Once Again Pope Francis Encourages Acceptance While Others Promote Hate
With so many different religious faiths around for people to follow, it can sometimes be difficult to decide what it is that you believe in or understand. Having the freedom to practice one's faith openly in America is a great privilege and one that I am thankful to have. Having been raised in a Christian home, I never gave a lot of thought to anything other than my own Protestant faith until I became an adult. Then, after getting married and living in the real world for a while, I began to realize that there are people who feel just as strongly about their faith as I do about mine. I’ve discovered that those differences can, and often do, ruin relationships. In the world we live in today, religion is often the source of conflict, whether on the national, international or personal level. What should bring people together can be the very thing that tears them apart.
Scott Lively, a pastor in Springfield, Massachusetts, has made headlines lately by publicly supporting Russian president Vladimir Putin for his stance against gay people. Lively runs Abiding Truth Ministries, a church dedicated to combating “the homosexual agenda,” and preaches overseas to promote his books. While Lively stands behind his religious interpretation of the Bible, I believe he does nothing more than promote judgment and hatred. There is a pending lawsuit against him claiming he persecuted gays in Uganda and committed a potential “crime against humanity” – one that contributed to a bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death. I am appalled by the fact that this man claims to be a Christian pastor, all the while promoting hate and violence, to the point of murder, in the name of God.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church cannot focus only on abortion, contraception and gay marriage, and that the moral structure of the church will “fall like a house of cards” if it does not find better balance. The pope has made it clear from the beginning of his papacy that he does not judge, and believes that gay people can and do make a positive contribution to society. On homosexuality, the pope said that he used to receive letters in Argentina, where he was a cardinal, from people who were “socially wounded” and felt that the church had condemned them. “But the church does not want to do this,” he said. “Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: It is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.” He also said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
As a Christian I am taught that we all matter, regardless of who we are or what we do. I also recognize the fact that there are other religions who believe in peace, acceptance and love without condition. So how can it be that there are pastors like Scott Lively who believe that while God created everyone, some people don’t deserve to be recognized – or, in his opinion, live? I struggle with the fact that there are religious leaders (I use that term lightly in some cases) teaching bigotry, hate and condemnation in the name of their God. As the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has been able to share his views without condemning anyone, while recognizing the views on those “hot topic” issues as doctrine of the church. Pope Francis is not going against the teachings of his faith or the doctrine of the church. He is merely stating that he believes that we must endorse the existence of the person with love; rejection is not an option.
My heart aches for those who are deemed less important because of who they love or how they live their lives. My life is blessed by the presence of many people of different backgrounds, faiths and lifestyles. I continue to strive to be more like the person Pope Francis encourages us to be, and know that equality for everyone is not always a given. As the parent of a gay child, supporter of gay rights and friend of many who celebrate their faith differently than I do, my wish is that human worth be put ahead of hatred, bigotry and condemnation. Life would be so much better, not only for us but for generations to come, if we stopped promoting hatred and encouraging society to discard those who live differently than we do. As thankful as I am that I don’t feel the judgment against myself, I am equally saddened to know so many who are deemed unworthy. We need to stop listening to self-righteous, misguided promoters of hate and ill will in the name of Christianity, and pay attention to those like Pope Francis who work toward making life worthwhile for everyone in the name of faith, hope and love.