Responding to the Polarization/Post Partisan Crowd (Again)

Over at the Political Theology blog, Julie Rubio Hanlon shares her thoughts on the Notre Dame “Beyond Polarization: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal” conference that took place recently. I’ve had disagreements about this kind of thing before, and once again, I feel the need to respond. Below in italics are the three reasons Rubio Hanlon gave for the conference members avoiding what she terms “contentious issues,” followed by snippets that I thought best summed up her thinking in these areas (but please, don’t take my word for it, go and read for yourself). These are then followed by my own comments in bold, and at the end I offer a slightly longer take on all of this.

  1. There Is a Real Desire to Find Common Ground. “It may be more prudent to bracket the most difficult issues and begin instead with what we can actually talk about.”

 For some of us, the “most difficult issues” are not “issues” but rather the content of our daily lives, the woof and warp of our very existence. How do you bracket your existence? And isn’t that what most of us with “issues” have been told to do for centuries?

  1. Polarization May Be Limited. “Like the culture war, ecclesial polarization is more pronounced among those who are most invested: academics, students of theology, journalists, and those who work for the church. It may be less central in communities of color. Though it is not wrong to say it endures, it is not the dominant reality for all Catholics. It may be counterproductive to keep attending to it.”

Does this mean we should only attend to what is “the dominant reality for all Catholics?” Where does that leave those of us who are excluded from “the dominant reality?” Also, communities of color have many, many members who represent “the most difficult issues” that are not “the dominant reality for all Catholics.” These things are not mutually exclusive.

      3. Building Trust Takes Time.

 Someone else has already tackled this one.


Look… I’m not against having conversations or dialogue about the different experiences of life in the Church and in the world that have shaped Catholic identity. I am, however, not in favor of too quickly overcoming conflict (a more accurate word than polarization, in my opinion) because it seems to make some people uncomfortable. The resolution to conflict in the Church is to face it in all its messy humanity; to hold it, explore it, get to know its ticks, what it feels like, to become intimate with all of its qualities. As Rubio Hanlon herself notes, “we all know that harder conversations will need to happen eventually.” Intimacy with conflict – with “harder conversations” – can still take place within a context of compassion and a recognition of our sharing God’s image, but that doesn’t mean pretending there is no divergence through bracketing, putting off, rationalizing its extent, or not labeling it any way.

The source and feeling of conflict is not the same for everyone experiencing it. For some of us, the source of conflict is about historical, personal, social, and ecclesial exclusion to the point of being told to deny our existence as full human beings. This feels pretty darn bad. For others, the source of conflict is about wanting to affirm (some) Church teachings, and feeling frustrated that there are those out there who seem to counter, or stand in the way of such affirmation. This probably is not a nice feeling, but hardly comparable to that which accompanies the denial of one’s existence. Even if secular society is increasingly moving away from denying the existence of people and groups that (some) Church leadership still (yes, even under Francis) excludes, Catholics who are officially excluded by the Church are still excluded by the Church.

No real change or reform or unification of anything will happen without moving in and through conflict. Theologically this could be called taking up the cross. We can’t just skip to the resurrection so as to avoid the nails, sweat, tears, abandonment, and death that accompany entrance into new life. Some of us have been carrying our crosses for a very long time and are very tired of being told to bracket our lives, to wait patiently, to not make a fuss, to quit drawing attention and to stop staining the nice white carpet with our blood. I’m sorry all the fuss and tension of conflict is distressing for you, but I think the most compassionate thing I can do is help you learn how to live with and in it, because it is a part of human life – indeed, it unfortunately makes up the entire content of some lives.

Let’s face and name our reality, let’s really look at the crucified in the Church (and in the world), let’s really feel their suffering in the marrow of our human bones, in the depths of our human hearts, let’s get bloody with them, and then maybe we can talk about common ground.

I wish all of us the holy detachment that comes by way of grace moving through our fragile, uncomfortable, untidy, and confused lives.