In Africa, An Archbishop Promotes and a Cardinal Decries LGBT Human Rights

July 10, 2013

Over the past week or so there has been some good news and some bad news out of Africa concerning Catholic LGBT issues.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

On the good news side, a papal envoy to Kenya recently called for the protection of lesbian and gay human rights on a visit to that nation to open a new pastoral center.  Kenya’s The Star newspaper reports:

“The pope’s representative to Kenya Charles Daniel Balvo has asked Kenyans to accord homosexuals respect, dignity and human rights and not discriminate against them.

“Speaking after commissioning a Sh400 million pastoral centre at the Embu Catholic Cathedral in Embu town, Balvo said the Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality but it recognises the dignity of every individual.

” ‘The homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights, they are human beings like anyone of us,’ he said.”

The newspaper article notes that these words from a papal envoy come soon after many African religious leaders criticized U.S. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa where he spoke in favor of LGBT human rights.  A Religion News Service  article quotes Obama as saying:

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Cardinal John Njue

Cardinal John Njue

One of those religious leaders speaking against Obama was a cardinal from Kenya.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Kenyan Cardinal John Njue has issued a strongly worded riposte to US President Barack Obama’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Africa.

“At the start of his three-nation African tour in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on 28 June, Mr Obama said gays deserved equal rights. Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 African nations.

“Speaking in Nairobi the next day, Njue, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said Obama, whose father was Kenyan, should forget the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

” ‘Let him forget and forget and forget … I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths,’ said Njue. ‘Those people who have already ruined their society … let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go.’ “

Obviously, Cardinal Njue is unaware that the Catholic faith’s most authoritative traditions are on the side of protecting LGBT human rights, as Archbishop Balvo stated.    The Religion News Service article also quotes Anglican, Lutheran, and Muslim religious leaders who similarly condemned Obama’s intervention.   The article also notes:

“Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries, according to the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, and many religious leaders here view it as contrary to scriptures and custom.”

Prominent among those nations is Zimbabwe, headed by Robert Mugabe, a Catholic, whose homophobic rants we reported on recently.  On the campaign trail for re-election, he is continuing to spew anti-gay vitriol, some of which can be read here.  For stories of the reality of gay lives under Zimbabwean terror,  I refer you to the blog 76Crimes.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Imagining Hope

January 22, 2013
President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

Inauguration times are truly times of hope and joy.   Yesterday, I was down on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden take the oaths of office once again.

The hope and joy in the crowd was palpable.  Bursts of applause broke out after every few sentences during the President’s inaugural address.   Perhaps no applause was greater (especially from me) especially when Obama uttered the following words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

I have been working in the field of Catholic LGBT ministry for over 20 years, and it dawned on me yesterday, that 20 years ago, even in my wildest dreams, I would never have guessed or even hoped  that I would hear a reference to Stonewall in a presidential inaugural address.  But, there it was: the first time ever that LGBT people or issues were mentioned in such a speech.

But it got better.

A short time after the Stonewall reference, Obama added the following words:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Not only a second reference to LGBT equality, but a specific, supportive message of marriage equality!  I could hardly believe my ears.

All of this was on top of the well-publicized fact before the inauguration that Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to write verse for the occasion, is an openly gay man.

As I reflected last night on the day’s events,  I thought of how much hope such milestones provide.   What is most important for me is that such moments help to fill our imaginations with hope.  As Catholics who work for LGBT justice and equality, it may seem far-fetched to imagine a bishop or the pope saying such things as Obama did yesterday.  But 20 years ago, it was equally unimaginable that we would hear what we heard yesterday.  And 40 years ago, one would have probably been thought insane to imagine such a prospect.

So, let’s pray in gratitude today for the hope that Obama’s message gives us as Catholic advocates for LGBT people.  Let’s give our hope a chance to be renewed and provide our imaginations a chance to be expanded to include impossible dreams.  And let’s pray for the courage to work to make those impossible dreams come true.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Gaining Inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr. as Obama/Biden Inauguration Is Celebrated

January 21, 2013
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today our nation observes the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great religious leader who worked and struggled for civil rights, equality, and justice.

His model of non-violent action and resistance, of loving one’s enemy, is a model for Catholics who work for equality and justice for LGBT people in our church and society.

Here are some quotes from the great leader for your reflection and inspiration today:

  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  • I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. 
  • In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. 
  • A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.
  • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
  • Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
  • Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
  • Only in the darkness can you see the stars.
  • We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  • The time is always right to do the right thing.

Let us also remember in prayer today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden,  whose inauguration we celebrate today in the U.S.  President Obama was the first president to endorse marriage equality.  He did so after Vice President Biden, a Catholic, first announced his support for marriage equality on national television.  Vice President Biden is also on record saying that transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Inauguration Controversy Could Be Source of Hope for Catholics

January 19, 2013

President Obama’s Inauguration in 2009

The Presidential Inaugural Committee’s decision on who would deliver the benediction during ceremonies on Monday triggered controversy from LGBT activists, causing some Catholics to analyze President Obama’s relations with anti-equality religious leaders.

The Committee originally invited Rev. Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor involved primarily with anti-human trafficking efforts, made statements in the mid-1990s identifying homosexuality as a sin and endorsing therapeutic methods to “cure” the orientation. Within 24 hours of this information’s release, Rev. Giglio withdrew his place in the inaugural ceremonies.

The instant outcry and swift resignation signal two important developments around LGBT rights and faith.

First, opinions around homosexuality by people of faith are rapidly changing. National Catholic Reporter contrasted the divergent outcome in this recent controversy with a similar one around anti-gay pastor Rick Warren at Obama’s first inauguration:

“Giglio’s exit was swift, coming just 24 hours after the sermon went public. That illustrated not only a concern that nothing disturb the civic ritual of the presidential inauguration, but also showed how unsettled the nation remains on gay rights despite — or perhaps because of — the rapid changes in public opinion.

“Four years ago when Obama chose California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural blessing, there was criticism because of his opposition to gay rights: The best-selling evangelical author had worked to pass Proposition 8, which ended gay marriages in California. But calls for him to step aside were ignored by both Warren and Obama.”

Second, a piece in the Los Angeles Times questioned the rejection of Rev. Giglio, an evangelical, while President Obama welcomed Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a Catholic, to give the benediction at this past summer’s Democratic National Convention. Reporter Michael McGough asks:

“Is President Obama guilty of a double standard when it comes to clergymen who condemn homosexuality?”

He concludes that President Obama is not guilty of a double standard in parsing out the difference between evangelical pastors and Catholic clergy:

“So what’s the difference? While the Roman Catholic Church also teaches that homosexual acts are a sin, its take on homosexuality is different in tone and substance from that of evangelicals…

“With a few exceptions, Catholics also tend to avoid the idea — an article of faith in evangelical circles — that homosexuality can be ‘cured’ through prayer or therapy. Partly this is a reflection of the distinction the Catholic Church draws between homosexual ‘condition or tendency,’ which is not a sin, and homosexual acts. But it may also reflect a greater sophistication about psychology.”

The controversies around equality and religion highlighted by presidential inaugurations  should propel pro-LGBT Catholics forward with hope. The contrast of Rick Warren and Louie Giglio reveals that progress is not only attainable, but achieved to a greater extent daily. The contrast of Louie Giglio and Cardinal Dolan reveals further that while Catholicism needs serious improvement on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, our faith has potential for growth based on its understanding of the moral neutrality of a homosexual orientation. The fact that this teaching itself was a development from earlier teachings which more closely resembled the evangelical position shows that there is precedent for change in church teaching.

This hope should propel us forward these next four years to struggle once again for legal equality in our government and unconditional inclusion in our Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Biden: Transgender Equality Is ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’

November 1, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden

Catholic Vice President of the United States Joe Biden recently stated that transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time,”  according to a short article on Politico.com.

Biden had stopped to speak with a woman at a Sarasota, Florida, campaign office, and the following information was provided by a reporter:

“She said something …at first inaudible to [the press] pool, to which VP responded was the ‘civil rights issue of our time.’

“Pool later asked the woman, Linda Carragher Bourne of Sarasota about the exchange. She said her daughter was Miss Trans New England and asked if he would help them.

” ‘A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’t have the civil rights yet. These guys are gonna make it happen,’ she told the pool.”

The story also notes that the Obama-Biden administration is the first to send a representative to a conference on transgender issues.

Kudos to Biden for being so forthright in his support for LGBT equality!

Biden is widely credited for having moved President Obama to speak up publicly in favor of marriage equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


What Catholics Can Learn from Barack Obama’s “Coming Out” Story

May 15, 2012

In a Newsweek analysis article, gay Catholic commentator Andrew Sullivan has declared Barack Obama to be America’s “first gay president.”  The addition of a rainbow halo on the cover of the magazine (at right) adds a religious flavor to this title.  The article traces Mr. Obama’s notorious “evolution” on marriage equality, but the title of “first gay president” is given for a much more personal connection between the president and LGBT people.  In a long passage towards the end of the article, Sullivan poignantly points out:

“. . .[T]here is something on this subject [marriage equality] with Obama that goes deeper in my view than cold, calculating politics and a commitment to civil rights. The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.

“And this, in a different way, is Obama’s life story as well. He was a black kid brought up by white grandparents and a white single mother in Hawaii and Indonesia, where his color really made no difference. He discovered his otherness when reading an old issue of Life magazine, which had a feature on African-Americans who had undergone an irreversible bleaching treatment to make them look white—because they believed being white was the only way to be happy. . . .

“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. . . .

“This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. . . .

“I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own. And he knows how the love and sacrifice of marriage can heal, integrate, and rebuild a soul. The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves. This has been Obama’s life’s work. And he just enlarged the space in this world for so many others, trapped in different cages of identity, yearning to be released and returned to the families they love and the dignity they deserve.”

I find this passage not only insightful about Barack Obama’s experience but that it also is applicable to the experience of LGBT Catholics.
Among the thousands of questions I’ve been asked over the past 20 years, the most common one, by far,  is why LGBT Catholics remain in the church.  Sullivan’s point that the gay experience is “the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation” is an excellent answer to that question.

The  LGBT Catholic experience is the experience of feeling different from one’s home community, but still knowing that it is home.  The challenge of such an experience is not the challenge of resolving all the tensions that such difference manifests, but in the discovery of a new community where one can also feel at home and which gives a person the strength and courage to live “without displacement, without alienation” in both settings.

Every single LGBT Catholic that I know who has remained a Catholic has done so because they have been able to find such a community.  Indeed, without such community, life would be unbearable and there would be no way to survive.  Community provides the example and support that one needs to navigate through the many demands of identity made on one’s life.  Community is the place where we learn that we can be ourselves and be part of something larger.  Community is the place where we learn to incorporate the many different aspects of our identity into an integral whole. Community is the place where we learn to be “at home” wherever we are and whoever we are.

Living out these tensions and negotiating these many demands upon the self are part of the gifts that LGBT people offer to the rest of the church.  Other Catholics stand to learn valuable lessons about identity and community if they open themselves up to the life and faith experiences of LGBT people.  As Sullivan pointed out, “The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves.”   That is a lesson that all people, gay and straight alike, can reap benefits and blessings.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Vice President Joe Biden: “Who Do You Love?”

May 7, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden’s statement in support of marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday offered one of the simplest and most practical criteria for defining who a person should be allowed to marry: “Who do you love?”

Not surprising that such support comes from the first Catholic Vice President, since it so precisely reflects the views of at least 74% of American Catholics (according to a PRRI poll) who are in favor of marriage rights for same-gender couples.

A good news summary of Biden’s statements can be read by clicking here, or you can watch a video clip of the interview with Biden:

New Ways Ministry is delighted with Vice President Biden’s remarks.  He reflects the thoughts of millions of American Catholics on marriage equality, and it is great to have such a prominent Catholic lay person be the spokesperson of the laity’s views on this matter, which differ significantly from those of the Catholic hierarchy, whose voice is usually the only Catholic one heard. Biden’s comments may not be the fullest statement of support one could have hoped for from the Obama administration, but they certainly move the discussion one giant leap forward.

The vice president’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, has long been an advocate for LGBT equality, and we are delighted that these two Catholics are helping to spread the message of equality and justice which comes from our faith experience which promotes the dignity of all human beings.

Interestingly, Biden’s question, “Who do you love?” echoes the title of an article written three decades ago by New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick:  “With Whom Have I Fallen In Love?”  The article, published in a Catholic periodical, focused on how people can determine their sexual orientation.

How does the Catholic veep’s views reflect the the views of President Obama?  Opinion is divided.

Political analyst Josh Marshall, editor of TalkingPointsMemo.com, thinks it might be a foretaste of what is to come:

“. . . I’m curious whether today’s remarks by Joe Biden on marriage equality are another example of Biden’s off-the-cuff indiscipline or something more like the White House trying to moon walk the President’s position on the issue, i.e., nudge and ease the president’s position forward while seeming to walk it back, so we’ll wake up one day and it will simply be different without ever being able to point to a day when it changed.

“Needless to say, we all know at this point that President Obama supports gay marriage but thinks the political tides aren’t quite safe enough to come out and say so. Lots of presidents telegraph this kind of equivocation but I have seen few cases where it’s been done so out there in the open.”

Pam Spaulding, writer/editor of Pam’sHouseBlend.com, did not think the remarks were significant because she felt that he was only endorsing support for civil unions, not marriage:

“I guess you could see this as yet another attempt to placate the LGBT community (i.e. open the gAyTM), or a hint that the President is about to tip-toe out of the closet, perhaps after the election. I don’t hold my breath for such things. . . .

“Biden’s comments are interesting in that they represent the President’s exact view – that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same civil rights, save the whole bit about the word ‘marriage.’ Talk about threading the political needle.”

Joan Walsh, editor at large for Salon.com, asked some interesting questions of the situation:

“It seemed an important step for an administration that can’t seem to get the president all the way there. President Obama is going to have to come out for gay marriage one of these days – can anyone honestly believe he’s against it? — but having the Catholic Biden endorse it helps, too. The group Catholic Democrats immediately Tweeted the little known fact that Catholics are the most pro-gay marriage of all Christian groups. Yet the backwards politics of the U.S. Bishops means most people don’t know that, and thus view gay marriage as a no-fly zone during an election season when the  Catholic swing vote is particularly important. So Biden’s comment mattered.

“Then the Vice President’s office issued a clarification:

‘The Vice President was saying what the President has said previously – that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights.  That’s why we stopped defending the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges and support legislation to repeal it.  Beyond that, the Vice President was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue, after meeting so many committed couples and families in this country.’

He too is evolving.’ Actually, it seemed as if Biden had finished evolving, and actually supported ‘men marrying men, and women marrying women.’  For a moment, I actually thought having Biden step out ahead of Obama was a deliberate, maybe even slightly cynical campaign move. But apparently the campaign isn’t ready to take that chance. Why would it be a problem to have the grandfatherly Irish Catholic VP a step ahead of the president on this one, anyway? I don’t know, but backtracking seems like a lose-lose to me.”

Let’s hope that the next steps will continue to be steps forward, as Biden’s original statement certainly was.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 895 other followers