Like many of you, I spent more hours than I care to admit watching the Republican and Democratic Conventions. (Avoiding my Spanish homework?) There is one rhetorical turn of phrase I wish to think about: that the state has no interest in “who we love.” The President went so far as to say “love has no limits.”

I readily admit that the tacit context for these comments is the national legalization of same-sex marriage. That is a legitimate question, one over which people disagree; it is not my topic here. I also acknowledge the lure of a compelling and concise phrase.

But in fact no one, no matter their opinion on same-sex marriage, agrees with the statement that we have a right to love anyone we wish. People disagree about whether we should have recently moved a boundary, but the need for boundaries per se must still be common ground.

If you are romantically drawn to your sibling, or to a second spouse, or to a minor, or to someone in an abusive relationship, society, through the State, says No to you, and we concur. Just because this is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying. After all, the premise behind Love has no limits or You have a right to love whomever you want underlies most of postmodern life, to our harm. We are not without limits; we may not do whatever we want.

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More specifically, and in a more theological vein, trusting our loves as a guide to the right and true is a dangerous business. The Augustinian is here the realist. Read Andre Gide’s Pastoral Symphony (1919) for a profound case-study in romantic self-deception. This leads to the more general systematic need to clarify the place of law in a legitimate theology of grace.

May the Church play here the role of Socrates in the face of a pleasing sophism.

About The Author

The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner, ordained priest in Tanzania in 1981, is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. He has served in cross-cultural ministry in Navajoland and has a doctorate in theology from Yale. Bishop Sumner is married to Stephanie Hodgkins.

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Steve Wilensky

My only hope is that we don’t have access to Socrates’ vial of hemlock.