Thoughts are barely afloat, drifting in a sea of feelings.
Who is saying what and why? Why can't people hear each other?
At church last night, the priest preached about persecution. He was talking about how sometimes God allows bad things to happen so there can be good fruit. I hear that but I am not totally sold. God's ways are not always fathomable. That is clear in scripture. Sometimes we don't get it. Sometimes we see good fruit. Sometimes we don't. Whether or not there is a broad truth to be found, it is demonstrably true that God can and does bring good fruit from unlikely places.
This priest told a story about another priest. The man was accosted by some gay rights activists, not far from their parade. They spat on him, apparently for being a priest. The story was about courage and persecution. Martyrs, the great heroes of the faith, are born in persecution. If we are going to be persecuted for our beliefs, we should not cower. We should revel in the glorious truth of Christ triumphant.
It was a good message. But with a blind detail, which undermined the whole thing. He said that if the victim had been a gay man, society would have taken notice. And he jumped off from that point into an end-times diatribe about culture wars. Us vs. Them. It tied neatly with his previous points, and it wrapped up his homily well. But he lost me.
I was distracted. I didn't know the people in front of me. They were warm and lovely with my kids. They sang with palpable enthusiasm when the Church was singing. I wanted to know them. When the homily made that turn, something changed. It might have been an irrelevant coincidence, but when the homily went from preaching about God's unpredictable grace to culture war, they seemed suddenly uncomfortable. They exchanged glances. Not eye-rolling, but something. I saw pain, though they were smiling. I briefly considered offering a hug or something. I also considered talking to the priest after Mass. In the context of preaching about having the courage to do the right thing, maybe there is irony that kept silent. I chickened out.
Like I said, I don't know them. Maybe I saw something that wasn't there. Maybe I saw something that was there but had nothing to do with the homily. Maybe.
Or, maybe one of them was gay and the 'Us vs. Them' message hurt.
I wondered, would he have preached the same message in the same way if he was preaching to a room full of homosexual people? What if it was half the congregation? What if it was only a tenth of the congregation? Would he have preached the same homily if he had been aware that one person in the room was homosexual?
It doesn't matter a bit how often we insist that everyone is welcome, if the message is that homosexual people are an unwelcome "them."
I keep hearing Christians go on about how they don't hate gays and they don't understand why having newly unpopular views is characterized as hatred. I share these newly unpopular views, so I hear this frustration. But listen carefully.
The priest wanted to focus on an incident absent history. If you want to hear a story about being persecuted simply for being openly who you are- for choosing to dress in a way that tells the world something about who you are; something that they would rather you not be; something that if you are, they think you should at least have the decency and common sense to keep it to yourself- if you want to hear that story, ask a gay man.
Maybe there is a coming persecution. Maybe this story is a sign of things to come. Maybe. Maybe it was an ugly expression of a just anger from people that have borne violence for too long. There is no justifying it. But can we understand? Do we want to? Are we listening?
On the one hand, the parish priest was right to say it could have been him and he was right to preach that it might take courage to be visibly Catholic. On the other hand, to claim, as he did, that this kind of attack it unprecedented and if the victim had been gay, it would have been news- that is willful ignorance. That is the kind of ignorance which trumpets hate.
At this moment, society seems to have turned a corner. It is not OK, anymore, to spit at gay people and denigrate them. It is not OK, anymore, that they be laughed at and bullied. It is not OK that their suicide rate is exponentially higher. Society has decided to stand up to that bully. Or at least to stop being that bully. There are still bullies. The world is still fallen.
I guess I do want to talk about marriage, but we have to start somewhere. I want to start here. If you set up an Us vs. Them dichotomy, don't be startled when the "them," who have historically been bullied, hear hate. Don't cry foul. If you are talking about gay rights history, and you are pining for they way things used to be, think about the way things used to be for "them" in the good old days when gays could be mocked, humiliated, and beaten, before you play your persecuted victim card.
And lets get this one right. Everyone is welcome in Church. If you start excluding people, you might as well slam and lock the doors. No one is worthy of the grace offered. If you tell people they are welcome, only to denigrate or isolate them, you are lying. First things first, homosexual people are people. Love them and see Christ in them, or repent.
Can we learn to talk about things which will hurt people? Can we preach hard, counter-cultural messages? I think we can, but not until we learn to love, and that starts with listening.