Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Cardinal Dolan...

I wish you would speak a bit differently about "marriage equality."

For example, I wish you wouldn't say that the Church has been "outmarketed" on the issue.

Since when did the Church become about "marketing"?

The Church is supposed to be about teaching; its message an invitation.  That's what I was always led to believe, anyway.

To be fair, you have said many things about the issue of marriage equality.  This is just one of them, and I don't want to blow it out of proportion.  But, I am becoming more and more concerned about how the Church is handling this issue.  So, when I saw this word -- "outmarketed" -- I just felt like responding.  I don't mean any disrespect.

First, here is a little story.  My daughters, who are both young adults -- who have both been educated at institutions of higher education which have the Mandatum -- teach high school students who are preparing for Confirmation at our parish.  They have told me that the majority of their students -- who attend both public and Catholic high schools -- have come into their class believing that the Church hates gay people.  Now, these are students who have been raised Catholic, who have (supposedly) attended Mass and CCD classes and/or Catholic schools all during their childhood.  And they think the Catholic Church hates gay people.  This should not be blamed on "Hollywood".  This one is on the Church.  These kids have been sitting in your pews and in your classrooms for years -- and they think the Catholic Church hates gay people.  Of course, my daughters are quick to straighten them out. 

And this is why I believe that the Church has put the cart before the horse in its teaching.  People -- including Catholic people -- don't understand why the Church teaches what she does.  And they don't understand that the Church also teaches the concept of free will.  Nobody is to be forced to accept her ideas.

What do I mean by "putting the cart before the horse"?  What do I think should be different in the Church's approach?

Basically, I think it should be emphasized -- first and foremost -- that God loves ALL people.  Unconditionally.  It should also be emphasized that the Church puts forth her ideas respectfully -- respectfully inviting people to consider them.  There should be no "marketing" campaign.

Secondly, the Church needs to teach her theology of sexuality from the roots up.  Right now, she's got everybody's attention on individual leaves.  People aren't seeing the tree as a whole.  People do not understand that the Church's theology of sexuality springs from her understanding of the Trinity and how this understanding can be reflected in our human relationships.  The Church believes in the Father and the Son, who have an eternal relationship of love.  The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from this relationship.  The Church teaches that marriage should mirror this Trinitarian relationship.  The permanent love of the husband and wife is what brings forth (at least potentially) the fruit of children.  It should be explained to people -- starting with the ones in the pews and religious education classes and Catholic schools -- that these basic ideas are the roots from which all of the Church's ideas about sexuality spring.  These are the roots from which the Church derives her teachings on divorce, contraception, masturbation, premarital sex, extramarital sex, polygamy, and gay marriage.

Thirdly, the Church hierarchy needs to remember that people have free will.  This is part of human dignity.  Put forth your teachings, but do so respectfully and charitably.  And then remember that people are free to choose whether or not to agree.  And then -- MOST IMPORTANTLY -- treat with love and compassion those who disagree.  Don't make them your opponents in a "marketing campaign" or in a "culture war".  The people who disagree with the Church teaching on the issue of marriage equality are still our brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God.  They are not our enemies.  In fact, in many ways, they probably do feel hated by the Catholic Church.


Because we seem to be forgetting that these people do love each other.  They make commitments to take care of each other.  They have children.  They are families.  And you are making them feel as though their families are under attack.  They are legally married, yet they fear you will take that away.  (Because you would, if you could.)  They have children, but both parents in a same-sex marriage aren't allowed to be the adoptive parents of a child that they are raising together.  So, when you accuse the LGBT people of being "aggressive" in their marriage equality campaign, they probably are.  And, perhaps, some of it may be unfair.  But, some of it isn't.  Because they are PROTECTING THEIR FAMILIES.  I would protect my family.  Now you may say, "But, you have a legitimate heterosexual marriage and family."  And, yes, I do have a marriage of which the Church approves.  But, if I was a non-Catholic lesbian, legally married to a woman in California, and we had children, I would pretty much feel under attack by the traditional marriage folks.  I would want to be left alone, with my wife, to raise our babies.  I would not want to constantly have to worry that somebody from "on high" was going to declare my marriage null and void.  So, I might get a little "aggressive." 

So, please, Cardinal Dolan and all you Catholic leaders, remember that you are dealing with human beings who love each other and are raising families.  Think about how you sound to them.  Think about how you make them feel.  You are not in the "marketing" business.  You are in the business of bringing the love of Jesus Christ to people.  And -- yes -- that involves teaching the Church's philosophy of sexuality.  But, please do it a little more thoughtfully and charitably and wisely.  And remember that not everybody is obliged to agree with you.  Maybe we need to make room for that.  Maybe we need to figure out how to live our faith while -- at the same time -- allowing others to make their own life choices, according to their own philosophies.  Maybe we don't need to do all this fighting.

I will just end with a few stories.

One of my daughters, in a job she held for a while, worked with a gay couple -- two men, who had been together for many, many years.  One of them was ill (not with AIDS).  She told me how much fun they were, how nice they were to her (even knowing she was a traditional Catholic), how they had such wonderful senses of humor, how the well one took such good care of the sick one.  She was impressed with how they cared for and loved one another.  She was impressed with their commitment.

This daughter also had a male boss who was married to a man.  He knew she was a traditional Catholic.  They got along famously.  He was a wonderful boss, and he always had her back.  She, for her part, respected his relationship as he viewed it.  Some of her friends got on her case for referring to her boss's husband as "his spouse".  "We're not for gay marriage, so you shouldn't be referring to these people as 'spouses'," was the basic message of my daughter's friends.  "Well," she told them, "this is his relationship.  And I am going to respect that."  I was (and am) very proud of my daughter.  She understands her faith, she is living it, she is sharing it.  But, she is not pushing it on people.  She is respecting people's right to make up their own minds about things.  And she realizes that these gay
married couples are good people, with whom we can have positive relationships.

I know couple of other gay couples.  One lives down the street.  They are the best neighbors you could possibly have.  And they are always nice about my dog peeing on their lawn -- a rare thing in suburbia.  Another one of these couples we know socially, through mutual friends.  They are two men who have been together for a very long time.  They are well-educated, smart, hard-working, funny, and kind.  I spoke to one of them for a long time after the recent DOMA ruling.  I hadn't known all that much about the issue.  But, after talking to him, I came to see why they had been feeling discriminated against.  It was sort of an eye-opening conversation.

To conclude, I know you are doing your best, Cardinal Dolan.  I know you are under a lot of pressure.  I don't mean to be disrespectful.  I get concerned, though, when I see how the Church speaks about gay marriage.  I think it can be done better.  After all, Jesus did say that His Kingdom is not of this world.  So, perhaps, when we say "Thy Kingdom Come," it is not about getting Washington D.C. to conform to all of the Church's ideas.  And I -- and many people I know -- are tired of all the fighting.



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