A Backwards Catechism

This excellent post from A Queer Calling has been getting a lot of attention:

…First, a bit of context: there were twenty students in the class, mainly from Christian backgrounds. Thirteen identified as Catholic, five identified as Protestant, and two identified as atheist/agnostic. Of the thirteen Catholic students, ten had attended a Catholic high school. Eight of those had been through twelve years of Catholic education. Three Protestant students and one atheist/agnostic student had received education at Christian high schools. Given this information, one might think most of these students would have no trouble generating a list of Christian beliefs that would include many of the religion’s core tenets.

As I perused these index cards last week, I was taken back to the shock I experienced as a second-year teacher reading the responses my class had provided. A few were easily predictable:

  • “Christians believe in Jesus.”
  • “Christians believe in Jesus as the savior.”
  • “Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins.”
  • “Christians believe that baptism washes away sins.”
  • “Christians believe you need to ask Jesus into your heart to go to heaven.”

But those accounted for such a small percentage of student responses. When asked “What do Christians believe?” almost every student in the class included at least two of the following on his/her list:

  • “Christians believe gay people are going to hell.”
  • “Christians believe gay people are sinners.”
  • “Christians believe gay people are pedophiles and shouldn’t be priests.”
  • “Christians believe that if you’re gay, you can’t have sex.”
  • “Christians believe that you have to choose to be straight if you love God.”
  • “Christians believe abortion is a sin.”
  • “Christians believe abortion is murder.”
  • “Christians believe in protecting unborn babies.”
  • “Christians believe you have to be pro-life.”
  • “Christians believe you have to vote pro-life.”

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This would be yet another reason not to take the approach of the Archdiocese of Washington to youth ministry on issues of sexual morality, cf my post from last year, “Bedrooms and Bootstraps”:

The Gospel is not a moral code. The keynote speaker set the tone here. He made some really interesting points which I will be mulling over, so I don’t want to act as if everything he said was wrong or unhelpful, but he really emphasized doing the right thing through one’s own efforts. There was no mention of human weakness and the need for unconditional surrender to God; no talk of penitence and forgiveness, accepting one’s own failures in the area of chastity and seeking to rely solely on God rather than on one’s own strength.

I asked a (rambling, clumsy) question about this exclusive emphasis on victory-through-individual-effort, since I think it sets up a success vs. failure narrative which almost guarantees that teens will feel either despairing or dismissive of chastity, and here’s the amazing thing: The guy’s answer was beautiful. He delivered this two- or three-minute-long off-the-cuff peroration about the need for surrender and for grace and for Confession, and it was just the most hopeful and lovely thing you can imagine. So why didn’t anyone realize that this needs to be part of the core of our message on chastity? Surrender and penitence are realistic whereas success is not. They are relevant to teens! Obviously yes, try to do the right thing, if you don’t try to be aware of your attitudes and actions you can’t turn them over to God, but better technique is not the way to sanctification.

 

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