Yesterday I said this to my 4-year-old daughter after she thwacked her 18-month-old brother for stealing her doll:
“Honey, I love you, but I need you to know that it’s not OK to hit people.”
Something hit me in my gut. I lost my words and fumbled to recover. I managed to stammer:
“Sorry. I mean: I love you -AND- I need you to know that it’s not OK to hit people.”
I had been doing it all wrong. Those two statements should form an implicit conditional: If I love you, then I need you to know it’s not OK to hit people. It’s because I love my daughter that I want her to learn not to hit people. It’s because I love my daughter that I need her to learn self-restraint, especially when it comes to her sudden and strong emotions.
My heart has been aching all sorts of aches surrounding the Orlando tragedy. Perhaps most painful of all is the knowledge that people of Christian faith have explicitly used their religion as a weapon against LGBTQ people.
I chose my words very carefully there. I don’t want to say that religion qua religion is the cause of this hate. No. Faith in the One True God of Love cannot breed hate. That belongs to Tash.
Yet it remains true that the Catholic Church teaches homosexual acts are a sin. She also teaches that extramarital intercourse is a sin, using contraception in marriage is a sin, and masturbation is a sin (see CCC “in brief” #2392-2400). How many Christians stand as vehemently opposed to these offenses against chastity and marriage as they do to homosexual acts? How many Christians use careful, calculated rhetoric to avoid convicting themselves or their loved ones of sexual sins and then load their words to target people with same-sex attraction? The answer is too many.
For a long time I’ve liked to think that my own rhetoric on homosexuality is as calculated and careful as that which I use when talking to anyone about any sin. But that exchange with my daughter taught me something powerful. If I can say something like that to my little girl, unintentionally giving her the message that my love is not connected to my desire for her to stop this negative behavior, what possible message could I be sending to my brothers and sisters in Christ?
It made me aware that far too often, I say “I love you, but…” when I should be saying “I love you, and…”
The seed of “and” can be a powerful leaven in a society so desperately in need of Jesus’ love. The woman at the well knew the power of this seed. (Jn 4:5-29) The woman caught in adultery knew the power of this seed. (Jn 8:1-11) So did the rich young man. (Mk 10:17-22)
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, AND said to him…”
I don’t know whether this seed will fall on fertile ground or not. Equally frustrating and sad are the number of LGBTQ people (and their allies) who say that it’s not enough for us to love their personhood. There are many who want us to not only affirm their lifestyle, but to completely redefine societal institutions to accommodate them. Some even say that we must teach their choices as viable lifestyle options for our children– or we are threatened with the labels of “bigot” and “hater.”
Mercifully, I am not responsible for the seed once it has been sown.
But I am still responsible for sowing it.