A symbolic marriage cake in favor of allowing SSM in Italy

A symbolic marriage cake in favor of allowing SSM in Italy Wikimedia Commons

Years ago, there was a story in the paper about two unmarried schoolteachers in a small town in upstate New York who began a serious relationship at the beginning of the school year. Every evening, the man would park his car a few blocks from the woman’s house and walk the rest of the way before spending the night. Although the nature of the relationship quickly became an open secret in the town, no one ever raised an objection.

But the temperatures soon began to drop, as they will in upstate New York, and one frigid evening the man decided to save himself a walk through the cold and parked right in front of his lover’s house. Next day, all hell broke loose and the two teachers were summoned to the principal’s office and fired.

So long as the man didn’t park in front of the house, he tacitly acknowledged the community norm that unmarried adults — or at least those responsible for the education of youth — should not be sleeping together. The community tolerated the behavioral deviation, as communities tolerate so much social deviation. But by parking in front of the house, the man flouted the norm, and that could not be permitted.

This exemplary tale came to mind when reading about Mark Zmuda, the vice principal of Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Wash., who was fired last month after it came to light that he had married his partner. “If the teachings of the church change, I’d hire him back in a minute,” said the school president, Sr. Mary Tracy. Then, after tendering her own resignation in the face of widespread protests, she said, “I look forward to the day when no individual loses their job because they’re married to a person of the same sex.”

“We are uniting in order to change the Catholic Church’s opposition of gay marriage,” declared a petition asking for Zmuda’s reinstatement that was presented with thousands of signatures to the archdiocese of Seattle. “Leaders of Catholic schools are charged with the responsibility of both imparting and modeling our teaching,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain responded.

This is, in short, a fight over a Catholic doctrinal norm, not one man’s failure to abide by it. I venture to guess that there were people at Eastside Catholic who knew Mark Zmuda was gay and that he lived with a partner. But marriage is public act, and by marrying his partner Zmuda parked his relationship in front of the church.

Same-sex marriage is rapidly becoming the norm in American society and there is every reason to think that more and more gay and lesbian Catholics will be embracing it. The church, which has figured out how to accommodate changing societal norms in the past, will be hard pressed to avoid accommodating this one.

Categories: Institutions

Beliefs:

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

16 Comments

  1. Fornication is sex outside of marriage that which is ordained by God. We know that only marriage sanctified by God is between to equally yoked believers that are male and female. All sinners are welcome into the church but sin is sin and must repent and turn away. The church cannot allow same sex couples to come to church that have no desire to turn away from sin. The same unmarried male and female couples who are living together. Neither can be allowed to continue sinning and a little leaven livens the whole.

    Perfect Example provided by God when dealing with Sinners in the church.

    5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[l][m] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

    6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[n] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

    • Yet when it comes to enforcing such ideas in the workplace, it always seems to target:
      Female staff having relations outside of marriage, but never male
      Female staff co-habitating, but never male
      Female staff committing adultery, but never male.
      Gay staff who get married (but not if the person is just co-habitating)

      It seems the church is selectively enforcing its own rules. A rule which may not be discriminatory in intent becomes discriminatory in practice, is still discriminatory.

  2. Scandal has always been a problem for the Catholic Church (and others). It is considered worse than the sin itself because the act when it becomes public might cause others to turn away from the faith. So pedophiles are dealt with quietly, not to protect the child but to avoid scandal. Same with the New York school teachers and now the vice principal. It’s not the act so much as it is the fact that it became public that forced the church’s hand. The acts themselves can be forgiven, but the publicity it causes cannot. Understanding the extreme desire to avoid scandal explains much of the Catholic Church’s behavior.
    The interesting thing to watch for is what the Catholic Church will do when same sex marriage is accepted by society as normal, even an admiral act benefiting society. That seems to be the trend. When there is no real possibility of scandal will the Church let such cases go “unnoticed” until such time as a way can be found to say this has “always” been acceptable behavior. This would not be the first time the Church has found a way to accept the unacceptable (but socially necessary) given enough time. Last centuries sin can become this centuries normal. If there weren’t such an extreme fear of scandal perhaps the Catholic Church could find a more direct and honest way to deal with change.
    Fortunately, this is not the only brand of Christian community around. There are others that have much less trouble changing.

  3. Frank is referring to the Biblical injunction that:
    -A rapist must marry his victim-Deuteronomy 22:29
    -A wife can include a woman kidnapped in battle and held by force. Deuteronomy 21:11
    -A husband may keep women other than his wife as concubines Genesis 16:1-4, Genesis 25:6…
    -God loves polygamy, Genesis 26:34, Genesis 31:17…

    Btw none of this is refuted in the New Testament. Christians always claim that all the Old Testament rules apply when they want to talk about sin and act holier than thou.

  4. The Catholic Church ought to just cut to the chase and drop the doctrine on homosexuality. It has caused so much harm to people’s lives, and it continues to do so. Homosexuals are not heterosexuals behaving badly, they are homosexuals behaving normally. It’s just a minority, that’s all it is. Had there been a couple of gay men on the committee that came up with that doctrine it never would have been written. Condemning a select group of individuals is a disgrace.

      • samuel Johnston

        Yes Shawnie5, doctrine is the result of magical tablets written by the finger of God! Too bad nobody still has these. You would think they would be on display somewhere, since God went to all that trouble. Oh well, it will all be explained after we are all dead. See you on the other side!

        • That is all misinformation. The canon of the NT was largely complete (minus a few minor epistles) by the middle of the second century AD at the latest. The early writings were not “meager” and there is no particularly compelling evidence that they were either wrongly attributed or unreliably transcribed And the Church does NOT rely on the Holy Spirit for authentication of the NT. That is a matter of church tradition and apostolic succession.

          • samuel Johnston

            “Nor did it compile the NT, as is popularly believed.”
            My understanding is that the final selection process for the NT was completed in 419. Sort of like completing the History of the American Revolution four centuries after the fact, or say towards the end of the twenty second century. Since witnesses were long dead, early writings were meager and unreliably transcribed, and their authors were largely unknown or wrongly attributed, there is some slight basis for skepticism that the final versions – or indeed any versions – are historically credible. The Church employs magic (the holy spirit) to verify their claims to authenticity.

  5. Eastside Catholic School has been known to not as strictly follow the command of the Seattle Archdiocese. This is partly due to the very limited funding the Archdiocese provides to the school as compared to the other Catholic High Schools in the archdiocese and partly due to its traditionally high percentage of non-Catholic students who parents place their children there for the school’s high academic and athletic standards.

    The school officials knew Mark Zmuda was gay when he was hired. It appears in the eyes of many students and some/many parents too, Mark was unfairly singled out for breaking one of the Church’s doctrines when probably many of the other educators at the school are also breaking church doctrines. What doctrine did he break though? From hearing the side of the school board, apparently it’s the doctrine that same sex partners can not receive the sacrament of marriage. This is part of the confusion. Since when does the church automatically recognize a Civil Marriage? My understanding has always been to receive the sacrament of marriage, you have to be married by the Catholic church. Mark was not married by a priest, nor did he ask to be. He is only asking the state to recognize his union of love and commitment with his partner to receive the same civil benefits given to married opposite sex partners.

    The Catholic church, like it does with other non-Catholic marriages, is not being required or forced by the state to acknowledge or recognize Mark’s union. That’s separation of church and state. There are state employer rules which may require the school to give additional benefits which it could do without having to publicly state it recognizes Mark’s union as a marriage. That’s fine.

    Mark did not publicly declare he got married. Another teacher overheard a private discussion between Mark and another teacher who is planning a marriage where Mark mentioned he used a particular florist at his wedding.

    Mark’s non-Catholic marriage could have just as well been called a Civil Union by Washington State and not Marriage. If so, would Mark have been terminated for a Civil Union? Is this really an argument about a term or much deeper? In my eyes, it’s largely about the term marriage from what I’ve heard so far. Regardless, I’m sure there are many straight teachers at EC and other Catholic schools which have premarital sex, use contraceptives, are divorced or become divorced during their time at a Catholic school. With the exception of contraceptives, the others are fairly easy to determine too. Should we start bishop headed tribunals for Catholic school teachers to have to appear the moment there is a hint the teacher is not strictly following a church doctrine? Sounds like that would be a quick march to making Catholic schools lose many great teachers, even those who are able to follow all of the church doctrines since the school environment will be too caustic to continuing any love of teaching in that environment. Along with the loss of those educators with so go the strength of Catholic education.

    Or perhaps, we need to move back to only having nuns and priests teach at Catholic schools since they will remain celibate and not fall into the normal human trappings. Hmmmm, I wonder how many Catholic schools can remain open with the existing low numbers of nuns and priests?

  6. samuel Johnston

    MrSilver,
    Thank you for a most detailed and enlightening story. It illustrates how stunningly legalistic the Church is, (and encourages others to be) and how unfairly it can apply its rules. Pope Francis really has his work cut out for him if he plans to turn this monster into a loving, service organization.

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