Putting Away the Labels to Hear/See Each Other

Under it’s new editor, Matt Malone, S.J., America Magazine is doing a very good thing:

America aspires to nothing more than to live up to the fullest meaning of our motto, to pursue the truth in love, for as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written,

“The only strength with which Christianity can make its influence felt publicly is ultimately the strength of its intrinsic truth.” The fundamental truth of Christianity is personal, the person of Jesus Christ, the one for whom love and forgiveness and justice are the only standards of human action. The political witness of Christians, then, is the witness of sinners who are loved and forgiven and are ever ready to love and to forgive in turn. Only in this way is Christianity “credible.”

If you ask us, therefore, whether America is a philosophical or theological journal, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask us whether America is modern or postmodern, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask whether we are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, we will answer: “We are Christians.” If you ask whether we have really said anything at all, we will answer: “We have said everything.”

“Love manifests itself more in deeds than in words.” America makes the following commitments:

1. Church. The church in the United States must overcome the problem of factionalism. This begins by re-examining our language. America will no longer use the terms “liberal,” “conservative” or “moderate” when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context. [emphasis mine – admin]

Read the whole thing; it’s superb.

I am so glad! Reading this in America is (for me personally) a kind of happy affirmation that I was on the right track, when I wrote this, a few months ago, in First Things:

When we label anyone, we immediately do them an injustice—even if the label seems accurate. We shortchange their story. We open them up to caricature and to the misunderstanding that comes with it. Labels reduce all of our complexities and beautiful human nuances into easily negated “types” and turn our efforts to communicate with each other into punchlines. Or outright swipes.

I wish I could say that in my online writing I have managed to resist the temptation to label others and thus turn them into discredited, ghostly cartoons that have little to do with their human realities, but alas, I have trod that path all too happily, only stepping off it when one of my sons challenged me to define the “thems” and “theys” of my rants. I could not, of course, but in making the attempt I discovered how readily—even eagerly—I had been discounting human beings about whom I actually knew nothing, and that my pre-judging of them meant that I was, yes, prejudiced.

. . .I have been trying to break that habit of broad denunciation; I have come to detest words like “progressive” and “liberal” and “conservative” and “lefty” and “right-winger” and the ease with which we throw these divisive labels about for the express purpose of insta-discrediting one another. Our propensity to label-and-dismiss each other is quickly leading our nation and our Church toward dangerous cliffs, and though we have gleefully turned each other into cartoons, we will not be able to reclaim solid ground from the thin air, once we’re launched. I accuse myself of assisting in this careening madness, and I want off. . . In seeking balance, I think it most accurately reflects those of us who are imperfectly striving to move beyond any label but “Catholic.”

It is not easy to break the habit of labeling; it forces us to find another, more accurate and more respectful, way in which to reference each other; it retrains us to a willingness to more fully hear and see those espousing other viewpoints.

It requires, among other things, re-embracing assumptions of good faith — giving the other guy the charitable “benefit of a doubt.”

It means not jumping on the use of the word “beauty” because the writer has not used the word “truth” (as I saw today on Facebook) and then using that observation like a battering ram against the other, in order to either foment mistrust or to whip his meaning into something you can use to bolster and advance your own spiritual-political ideology.

We Catholics have to do better with each other, or we will not be able to do anything for the world. I like what Malone says in this interview with Michelle Boorstein:

If you are forced to say: “Some of my fellow Catholics think such-and-such,” instead of “Conservative Catholics think,” there’s not only a semantic shift but a spiritual shift and a theological shift.

It is a theological shift toward 1 Corinthians 12:27, and Mark 9:40, and perhaps just in time. What the Jesuit Post calls “The Cost of Denunciation” may well be too dear, especially when, as Lauren says so well, here we are duty-bound to find a sound and united voice with which to teach:

. . .all these people, they listen to our answers and comments and thoughts and hear:
“you cannot love. you cannot be happy.”

That’s not what we’re saying, but that’s what they hear from rants on sidewalks, from stupidly worded signs, social media graphics and hashtags.

My friends, that is not how we have this conversation. I don’t know how we have it, but that’s not it.
We have to ‘say’ more carefully, more clearly and more lovingly if we want any of them to hear us.

All in love. Definitely. And with prayer. And with compassion. We see past the issues to the person, and start there. We recognize our own weaknesses. We all have stuff. We all have sin. We all struggle each and every day to live a good life. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

We honor those who have chosen the hard road – the road of the Church. Those who have trusted, who have sacrificed. You are our heroes.

And, we trust in our Church, who, after over 2000 years, still stands strong and true and full of love. We may not understand everything completely now, maybe not until we are in heaven. But it’s okay, because we are faithful in love. And we can’t turn away from Her, because She saves us. So, we answer with St. Peter, the First Shepherd of the Church, who, after many of Jesus’ followers ran away after being told the truth, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I completely understand the feelings of friends who are wary, even regarding their fellow Catholics, and inclined to echo Reagan’s “trust but verify.” We’ve been mauling each other for at least four solid decades, now; trust is not re-established of a moment (although it sometimes can be) and healing rarely happens overnight. Even so, the infighting between Catholics has got to stop. It has to. We’re allowing too much of the angry, fretting, distrusting, cynical energy that we bring to our ideologies to come into our theologies and our dealings with each other, and it is destroying us; it is leaving no room for love, and no room for the Holy Spirit to maneuver. That’s essentially what is at the crux of my book, as lightweight and meager as it is.

Increasingly I am coming to realize that the corny old son “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” is speaking a truth. Pope Benedict XVI has said, “God does not force us to believe in him, but draws us to himself through the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son.”

This is for all of us; its truth belies all of the divisions we create and negates all of our excuses. Benedict’s words call to the stabilization of all of our excesses and the righting of all of our intentions through all times and circumstances. If we want to change the world, we begin there, allowing ourselves to be drawn to Jesus Christ, sitting at the Master’s feet and taking his instructions to heart.. . . [only two things count], our intentions and our willingness; worthiness does not enter in.

But willingness only comes with humility. It comes when we can say, “Thy will be done,” and then actually surrender [to the mysterious will and timetable of God] instead of preparing a treaty, complete with expiration date.

Such surrender is the ultimate disenthrallment and the banisher of all idols. Even the super idols.

The world is going to be what the world is, and do what the world does. That’s because it’s “the world” — it belongs to the prince of the world. As Catholics and Christians we are called to transcend the world and try harder than the rest. The Catholic church is going to be increasingly attacked by that prince and that world. We have to restore the oneness of our body, or we will hasten further destruction, everywhere.

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