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Gay, Straight, Christian, Jew - Why Simple Labels No Longer Work

20/10/2014 14:12 BST | Updated 18/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Pope Francis is a man on a mission. Everything from the choice of his name (referencing St Francis of Assisi) to his shunning of material comforts suggest he is out to take the church back to its core values of tolerance, inclusion and compassion. This week he took the unprecedented step of demoting a conservative Cardinal who wasn't with the program. Then he called a Special Synod to review a proposal for what would be a subtle but radical change in the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. Things are not going well though. The document has already gone through two revisions and every time it does the wording becomes less and less tolerant.

You have to applaud what the Pope is trying to do - getting an institution with a notorious resistance to change to start at least to move towards public opinion if not meet it.

The big flaw in what he is doing though is he is still working within the problem. We live in very volatile times. On the one hand in many countries, and generally amongst the young across the globe, people are becoming more and more open to and tolerant of diversity. On the other hand half the world is at war over some division or other - be it the Conservatives and Liberals in America, Shia and Sunnis in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine, ISIS and the West, the list just gets longer and longer.

We have become so hooked on dividing the world into them and us, goodies and baddies, that we have become blind to the fact that it is this over simplistic and absolute classification system that is actually the problem. It makes for good movies, but not real life.

If we really are going to tackle the alarming rise of conflict across the globe it is this crude system that we really need to go to work on. In my neighbourhood this week a woman was attacked on a train for wearing a headscarf; a piece of cloth for God's sake! Why? Because she was 'a Moslem'. In Gaza recently nearly three thousand people, mainly women and children, were killed by precision shelling because of a conflict that was triggered by one young man being beaten to death as he was 'an Arab', and then a tit-for-tat killing of some other young men because they were 'Jews'.

Much as it is encouraging that particularly the young are becoming increasingly open and tolerant, if we continue to insist that people 'are' something then all we are really doing is moving the deck chairs around. While the intention is good, it still divides us.

To get to the root cause of prejudice we need to ditch our obsessive and anal need to put everything into neat and simple boxes. There is actually only one label we need - human being. Then there are a series of preferences we all have that collectively make each and every human being unique. We are the same and different. 'And' is the key word here.

Once we do this we can start to tackle the causes of prejudice from a different angle.

Human beings are not heterosexual or homosexual, they are simply sexual. It is something we all have in common. Different human beings then have different preferences. Some go that way, some go this, some do a bit of both.

Starting from this place creates a whole different set of questions for the Catholic Church. We use the word 'homophobic' for a reason. If the phenomenon we were trying to describe was prejudice we would use the world 'homosexist', meaning 'against homosexuality'. But instead we use the world 'homophobic', meaning 'fear of homosexuality'. Once you remove the simple labels of 'is' and 'is not' what you see is that what the church really fears is the mirror. That its fear of homosexuality is not 'out there' in the population but in its own ranks. Catholic priests are human beings and what all humans beings have in common is sexuality. Just like in the wider population each and every one of its members will have preferences - some go that way, some go this, and some a bit of both. If it can go to work on that then we have a chance of real change.

Tolerance will only come when we start focus on and celebrate what we have in common - our humanity and love - not what we don't.