*America* Magazine: Ross Douthat Does Need a Ph.D in Catholic Theology or History to Write About the Catholic Church

We covered this story yesterday from the perspective of Rod Dreher’s criticism of a letter written to The New York Times from a group of progressive Catholic intellectuals who did not like Ross Douthat’s column on the Church’s debate over divorce and remarriage.  (Click on the link at the beginning of this sentence to get up to speed).

Over at the progressive-leaning America, a Catholic magazine published by the Jesuit community, Jim Keane, the former associate editor, makes a case for why Douthat’s voice needs to be heard in this debate.  The piece is less about the content of Douthat’s argument or the content of the scholars who composed the letter to The Times and more about the issue of what qualifies a person to write about the Catholic Church.

Here is a taste of his piece “Thoughts on Heresy.”

…Which brings me to my second point. The following phrase in the letter from Mr. Faggioli, et al: “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…”
Well. One could argue that the greatest scourge to face the Catholic Church in the centuries since the French Revolution was not the widespread defections from the faith, not the increasing irrelevance of religious practice for many in the modern world and not even the monstrous acts of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and religious over the years: in fact, the greatest scourge may have also been the cause of all these things: clericalism. The instinctive habit of protecting your fellow priests because you’re part of a special club immune to consequences and privy to special grace.
Once you think you’re part of a special club that no one else can join, you’ll do whatever you can to keep that club intact—including enforcing strict rules about who is in and who is out, including stout defenses of those already in, no matter how monstrous their crimes, including a willful denial about the world around you.
When we try to exclude Mr. Douthat and his ilk from the conversation on the grounds they don’t have the professional qualifications, we are no better than Rome’s worst clerical gatekeepers. We are setting up a self-validating club that protects its own and refuses to listen to anyone lacking the proper magic touch. I’ve a personal perspective on this, too, because a decade of Jesuit life (I left the order in 2012) showed me exactly what it’s like to have the temptation to exercise clerical privilege wherever you go. Answer? It’s awesome, and it’s a sin. 
Let us avoid clericalism in all its forms, including casting those without Ph.D.s into the outer darkness. Even the self-appointed Jeremiahs.
Ross Douthat doesn’t have a Ph.D. Actually, I don’t either. Nor does Jim Martin. Or Matt Malone. Or Kerry Weber. Or Grant Gallicho. Or David Gibson. Or Kaya Oakes. Or Ken Woodward. Or Robert Ellsberg. I want to say Peggy Steinfels doesn’t, either, but in fact I have no idea. Which is kind of the point, right? Because it didn’t make much of a difference. We’ve all been getting our Catholic news and commentary from folks whose hard work and talent made them who they are, not their membership in an imagined elite. 

When Did Divorce Become Acceptable in Evangelical Circles?

Ronald Reagan speaks before the National Association of Evangelicals-1983

My friend at KonicekLawOrlando.com sent me this originally, in an LA Times op-ed Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College has offered some historical perspective on the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  Balmer argues that evangelical views on marriage have changed over the last fifty years and he fully expects the same thing to happen with evangelical views on marriage.  


Here is a taste:

Evangelicals like to present their position as biblical and therefore immutable. They want us to believe that they have never before adjusted to shifting public sentiments on sexuality and marriage. That is not so. Divorce — and especially divorce and remarriage — was once such an issue, an issue about which evangelicals would brook no compromise. But evangelicals eventually reconfigured their preaching and adapted just fine to changing historical circumstances.
When I was growing up within the evangelical subculture in the 1960s, divorce was roundly condemned by evangelicals. Jesus, after all, was pretty clear on the issue. “And I say to you,” he told the Pharisees, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
Anyone who was divorced was ostracized in evangelical circles. In some congregations, membership was rescinded, and at the very least the divorcee felt marginalized. Any evangelical leader who divorced his spouse could expect to look for a different job.
Evangelical culture began to change in the mid-to-late 1970s, when the divorce rate among evangelicals approached that of the larger population. Some studies even suggested that the divorce rate among evangelicals was higher than average, although that claim was a trifle misleading since evangelicals were more likely to marry in the first place.
The ringing denunciations of divorce emanating from evangelical pulpits abated. No one outright supported divorce, but it became less and less of an issue as pastors found it more and more difficult to judge individuals within their own congregations — or their own families.
Forced to acknowledge the reality of divorce close to home, pastors responded with compassion rather than condemnation; the words of Jesus were treated as an ideal rather than a mandate. Megachurches provided support groups for divorcees and then, later, those groups functioned for many as the evangelical equivalent of singles clubs.
Although evangelical attitudes changed incrementally over many years, it’s possible to identify the real turning point with a fair amount of accuracy: 1980.
Not long ago I surveyed the pages of Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism and a bellwether of evangelical sentiments. Condemnations of divorce, which had been a regular feature in the 1970s, ceased almost entirely after 1980.
More telling, the “family values” movement, which took off in 1980, largely ignored this once crucial subject. Jerry Falwell and other conservative preachers attacked abortion, feminism and homosexuality, but they rarely mentioned divorce.
What happened? In a word (or two words): Ronald Reagan. When leaders of the religious right decided to embrace Reagan as their political messiah, they had to swallow hard.
Not only was Reagan divorced, he was divorced and remarried, a clear violation of biblical teaching. As governor of California, moreover, Reagan signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law in 1969. Having cast their lot with Reagan in the 1980 election, evangelical denunciations of divorce all but disappeared.
If evangelicals can alter their attitudes toward divorce, they can do likewise with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Indeed, views may soften as LGBT evangelicals come out of the closet and, like divorcees, make their communities confront their existence.
I am a lot less interested in Balmer’s take on gay marriage than I am on his interpretation of divorce. This leads to a a few questions:
  • Do we have a good book on the history of divorce and remarriage in evangelicalism?
  • What do other scholars think about Balmer’s argument that Reagan’s election led evangelicals to weaken their stand on divorce?  I have not heard this argument before.  
I am not sure what will happen to evangelical views on same-sex marriage.  Many evangelicals leaders have already accepted it.  Most have not.
But if history is any indication, evangelicals WILL accommodate to the prevailing winds of American culture. They always do.

The American Way of Divorce

I am with Albert Mohler on this.  Divorce has indeed redefined the meaning of marriage in America.  Mohler’s essay shows that liberals, feminists, AND conservatives (Reagan) are to blame. Here is a taste of Mohler’s thoughts:

There are few national tragedies that can match the devastating effect of the Divorce Revolution. Four decades after California launched the revolution, the impact of divorce and the break-up of marriages and families is now well documented, coast to coast.

The availability of divorce without cause, so-called “no-fault” divorce, rendered every marriage less than it was before. Once impermanence became a mark of marriage in the law and in the culture, couples were required to muster a special level of marital commitment to remain married. Right before the nation’s eyes, divorce redefined marriage.

The revolution was, as is so often the case, led by members of the cultural, academic, legal, and political elites. Liberal intellectuals made the case for divorce as liberation, subverting marriage as a repressive institution. The moral revolutionaries attacked marriage as sexually limiting and oppressive. Feminists demanded divorce as a means of escaping marriage and achieving a right of exit for wives. There were even liberal religious leaders willing to offer a benediction over the dismantlement of marriage.

But as University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox recounts, it was none other than Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, who signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill. Reagan, who had recently experienced a bitter divorce from actress Jane Wyman, saw the legislation as a way to humanize divorce. Reagan later saw his role as, in Wilcox’s words, “one of the biggest mistakes of his political life.” Nevertheless, the damage was done — with effects far beyond California. As Wilcox explains, the availability of no-fault divorce “gutted marriage of its legal power to bind husband to wife, allowing one spouse to dissolve marriage for any reason — or for no reason at all.”