Priestly Portrait of Courage

Last weekend, a number of right-wing clergypersons took to their pulpits to endorse John McCain, in violation of Internal Revenue Service regulations. Though I disagree with their positions, my admiration goes to those conservative clerics for standing up for what they believe. Yes, they should lose their tax exemptions — I believe religious institutions should be treated like any other 501(c)3 nonprofit — but kudos to them for having the courage of their convictions.

Another clergyperson, Roman Catholic priest Geoffrey Farrow of Fresno, CA, stands at the top of my civilly disobeident pastor list, though. Yes, I happen to support his cause, but for Father Farrow, the personal stakes were much higher than for the McCain pushers. Tax exemption or no, their clerical careers will continue and their obedient flocks will cheer. That may not be the case for this brave priest.

The reason: Father Farrow stood up — with full knowledge that by doing so, he was putting his very career on the line — and spoke against California’s Proposition 8, which would bar gays and lesbians from marriage equality. His stand, of course, is the opposite of the Roman Catholic church’s traditionally anti-GLBT view and stated pro-Prop 8 stance.

From ABC News’ Fresno affilate’s Action News:

“What most Catholics hear about being gay or lesbian at their parish is silence,” Fr. Geoff says after numerous inquiries from parishioners asking for direction on Proposition 8, if passed would ban gay marriage, the Father said he must go against the Bishops recommendation and instead go with what he feels is right.

“In directing the faithful to vote yes on proposition 8, the California Bishops are not only entering the political arena, they are ignoring the advances and insights of neurology, psychology and the very statements by the church itself that homosexuality is innate,” says Fr. Geoff.

The priest acknowledges his controversial comments will have consequences. “I know that these words of truth will cost me dearly. But to withhold them would be far more costly and I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian couples, not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well.”

The fact that Farrow is a priest who happens to be gay is not at issue here, nor is it germane. I know plenty of heterosexual Catholic priests who agree that religious doctrine has no business being involved in civil law, particularly when the issue of equality for all citizens is concerned. They, however, don’t talk about their views from the pulpit. (From personal experience, though, I can tell you that in my time working for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore in the 1980s, plenty of IRS violations went on regularly as priests passed out literature created and printed by the Catholic Center and gave homilies specifically calling on parishioners to work against pro-choice and pro-GLBT ballot initiatives being considered in the state legislature or to work for legislation that would put public funding into their private, religious schools.)

Father Farrow’s controversial homily shows a man truly living his faith and doing what he really believes is in line with Jesus’ mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves. One of his parishioners, Joshua De La Cerda, understood that and said, “This is something Jesus would have done …[he] spoke out for the truth.”  It also manifests intelligence: It is possible to hold certain religious views and understand that civil, secular law is a separate matter. That is why you have Catholics who insist they are anti-abortion and pro-choice. They aren’t approving of abortion, merely saying the law governing a pluralistic society should not be involved in what is a personal matter. The same logic applies here. But holding the enlightened view and being willing to broadcast it in such a manner that it could cost one’s job… that takes rare courage. Farrow proves himself to be a Christ-loving person who actually lives his faith and is willing to do what he believes is the right and moral thing to do, no matter the consequences. Agree or disagree, you have to respect that and respect him.

Following Sunday’s liturgy, Fresno’s Action News reports that the congregation seemed split over the priest’s statements. About half of those assembled stood and applauded him. Others were not supportive — one disapproving parishioner even pulled out the old line “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line for the TV news crew. And some even left in tears.

So far, no action has been taken against Farrow. Action News reports that Bishop John Steinbock, who leads the Diocese of Fresno, says he has heard rumors of what happened. We’ll keep you informed. And remember, No on 8. Whatever one’s religious beliefs, this is about logic. No one will be forced to be Party A or Party B if they wish to be known as “bride” and “groom.” Churches will not be forced to marry gays if the bigoted measure goes down. But, and this is just one woman’s opinion, I suspect Jesus himself will weep if the measure that is all about bigotry and fear wins.

In the meantime, if you respect Father Farrow and want to contact him to offer support, get in touch with me via email. I don’t want to distribute his address and make him a target for the hate crowd.


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