Reviewing Fr. James Martin’s “Building a Bridge,” Part I

Fr. James Martin’s new book on LGBT issues, Building a Bridge, has created quite a buzz in the Catholic Church.  It is currently the #1 bestseller in the category of Gender & Sexuality in Religious Studies category on Amazon.com.  The book is based on an address Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last fall. With the current buzz has come many reviews, three of which Bondings 2.0 will feature this week.

Today’s post engages theologian David Cloutier’s review in Commonweal. His piece is titled “The Ignatian Option,” a reference to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” that proposed opponents of LGBT equality begin to remove themselves from the secular world as equal rights expand.

Cloutier applauded Martin as someone who has “consistently sought to convey the riches of Catholic Christianity in both a style and a language that is as accessible as possible in a pluralist, post-Christian culture.” In doing so, Martin “does not sacrifice sophistication in aiming at accessibility.” About Building a Bridge specifically, Cloutier commented:

“Lest this approach be taken as a mere plea for more civility, Martin insists that the greater end is that each group will actually get to know the other. ‘You can’t be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them,’ he writes. Similarly, Martin insists on prayer from the LGBT community for the bishops. His book is not meant to outline where the conversation might go but to set the necessary conditions for a conversation. This seems a reasonable initial goal of ‘accompaniment,’ allowing for an ecclesial practice that is faithful to the church’s basic claim that gays and lesbians are ‘always our children’—and always children of God.”

David Cloutier

Cloutier also named three ways by which, in his words, the bridge was “shaky.” First, he disagrees with “Martin’s initial characterization of the LGBT community as a ‘group,'” given the problems which arise in generalizing discussions and the differing issues facing transgender people. Cloutier continued:

“This overly tidy solution about naming leads to the second concern, which is whether this book is written for a socio-political context that no longer exists. At times, I imagined myself reading Building a Bridge in the early 1990s, when as a young Catholic at a very secular liberal arts college, I was learning to negotiate (hopefully with respect, compassion, and sensitivity!) LGBT issues for the first time. But on this issue, the early 1990s seem like ancient history. The idea of generous bridge-building is more difficult when anti-discrimination lawsuits lurk in the wings. Moreover, Catholics have observed decades of church-dividing strife among Protestant churches unable to make this sort of a bridge work, and Martin never hints at why Catholic bridge-building won’t end up in the same place.”

Finally, Cloutier criticized Martin for not forthrightly addressing sexual ethics, writing:

“[H]e elides the fact that the issue at the core of the LGBT community is the challenge to church teaching. I presume this omission of the question of sex is intentional, but there is a sense of ‘let’s pretend’ that seems bothersome. . .Proponents of both sides might point out that the core problem is not how to bring together a marginalized group and an awkward church leadership. It’s really about two clashing views on the fundamental truths of justice and love. Each side has core beliefs about what these claims should mean, and we need to confront why those claims are at odds.”

Cloutier, who trends conservative, called for a conversation on the bridge that would involve chastity and involuntary celibacy, to “come to discern it as a potential gift, rather than an obvious curse.” Interestingly, he wondered whether church leaders should ‘come out,’ but do so only towards the end of “communicating the possibilities of holiness in following the path of Christ” because of their celibate state. He concluded:

“Again, [the clash between Catholics] is no different from what Catholics should expect from tough conversations on issues like economics and the environment: there is a clash of fundamental moral visions that must be engaged. If we’re going to have a conversation, we might not start with that clash. But any bridge is going to have to cross these troubled waters at some point. And perhaps then we’ll see if we need a new St. Ignatius or a new St. Benedict.”

You can read coverage of lesbian Catholic author Eve Tushnet’s review by clicking here. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here.   You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2017

Related Articles

Publisher’s Weekly, In New Book, Priest Urges Church to Welcome LGBTQ Catholics

Religion News Service, “The necessity of LGBT bridge-building

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5 thoughts on “Reviewing Fr. James Martin’s “Building a Bridge,” Part I

  1. Peter Beacham July 3, 2017 / 7:04 am

    Cloutier seems to be reasonable until his conclusion that LGBT people should be celibate and chaste. He is, in effect, agreeing with current Catholic doctrine and negating all that he had written previously.

    Neither Cloutier nor Martin address the central issue which is that Catholic doctrine is egregiously wrong, hateful and oppressive, defying scientific findings (once again), and defying the sanctioning by governments of LGBT marriage.

    The doctrine, Cloutier and Martin are wrong. A state of grace would be to accept differences, perhaps even to ignore them, in order to enter God Consciousness, especially when science does not find a material significance in those differences nor a need to remediate them.

    All three have condemned themselves and others to a lifetime of estrangement from God’s love.

  2. John Hilgeman July 3, 2017 / 11:12 am

    I think beyond the beliefs on justice and love, is the question of morality. The Catholic teaching is that only certain sexual actions in marriage are moral, and that all sexual actions outside of marriage are immoral.

    But a deeper question is whether actions can be considered immoral if they don’t harm anyone – either the persons performing them or the larger society. And this is where the whole sexual teaching falls apart. Does sexual behavior between two consenting adults harm one or both of them or the larger society, or not? Does sexual behavior between two consenting adults of the same gender harm either of them or the larger society. or not? Does private sexual behavior by an individual harm themself or not? This is a practical, concrete question about concrete actions, not a philosophical one about what one’s philosophy or theology of sexuality says.

    Church doctrine is based on interpretations of (and belief in) certain Biblical texts and traditions and philosophies, not on concrete behaviors. And the idea that the Creator of the universe would be obsessed with whether people masturbate or have sex with each other – without any consideration of whether their behaviors are destructive – is outrageous. In fact, one might even wonder why the Creator of the Universe – who created sexuality in all its manifestation in humans and other creatures – would be obsessed with that sexuality. And one might wonder why human sexuality and sexual behavior has become so taboo, when the larger questions of violence, greed, oppression of the poor, racism, sexism, etc., have been ignored.

    And as a further note: why are loving relationships – in any form – reduced to behaviors and called sin and condemned? And why are those in such relationships told that they must forego any sexual expressions of love in their relationships or risk eternal damnation by a god who can only be rightly described as a monster?

  3. Loretta July 3, 2017 / 3:18 pm

    Frankly, I was disappointed in this book because it did not seem to address sufficiently an acknowledgement let alone accountability on the part of a number within the hierarcy who have defended the Church’s official teachings as well as individual remarks and decrees issued by some in the church. In short, the book lacked balance. For instance, Fr. Martin gives specific examples of comments that mock bishops; however, there are no examples given of comments that denigrate people who are gay. Another example, he lists several factors that contribute to the pressures of the bishop in an effort for us to understand their situation. Okay, fair enough, but where is the list of the pressures that families deal with daily who are burdened by the onslaught of denunciation of our sons and daughters?
    It seems to me that building a bridge first requires acknowledgement and accountability on both sides for sins of commission and omission. The author puts the burden on the gay community who have no voice or power in the Church, kind of like a David going up against a Goliath. Am I wrong in recalling that Pope Francis said the Church owes an apology to the gay community but he never formally did so? Kind of like saying I should go to confession for such and such but never going to confession.

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