Several incidents in the headlines this spring have raised questions about how our society, and our Church, discuss LGBT topics. Catholic writer Phyllis Zagano asks whether homosexuality can be discussed rationally and with civility, and it seems Pope Francis may offer an answer.
Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Zagano examines two current events as instances where dialogue broke down. First, the controversy at a North Carolina Catholic high school after a Dominican nun made anti-gay remarks during a school-wide assembly. Second, Zagano cites how former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his position after it became public he had donated in support of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. LGBT groups had promised to boycott Mozilla, the software company which developed the popular web browser Firefox, causing the company’s board to remove Eich. She writes of both cases:
“Debates about homosexuality are not going to go away. Many, if not most, religions call homosexual acts immoral. They have varied theological analyses. Many, if not most, secular societies have adopted the third shoe of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That would be ‘don’t care.’
“So why did students of a North Carolina high school and their parents throw Dominican Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel under the bus? She was talking about church teaching. And why did Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, quit his job? He provided plenty of protections for gay employees.”
In the case of Sr. Laurel, the nun strayed far beyond her area of expertise into debunked social science about gay people. Even the president of the college where Sr. Laurel teaches has admitted that the nun spoke beyond her area of knowledge. Sr. Laurel has cancelled her speaking engagements and is now on sabbatical. For Zagano, Eich’s case appears to be more complicated. There is no evidence he discriminated against LGBT employees or that he opposed legal protections for same-gender couples aside from calling these marriage. Zagano quotes gay blogger Andrew Sullivan on the Eich case:
“A corner of gay activism became so enraged at his position that it called a boycott on Mozilla products, forcing his resignation. Even Andrew Sullivan, a writer whose credentials on the topic include his own homosexuality, wrote that it is ‘unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement … to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists.’ “
All of this leads Zagano to ask:
“Has political correctness — in either direction — replaced facts and conversation? Eich lost his job. Laurel is going on sabbatical. I don’t think it is a question of defending the positions of either of them. Eich has the perfect right to his political opinions, and Laurel’s beliefs had to have been known before she appeared at the school. Yet each individual’s story has become a blog, Facebook post, even a USA Today sideshow.
“My principal question: Can these topics be discussed rationally, or have media and the blogosphere dragged everybody into an unending knock-down, drag-out screaming match? Is civility dead?”
On these questions, it seems Pope Francis may be showing the Catholic community how to have a respectful and civil dialogue on LGBT topics without it becoming an “unending knock-down, drag-out screaming match.” His personal witness of talking with all types of people, of not judging, and of profound humility when admitting he is not all-knowing are instructive for all of us. Comments by the pope at a morning Mass in April might be especially insightful for this question. La Stampa reports that Pope Francis, in an exhortation for Catholics to keep open minds, spoke about the Pharisees’ relationship with Jesus:
“They thought everything could be resolved by respecting the commandments. But these commandments ‘are not just a cold law,’ because they are born from a relationship of love and are ‘indications’ that help us avoid mistakes in our journey to meet Jesus…
“By doing so, the Pharisees close their hearts and minds to ‘all things new.’ ‘This is the drama of the closed heart, the drama of the closed mind – the Pope said – and when the heart is closed, this heart closes the mind, and when the heart and mind are closed there is no place for God,’ only for what we believe should be done.
“It is a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us, tells us about His journey, as he did to the prophets. These people did not listen to the prophets and did not listen to Jesus. It is something greater than a mere stubbornness. No, it is more: it is the idolatry of their own way of thinking.”
To restore respect and civility in the dialogue on LGBT issues requires all Catholics to keep open minds and open hearts, as Pope Francis urges. When injustices arise, like in North Carolina, it is important for people of faith to stand up for what is just, but never to become vindictive against those with differing values and views.
What are your thoughts on how we can build up respectful, informed conversations with those in the Church with whom we disagree? Leave your ideas in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry