“A Community’s Message versus Action”
by Bennett Haara

2023 Young Authors Sacred Essays Contest Runner-Up

Photo Credit: Maksim Romashkin

Growing up in the Catholic Church has left an indelible mark upon my morals and outlook on the world and the people with which I share it. Even though I no longer consider myself Catholic, I remain in the community and recognize how this fundamental aspect of my development has molded my values. I hold many of the tenets that come from Catholic doctrine to be great examples of accepting, inclusive beliefs. However, I have trouble reconciling these ideas with the reality lived by many Catholics and other Christians, who use their faith to justify intolerance and bigotry.

I believe that at the heart of much of the Catholic faith there is an incredibly valuable message of love, forgiveness, and acceptance. This is what I took from my experiences of being raised in the Catholic community, and it’s what I hope all others inside and outside of it may also take from it. There are individuals whose faith has pushed them to accomplish great deeds for the good of others; there are countless saints in the Church who are remembered for how they have improved the world. Christian scriptures often reference the idea that all people are called together regardless of their differences, and how we ought to treat each other with respect and dignity. These are the ideals that I try to incorporate into my interactions with others, and I think anyone—Catholic or not—would be well served to implement them in their life.

These valuable ideals make it all the more tragic that so many Christians seem to ignore them. In my life and especially in the political climate of America, people who self-identify as Christians are some of the loudest advocates of intolerant beliefs, whether they are targeting immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals, or those struggling with poverty. That brand of outspoken Christian is unfortunately what keeps me from being able to fully agree with the understanding of acceptance held by many in my faith community. Even if the official Church has an understanding of acceptance with which I agree, the ultimate deciding factor of a community’s belief tends to be how the majority (or at least a very vocal minority) acts.

This situation presents me with a choice: Do I distance myself from this community and disavow it in its entirety? Or do I stay and work from the inside out to improve it? While the former option is certainly tempting, as it is infinitely easier to do, I find myself with a moral obligation to the latter. I know that the core of the Christian understanding is an opportunity for acceptance, tolerance, and love. As someone who tries their best to live those virtues in my life, I have a duty to try my hardest to spread them to others. And if that means staying among people who could call me sinful for being queer, so be it. I believe that it is paramount that I and others in my community work to advocate for the accepting beliefs that truly characterize Catholicism and Christianity, and that our work is not finished until absolutely anyone can look to our community for acceptance and find it in abundance.