In the spirit of Galatians 3:28, we should question the way that the diversity of our students is represented in Alberta’s educational system, particularly within the Catholic system.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28).
In Alberta today, there are many unfounded fears and objections that Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are contrary to Catholic Social Teaching. GSAs at their core promote foundational Catholic values such as love (John 13:34-35), justice (Leviticus 19:15), respect for human dignity (1 John 3:17), hospitality (Hebrews 13:2), among other values. In order for Catholic schools to evolve alongside with the rest of Canada’s progressive society they must embrace their core Catholic values (which may take form in a GSA) to help their most marginalized students. Fundamentally, education has the task of ensuring that all students are culturally and politically literate in today’s society; which includes the changing landscape of human rights, thus including queer rights. To understand why GSAs are necessary in Alberta’s Catholic schools, one must understand what a GSA is, how they reflect Catholic Social Teaching, and the place of Catholicism and religion in social issues and in Alberta’s schools.
Catholic schools share a belief that all children are loved by God, as we are all created “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27). “Each school has a mission and a responsibility to help each student to fulfill their God-given potential in all aspects of their person: physically, academically, socially, morally, and spiritually. This message is consistent with the core values of Catholic doctrine in which human dignity and social justice are paramount.” And if human dignity and social justice are so integral to Catholic doctrine, it seems surprising that there is such mistreatment and injustice of people (including students) who identify as queer by the Catholic church. To reflect back to Galatians 3:28, to create binaries of “right and wrong” in the eyes of God is pointless, as we are all equal. To suggest that straight people are just, and queer people are ungodly in the eyes of Christ is hypocritical in this sense.
However, it is difficult to conceptualize how organized Catholicism could accept GSAs, as organized religion often tends to shy away from anything that can bring forth “scandal.” The acceptance of GSAs is “scandalous” to Catholic School Boards as it can be seen as implying “the school’s and Church’s approval of same-sex relationships, and thus directly or indirectly enabling the conditions through which a student might fall into sin.” Be that as it may, the life of Jesus can be seen as sinful and scandalous, although Jesus himself is seen as Godly and holy; Jesus challenged the prevailing Jewish laws and cultural norms. He associated with sinners (Luke 7:36-50), confronted the Sabbath laws (Mark 2:23-3:6), and disrupted the Jerusalem temple by driving out the money changers and vendors (Matthew 21:12). Jesus challenges people to look past the adherence of institutional religion as an exteneral test of one’s holiness, as the Gospels depict the Pharisees doing, and to look inward for one’s faith in God.
Spirituality grows from this attitude, and does not grow from a person of faith hiding behind excessive church bureaucracy that is scared of scandal. Recognizing the fallacies of Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic doctrine allows for us to understand the changing opinions and teachings of the church of social justice issues over the years.
The idea that GSAs are contrary to Catholic teaching is based on the opinion that GSAs promote sexual acts between two people who are not a heterosexual cisgender male and heterosexual cisgender female, but as stated above, GSAs are not “sex clubs” for youth (a harmful opinion that further encourages the hypersexualizes queer people). Rather, they are support networks for marginalized youth, providing safety, emotional support and resisting bullying in the name of justice, all of which are in agreement with Catholic teachings of love and human dignity.
As stated by Marisa Crawford, “if religious communities feel confident enough in their tradition and their journeys to open themselves to learning and questioning; if they began behaving like the best of educational communities, rather than expecting educational communities to behave like religious ones, these steps would dramatically change the relationships between religious communities and educational endeavours, and would change, but not lose, the distinctive presence of religious insight in the midst of society.”
This religious insight in our Albertan society is paramount to the values of our organizations, and therefore is very important to our students and citizens. A society’s educational system must reflect and sustain its basic commitments to its people. The schools of our society are expected to uphold whatever is consistent with the openness, freedom and impartiality which are enshrined in the ideal of Canada’s liberal democracy; such as current social justice issues, including the rights of assembly of queer citizens.
Supported by the values of Catholicism, including love, compassion, hospitality, human dignity and respect, there should be no faith-based argument against the organization of GSAs in Alberta’s Catholic Schools based on a social justice account; as GSAs promote the inclusion and diversity of some of God’s most marginalized children, they should be celebrated and supported in the highest degree.