Perhaps the biggest Catholic post-Supreme Court decision news is not what Catholic bishops have been saying, but a social media controversy that has focused on Jesuit Father James Martin’s Facebook page.
David Gibson, on his blog at Religion News Service, reported on the issue which is causing millions–yes, millions–of people to flock to the Facebook page of the popular Jesuit author and speaker.
The “offending” post which is causing the controversy, was put up by Fr. Martin just before 3:00 pm on June 26th, the day that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide. In the post, Fr. Martin said:
“No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality.”
“Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have.”
Earlier in the day, Martin had made three posts about the Supreme Court ruling. The first was a post announcing the decision. The second was the response to the decision from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The third was the response of New Ways Ministry. For each of the posts, he added the following prefatory guidelines to his followers who would want to comment on them:
“No ad hominem. No uncharitable remarks. No homophobic remarks. Mo more than one or two posts per person. And Catholics who disagree with the Supreme Court decision must treat gays with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ as the Catechism asks.”
In both the USCCB post and the New Ways Ministry post, he provided links so that his readers could, if they wanted, easily see both points of view.
Later in the day, probably due to many negative comments he received, Fr. Martin posted the message, quoted above, about how homosexuality brings out an immense amount of hatred.
The statistics for each of these posts tell an interesting story:
- Announcing court’s decision: 9.603 Likes; 746 Shares; 1,088 Comments
- USCCB reaction: 1,662 Likes; 215 Shares; 535 Comments
- New Ways Ministry reaction: 6,635 Likes; 881 Shares; 879 Comments
- Martin’s 3:00 pm post on negativity: 402,328 Likes; 141,108; Shares; 18,229 Comments
[Facebook statistics are from late in the evening on June 30, 2015]
Gibson reports that the result of all that sharing of the 3:00 pm post, already over 28 million people have viewed it.
The rest of Martin’s 3:00 pm post reads like a sermon:
“The Catholic church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’
“But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love.
“Love means: getting to know LGBT men and women, spending time with them, listening to them, being challenged by them, hoping the best for them, and wanting them to be a part of your lives, every bit as much as straight friends are part of your lives.
“Love first. Everything else later. In fact, everything else is meaningless without love.”
Fr. Martin has taken the venom spewed towards him in stride, it seems. At about 10:00 pm on the same day, he posted his reaction to the immense negative response he received. He offered screen shots of three of the attacks on him, and then humorously commented:
“Dear erstwhile ‘friends,’
“If you are currently composing a Facebook message to describe how much you disapprove of me–like these from three separate Catholics–wouldn’t it be better simply to hit the ‘Unfollow’ key? Not that I don’t enjoy such notes, including the frequently amusing misspellings and delightfully creative grammatical mistakes. But it would save us both a lot of time.
James Martin, SJ,
or as one of you styled me,
‘Father’ James Martin, SJ”
Martin, who posts on a wide variety of church, social, and cultural issues, was not daunted by the criticism. Since this controversy, he has already posted twice more on the Supreme Court decision. Martin is one of the most popular Catholic commentators on Facebook, with over 277,000 followers.
I think there are three lessons in this story. The first lesson is that this Facebook incident illustrates both how passionate Catholics–on both sides of the issue–are about the Supreme Court’s decision. While the strong majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality, there are still many who are equally strongly opposed to it. These groups need to be reconciled to one another.
The second lesson is the need for civil discourse as Catholics continue to discuss this topic. The Supreme Court decision resolved the legal and political questions of same-gender marriage. The moral and religious questions will continue. It will be imperative for both sides of the debate to treat one another respectfully, as a number of U.S. bishops have pointed out in their reaction statements.
The third lesson is that the negative reaction to Father Martin’s post shows how poorly educated Catholics are on the basics of church teaching about accepting gay and lesbian people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Connected with this teaching, and equally as poorly taught by bishops and leaders, is honoring the human dignity of gay and lesbian people. Father Martin pointed out the reality of this deficiency in his post. Much more teaching about how the Catholic social justice tradition applies to gender and sexual minorities is greatly needed. Now, more than ever.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Queering The Church: “Catholic Responses to Homosexuality: Hatred or Simple Disagreement?”