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The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! Already he is in the Americas, being besieged everywhere he goes by happy, hopeful people. Our Papa is a ray of sunshine after a very long stretch of darkness. I’ve lived half a century, and Francis is the first Pope that has prompted optimism in my soul. No, the Church isn’t actually changing much, but even hearing words of acceptance, possibility and radical positioning with the poor and marginalized causes me ineffable joy. As it does in many others. This is where the Church should be going.

Alas, Francis has hinted that his papacy may be short-lived. While I sympathize and understand — being Pope must be the most exhausting position possible — I hope it will not be so. The Church needs the breath of fresh air Francis brings, and I fear that if he steps down (or God forbid, dies), the Cardinals will waste no time in reacting with a swift slamming of the door, almost certainly installing a Pope more reactionary and conservative than even Francis’ predecessors. While Francis is certainly loved, he is also feared by those who would keep the Church immured in the Middle Ages.

What else is in the news? Reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage, that’s what. Already some people are nervously squawking about religious freedom being breached. Don’t worry, chickens! The Church is not changing. Yes, civic marriage is legal for homosexuals. But they cannot receive the sacrament of marriage from the Catholic Church. The Church decides who receives which sacraments (and why). They cannot be made to change by anyone outside of the Church.

Which is not to say that homosexuals cannot receive sacraments. Clearly, they already do. Still, it’s safe to say that whether you (or anyone) is “good enough” to receive one sacrament but not another is an assessment that only the Church in its infinite mystery is allowed to make. Women, for instance, cannot receive Holy Orders. In fact, only a man can hope to attain all seven sacraments. The rest of us are excluded not by unfitness so much (though many in the Church hierarchy might argue this point) as because of things we cannot control. Because we were born women. Or gay.

Is this fair? I don’t think so. But I don’t make the rules. However, I believe I can state (as our pastor did) that the Church will not be performing gay weddings anytime soon. On the other hand, our pastor also warned me not to express the opinion I just expressed at the top of this paragraph. I will continue to do so. Because what has sustained me though all of the dark nights of the Church is my right to dissent.

Sometimes prayers are answered when you least suspect them. Francis is proof of that. Let us pray for many more open doors.

I am writing this on Friday, June 26, 2015 – the day the Supreme Court legitimized gay marriage throughout the United States. Not surprisingly, Facebook and the blogosphere have been abuzz.

People are equating the rainbow flag with the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (the flag wrongly IDed as the confederate flag).

I’ve heard people talk about the end of marriage.

And of course many people are quoting the Bible.  Strangely enough, they’re ignoring the verse of the day from Bible Gateway — “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 NIV

I’d love to say that those supporting gay marriage are behaving better, but they are not. My favorite was someone who posted against white Christians.  Excuse me?  “Well, I didn’t mean you.”

In the coming weeks, there will be many heated discussions.  Can I ask a big favor from my Christian brothers and sisters?  Before you speak up – give yourself a wee little time out.  Honestly, the time out chair is a marvelous thing.  It gives you time to cool off and contemplate what you might do differently.

My suggestions?  Halt the threats that you have no intention of carrying out.  Do you really plan to move to Canada? Divorce?  If not . . . hush. Halt the name calling and the declarations on who is and is not going to hell.  Remember, God alone knows who is called and who is not.  We do not get to vote.

My own take?  I’m all for equal rights.  I have a serious issue with using the Bible to beat people down whether the beating is over race, gender or love interest.  Whether or not you agree with me, I ask that you be civil. Be kind. Be loving. In this, no matter what your opinion, you can shine His Light on the world.

–SueBE

Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

I was in the midst of reading Elizabeth A. Johnson’s mind-blowing book Quest for the Living God, when I heard the news: Scientists now say there may be billions of Earths in the universe. Billions! When I think of a God who made all that, who exists everywhere these Earths exist — fully present in a billion places and in the hearts and minds of billions and billions of people (for I am certain that each and every Earth contains people who know and worship God)…I am more sure than ever that my knowledge of God is a tattered rag of a thing, the frayed hem of a wondrous cloth that spreads farther than anyone can imagine. Which begs the question: What am I doing here?

Not here as in Earth, per se, but here on this blog — why am I writing about God when my knowledge and experience of God is so small, so pathetic? That’s where Johnson’s book comes in. She likens our expressions of God to a finger pointing at the moon: The moon is not the finger, just as our expressions of God are not God. In fact, they will always be wrong. But perhaps, just perhaps, they might point the way to God, the way an analogy or a metaphor or a simile works in our everyday language.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m pointing at the moon. Maybe somewhere in my words someone will catch a glimpse of the real moon, the real God. Or maybe I’m pointing at Mars by mistake. Still, a compulsion obliges me to point. I will use words like love, like acceptance, like understanding. I will hope that they land, meteor-like, in the general vicinity of what is unfathomable.

Recently our pastor warned us about speaking as Catholics about gay marriage. We must love the sinner but hate the sin, he said. We must understand that gay marriage can never be acceptable to Catholics. The bishop of Detroit went further: He demands that Catholics who support gay marriage not participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist because they are hypocrites.

To them I say: Love. Acceptance. Understanding. I also say this — I will not be quiet. My words about what I believe about God, namely that God loves and accepts all people and would never create them to love in vain, never shun anything done in love, may not be the right words. My finger may not accurately point the way. But maybe it does. And if I can guide one person to look in the right direction, then, well, it’s all been worth it. Look up in the sky, people! God is love!

Last week, I wasted spent a great deal of time trying to write a post about Obama’s stance on gay marriage. Suffice it to say that I never could get it right. The short version: Yay, Mr. President! And, yes, I am pro-equal marital rights AND a Christian. And, yes, I can and do read my Bible.  But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

My husband read my failed attempts but couldn’t tell me where I was going wrong. “This is a really complicated topic. I just don’t think you’re going to reach the undecided. I don’t really think there is anyone who is undecided.”

That brought me up short. Is gay marriage a topic that absolutely everyone has taken a stance on? I don’t think so. But I do think the undecided are very quiet, and it isn’t because they are undecided. I think the undecided are quiet mainly because the rest of us are so very outspoken.

Think about it.

Come out as pro-marital-equality and you’re liable to get labeled a deluded liberal who is going against the Word of God. You are on the short path to the Hot Place and responsible for the destruction of America.

Come out as anti-gay-marriage and you’re a hate monger stuck in another century. You don’t know Christ’s true message and are thoughtlessly following  an equally deluded leader right off the proverbial cliff.

I’m fairly certain the undecided are out there, but because the decided have a tendency to be both outspoken and judgmental, the undecided are very, very quiet.

Frankly, its time for the rest of us to quiet down as well. To quiet down and look up. How else can we hear what God is trying to tell us? Remember – the same letters that spell Listen also spell Silent.  Only when we are silent will we hear Him.

Of course, once we do hear what He has to say on the topic, I think we’re all going to be in for some time in the Uncooperative Chair.  Maybe that will give us time to think things over so that we can begin to reach others with His Word.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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