Nikki Haley and the Pope are making some of their followers a little uncomfortable these days, and that’s OK.
Pope Francis on Friday issued a 256-page letter about some of the most difficult issues in church and society, including homosexuality, divorce and sex education. It was a remarkable message emphasizing the need to love one another more than strictly to punish sinners. The treatise continued the refreshingly (to us) different approach Francis has taken from his predecessors of hundreds of years.
At about the same time, South Carolina Gov. Haley, a Republican, said Thursday that a S.C. Senate bill that would limit which bathroom transgender individuals can use is wholly unnecessary. This was a starkly different perspective than the one taken by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who couldn’t uncap his pen fast enough to sign the anti-gay House Bill 2 last month.
Haley and the Pope live in different worlds, and local spats about bathrooms are a far cry from two years of Synod meetings over fundamental Catholic Church doctrine. But in both cases, a conservative leader had the courage and the predisposition to honor others to take a stand likely to alienate a large portion of their followers.
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In North Carolina, the debate over House Bill 2 and the fallout since has broken down largely along party and ideological lines. And the Catholic Church is home to millions who believe in the inviolable sanctity of the law as it has been taught from the Vatican for centuries, even as many American Catholics routinely choose not to adhere to some of those teachings. So both Haley and the Pope are likely to lose some fans with their recent statements.
Even so, they were thoughtful stands to take. In South Carolina, state Sen. Lee Bright has proposed legislation to limit which bathrooms transgender individuals can use. Faced with three Republican challengers in his primary, Bright apparently believed this gambit would boost his popularity in his home district. Haley, though, pointed out the bill is unnecessary. Her office has not received a single complaint about bathroom use.
“Like it or not, South Carolina is doing really well when it comes to respect and when it comes to kindness and when it comes to acceptance,” she said.
Francis’s letter, meanwhile, urged priests to encounter their parishioners with love more than judgment. Moral laws, he said, are not “stones to throw at people’s lives.” Sinners can live in God’s grace and grow with the church’s help. “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God,” the Pope said.
The proclamations from Haley and Francis will be discomforting for some. With any luck, they will also provoke us all to wrestle more deeply with questions of love, equality, sin and forgiveness.