I’ve thought long and hard about spirituality and faith. I grew up in a family that identified itself as part of a particular religious tradition, I studied religion under some amazing scholars and mentors, have tried practice in various traditions, have worked in professional capacities for a few religious institutions.
There is a particular way I conceive of the divine – its characteristics, its role in my life, the way in which I maintain a relationship, etc. There is a name I use when I think or speak about it. There is a set of rituals I observe, places I go or think about going particular to experiencing the divine. There are specific texts I believe tell stories and give guidance about the human relationship to the divine and about appropriate human behavior.
In those texts, in the rituals, in the place and amongst the people that make up my spiritual context, some things strike me as more meaningful, more important, more reasonable than others. With respect to all that, I believe a great many people are in the same or similar situation.
Other people have different traditions, different texts, different names for the divine. Some believe the divine is fiction. Their ‘sacred’ texts may be books of science, or theater, or fine art. There are many spiritual paths in our society; I believe that diversity of belief is a characteristic of a strong society and it gives me great personal joy to discover and learn to appreciate the philosophies and practices of other people.
But here’s one thing that living in a purposefully diverse society means: we must show respect for people who believe different things.
There are people who believe that marriage can only be a union between one man and one woman. There are people who believe contraception by artificial means is evil and believe the active termination of pregnancy is murder. There are people who believe priests must exclusively be celibate men.
Just because I may not believe any of that doesn’t mean I should compel or coerce those who do to comply with my vision of the good. Further, if I’m a member of an institution that follows principles or practice I find unacceptable and I want to continue being part of a spiritual or faith community, it is my personal responsibility to find myself a different institution.
Let’s get a little concrete.
Some people who work for Catholic-based organizations or attend Catholic-affiliated colleges are upset because the church doesn’t want to provide financial support for reproductive health services it feels goes against its core principles. In this case, I don’t believe the correct approach is either legal or legislative. I believe the appropriate approach is for employees to find another employer and students to find another school if they find church-imposed regulations to be both significant and onerous.
If you’re called to the priesthood and also called to be married, or if you’re called to the priesthood and are a woman, find a church that ordains people in relationships and/or women. If you wish to be married to someone of the same gender in the context of a religious ceremony, find a religious institution that exercises marriage equality in that particular way. It is not, to my mind, right to insist that a particular religious institution conform to a set of beliefs around those issues that goes against its core principles.
And it is incumbent on religious institutions to “practice what they preach” in this regard – state explicitly what they believe and follow through in practice. Too many religious institutions give lip service to high-minded doctrine, (e.g., marriage equality) then capitulate to pressure when push comes to shove. This serves the interests of no one.
All that said, there is another side of the equation, however, and it goes like this: for some students, having reproductive health coverage is really important; consequently, they may choose not go to Catholic-affiliated schools. As a result, the volume of applications and enrollments to Catholic-affiliated schools might fall. A lot of women who are called to be priests will take their ministries elsewhere, so the Catholic church may find itself without an adequate number of priests. Church membership may decline if too many disagree too strongly with too many matters of church doctrine.
For me, the bottom line is that strongly-held beliefs should be respected, which is, of course, not to say they are costless.