08/01/2013 04:56 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Awaiting the Fruits of the Pope's Southern Charm


Within the past couple of months, the LGBT community has seen a wave of substantial progress. The largest ex-gay ministry came to an end, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned, Proposition 8 was effectively shut down, and England accepted equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, just to name a few recent victories. Needless to say, this has been an amazing summer for the LGBT community.

Now many are adding one more victory to that list: a recent statement by Pope Francis during a news conference aboard a flight from Brazil to Rome that has the gays talking, Facebooking, and tweeting with hope: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

On the same day that the pope posed this rhetorical question, I was reminded of the optimism that it inspired when my own partner came home from work and commented on the development: "Did you hear what the pope said about gays? This is a big step for Catholics." He shared this assessment with the best of intentions, knowing that religious issues within the LGBT community are of great interest to me. He was expecting a joyous reaction and an exciting conversation. He got the opposite.

Something just did not sit right with me every time I saw the excitement of others over this "development." Don't get me wrong: What the pope said and how he said it did indeed sound more compassionate than the remarks of previous popes about gays and lesbians. But I nevertheless feel compelled to pull the "Negative Nancy" card on this one.

The Bible warns us to always watch out for the wolf in sheep's clothing. It also teaches us that we can tell how true people are by the fruits they bear. While I am not demeaning the pope or what he said by any means, I would caution the LGBT community to take the pope's words on gays with a grain of salt until we actually start seeing some fruit come out of the Vatican.

The evangelical church in which I grew up and through which I attended seminary similarly taught followers to love everyone and judge no one. We firmly believed that we could redeem homosexuals by loving them and not judging them. My seminary even had a special ministry that would fan out into the "gayborhoods" of Dallas to strike up conversations with gays and lesbians and hope to subtly influence them through compassion. This was love in their eyes, and it was therefore assumed that there was no judgment involved.

When the pope asked, "Who am I to judge?" he was simply repeating the same deceiving rhetoric we have seen far too many times, including and especially from some of the most anti-gay ministries. These words were not indicative of progress, acceptance, compassion, or love; they were simply the tactical deployment of a time-tested trick.

The pope's remarks reminded me of growing up in the South and hearing genteel older ladies proclaim, "Well, bless your heart," or, "Oh, my, how nice," in the same deceiving and judgmental but sugarcoated manner. I suppose the pope's first official visit to South America inspired some similar Southern charm. But who am I to judge, right?

We will not know this pope's true stance on homosexuality until his fruits, if any, actually bloom. When he shows the same apparent compassion and evolution -- or lack thereof -- on specific issues with which homosexuals worldwide are struggling, such as marriage equality and adoption rights, I will then concede a true "change in tone" by the pope.

I cannot consider the pope's words a step forward for the LGBT community as long as loving the person whom God intended for each of us to love, whether of the same sex or a different sex, is still seen by the Catholic Church as "sinful." For now, all Pope Francis was saying to the LGBT community was simply, "Bless your gay little hearts."