April 11, 2015 § 9 Comments
Catholicism was perhaps the first or the most prominent religion to be known for its half-hearted followers, where we get the term “Cafeteria Catholics”. But I think all religions have their cafeteria believers, adherents inclined to pick and choose which doctrines to follow and which to ignore. This of course results in an incomplete theology that inevitably leads to self-contradiction and irrationality. And it acknowledges no authority but the cherry-picker’s.
In my town, just this past week, Dowling Catholic High School refused to bring volunteer track coach and substitute teacher Tyler McCubbin on full-time(1) because he is openly gay and engaged to another man. Postmodern culture is ripe for a response of surprise and dismay to a Catholic school desiring to remain consistently Catholic by insisting that its faculty hold to Catholic teaching on human sexuality and marriage. And predictably, folks were surprised and dismayed at Dowling.
As a private religious institution, this central Iowa school is protected in principal by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and by the exception for religious institutions under Iowa’s Civil Rights Act(2). Legally, they are allowed to hire or fire anyone according to their Catholic beliefs, and they can require faculty to hold to those beliefs as a condition of employment. While the applicant may claim to be Catholic, his views of sexuality don’t line up with orthodox Catholic doctrine, so that puts him out of the running. Rationally, if Dowling Catholic High School did not limit its hiring to Catholics, that would open the school up to Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists. Morally, if Dowling abandoned its Catholic principals on sexuality and marriage, it would be abandoning principals that the Church has held for centuries and the world has held for millennia—not to mention God’s original revelation in Genesis 2:24 which both Church and State have historically recognized. Legally, rationally or morally, Dowling’s stance is the only one that keeps the school consistently Catholic. Is Dowling’s cessation from orthodoxy what the surprised and dismayed crowd want?
The non-Catholic progressives objecting to Dowling’s decision probably don’t care how the school projects its faith. Their agenda doesn’t really require the pondering of theological consequences. They want to jump at the opportunity and check off another obstacle to complete allegiance to the new moral revolution, where erotic liberty trumps religious liberty, and religious freedom is synonymous with discrimination and bigotry(3) (Religious freedom laws will likely be the the next target, as the recent stink over Indiana’s RFRA law indicated).
But what about Tyler McCubbin? Or the hundred or so Dowling students who staged a walk-out to peacefully protest the school’s discriminative hiring policy(4)? Or to the Dowling alumni, presumably also Catholic, asking the school and the Church to change? Aren’t these religious folks pondering the religious implications of their protest? Here’s where Cafeteria Catholicism comes in.
McCubbin reveals his understanding of the theology relevant to his case when he summarizes the school’s position: “What’s so shocking is in an institution where they preach tolerance and love and respect for everyone, no matter what your background is, they don’t uphold to those teachings.” What’s really shocking is that he doesn’t know or remember that Catholicism preaches more than those three things about this situation. It also teaches that homosexuality, and any other deviation from God’s plan for human relationships, is a sin, that marriage is for one man and one woman, and that love actually requires speaking the truth. Those were left on the buffet, so this applicant is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.
What is the ideal final goal these protests hope to accomplish? With the utmost cordiality, I respectfully posted a question like this on the new “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” Facebook page(5). A couple students and alumni responded that their pie-in-the-sky would be a gay-friendly hiring policy and a “safe space” for LGBTQ students at Dowling. I then asked if any space would be considered “safe” if the school still taught that homosexuality was a sin, and how such a change in hiring policy would settle with students when it also allowed Mormons, Muslims and Atheists to teach at Dowling. Immediately the comment thread disappeared and I was blocked from the group. Contemplating the endgame was too much I suppose; with the holes in their theology, continued rational discussion was not possible. These students and alums are apparently Cafeteria Catholics.
Openly gay Iowa Senator and Dowling graduate Matt McCoy has encouraged supporters of Dowling to close their checkbooks until the school changes its policy(6). He says of his alma mater, “They have many faculty members that are divorced. They have many faculty that have been involved in extramarital affairs, they have turned their head to other issues in society.” To that I would suggest that another wrong doesn’t make those right. IF faculty members are currently pursuing divorce or involved in extramarital affairs, the answer should be MORE consistency with Catholic doctrine, not less. Where there is hypocrisy, the solution is not to grow it. Mr. McCoy is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.
The teachers and administrators at Dowling Catholic High School are not perfect. (There was at least some inconsistency evident in the screening process that allowed McCubbin’s gay lifestyle to go unnoticed when he was subbing, though arguably substitute teachers have less of an impact on students and may see less scrutiny as a result.) As an evangelical Christian I differ with Roman Catholics over some pretty fundamental doctrines because I believe they contradict what what the Bible says, particularly on matters of salvation, purgatory, the authority of the Pope, and the sole authority of Scripture.
But in terms of living consistently with one’s faith in a country founded on that right, no religious institution should be held to a standard of perfection (“All have sinned and fall short” anyway—Romans 3:23), but we should see a present pattern of striving for righteousness, systematic theology, and resistance to compromise. For those quick to speculate on the past sins of Dowling’s administrators, do they really expect a Catholic school to further its inconsistency and give up Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage? Some have expressed a hope that the Church itself will eventually change its opposition to homosexuality. But to expect a religious institution to change its theology on one or two things but keep the rest (for now) is to be totally okay with inconsistency, which is the appetite of “cafeteria faith”. Ultimately it leaves you hungry.
2) Chapter 216 Civil Rights Division (216.6, Section 6D)
February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
For world-class champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, it is apparently easier to score hundreds of athletic victories and beat cancer than it is to beat peer pressure. Lance was recently asked if he would use illegal drugs to enhance his performance if he could do it all over again. Lance replied, “If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again.” This is not to excuse his choice, but it’s a parable of how hard it is to do the right thing counter-culture, when “everyone’s doing it.”
In a story about deception in athletics covering this and the over-inflated “Deflate-gate” that overtook the media before the Super Bowl, Fox News’ Gerri Willis asked notable Christian author and pastor John MacArthur what he thought about the state of honesty in American sports. I couldn’t find a transcript, so I made my own from a video I found on YouTube, because I think MacArthur’s response is worth reading.
GW: “Is there no expectation of honesty anymore from our athletes? With us now, John MacArthur, Senior pastor at the Grace Community Church in CA. Pastor, welcome back to the show. What happened? Should we have no expectation of honesty in sports?”
JM: “Do we have an expectation of honesty everywhere else in this culture? Sports aren’t certainly going to set the standard for ethics; they’re not going to set the standard for morality. I mean, it takes seven officials to basically rule a football game because guys are working so hard to break the rule and not get caught, they have to have that many people to find them. There are replay booths, and you know all of the things that go in replay. They try to find out the reality, because you really don’t want to just ask someone, because you’re not likely to get the truth. It’s a culture full of deception, full of lies. It’s a part of who America has become, and it’s simply reflected on every level. There are things to this culture far more important than the truth, and that’s really sad, because that’s when society begins to break down. It shows up in business, with all the scams and all the false business practices and all the cheating and scheming. Look it happens to people who are cheating on their income tax… you might find out the IRS is cheating on the other end. It’s part of the fabric of a post-Christian culture.”
GW: “The tragedy in this in many ways is that kids really look up to these professional athletes. I think that Lance Armstrong was followed by small kids… and all of these professionals, really, they just attract all these kids. How do we deal with that?”
JM: “Let me put it this way: We’ve got all the wrong heroes. Nobody knows Lance Armstrong. Nobody knows Tom Brady. When I say that, [I mean] the vast number of people in the world who see them on a flat screen, they don’t know these people. So the heroes are people who do something. What we need are heroes of character, heroes of integrity, heroes whose lives are righteous, virtuous. Heroes who sacrifice themselves for the sake of honesty and decency and truth and who make a difference in the world because of their character. That is why the church is so critical. That is why the Bible is so critical, because there you have a transcendent, divine standard of ethics, behavior, morality and righteousness that isn’t just up for grabs. It’s a fixed set of absolutes, and when they’re in place and everybody lives to that level it makes a difference.”<
GW: “What I think is so interesting in what you’re saying right now is there is this defining down all the time [of] what’s acceptable, what works, what we’re willing to put up with. Do you think what’s going on is because we’re so divided? There was a Fox News poll, and I want to get your reaction to it. The question was, “What best describes America today?” 73% of the folks said a dysfunctional family. Do you agree with that?”
JM: “Well, absolutely. I would say if you don’t think we have dysfunctional families in America, you’re probably in a dysfunctional family and can’t see the reality of it. The family is the building block of culture, the building block of society. It’s how truth, integrity, goodness, values, virtue is passed down from one generation to the next. And as the family is literally disintegrating before us with massive amounts of divorce, people living together without being married, making kids live in fear of what their future is, kids home alone being raised by these flat screen media personalities… Of course the family is breaking down. And with people wanting to redefine what is marriage, what is a family, it is a disaster. And as the family breaks down, the building block of civilization, culture, society that protects us with virtue disintegrates.”
GW: “You know, I think what’s interesting is we also just fail to communicate with each other, I mean on a very basic level, because we are that dysfunctional family that can’t talk to each other, that doesn’t trust each other. That basic communication and trust that you would normally like to see just isn’t there. Do you agree?”
JM: “I absolutely agree, Gerri, and it’s because we do have a deceptive, lying culture. Lying is okay. Deceiving is okay. You can lie if you’re a politician, if you’re a senator, if you’re a congressman. You can lie if you’re the president, you can cover the truth, you can send out deceptive information. You can lie if you’re a professor and you want to do a revisionist view of history so that you can change the morality of a generation of young people. You can lie if you can get away with it in your business. We reward lying and deception. We have allowed ourselves to think that anything is okay if it gets me what I want. And when truth isn’t the seal that holds relationships together, you can’t trust anybody. If you can’t trust anybody, you can’t respect anybody, and if you can’t respect anybody, you can’t have a relationship that has any meaning.”
“We’ve got all the wrong heroes” indeed.
“All have sinned and fall short…” (Romans 3:23)
A previous post I wrote about Lance, Thor and Ideal Heroism:
For more from John MacArthur, visit GTY.org