Friday, December 13, 2013

Pope Francis, Anti-Gay Clobber Texts, and Hope: An Advent Meditation

Advent's my season, in some ways. As a gay Catholic who hopes and believes that my church might eventually decide to treat me and others like me with basic human decency, I have long lived in hope, believing in the substance of things unseen. 

My Advent hope against hope is now being nudged along by Pope Francis and his apparent willingness to stop giving papal aid and comfort to those political and religious groups in my own country most intent on dehumanizing me, slamming doors in my face, assuring that I have no safe and humane place in which to live out my brief span of life on the earth. I take hope (and no little amusement, I'll admit it) in the growing discomfiture of many of these folks in the American political context, as they realize what Francis stands for.  

I take hope in the fact that when they pull that venerable gay-bashing text about going and sinning no more out of their anti-gay grab-bag, they'll now have to deal with the ways in which the pope has complexified their simplistic use of that text to beat their gay brothers and sisters over the head. You know the text I mean: it's from Jesus's encounter with the woman taken in adultery in John's gospel, chapter 8. 

Jesus carries on a conversation with a woman (remarkable in itself, since rabbis didn't converse with women) found in adultery, tells her he is not interested in condemning her, and then advises her to go on her way and sin no more. Though the text has nothing at all to do with homosexuality--since that term and that concept were not even in the vocabulary of the biblical writers, and Jesus never says a single word in the gospels that suggests even the remotest interest in the subject--anti-gay Christians have seized on this text as a denunciation of those who are gay:

We don't condemn you. But we insist that you go and sin no more. We have a special message for you that we offer no one else who approaches our churches for welcome and acceptance: stop your sinning! Your sin counts. Your sin stands out. Your sin is the only one worth mentioning when we get onto our sin-condemning soapbox. This text was made for you!

As I say, Pope Francis has now complexified the simplistic use of this clobber text by anti-gay Catholics. He has, in effect, pulled the rug out from under the use of this text by Catholics to berate their fellow human beings who are gay. Why do I say this?

Because the clear and overriding concern of Francis's call to us to address the sin in our lives has been, up to this point in his papacy, a call to us to remember that how we treat the poor--not the question of homosexuality--counts first and foremost in the eyes of God:

Go and sin no more. Stop ignoring the poor. Stop creating structures of socioeconomic exclusion that make some human beings into objects, into nonentities. Start recognizing that your complicity in sinful socioeconomic structures is complicity in sin. Begin remembering that you'll be judged at the end of your life according to whether you have seen Jesus in the least of your brothers and sisters.

What Pope Francis has effectively accomplished by all that he has said and done as pope up to now is to challenge Catholics to ask themselves whether Jesus's injunction to the woman found in adultery--"Go and sin no more"--applies to all of us. Especially in our dealings with those on the margins of society.

If anti-gay Catholics using this biblical verse as a weapon to attack their gay brothers and sisters are listening to the pope with any understanding at all, they'll now have to begin asking themselves, as they lob the "go and sin no more" verse at those who are gay, how much that text applies to them--how much it applies to them as those seeking to demean, exclude, and marginalize people on grounds of sexual orientation.

And how much it applies to them insofar as they have perverted the gospel message, which is at its very heart a message of good news to the poor, by ignoring its central focus and twisting it to a focus--the condemnation of homosexuality--that is simply not to be found anywhere in the gospels.

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