Celibacy as Political Resistance

In increasing numbers, American Christians have come to realize that the ethos and ends of the American government often undermine Christianity and its institutions. Like other Western, secular states, the United States now seems antagonistic to religious institutions, threatening their capacity to form their members and to engage in the practices they need to grow and flourish. It seems more plausible now than in the recent past that Church and state will be locked in a long struggle.

Christians, however, have too often failed to recognize that we’re frequently swayed by the deep, romantic national identity that America fosters so well in its citizens. It and not the Church often sets the agenda. The calls for religious freedom very quickly focus on the rights of conscience, reinforcing an individualism that downplays the importance of the freedom of the Church to occupy public space on her own terms.

In response to the government’s decision to force Catholic institutions to comply with the new health care law, for example, one might have hoped for a strong, prophetic, and theologically serious response from a Catholic leadership that feels especially besieged by the Affordable Care Act. Instead, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gave us the feeble “Fortnight for Freedom.” In name (“Freedom”), time (concluding on Independence Day), and icon (the Statue of Liberty), the USCCB merged American mythology with Christian history. The bishops’ rhetoric suggested no inherent incompatibility between being American and following the gospel. If the new health care law were only more American, there would be no need to protest.

We need to use more than the weapons of modern political culture—the language of rights, for example—to make a cogent defense of the Church. Christians need to understand—on the Church’s terms, not the world’s—the challenges they face. Discipleship makes claims on the follower that differ from those made by the nation on the citizen. This is a lesson taught by the Catholic understanding of papal primacy and, perhaps unexpectedly, of clerical celibacy.

via Article | First Things.