This week’s announcement that the Roman Catholic Church will welcome disaffected Anglicans en masse is of primary interest to members of the two Christian communions. But this religious realignment is also a reminder to supporters of equality for women and gays and lesbians that they must literally preach to the converted if they are to win believers to their cause.
Pope Benedict XVI has offered the Anglicans a special status within Catholicism that will preserve their traditions and allow married Anglican priests to continue their ministry. Those likely to accept are animated by opposition to innovations including the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the United States, blessings for same-sex couples in Canada and the Church of England’s decision to allow female bishops.
Not every dissatisfied Anglican will change churches. Nor will this development drown out voices within the Roman Catholic Church favoring full participation by women and homosexuals. But Benedict’s action is part of a formidable religious backlash against gay rights that isn’t confined to the pulpit; witness the lobbying by some religious leaders against same-sex civil marriages.
Under the 1st Amendment, churches in this country can’t be forced to alter their doctrine or to stop preaching against the supposed immorality of homosexuality. Even so, supporters of gay rights in particular -- many of them Christians -- should try to dispel the notion that belief in God is incompatible with full equality for gays and lesbians.
Now as before the pope’s action, Christians can be reminded -- as they have been by both Anglican and Catholic theologians -- that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and that church leaders, including popes, have changed their thinking over the years about everything from usury to the culpability of Jews for the Crucifixion to the desirability of religious tolerance. You don’t have to be Catholic (or Anglican) to realize that society as a whole would be better off if the church’s views of women and gays underwent a similar evolution.