Vadala follow-up: untangling the issues

It’s been an interesting few days. While I was tied up at work, home, and a class, a lot of debate raged about my open letter to Peter Vadala, both here and where it was replicated on Facebook. (Side note: the major difference between this blog and Facebook was that here a bunch of total strangers were arguing theology with me and each other, where on Facebook it was all my friends. Vive le network socíale.)

Part of the debate was spurred by the abruptness of the letter, in which I reacted to a complex situation in a brief and simple way. As a result, I simultaneously accused Vadala of uncharity and was myself highly uncharitable.

But part of it is that it’s a complex situation. In the comments thread around the post on Facebook (you have to be my friend there to see the link), we discussed employment law, courtesy, theology, gay marriage, prejudice against homosexuality generally, free speech and the heckler’s veto, the Great Commission of Christianity, Biblical interpretation, queer deportment, and behavior in a pluralistic society. On this blog, there was some name calling and a lot of Scripture verses, which were somewhat to the point.

So many angles. Where to begin? I think, perhaps, with an acknowledgment that my knee-jerk response to a perceived injustice overlooked a lot of complexity.

I still feel that MassResistance’s use of Vadala’s firing to protest gay marriage is, as the Tin Man has put it, completely beside the point. This discussion would have come up without Massachusetts legalizing gay marriage–Vadala would have told the manager how much he disapproved of homosexuality regardless. But my response lacked, ironically enough, a certain charity. Perhaps I should have tried to remove the beam in my eye first.

The central question is still unanswered: what did I mean when I accused Vadala of a lack of charity? What do I mean when I acknowledge my own lack? I’m not talking about tax deductions, but the Christian concept of unconditional love for others, or caritas as it’s expressed in the Latin.

Caritas is one of the core virtues; not accidentally, the liturgical poem “Ubi Caritas” states that “where there is charity and love there is God.” The Greek translation agapē may be closer to the mark, describing God’s response to man through the gift of his Son. I like Thomas Jay Oord’s (uncited) quotation in the Wikipedia article: “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.”

So let’s break it down: was the manager charitable in (allegedly) continuing to talk about her upcoming wedding after noting that it made Vadala uncomfortable? No.

Did Vadala show charity by telling her that he thought homosexuality was wrong? Depends–he may have thought he was witnessing to her, but it was certainly not promoting well-being to pour disapproval on her love for her partner.

Did the manager show charity by reporting him to HR? Probably not. We don’t have the context to know whether she wanted or expected him to be fired. (But he was certainly at this point in violation of his employment agreement; see Tin Man’s assessment above.)

Did Vadala and MassResistance show charity by using Vadala’s case to sow fear about gay marriage laws? I’d argue not; they responded to ill-being by trying to use it to generate more ill-being.

Did I show charity in the open letter? No. I kneejerked, almost never a charitable move.

Right now the only charity has been with my friends who have helped turn my kneejerk into a serious discussion, for which I’m grateful.

But, and let me return one last time to my point about this whole thing: the use by MassResistance of Vadala’s faith-based objections to bludgeon the happiness of others is an act of supreme uncharity, and unbecoming to their cause.

Grab bag: PM, perspective, parsnips, PV