With June being “Pride Month,” I was amazed at the controversies reported by the media, from the cancellation of a Eucharistic celebration in Pittsburgh by Bishop David Zubik, to a petition seeking 95,000 signatures urging the mid-month Outreach conference at Fordham University be stopped—despite encouragement from Pope Francis and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Then, a woman named Anna Taylor, who works in communications for a California technology company, is being criticized by many media outlets for creating and posting a list of long-used, common phrases that contain violent words, offering more positive alternatives in an effort to point out the power of language and how it could, quite easily, evolve.
The latter struck home for me because, with photography a major part of my own work, I frequently have to remind myself not to use the term “shooting” when referring to taking pictures. A conversation was held on the topic of using such phrasing a decade or more ago, before “woke” became a thing. Franciscan Sisters, developing a program for nonviolence training, included the use of language as one module.
A retreat I give on simplifying one’s life in a holistic fashion addresses the need for consciousness in everything we do, with communication a key component. Going through a day speaking without really thinking of the impact the words may have—just as repetitive habits may not even be noticed by the individual cracking his knuckles or flicking her fingernails, but may be a huge distraction or annoyance to coworkers, family members, or friends—is a sign of disrespect, both of self and others.
One criticism of Taylor’s chart I read on Facebook accused the person who’d posted it as trying to “police” the language of others. Comments in the articles called the list excessive, and justified usage of the original terms as an inoffensive tradition with no need for changing.
That begs the question: What is so wrong with being polite and respectful, acting with forethought and deliberation, treating all people as equals, creating a positive environment? Why are there so many politicians and public figures who are so vehemently opposed to being informed about history in a truthful, comprehensive manner, or open-minded about the possibility of change? Why are these folks intent on imposing their own narrow—and often bigoted and racist—viewpoints on others (within the church, as well)?
Besides many American bishops’ continued efforts to ban women from certain ministries in the church, and ostracize those who don’t strictly conform to their own version of behavior, recent media reports about other Christian denominations have exposed their basically unchristian attitudes toward women and marginalized groups, causing specific congregations to be banned or forced to break away from the main group.
Whatever happened to abiding by Jesus’s guidance that love of neighbor is key?
Preferring man-made dictates, or bad interpretations of scriptural quotations, to genuine expressions of Christian love is pathetic. Using excuses that give the impression that “You are loved, but only up to a point,” is hypocrisy, pure and simple. Imposing a “cancel culture” on those who may have publicly sinned (then repented and paid the price, whether in criminal or civil court) so the rest of their lives are made miserable due to an inability to secure gainful employment or enjoy meaningful relationships violates Jesus’s statement that we are to forgive each other again and again.
Brother Mickey McGrath, the artist and Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, has proposed that many saints, both historical and recent, fall into the category of “wokeness.” They grasped the importance of living consciously in search of truth, shared God’s love, respected all equally while allowing them to believe and live as they chose, and willingly forgave others’ shortcomings (and their own).
When it comes to the church in this era, I’m reminded of how, in centuries past, Galileo and Darwin were censured for their scientific discoveries because science wasn’t seen as compatible with faith. As humanity continues to evolve—physiologically, mentally, spiritually—no single individual or collective organization should denigrate or ostracize anyone based on their gender (especially when the understanding of that dynamic is not fully understood) or other factors, making it impossible for them to fully participate in the practices of their faith.
Christians who are willing to shout their beliefs from the rooftops should be a living example of those beliefs, acting and speaking mindfully in all situations, using words of kindness and love, and not be content with what some might deem “accepted standards” just because that’s the way it’s always been done.
As for those who criticize others for being “woke”: it’s not a bad thing to speak truth to power and offer a willing hand to help others improve their lot. If Jesus were alive today, he’d be labeled “woke.” ♦
Julie A. Ferraro has been a journalist for over 30 years, covering diverse beats for secular newspapers as well as writing for many Catholic publications. A mother and grandmother, she currently lives in Idaho. Her column, “God ‘n Life,” appears regularly in Today’s American Catholic.