Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Responding to rudeness

In my time as a priest, the most surprising and most frustrating parts of the vocation quite often have come from email and the US postal service. It's amazing how personal people will make criticism of homilies and columns I've written. It's not that I don't welcome a little dialogue on a subject or people seeking clarification. Quite the contrary, most of the time when people challenge me on a subject I end up learning and teaching a few things.

The difficulty for me comes when you put some theological statement out there about a controversial issue and then receive criticism that is personal in nature. You say that America is plagued by the scourge of abortion and then are accused of not being held enough as a child. Or you ask people to keep things more social before and after mass instead of conducting business and they tell you that you are a bad priest who can't handle the job and  that you should ask for a transfer.

The thing that I never know is whether I should respond or not. On the one hand, I feel like you give people credence to make other personal attacks if you do respond. I also feel like it makes it seem like there's merit to a personal attack. But, if you don't respond, you could be making the same argument. A bully thrives when the person they're pushing around doesn't fight back and gains power by being bullying.

If you look to scripture, things aren't much clearer. On the one hand, we are told to turn the other cheek, be passive when attacked. But, we are also told that if you're brother sins against you, you should correct him. If he persists, you should take one member of the church and if he continues then two or three members and so on. What do we do?

Unfortunately, we will never have perfect agreement on all fronts among the members of the body of Christ. But, I'd hope that one thing that we could count on is that a member of the body of Christ would first and foremost keep love in the midst of a dialogue. Love the sinner, hate the sin. But, what does that love look like? Is it a gentle but firm parent making a phone call and asking an errant child to back down the rhetoric. Or is it a firm but gentle parent ignoring the middle child who seems like no amount of attention is ever enough?