“Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine” read a Catholic church’s sign which has drawn criticism from those concerned it could promote acceptance of gay parents.
Saints Columba-Brigid Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, intended for the sign to be a message of welcome to children with a father and stepfather, according to the pastor, Fr. Roy T. Herberger. He found it in a Google search for “funny church signs” and hoped this particular message would welcome those in non-traditional families.
Having spent nearly five decades in ministry, Herberger has encountered many children made to feel less worthy because of their family structure. He told the Buffalo News:
” ‘My only purpose was to say, “Look, hang in there. People understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up on yourself.” ‘ “
Herberger said he was thinking specifically of children in the parish with both a father and a stepfather, and in other non-traditional family groupings. He explained to Yahoo! News, speaking of his inclusive message in signs and in homilies, that:
” ‘They are a challenge to be more open to the teachings of Christ. . .his openness, his acceptance, his love. . .That sometimes gets covered over by church traditions, rules, and regulations.’ “
Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone mandated the sign’s removal after claiming that he received critical calls from “around the world.” Despite the pastor’s explanation of his intention for the sign, Malone said the possibility that this inclusive message “be misunderstood and even perceived in a heretical way” necessitated its removal.
Parishioners have generally supported Fr. Herberger, who said the only complaints he received were from outside the parish because those inside know his intentions. Margaret McGrath, a parishioner who directs the church’s Family Resource and Advocacy Center, said the priest was both the “true spirit of the Catholic Church” and “Pope Francis among us.” Buffalo News reported:
“Herberger recently gave a homily encouraging the church’s flock to be accepting of all loving relationships, McGrath said, and she saw the sign as an extension of that pulpit message.”
Petra Fontanez, a parishioner who was a single mother, said she does not always feel accepted in church settings, but this message helped her feel welcome.
This incident is, sadly, another incident where a highly vocal minority attempts to stymie local Catholics’ efforts towards mercy and inclusion. The truism “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. Everything, it seems to LGBT-negative activists, is tied to their negative narrative about LGBT families.
Whether the sign refers to same-gender parents or stepparents or grandparents really doesn’t matteer. Nontraditional families, rather than nuclear families,are increasingly normative. Fr. Herberger’s decision to reach out to the margins of his own parish is pastorally wise and in keeping with Pope Francis’ desires for the church in this Year of Mercy.
The sign in dispute is funny and welcoming, but it also reveals a deeper truth. Jesus was born into a most nontraditional family. When the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family in a few weeks, a reminder that it is love which defines family, Fr. Herberger should consider what message about family to include on the church’s sign. I suggest he do a repeat: “Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry