It’s been said that potentially divisive topics can no longer be thoughtfully discussed, but recently, the North Dakota Catholic bishops and an area university showed otherwise.
The controversy that flared up earlier this month concerned a possible gender-inclusion policy being proposed by the University of North Dakota that had seemingly sneaked under the radar. The fuller story has been covered more in depth previously in this paper.
As a faith columnist and parent of a college-bound student, I tuned in upon reading a Jan. 10 letter by Bishops John Folda and David Kagan to prospective college parents raising questions about this proposal.
The bishops expressed concern that the policy would require student organizations “to use preferred pronouns, accept expressed genders, and reject binary standards of gender even if doing so conflicted with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Others challenged the policy’s necessity, given that the university already has rules to curb unkind treatment toward and among its students.
In response, UND organized a press conference, even attracting several national religious news outlets. And on Jan. 21, the university’s president publicly announced that they would not implement the policy after all.
Good on UND for responding. And good on the Catholic bishops for not shirking when it counted. I think of the anonymous saying, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Their bold, reasoned voices made a difference.
A friend who relocated to North Dakota from California a few years ago told me her previous bishops likely would have dodged any such controversy at the expense of the flock, so she was grateful for our shepherds’ voices.
We need strong leaders in the religious community willing to affirm sound morals that serve not just some but everyone. Every human being has a right to be treated fairly, and one right shouldn’t trample another.
Several years ago, while praying at the Red River Women’s Clinic, we pro-life advocates were confronted by a person who identified as trans, and had come to argue with us about abortion. Eventually, I jumped into the conversation, and though seeking a more respectful exchange, when I inadvertently used an unpreferred pronoun in addressing this person, some nearby escorts began to heckle me.
I ask this honestly: is this right? It seemed a no-win situation for me, which, I believe, was the point. That doesn’t seem charitable or helpful to anyone.
As human beings, created by a good God, we’re called toward charity, on looking past the exterior to see into the heart. Though not all live this out well, Christians are compelled to hold beliefs arising not from hate, but a sublime understanding of the human person that sees every individual as made in the image and likeness of God.
Thankfully, the public conversation surrounding the proposed gender-inclusion policy was civil, proving we can handle these potentially contentious conversations well. But it takes an earnest effort and much grace. Let’s keep the communication flowing and in the light.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 31, 2022.]