May 9th, 2012 is a significant date in this nation’s history. That is the day President Barack Obama, just beginning a re-election campaign against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, announced he supported legalizing same-sex marriage (notably, Obama was pressured to make this statement after his Vice President, Joe Biden, said publicly a few days earlier that he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage). The date’s significance comes not from a presidential candidate making a calculated decision to shore up support from his base; that occurs every election cycle. It is significant because on that date millions of Americans became bigots overnight.
Of course, no one actually transformed into a bigot that night. But Obama’s announcement opened the floodgates to allow the liberal establishment—in the media, in academia, and in Hollywood—to accuse millions of Americans of being bigots for not supporting same-sex marriage. As long as the Left’s standard-bearer withheld his support, it was impossible to equate opponents of same-sex marriage to Nazis or Klansmen. But once Obama officially embraced the growing zeitgeist, such comparisons became commonplace.
The Limitations of Dialogue
Although many crucial events led up to this turning point, I consider it a watershed in American history. It marked the final nail in the coffin of rational public discourse. When a view that has been the default of every culture in every time in history is suddenly considered “hate,” and its adherents treated as extremists not worthy of a public platform, any recourse to reason has been abandoned. Yet many Catholics continue to act as if reasoned dialogue is the path forward.
Dialogue, of course, has been the Church-approved solution to every political and religious problem since the 1960’s. Pope Paul VI introduced this novelty in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, in 1964, and ever since then dialogue has been the Church’s magic wand for resolving any conflict and overcoming every hurdle. Yet dialogue presumes good will and an open mind on the part of both parties. If anything has been clear since May 9th, 2012, it’s that there’s no good will or open minds left in the liberal establishment. How is dialogue possible when the other side is simply calling you names and refusing to even listen to your arguments?
We’ve seen the difficulty of reasoned dialogue only increase since 2012. During this year’s Summer of Discontent, thousands of young Leftists have rioted, destroyed private property (including statues of Catholic saints), and browbeaten anyone who dared to stand up to them. The “Cancel Culture,” which can be traced back decades but received its official opening on May 9th, 2012, has meant the death of dialogue.
Yet Catholics should not be surprised by this development. We see the roots of it in John 1:5, which the Vulgate magnificently renders, et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt, which is translated, “And the light shines in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The darkness did not comprehend the light. Sometimes this is translated that the darkness did not “overcome” the light, but the underlying Greek word, katalmbano, means “grasp,” so “conprehenderunt” is a perfect translation.
The light is something the darkness simply cannot understand; it is beyond the darkness’s ability to grasp.
Time to Proclaim, Not Explain
So does that mean there is no hope for those in the darkness? The very next verses in John’s Gospel make it clear that there is a way to reach them:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)
This means that those who dwell in darkness can be reached, and that John the Baptist is the model for doing so. John’s message is two-fold: (1) Repent of your sins (cf. Matthew 3:2); and (2) Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29). In other words, he reveals the real problem in the world—personal sin—and he gives the only solution to that problem—Jesus Christ. John the Baptist has no desire to dialogue with those who have embraced sin; he wants them to confront their sins and shows them the way to be rid of them.
Why did John the Baptist reject dialogue as a means to bring about change? Is it because he was an intolerant bigot? No, it was because he recognized that the primary problem inflicting man was not one of the intellect, but of the will. Dialogue presumes that the will follows the intellect, but for most people, it’s the exact opposite: our intellects follow our wills.
This is why the primary duty when it comes to evangelization is to proclaim the Gospel, not explain it. There is a place for apologetics—the intellectual defense of the faith—but apologetics is only fruitful when the other party is willing to listen. Someone who believes you are “literally Hitler,” however, isn’t going to listen to your natural law defense of the complementarity of the sexes.
3 Steps to Proclaiming the Gospel
So what do we do? We do the same thing as John the Baptist. We proclaim the Gospel—repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, and you will be saved. A better question for us moderns, however, is, how do we do this? After all, I don’t think most of us want to go to the desert, dress in clothing made of camel’s hair, and survive on locusts and wild honey. Yet we can still be John the Baptists today.
The first way we can do this is by simply and publicly stating the truth. When Herod had married his brother’s wife, John the Baptist publicly stated the truth: this was no marriage. Today, we must state, without apology, truths like abortion is murder, marriage is between a man and a woman, and a man cannot declare himself a woman.
Second, we must make clear that the solution to our societal problems is ultimately not a political solution, but a spiritual one. While many Church leaders naively want to work for the “common good” with secular elites who hate them, Catholics need to refocus on pointing the world—including those secular elites who hate us—to Christ, like John the Baptist did.
Finally, we must be willing to accept suffering and even martyrdom. For many Catholics, fear dominates our response to a world gone mad. We fear social ostracization. We fear being “cancelled” as bigoted/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic. We fear losing our jobs. We may even fear the possibility of far worse outcomes: having our children taken away, or being arrested, or being killed. But John the Baptist feared none of those things, and he was willing to be killed by the State rather than fail to proclaim the Truth, who is Jesus Christ. We must be as fearless as he was.
Ultimately, we must remember that life is not a college course conducted in an ivory tower; it’s an ugly battle. It is a battle between the forces of good and evil, and when we are combating evil, we cannot refuse to stand up to it, hoping that perhaps the other party will come to his senses if we calmly explain why he’s wrong. Instead we need the fortitude to stand up to evil, and to call those who embrace evil to repentance, pointing them to Jesus Christ, the only solution to the world’s—and each man’s—problems.
Image: U.S. President Barack Obama said he supports same-sex marriage, in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America. May 9, 2012 (HANDOUT/REUTERS)