Former Priest Chris Donahue on LGBT Community Working Within the Church

Chris Donahue Gay Marriage in the
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“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge.”

When Pope Francis made this statement on July 29, 2013, it set a tone of love and inclusion for his papacy. The words weren’t written and vetted by theologians, pundits and church lawyers. Pope Francis spoke from his heart — a great place to begin any conversation.

I’m a former priest, and some Catholic teaching can be hard for me to comprehend. The debate over gay marriage has divided the Church and our country. We have been bombarded with rhetoric, fostering hatred for anyone with an opposing point of view.

Suddenly it’s easier to hide behind an affiliation, making us fearful to articulate our own beliefs. Yet it is imperative that we talk from our hearts and our experience.

I’m angered and hurt when I hear any religious person say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Hate is the wrong place to start any discussion or begin any relationship.

The National Coalition for the Homeless points out that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. The Trevor Project reports that LGBT youth are four times as likely to commit suicide. These facts point to the hatred that can often be justified and perpetuated by religious belief. It is of paramount importance for young people to experience the love of God as they develop their identity, but how can they do that when their home, school and church are filled with hatred, suspicion and the wrong messages about who they can love?

I run a production company that for over 50 years has developed content at the intersection of faith and culture. The ongoing debate has inspired us to develop a project about the pastor of an L.A. megachurch with a gay son. The show is not about doctrine or theology, but love. It is about opening up conversations: Can you call yourself a Christian if you accept gay marriage?

Pope Francis is challenging others to join the dialogue in a spirit of love, not judgment. Catholics are no longer politically predictable, as we saw in Ireland. And in our own country, several Catholic governors have led the efforts to legalize gay marriage in their home states.

I’m often asked why I remain Catholic, when my views dramatically differ from the teachings of the Church. For me, the choice is like being an American: While I oppose many policies of our country, I want to remain engaged in the process to bring about change.

Chris Donahue is president of Paulist Prods., an Oscar- and Emmy-winning producer and former executive director of the Humanitas Prize.