Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

May 23, 2016

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Top Gay Rights Campaigner in UK Speaks Movingly About Her Catholic Faith

April 20, 2016
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Ruth Hunt

In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.

Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:

” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .

” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “

Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.

Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:

” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”

But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:

” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “

Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”

This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.

Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


“Amoris Laetitia” Is a Step in Process that Is Far From Over, Say Commentators

April 10, 2016
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Martin Pendergast

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured reactions to Pope Francis’ new exhortation on family, Amoris Laetitia. Below are more reactions related to Catholic LGBT issues. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.

Martin Pendergast, a UK advocate for LGBT Catholics, said many people realized LGBT issues would not be central, reported The Tablet. But even in the “light treatment” this document affords such issues, there are positive developments:

“First of all, no condemnations, no quoting of language of ‘intrinsic disorder’, a nuance around the use of language like same-sex attraction, which some of us find offensive, an actual recognition of homosexual orientation, which is very significant in a document of this status.

“One of the key debates in the Church has been: is there such a thing as a different sexual orientation and paragraph 250 refers to people who manifest homosexual orientation. So it’s actually acknowledging that homosexual orientation exists: that’s very important.”

Pendergast said the text lacks the coherence of Evangelii Gaudium or Laudato Si, instead showing “evidence of interventions from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” in the conservative messages that were included. He concluded:

“The question that many of us will have is: how are you going to apply those very important principles about conscience, internal forum, not judging people, not throwing stones at people?”

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Jonathan Capehart

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post said the pope’s treatment of homosexuality “hues pretty closely” to paragraphs in the 2014 Synod’s midterm report that were celebrated for their positive approach but inspired quite a backlash. Capehart wrote:

“Sadly missing is this sentence: ‘Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority’. . .

“By talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.”

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, theologian and co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual), criticized the text as “a study in ambiguity that gives new evidence for the use of the term “jesuitical.” She continued:

“Alas, the hetero monogamous ideal remains in place while lip service is paid to the remote possibility of other options. Clearly the input of lay people at the two Synods amounted to little or nothing. All in all, this is a missed opportunity for Pope Francis to demonstrate that there is anything new under the Vatican sun.”

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler of the LEAD Ministry (an LGBT outreach) at St. Matthew Catholic Church, and a board member of New Ways Ministry, told the Baltimore Sun

“As much as we love Pope Francis — he has changed the tone of conversation on so many issues — when you have real, deep substance and doctrine in the church that continues to hurt and marginalize people, changing the tone doesn’t do the job.”

Ken Briggs, writing at the National Catholic Reporter, said the effectiveness of Amoris Laetitia was hindered because its authorship precluded the voices of lay Catholics, including LGBT people, from sharing their wisdom and challenges:

“Despite the many eloquent and enlightening portions of the pope’s message, it still emanates from a place which practices no family life that resembles that of the laity, and loses much credibility accordingly. . .the analysis and prescription contents of the document operate entirely within the sometimes shadowy framework of defined doctrine. allowing for no valid concept of family life outside the narrow definitions of Catholic moral teaching. It precludes the possibility that other models might reflect the Creator’s purposes in yet other ways.”

David Gibson

David Gibson

Beyond the document itself, David Gibson of Religion News Service set Amoris Laetitia within the ongoing process under Pope Francis from which the text emerged:

“But the larger reality conveyed by the document — and one that could unsettle Catholic traditionalists more than anything — is that the pope clearly wants the debates over church teachings and pastoral practices to continue and, perhaps, to continue to evolve. . .

“In other words, don’t look to Rome for the solution to every challenge, and don’t stop looking for ways to welcome anyone and everyone who feels alienated from the faith because their personal lives do not conform to the Catholic ideal. . .

“If that journey is part of the pilgrimage of faith, it is far from over. In fact, it may never be over.”

The journey to justice and equality for LGBT people in the Catholic Church is certainly not over. The reactions to and understandings of Amoris Laetitia and how it will impact the church are not over yet, either. Bondings 2.0 will, as always, keep our readers updated about the new document and its reception.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Priest Who Denied Communion to Same-Gender Couple Now Disrupts Parishioner’s Funeral

March 22, 2016
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St. Leo’s Catholic Church

A Montana priest’s disruption of a parishioner’s funeral recently has its roots in his denial of communion to a same-gender couple in the parish in 2014.

Almost two years ago, Fr.  Spiering, 29, denied Communion to Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick because the two men had recently married. The pastor expelled them from parish ministries in which they had been active. Fellow parishioners at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Lewistown protested the priest’s act at the time, including resignations by the church choir’s director and several members.

Earlier this month, at least three of those former choir members and director Janie Shupe were invited by the Valach family to sing at the funeral of Pearl Valach, a parishioner at the church for all of her 92 years. Ms. Valach had disagreed at the time with the priest’s decision to deny Communion to Huff and Wojtowick but remained in the church. Her daughter-in-law, Susan Valach, explained to the Great Falls Tribune:

“She was upset when the decision was made. . .She continued to be faithful to the church, but with pain in her heart.”

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Pearl Valach

Greg Clark, partner of Pearl’s son Frank Valach Jr. for twenty-plus years, said Pearl was so pained by the priest’s actions that she never spoke about it. But Greg, Frank, and other members of the Valach family left the parish after the communion denial. They said the decision to hold the funeral at St. Leo’s was painful, but did so to respect Pearl’s wishes.

When Valach’s loved ones and parishioners–more than 300 people–gathered for the funeral on the morning of March 8, he told Shupe she could not join the singers, but she could only participate at the funeral from her pew. Shupe explained:

” ‘It was mortifying. It was the most embarrassing thing. I could have stepped down, but at the same time I thought, “That’s ridiculous “. . .I can’t believe anyone in the right mind, let alone anyone who professes to love God, could do this.’ “

Fr. Dan O’Rourke, the parish’s former pastor who was invited to celebrate the funeral, defended Shupe’s right to lead singing. After he argued with Spiering about the decision, Spiering threatened to prevent O’Rourke from presiding at the funeral, and threatened to ban him from the parish. The family, however, refused to let their mother’s funeral be tarnished by Spiering’s continued exclusion. When Spiering informed Valach’s widower, Frank Valach, that the he would now celebrate the funeral Mass, the family rejected that offering and demanded Fr. O’Rourke. Susan Valach explained:

” ‘We immediately said, “Absolutely, no”. . .I went up to the choir and said we would cancel. Our family was so upset and finally (Spiering) agreed to leave. . .

” ‘As a family, we would like to let this go, but it isn’t right. . .It hurts all Christians because it’s not compassionate.’ “

Fr. Jay Peterson, vicar general for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese who was in attendance, presided at the funeral Mass. Peterson invited the women, including Janie Shupe, to lead the singing. Greg Clark said all involved were able to put aside the pre-funeral antics of Spiering for a “reverent, celebratory, and beautiful” liturgy. Clark wrote on his blog [editor’s note: he uses strong language in the blog post]:

“For the balance of the day our family basked in her glow. And there was no doubt that God was with us. Hence against all odds, our love for her conquered all. It wasn’t until later that evening that our angst and frustration over the morning’s events arose again. All must be told about the sins of that Father.”

But the incident — and the harm done — has not ended. This controversy continued to play out in the following weeks. Spiering commented on the incident before his homily at Mass on March 22, stating the he does not regret the decision he made but only the manner in which he made it. He attacked Fr. O’Rourke in his statement and promised St. Leo’s parishioners a new funeral policy to “prevent such problems” in the future. Spiering apologized to the Valach family in a one-liner at the end, but the family said neither the priest nor Bishop Michael Warfel had reached out to them since the funeral.

Fr. O’Rourke released his own statement, explaining that Spiering would not let the matter drop even though the funeral was set to begin in fifteen minutes and had threatened to ban him from the parish. The former pastor’s statement ended positively: “The singer/musician sang her heart out.”

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Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff

Fr. Peterson, in his position as diocesan vicar general, defended Spiering’s actions as an exercise of his “canonical rights” despite it not being “the right pastoral decision.” Peterson said Bishop Michael Warfel was “very concerned” about the incident, which was described as an “unfortunate conflict.” Peterson, a longtime friend of the Valach family, said despite it being Holy Week he hoped “things can be dealt with sooner than later to bring healing and unity and peace” and would be involved if he could help, reported the Independent Record.

In the words of a Billings Gazette reporter:

“It was supposed to be a simple funeral for a woman who was a lifelong Catholic and a lifetime member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. . .Instead, it devolved into a disagreement that nearly derailed the rite and left family and friends confused and angry.”

Few incidents in the church hurt more than sacramental exclusion and interference. These incidents cause tremendous pastoral damage to those targeted  and those witnessing these The tragic nature of this funeral incident speaks for itself. Coupled with Spiering’s denial of Communion to a same-gender couple, this funeral fiasco should be enough for Bishop Warfel to question Fr. Spiering’s ministerial competencies and role in active ministry and in the priesthood altogether.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Being the Prodigal Child, We are Parent and Sibling, Too

March 6, 2016

 

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“The Prodigal Son Returns” by Soichi Watanabe

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: Joshua 5:9A, 10-12; Psalm 34: 2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

The Prodigal Child is among Scripture’s most well-known parables. In today’s liturgy, its rich themes of forgiveness and reconciliation are enhanced by the readings from the book of Joshua  and 2nd Letter to the Corinthians with which it is paired.

Interpretations generally position the reader as the wayward child returned to the parent, hinting that we are lost disciples returned to God’s loving embrace. This applies to our interpersonal relationships when we find ourselves welcomed back into families and communities which we may have left

But what if we position ourselves as the parent, or even the elder sibling? Doing so complicates a calming parable, raising questions for us when we would rather bask in being the prodigal child welcomed home and celebrated.

For instance, if we are the parent, we have to ask ourselves if we run to meet those who have abandoned and even harmed us? Are we “filled with compassion” by their presence? Do we unreservedly organize a celebration when someone accepts returns after years of exile? As people existing at the church’s margins who have experienced the very real exclusion and  harm which some church ministers can inflict, is our response to other excluded people like the parent in this parable?

If we picture ourselves as the elder sibling, are we ready to acknowledge that we want some people in our lives to remain absent and even figuratively dead? Are we envious when others receive greater love or care in certain moments? When reconciliation happens in our church, would we rather the divisions and wounds remain because we have adjusted to them? Have we so rooted ourselves and our identities at the margins that progress becomes unwelcome?

Asking myself these questions raises truths I would rather ignore. I have to admit that that at times I have not wanted to forgive, never mind to celebrate, certain people who have passed through my life. I am comforted that seeking LGBT justice in the Catholic Church seems to be stable employment, given the depth of institutional and cultural homophobia in our community. I would rather be the prodigal child, welcomed and held, celebrated and held up, than practice the parent’s boundless compassion or admit the darkness I share with the elder sibling.

Thankfully, the lectionary sets this parable of the Prodigal Child within a context. The first two readings are reminders of that God fulfills promises. In the passage from Joshua, the Israelites celebrate the Passover as their forty years of wandering comes to an end. The unceasing manna which had sustained them dries up. God kept God’s promise. In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the new creation brought about by God through Christ. Again, God kept God’s promise.

This context allows us to root ourselves in God, confident that God keeps the promise made by Jesus to be with us always. Knowing that God’s grace is operative in our lives, we know that when we do not love boundlessly or are ready to face our dark sides, we do not do so alone. We have God’s grace and we have one another, ambassadors of Christ in Pauline language, to mediate that grace to us. Lent is a time for conversion. My prayer today is that we may all come to know we are loved as the Prodigal Child, to know we must love as the parent, and to know that to love and be loved we must wrestle with our darkness as the elder sibling.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholics Overwhelmingly Reject LGBT Discrimination by State Legislatures

March 4, 2016

RuizNondiscrim.jpgMarriage equality’s legalization in the United States last year has prompted an anti-LGBT backlash at state and local levels. Bills ostensibly defending religious liberty  allow legal discrimination for opponents of equality. Conversely, ordinances to expand non-discrimination protections  for LGBT people face strong religious opposition. Where are Catholics amid these debates?

New polling from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT nondiscrimination protections, two points higher than the 71% U.S. average. 61% of Catholics oppose allowing business owners to deny service to LGBT people. Even those opposed to marriage equality are far more approving of non-discrimination protections, according to PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones.

This widespread Catholic support for civil rights is driven by strong support from the lay faithful. For instance, James Rowe, a Catholic who is and the executive director of Believe Out Loud, said it is the mission of LGBTQ Christians and allies to “mobilize love” when anti-LGBT religious groups seek to institutionalize their discriminatory theologies. Rowe reflected on his own Catholic faith in view of South Dakota’s HB 1008 which would have mandated students use restrooms and locker rooms according to their assigned at birth sex:

“The very idea behind this harmful law is discrimination, plain and simple—and discrimination has no place in Christianity.

“My Catholic teachings tell me that Jesus stood in solidarity with those who are most often bullied and ostracized by others—and I believe today, Jesus would have been in Pierre, South Dakota, standing at the steps of the Capitol building demanding that Governor Daugaard veto this harmful bill.”

Believe Out Loud joined LGBT, educational, and civil liberties organizations in delivering 80,000 signatures opposing the bill, which was thankfully vetoed by the governor earlier this week.

Buzzfeed reported at least 105 similar pieces of legislation at the state level which seek to curtail civil rights rooted in sexual and/or gender identity, or allow the denial of services to LGBT people. None have yet passed, but there is momentum in at least eight states.

Unfortunately, the church’s leadership differs from the faithful, despite Catholic teachings which say every sign of unjust discrimination must be opposed. South Dakota’s bishops, Robert Gruss of Rapid City and Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, released a letter expressing their support for HB 1008. Religious leaders’ opposition and legislators’ questionable coupling of Church and State can create a belief that LGBT and religious belief are at odds with one another in these debates. It is a frequent refrain here at Bondings 2.0 that Catholics support LGBT justice because of their faith and not in spite of it.

Mychal Copeland, who co-edited Struggling in Good Faith, an interfaith anthology about LGBTQI inclusion, challenges the idea that LGBT justice and religious belief are at odds.  In Copeland suggested that currently “every American religious tradition is engaged in a struggle about LGBT inclusion” and there are changes happening, even if quite slowly. He continued:

“[T]here is a prevailing assumption that individuals will hold anti-LGBT religious doctrine above other religious ideals. More and more religious leaders and lay people are prizing overarching principles of faith, such as compassion, love, dignity, and welcome over negative religious legislation. . .Americans are more likely to see that [LGBT] individual as someone who should be able to rent an apartment, keep a job, and even marry the one they love.”

Church teaching does not allow for discrimination, meaning it should be unthinkable that Catholics would support any “right to discriminate” bills or oppose nondiscrimination protections. Sadly, this is not the case. If church teaching does not suffice, then perhaps we need to appeal to the deeper love expected of Christians by Jesus. It is Jesus’ kind of love which led early Christian writer Tertullian to note how his pagan contemporaries said, “See how those Christians love one another.” Catholics are certainly supportive of LGBT communities because of this love, but we must keep working to ensure that our church and our Christian faith are not used any further to deny the civil rights due to LGBT communities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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