A few days ago, here in my home state of New Jersey, a story appeared that irked me. The Director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University, Warren Hall, posted a pro-LBGT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender) remark on his Twitter account. In today’s day and age, it seemed fairly innocuous: LGBT ‘NO H8′.
Who can argue with a no-hate message? But the next day Mr. Hall was fired from his job. Now, you should know that Seton Hall is a Catholic University and Warren Hall is a Catholic priest. (I myself am a lapsed Catholic.) And it appears his firing was made not by the university, but by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark which made the appointment at Seton Hall.
But you’ve got to wonder: during a time when Pope Francis himself has been quoted as saying “If someone is gay…who am I to judge?” it seems that the Archdiocese of Newark is doing a lot of judging. And it has decided that by making a statement supporting the LGBT community, Warren Hall was taking a stand that was against the church’s principles and beliefs.
It reminded me of another story I recently heard, as told by the American pastor Shane Willard during a sermon titled “We Are Not The Masters of Good and Evil”. (Special thanks to Patheos reader Jim Smith for pointing this video clip out to me.) I will paraphrase it here:
While Willard was ministering at a small church, he ran into an obviously upset congregant. The man walked up to Willard and practically shouted at him: “What are we going to do about the homosexuals in our church?” Willard asked why this upset the man so much; he responded that homosexuality was a sin, it said so in the Bible.
Pastor Willard then asked the congregant if he knew how many times homosexuality was mentioned in the Bible. The man did not know, and the pastor informed him it was only a handful of times, maybe three or four.
He then asked the man if he knew how many times the Bible mentioned gluttony as a sin or portrayed it in a negative light. Again, the congregant did not know. And the minister replied that gluttony was mentioned at least 25 times. (For some back-up to this claim, click here.)
Pastor Willard then asked the man if there were any gluttonous, or overweight people who were members of the church. “Yes, there are many,” the congregant had to admit. The pastor then mentioned the church’s long-time usher who had what my mother-in-law politely calls “a large body habitus”. He asked if he would say the usher was gluttonous? Yes, replied the congregant.
“Do you think we should kick our overweight usher out of the church for being gluttonous?” asked the pastor. The man did not respond. Willard followed up this question up by asking, “Does he make you want to go out and eat—eat so much that you will become a glutton yourself?” “No,” the usher sheepishly replied.
“We don’t chastise the overweight for overeating,” remarked Pastor Willard. “So why are you casting the gay people in this church in such a harsh light?”
The congregant thought about his words. He had to admit he had perhaps overreacted. The minister then left him with an important piece of advice:
“It is our job to love. It is God’s job to judge.”
The pastor went on to say that we are not called to be “the masters of good and evil’. That is not our role, and in fact, we are terrible at it. We should not be determining the worth of others. We should be using our resources to address the real problems here on earth and be “masters of love and life”.
It is our job to love. It is God’s job to judge. It is a message I thought about as I read the Seton Hall story I referenced at the top of this column. And I believe it is an idea that the Archdiocese of Newark should take to heart. After all, doesn’t this message reflect the true teachings of Jesus?
This post originally appeared on my Patheos column Wake Up Call, May, 22, 2015.