This past weekend, my New Ways Ministry colleague Bob Shine and I attended the national conference of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic organization which promotes peace, justice, and non-violence. We had an exhibit booth there for New Ways Ministry, distributing our materials about LGBT ministry and equality.
With Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as the opening keynoter and Father Bryan Massingale, a Marquette University theologian who specializes in social ethics, as the closing plenary speaker, the three days of meetings were book-ended by great inspiration.
For me, and for many of the participants, the highlight of the weekend came during Fr. Massingale’s talk in which he laid out a number of ways that Pax Christi USA can become more relevant to today’s Catholics, and more effective in church and society. His final recommendation was that Pax Christi USA needed to start addressing LGBT equality and justice if they want to remain a credible and vibrant voice for peace and justice. He stated:
“If Pax Christi USA is to remain relevant and on the frontier as a Catholic movement of peacemaking with justice, it must intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.”
Massingale acknowledged that this might be a “neuralgic and sensitive” issue for some in the organization, but he offered two reasons why he recommended it. The first was demographics:
“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue.”
He noted a survey of young people from 2009 in which the four top descriptors of religious institutions were: “intolerant,” “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.” He added:
“For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”
The second reason, Massingale suggested, was the justice and human rights argument:
“Around the world, people are humiliated, tortured, raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed for who they are and how they love. The most notorious case is going on in Uganda with the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. . . In South Africa, women who identify as lesbian are subjected to a practice called ‘corrective rape’ where they are gang raped by men in order to change them from their ‘sinful tendencies.’ “
Massingale added that “we don’t need to go overseas,” mentioning the series of murders classified as gay hate crimes in New York City during May 2013. He noted mournfully:
“And these hate crimes, these brutal murders were met by a deafening, appalling silence from Catholic leaders.”
Massingale summed up this section of his talk with moral principles that are deep in Catholic theology:
“Whatever disagreements one may have with someone’s conduct, their fundamental human rights are inalienable and God-given.
“These human rights must be protected and defended without compromise or ambiguity. This is not political correctness. This is the Gospel.”
My experience at the weekend conference tells me that Pax Christi members were well-disposed to receive Fr. Massingale’s challenge. The part of his talk that dealt with LGBT issues was interrupted several times by loud, approving applause. At New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table, we were busy all weekend talking with Pax Christi members who are extremely supportive of LGBT issues. Indeed, we returned home practically empty-handed, having distributed almost all of our materials. We were afraid we would run-out!
Pax Christi USA already has a precedent for taking on LGBT issues. In 1998, the organization partnered with New Ways Ministry to produce a full-page signature advertisement in the New York Times, in response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming. Close to 2,000 Catholics, including nine bishops, signed the statement entitled, “A Catholic Pledged to End Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People.”
But, of course, Fr. Massingale’s message is one that not only needed to be delivered to Pax Christi, but to the entire church.
New Ways Ministry thanks PaxChristiUSA for hosting us at their conference and for providing a platform for Fr. Bryan Massingale’s passionate and prophetic talk.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry