In a previous era my principal source of news was the morning Detroit Free Press. This news was curated by an editorial board that met at 4:00 PM the previous afternoon and chose what they thought was important enough for me to read and what was not. Among the positive blessings of social media is the expansion of my editorial board. My Facebook friends and those I follow on Twitter urge me to read all kinds of things which would otherwise never be on my radar.
A few days ago a Facebook friend urged me to read an article from the site “Think Progress” with the headline “Leaked Salvation Army Document Shows Pro-LGBT PR Campaign Is Just Spin” In reading both the article and the “leaked” document I was struck by how similar Salvationists’ theology on sexual morality is to the teaching of Roman Catholicism; a religious tradition I was born into and still practice. Boiled down both denominations teach that marriage can only be between one man and one woman and that all sexual activities outside of marriage are sinful. My church doubles down and goes on the say that sexual relations in a “valid” marriage must have the “potential” for procreation or it’s sinful. In other words no contraception. These rules are obviously problematic on several levels for both opposite sex couples and same sex couples.
From time to time I’m asked why as a gay man I’m still a Catholic. The answer isn’t terribly profound. My life is better because I can worship in the diverse and welcoming community of Gesu Church. It helps that Jesuit priests run the place. And here’s the thing. With the exception of their beliefs on sexual morality Roman Catholics are spot on about just about everything else. My faith and Catholic education has informed my values about witnessing for the poor and disenfranchised, unjust war, civil rights and social and economic justice. As a high school seminarian I was taught English literature by the legendary Fr. William Cunningham in the years just prior to his founding of the civil rights and anti poverty organization Focus Hope. We were taught that when Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” He meant it.
I can’t speak for the Salvationists but I can tell you that Catholics have gotten the memo on sexual morality more than once. The vast majority know exactly what the Church’s teachings are and simply say “no thanks”. The Vatican’s own surveys show how out of touch they are. The Pew Research Center reports that 85% of Practicing Catholics between the age of 18 and 29 believe Homosexuality should be accepted. The figure is 70% for Catholics of all ages. There’s a certain inevitability here.
But Church leaders do say hateful things. My own Archbishop Allen Vigneron is a good man with a good heart. But he believes I shouldn’t receive communion because I believe in marriage equity. I can simply ignore him. The Second Vatican Council defined the Church as “the people of God” not a bunch of white men with pointy hats. I’ll go with that
Eighteen months ago Pope Francis make his now famous remark; “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” General Andre Cox, the world leader of the Salvation Army, has said much the same thing.
“Of course we are guided by our own understanding of Scripture,” Cox said of the Army’s relationship with the LGBT community. “We are first and foremost a people to whom grace has been shown. If God held you or I to account for the things we have done, our past sins, we would stand condemned before him. God has shown us great grace in Jesus Christ. Then I think that first and foremost our reaction should be to show grace, to reflect grace.”
“I don’t think we can simply impose our own understanding on others,” Cox said. “I think there is a real danger that we can now, having been shown grace, say that we are the religious people of today and stand in judgment of others. We need to be careful about that… We are a people to whom grace has been shown and we need to reflect that grace.”
While neither of the Pope nor the General’s statements changes either churches’ doctrine they are important changes in tone. We won’t be seeing same sex weddings celebrated in Catholic Churches or Army Corps anytime soon. But to trivialize these calls for a more pastoral approach to the LGBT community as merely “spin” misses both the universal and historical context in which they were made. These are good things.
I’ll be at Midnight Mass tonight listening to the glorious music and making the traditional prayer for Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward All. I’m going to throw in a prayer for all religious leaders as well.
Wishing all of you Peace and Good Will.