Monday, February 10, 2014

Morality Clauses

I am thinking here, specifically, of those used by certain Catholic institutions.

Basically, you agree to abide by certain standards of conduct, if you are employed by one of those institutions -- standards of conduct which are approved by the Church -- or else you can be terminated from your job.

And, yeah, if you read my blog post from a couple of days ago, I guess this post is sort of related to that one.

Not all Catholic institutions require employees to sign morality clauses.  It seems to me -- and this is based on my own personal observations -- that they are a growing trend among those institutions that consider themselves more "orthodox" or "traditional" or "faithful."

When I first heard of morality clauses, they were presented to me as a way by which a Catholic institution could protect its mission and ensure that it was setting an example of "correct" Church teaching.  These contracts between an employer and employee were said to be a method by which a Catholic institution could avoid scandalizing the faithful.  I guess it is thought that if everybody in the Catholic institution -- like a college, for instance -- is "on the same page" morality-wise, then the students won't become confused about what "being a Catholic" really means.  Likewise, the surrounding community will also be clear as to what "being Catholic" truly entails, by observing the behavior of those at the Catholic institution. 

How did I feel about that?  Well, on the one hand, I could understand it.  There is obviously a lot of confusion in our culture and society about what Church teaching actually is.  So, I thought that if there was an institution dedicated to presenting it acurately -- both in word and example -- that it could be a positive thing.  On the other hand, it struck me as rather elitist.

How do I feel about morality clauses now?  I think they suck, basically.  Why?  Because schools -- and who knows what other kind of entities -- are firing people, not because they are poor employees, but because they do not conform to the "approved" morality.  And, in doing this, legalism is being allowed to trump mercy, compassion, and charity.  Also, in doing this, certain kinds of "sinners" are being singled out in a world where "all sin and fall short."  ALL sin and fall short.

Why is this bad?  Why is it bad to single out and fire certain kinds of sinners?  Well, this is my experience, based on certain social situations I have had to endure.  What happens is that the people who are left in the institutions -- the "pure" Catholics -- start to become rather prideful and self-congratulatory.  Oh, yes, they beat their breasts and call themselves sinners and go to confession and profess to love mercy and compassion.  But, when you hear them start talking to each other?  There is an awful lot of pride going around.  There is an awful lot of "let's pat each other on the backs because we're the 'good' Catholics" kind of attitude.  There are a lot of unkind words concerning "unfaithful" Catholics and the "Hollywood Liberals" who want to "destroy marriage" and the "pro-aborts." Are all conservative Catholics this way?  Of course not.  But, there are enough.  There are enough.  And it makes me ill.

As an example, I was once talking to a Catholic "apologist."  This person said that living on the Gulf Coast would be desirable.  I commented that there are a lot of hurricanes in that area of the country.  This person replied, "Well, at least you wouldn't have to worry about Steve and Steve living next door."  EXCUSE ME?!?!?!  I happen to have a so-called "Steve and Steve" as neighbors, and they are the best neighbors you could possibly have.  I am embarrassed to say that I didn't say anything to this person expressing my discomfort at this statement.  At the time -- because of my personal situation -- I was feeling like a rather bad Catholic who should just shut up and listen to the "respected" Catholics.  But, I have had a lot of time to think about and observe things since that time.

So, to bring this back to the issue of morality clauses:

Morality clauses -- because they keep certain "disapproved of" people out of places of employment -- cause the "approved of" people to have the "privilege" of not having to actually interact with these "marginalized" individuals.  The people living "in sin" become more of a theological/philosophical concept than actual human beings, in all their wondrous complexity.  A situation develops where the religious person may never have the necessity of forming a close, personal relationship with, for example, an LGBT person or a pro-choice person.  And even if there are such people in a religious person's life, there is created vast opportunity to -- on a day-to-day basis, in a Catholic institution -- to regularly criticize those types of people, without them being present or being part of the discussion.  To me, this is dangerous.  It creates an atmosphere of superiority and snobbery and isolationism.  It creates an atmosphere of fear.  And the "holy" people -- even though they profess to being sinners -- almost can't help but take on the attitude that these other types of "sinners" are far worse than they.  That has been my experience, at least.

As you may know, I homeschooled my kids.  And for a long time, our homeschool group had a "park day," where the moms would bring their kids on Friday afternoons for playtime and socialization.  My sister happened to be visiting one time, and accompanied my kids and I to "park day."  She watched the kids and chatted with the moms.  Later, though, she told me that one of the moms said to her that we, as a group, prayed for our homeschool community to remain composed of "pure" Catholics.  "Huh?" I remarked. "I was never aware of that.  That is not my intention."  I asked one of the other moms if she was aware of this praying for our group to remain "pure," and she told me that she had no knowledge of this, either.  That was a relief.  Maybe it was some quirky thing.  I don't know.  But, I have to say that it has been my experience -- based on many years of hanging around with more conservative Catholics -- that this rather elitist attitude does not seem uncommon.  And it seems to me that morality clauses -- and the fruits of those clauses -- only exacerbate these problematic attitudes among Catholics who consider themselves to be the "faithful" ones.

I am quite certain that a "logic" person could poke all kinds of holes in what I have just said here.  Whatever.  Somebody recently said to me, in a rather derogatory tone, "You just want everybody to feel good about themselves."  Whatever.  But, I just think about Jesus and how he acted towards the "sinners" versus how he acted toward the "teachers of the law."  And many of the "sinners" really loved him and wanted to hang out with him all the time.  So, obviously, he was not hitting them over the head with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  On the contrary, he showed them true compassion.  And compassion is a very powerful thing.  Perhaps more powerful than morality clauses in the teaching of the faith and in setting an example for our children and teens and young adults.

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