Wrong/Right is More Important than Hateful/Not Hateful

Salvatore Cordileone, shown right, is the Archbishop of San Francisco.  He is also the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) effort to oppose gay marriage.  Cordileone has been on the barricades of the gay marriage issue for a while now.  In fact, it is hard not to see his appointment to San Francisco a couple of years ago as a poke in the eye to the city and its famous gay community, but that's really neither here nor there.

As part of his effort to oppose gay marriage, Archbishop Cordileone will be attending the "March for Marriage" tomorrow in Washington, D.C.  This event is sponsored by the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, both prominent anti-SSM organizations.  Both organizations are, as well, classified as "Hate Groups" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Given the status of the sponsors, a number of civil and religious leaders in San Francisco--most notably Rep. Nancy Pelosi--called on the Archbishop, in a public letter, not to attend the event.

On Monday, Archbishop Cordileone responded with a press release, stating that he would definitely be attending the event.  His letter covers well-worn talking points: the event, and by extension he as well, is not "anti-gay" but "pro-marriage"; the groups sponsoring the event are not hateful, but the pro-gay marriage folks are; we need to be respectful and dialogue with each other.  Other than his citation to some obscure conference three years ago that he says took a pro-pedophilia position, there's really nothing in there of significant substance.

I don't know if Archbishop Cordileone hates gay people--his letter states emphatically that he does not, but perhaps he is not telling the truth.  I tend to think he probably is telling the truth that he doesn't hate gay people, at least not at the level of hating specific, individual gay people because they are gay.  I also don't know if the members of the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage hate gay people.  I suspect some do and some do not.

But here's the thing--I don't think that's what's really important here.  I have a problem with Archbishop Cordileone going to the event tomorrow not because I think the event is hateful, but because I think the message of the event is wrong.
If we take what the Archbishop says at face value, he wants to attend an event to "promote marriage" because he believes that SSM somehow threatens heterosexual marriage.  I think he's wrong about that.  The Archbishop also says that he is obligated out of Christian convictions to attend and oppose SSM.  I think he's wrong about that, too.  That is the real dispute, not whether or not groups or individuals are hateful.

The Southern Poverty Law Center provides a valuable service, because it identifies groups whose ideology may lead to violence.  But I think sometimes we get lost in the spiral of arguing about whether someone or some group is or is not hateful, and we lose sight of the underlying issue.  I don't think anyone is really arguing that Archbishop Cordileone is going to come back from this event and commit an act of violence against a gay person, or even that the vast majority of people attending this rally are going to commit violence.  But that doesn't make the event OK, because the ideas that are being offered are not right.  Even if ideas are all they are.

We like to talk about "hateful/not hateful" because it seems like an appeal to neutral principles.  Whether or not we agree on the particular policy position, we should (in theory) be able to agree on whether someone is hateful.  And it is a way to criticize someone without criticizing their ideas, in the hope of not offending those that have the same ideas.  It's a way to soft-peddle your position.  It's a bit of a cop-out.

We are seeing this in Catholicism in a big way.  We have a situation were the "official Church" is taking a particular side on certain social issues, and a majority (in some cases, an overwhelming majority) of Catholics in the pews are taking the opposite position.  That reality is not being addressed directly.  Instead, those on the opposite side of the official position are appealing to tone and rhetoric to criticize the official Church.  "Pope Francis says that we should be more welcoming," they say.  "We need to have a less harsh tone," they say.

These are nice rhetorical devices, but that's all they are.  50+% of American Catholics support same sex marriage, not because they think that Archbishop Cordileone's "tone" is too harsh or because he is "hateful."  They support SSM because they think the Archbishop is wrong on the issue.  And it's the same with birth control, or divorce and remarriage.

Are you a Catholic that thinks that the Church needs to change on certain key issues?  Then stop talking about Pope Francis's tone.  Stop complaining that this or that bishop's rhetoric is too "harsh," or that it is not "welcoming" enough.  Start saying, publicly, what you really think and feel.  Start saying that you think the Church and the bishops are wrong about birth control, they are wrong about gay rights and gay marriage, and they are wrong about whatever you think they are wrong about.  Because if you keep talking about "tone," you are going to get sucked into the spiral of arguing about whether or not this or that statement is too mean.  You are never going to get anywhere.  And yes, I am absolutely including myself in this advice.

At the end of the day, the Church ultimately doesn't care whether you think it is too mean.  But, it might care whether you think it is wrong.  If the official Church is made to confront the fact that very large segments of faithful, every-Sunday-at-Mass-Catholics are not on board at all with this program, maybe it will say "we don't care, love it or leave it."  But maybe not.  Maybe they will listen.  And, at least you have had your say.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that the members of the Church are the People of God.  You have a right to be heard as part of that family.  But make your voice heard criticizing Archbishop Cordileone for what he stands for, if that is your view.  Don't hide behind whether or not he is "hateful."

Update:  Friend of the Blog Frank from Letters to the Catholic Right just tweeted out a link to a story that Archbishop Cordileone is part of a secretive body called the Princeton Group--with the NOM folks, among others--to raise money to oppose gay marriage.  Fair to say the Archbishop is a wee bit obsessed with this issue, but I still think it is the position, not the way in which the position is communicated, that is the issue.

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