In an uncommon display of backbone, the University of St. Thomas has told two professors that it will not sponsor their cohabitating "lifestyle choice" during a planned trip to Australia on the school's nickel. This follows an earlier incident when the university refused similar travel arrangements for a music instructor and her female "partner." The couple has since opted out of the trip rather than live such a, ummm, deceit. That both a Catholic university actually acting (however benignly) to uphold Church doctrine is news and that there is a debate that has been "playing out" for weeks on campus are predictable (and similar to many happenings at other Catholic schools). What really got my eyes rolling from this story, however, are the knock-your-head-upside-a-stalactite stunners from St. Thomas theology professor, David Landry.
If sin and vice become disqualifying factors for university employees, then
students might have to start teaching themselves.
Disqualifying factors for employees? They weren't fired, or threatened, or even censured--the university said it would not pay for a single room for an unmarried couple. There wasn't even a plan for bedchecks. Please, professor, can't we do without the goose-stepping hyperbole?
Landry, the theology professor, recently asked the question, "What would Jesus do?" and noted that in the Gospel of John, Jesus did not judge an unmarried Samaritan woman with a partner.
"He does not seem excessively concerned about the bad example she sets for her hearers, only that she is doing good and bringing others to faith," he wrote. "I thought I worked for the kind of institution that followed the example of Jesus."
I'm reminded here of a talk not-yet-then-Fr. Shane Tharp once gave for Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist at St. John the Baptist in Edmond, OK during one of his breaks from seminary. At one point, he addressed the fad of wearing "WWJD" bracelets. "'What would Jesus do?' is a fine question," he said, "as far as it goes." To illustrate, he went on to note that while many people are concerned correctly about feeding the hungry, when faced with a throng of 5,000 hungry people, Jesus responded specifically in a way we never could, namely the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John, chapter 4), contrary to the professor's claim, Jesus is not concerned "only that she is doing good and bringing others to faith." After pointing out her sin out to her, He tells her that the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in truth (as revealed by God). In contrast, her people worship what they do not understand. She then went out and proclaimed the truth and brought others to the truth (and the way and the life), which, by the way, is distinctly different from faith. Here, the university couldn't reveal truth (that task belonging to God) and didn't even ask the couple explicitly to embrace truth, but only that they keep up the appearance of truth for a limited time, thereby only pointing out in a subtle way that the couple is, in fact, not married (although I suppose they could be in law, if they so chose). I wonder to what sort of plaint Professor Landry would be reduced if there were more imitation of Jesus by the administration.
Landry wrote in an e-mail that the response to his essay from faculty and staff has been overwhelmingly positive:
"There are a lot of people who are worried and/or angry about this."
I don't doubt it. And therein lies the rub.