I don’t often comment on political issues as others are more qualified, but it’s hard to ignore the flurry of activity and commentary on the current election cycle in the U.S.
This is not an endorsement of any candidate or party, just a discussion of some of the implications of the U.S. election for Catholic institutions that are committed to fidelity to the teaching of Scripture, Tradition, and the magisterium, and to Catholic Biblical scholarship committed to the same.
Joe Biden is a Catholic, and campaigns as such. At one time in his political career, he had some reservations about abortion. No longer. Biden has embraced the Democratic party platform that calls for legal abortion on demand through the entire pregnancy up to birth, and supports tax payer funding of abortion. The Democratic party regards abortion as a human rights issue, namely, that every woman should have the right to kill her unborn child in the womb, and that those who oppose this policy are against women’s rights and therefore misogynists (“women-haters”).
If the Democratic ticket wins, expect the removal or push for removal of any federal or state limitations on abortions, like waiting periods or informed consent laws. Expect the push to require all health insurers to cover abortions, and the removal of exemptions for religious institutions and employers. Expect that all federal officers dependent on presidential appointment—cabinet members, federal judges, officers in charge of various federal agencies—will be persons committed to unrestricted, publicly-funded abortion on demand.
The executive branch of the U.S. government has incredible power both domestically and internationally. The U.S. president establishes U.S. foreign policy. Under the current administration, the U.S. has adopted the most aggressively pro-life international posture at the U.N. and elsewhere of any administration since the passage of Roe v. Wade. Under a Biden administration, expect that to swing 180 degrees. Expect the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Expect the reversal of the Mexico City Policy, which bans U.S. funds from paying for abortions overseas. The political weight of the U.S. federal government as well as it funds will be put at the service of making abortions as easily accessible as possible both domestically and internationally. This will be effective, and many more unborn children will die in abortions than otherwise would have been the case. I am confident that number will be in the millions, since about 50 million abortions are performed worldwide each year (http://bit.ly/Abortion_Stats). That’s the size of the population of California.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, Franciscan University of Steubenville was involved in a costly court battle with the federal government to avoid be required to cover procedures and drugs in our health insurance policy that are contrary to our conscience and the teachings of the Catholic Church. The previous administration did not want to allow any exemptions for religious or other institutions to its mandates for health insurance coverage. With the surprising results of the 2016 election, our institution was granted a reprieve, as the current administration worked quickly to change federal policy and permit religious or conscientious exemptions to federal health insurance mandates. If the Democratic ticket is elected, expect these exemptions to be removed and a renewal of costly court battles for Catholic institutions that attempt to regulate themselves according to Catholic moral teaching. In addition to attempting to recover from huge losses of income during COVID, faithful Catholic institutions will also need to raise money for legal defense in the coming years.
However, pro-life issues are not the biggest issue for the viability of Catholic institutions under a Democratic administration. Gender ideology is. It is no secret, and only became clearer during the Barrett questioning and recent statements from candidate Biden, that the Democratic party has de facto embraced an anthropology, i.e. a view of the human person, such that every person is born with an immutable gender identity in addition to, and not necessarily correlated with, their physical sexual characteristics. Moreover, this gender identity can manifest itself in early childhood, and every person is infallible (i.e. cannot be mistaken) in identifying their gender identity. Furthermore, society owes it to each individual to accommodate that individual’s declared gender identity, to accept whatever social and sexual behaviors it entails, and to pay for whatever drugs and procedures that person believes is necessary to express and actualize that identity.
There is no compatibility between this anthropology and Catholic anthropology, which recognizes that we may have sexual desires that are pre-voluntary (i.e. not desired by us, prior to our will), but that these sexual desires need to be evaluated by criteria such as physical reality and God’s will as revealed in nature and revelation, and only acted upon if they are in accord with God’s will, following the law of love of God and love of others. Catholic teaching and the Scriptures hold that God makes us male and female, not our own will or decision. Further, Catholic teaching understands, by the light of nature and of revelation, that sexuality is ordered to fertility, and human fertility should be pursued only within the context of matrimony between a man and a woman, which is the proper stable and loving context for the reception of new human life, i.e. a newborn child.
Under a Democratic administration, expect pressure quickly to be applied to Catholic institutions to conform to policies that will be describes as inclusive and diverse such as diversity training, pronoun policies, and modifications of content in history, natural and social sciences, and many other fields to incorporate this new anthropology. Expect federal funding and federal backing of student loans to be tied to compliance with such things as maintaining what will be described as a welcoming environment for LGBTQI employees and students (which will include accommodation of styles of dress and sexual behavior), having LGBTQI-identifying members on governance boards, and covering gender-transitioning medical procedures and drugs under institutional health insurance policies. Expect long and expensive court cases over the implications of these policies, and expect that Catholic institutions will not find sympathy in the press or public opinion in these legal contests. Unlike the situation with pro-life issues, in which a majority of Americans are sympathetic to pro-life concerns and the pro-life movement is large and well-organized, when it comes to gender ideology, there is no well-organized movement to oppose it or offer an alternative Christian sexual anthropology. Catholic and other Christian groups have not hit upon the right terminology or arguments to gain traction with the public and winsomely explain why the promotion of sexuality only within marriage is necessary for human flourishing. Rather, LGBTQI organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have been successful in convincing a majority of the public that any resistance, criticism, or opposition to sexual activity outside of traditional matrimony is only due to “hate,” that is, some irrational, deep-seated, pathological psychological disorder that causes the rejection of persons or things. Traditional Christian sexual morality has now been successfully defined as “hate” in public discourse.
The current administration has been very open and supportive of LGBTQI persons and interests, by pushing for the decriminalization of homosexual activity in other countries, for example. But the current administration understands the principle of freedom of religion and religious expression to mean, in practice, that religious groups can maintain, within their own circles and institutions, a different view of human sexuality than that of the government or the rest of society. Expect that to change under a Democratic administration, and expect religious institutions to be required in a wide variety of ways to comply with contemporary gender ideology, and to be engaged in protracted and expensive legal defenses of their identity which will deplete institutional resources and also reduce the public reputation of the institutions.
How does this effect Catholic Biblical scholarship? Surprisingly, it does eventually filter down to that small world. I am currently working on book on a biblical theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It’s not possible to be true to what the Scriptures and the Church teaches on this subject without running afoul of standards of contemporary gender ideology. Will that put myself and the institutions I’m associated with under the threat of legal and/or financial sanction from the federal government? One possibility is that the work remains unnoticed. Another is that it gains attention, and results in the application of sanctions. Time will tell. Other scholars will face similar challenges.
Only some of the issues in the current election cycle have been discussed, and this is not an endorsement of any political party or candidate.