Recently, Anglican Archbishop and South African Nobel peace laureate, Desmund Tutu, was addressing a conference of church leaders organized by the Christian charity Tearfund where he accused the church of allowing its “obsession” with homosexuality to come before real action on world poverty.
“God is weeping,” Tutu said, to see such a focus on sexuality when “the world is hurting. The world is hungry. The world is diseased. The world is riddled with corruption and conflict, and we ought to be where our Lord would be. Our Lord would be constantly moving in this world, doing acts of kindness [and] healing.” As a result, the Archbishop said, the Church is “quite rightly” seen by many as irrelevant on the issue of poverty.
Desmond Tutu went on to say “I am ashamed to be associated with a church that persecutes people who are already persecuted,” specifically referring to sexual minorities. He said that “it is not a matter of theology; it is a matter of justice” that the church “accept that we agree to differ” on the issue of homosexuality and focus on the 30,000 people who die each day of poverty. Yet, he believes in justice for sexual minorities and says “I will stand up and say for myself that I oppose homophobia.”
Though Tutu has already used his voice many times over and been honored as one of our era’s great prophets, this speech rang especially true for me. He may have been talking specifically about the Anglican/Episcopalian Church’s now long battle over homosexuality, but his message really speaks to the wider Church, that is all of us who are striving to be modern disciples of Christ. In this election season, we will hear about the conservative’s list of “non-negotiables” that Catholics are supposed to vote by according to their ideology’s theology, but most of these issues are about personal morality. I believe governmental laws should focus much more on our communal wrong doings and welfare. Like Tutu, I am appalled that poverty, disease and war are not “non-negotiables.” I become ill when I hear lifelong Catholics say they have never heard of Catholic Social Teaching. It is OUR SIN as a Church that these tenants are “the best kept secrets” of Catholicism. We continue to let people die of famine, curable ailments, and war but are obsessed with issues of sexuality that have no bearing on our communal lives.
I am often asked by other social workers, feminists, and community organizers how I can be Catholic. They rightly see so much oppression, injustice, and hurt within and caused by the Church. It seems more often than not that I, like the Anglican Archbishop, am ashamed of being associated with a church that continues to add to the hurt and “persecution” rather than being where Christ was in his day and where he most certainly would be today. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a few reasons that keep me in the Church, but it is almost a daily struggle to keep turning back to those greater and richer reasons of why I must be Catholic while remaining associated with a hierarchical organization that adds to people’s pain. Like Tutu, I realize that it is only by staying an active and faithful disciple in the Church and working for change, both in the world and Church, that I will help to bring about much needed healing. I just pray that my association with the church isn’t adding to the persecution.
Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.