an end.
These are the stakes in the ongoing argument, and I commend Anderson’s book as a guide to the issues.