Recent remarks by First Things editor R.R. Reno have sparked a small firestorm amongst the magazine's readers. Reno argues that the time has come to "make a clear distinction between the government-enforced legal regime of marriage and the biblical covenant of marriage." He prescribes that clergy should—as a requirement of good conscience—not sign marriage licenses that lend themselves to abuse through an agenda of same-sex equality. Instead, he suggests, they should sign "The Marriage Pledge"—hosted by First Things—which asserts that "church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage."
The Pledge continues to generate signatures (about 200 as I write); it's also prompted some rapid fire responses by Reno to critics like Andrew Sullivan and Ryan Anderson, each of whom opposes the effort on predictably different grounds.
The canonist, Dr. Ed Peters, provides some very helpful red-line notes on the Pledge, itself. His reading is that the controversial conclusion of the Pledge—i.e., that the Church, by cooperating with civil marriage, implicates herself in a false definition of marriage—begs the question. Peters then responds to Reno's "doubling down" contra Sullivan and Anderson as shortsighted, since it makes no further attempt to provide evidence of the moral evil purportedly at stake.
Peters's red-line reaction suggests a reality that's black and white. At large, there's plenty of nuance to account for—e.g., whether the sort of witness given through abstinence is really efficacious in re-evangelizing culture, or whether the rollout of the Pledge is actually more objectionable than its content. As for the rather simple matter of conscience demands and argumentative sway, however, I tend to agree with Peters's critique.
Maybe it's no coincidence that the same First Things recently hosted two articles by C.C. Pecknold laying out and defending a model for Catholic cultural engagement dubbed "The Dominican Option." Such a model, writes Pecknold,
is meant to challenge us to double down on communal formation, and double up on our missionary endeavor. It’s precisely this mixed pattern of life that must be wholly devoted to forming saints, and must also preach in the public square, in word and deed, about the charity and truth which lead souls to Christ. That’s really our only option.
Hopefully, too, this an option we'll see explored—and lived—more and more in the days to come.
Update: Reno agrees with Peters—and thanks him—for pressing against the Pledge as an "imperative of conscience." He amends his argument to include scandal as the real evil at stake. Although beyond that admission, not much else appears clearer.