Since his appointment in March 2013, Pope Francis has been widely regarded as the most liberal pontiff the Catholic Church has seen in many years, and as a figure who is determined to challenge the perception of Christianity as antiquated and out-of-touch. Many have referred to his actions as a quiet revolution; highlights of the past year include his presiding over 20 marriages at the Vatican, which included couples who had been cohabiting or who were single parents, and his statement reconciling the theories of evolution and the Big Bang and the belief that God created the universe.
However, Pope Francis has recently come under criticism for his attitude towards LGBT+ rights and equality, first in his support of the Slovak referendum on banning gay marriage and adoption by gay couples, and subsequently in his reported comparison of the gender theory arguments used to advocate transgender rights to nuclear weapons. His comments, which brought together nuclear arms, genetic manipulation and gender theory as things as not recognising the order of creation as designed by God, have come as a disappointment to many people, especially given that they have come to light just a month after the Pope reportedly embraced a transgender man who asked if there was a place for him in the house of God.
Even so, it is not entirely unexpected; Christianity is known to have a somewhat troubled history, to say the least, when it comes to LGBT+ rights. Perhaps the most extreme example of this can be seen in the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church – best known for its slogan “God Hates Fags” – who have denounced homosexuality as the root cause of many issues faced by the world today.
Nevertheless, something which is becoming increasingly important to recognise is that this is not representative of Christianity as a whole. In fact, many people would argue Westboro Baptist Church, and anyone who shares their views, should in no way be defined as Christian. They do not represent the expression of faith; they are evidence of people misappropriating faith to justify their ignorance, their fear of difference and progress, in a way which is damaging to both the people they are attacking and the religion they are claiming to be a part of.
The prevailing attitude towards Christianity in the media, and in society in general, is of an institution which is backward and unwilling to change, and with stories such as these in the headlines, it is not difficult to see why. However, if there is to be any hope of changing this, then it is vital to remember the Christians worldwide who condemn the actions of Westboro Baptist Church and those like them, who call themselves Catholic yet still disagree with the Pope’s stance or the official doctrine on transgender rights.
It is not impossible to reconcile your identity as someone who follows the teachings of Jesus and as someone who stands for equality for all people. There are Christians who believe that everyone has a right to fall in love with whomever they choose, to marry whomever they choose, to be the person on the outside who they feel they are on the inside, be that the gender they were assigned at birth or otherwise. There are Christians that do this not in spite of their faith, but because of it.
Equally, whilst Christianity is the focus of this particular issue, the same argument can be made for other religions; when highlighting how Westboro Baptist Church should not be viewed as representative of Christianity, it is just as important to remember that Isis, or those behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks, are not representative of Islam. The Pope’s comments might represent a setback, but religion is far more diverse than the viewpoints of its leaders or individual extremist groups; outside of this, faith should, can and is being used as a force for positive change in the world.