Pope Francis made a breathtaking and extraordinary statement on July 29 about homosexuality. His remarks have reverberated around the world.

During an impromptu exchange with reporters on a transoceanic flight back to Rome following a triumphant week-long visit to Brazil, His Holiness was asked about the presence of a so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican. His response: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Elaborating on the statement, he said: “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” The pontiff allowed as to how the problem regarding any gay lobby that may or may not exist within the Vatican was not the sexual orientation of its members, but any policies they promoted that would be opposed to the church and its traditional teachings.

His comments represent a radical shift from previous statements by all the men who had headed the world’s largest single Christian denomination over hundreds of years — and signaled once again that this new Pope may be taking the Catholic Church in startling new directions in which it has never traveled before.

Francis also told the press that the church needed to demonstrate a new degree of compassion for divorced Catholics. Presently, divorcees within the church are not allowed, by papal decree, to receive communion, and are marginalized in other ways in local parishes worldwide.

A CNN report on the Pope’s informal interview session on the return flight from South America quoted Francis as saying, “I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch,” regarding divorce.

“He said the group of eight cardinals tasked with reform will explore the issue of whether divorcees can receive Communion,” the CNN report added.

Yet even as the pontiff’s statements brought new hope to gays around the world that religious oppression may be lessening, and just as laws in the United States banning gay marriage are finally loosening, new developments in Russia over the past week indicate that the laws in that country are becoming more and more oppressive regarding homosexuality, leading to a piercing question: Will we ever be able to civilize Civilization?

A law has just been passed in Russia that makes illegal to “spread information about non-traditional sexual behavior” to minors (defined as persons under 18). In Moscow recently, members of the Moscow Gay Pride movement were detained by police for holding a rally that has not been authorized, and for “promoting untraditional sexual relations,” according to reports from NBC News.

And on Sunday, July 28, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church,  said that legislation in the United States making same-sex marriage legal “is bringing the apocalypse closer.”

The situation has become so volatile in Russia that the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for gays who had hoped to visit there. The State Department’s statement said that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is widespread in Russia, as harassment, threats, and acts of violence have been targeted at LGBT individuals. Government officials have been known to make derogatory comments about LGBT persons.”

Over 80% of the Russian population is said to support stringent anti-gay attitudes and laws.

It seems terribly sad that such conditions should prevail in one of the world’s largest nations and most visible and prominent cultures. The attitudes of both civil and religious figures — endorsed and openly promoted by such highly visible political and spiritual leaders as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill — have long been part of the nation’s social outlook.

The basis of all this appears to be the centuries of teaching by sects within the Christian tradition that sexual relationships involving persons of the same gender are a violation of the Will of God. That’s what made the remarks by Pope Francis on Monday so striking.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the world’s second largest Christian denomination in terms of numbers of followers. Only the Roman Catholic Church is larger. The theological influence of the ROC in Russia runs wide and deep, with, by some estimates, over 70% of the population declaring themselves to be adherents.

The statements about God’s Will with regard to homosexual behavior is yet one more area in which the theology of Conversations with God presents spiritually revolutionary messages. There is no manner or way in which the expression of a love that is pure and true is inappropriate or spiritually objectionable, CWG states unequivocally.

It is difficult to comprehend how a spiritual community which holds that God is the epitome of love, compassion, and forgiveness — which the Russian Orthodox Church presumably does —  could espouse, endorse, and support a view that would culturally, spiritually, and even legally oppose, restrict, and condemn the expression of love between human beings, with this opposition based on nothing more than gender.

Such opposition and condemnation feels to be the social expression of a primitive and backward culture; a species that does not understand the true nature of the relationship of its members to each other and to God.

Ours is a species that, in many places, roundly approves the death penalty, and that throws people in jail for years for simply growing, distributing, or smoking a particular plant. So perhaps it is small wonder that segments of it could disapprove of love simply based on gender.

I believe that the decision to legislate morality is the first sign of an uncultivated society. It occurs to me that advanced civilizations do not create oppressive laws as a means of suppressing private loving behaviors with which some of its members — no matter how powerful or influential they may be — personally disagree.

While I deeply admire Pope Francis for his conciliatory statements about gays — and for all the moves he has been making, large and small, since assuming the papacy to bring the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st Century — I am sad to see what is going on in Russia today. I dearly hope that all of human consciousness will one day soon grow beyond such barbaric demonstrations of limited awareness.

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