“The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained”: Learning from the Gateway Times Debacle

As a Catholic senior at SLU, I was shocked by the recent controversy surrounding the Gateway Times. It sickened me when an anonymous character attack on a University News writer—a fellow student—came from a self-described Catholic blog. I knew that some of my fellow Catholic students disagreed with the opinion piece on Justice Barrett (and rightfully so), but I did not expect such an attack from someone within our university’s Catholic community. The Gateway Times risked scandalizing our Catholic community. I am glad that they are no longer publishing. 

That is not to say that all responses to the Gateway Times were virtuous, however. The Gayway Times did much to hurt others even as they tried to stand up against prejudice. Their choice of logo—an upside-down cross—was hurtful in intention if not execution. (The upside-down cross is actually a symbol of St. Peter!) Their posting of an icon of Jesus with RuPaul’s head was offensive and sacrilegious. Both pages’ actions were petty, hurtful and unbecoming of the SLU community. 

Recounting and condemning my fellow students’ errors, however, is not my purpose here. I do not wish to exacerbate any anger or hurt feelings. My purpose is to discuss how we can move forward in a way that is helpful. My argument is this: we need, above all, mercy. 

Mercy is a moral necessity. It is not something extraneous or lofty which only the best of us can dole out or receive. Mercy includes forgiving others’ wrongdoing, but this is not its only manifestation; we can still show one another mercy even if we struggle to forgive each other for bitter words and other wrongs (though we ought to still forgive as we seek to be forgiven for our shortcomings). Mercy recognizes both the unique and immeasurable dignity and the pitiable wounds in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. It wills the good of the other person who has wronged you or harmed someone vulnerable, even if they are unrepentant. It is the antithesis of cruelty. Indeed, mercy is the only way we can really face one another, accepting each other as wounded, sinful, yet still beautiful. Mercy is realistic yet glorious. Mercy is the very foundation of dialogue and healing. 

The question is how we can act with mercy following incidents such as the Gateway Times debacle. The need for mercy is clear: everyone involved in the debacle is an integral part of the SLU community. We cannot ignore these problems or continue to tear at one another and put our whole community in peril. 

Now, I do not know the content of the hearts of those who started either blog. I do not know what wounds might be at the heart of their actions or opinions. I do not know what pushed the Gateway Times to attack another student, nor what pushed the Gayway Times to post a defaced image of Christ. None of us can be fully privy to others’ pains or beliefs, but we can get a sense of these and come to either common ground or an understanding of differences through dialogue. The desire for dialogue on this campus is real, whether across the divides of this controversy or the broader cultural divides between more “conservative” and more “liberal” groups of students. Dialogue is needed, wanted and possible. 

We cannot dialogue, though, until we learn how to talk to each other. We so readily dismiss each other’s beliefs as “leftist” or “fascist” that we start to treat each other as case studies of inhuman ideologies and broken systems. At risk of being reductive, I will note that we cannot even agree on what “fascist” means. My more liberal friends use it to describe Trumpism, if not conservatism more broadly, while my conservative friends and family are quick to use fascist dictators as liberal bogeymen. I have even slipped into abusing the word “fascist.” We can disagree and debate on the meanings of terms, but there is nothing to be gained from using the same terms to mean opposite things. We have to start using our words in a way that our ideological opposites can understand or even accept. It may be hard to state these terms outright without the words getting caught in your throat. Finding common terms may feel like you are unduly conceding to the person with whom you disagree. I know that feeling well. But it is the best way forward. 

Where can we start? I think we have something to learn from this debacle. The Gayway Times raised money for the Trevor Project, which aims to help LGBT youths enduring mental health crises. Nobody of goodwill could misunderstand or reject the basic right to mental health and safety. Likewise, nobody of goodwill could misunderstand or reject the significance of the Cross and icons of Christ to all Christians. Preserving young lives and respect for sacred religious symbols can be our common terms. In fact, they seem well suited to SLU’s Jesuit identity and commitment to cura personalis

I understand this may come off as pedantic. These are basic points that I think would be obvious to most or all SLU students. But I believe these points still need to be stated. Our current discourse on these basic issues is so tainted with contempt that we abuse truth as a weapon against those with whom we disagree. We have to state these truths, the truths reflect in our Mission, with conviction and charity. We have to accept that the people with whom we disagree can and do still know and argue from truth. Every time we ignore, abuse or equivocate on these truths, we fall away from truth, and we fall away from one another. And we are very clearly falling away from these truths. 

Mercy remains our only path to dialogue. Good argument skills and coherent terms are just the tools of dialogue. We must again see each other not as mere instruments of oppression and corruption, but as dignified though flawed human beings. We must approach one another even when we cannot expect to change the other person’s mind. We must recognize that we all share this university, even with all our disagreements and flaws. We are all breaking under our own sins and the burdens of the pandemic, widespread systemic racism, insidious misinformation campaigns and the darker effects of social media, among other ills. To engage in dialogue, we must assume that our ideological opposites are speaking from honest conviction, not a lust for power. This is not the cowardice and cruelty we saw when someone vandalized SLU’s Breonna Taylor memorial. The Gateway Times’ call for a platform for conservative student voices and the Gayway Times’ focus on LGBT voices and issues both come from places of intellectual conviction. They may also come from deep pain. These platforms’ actions, though hurtful, show where we can have dialogue. The roots and results of these actions show why we need mercy. 

I speak from the experience of my own failures. I have been divisive, mistrustful and quick to judge. I have equivocated and remained silent on vital truths. I hurt from the wounds of cultural conflict, and I have inflicted similar wounds on others as well. I know about mercy because I desperately need mercy. 

We cannot begin to dialogue if we do not realize our need for mercy. Each of us needs mercy, but we cannot expect to receive it unless we show it. As Portia says in “The Merchant of Venice,” “The quality of mercy is not strained… It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” As a sinner dependent on mercy, I forgive the Gayway Times for defacing Christ and the Cross. I forgive the Gateway Times for scandalizing our Catholic community. If you have been hurt by either or both, I invite you to forgive them as well. 

Admitting that you need mercy is difficult. But it is our only way forward. If you are still troubled, take comfort in that it is our way. You will not be taking it alone.