Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pope Francis: To judge or not to judge

I’m sure you heard about the quote from Pope Francis. During a press conference he made a fundamental distinction between gay activism and persons with same-sex attraction, saying, “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.”

Since then his comment has come under some scrutiny. For instance, Andrew Comiskey, former gay activist and recent convert to Catholicism, had expressed disappointment over the Holy Father’s choice of words:

“Here he goes beyond affirming the dignity of persons with certain tendencies; he unintentionally affirms an identity which in our age has become the rallying point for an artificial ‘ethnos’, a people group, whose misbegotten activism has redefined marriage throughout the world…I fear he did not represent well the faithful in his words. His desire to provide a fresh open face for seekers is welcomed as long as he grounds it in the call of costly grace.”

Personally, I would not go so far as to say that Pope Francis is “affirming an identity” so much as he is trying to make a fundamental distinction between certain individuals who push the gay-rights agenda and persons who have same-sex attraction. As for the latter, Pope Francis qualified his "non-judgmental" approach to a gay person on the condition that he or she accepted the Lord and demonstrates good will. By accepting the Lord, I take this to mean that such a person is living according to his teachings as taught by the Church. For this reason, a distinction has to be made between the same-sex attraction and the person who possesses it. Quite often, same-sex attractions are not only involuntary but they are a burden to those who are trying to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

With that said, Mr. Comiskey’s point shouldn’t be altogether dismissed. Catholics who engage in public discourse have to juggle opposites; especially with the complicated issue of homosexuality. That is, on the one hand, the sin of homosexual behavior has to be condemned as gravely immoral and unnatural (i.e. contrary to natural and divine law). Too many Christians, I’m afraid, go soft on this part of the equation. Yet, on the other hand, the person who merely experiences same-sex attraction or who openly engages in the homosexual lifestyle must be loved as Christ would love them. You heard the saying: Love the sinner but hate the sin. Nevertheless, the world- and particularly American culture -swings between two extremes.

Jacque Maritain, Catholic philosopher, put it this way: The bigot begins by hating the sin; in this case, the homosexual act. So far, so good. But he will then transfer his hatred to the sinner and will end up hating them both. This is not good! Conversely, the liberal will begin with his love for the sinner. So far, so good! But he, like the bigot, will end up transferring something that shouldn’t be transferred, namely, transferring his love or affection to the sin. As such, the liberal ends up loving them both. This, too, is not good. You see, both the bigot and the liberal are at odds with Christ. The Christian, for his part, must make a distinction between the sin and the sinner and do so with clarity.

Out of love for the sinner, he must not only hate the sin but is duty-bound to caution the person (or sinner) about the sin. The Lord, in no uncertain terms, requires this of his prophets and apostles. He said to Ezekiel, “If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (Ezekiel 33:8)

Now, there is a great deal of pressure by those who represent the world’s way of thinking who tell us that we would be “cool” if we just dropped our rigid ways about sexual morality. For instance, there are those like Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor at the Huffington Post, who are blatant about their agenda. In one of his recent articles entitled, “How Christianity Became Cool Again,” he said,

“If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis [i.e. who am I to judge?] and Archbishop Tutu [I’d rather go to hell than go to a homophobic heaven] have this week and so many have been in recent memory -- it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us.”

Mr. Raushenbush is not a Christian. According to him, he is an outsider. But he is an outsider who took the words of Pope Francis out of context. Unfortunately, there are not a few “insiders” or Christians who are more subtle in their attempt to downplay biblical teaching on homosexuality. In her recent CNN blog, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” Rachel Held Evans suggested that the Christian churches should be focusing more on reaching out to the needy and less about sexual morality. Keep in mind, it is not so much what she says as what she doesn’t say:

“We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.”

This, I think, is what rubbed Andrew Comiskey the wrong way about the words Pope Francis chose to use. Given the context, I understand what the Holy Father was trying to communicate to the press. But, like never before, there is a great deal of pressure exerted on the Catholic Church to either change her teachings on homosexuality or to just be silent about it. This is why, in my opinion, that what we don’t say as Catholics can be just as important as what we do say. And when it comes to sexual morality we have to make distinctions and be clear about those distinctions.

Christ and his Saints were unrelenting about sin, especially sexual sin. And it was precisely out of love for souls that they openly deplored it. But the entertainment industry, academia, the media and sadly, people within the Church, want to foist this notion that our silence about the sin of homosexuality is somehow proof of our love for homosexual persons. To the contrary! If we can take Christ and the Saints as examples- and that we should –we would do well to do as they did. Love requires this kind of courage.

Love, as every parent knows, does not only affirm and embrace the person but it confronts wrongdoing. In every functional household, this is taken for granted. But for some reason, this kind of practical love has been lost in translation once we start talking about God or religion.

Yes, there is a price to be paid when we speak of sin; especially the sin of homosexual behavior. Yes, we will be called “hateful,” “bigoted,” and “intolerant.” But when it comes to the sanctity of marriage as with the sanctity of life, it is well worth the pain. We gotta take the hits.

After all, sexuality and spirituality are so interwoven that they are inseparable. If sex is not saved, the soul is not saved. And if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!