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Monday 20 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions

The doors are open to refugees and reverts. Cue the serpents and doves.

Simcha Fisher - published on 12/21/15

Here’s a fascinating story from the NYT: Norway offers migrants a lesson in how to treat women. It’s not about filtering out terrorists or screening for infiltrators; this is an article about modifying the behavior of people who are who they say they are, and who, because of the accident of birth, behave like aliens because they are aliens. These men have to be taught, very explicitly, that they’re expected to treat women well, and not like objects.

The article says,

Fearful of stigmatizing migrants as potential rapists and playing into the hands of anti-immigrant politicians, most European countries have avoided addressing the question of whether men arriving from more conservative societies might get the wrong idea once they move to places where it can seem as if anything goes.

Uncomfortable implications be damned: you can’t just plunk a bunch of strict Muslim men into a western European city and expect them to be chill about all those women walking around wearing tank tops and drinking beer.  “Back home,” says one immigrant, “only prostitutes do that, and in locally made movies couples ‘only hug but never kiss.’” Where they come from, married women can’t say no to sex, and the rape of a stranger may very well go unpunished. This is just a fact. It doesn’t mean that Muslim men are animals. It means they’ve been raised in a certain way, and have to be reeducated.

So they’re trying to figure out how to let these guys in, but get them to change their behavior:

[W]ith more than a million asylum seekers arriving in Europe this year, an increasing number of politicians and also some migrant activists now favor offering coaching in European sexual norms and social codes


In Denmark, lawmakers are pushing to have such sex education included in mandatory language classes for refugees. The German region of Bavaria, the main entry point to Germany for asylum seekers, is already experimenting with such classes at a shelter for teenage migrants in the town of Passau.

Norway, however, has been leading the way. Its immigration department mandated that such programs be offered nationwide in 2013, and hired a nonprofit foundation, Alternative to Violence, to train refugee center workers in how to organize and conduct classes on sexual and other forms of violence.

What I like about this approach is that it manages to be compassionate and practical at the same time. It doesn’t scream, “Muslim men are all violent animals, so let’s seal them out of our borders”; but it also doesn’t purr, “Muslims are our brothers, and it’s racist and intolerant to imply that there’s a problem.”

It says, “There is a problem here. Let’s figure out how to work with our Muslim brothers so they figure out what’s expected of them.” They’re being gentle as doves, recognizing that migrants and refugees are fleeing horror and tragedy back home, and are entitled to asylum as human beings — but they’re also being wise as serpents, recognizing that there the huge and disastrous culture shock isn’t going to resolve itself, and someone needs to make it very clear to these guys that Denmark isn’t Eritrea.

I bring this up because it’s a balance we could use in the American Church, as we Catholic “natives” deal with an influx of uncatechised “refugees” from the secular world. Pope Francis really is throwing the doors open, loosening up the borders and reminding us all that the Church is intended to be a place, the place, that welcomes spiritual refugees.

But then what happens? A culture clash. Catholics who were born wearing a scapular and a chapel veil are suddenly rubbing shoulders with folks who wouldn’t recognize an encyclical if it hit them over the head with a crozier.

It’s all too easy to fall back on extremes. Those of us who were lucky enough to be raised Catholic may be tempted to say, “These people are animals! Look at them — they’re irreverent, they don’t know how to dress at Mass, they have all kinds of repulsive heterodox ideas  . . . and we’re just going to let them into our Church? Hell, no.” In these quarters, the word “mercy” is a punchline.

The other extreme, which is just as foolish, is to bleat, “God is love, and love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  In these quarters, beating one’s breast during the Confiteor is considered offensive (or even, for reasons I can’t quite grasp, sexist). We already know how well that approach works out.

So? Cue the serpent doves. Catholicism is all about two things: mercy and repentance. Invitation and response. It has always been about these two things. You have to have both. Catholicism must be inviting; and once we’re in, we have to learn how to behave. We have to have both. Like it or not, believe it or not, we’re getting both.

By all accounts, the final report from the Synod on the Family is a “dove and serpent” statement, reiterating God’s boundless, inconceivably generous welcome, and then following up that welcome with a mandatory instruction on how to become acculturated. I’ve written about this before. The Church invites us to a feast, and then instructs us on how to “dress” as honored guests, so that we will not be cast out into the darkness.

I’m tired, so I’m just going to quote myself now, because when I wrote it, I was quoting Holy Scripture: the part where the King invites his friends, and they don’t turn up — so he throws the doors open and invites everybody, and helps them figure out how to dress for the party.

This is what the Church is doing: it is inviting people to the feast, and it is instructing them in how to “dress” the soul, how to behave as an honored guest so they can participate in the feast — so they can follow up on the invitation. In short, it is teaching us how to be a Catholic. … If a cohabitating couple shows up for a baptism, what do we do? Or if a couple with an un-annulled second marriage, or if a gay couple turns up wanting to lead some ministry, what do we do? Do you slam the door? No, we say, “Come in, and let’s talk about what you have right so far. Then we can figure out what’s  next.” … [A]ll the Synod is saying is what the Church has always said: invite whomever you find, so you can teach them how to be good guests, so we can all enjoy the feast together.

This dove-and-serpent stuff isn’t new. In fact, it couldn’t be older. The question is, will be we be wise enough and innocent enough to understand what the Church is doing? Like it or not, the doors are open.

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