It is no idle coincidence that Houston, in relatively quick succession, could boast its first Roman Catholic cardinal and its first openly lesbian mayor.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was appointed two years ago, by most accounts because he is an ecclesial moderate who won’t be lobbing anathemas and excommunications anytime soon. The cardinal’s hat is a sign of Houston’s significance as an area of Catholic growth.
Annise Parker was elected Dec. 11, by most accounts because she was recognized as a competent public official who had won six previous elections for either city council or controller. That she, an openly gay candidate, has been repeatedly elected is a testament to both her abilities as well as Houston’s stature as one of the growing new cities that are redefining the American political and sociological landscapes.
In both church and state, it seems, the old centers of U.S. power and influence are giving way to new places relatively unencumbered by the protocols of previous eras.
Our hope is that Houston exemplifies a growing civility toward and acceptance of people with a homosexual orientation. We also hope that the church, in this instance, can exemplify that working together with homosexuals does not somehow compromise the Gospel.
Half a world away, Uganda -- where draconian laws that would include the execution of homosexuals have been introduced -- symbolizes the extremes to which some can take the homophobic theology of major religions. (Related stories: Anti-gay bill in Uganda challenges Catholics to take a stand; Fighting the Anti-Homosexuality Law in Uganda; Christian leaders oppose Uganda's anti-gay bill; Canterbury condemns Uganda's anti-gay law; Why Catholics aren't speaking up in Uganda about anti-gay bill.) The “hate the sin, love the sinner” platitude is, in fact, a silly notion; people are inseparable from their sexuality.
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Some contend that anti-homosexuality in Africa is a cultural matter and that Ugandans resist the outside world’s horror at the proposed laws because they see it as one more act of oppressive imperialists. That may be the case, in part. But we in the United States understand that culturally we once burned witches and enslaved people with dark skin. It is a scandal that the Catholic church has not spoken out more forcefully against the proposed legislation.
Further, it is outsiders like members of the U.S. evangelical group The Family and celebrity evangelical pastor Rick Warren whose dogmatism on homosexuality has provided fuel for those wanting to punish Ugandan gays as well as anyone who sympathizes with them. Warren is trying, late to the cause and with difficulty, to rein in the purpose-driven hatred his teachings have inspired.
What happened in Houston occurs, at least in part, when people are humble enough to admit some mystery before God and to accept humans for who they are in their totality. Uganda happens when people are so certain of the mind of God, so certain of God’s displeasure with one segment of humanity, that those humans are deemed less human.