02/13/2018 13:18 EST | Updated 02/13/2018 13:46 EST

Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin, Is An Empty Slogan

Like any devout gay religious person, Mark Guevarra rejects false binaries and cherishes his faith to the best of his abilities.

Mark Guevarra is deeply committed to his Catholic faith. He is also gay. For almost a decade that I have known him, he has conducted pastoral work for the Catholic Church quietly and with dignity. Bound to his faith, all these years he has kept his private life private.

One would have thought that religious teachings against gossip, slander and backbiting would have allowed churchgoers to let him observe his faith dutifully. But such is often not the case with the outwardly religious folk who never internalized the true essence of empathy and inclusion. It is therefore not surprising that he recently got fired from the Church.

His crime was to facilitate an LGBTQ Catholic prayer and support group, and his refusal to answer inquisitorial questions related to his personal life that includes raising a beautiful daughter with a clergy partner.

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It pained me to learn about this unfortunate news. I never expected someone so kind, conscientious and respectful to have been cast away from the folds of the Church like this. For Guevarra, honouring tradition and elders are seeped in his blood.

Like any devout gay religious person he rejects false binaries and cherishes his faith to the best of his abilities. This includes teaching classes on Catholicism and also facilitating a private support group for LGBTQ people who are looking for peace and comfort in this very trying life.

The people who seek out his group are often broken by internalized homophobia. Some have mental health issues. Others are recovering drug addicts, and still others are trying to find space away from toxic subcultures that objectify human beings for sexual consumption.

Gueverra and his partner, the good Rev. Mark Chiang, reach out to such people extending their warmth and compassion in cold, freezing Edmonton. They host Christmas dinners, invite people hungry for more than bread to their home, and to the best of their abilities try to walk in the footsteps of the one who taught them to love one another.

LGBTQ people outside the Catholic faith may ask why figures like Guevarra don't just abandon a seemingly archaic faith that has no room for them. Indeed, some militant atheists can get very judgmental and condescending on such calls. Yet, it is not that simple.

Religion is more about tending to spiritual needs through a particular medium than it is about polemics

People who follow a faith do so as they find their spirituality affirmed in that faith tradition. Like sexuality, spirituality is very complex. The songs, hymns, prayers and the overall religious narrative influences a person raised in a particular tradition at a very deep and intimate level. Such a person finds meaning and purpose through such spiritual expression. Their notion of empathy and unconditional giving is derived from a language unique to that spiritual expression.

In other words, religion is more about tending to spiritual needs through a particular medium than it is about polemics on the latest social issue that affects our communities. It is not about the incessant debates on same-sex marriage, abortion or evolution, but rather about finding peace and comfort amidst all the challenges of life.

Indeed, the Catholic Church, or at least what we are told on face value, repeatedly insists on the dignity of human beings, who are supposedly made in God's image. Faithful Church goers are cautioned against judging others as exemplified by the current Pope's popular words to a gay man: "Who am I to judge?"

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A protester at The National Equality March on Oct. 11, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Notwithstanding the Catholic Church's teachings on same-sex marriage, it has upheld the slogan to "love the sinner." But how does that love manifest itself, when conscientious Catholics like Guevarra, who have given their lives in service with quiet dignity, are easily disposed away without regard to their livelihood or family responsibilities?

In these instances, one finds that such slogans are hollow and meaningless for they only serve as convenient sound bites to protect institutions from legal and social charges of homophobia.

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In essence, what sin has Guevarra committed other than tending to the sheep that have flocked to him? He isn't a rogue theologian out there to challenge and change doctrines. And even if he did, it would be a herculean task to go against centuries worth of prohibitive Catholic teachings. Not to mention the over zealous Catholic academics and ministers who would spare no turn in showcasing their hermeneutical gymnastics.

Guevarra has simply offered an ear and space to those who are deeply wounded on the inside. By firing him, the Catholic Church has simply proven that it could not even tolerate throwing this scrap of humanity to the most vulnerable among her people. Indeed, as has been confirmed by the Church's conduct again and again, it is driven more by political fervour of the day than by eternal, everlasting love.

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