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Issue Date:  January 20, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Enemies and opponents

The Rev. Russell Saltzman and the Rev. Donna Simon are Lutheran pastors in the Kansas City area. She is openly gay; he opposes ordination of gays and same-sex unions. They are friends and recently sat down with Bill Tammeus, a columnist for The Kansas City Star, and engaged in a wonderfully enlightening and civil conversation regarding homosexuality and the Christian church.

You can read the entire interview on Tammeus’ blog Faith Matters on The Kansas City Star Web site, For purposes here, however, I’ll skip to the end of the interview where the two speak of their friendship and disagreements.

“I told Donna early on when we first met that I was not an enemy. I was an opponent,” said Saltzman.

“We disagree deeply, but we actually like each other,” said Simon.

Neither sees an easy way to get beyond their disagreement.

“Donna and I can sit down and talk to each other and have honest exchanges and enjoy each other’s company and have some fun with the debate. In my understanding of God’s grace, come the consummation of time, Donna Simon and I will probably find ourselves dancing arm in arm around God’s throne, looking back on this and wondering what the hell was the fuss all about. But that’s for the eschaton. What we’re stuck with now, in this life, is conscience, conviction and putting forth our best cases in the best way. And that’s where I see myself. That’s where I see Donna. I disagree with her. I think her scriptural interpretation is way wrong.”

Said Simon: “I think ultimately there will be a lot of reconciliation in the church. It’s very hard. There’s been a lot of pain already in the church. I’m hopeful, and I pray that we will be able to find some kind of reconciliation. But for those of us who approach this from deeply held convictions, which are scriptural and theological, this is the only way to follow Jesus. We can only follow Jesus if you’re proclaiming justice. That’s the core of who we are. And there’s only so much compromising you can do with that.”

~ ~ ~

It seems that’s where we all are. At some manner of impasse with very strongly held opinions. Columnist Robert Royal last week said that current thinking that is tolerant of homosexuality was ignoring ancient wisdom. I happen to think that current wisdom that welcomes homosexuals is, more correctly, finally dropping centuries of ancient ignorance. I don’t think the tension will go away anytime soon but I also don’t think we can bury the differences or stop pressing for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians as “Always Our Children,” as the bishops’ pastoral on the topic was titled, and by extension our brothers and sisters.

The exchange between the two Lutheran ministers seemed an apt introduction to the thought of Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Brennan, an openly gay priest whose essay, “From my trip to our journey,” explores the issue of homosexuality and the church in a way that illuminates much more than that single issue. ( See story)

I don’t for a second mean to diminish the particularly painful and difficult (and, if Brennan has it right, also fulfilling) experience homosexuals encounter in their attempts to be members of the church.

But his strategy, born of, I daresay, theological insight and a determined conviction about the meaning of faith, would apply to other “hot button” issues. The questions he is willing to publicly ask himself about his reactions to opponents are questions we all would benefit from asking. How much, indeed, do we need “enemies” against whom to define ourselves? And how do we handle those enemies?

I recall a Shabbat dinner I once enjoyed in Israel with four rabbis -- one Orthodox, a Conservative and two Reform rabbis, including a woman. Among the four were, as one described it, deep and irreconcilable differences about theological issues and matters of faith and practice. But they ate dinner together, he said, because they were "utterly bound" by certain core beliefs, by common history. They were, he said, "brothers and sisters." One has to wonder if the Catholic table is big enough -- indeed if our leaders want to make the table big enough -- to have room for the entire family, deep disagreements and all.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, January 20, 2006

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