Last week, controversy erupted when Archbishop John Nienstedt informed St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis that it could not hold a gay pride prayer service in its sanctuary. The service -- held for several years in conjunction with the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride festival -- celebrates the gay identity.
In response, organizers moved the celebration outside the church. One gay activist attended in what must have struck him as a clown's outfit, given the occasion -- the robes of an archbishop, miter and all. David McCaffrey of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) condemned what he called Nienstedt's "reign of homophobic hatred." In an e-mail to the group's members, he characterized the archbishop's decision as "yet another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence directed at GLBT persons and their families."
Clearly, there is hatred here. But it is not coming from the Catholic Church. Rather, it's a tool of those who are trying to compel the church to conform to their personal demands with caricatures and public mockery.
Opponents charge that the church does not welcome gays. They point to the fact that the archdiocese won't sponsor a gay pride prayer service as evidence.
But the truth is different: The church welcomes everyone. Far from rejecting gays as sinners, Christianity teaches that all human beings are sinners. In fact, it maintains, it is precisely because we are sinners that we need the Christian message.
So Michael Bayly of CPCSM got it wrong when he told the Star Tribune that "the archdiocese is now dictating to people who they can and cannot pray for." The church advocates prayer for all, straight and gay alike, because it regards all as sinners.
But "gay pride" is a different matter.
Why? To answer, we must consider why we are called to go to church in the first place. We go to acknowledge our sins, to ask forgiveness and to seek redemption and a new life in conformance with God's will for us.
As a result, pride has no place in church. Indeed, Christianity views pride as a sin.
The theologian C.S. Lewis called pride "the great sin" -- the root of almost every other transgression. Pride, he wrote, "has been the chief cause of misery ... since the world began."
So "gay pride" is out of place in church. But so is straight pride, black pride, white pride -- or any kind of pride.
The organizers of St. Joan of Arc's gay pride service seem to think that if they complain shrilly enough, they can compel the Catholic Church -- by embarrassing and humiliating it -- to come around and embrace their enlightened views. This attitude should not surprise us, because it reflects the dominant cultural mood of our age.
Today, we want wardrobes, homes and vacations that "fit my lifestyle." We want a God who does the same. Transcendent truth? We prefer to believe there's no such thing. If 52 percent of Americans disagree with the church about something, we conclude it must be the church that's wrong.
But there is a religious vision that dissents from this cafeteria-style theology. In 2008, it often comes into conflict with trendier views on the flashpoint issue of sexuality -- perhaps the greatest preoccupation of our age.
For 2,000 years, Christianity has taught that God had a purpose in creating human beings as male and female. He gave the two sexes complementary bodies and natures so that they could become "one flesh," and in the process generate new life. The faithful, committed sexual love of man and woman holds a special dignity in Christian teaching, which sees it as mirroring God's love for humanity.
In recent years, however, a different vision of sexuality has grown fashionable. In this view, sex of all kinds -- whether straight, gay or otherwise -- is best understood as a vehicle for pleasure and self-expression. Today, this vision of sex dominates our entertainment industry, is taught in our schools and inspires events such as gay pride celebrations.
The controversy at St. Joan of Arc is part of a larger picture. When the gay rights movement emerged several decades ago, its leaders asked only for tolerance -- a live-and-let-live attitude on the part of the larger society. Today, the movement increasingly demands both approval of and conformity to its creed. More and more, it labels all dissent -- even that based on religious conviction -- as "hateful."
Secular institutions have largely acquiesced. The church alone perseveres in the conviction that human sexuality has a larger purpose. That is why it is now a central battlefront in this crusade.