the church as mother, and the fruits of dialogue

This is a bit unusual as a Mother’s Day post, but since I recently offered a tribute to my mom on her birthday and the day of her burial, I’m writing about something slightly different today.

Via blogs, e-mail correspondence, and a few in-person meetings over lunch during the past ten years, Michael Bayly (presently of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN) and I have exchanged ideas and been engaged in an ongoing dialogue about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

The most famous of our exchanges was this:

The differences have been largely irreconcilable in the subsequent years.

Recently, after I sent him a link to a new online documentary called The Third Way, he replied, thanking me for forwarding him the link. And a day or two later, he sent me a friend request on Facebook.

In response, I wrote to him to explain why I didn’t think a friend request made sense at this point (excerpts below):

I received your Facebook friend request the other day. I wanted to wait until I had some time before replying.

There are, of course, all kinds of friends in life, such as friends from childhood, friends within one’s family, friends through one’s workplace or place of worship, or simply those who share a common interest or goal — fellow bloggers, etc.  Facebook friends may overlap any of those forms, depending on how one uses the platform.

I tend to be fairly liberal in who I friend on Facebook (although limiting it, in most cases, to those I have at least met in person).

I’m hesitating with your request for one reason, and one reason only. It’s not easy for me to bring this up, but I feel compelled to be candid with you about it.

I have a hard time trusting you, and trust is essential to friendship of any stripe.

The obstacle for me is not that you object to some of the Church’s moral teaching, but the way you have expressed it over the years through lobbying against the Church’s pastors.

While I can respect that you see things differently than I do, I cannot lie and say that it’s a matter of indifference to me that we disagree about essential matters of faith and morals. It’s been very painful to witness your persistent attacks on the church’s pastors and her teaching, and I can’t pretend otherwise.

For me, the church is a mother. Though I may not agree with one or other way that some of her ministers carry out her mission, I believe her teaching on faith and morals to be without error, and also feel the duty of a son not to cause her pain by publicly airing her dirty laundry. I desire to be a son who is both honest about what I perceive to be her shortcomings, and at the same time loyal to her as a person, and as my mother.  I have sought the same attitude to my earthly mother as well.

Returning to the original point: A basic foundation of trust is essential to friendship of any kind. I wish I felt I could trust you, but I’m not finding myself capable of that at present.

I am willing to carry on correspondence and discussion with you in the public forum, as we have in the past via our blogs and our occasional meetings, though at this point I don’t intend to initiate more of the same.

With my sincere best wishes, and my prayers.

Since our conversation in the past years has primarily taken place in a public forum, I wanted to mention the latest development here, as a kind of book-end to our ten year dialogue.

I have no regrets about the effort to engage with Michael on this matter; on the contrary, I am grateful to him for his willingness to engage, and I have appreciated the chance to get to know him, and to begin to understand him as a person, and not just as someone who carries along or broadcasts certain ideas. I believe that the real-life encounters we have had over the past ten years have grounded the dialogue, even though they have not produced much in the way of common ground.

In the letter that Pope Francis has prepared for World Communications Day 2014, he writes:

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” (source)

Through the conversation with Michael, I’ve learned something about what it means to grow in understanding and mutual respect. Agreement is not necessarily the fruit of every dialogue, nor friendship. But hopefully, at the very least, dialogue via the new means of social communication can help foster a climate of mutual respect, on the basis of authenticity and honesty.

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