While I am generally disinterested in the local news, there was an article in the New York Times that caught my eye: “Beliefs - An Evolving View of Natural Family Planning.” This article told the story of Bethany Patchin and Sam Torode, two former Conservative Evangelical Christians who once championed Natural Family Planning (NFP) instead of artificial methods such as the birth control pill and condoms. They had written a book together called Open Embrace and preached the Christian circuit about the benefits of being open to children in one’s marriage. However, the crux of the article was about where they are today. Sadly, they are divorced, questioning their faiths, and no longer singing the praises of NFP. They said that having four unplanned pregnancies in such a short span of time destroyed their relationship and left them dissatisfied with Conservative Christianity.
This story troubles me because I too have known a number of “Evangelical Christians” who have hit some bumps along the road and had their fundamental views on religion change, especially on the issue of birth control methods. Part of me is hesitant to address this issue among people because I know it is a very deep and personal one. Likewise, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard snubs made against the Church’s position by both laymen and even priests alike. So when I look at my view on the meaning of love and marriage I can’t help but feel the temptation to bite my tongue and to speak up only when there are people in the room who think like me.
The real issue (as I see it) in this article is scandal. Scandal is a devious and tricky little thing that rears its ugly head in front of the Church. And in cases such as this article it is scandal brought about by arrogance pretending to be zeal. Everyone who encounters the story of Patchin and Torode is affected in some way. In my case I felt frustration and a temptation to hide, in the case of someone who doesn’t agree with the Church’s teaching on sex, that person will find another reason to ignore the Church, and people on the fence about their faith might become swayed away.
So how do we counter scandal? Well, we need to live humbly and authentically. In humility we can recognize that we do sin, but that God still loves us despite our faults. And being authentic does not simply mean we have good actions, but that our intentions and interior life are just as good. As a Church we cannot simply tell people how to live; rather, we have to invite them to a deeper understanding of their own humanity, and to a deeper relationship with Jesus. In a way scandals humiliate us, but just as Jesus was humiliated by the actions of his followers and the abuses he withstood, his humanity and divinity shined all the brighter. Scandals can draw people away, but they can also provide us the opportunity to be humble and to live authentically to the call we have received.