Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dialogue about Disagreement

“The only unforgivable act, if there is such a thing, is refusing to be forgiven or to forgive—which is not so much a sin as it’s a failure of faith.”—Robert F. Capon, “The Mystery of Christ…and why we don’t get it”

There is hope for this world when a straight Catholic and a lesbian Episcopalian can dialogue on the emotional powder-keg of whether marriage should be allowed for the LGBT community and remain in a free-flowing conversation and not come to fisticuffs.

Such was the case this past week when I and a fellow Faust member were the guest “queer” speakers at a College of Social Work class at Florida State. These undergraduates were unaware that they were going to see real live gay people right before their very eyes. I’m being only mildly-sarcastic about this. Really, the students’ faces registered shock and awe when Jimmers identified himself as a gay man. I thought, “Whoo-boy! This is gonna be interesting!”

And it was. The students insisted their college was an open-minded, liberal segment of the campus community. And yet, some of their questions indicated a large chasm of knowledge about “my people”. Did I always dress the way I was dressed (namely shirt, pants, sneakers…or maybe was it the black leather jacket?) Or, “I have a cousin who is a lesbian, and she plays the man role. Is that common?” If this is the “open-minded” and “liberal” college on FSU’s campus I’d hate to hear from the moderates or the conservatives!

We put the marriage issue in front of them to consider. Unfortunately, the time ran out on the girl who wanted to clarify for us why some people had a problem with gay marriage and it was based on their “religion”. Class ended, but this young woman approached me to keep the discussion alive. Perhaps she came to me because our eyes were on each other as she started this line of thinking, or it could have been that she just identified me as someone “safe” to talk to about this. Whatever, my Faust buddy was engaging others outside the class as I stood in the room with this girl and her defense of her “religion”. This is the best I can do at recalling our discussion:

“Do you understand what I’m saying? Because for me, my religion says that marriage is a certain way. And there are traditions…”
“OK. Wait. Let’s back up a few steps. What is your religion?”
“I’m Catholic.”
“OK, so my question for you is this: do you think that God cares about the gender of the people at the altar?”
“Yes. Because it’s the tradition. And marriage is supposed to be for a man and a woman and they fit together, y’know, they fit. Because it’s supposed to be for pro-creation. (She repeated the tradition talk quite a bit) And Paul even said that marriage is sacred, and it’s in First Corinthians…and…am I wrong here? I’m worried that I’m offending you.”
“Oh, you’re not offending me! Don’t worry about that. But let’s look at this a little bit. First Corinthians…I imagine you know 1 Corinthians 6 verses 9-10 about who inherits the kingdom of God…”
“Yes, right…”
“Let me talk to you about Paul. He’s the quintessential human being (thanks, Mtr. Lee!). He will state one opinion such as ‘we must not focus on the flesh, but rather focus on the spirit’…and then a few pages later, he’s comparing the church to a body and saying things about how the eye can’t live without the hand or the head can’t live without the feet…etc. So if you’re going to do serious Bible study, be careful as you read Paul because he changes direction a lot. Now, if you’re Catholic, then I ask you, what was Jesus’message?”
“Love. Period. That’s all he had to say. When they asked him, “Rabbi, what is the greatest commandment, like a good Jew, he answered them, ‘Schema Yisrael’…Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God. The Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength.”
“And love your neighbor…”
“Yes, later in the Gospel of John, he tells his disciples he is giving them a new commandment to love one another…to love their neighbor as themselves. So I believe that wherever there is love, there is God. And the genders don’t matter.”
“But the tradition of the church is important. It’s important to have that.”
“OK, I understand that your tradition is important to you. And I will tell you that the vast majority of gay people who would get married don’t want to have a ceremony in a church…”
“Yeah, what he (Jimmers) was saying is that it’s about the benefits and it’s about the law…”
“Yes, and I can go to a courthouse and have a justice of the peace marry me. I don’t need to go to a church for that. And what we were saying to you today is that the amendment being proposed in November would not only ban marriage, it would ban civil unions, domestic partnerships, and several local ordinances that provide the legal rights that the gay community is looking for.”
“But marriage is more than that. And the church is clear that it’s about pro-creation and you should wait until marriage to have sex…”
“Well, let me ask you this: do you think that a straight couple who gets married and doesn’t have a child, for whatever reason, do you think those people are violating God’s will?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. And you know, the Catholic Church, it hasn’t always done things right, I know that. And there’s been bad stuff with the selling of indulgences and the priests (molesting boys), but there’s a lot about this church I’m going to that’s good. Like we respect life and that means not only at conception but like death row inmates because we’re against the death penalty…”
“You respect the dignity of every human being.”
“Right! And you know we respect gay people. And I don’t want you to think I don’t respect you…”
“I’m not worried about that. But what you have to weigh is what’s more important to you. Is the tradition what’s important? Or is it the teachings of Christ? That’s what you have to decide.”

My cohort re-entered the room and encouraged the young woman that she was doing the right thing by asking questions and that she should not be afraid to ask the questions she was. He didn’t bother to tell her his own background as a Catholic. We all shook hands and left on good terms.

This girl may never change her mind given how important “the tradition” is to her. But she has a choice now: either stick with the tradition and make it part of the Florida constitution as well as the Catholic catechism, or vote no on the proposed amendment. And her struggle is real as she kept searching for what is the "right thing" as a Catholic...and as a future social worker.

My faith lies in that no matter what any one of those students does from here on out with the information we presented, I forgive them their naivete, and pray that they will continue to struggle honestly with their opinions and previously strongly-held beliefs. I can only hope that their struggle will result in a better world for all of us.

No comments: