Picture this: You spend your life living in two separate worlds. In one life, you’re happily married to your partner of 22 years and raising a 12-year-old child. In the other, you provide guidance to kids attending a Catholic high school. But what happens when those two worlds collide?
Ask former Roncalli guidance counselor, Shelly Fitzgerald. The school administration and Archdiocese of Indianapolis gave her a choice: divorce your wife or resign.
I know what you’re probably thinking. That’s crazy, right? Who would agree with that? Personally, I didn’t think anyone would, but then I stumbled across an op-ed on Twitter written by IndyStar’s Gary Varvel.
Varvel openly admits that he believes Roncalli made the right move when they handed the ultimatum to Fitzgerald. I applaud him for saying what he believes, but do I think he’s wrong? Absolutely. I’ll address that in a moment though.
Varvel’s conviction is based around two key elements: the existence of a contract and labeling. Varvel, who used to teach at a Christian high school, says both he and Fitzgerald signed contracts which bound them to uphold the behaviors and beliefs of the Church. So yeah, I agree she knew the consequences. One point to Varvel. But, his second argument was a stretch. Varvel claims more people aren’t coming out in support of Roncalli because they’re scared of being labeled as bigots.
Well Gary, I think people aren’t supporting Roncalli for a much larger reason: Forcing Fitzgerald into an impossible decision was not the Christian thing to do.
Varvel argued that the Christian thing to do for the couple was gracefully part ways, citing the creation of the Lutheran church. But Fitzgerald didn’t go silently to prove a point. All denominations of Christianity, whether it’s Catholicism, Lutheran, Baptist, ect., are based on the teachings of Jesus. What church leaders should keep in mind, however, is that being a Christian is about more than rules. It’s about the lessons Jesus taught us while he walked among us: love, mercy, grace and kindness.
Varvel based his argument on a contract, providing readers with verses about settling disputes. I’ve decided to base my argument on what should matter: the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” – Zechariah 7:9-10
It’s not my job, your job or anyone else’s job but God’s to give a guilty verdict. God tells us that the true justice is mercy and compassion. Not to force a resignation or divorce.
While it seems like the school administration and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have lost sight of crucial teachings like the one in Zechariah, students and parents haven’t.
Roncalli Senior Elijah Mahan defended Fitzgerald to IndyStar shortly after the story initially broke.
“It’s a Catholic’s duty to respect, defend and build up one another no matter what their race, sexual orientation or social background is,” Mahan said.
Interesting… What do you think? Does the ultimatum Roncalli gave Fitzgerald sound anything like that?
Earlier this week, Fitzgerald, Mahan and a few other Roncalli students appeared on Ellen to share their stories. It so easy to see that Fitzgerald touch these kids’ hearts. One of them even called the guidance counselor’s office her “safe place” in the school. To show their support for Fitzgerald and the LGBT+ community, the students decided to start a foundation, named Shelly’s Voice. Shelly’s Voice will be focused on cultivating equality in the workplace, so that those in the LGBT+ community, like Shelly and like me, won’t have to huge hide parts of our lives.
In his article, Varvel mentioned he signed a contract when he was employed at a Christian high school which stated he had to exemplify the values written in the Bible. That’s fine. I don’t see anything wrong with that… as long as the contract holds employees accountable to all teachings of the bible, including the compassion, mercy, love… Oh, and divorce.
You could argue, “It wouldn’t be a divorce in the eyes of God because they shouldn’t have been married in the first place.” And I’m going to stop you right there. Same-sex marriage is legal. Churches will perform same-sex marriages. There are same-sex couples all around the world who spend their lives giving just as Christ did. So, let me make this very clear: a homosexual divorce is the same as a heterosexual one.
You know what I find really funny, though? Homosexuality is only mentioned specifically in six or seven of the Bible’s 31,173 verses. Yet, the church has been up in arms about hindering the rights of the LGBT community. You know how many verses there are about divorce? A lot more than six or seven.
So, in the eyes of the Catholic church at least, Fitzgerald was told to pick her sin: divorce or homosexuality.
What happened to the love, kindness, mercy and compassion that the majority of the Bible was devoted to? People like the Roncalli administration, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Varvel, who choose legalism over compassion, are not representing the Christian faith as described in the Bible. But people, like the students at Roncalli who choose to love unconditionally, embody the character and message of Christ.