In the week that added the Orlando Massacre to our violent world, we are confronted as Christians with questions on how to talk about and respond to this kind of act. The whole conversation is made worse by the identity politics that is rampant in our time. Our tribal nature as humans makes us want to belong to a particular tribe: LGBTQ, Muslim, Liberal, Labor, Anti-vaccine, All Natural, Pro-Choice, Pro-life, Catholic, Protestant – choose your hashtag. Identity politics helps us to feel loved, accepted and understood within our chosen group. It is comforting to us to know that we are not alone in the world, that there are others who see things our way. I felt this myself when I changed from watching the news on ABC (which, though being our public broadcaster, inclines to a singularly left-wing version of reality) to watching the Bolt Report on Sky Channel. I thought, “At last, the voice of reason and sanity!”
But an unfortunate side-effect of identity politics is that it sets up any opposing groups as ‘the enemy’. Identifying with one group often leads to stereotyping of other groups, rather than peaceful encounter. Pope Francis has the measure of this, when he asks us to go out and encounter others. Encounter helps us to humanise people; separation helps us to demonise people. He sets the example by going out of his way to arrange meetings not only with other Catholics but with people like Mahmoud Abbas, gay couple Yayo Grassi and Iwan Bagus, Patriarch Kirill, prisoners, George Clooney, Rabbi Boruch Perton and so on, people with whom he has only a very limited shared set of beliefs, BUT who all share in our common humanity.
Some people get upset that Pope Francis has met with x, y or z, and think this means that he is showing support for the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, LGBTQs, etc. On the contrary, this is where the Catholic understanding of separating the person from their acts is so useful. It allows us to love the person, while feeling perfectly free to analyse and possibly critique their beliefs, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to do so. I would say that these things are necessary in any encounter with someone who identifies with a different group from us:
- We, as Catholics, must thoroughly understand and be confident about our own Church’s position on any particular point.
- We must not be afraid to talk to someone from another identity group, and ask them how they understand their beliefs (listening is always helpful).
- We need to be able to explain our beliefs on the same topic, without getting angry or self-righteous!
- We should then work out what common beliefs we have so that we can identify our common humanity and foster love, not hatred.
- We should pray for our friend with sincerity of heart and leave the Holy Spirit to do the rest.
- Note that if you are friends with another person who disagrees with you, it will be harder for them to indulge in hatred themselves. An important point to understand is that disagreement is not synonymous with hate.
- If your friends choose to take a path of hatred towards you for disagreeing with them, then we need to be ready to embrace the cross of rejection or persecution. Jesus did, and he prayed, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” This is what it will come down to in the end, whether we can embrace the cross.
But maybe, just maybe, they will be converted by our teaching and our behaviour, as, for example, these Muslims converting to Christianity, or even James Parker, the gay Catholic apologist:
Along the journey of acrimonious engagement with different expressions of Christianity I came across some startling, dare I say life-changing, revelations. In short, I came to understand that some of the people and organisations that I had consistently learned to blame and finger-wag for my despair were in fact conduits of my discovering an equal standing with others. This in turn led to a deeper sense of self-acceptance and my despair metamorphosing into a rich hope … It is the last thing I ever imagined doing when I first came out as a gay man in my late teens, especially as I saw the Catholic Church’s teaching as being the most archaic of all. The group’s policy is to refuse to diminish anyone by using labels … while honestly facing the reality of thoughts, feelings and actions. We seek to meet each other on our unique life journeys with authenticity and to bring them to the cross. (James Parker’s Story).
Today’s readings speak loudly about the necessity of embracing the cross in our walk with Christ:
Word format: Year C 12th Sunday 2016
Pdf format:Year C 12th Sunday 2016