Tag Archives: pope

Finding ways to make their hating of the sinner sound compassionate

Francis-Cartoon-8The pope made news again, saying that in light of the Orlando shooting, the Catholic Church owes queers an apology: Pope: Church owes apology to gays (and they’re not the only ones). The news came while I was in the middle of a busy weekend including both the Locus Awards and the Pride Parade, so I didn’t have time to dig into it. I assumed that this was another instance of the press taking part of a statement out of context, as they did three years ago with all the “who am I to judge” headlines that said the pope was in favor of gay rights, when what the pope actually said was more along the lines of, “Who am I to judge a person who claims to be ex-gay and does a decent enough job of staying in the closet as to give me plausible deniability?”

I figured that I would look into the story later, fully expecting to find out that the statement he’d made was more complicated than the headlines make it. Well, it is, but the contradiction isn’t as blatantly obvious as that previous time. “I think that the Church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended. … But we must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children exploited for labor. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.”

There are several qualifiers in there, and I could quibble over a lot of them, but the real hypocrisy is a bit more meta. He thinks that the Church should apologize. Really? I wonder if he has thought of mentioning it to the person who is in charge of the Church; you know, the person who has the power to actually apologize. And more than apologize, the person who, in theory, has the power to make infallible statements that come with the stamp of approval of god?

Has the pope actually told the pope what he thinks?

The other contradiction is a little less funny. The statement, and his following comments, make it clear that he is referring to the church apologizing for things that it had done in the past, as if its teachings are not still, present tense, causing harm to queers, and women, and so on. Biblically, you don’t ask for forgiveness until after you have stopped committing the sin. The church (both the Catholic Church and a whole lot of people claiming to speak for god in other denominations) is still bearing false witness against queer people, still describing us as sinful and disordered, and so on.

You have to rescind those lies, aspersions, and condemnations before you apologize for them.

There’s a new study out showing, once again, that simply saying these things about us causes actual harm to our health, both mental and physical: What Happens When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin?

And I want to make something very clear, here. Theologically, a sin is an intentional and voluntary action. All of the medical science (yes, all of it) agrees that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, it is an innate characteristic. In other words, it isn’t voluntary. When a sincerely held religious belief is contradicted by scientific fact, then it isn’t faith, it is delusion.

When any religious leader insists that homosexuality is a sin, they are bearing false witness. The Bible also insists that slavery is a good thing, yet no Christian religious leaders (not even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are calling for a return to slavery. They now all handwave it and say that the slavery comments in the Bible are because of the culture at the time, and therefore aren’t a commentary applicable today. Or they try to claim that the Bible’s comments on slavery are really about god advising people how to deal with a situation that shouldn’t exist but that cannot, at present, be rectified. They insist on that rationalization even though the Apostle Paul wrote one entire book of the Bible about how a Christian slave owner should treat his Christian slaves (spoiler: at no point did he say that people should never treat other people as property).

The sections of the Bible that are usually read to condemn homosexuality are a lot less clear than its teachings on slavery. Yet members of the religious right are willing to contort themselves to claim that the Bible’s clear endorsement of slavery doesn’t exist, while pretending that these few mostly ambiguous comments on fidelity, temple prostitutes, and so on are indisputable statements about people who love other people of the same gender.

And every time this pope has said some things that the press latched onto to wildly report that the Church was softening it’s stand on queers, later statements and officially issued proclamations re-iterate the original position that we are disordered, sinful, dangerous, et cetera. So, no, I’m not awaiting whatever comes of this comment about apologies with bated breath.

Varmints in sheep’s clothing

A lot of people are being shocked (shocked!) that the Pope not only met with the bigoted Kentucky county clerk who prevented gay couples from getting marriage licenses until a (republican-appointed) federal judge threw her in jail. And it’s worse than that: he’s the one that had his people set up the secret meeting, and at the meeting he told the bigoted clerk to be strong and gave her and her husband blessed rosaries.

You can’t get a stronger endorsement of bigotry and disobeying the law than that.

Folks are shocked because they have fallen into the trap of kind-sounding words that, when taken out of context, make it sound as if this pope is more tolerant and more accepting. The oft-quoted “Who am I to judge?” was a fragment of a sentence out of context. Reading the full context (as I and others explained before), the kindest spin you can put on his actual comment was, “Who am I to judge a person who claims to be ex-gay and does a decent enough job of staying in the closet as to give me plausible deniability?”

Similarly, his comments a few months later which were quoted as “we shouldn’t focus so much on fighting gay rights” was, in context, not a call to live and let live, but rather, “hate the sin, pretend to love the sinner, and find ways to make our hating of the sinner sound compassionate.”

Not everyone is surprised at all of this, of course; I’m not the only one who has been pointing out the pope is still very socially conservative. I just wish more people paid attention to what he actually says, instead of getting swept up in the out-of-context stuff.

I know why it’s tempting to applaud this pope: he really pisses off the wingnut politicians who claim to be Christian but promote greed and exploitation. He does quote the very parts of his holy book that those of us on the progressive end of the spectrum are always calling out the rightwing for ignoring. And yes, generally his statements are less nasty than those of his predecessor, but that doesn’t make him a hero for human rights.

So I don’t find it at all a surprise that he is encouraging the law-breaking and discrimination of that Kentucky clerk. No, the only thing even mildly surprising is that the evangelical clerk and her supporters are teaming up with the pope.

See, for most of my life, evangelical fundamentalist Christian churches such as the Baptist church which the Kentucky clerk used to belong to, and the even more radical Apostolic Christian church she joined after her third divorce, have despised the pope in particular and catholics in general. I know, because I grew up in such churches myself. I sat through sermons where ministers insisted that Catholics were not really Christians, and therefore would not go to heaven. I attended Bible studies where the teaching materials laid out in painstaking detail the argument that Paul the VI (who was the pope at the time) was the literal anti-christ from the book of Revelations. The exact theological reasons for rejecting Catholic teachings varied. Depending on which reasons were most important to a particular fundamentalist, the Catholic church was looked on with either pity as being full of delusional well-meaning people who didn’t realize they were actually following the devil, or it was held in contempt as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

But increasingly the sorts of evangelicals who have done everything in their power to redefine christianity as a hatred for homos have also been embracing the Catholic church and its leadership as if they are long-lost soul mates. The reason is simple demographics. Back when I was a kid, about 65-70% of the U.S. population identified itself as Protestant. During my teens that dropped down to about 60%, and it continued declining, dipping below 50% around 2005.

The only way they could still claim to be speaking for the majority of Americans was to accept the 23-25% of Americans who identify as Catholic under the Christian banner.

The most recent reliable figures put the Protestant population at about 37%, while Catholics are hovering between 21-23%. At no point were the evangelical fundamentalist denominations a majority of the Protestants, but on many of the public/society-impacting issues, many of the other Protestants were at least sympathetic to the evangelical agenda. During the last decade, as a number of the Christians who don’t support all the misogynist and anti-gay policies of the far right have made more of an effort to be heard, it isn’t surprising that the evangelicals are now even welcoming Mormons (the only denomination they rejected more vehemently than Catholics when I was a kid) into the fold.

They have a right to their beliefs, no matter how delusional or backward they may be. I’m not arguing that they don’t. But it is incredibly ironic that a woman who has been divorced and remarried several times (which, according to even relatively recent statements of the pope is at least as bad a sin as homosexuality) is being embraced as a symbol of christian perseverance by the pope.

It is more than ironic:

It is has been decades since the Catholic church has lobbied for the repeal of divorce laws. It has been decades since a Catholic official has denied communion to a politician who has not tried to repeal divorce laws. It has been decades since the church leadership has advocated for laws punishing unmarried women who have babies. But these are things they have done, and divorce and pre-marital sex are acts that the church still claims are just as immoral as homosexuality. Evangelicals used to be just as opposed to divorce, remarriage, and decriminalizing extra-marital and pre-marital sex.

They’ve given up on trying to enforce those things in civil law at least, to the point that all of the Kentucky clerk’s remarriages were performed in a Baptist church by a Baptist minister, and to the point where the Pope has given his blessing to a thrice-divorced woman and the man who got her pregnant in-between some of those marriages. If they can do that, then they can shut up about marriage law, and let consenting adults who aren’t members of their faith make their own, legal, decisions about who to love, who to share their lives with, and who to designate legally as their next-of-kin.

As shepherds… good and bad

by MIKE LUCKOVICH Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate
His Holiness thinks we should lighten-up on the commercialism.
I admit, I have not said nice things about the new pope. I still say that his much quoted “who am I to judge” said a lot less than people infer. And I still think he could, without radically upsetting decades of doctrine, have gone one step further in that regard. However, I have to admit that I’m starting to like this guy. Continue reading As shepherds… good and bad

Context is everything

All sorts of news sites and blogs and individuals have been spreading the “news” far and wide that Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge gay people?” As if this represents a significant softening of the church’s anti-gay stance.

There are three problems with that: one, that sentence isn’t quite what he said even as a out-of-context quote; two, once you put what he did say in context, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what everyone is reporting he said; and three, it isn’t an actual change at all.

First, what did he actually say? “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

It might seem like a subtle difference, but there are two qualifiers in the sentence which can be unpacked in a variety of ways. What constitutes searching for the Lord, for instance? If he means striving to adhere to current church teachings that homosexuality is disordered and sinful, then that right there means that the kindest spin you could put on what he said is, “Who am I to judge ex-gays?”

Second, what was the context? The pope was responding questions from reporters about a person who was recently hired to sort out problems at the Vatican Bank, but there are allegations the person was involved in a gay relationship a decade ago. And while repeating that homosexuality is a sin but gays shouldn’t be marginalized, he made the above comment, and then went on to chastise the reporters from bringing up someone’s past sins that are behind them. Once again, the kindest way one can interpret the statement in context is either “Who am I to judge ex-gays?” or “Who am I to judge people who are discreet?”

Third, it has always been the case that the church overlooks the past sins of its own people in leadership positions, so long as they make a token statement that they won’t do it again. That’s why there are all those thousands of pedophile priest scandals out there, for goodness sake! And it has always been the case that the church overlooks homosexuality among its own clergy so long as they deny it or pretend to hide it (Pope Benedict XVI, for instance).

In full context, keeping in mind that he began the answer with a sort of bizarre observation that no one has ever handed him their business card with the business card proclaiming the person to be gay, the statement isn’t even really about either sexual orientation or sexual activity. It is about whether a person is closeted. It’s the same song-and-dance haters always retreat to when confronted about either their bigotry or a seeming double-standard: I don’t care what someone does in private, why do they have to flaunt it?

Even the section of the answer where he mentions the church teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized doesn’t earn him any tolerance points. That line has been repeated whenever the church unloads a new condemnation of gay people, gay rights, and so on. It was even mentioned by that Bishop last year in his statement about a bunch of pedophile priests whose crimes the church (under his watch) had covered up when the Bishop blamed all those crimes on the homosexual nature of the children whom the priests abused.

So, no, I don’t think this qualifies as a softening of tone. And it certainly doesn’t signal any new kind of tolerance. And it most certainly doesn’t count as a baby step.

What would count as a baby step? Here’s one, and it really wouldn’t be that difficult. I wish that this pope would take a page from an American priest who spoke up last year at a county commission meeting where the public was weighing in on a proposed gay rights ordinance. The priest said that the church’s teaching on the matter should not be taken into account on an ordinance. “We do not have authority over people outside our own flock,” he said. A baby step would be for this pope to say the church would stop weighing in on such matters of civil law. That the church would stop trying to prevent governments from decriminalizing gay activities. That the church would stop trying to get laws passed banning gay people from adopting. That the church would stop trying to keep the law from recognizing marriages between same sex couples.

The church doesn’t have to approve any of those things in order to stop trying to blackmail lawmakers into enforcing its disapproval by means of the law. The church doesn’t approve of divorce, but it long ago stopped trying to pressure governments into outlawing it. The church doesn’t approve of divorced people remarrying, but it long ago stopped trying to pressure governments to outlaw such marriages. The church considers children born to remarried couples as illegitimate, but it doesn’t pressure governments to label children that way, nor to deny the children of a remarriage Social Security benefits if the remarried parent dies, for instance.

Seriously, when was the last time an Archbishop directed priests to deny communion to law makers who didn’t vote for laws to declare the children of remarried parents illegitimate?

Treating gay people and gay relationships the same way that it treats divorced people would be a baby step. It wouldn’t be approval. It wouldn’t be a change of theology. It would be a simple admission that the church doesn’t have the authority to enforce its doctrine on people who are outside of its flock.

This ain’t no baby step.