Back in 2012, when the marriage equality debate was in full swing in Washington State, one of the leading voices in the push for equality was Ed Murray, a gay Catholic state senator. Murray, the chief senate sponsor of the marriage legislation, was tireless in his campaigning, and often spoke of his faith as one of the reasons he was working for LGBT equality.
Murray, now the mayor of Seattle, was recently profiled by Seattle Weekly, and, interestingly, the focus was not on the fact that he was a gay mayor, but a Catholic one. As the magazine article points out, Seattle is tied “with San Francisco and Portland for the least religious city in the country.” Only 13% of residents identify as Catholic, while 37% identify as religiously unaffiliated.
While Seattle has had Catholic mayors in the past, what makes Murray’s faith so unusual is that he speaks so openly about it: he’s an “out and proud” Catholic. And the magazine finds a particular detail about Murray’s depth of religious commitment very interesting:
“Indeed, Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality.”
So, the reporter set out to gauge “whether Murray was a ‘true’ Catholic—a question that has been raised elsewhere on account of his sexuality and stances on various public-policy issues.” The answer to that question is the basis of the long, but interesting article which chronicles Murray’s faith development that has led to his “consideration of the priesthood, his decision to leave the Catholic Church, and, ultimately, his return to the fold and how it has helped guide his first term as mayor.”
While the article is well-worth reading for all Bondings 2.0 readers, those who are 55 years of age and older will certainly identify with Murray’s story. He speaks poignantly of coming of age in the era of John F. Kennedy’s election as President and the transformation of the Catholic Church due to the Second Vatican Council. Rev. Mike Ryan, the rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral who knew Murray as a teenager and who is still a close friend, remembers the adolescent who would become mayor:
” ‘He made an impression, which is unusual,’ says Ryan, who at that time was involved in youth outreach and meeting a large number of young people. ‘Normally you meet high-school kids, they’re not thinking about the big picture. Then here’s someone who cared about issues of justice, peace, world issues, that was not typical of his contemporaries. He took a Catholic point of view [on those issues], the Catholic social teaching, which is some ways is one of the best-kept Catholic secrets.’ “
The article also recounts Murray’s coming out as a gay man, and how Catholic pastoral ministers supported him in that process:
“After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.”
In the 1990s, Murray was a state representative and working for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill. The Seattle Archdiocese, under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, had originally supported the measure. But in the 1990s, the new Archbishop Thomas Murphy opposed it, causing a crisis of faith for Murray, as he explains:
“After sticking with the Church for years, despite its poor record on many gay-rights issues, Murray says he couldn’t take it any more.
” ‘Most of my friends would die by the time I was 40 of AIDS, [and] we had a pope [John Paul II] who was pretty horrible on the issue of HIV/AIDS,’ Murray says. When the archdiocese reversed its stance on the anti-discrimination bill, “you had a Church that was opposing my civil rights.
” ‘I reached a point where it’s like, this does not work. This does not work for me.’ At 40 years old, he quit practicing Catholicism.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story:
“. . . [F]or Murray, life outside the church proved less tenable that his life within it. Strangely, what brought Murray back to the church was the work of a Protestant, Kathleen Norris. In 1997, during Murray’s second full term in office, the South Dakota author published The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time spent at Benedictine monasteries. A bestseller, it reminded Murray of his time with the Trappist monks in Oregon. ‘I read it, and it really was like a glass wall shattered. Here was a Protestant woman from the Dakotas introducing my tradition back to me. … I didn’t feel spiritually whole until I came back to the church as a practicing Catholic. There’s no other explanation I can give for it: As a spiritual home and a spiritual experience, it’s where I belong.’ “
Though most of his contemporaries have left the Church because of gender issues, he remains. Faith still presents a challenge to him, and he sees that as a good thing:
“If you read the Gospel, it is not about being together with a bunch of people you feel good about. It’s about being places that are uncomfortable with you. So am I challenging myself more as a Christian if I sit in a congregation where everyone believes the same as I do, or am I being more of a Christian if I’m sitting in the congregation where the nun in the pew ahead of me goes down and testifies against marriage equality and sometimes I want to throw a missal at her head?”
In another interview, Murray acknowledged that, in terms of church, he is “kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop … I always have one foot in the door and one foot out the door. I never know if I’m going to stay or if I’m out.” Yet the Pope Francis papacy seems to have given him hope. The Seattle Weekly story concludes:
“Murray says he was skeptical of Francis at first as well. But he was soon convinced that Francis was true to his hype—a fact underscored in 2015 when Francis released his encyclical on climate change as a social-justice issue. Shortly after publishing the teaching, Pope Francis invited 40 mayors from across the world to the Vatican to discuss ways to fight climate change. Among them was Murray, the man who had considered the priesthood, left the Church in a rage, and more recently been made to feel like such a pariah that he feared being denied Communion.
“Murray says he was unsure at first whether the Vatican had made a mistake. ‘When they sent the invitation, we had folks call the Vatican and say, “Are you sure you understand who I am, and that you’re inviting me?” ‘ Murray says. ‘They said, yes, they wanted me to come.’ “
On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Murray in Seattle in the summer of 2012, when Sister Jeannine Gramick and I were in Washington State for Catholics for Marriage Equality events (see photo above). He struck me then as someone whose faith identity was evident in the way he spoke and listened to people. Reading about his journey of faith gave me a deeper appreciation for the many ways that LGBT Catholics and their allies are using their religious heritage to renew the world and the Church.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Bondings 2.0 posts about Ed Murray:
February 2, 2012: “N.Y. Times Reports Incorrectly on Catholic Opposition to Marriage Equality”
August 26, 2012: “New Ways Ministry Supports Marriage Equality Efforts in Washington State”
October 17, 2012: “Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics“