Dear Pope Francis,
Desmond Tutu once said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and I mention him here because brother Tutu has put boots on his words. Over the past several months, he has been hustling through Africa, sitting down with dictators, speaking to whoever will listen, doing whatever he can to place himself in the space between God’s beloved LGBT children and those wishing them harm. He has been courageously following his call, chasing down the path of justice and mercy and love. I can only hope to one day run in his wake.
I also bring him up because he is absolutely right about neutrality in injustice. There’s nothing neutral about it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put this sentiment more sharply:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr also added his voice to this outlook in the midst of his own fight against oppression:
“In the End, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I wish to speak plainly, Pope, no groveling, no frills, no nonsense. I want to say that when it comes to you, I am always somewhere between a wild embrace and a swift eye-roll. Speak about poverty, speak about creation care, shamelessly say that Marxists are good people, too, and you will find me in the crowd, eyes welling with tears, clapping my hands so hard because that’s a kind of gospel that is so desperately needed.
Say things about gay people and I will naturally fall into crossed arms, eyes glazed with skepticism.
Because, Pope, while I have been gladdened by the way you have humanized the gay community, I cannot ignore the divergence between actions and words, and when it comes to matters of justice, the two are inseparable.
I am still embittered by comments of your past and as much as I wish they hadn’t happened, I still hear them when you talk. And you haven’t taken them back, either. Like when you called gay marriage “the work of the devil”, or, and more recently, in December, when you were reportedly “shocked” that gay couples could even adopt. When you urged a bishop in a country debating gay adoption to speak out against it.
And even when you’ve said kind things about gay people, they’ve usually been followed with quiet reversals coming from your administration. A lot of clarifying. A lot of back-stepping. A lot of distancing yourself, accusing the media of misconstruing your words. It kind of takes the lift out of your niceties.
But- if I am to put all of my cards on the table, criticism and praise, I must say- I am moved by the goodness of your heart.
I don’t know what is tucked inside it, but I do know that someone who slips out into the dark of night to tend to the homeless is someone with a heart lit by Christ. I’ve watched you wash the feet of inmates, kiss the head of the disfigured, proclaim to the world that God’s love and favor are boundless. That all of us matter. That we stand on the equal plain of grace.
And I am asking you to let your heart spill over once again.
Your LGBT brothers and sisters are being hunted down across the world, at this very moment, on the basis of who they are. They are in hiding. They are living in a world where to come out is to be thrown into prison. They are living in nations where the law of the land says it is illegal to know a gay person and not report them to the authorities. A dark cloud has fallen and they have no escape out.
Fourteen men were torn from their houses in Nigeria, dragged down the streets by a jeering mob, beaten with iron rods by both civilian and law enforcement. A young man in the north was found guilty of being gay (think about that), and he was sentenced to severe whip lashings, a sentence the judge called “compassionate” since he ought to have been publicly stoned. The anti-gay law that was passed and signed by the President of Nigeria was called a “courageous and wise decision” by one of your own promoted Bishops.
In Uganda, for years, the parliament has been moving to draft a “kill the gays” bill, a law that needs no further explanation. It has been tempered into a life sentence for being gay- oh, the compassion- but that doesn’t mean the public, the churches there, feel any less emboldened. A local Ugandan paper put out an issue with the pictures, names and addresses of one hundred gay activists in the country beneath the headline, “hang them.”
And it’s happening in Russia, in India, and approximately 83 other countries.
And it is being done in the name of Jesus Christ.
I don’t want you to misread me, Pope, I want you to know that I am not asking you to reverse your position on gay marriage. I understand reality; that you and I come from different places on the theological spectrum, walk of life, and spiritual experiences. I am under no illusions about that.
But that is far from the issue- it is a distraction from the dire issue at hand. Because violence and murder and brutality and imprisonment are flaming across the world, pursuing my people, and every single second that you remain silent, that much more you are complicit. Because as Christians, we are commanded to speak up, to speak out, and to defend the vulnerable. That is a non-negotiable. That is not a gray area.
I have no idea why you have stayed silent. Perhaps it is politics, pressure from within, or maybe fear because your statements have placed you in hot water before. However, because of who you are, a Christian with unmatchable influence, it is completely unacceptable to stay silent. It is unbecoming of a Pope, of a Christian, of a human being.
So I call on you now to step forward and speak boldly. Listen to the chorus of voices on twitter, on the Vatican phone lines, in letters filling up your mailbox. Hear us crying out in the wilderness for someone to stand in the gap and stay their ground. For someone to shout Enough! For you to live up to your calling.
I plead for you to listen to call of Tutu, of Bonhoeffer, of King, of Jesus himself:
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
– Matthew 25: 45
Your Brother in Christ,