Bishop McElroy: Right Wing Attacks on LGBT Issues a “Wake-Up Call” for Catholics

Right wing attacks on Jesuit  Fr. James Martin’s views on LGBT issues should be a “wake-up call” for Catholics, said San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy in a new essay.

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Bishop Robert McElroy

McElroy’s essay in America identified a “cancer of vilification seeping into the institutional life of the church,” namely the judgmentalism now on display against Fr. Martin. Last week, news broke that Theological College in Washington, D.C. along with a couple other institutions, had cancelled lectures by Martin because of his new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge. For more information on these incidents, click here. To read New Ways Ministry’s statement on this incident, click here.

Praising Building a Bridge, McElroy admitted there is “legitimate and substantive criticism” which Martin has received. Yet recent attacks from the right go beyond acceptable discourse and should be a “wake up call” for Catholics, the bishop wrote. He continued:

“This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is—not primarily for Father Martin’s sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church. Already, several major institutions have canceled Father Martin as a speaker. Faced with intense external pressures, these institutions have bought peace, but in doing so they have acceded to and reinforced a tactic and objectives that are deeply injurious to Catholic culture in the United States and to the church’s pastoral care for members of the L.G.B.T. communities. . .

“The concerted attack on Father Martin’s work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church.”

The right wing groups have sought to “vilify” Martin by distorting his work and assassinating his character, said McElroy. Expanding his reflection beyond just the Martin incidents, the bishop explored the homophobic impulse. He said the attacks “tap into long-standing bigotry within the church and U.S. culture,” adding:

“The persons launching these attacks portray the reconciliation of the church and the L.G.B.T. community not as a worthy goal but as a grave cultural, religious and familial threat. Gay sexual activity is seen not as one sin among others but as uniquely debased to the point that L.G.B.T. persons are to be effectively excluded from the family of the church. Pejorative language and labels are deployed regularly and strategically. The complex issues of sexual orientation and its discernment in the life of the individual are dismissed and ridiculed. . .

“The coordinated attack on Building a Bridge must be a wake-up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the L.G.B.T. community. If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and L.G.B.T. men and women and their families. Even more important, we will build an increasing gulf between the church and our God.”

McElroy also identified another dimension associated with these attacks: the right wing’s “distortion of Catholic moral theology.” The bishop said what is central to Christian life is not chastity, but love. He explained:

“Many times, our discussions in the life of the church suggest that chastity has a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character or our relationship with God. It does not. . .Those who emphasize the incompatibility of gay men or lesbian women living meaningfully within the church are ignoring the multidimensional nature of the Christian life of virtue or the sinfulness of us all or both.”

McElroy also pointed out how the attacks on Martin’s book echo conservatives’ rejection of Pope Francis’ pastoral approach to LGBT issues. McElroy wrote:

“Regarding the issue of homosexuality, in particular, many of those attacking Father Martin simply cannot forgive the Holy Father for uttering that historic phrase on the plane: ‘Who am I to judge?’ The controversy over Building a Bridge is really a debate about whether we are willing to banish judgmentalism from the life of the church.”

McElroy’s essay ends on a disappointing note. In his concluding paragraph, he wrote that it is “judgmentalism on both sides” which has created the divide between LGBT people and the institutional church, rhetoric similar to the “on all sides” phrasing so sharply criticized in recent secular conversations on race . Martin has been criticized for likewise saying both sides are to blame without acknowledging the power differential between marginalized LGBT people and the powerful church leaders who allow or even enact such marginalization.

McElroy’s essay, which you can read in full by clicking here, is a strong defense of Fr. Martin and a welcome acknowledgement of the prejudice and abuse that LGBT people in the church face. The dialogue over LGBT issues in the church must also address power dynamics at work in the discussion.  If church leaders claim that there is “judgmentalism on both sides,” the extremely necessary “wake-up call” to expel the “cancer of vilification”that McElroy calls for won’t happen.

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Building a Bridge, reviews about it, and the conversation around it, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 20, 2017

 

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Support Pours in for Fr. Martin After Lecture Cancellations

Support for Fr. James Martin, SJ, has been strong after lectures by him were cancelled due to pressure from right-wing websites that criticize Martin for his new book on LGBT issues in the church.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ

Last Friday, Martin posted on his Facebook page that Theological College in Washington, D.C. had cancelled a scheduled talk by him. He also reported that two other talks in October, one for the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York City and one for CAFOD, the English bishops’ humanitarian aid program were canceled. All of these talks were about encountering Jesus and not LGBT issues.  For New Ways Ministry’s statement on the cancellation at Theological College, click here.

Martin said the cancellations were “a result of anger or fear over my book ‘Building a Bridge,’ about LGBT Catholics.” He continued:

“In the case of Theological College, the fears were of angry protesters disrupting their Alumni Day. In the case of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Dinner, it was anger from some members over the topic of LGBT Catholics. In the case of Cafod lecture in London, it was not a response to any campaign but fear that my presence itself would garner negative attention, after the group had recently faced other similar problems. In none of these cases was the local ordinary–in each a cardinal–in any way advocating for the cancellation of the talk. The impetus was purely from those social media sites.

“I have asked each organization to be honest about the reasons for these cancellations. That is, I told them I did not want to lie and say, “I withdrew” or “I declined” or “I was afraid to come.”

“So I share with you as much as I can in the interests of transparency, which we need in our church. And to show you the outsize influence of social media sites motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia.”

Rightwing websites instigated the attacks on Martin, referring to him as “homosexualist” and “sodomy-promoting,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. Theological College’s rector, Fr. Gerald McBrearity, cited the “increasing negative feedback from various social media sites” because of Building a Bridge as the reason why cancellation was “in the best interest of all parties,” reported Crux.

Interestingly, The Catholic University of America’s president, John Garvey, distanced the school from Theological College’s decision. The seminary is “under the auspices” of the university, but acted apart from direct oversight in deciding to cancel the lecture, according to a statement.

Martin’s supporters rose quickly to his defense, including an outpouring of such support on social media. Jesuits Fr. John Cecero, S.J. and Fr. Timothy Kesicki, Martin’s superiors, along with the editor-in-chief of America, where Martin works, all released supportive statements. Despite the cancellations and with such support, Martin is undeterred, saying of the rightwing websites:

“[They] traffic in hatred and they foment fear. . .Perfect love drives out fear, as we learn in the New Testament. . .But perfect fear drives out love. But I’m not deterred or even disturbed.”

To ask Theological College to reverse its decision disinviting Fr. Martin, write to:

Reverend Gerald McBrearity, Rector

Theological College

401 Michigan Avenue, NE

Washington, DC 20017

Phone:  202-756-4907

Email:  olkiewicz@cua.edu

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 19, 2017

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Fr. James Martin Responds to Vile Attacks with Integrity and Solidarity

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has received a variety of different responses to his recent book on LGBT issues in the Catholic church (Building A Bridge). One recent exchange on social media revealed just how harsh and childish some critics can be, and how well Martin is choosing to respond.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ

Austin Ruse, who writes for the alt-right website Breitbart and is president of a right-wing organization (which used to be identified as Catholic but has since become secular) that opposes LGBT equality, attacked Martin on Twitter recently. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Ruse used harsh anti-gay slurs, and said the priest was leading lesbian and gay people to hell.

Ruse’s comments were a response to another Twitter controversy during which the conservative website CatholicVote.org had tweeted, “And then this Dominican showed up and started beating @JamesMartinSJ like a rented mule. The crowd went wild.”

But against such vile language and even the implicit threat of violence, Fr. Martin has responded with integrity and solidarity. He explained his decision to respond on Facebook:

“I almost never engage with hateful social media comments. But this time was different. For me, it represented, in the first place, the crossing of a line by a prominent Catholic website (the encouragement of violence even in a joking way is beyond the pale); and in the second, a teachable moment brought about by a slur (‘pansy’), about homophobia in our church, even in high echelons.”

In another Facebook post, Martin acknowledged that LGBT people face “hatred and contempt” every day and he hoped that through the support of community he would try to”make them feel like beloved children of God.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter defended Martin as a “gifted spiritual writer” and “gentle soul,” while calling Ruse a white nationalist “fire-eater.” He stated:

“To most American Catholics, Martin is one of the sons in whom we take the most pride, a churchman who helps others grow in their relationship with the church and with its head, Jesus, a priest who makes ancient traditions accessible to modern readers. And, to those of us who have known him as a colleague, the private Fr. Martin shines with the same wit and holiness and pastoral solicitude as the readers encounter in his writing. He is a treasure and his works will be read long after the fire-eaters have been forgotten.”

MartinInclusion.jpgWinters’ defense of Martin is especially important since the columnist disagreed with parts of the priest’s book.  Winters said Building a Bridge was “not my favorite book” on homosexuality, and like other reviewers quibbled with Martin’s decision to forgo any discussion of sexual ethics. Winters also said he thinks there are theological hurdles to the LGBT discussion and “some of those hurdles may prove insurmountable.”

 

A wide spectrum of reviewers have critiqued Building a Bridge, from Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. But despite these critiques, Martin’s book is having an impact on the church. He has used it to breathe new life into the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, and has likely opened the eyes (and possibly hearts) of Catholics who might be less affirming of LGBT people. If nothing else, he is using his high profile platform to help eradicate in the church the kind of hate speech used by Ruse and those faithful like him. For his efforts, Winters is right: Martin will surely be remembered long after his vile critics are forgotten.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 14, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Vatican Official’s Critique of New Book on LGBT Issues

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has responded to a high-ranking Vatican official’s critique of his new book, Building a Bridge. Their exchange is another step in the conversation on LGBT issues in the church into which Martin has helped breathe new life.

y648Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation on Divine Worship, sharply criticized Martin’s book in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. Sarah said Martin was “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality,” followed by the cardinal’s vigorous defense of Magisterium’s teachings on homosexuality.

The cardinal suggested that celibate lesbian and gay Catholics as the real witnesses to how the church should approach homosexuality. He wrote:

“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. . .Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”

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Cardinal Robert Sarah

Sarah has a strong LGBT-negative record, and has frequently condemned what he describes as “gender ideology.” Last year at the U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the cardinal said transgender rights are “demonic” and marriage equality is a “poison.” During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who was part of the press corps at the meeting in Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”.

Martin offered his reply to Cardinal Sarah in America magzine (which summarized the cardinal’s column, as well). He pushed back against Sarah’s claim that the book challenges church teaching. Martin said Building a Bridge, which is based on an address he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last fall, is “not a book of moral theology. . .It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer. . .” America reported further:

“Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column ‘a step forward,’ noting that the cardinal used the term ‘L.G.B.T.,’ which a few traditionalist Catholics reject.’ . . .But, Father Martin said, the essay ‘misses a few important points,’ including a failure to acknowledge ‘the immense suffering that L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.’

Building a Bridge has been well received by many church officials, including counterparts of Cardinal Sarah who endorsed the book. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Discastery for Laity, Family, and Life, called the book “welcome and much-needed.” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said it was “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.” Other figures on the book’s dust jacket include Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, and theologian James Alison.

Martin’s book and the conversation it has sparked are already having an impact, which Bondings 2.0 has covered here. Some Catholics have been critical of Building a Bridge, including such diverse voices as lesbian writer Jamie Manson, theologian David Cloutier, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Martin has thoughtfully responded to these critics and others through his social media channels and an interview with America. He has continued to be outspoken on LGBT equality as well, offering his own set of  propositions which affirm  LGBT people when Evangelical leaders released their LGBT-negative “Nashville Statement” recently.

Interestingly, Sarah has not received much approval from Pope Francis.  The pontiff targeted Sarah specifically in recent comments when he said, “with magisterial authority,” that Vatican II’s liturgical reforms were “irreversible,” a response critiquing the cardinal who is a liturgical traditionalist.

Where once Sarah’s views might have been backed by the Vatican through publication in L’Osservatore Romano, he now shares his opinion in a secular news outlet. And where once Martin’s book would have been, at best, denied an imprimatur and, at worst, led to an investigation against him, Vatican officials are now publicly endorsing the need for dialogue on LGBT issues in the church. Subtle though this change may be, it is still quite significant for LGBT Catholics and allies to remember in our ongoing work for full equality.

Bondings 2.0 will continue to follow the conversation around Building a Bridge. You can subscribe for daily updates on Catholic LGBT issues by using the box in the upper righthand corner of this page. If you have read Martin’s book, what do you think of it? Leave your thoughts or even a brief review in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 7, 2017

On New Catholic LGBT Book, Jamie Manson and Archbishop Chaput Find Common Ground

Fr. James Martin, S.J. seeks to build bridges with his new book on Catholic LGBT issues. While it may not be a bridge, in two new reviews, he has certainly brought together two very different Catholics: lesbian Catholic advocate Jamie Manson and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput.

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Jamie Manson

Manson reviewed the book, Building a Bridge, in her column at National Catholic Reporter. She opened by describing the book as a “storybook” which looks inviting but, she added, for LGBT activists it “may also read like fiction.” In the review, she criticized Martin for his more positive portrayal of the hierarchy:

“Martin is hardly the first Catholic, nor the first Jesuit, to write about the LGBT experience in the church. But he may be the first to write about the topic from such a privileged position inside the institutional church. . .His remarkable access to church leaders prompts him to make one of the boldest claims in the book:

‘Many in the institutional church want to reach out to [the LGBT] community, but seem somewhat confused about how to do so. Yes, I know it seems that there are some who don’t seem to want to reach out, but all the bishops I know are sincere in their desire for true pastoral outreach.’

“There are a lot of ‘seems’ in those two sentences, and they seem to suggest that LGBT Catholics, in their lack of access to the power center of the church, are simply ignorant of what’s really going on in the hearts of these men.”

Manson noted evidence to the contrary, including bishops’ silence after the Pulse Nightclub massacre which Martin said in part prompted him to accept New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building award which led to the book’s publication.

Manson also queried Martin’s treatment of homosexuality in the priesthood and religious life. The author sets up what Manson described as a “catch-22” in which he claims both that many priests and bishops are themselves gay, but also that this same group of clergy do not know LGBT people. Manson commented:

“Martin should be applauded for speaking so forthrightly about the prevalence of gay men among the clergy, but he doesn’t really reckon with the fact that it is precisely the clerical closet that makes the hierarchy’s oppression of LGBT people so outrageous and intolerable. So many bishops and priests lie about their own sexualities, some even carry on same-sex relationships, while sitting in judgment over LGBT people who are trying to live their lives honestly.”

She then addressed Martin’s encouragement for LGBT people to improve relations with clergy by  showing church leaders respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Manson responded that church leaders’ actions are too often “an abuse of power” by which, despite LGBT Catholics and their families good faith efforts, bishops have frequently dismissed Catholics’ concerns. She continued:

“More than 40 years of struggle should have taught us by now that compassion, respect and sensitivity are not enough to bring about a truly just relationship between bishops and LGBT Catholics. Even with these three virtues in play, bishops still have the power to judge and negatively impact the lives of LGBT Catholics, while operating in secrecy and lying about their own sexualities. And LGBT Catholics are expected to bear their souls to their religious leaders and beg to be heard, while also, ultimately, remaining voiceless and officially condemned by their church.”

Manson was not hopeful about the proposed bridge because she believes that even though it was most likely unintended to do so, Martin’s book shows “just how radical the lack of mutuality is between LGBT Catholics and the bishops.” She concluded:

“[F]or reconciliation to take place, it would require not simply compassion, respect and sensitivity, but a mutuality of vulnerability, self-disclosure, honesty and authenticity. . .As long as that imbalance persists, it’s hard to imagine how these roads can ever truly meet and how the bridge can possibly hold.”

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Chaput is also critical of Building a Bridge. Though his appraisal is not the same as Manson’s, he likewise questions the text for not dealing more substantively with the what he understands to be the real issues involving homosexuality and the church.

Writing at CatholicPhilly.com, Chaput said the book is “written with skill and good will,” and that Martin’s exhortation for both sides to be respectful “makes obvious sense.” He then explained:

“But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships.  The Church is not simply about unity – as valuable as that is – but about unity in God’s love rooted in truth.

“If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation.  If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie.  Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.”

It is safe to say that Jamie Manson and Charles Chaput almost always find themselves on opposite ends of the ecclesial spectrum. What is interesting in these reviews is their agreement that the book has some good points, but also that the book failed to address key substantive issues, thereby weakening any attempt to build bridges.

The similarity between these reviewers raises two questions: Does attempting to build a bridge mean that both opposing camps will be dissatisfied?  How do you build a bridge that makes opposing camps both feel that their concerns are addressed fairly?

Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide more reviews of the book as they appear.

y450-293If you have reading Building a Bridge, what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. You can read our coverage of previous reviews in the following posts:

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

David Cloutier, a theologian, on “The Ignatian Option”

Lesbian Catholic Eve Tushnet’s review in The Washington Post

New Catholic LGBT Book is Praised by High Church Leaders

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 16, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

Amid the flurry of reviews and interviews surrounding his new book, Building a Bridge, Fr. James Martin, S.J. has responded to critics as a way to create greater dialogue. Today’s post features one review along with Martin’s responses. To read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of previous reviews by David Cloutier and Eve Tushnet, click here and here respectively.

y450-293Martin responded to Cloutier’s review in America by addressing the three problems which Cloutier believed makes the proposed bridge “shaky.”

First, Martin argues against Cloutier’s critique that LGBT people are problematically lumped together as a singular group in the book. Cloutier claimed that, in reality, there is tremendous difference among LGBT persons. He also stated that LGBT people differ from other groups in the church because their identities directly challenge church teaching. Martin replied:

“[M]y point was not that L.G.B.T. Catholics are all the same (or that that label is comprehensive) but that many have faced similar problems in the church: prejudice and exclusion based on sexual orientation and identity. . .

“We have an unfortunate tendency to view L.G.B.T. issues purely through the prism of only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality—its prohibition on sexual expression—rather than through the experiences of L.G.B.T. people as human beings. We tend to view them as a category of people who present a theological problem rather than as individuals with a graced history. I know that Prof. Cloutier does not wish to negate their pain, but it is important to see them as not inherently presenting a ‘problem.'”

Second, against Cloutier’s claim that the book seems more fitting for the LGBT conversation of the 1990s than the 21st century discussion, Martin said what has changed in the church is the number of LGBT Catholics who have come out:

“As more Catholics are affected, more parishes will be. As more parishes are, more priests will be. As more priests are, more bishops will be. And so on. I believe the explosion of L.G.B.T. Catholics ‘coming out’ and claiming their identities will lead to a growing desire among the entire People of God for welcome, and for what Pope Francis calls ‘encounter.'”

Encounter, Martin explained, is the work of the Holy Spirit and has no expiration date. Widespread social acceptance of LGBT persons “has been drive largely by encounter,” and within the church coming out “would still be quite novel, even radical in some circles.”

Third, Martin tackles Cloutier’s critique that the book never addresses sexual ethics. Martin said the omission was “intentional” because church teaching is already quite clear, but:

“At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on the matter is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the relatively small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that this teaching has not been ‘received’ by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom it was directed.

“So I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Another review came from Sally Kohn, a lesbian essayist writing in The Washington Post, who offered an outsider perspective on the book. A secular Jew, Kohn said the book was “a lovely glimpse at church-community relations buttressed by an enlightening collection of uplifting scripture.” But, she continued:

“The problem is that Martin doesn’t adequately address the deep ecclesiastical and theological roots of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay antagonism. And so his book reads like a solution to a problem he fundamentally misunderstands.”

Kohn also questioned whether the question of homophobia in the Catholic Church could be adequately dealt with if not also addressing misogyny in the church. She added:

“Beyond the most superficial gestures and rhetoric of respect, compassion and sensitivity, Martin doesn’t address the sorts of lives he envisions for LGBT Catholics. Should they be celibate? Not marry? Exactly how welcome does Martin think they should be? Absent these details, Martin risks promising merely the illusion of equal dignity. LGBT Catholics don’t just want the lip service of respect, they want actual equal treatment.”

Martin responded to Kohn on the America website, saying her review “downplays [LGBT Catholics’] religious convictions and the mystical nature of the church.” He continued:

“To be sure, the onus is on the institutional church to reach out, to take risks and to take the first steps along the bridge of reconciliation. Why? Because it is members of the hierarchy who have marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. . .

“Moreover, the question of dialogue between L.G.B.T. Catholics and the institutional church cannot be seen strictly in ‘political’ terms, as Ms. Kohn seems to do in her piece. Granted, our ‘intrachurch’ discussion has ramifications beyond the Catholic world, but the discussion cannot be separated from questions of faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit. A critique that does not work within this framework is going to come up short.”

Martin has a bigger message beyond answering the specific objections of this first round of reviewers:

“I hope the book shows how much in our Catholic tradition, particularly the Gospels, points us forward to a culture of radical welcome. The central assertion of the book—that for Jesus is there is no us and them, there is only us—does not need approval.

“My overall goal was not to win an argument but to help start a conversation and create a space for church officials who want to reach out to L.G.B.T. people, and for L.G.B.T. Catholics who want to know that they have a place in the church.”

Given the book’s high profile, and how contentious LGBT issues in the church can be, the conversation over Fr. Martin’s work will  surely continue, just as he intended.

Have you read Building a Bridge? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below. 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 12, 2017

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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

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