I consider myself a level-headed person. I try not to judge people because I don’t think I have a right to judge. I am not the one at the gates of heaven deciding who gains entrance. But in this day and age, being nonjudgmental isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a daily struggle. Our culture teaches us to identify people—and judge them—according to their gender, their race, their religion, etc. However, we need to realize that there is a difference between judging people and disagreeing with their actions and beliefs; in the classic formulation, we can hate the sin but not the sinner. But just how do I go about doing that? How do I continue to love a family member who is gay, for instance, while believing that gay marriage (and the gay lifestyle) are morally wrong?
This summer, a cousin graciously invited me to stay with him and his wife for two weeks while I interned in New York. All of us were raised in the Catholic faith, but I knew they were no longer practicing. Within an hour of my arrival, we were discussing three subjects I had wanted to avoid: gender identity, sex, and abortion. Perhaps I feared what they would have to say. Or was it that I was scared to tell them what I firmly believed? I have seen the photos of aborted babies and witnessed the pain that abortion can cause the mother. I told my cousin and his wife that I was pro-life, and that I was glad we could agree on some points, for example, that it is unacceptable to “murder” an unborn child at 34 weeks. I had to be careful while speaking so that I did not come off as aggressive or rude and ruin the relationship. I discovered that it was especially tricky to discuss abortion with childless forty-year-olds, because I didn’t know if possibly they could have had one. I needed to be sensitive to the situation.
The conversation then devolved to other questions concerning the Catholic Church. “I don’t understand why the Church won’t let people live together before they are married.” “Why are there so many dumb rules?” I quickly realized that I needed to listen and allow them to express how they felt. When people have questions but are unable to grasp the answers, it becomes even harder for them to consider the other person’s perspective. So I sat there and listened. Then the conversation turned to my cousin’s wife’s sister, who is gay. I also knew that another cousin of ours, who is gay, is getting married this September. Asking myself how I, as a Catholic, was supposed to act in this situation—“How should I respond?”—I recalled Jesus’ command: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” After I quoted Matthew, the conversation got a little more intense. We skipped from one question to another, my not having the ability to finish discussing one before being expected to answer another. But one of the most important things I have learned is to listen hard before fully stating my opinion. And I did. After the conversation ended, I felt I had earned their respect.
Here’s a scenario I have been thinking about lately: Let’s say I have a sister who is gay. My sister asks me to be her maid of honor. I disagree with her life choices and am unsure if I should even go to the wedding. But I tell her that though I cannot support her in this marriage, and could not in good faith be her maid of honor, I will be there for her on her day. Now of course this could cause controversy, because wouldn’t my presence mean I was supporting her gay marriage? No, it would not. I am firm in my beliefs but that does not mean I need to break ties with family or friends because we see life differently. I think perhaps this is when people begin to hate those who are Catholic. Because they assume we are not willing to accept those who are different from us. That is not the case. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but called them to conversion. He didn’t do it with the sword but with love.
I am going to speak in broad terms. The majority of us have never claimed to hate those who are gay or who identify as transgender. I don’t say, “Oh, I hate my friend because all of a sudden he came out as gay.” But ours is now a society of picking sides instead of having honest conversations and accepting differences. Reflecting on my own life, I look back at when people have judged me. I have crazy short hair, like to wear pants, and really hate carrying around purses. I remember going on a mission trip and a man asking if I was a boy. Does this mean, because I dress differently from most young Catholic girls, that I won’t be a good wife or mother? Or that I’m gay? The answer is no. We need to stop associating how people dress or what they look like with identity groups. I write this because there are conversations that need to be had. Uncomfortable conversations. We cannot live our lives assuming things about others while not knowing their whole story. I think I finally understand what it means not to judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a whole community of believers because of one individual’s bad behavior. Don’t hesitate to have those hard conversations. Remember to follow the Lord’s commandments and love one another. Good luck out there.