Thursday, October 08, 2015

What I Hope the Pope Learns About Family

Pope Francis recently visited the United States. He did what good pastors do: he “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.”
The pope challenged greed, as the Gospel demands. He also called for an end to violence among nations. “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
In the spirit of compassion, the pope advocated for more welcoming treatment of immigrants and refugees.
At an inter-religious service, he prayed not only with other Christians but also with Jains and Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, thus demonstrating that we need not believe all the same things in order to care about humanity and to work together to achieve noble goals.
Everywhere Francis went he blessed children, he showed kindness to the disabled, and he electrified crowds with gentle tones and words of love.
I applaud His Holiness for each of these sentiments and actions. He called us all to a more generous way of living. I certainly find value in that message.
But when it comes to the pope’s rather myopic understanding of family, I find that I must disagree with him.
The pope left unchallenged the sexist and homophobic notion that only the heternormative, nuclear family can be healthy, wholesome, or sacred. I hope the pope will come to consider and declare that love, not biology, makes a family, that grandmothers can raise their grandchildren, that single parents can be good parents, that two mommies or two daddies can provide as much love, nurture and stability as any other caregivers. It is better for children to be loved and well-cared for than for their family model to resemble a 1950s sit-com. It is better for children to see people loving each other honestly and treating others with respect than it is to simply reinforce heteronormative prejudices and assumptions.
Also, I should think that a man who has chosen a life of celibacy would be able to understand that family is more than child-rearing. Some of us are blessed to have or to be loving parents; but, all of us need close bonds, people on whom we can depend, and these groupings are also families. Even a loving and devoted couple, whether gay or straight, whether or not they have children, have started a small but precious and life-enhancing family. All of these family models can be healthy and divinely blessed. The pope is correct in saying that “family” is very important, but I believe the definition of family can be broader and more inclusive than he seems to realize.
The pope appears to be gentler and more welcoming than his most immediate predecessors and I appreciate that; but I also hope he will be open to seeing same-gender loving people not simply as those who should not be harshly judged, but as persons created by God in the image of God to be exactly who they are.
I hope this pope who puts such value on love will come to see the beauty of love genuinely shared by persons regardless of their gender identities.
I hope this pope will come to speak out against violence done to LBGT people, will consider that gender is more complex than simple binaries, and will discover that it is love that makes a family and not dogma or biology.
I do not hesitate to praise this pontiff for the good work he is doing, nor do I hesitate to lift my voice in encouraging him and all religious leaders to become friends, allies, and advocates of the LBGT children of God.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
Published in Florida Agenda, Oct 2nd, 2015

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