Also posted at Catholic Insight.
Scriptural passages are probably among the most frequently quoted, misunderstood and misrepresented statements in the history of the Bible. Two sides of a religiously charged debate will use scripture to drive home their point and defeat the other person. No where was that more evident than at a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting I attended a few days ago.
The Board meeting debated a Trustee motion to reject the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs in Ontario Catholic schools. GSA clubs are mandated by the Ontario provincial government. In place of GSAs, trustee Garry Tanuan motioned to implement the Respecting Differences Document, released through the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association in consultation with the Bishops of Ontario. While provincial GSA legislation (Bill 13) only addresses bullying of homosexual students and contradicts Church teachings, the Respecting Differences Document addresses all forms of bullying, including the targeting of homosexual students, and upholds Church teachings. In fact, Bill 13 bullies Catholic schools into implementing legislation that goes against constitutionally protected rights that safeguard Catholic teachings in Catholic schools.
It was a very lively meeting that was open to the general public. Before trustees voted, members of the public were allowed to speak. Thirteen speakers spoke in favour of the motion; seven spoke against it. There were parents, teachers, student groups, concerned citizens, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a representative from Queer Ontario and the Teachers’ Union. All of the speakers were articulate and passionate about their viewpoint. Everyone except the representatives from Queer Ontario, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and families with gay children quoted Scripture to defend their argument. At times, opposing sides used the same Bible verse to poke holes in the opposition. Passages of compassion and love of neighbour were the most frequent references along with not being afraid.
What I found most interesting was how both sides claimed to be messengers of truth. But we can’t all be true, can we? That would make truth subjective and man-made, relative and ever-changing to support any current viewpoint so, one person’s truth will contradict another person’s truth. That’s what happened at the meeting.
As much as the pro-GSA group felt compelled to talk about compassion and love, they missed the point. They missed the truth of the Gospels. In their impassioned speeches, they equated the Gospels with equality rights, inclusion and alternative lifestyles. They misunderstood or misused Jesus’ teachings and twisted them to validate their position. They re-made Jesus and the Catholic faith in their likeness.
The truth is, Jesus didn’t go around telling people they could do whatever they want. Jesus preached Love but His Love includes repentance, conversion, obedience, humility and following the Ten Commandments – putting God first. If you’re not with Me, He said, then you’re against Me. ( Matthew 12:30)
In his 2009 Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that “truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity, but charity in its turn, needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth.” Clearly, speakers on both sides of the argument believed that they have the best interests of the students at heart. It’s just that the charity expressed by the pro-GSA faction is not rooted in Biblical teachings. Their love is born out of a secularized, misguided belief in right and wrong and as such relativizes truth and is not authentic love of neighbour.
It seems that GSA clubs have started to distort Catholic teaching as high school students groups speaking at the meeting extolled the clubs’ successes. What I saw and heard were young people who are not formed properly in the Catholic faith and who are being taught a wrong interpretation of compassion and love. While they believe they are defending their bullied homosexual classmates, in reality, their presentations showed an increasing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, which is a very different thing from accepting the homosexual person as a child of God. Love the sinner – and we are all sinners – hate the sin.
One of the pro-GSA school trustees revealed the real thinking behind their flimsy, Biblically based argument when he said that the motion to reject GSA clubs in favour of the Respecting Differences Document is “on the wrong side of history.” He also questioned why the Board would “[throw] a two thousand-year old book” at anyone and stated that a progressive School Board “cannot wrap itself in the Bible.” A veteran trustee, he and his pro-GSA colleagues showed complete disregard for the Catholic teachings they were elected to protect.
The motion to replace GSA Clubs with the Respecting Differences Document was defeated seven to four. Not only was truth distorted, truth was denied.
The day after the Board meeting, my twelve year-old son told me that in his classroom’s current events segment that morning, a member of the teaching staff read a news item on the implementation of GSAs in the schools. Puzzled, my son asked me what that meant. Really, teacher? Without any context to Catholic moral teaching, you read this out to a grade seven class? Why?
Some families will seek out other education options for their kids, but for the vast majority, there are no other choices. As concerned parents, it is our responsibility to know what is being taught daily in our children’s classrooms. We must have frank discussions with our children in order to clarify their questions. Most importantly, at home, we need to arm them with a solid foundation in the Faith and the strength and conviction to be authentically Catholic.
And Fathers, we need your support and leadership from the ambo.
I have no doubt that parents will continue to form groups to try and keep our schools accountable. There is much work to do. In the meantime, we fast and pray. Here’s my first prayer: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)