Last night, the theme of the Bible study I’m part of was “proclaiming Jesus boldly.” As the study was wrapping up, the priest who leads it–who has a reputation of not rocking the boat–said, “I think we need to proclaim Jesus boldly, but we also need to use discretion and think about our approach. I don’t think Archbishop Neinstedt is necessarily taking the best approach right now. I’m not saying I disagree that marriage is between one man and one woman [I do disagree, btw], but I think this whole thing could have been handled better.”
One man spoke up: “What makes me upset is that he denied those kids communion. Wasn’t that judging them? Even if they were wearing rainbows, he doesn’t know anything about their lives, about the choices they’re making. The Catholic Church says being homosexual isn’t a sin. Aren’t we not supposed to judge them?”
A woman said, “We can’t judge. They say you can’t judge unless you’ve lived in their shoes.”
One man said, “I felt skeptical about the DVD, but I watched it and thought it was good.” Another added, “I just can’t believe they spent one million dollars on this. One million dollars! There are so many other things that money could have been spent on.”
The priest put in, “There are a lot of problems with the state of marriage today, a lot of people who aren’t following Catholic teaching. Why are we singling out this one issue?”
I said, “I think it’s scapegoating. Denying same-sex couples the right to marry isn’t going to improve marriage for heterosexual couples. That’s an entirely different issue. If you want to strengthen marriage, put out DVDs about strengthening marriage–not about this.”
[This was as far as I was willing to go with my views on the subject; despite my openness here, I’m still a Midwestern girl who avoids confrontation in my real life. And so, I was simultaneously terrified and thrilled that this discussion had opened at all, and that people were putting forth their opinions. I wish I would have said more, but I’m glad I at least said something.]
The priest went on to talk about how much persecution GLBT people still face, and that he doesn’t believe it’s a choice. He talked about how same-sex couples who were in long-term, loving relationships should have the right to express who they were. He said, “Marriage should remain between a woman and a man, but there has to be something else. We have to find some middle ground.” He also brought up the recent suicides by gay youth, and how we have to keep that sort of thing from happening. One woman said, “Well, none of us is saying that’s OK.”
I wanted to say, But don’t you see how it’s connected? Don’t you see how being told you don’t have the “right” to fully express who you are leads GLBT youth into despair? Don’t you see how hate speech perpetrates hate crimes and people taking their own lives, and don’t you see that telling someone they’ll ruin the state of marriage and family if they love whom they truly love is hate speech?
But I didn’t say any of it — see above about being non-confrontational. And as I was thinking all of this, one participant accused the priest: “I think you’re getting too liberal for the Catholic Church.”
There were some chuckles; the priest shrugged and seemed uncomfortable. The conversation petered out. I held back my final comment: Jesus was too liberal for his religion, too.
And who ever made this rule that says being Catholic and being liberal can’t co-exist? On the books, the Catholic Church urges us to “vote our conscience” but doesn’t endorse any particular political party. For me, the appeal and beauty of Catholicism is that, at its best, it’s not liberal or conservative, but compassionate and thoughtful and loving. Sometimes proclaiming Jesus boldly will make you come across as “liberal”; other times “conservative.” Why can’t we let such labels fall away in favor of the only label we should ever need: Christ-follower? I truly believe that, despite the different opinions held by those participating in the discussion, despite the fact that it was all getting a little uncomfortable for us Midwesterners, that respectfully engaging people who didn’t agree with one another in dialogue is proclaiming Jesus boldly. And yet, with one word, a group that had been united in exploration was suddenly assumed divided into those who were “too liberal” for Catholicism and those who weren’t. At that point, continuing the discussion somehow brought us into dangerous territory, territory that threatened to steal from us the one thing we all had in common: our Catholicism. And because that was too much for any of us to lose, we dared not say anything more.