Friday, May 10, 2013

Evangelization and parenting

I got in a Facebook debate the other day.  It was on this article and whether it's okay to treat gay people "as if their lifestyle is acceptable."  Namely, going to a Thanksgiving dinner at which a gay couple might be present.

My first issue with the phrasing I quoted is that there isn't a special way I treat people when I approve of their choices.  I just treat people like people.  Most people have at least something about them I don't like, but I focus on the good.  If we're close, I might mention the other things: "I worry about how much you drink," or, "You have spinach in your teeth."

An acquaintance of mine said that this attitude is "compromising my principles."  When I said something about Christian charity, he said he didn't see the difference between charity and compromise, and we have to "hold the line" against the onslaught of evil.

This is the sort of thing that comes up for me all the time.  If I say we should be nice to this or that public sinner, I'm accused of getting in bed with the devil and being personally responsible for the downfall of humanity.  Whereas I think that whenever I treat a person with charity -- any person, good, bad, or indifferent -- I am acting 100% in accord with my principles.  Because principle #1 for a Catholic is charity, right?  That doesn't include changing my mind about my morals, but simply being kind rather than shunning.

My interlocutor brought up that I have kids and said, "Well, if one of your kids misbehaves, you don't just hug them and tell them they're wonderful, do you?"

Cough cough.  I directed the conversation away from my parenting because I was sure this guy would judge me for the "slacker" parent I am.  But on second thought, that was a mistake.  Being a mother actually gives me a lot of insight into how people work, and it's made me a much kinder and more merciful person overall.  (It's funny, because he said I couldn't understand the spiritual battle because I'm not a Marine.  I just got mad, but I should have pointed out that motherhood is, on the spiritual level, a pretty amazing vocation which teaches you a lot.)

You see, I'm not merciful and kind to my children because I don't care how they behave, or because I think it's okay for them to act however they like.  If I were, I'd definitely go along with the "running into traffic" argument: "Well, you can be carefree about most stuff, but if they run into traffic, they're getting a spanking.  You have to keep your kids safe."

Would I spank my children to keep them from being run over by a car?  You bet I would.  Is spanking my children actually going to keep them from being run over by a car?  I don't think so.

You see, if my kids are on the edge of the street, heading for an oncoming car, and I stomp up to them shrieking "You're gonna catch it!" what do you suppose they're going to do?  If they glance over their shoulder and see me, and know that I'm going to give them a spanking when I catch them, what direction are they going to run?

It's happened many times that my kids are heading for something dangerous, and I cry, "No!  Dangerous!  Come here!"  My children know I wouldn't hit them.  They know they are in for hugs and not spankings.  They also have a trusting relationship with me and know I want to keep them safe and that I don't lie.  So when I hold out my arms to Michael, or shout "Dangerous!" to Marko, they come running.  They come because they trust me.

That relationship takes a lot of building up and a lot of work.  It takes humility and patience and forgiveness.  It would be easier to go the authoritarian route, but it would be less effective.  Sooner or later, at two or at twenty, my kids would realize that I can't make them do what they don't want to do, and they will do everything I told them not to do.

Is it so hard to think of doing the same thing with people who are considered "sinners"?  (Because, guess what: we are all sinners, so if we avoided sinners we'd be pretty darn lonely.)  Yes, I very much want people to abandon whatever sins they have and become Catholic.  But what is the more likely approach -- to walk up to someone and say, "You're going to hell," or to walk alongside them in life and show them how rich our faith can be?

When it comes down to it, we don't live the moral life because we're afraid of punishment or because we've reasoned it out from the natural law.  That might get you a little way, but when you want to sin badly enough, those arguments just don't hold water.  What keeps you on the straight and narrow when all else fails is that you know that God loves you, that he is trustworthy, that he knows what's best.  You have the kind of trusting relationship with him that makes you able to give up even your most beloved sins, because you'd rather be close to God than anything else in the world.

People who live as if they don't know God .... probably don't know God.  The odds are good that they really don't know what God is like.  I keep being told, "Oh, the Bible is everywhere, there's no excuse."  But which of us really was taught about God, his love, his forgiveness?  Weren't most of us taught about Jerk-God instead?  No matter how people try to explain, there's always this confusion, mixing God up with this mean nun or that harsh principal or the parent we never got along with.  So many of us are profoundly hurt, having never been shown the kind of unconditional love that God has for us.  If no one has ever loved you that way, how could you imagine what it's like?

There is only one way.  There has only ever been one way.  And that is for those who do know God to show forth that kind of unconditional love wherever we go.  Charity is the earmark, the character, the membership card of the Christian.  Without it, we're worse than useless.  We drive people away from God, the one person who could heal them, because we are the only image they have of God, and we're jerks.


Hannah, Horn, and Hannabert said...

Love the Sinner, hate the sin seems like a much better idea than Hate the sinner more for having sinned. Plus, charity and compassion are much better for a change of heart or behavior as it makes it much easier to for the person to stop because the the sinner and the sin aren't the same. Just like a toddler temper tantrum.

'Akaterina said...

This was an interesting conversation. I was going to post on FB, but I have gotten into this fight too many times! Here is what I would have written:

"A couple of things, while I agree presentation of the truth is at least 50% of the problem of receptivity, we all have to agree that the wide spread notion that homosexuality is socially acceptable or "the norm" is actually very detrimental to our society as a whole. But so is divorce or "hooking up". Sexual perversions of ANY sort is going to cause the foundation of the family to crumble.

I think the problem is, we have lost the battle when it comes to divorce and sleeping around before marriage, and now Christians of all stripes are trying to hold on to this issue. While I don't think we can disregard the significant implications of allowing the normalization of homosexuality, I don't think the way Christians go about trying to evangelize is helpful either.

Rand, you say that you are trying to hold on to the truth, but I ask you, without sounding too cheesy, what would Jesus do? He would dine with them. Show them compassion and mercy, then teach them. We love to quote Christ saying "I have not come to bring peace, but the sword. . ." yet we frequently ignore the fact that He scandalized many for eating with sinners. I have seen TOO MANY conservative types have this attitude of despair of our culture and say "to hell with being charitable, I am going to hold on to this truth." We have lost a true sense of compassion for the sinner. We shouldn't angry, but we should feel sorry for them. "

Sheila said...

Perhaps I would have done better if I'd talked about the points on which I agreed with him. I guess I was too "uncompromising," ironically enough.

It's absolutely indisputable that Christ really did dine with sinners, that he did it a lot and he did it even in situations that really did scandalize people. So when people object to the *exact same* issue today, I really wonder that they don't notice the dissonance.

Charlemagne said...

So the old injunction not to give scandal is really just a crack-pot old rule invented by nervous Victorian school marms?

Sheila said...

Is that *honestly* what you got from what I said?

Jesus did not give scandal. The Pharisees were scandalized, though; they were their own stumbling block because they couldn't see the difference between showing love to someone and approving their lifestyle.

I see it as the same here. If you told someone "oh, the Church has changed its teaching" or "well, the Church is wrong about this," you would definitely be giving scandal. But if even eating a meal with someone will cause someone to sin ... where does it stop, you know? What exactly am I allowed to do without scandalizing someone? Certainly we are not called in any way by our faith to be *respectable* or perpetually inoffensive. Can't hardly spit without offending *someone.* The problem is that I am offending people like you, when everyone would rather see me offend gay people.

Certainly if there were anyone around with a weak conscience, I'd be careful ... probably by explaining my actions clearly.

Belfry Bat said...

Perhaps, Charlemagne, the direction of Sheila's argument can be read as that use of the medicinal penalty of excommunication should be reserved to the episcopacy, even though she uses the more germanic word "shunning" (which has even harsher connotations among some of our neighbors than she intends, I'm sure)

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm all for treating all people the same way, and what it normally means is that I don't stir up trouble where none exists. For instance, I don't think my gay colleagues who tell me stories about their "husbands" and "wives" suspect that I believe very strongly that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. Does my refusal to engage in spiritual warfare with them mean I have dropped the ball? I don't think so, but this is where your Marine friend and I would definitely disagree.

In other news, I actually severed a friendship with someone I had known for half my life because I could no longer bear her lifestyle. This has been hard for me to explain to everyone, but it caused me real emotional agony to overlook it. Now, this former friend has had many issues with the Church since before we met; and my primary worry during the months I was weighing whether or not to stop being friends with her was whether I would turn her off from Catholics forever. Maybe that was exactly what I just did. =(

I still pray for her every day, especially at Mass, and I will always love her. But I doubt that this is the message she has received from my actions.

Sheila said...

Belfry Bat, I am puzzled where you got that impression ... I can't even find the word "shun" in my post; no doubt it's in there, but I don't see it right now. What I was talking about is our dealings with *non-Catholics.* Obviously they can't be excommunicated, and I see no reason why they should be socially shunned either.

E, that's a tough call. It is very hard to be friends with someone whose values are far enough from yours. I once cut off a friend because she had done something which I considered absolutely despicable, and she didn't seem to see anything wrong with it. I just felt that if she could do something like that, she wasn't who I thought she was.

But then YEARS later, she told me that I had the wrong version of events and she hadn't done what I thought she had. It's kind of impossible for me to know, but now I regret having taken someone else's word for it. We're speaking again, but certainly not friends on the level we used to be, and I have to take the blame for that.

It's hard to make a rule, but I hope in the future I'd be slower to cut someone off.

Belfry Bat said...

Insofar as valid baptism joins one to the Catholic Church, anyone baptised could become excommunicate, though I agree there's little point; but, then, all the more reason to leave that judgment to the Bishops! Perhaps the reason I gathered that impression from reading your post is that, where I find most doctrinal frictions is with rebellious cradle-Catholics of my own generation whom I have known from childhood.

As it happens, I wouldn't avoid a dinner just because some homoerotic couple would be there, but I would decline a dinner hosted by such a couple. Not that I get that many invitations to dinner parties, so its something of a pointless resolve...

Enbrethiliel said...


If I wrote a similar post, it would have the title "Evangelisation and Friendship". And I'd reflect glumly that one unexpected effect of my having cut off one friend is that two other close friends have told me they are worried I will drop them next. =(

To make matters worse, they know that I parted ways with the first friend for religious reasons. And they themselves aren't particularly devout. (Heck, one of them has stopped going to church entirely, says she's done with "Christianity" in general, and is studying Buddhism.) Now, there's a sense in which I'm not responsible for their religious lives (we're all adults now, their formative years happened before we met, etc.), but it's also true that my actions have considerably shaken them up. And I ask myself whether I've effectively delayed my friend's return to the church for several years--or given the other a few more straws for her camel's back.

Sheila said...

E, that is a bind. How much are we responsible for our friends' souls? Can we even know?

BB, the irony is that I have only once in my life met a gay person. We talked for half an hour at the airport. So either I'm incredibly sheltered or I have no "gaydar" at all. If it's the latter, that's no worry to me -- I don't feel I have to know about someone else's sex life in order to have a friendly conversation or be their friend.

I'm not sure what the point of excommunication would be if the person wasn't in communion with the Church in the first place. If they are not receiving the sacraments, what exactly would excommunication entail?

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