Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Yunuen Trujillo, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:17)
The first time I saw a religious image in a non-religious book, I was surprised. While doing some required reading for a college political science class, I came across a painting of Moses. There he was, on a mountain, holding the Ten Commandment tablets. I had seen the image hundreds of times, but never in a non-religious school book —mind you, this was before Texas and Florida started trying to turn secular schools Christian.
Moses is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite characters in the Hebrew Scriptures. After having been raised in the most privileged way, he finds out he actually belongs to the group he considered “the other.” He witnesses the injustice committed against the Hebrews, his people, and he is eventually exiled. Later, God calls him to free his people. After listing all the reasons why he is not the best person to do so, he goes on a mission, despite all his fears and doubts. He manages to bring his people out of Egypt, and they wander in the desert. Eventually, Moses realized that in order to peacefully coexist, they all had to follow some rules, laws inspired by God. He also names a group of wise men to be judges and representatives of the people, and to help him govern.
Why am I telling you about Moses? Because it is important to become aware of how intertwined religious and civil laws sometimes are. Moses was a figure of reference for many early modern political philosophers. Some were inspired by what they believed was a pattern of representative government in Moses’ story. Others, however, believed representative government should be fully secular. To be clear, I’m an advocate for separation between church and state, yet the truth is that civil laws and politics have been, and still are, very much shaped by religious beliefs. At the same time, religious beliefs are often shaped by our cultural and socio-political understanding of the world. In the U.S. today, our political differences are more a difference in theology and our understanding of how God wants the world to be.
Today’s liturgical readings all focus on the concept of “the law.” When Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, he was clearly referring to the religious law of his time: he had no interest in fighting the Roman Empire. He was also not trying to abolish Moses or the law laid by him. Yet, in teaching us that the greatest law is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and God, he challenged many pre-conceptions of his time. He challenged rules —both religious and non-religious— that discriminated against the marginalized, including sexual and gender minorities.
We have come a long way from where Jesus existed, but there is still a long way to go.
Pope Francis recently made a statement during an interview with the Associated Press, saying “being homosexual is not a crime.” He reminded people that more than 50 countries still criminalize “homosexuality” and about 10 of those countries punish it with the death penalty. “Being homosexual is not a crime,” he repeated. While there was some controversy about whether he said it was “a sin” —spoiler alert: he didn’t—this statement was a first, coming from a pope.
For those of us in developed countries, a statement like this might not seem revolutionary. It might even sound disappointing because “homosexuality” is still the term of choice to refer to LGBTQ people. However, we must remember that our Church is global and LGBTQ siblings in many countries still suffer persecution and criminalization in ways that other nations have (mostly) left behind. In addition, the power and high profile of the papacy make this statement important. His message is a reminder to society that God stands with those of us in the LGBTQ community.
More recently, in an in-flight press conference, the pope also said that LGBTQ people are children of God, that God walks with us, and that condemning people like us is a sin. Even in secular circles, these statements are hugely impactful.
Let us rejoice then in the movement of the Holy Spirit through Pope Francis, but let’s also remember that it is the Holy Spirit — not the pope or any other leader— who is moving this Church and the entire world in a more loving, inclusive, and welcoming direction for LGBTQ people. The Holy Spirit comes to remind all of us of Jesus’ teachings, and to help us build the new. We are here not to abolish the old, but to joyfully perfect it.
—Yunuen Trujillo (she/her), February 12, 2023