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Jun  2015 09
Nurturing Leaders: Cultivate the Public Good

Scripture: Micah 6:8

Yesterday (June 8) was not a good day if weighed on the scale of “cultivating the public good” in Tulsa. The Diocese of Tulsa withdrew from membership in the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ; disclosure: I am an OCCJ board member).

The stated reason was that OCCJ participated in the Tulsa (LBGTQ) Pride Parade on Saturday, coupled with an assumption of what that participation implies and with what that participation means for Catholic participation in OCCJ.

The letter from a spokesperson for the bishop said: “To march in such a parade seems to us to be a deliberate and full-throttled expression of support for the so-called gay agenda, a central component of which is same-sex marriage. Unless a clear statement can be made by OCCJ that its participation does not imply support for same-sex marriage or be seen to condone sexual acts outside of marriage, we have no option but to withdraw from membership.” In the absence of a positive statement renouncing implied support for same sex marriage, withdrawal from membership is the only Catholic option.

Really, the only option? If one’s position is that God defines marriage as between a man and a woman, that any other kind of marriage is an offense against the way God created humanity, and that participating in a Pride parade necessarily means that one opposes this definition, I suppose divorce is the only option. But given the long history of Catholics walking together in Oklahoma with other faith groups to oppose bias, bigotry, and hatred, I would have thought a way might have been found to continue to walk together.

The original organization in the lineage that produced OCCJ was the National Conference of Christians and Jews, founded to combat anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic sentiments, laws, and ordinances. NCCJ/OCCJ members have marched together for civil rights in Oklahoma for ALL—Catholics and Jews, Muslims and Christians, the religious and non-religious, for ALL human beings.

Now, one of the founding defenders of the rights of all has left the table.

One of my frustrations with this action is that the OCCJ board has deliberately NOT gone on record pro or con same-sex marriage. OCCJ and its individual members have been vocal (and sometimes game-changing) when it comes to anti-bullying laws, fair housing laws, in opposing conversion therapies, and the like (see the fine statement by OK Equality Center’s Toby Jenkins on this matter). But no statement has been made about same sex marriage.

The OCCJ board is comprised of religious people of several faiths and a number of secular folks of good will. OCCJ is now a human rights organization with persons coming to their public standards of liberty, compassion, and justice for all from multiple streams, and certainly from more streams than was the case in the former more religion-limited NCCJ organization.

The Tulsa bishop’s decision begs a question that is an urgent one for us, as Americans today, and also for those of us who are people of faith. When we create and gather at a table, must we agree on everything in order to stay? Of course not. If it were otherwise, then every marriage would end in divorce!

There are matters, including some really important matters, in which I disagree with my parents, my wife, my church, my colleagues, my school (even though I am the president!), my alma maters, my city, my state, and my country. But I am not divorcing any of them!

Okay, surely, we have to agree on essentials. What are the essentials for participating in an organization? I would think the essential is to embrace the mission and that we need each other to accomplish the mission.

When we leave, we are saying we do not need each other. Our current toxic ecology of gridlock politics and turning every opponent into an enemy is feasting on this age of divorcing those with whom we disagree.

Leaving the table is problematic in terms both of ecclesiology (that is, the nature of the church and the nature of the community in Christ we seek) and in terms of the health of democracy. I wrote a dissertation 25 years ago that argued Christian ecumenical conversation should refocus from the nature of the unity we seek to the nature of the community we seek.

When we leave, we declare we cannot be in community with The Other. If we should not seek unity per se (too romantic of a notion, or too stifling of difference), and if we cannot hope for community, for what can we hope? Red and Blue America? Religious, spiritual, atheistic, and I-could-not-care-less America? Horrible for the church. Just as terrible for democracy.

The example I cite above is but one of many threats to cultivating good in public.

Would you agree that following Jesus should have a real, positive effect on cultivating good in the public realm—even the good of staying at the table to argue, to understand one’s opponents, and to find ways to work together by focusing on what can be affirmed together?

Do we need each other? The answer, in a practical sense, is not clear. But the decision to leave the table certainly implies the answer is “no.”

Prayer: Deliver me, God of All, from my broken ways of seeing and acting. Give me a vision of true community and the ways I need to change in order to receive that gift from you.


Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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