To judge is to be egocentric. There it is; I said it. I returned to class last Wednesday after a long break and was eager to get back into what I am now calling, for the benefit of my friends and family back north, my literary study of the Bible. All wide eyed and bushy tailed, I packed up my completed homework and set out for some intellectual stimulation. The homework was more challenging than usual because we have moved out of Exodus and into Leviticus. The Levites (tribe of Levi) were the designated priests of Israel and Leviticus was their handbook. The lesson was an overview of Leviticus; there’s good reason why it’s the least favorite of the five books in the Torah.
While waiting for the lecture to start, a lovely woman who I talk with from time to time engaged me in chit chat. She asked in a round-a-bout way that ubiquitous southern question, “What church do you go to?” Rather than get into my views on manmade doctrine, I simply said that I was raised Catholic.
“I know a man in my church who was Catholic before he was Christian.” I kid you not, that is what she said.
“Catholics are Christian,” I replied smiling. It was a pleasant exchange, and I took no offense, but it punctuated for me what a foreigner I am here in the south.
“I know,” she corrected, “I meant he is born again.”
I share this little interchange because it was the precursor to what I found to be a disturbing lecture. Let me explain. Leviticus is chock full of very specific rules about offerings, purifications, and how to live a holy life. The Levite priests were not only responsible for the spiritual direction of the people, but also for their health and well-being. Moses, under the influence of God, gave them a job and the instruction manual to do it, Leviticus. The objective was to cultivate a new, holy culture and contain the spread of disease and mayhem. If the lecturer had stuck with that, I would have been fine.
In the midst of going through the multitude of ways to sacrifice animals and make offerings to atone, to recognize what is clean and unclean to eat, and to figure out if your neighbor has leprosy, she jumps into and expands upon homosexual behavior. According to Leviticus, this behavior is a sin. It also says that eating pork is a sin and standing in the vicinity of a menstruating woman is a sin, but the lecturer felt no need to spend time on that. I was angry.
Professor Carrie Hart at UNCG informs her students that it is politically incorrect to use the word homosexual and that any word in the acronym LGBTQ is preferred: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning. The point is, for the lecturer to judgmentally single out LGBTQ citizens of the world and lecture her personal and politically incorrect viewpoint to a large group of women is, in my opinion, just plain mean, or in her words, a sin. Who am I to judge?
When Pope Francis was asked his views on gay priests, he replied, “Who am I to Judge? In my post entitled Recalibrate: Religion and Family, I quoted the Pope regarding this issue citing the final report from the Synod of Bishops. If the Pope can keep an open mind and refrain from judgment in a world full of reporters, I fail to see why a BSF lecturer can’t refrain from judgment in a chapel full of women. I wanted to scream out from my pew and say to her, “Let’s start focusing on what really matters in our time and stop judging our neighbors. Let’s stop war and the exploitation of children and human trafficking!”
A music history minor in college, I love choral music, and happened to catch a broadcast last week of the Epiphany Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica. You’ve heard The Twelve Days of Christmas, right? Well, the twelve drummers are drumming on a Christian festival, Epiphany. Held on the sixth of January, it celebrates the three kings who recognized the significance of an unusual star and followed it to find the infant Jesus. The music was beautiful and the shots of the Basilica’s architecture were magnificent, but what was most memorable to me was the Pope’s homily.
Here are a few excerpts, in his words, so if you choose, you can follow the star:
- The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest.
- Set out in search of God.
- It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out.
- Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties.
- They come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love.
- Let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?”, whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it.
I find this message deeply validating. Notice how inclusive Pope Francis is by honoring all religions and philosophies? I consider myself spiritual but not religious. This can be very unsettling, I think, for some of my southern neighbors. Did you know the Pope said everyone who does good work is going to heaven? Yup, you good atheists out there are going to heaven too. What’s heaven? Who knows? I say, let’s celebrate every person’s journey to the star, that shining divine place where we feel loved and accepted for being our authentic selves, right here, right now.
Leviticus may be a tough read, but my take away is this; Moses had the huge task of creating a new nation with its own spiritual identity. In modern day terms we would say he needed to establish the brand identity. Leviticus was the strategy. Leaders know to continually plan, execute and measure a strategy as new information comes in. Decisions are made based on the best information available at the time. Clearly, inspired by God, Moses made very good management decisions. The Israelites walked the talk. He was successful in establishing a reverent culture with a holy brand: God’s People.
What is the culture of humanity in our time? What’s our brand? If our leadership encouraged us to drop the labels we give one another, embrace the richness of diversity provided by other nations, and honor all paths to a higher power, then humanity would have an All Star brand: Love Thy Neighbor.
“Who am I to Judge?” The answer is humbling.
And so it is.