It didn’t take long following the 24 June announcement that the Supreme Court decision had overturned Roe v. Wade for the hysteria to start. It was palpable not only on the streets of the capital but from pro-choice politicians and liberal corporate media. Pro-lifers should steel themselves not only for anger and vitriol but harassment and even, perhaps, the end to relationships with those with whom they disagree. That’s especially likely when pro-choice advocates are accusing the pro-life cause of responsibility for women’s deaths (yes, really).
This kind of thing, sadly, is increasingly common, both on social media and in real life. “Trump’s Presidency is Over. So Are Many Relationships,” noted a 2021 article in The Atlantic. NPR reported on the same development in 2020. “It’s okay to end a friendship over politics,” argued a 2014 op-ed in the Washington Post.
It’s not just because of abortion or Trump. Neil Young removed his music from streaming service Spotify because it also featured podcaster and vaccine skeptic Joe Rogan. Princeton University fired professor Joshua Katz ostensibly over a sexual relationship with a student seven years ago (that had already been investigated and adjudicated), but, more likely, it was because they disagreed with his politics. A Washington Post reporter was so enraged by a joke made by a colleague on social media (which he quickly repented of), that she picked a fight not only with him but another colleague who asked her to call off the dogs—she was subsequently fired.
Nor are Catholics immune from this kind of behavior. For the sake of charity and propriety, I’ll refrain from naming names. But if you follow prominent Catholic websites, podcasters, and authors, you’ll probably be able to cite a few examples. People who once collaborated for the sake of the Gospel start publicly exchanging insults, and soon enough they are no longer on speaking terms, if they are not enemies.
I call this kind of thing “take your ball and go home-ism.” It’s operative whenever multiple people or groups who once could amicably have a meal together or engage in charitable repartee become so filled with animus toward the other that they can’t even be in the same room together. One, or both sides, simply take their ball and go home.
Catholics especially need to be wary of this. Much depends on us being able to retain humble, friendly relations with those with whom we disagree. For starters, mercy is at the very heart of our Catholic Faith. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” St. Peter asked Jesus. Our Lord responded: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Our very salvation depends on our ability to forgive and move on. Of course, forgiving others doesn’t mean we should be pushovers that allow people to walk all over us without expressing our frustration, nor that we are not permitted to set boundaries, especially with those notorious for manipulation or abuse. But forgiveness implies a restoration of a relationship, and thus a good faith effort to at least be civil and friendly to others, even our malefactors.
Our ability to proclaim the Gospel is also undermined by a “take your ball and go home” mentality. When we disengage from those in our parishes, or our once fellow collaborators in various vocational duties, it harms our ability to effectively communicate the Good News to outsiders. Few things harm our witness more than having ugly public spats with fellow Catholics, especially over things that to outsiders seem like minutiae.
Of course, it’s another thing to remain engaged with non-Catholics in the public square who belittle and demean us. Pro-choice activists have done a particularly good job of that in recent months, with all of their inflammatory anti-Catholic language and unfair caricatures. It’s tempting to want to check out, as it were, and even stop bothering to interact with those who so cruelly and uncharitably mistreat us and denigrate our Faith. Do we have to suffer the slings and arrows of people who have so little regard for us and our opinions?
In a word, yes. Since the earliest generations, Christians have endured persecution for the Faith. And rather than “checking out,” saints like Justin Martyr and Augustine wrote apologies, or defenses, of the Catholic Faith. They refuted the lies and ad hominems of their opponents with charity and patience. Perhaps most pagans simply smirked in condescension at them. But God always designates some who will be receptive to the truth, especially when it is communicated with love and winsomeness. For them, and everyone else, we must persevere in longsuffering.
In the wake of the deaths of a couple members of my extended family, I befriended some family members whom I had never really known because my (now deceased) father had not maintained regular communication with them. Earlier this year, one of those family members—a liberal who rejected his Catholic upbringing—began to offer critical commentary on my Facebook wall regarding various articles I had written for Catholic or conservative publications. At first, I attempted dialogue with the person, but it became increasingly clear he wasn’t interested in constructive or charitable debate but, rather, point scoring. Once he started insulting me and my Faith, I lost interest, and I stopped responding.
After a while, I noticed that the same family member had stopped commenting on my articles altogether—he had “unfriended” me on Facebook. Perhaps he didn’t know about the “unfollow” feature, in which you can simply stop seeing posts of people you find annoying or disagreeable. Or perhaps he found me so disagreeable he simply couldn’t even stand to have me as a friend. It was discouraging and sad. As much as I disagreed with him, I wanted to at least have a relationship with him, even if he was never persuaded by a single thing I wrote or said.
Now I simply pray and remain available, willing to renew the relationship if he ever extends an olive branch. Sometimes that’s all Christ asks of us. In these times of great social and political distemper, that, at the very least, is necessary. Who knows what God has in store for us if we are willing, even in the face of vicious animosity, to stay in the fray?
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