By Fred Everett
In Hans Christian Anderson’s version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it is only a child who, in his innocence, is able to speak the truth about what everyone else was too afraid to acknowledge — that is, the emperor had none. Apparently, Anderson only thought of adding this element to the story at the last minute and it was based upon an event in his own childhood. The story goes that when his mother pointed out King Frederick VI to him in the midst of an excited crowd, the young Anderson, in seeing the king and having expected more, exclaimed, “Oh, he’s nothing more than a man!” His mother was not pleased.
The Anderson story can be seen as a skewering of what we today would call “political correctness.” Sometimes, people are afraid of acknowledging the obvious when they do not think it will be well received by those around them. In fact, this fear can sometimes be joined by a misguided love that thinks we should never make people feel bad — even if it is for their own good or the good of society.
So it is today with the truth about marriage. What has been patently obvious for thousands of years is suddenly politically incorrect to say. To claim that marriage has an objective meaning that extends over time and among cultures is now looked upon as intolerant and judgmental.
For example, it is truly amazing to see how, in four short years, a U.S. president can go from stating his conviction that marriage has a certain meaning that limits it to one man and one woman, to now actually denouncing those who hold such a view. The institution of marriage — an institution that is grounded in the truth of our human nature as designed by God — is now in serious peril. Those who blithely claim that marriage should be open to any two people who love each other seem to be completely unaware of the implications of what they claim.
What about a father-in-law and his daughter-in-law? Should they have the right to divorce their spouses and to marry each other? What about a mother and her stepson? What about a brother and a sister? Now, if such issues are raised, advocates of same-sex unions will often make a face and say, “Of course not.” Still, they have no real principle to guide them or to explain just why this should not be the case. If we keep going in this direction, why should society say no to a man who wants multiple wives? Why should we limit marriage to only two people who love each other?
Once marriage is untethered from the truth that keeps it grounded, it can become anything anyone wants it to be. What about a five-year marriage contract with an option to renew? If not renewed by both parties, the marriage can automatically cease to exist without the necessity of going through a divorce proceeding. There can also be an option to add a third party after 10 years with the consent of both parties. There can also be an agreement that any child conceived may only be brought to term with the consent of all the marriage partners. The possibilities are endless.
None of these arrangements express what marriage really is. If society no longer knows what it is, how can marriage possibly be cherished and promoted? If it is no longer commonly understood as the exclusive and lifelong union of a man and a woman that is ordered to the procreation and education of children, then marriage has no future. If current trends continue, within another generation, society will largely have degenerated into a hook-up culture that little values giving children the security of a home with a loving mom and dad. Children will invariably pay the highest price for this state of affairs. Research, for example, has repeatedly shown that children growing up in single parent or same-sex union households do not fare nearly as well as children who grow up with a mom and a dad. Yet, facts like these are routinely buried by the mainstream media.
The reason this happens is that too many people have become more interested in justifying doing whatever they want, instead of doing what is right for children and for the well being of society. It also happens because too many people of faith are failing to stand up and be counted in this important hour of decision. Like the candid child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it is time for the Christian faithful to tirelessly proclaim the truth about marriage in our homes, in our schools, in our churches and in the public square. This is too critical a moment to remain silent.
To help equip the lay faithful for this cultural battle, the bishops of the United States have developed a website with videos and other resource materials on the truth of marriage as between a man and a woman that can be viewed online. It is Marriage: Unique for a Reason and can be found at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org. There is also a page highlighting the bishops’ Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty at www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty.
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