In Interviews In All Kinds of Media, Fr. Martin Offers Insights to His New Book

As I’ve noted before, Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s new book Building a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity has been the top Catholic LGBT story of the summer.  As bloggers, the Bondings 2.0 team has been challenged to keep up with all the publicity and reviews that the book has generated.

Fr. James Martin, S.J.

We’ve already covered a number of reviews of the articles, as well as posting New Ways Ministry’s analysis, so today we are presenting you a “round-up” post of the many interviews in diverse media outlets that Fr. Martin has given this past summer.  You can click on the link for each interview to read the entire text.

1. In a brief interview for America magazine, “Father James Martin answers 5 common questions about ‘Building a Bridge’ .”     When asked,  “How can you ask the L.G.B.T. Catholics to treat the church with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’?” Fr. Martin responded:

“I should have been clearer about this in the book. The onus for bridge building is on the institutional church—clergy and church officials, including lay people. Because it is the institutional church that has marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. But we are all called to be respectful of one another, including L.G.B.T. Catholics in the relationship with the hierarchy. Why? Because we are all Christians.”

2. Salon.com‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams spoke with Fr. Martin, and at one point highlighted his point that LGBT people are already part of the Catholic Church.  He responded:

“For Jesus, there is not ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ For Jesus ,there is no one who is ‘other.’ His own ministry is about inclusion and going out to people who feel like or are treated as other and bringing them into the community through healing, through talking to them.

“LGBT people are part of the Church by virtue of their baptism, period. They’re as much a part of the Church as me as their local bishop or as the Pope. I submit that they are sometimes better Catholics because they put up with so many hateful comments, and they still persevere in their faith. That to me is real faith. The people that I know who have persevered in the Church in the face of horrible comments, who have forgiven pastors for insulting them, and who continue to participate in the life of the Church, is extraordinary. Their perseverance and their forgiveness is a real gift.”

3. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Scott Simon, host of the popular “Weekend Edition” show,  Fr. Martin explains that church leaders need to get to know LGBT people on real and deep levels.  At one point, he states:

“I think that the church has spent too much time – by that, I mean the institutional church – speaking at, preaching at, tweeting about, publishing about LGBT people without actually getting to know them and listening to their experiences and asking them questions like – what’s your experience of God like? Who is Jesus for you? What’s your experience of the church like? – because the Holy Spirit resides in LGBT people. And the church really needs to listen and to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit is operating.”

4. Brian Lehrer of WNYC Radio had Fr. Martin as a guest on his talk show.  In the interview, Lehrer asks for an example of how LGBT Catholics feel excluded by the Church, and Martin answers with a terrible tale of a priest who refused to visit a gay man dying in a hospice.

5. In an interview with Crux, Fr. Martin responded to a question about how LGBT issues were treated at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family with the following statements:

“That these issues came up means that the Holy Spirit is agitating among the faithful and among the bishops, and that these questions are important questions.

“The Pope asked for the bishops to bring to the Synod the sort of questions that are being circulated in their dioceses, and they did. I think people were afraid of some of the issues, and the Holy Spirit can be frightening sometimes, but fear not!”

6. While talking with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt,  Fr. Martin was asked about the Catholic Catechism’s language concerning homosexuality.  He responded:

“I’m no theologian, but I would say that some of the language used in the catechism on that topic needs to be updated, given what we know now about homosexuality. Earlier, for example, the catechism says that the homosexual orientation is itself ‘objectively disordered.’ But, as I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful. A few weeks ago, I met an Italian theologian who suggested the phrase ‘differently ordered’ might convey that idea more pastorally.”

7. When asked by The National Catholic Register’s Judy Roberts as to why he focused on “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and not sexual ethics, Fr. Martin responded, in part:

“The reason I didn’t talk about chastity in my book is because Church teaching is clear on that matter, and it’s well-known in the “LGBT” community. I don’t think there’s any “LGBT” Catholic alive who doesn’t understand that teaching. By the same token, there seem to be few “LGBT” Catholics who have accepted that teaching. Theologically speaking, you could say the teaching has not been “received” by the “LGBT” community, to whom it was directed. So rather than focusing on a topic where the two groups — the institutional church and the “LGBT” community — are miles and miles apart, I preferred to try to build a bridge over areas that could be places of common ground.”

8. The Jesuit Post, a blog produced by young Jesuits, published a two-part interview with Fr. Martin about the book,  In the first part of the interview, Martin reflects on what the experience of publishing the book has taught him.  In the second part,  he discusses some specific church issues facing LGBT people (such as church employment), as well as explaining the genesis of the oft-neglected spirituality section, which comprises the second half of the book:

“For many years I’ve done–like many Jesuits, priests and religious, and lay pastoral workers–a kind of ‘informal ministry’ with LGBT people.  And I’ve found that some passages from Scripture have consistently been helpful for LGBT people who are struggling with their faith.  Psalm 139 (‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’) is one of them.  It’s such a powerful tool for people, and helps unlock things for them in prayer.

“Likewise, I wanted to include selected passages from the New Testament that I feel can help people gain insight into the ways that Jesus treated people who felt marginalized in his time—like the story of the Roman centurion’s servant, and Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus.   In the book, I invite readers to use some of the practices of Ignatian contemplation with these passages.  What might God want to tell us in our prayer?”

9. The Millennial Journal’s  Robert Christian asked Fr. Martin about what church members do to help stave off anti-LGBT violence globally, such as in Chechnya and Uganda, as well as locally in the form of bullying.  He responded:

“First of all, speak up.  The Gospels impel us to stand with those who are being persecuted in any way.  I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could be: he sided with those who were on the margins.  Catholic social teaching urges us to understand the meaning of solidarity. And the Catechism asks us to resist any forms of ‘unjust discrimination’ directed against LGBT people.  So in places where LGBT people are being actively persecuted, the Church should stand with them, publicly.  Other issues can clearly be seen in the light of Church teaching.  What is suicide among gay teens other than a life issue’?

“So we need to make LGBT people feel visible and valuable. We need to let them know that they are beloved children of God who are as much a part of the church as the pope, their local bishop, and me.  We need to listen to them and enter the mystery of their lives.  We need to accompany them.  We need to stick up for them when needed.  We need to be compassionate to them.  And we need to let them evangelize us.  In a word, we need to love them.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 11, 2017

Understanding Transgender Issues Starts with Good Questions

Jonathan Merritt

As legal issues and theological debates grow around transgender issues, people of faith are speaking out in greater numbers for full protection and equality. Recent pieces by several authors are fine contributions for Catholics to reflect further on how the Church and its members can better understand and support trans Catholics.

Writing for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks Christians to complicate their thinking around transgender matters because they are far more complex than how anti-LGBT voices depict them. Stemming from his experiences with a fellow church member who is a trans man, the author speaks to the deficiency Christians (and one can safely add Catholics) have in thinking and speaking about transgender people. He writes:

“I suspect many Christians are like me and haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking. My unsettled thoughts about how to reconcile Kris’s gender identification with my Christian faith tempt me to shrink back from my friendship with Kris. And yet, I’m so glad I haven’t. Our conversations challenge my thinking and force me to ask new and difficult questions of myself. Kris and I may not end up agreeing on everything, but we press on in our friendship anyway. And I think we’re both better for it.

“The transgender issue is an important one and Christians must grapple with it in all its messiness and complexity. So let’s not pretend that any armchair theologian should be able to figure it out. Kris deserves better. And so do all of our transgender neighbors.”

Sharon Groves, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program, writes in The Washington Post about a positive contribution transgender members bring to communities of faith, namely the opportunity for wider reflection on creation, God, and oneself. She first writes a series of questions:

“[What if] we actually took seriously the question of what it means to be human and, more expansively, what it means to live into our full humanity? What if rather than saying that biology is destiny we actually explored the ways in which we all experience our own gender identities and expressions? What if we learned about the lived experiences of our transgender peers?”

Groves asks Christians to willingly engage in a respectful, open-minded questioning by encountering transgender people, their stories, and broader religious questions as a way forward. Fundamentally, understanding transgender community members will also involved understanding oneself in a deeper way on issues of gender, as she writes:

Sharon Groves

“The core teachings of Christianity are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love God fully if we don’t do the work of trying to understand who God is for each of us. When we look at the most moving and transformative religious writing – from Augustine to Thomas Merton – there is a sense of openness and curiosity to the experience of God.  We can’t love God if we don’t try to glean how God works in our lives.

“Similarly, we can’t really love our neighbors if we cast off all curiosity about who they are and their experience of life in the world. And finally, if we remain uninterested in ourselves – about how we come to know our gender–then we can’t really love the difference that shows up in our neighbors…

“To live our lives with true compassion and caring, we need to move beyond slogans and ask the deeper questions about gender and the diversity of experiences.   But to do that, one must ask the right question and be open to a multitude of answers.”

In a sign of hope for the Catholic Church, Governor Jerry Brown of California, who is a Catholic, recently signed a groundbreaking law protecting transgender students in that state. The law allows transgender students to use bathrooms and play on the sports teams which match their gender identity most fully. However, comments by an administrator in Nebraska’s Catholic schools opposing a similar law in that state prove that work remains in securing equality for transgender people.  At least one previous story on Bondings 2.0 reveals the pressures trans church employees feel, as well as their fears of discriminatory firings.  Another story shows the support that Catholics can express for transgender people.

A positive first step is for every Catholic to deepen their understanding of transgender issues by questioning their existing beliefs, educating themselves, and encountering trans people in their communities. Share your thoughts and resources on how Catholics can better understand transgender issues in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry