Making Compassion and Kindness Our Response to Anti-LGBT Faith Leaders

November 11, 2014

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by people in my years of ministry in the LGBT Catholic community is “Why are some bishops so stubborn against changing policy and practices in the church concerning LGBT people?”

It’s a good question, and one that I wish I knew the exact answer to.  Many people speculate that the reason is because bishops who espouse anti-gay attitudes are, in fact, gay themselves.  There’s good research to show that homophobic people are actually fearful of their own homoerotic feelings.  But I think that this answer, while certainly true of some bishops, is not the complete answer.  It can sometimes be a satisfying answer because it seems to fit in with popular notions of psychology, but I think it misses some other dynamics which are at work in their attitudes.

Australia’s GayNewsNetwork.com.au recently posted an essay entitled “How to Approach the Abominable ‘No’-Men” in which author Rob MacPherson tries to make sense of why some Catholic bishops remain so anti-gay.  I think he offers some interesting analyses.

Taking the recent synod as his jumping off point for his discussion of Catholicism, MacPherson tries to make sense of a group he calls ” ‘The Abominable “No”-men”…privileged folk who are reflexively conditioned to find “no” an easier response to ANY change toward social equity, because it has fewer letters than “yes.” ‘ “

Summarizing the thesis of Dr. Robert Ciardini’s study Influence, MacPherson states:

“. . . [P]eople have a strong psychological tendency to stick to what they’ve always said and done, fearing they otherwise might appear, weak, vacillating, scatter-brained, or even mad. Neither logic nor evidence can shift this (witness the current climate change debate). If they appear inconsistent, they stand to lose trust and respect, and therefore social status. ‘

MacPherson claims that strong and vocal opposition actually reveals “vulnerability and fear,” not strength and courage:

“. . . [W]hen they splutter and roar, what we are witnessing is not so much simple chest-beating aggression, but what we might call ‘privilege erosion’—the sense that their barely-acknowledged privileges are slipping away from under their feet, and their own self-inflicted blindness to that privilege opening up like a sink-hole.”

Social change reveals something to these fearful leaders that they were not even aware of beforehand:

‘Because they have never noticed their unfair advantages, all they see is that they are worse off, and therefore threatened. A society that once was ordered for their convenience alone, no longer fits. Thus they are apt to feel persecuted.’

I think we can’t underestimate the fear that people have about any changes in society or any institution that deal with gender, such as sexual orientation or gender identity.  I don’t think such fear excuses these negative attitudes, but I think it is important to be aware of these forces.  For whatever reason, gender is a powerful force.  This is particularly true in an institution like the church which has for so long valued men over all other gender identities.  I think it’s important to be aware that these forces often play powerful unseen roles in people’s behaviors.

While I certainly understand the anger that some people feel toward church leaders who have been so virulently anti-LGBT, lately my dominant feeling towards these prelates has been sadness.  In not being able to allow themselves to simply learn about LGBT people, they are missing out on some of the holiest and most positive acts of faith, liberation, and love in the world today.  So sad that they are missing the joy of this most Christian party.

MacPherson offers some very wise and Christian advice to those who witness these “no”-men.  He says the best thing for people to do is:

“. . . to approach these seemingly dangerous creatures, not judging or vilifying them, but challenging ourselves to recognize their fear as genuine and understandable, mustering what compassion we can for their feelings of distress, and remaining patient and persistent in offering a better way forward.

“Once upon a traditional time, qualities like understanding, compassion, patience, and persistence were called ‘virtues’. We’re going to need them as we try to approach our own Abominable ‘No’-men as their familiar world melts away, and a new, more just one, evolves into being.”

In an unrelated story this weekend, MacPherson’s advice was exemplified by a Catholic lesbian woman in Houston, Texas.  When faith-based anti gay protestors demonstrated this weekend, in that city, a counter-demonstration to negate their hate emerged, and KHOU-TV  reported on the response of Tiera Ortiz-Rodriguez, chapter president of Dignity Houston, a Catholic community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.:

“We want to have compassion and kindness as our response.”

Yes, we must never give up speaking out and advocating for justice, but we must do so in such a way that our opponents do not become our enemies.  We must be committed to work for their enlightenment and liberation from their own fears.  Not easy work, but like everything else, it can be accomplished by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired Transgender Teacher Scores Points in Court Case

September 12, 2013
Marla Krolikowski

Marla Krolikowski

2013 has been the year of the fired LGBT church worker.  We’ve been reporting on the plight of these unjustly dismissed people since the beginning of the year, when we let you know about the story of Mark Krolikowski (as he was then identified), a transgender teacher who was fired after 32 years of employment at St. Francis Preparatory H.S. in Queens, N.Y.   Krolikowski, who now identifies as Marla Krolikowski, brought a legal case against the school.

The Huffington Post reported that Krolikowski won a legal victory in court this week:

“On Monday, a judge reportedly rejected the school’s motion to have the case thrown out and strongly suggested that the opposing parties settle the lawsuit.”

Judge Duane Hart was skeptical that Krolikowski’s gender transition did not factor into her firing, and that the school fired her simply for insubordination, as they claimed:

” ‘Insubordination after 32 years of teaching? And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?’ the case’s judge skeptically questioned. “

Perhaps more significantly related to other such firings, the judge also dismissed the school’s claim that they could dismiss an employee who acted in a ministerial capacity, known as the “ministerial exception in discrimination law:

“He also rejected a separate motion by St. Francis Preparatory School that claimed Krolikowski was essentially a minister, which would give the school the agency to hire and fire employees disregarding legal interference.”

While the judge’s comment denying insubordination and his ruling against ministerial exception are hopeful signs for Krolikowski’s case, the situation is not yet fully resolved.

Krolikowski’s case looks like it will be one to watch since the questions of religious exemption and ministerial exception are often very important concepts in cases such as this one.  These concepts, designed to protect religious liberty, become very complicated when the people being fired are not even members of the same church that runs the institution.  This happened with Carla Hale, a Methodist teacher fired from a Catholic high school this year, and also with Steav Bates-Congdon, an Episcopal musician fired from a Catholic parish in 2011.  Since their behavior and beliefs were not in accord with Catholic teachings in many areas, one wonders why their adherence to sexual doctrine becomes the deal breaker in employment matters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

August 30, 2013

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two Catholic Hospitals Commended for LGBT Equality

July 12, 2013

bible with stethoscopeIt looks like Catholic hospitals may be a new place for hope for equality for LGBT people in the church.  Yesterday, we reported on St. Peter’s Healthcare System in New Jersey partnering with Rutgers University to assist families with LGBT members.  Today, we learned that two Catholic hospitals have been commended for their non-discrimination policies and practices.

U.S. News and World Report offers details about the two hospitals, which are geographically close to one another:

“Two Catholic health systems say they won’t tolerate discrimination against gay patients and their families, according to a report released Thursday.

“MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. and Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Md., – both Catholic healthcare facilities – were commended in the ‘Healthcare Equality Index 2013,’ which was published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest gay rights group in America.”

HRC evaluates hospitals on four criteria:

  1. patient non-discrimination
  2. visitation policies inclusive of same-sex spouses and partners
  3. non-discrimination in employment
  4. training of staff in LGBT patient-centered care, including five senior hospital administrators in those programs.

HRC’s Health and Aging Director Shane Snowdon commended these hospitals for their service and integrity:

“Religiously affiliated institutions say… ‘I get that this is about health care, and that it’s not about politics or morality or religion.’ Next year, to make a fearless prediction, I think we’re going to see a lot more.”

Bon Secours Health System (BSHSI) released a statement on their website about the designation, which included a statement from David T. Binder, vice president and general counsel for BSHSI and member of the BSHSI Diversity and Inclusion Council:

“The Diversity & Inclusion Council is very proud that Bon Secours Health System has been recognized for the second year in a row as a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.  Our acute care facilities independently met the core criteria for LGBT patient-centered care related to patient non-discrimination, equal visitation policies, employment non-discrimination, and training in LGBT patient-centered care.  We believe that this leadership status underscores our commitment through our Code of Conduct and policies to be a fully inclusive environment for patients and employees.”

Additionally, U.S. News and World Report quoted Peggy Moseley, a spokesperson for BSHSI, which said that hospital’s  “tradition is to honor the inherent dignity of each person, and to demonstrate respect for all.”

Congratulations to these two Catholic hospitals!  May many more soon follow their lead!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


In Wave of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes, Cardinal Dolan Essentially Silent

May 30, 2013

New Yorkers stand up against recent hate crimes in rallies around the city

More than two dozen anti-LGBT hate crimes have plagued New York City this spring, including the murder of a young gay man Mark Carson. As residents unite to demand safe communities, many Catholics are questioning the near silence of Cardinal Timothy Dolan on this wave of anti-gay violence after his positive comments at Easter that the Church must reach out to LGBT people.

The New Civil Rights Movement reports that Cardinal Dolan spoke for only nineteen seconds on the matter at the end of his weekly radio show. His remarks are quoted in full:

“’You look at even the violence in our own city with some homosexuals who have recently been beaten and killed…I mean that’s just awful, that flies in the face of divine justice. Every human life deserves dignity and respect, right? Anytime life is attacked we all suffer.'”

His comments came after public questions from LGBT advocates about why the cardinal remained silent on the increasing violence, and instead pushed for anti-marriage equality sermons this past Sunday. These voices included Joseph Amodeo at The Huffington Post who notes solidarity statements from Catholic parishes in the NYC area. Even the National Organization on Marriage condemned the violence. Amodeo writes:

“In the absence of a clear and unconditional condemnation of these hate crimes, Cardinal Dolan’s silence is symptomatic of the culture of silence that continues to plague the hierarchy of the Catholic Church…

“If Cardinal Dolan truly wants to express the message that “all are welcome,” then he must break this dangerous silence, condemn these acts of hate, and stand in solidarity with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the face of prejudice. Passive homophobia can no longer be accepted as the status quo in our churches, because conditional statements of welcome…provide a breeding ground for intolerance.”

As for Cardinal Dolan’s spot on the radio show, Amodeo spoke critically of the passing comment by the cardinal as an insufficient response to injustice and hopes it is only the beginning of greater solidarity from the hierarchy with the LGBT community. Recent activity on Cardinal Dolan’s Facebook reveal New Yorkers are dissatisfied with what amounts to continued silence weeks into this uptick in hate crimes. Many are questioning if the cardinal is paying attention to Pope Francis’ welcoming messaging in Rome, which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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