The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 2

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 began a two-part series about Commonweal magazine’s paired feature articles about “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.”  The two Catholic theologians who penned the articles are David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

Yesterday, we reviewed and evaluated Cloutier’s article, which took a more negative view of current transgender discourse on identity and legal rights.  Today we will look at Johnson’s argument which takes a more positive approach. Johnson is not a newcomer to Catholic LGBT issues.  He spoke at New Ways Ministry’s 2007 and 2012 national symposiums, and his ideas were very positively received by the participants.

It’s first important to point out that though Cloutier and Johnson have opposing positions, they do share some ideas in common.  Just as Cloutier took a negative position, but also expressed sympathy and respect fo transgender people, Johnson takes a positive position but also turns a critical eye to some of what he sees as excesses of the pro-trans camp. Both lament the speed with which decisions on transgender issues are being made and both decry the hardening of polarized camps which the discussion seems to have fostered.  Johnson describes the contemporary situation:

“. . . [T]he pace of social change, or at least the agitation for it, is drastically accelerated by social media and the 24/7 news cycle, and that for users of Facebook and Twitter, immediacy is all.

“. . .[L]iberals are not simply wrong, they are demonic; conservatives are not merely in error, they are evil. In a paradoxical twist, agitators for the recognition of sexual difference in the name of diversity demonize any appeal to norm or nature as oppressive; they seem unaware of the way in which ‘diversity’ easily becomes an equally hegemonic norm.”

In his essay, Johnson sets out to examine “whether Christian theology has anything to offer our present situation. My effort focuses on gender, identity, and the body, and begins by addressing a theological tendency I regard as profoundly unhelpful, precisely to the degree that it pays no attention to actual human experience—and thus, in fact, fails to ‘respond’ at all.”

Luke Timothy Johnson

Before presenting Johnson’s theological critique, I want to point out that his preference to pay “attention to actual human experience” is exactly the point where he and Cloutier diverge.  Although Cloutier does not discuss human testimony, I pointed out in yesterday’s post that his writing exhibited a lack of knowledge about transgender personal experience.  Johnson’s approach, on the other hand, values human experience as an important source of theological reflection.

Johnson critiques the heavy emphasis on gender division and gender roles expounded in the writings of Catholic theologians like Hans von Balthasar, John Paul II, and Angelo Scola, as well as Protestant theologians Karl Barth and Stanley Grenz.  He provides a succinct and careful analysis of the main trends in their theologies and concludes that their approach is

“. . . based neither on observation of human behavior, nor on genuine philosophical reflection on the behavior of real people in conversation with all the texts of Scripture, but rather on elevating selected texts of Scripture perceived as possessing a distinct and absolute revelatory character.”

Johnson, who is primarily a Scripture scholar, takes a more dynamic view of Scripture than these traditionalist theologians:

“However important Scripture is as a witness to God’s activity in the world, and however truly Scripture participates in divine revelation, it is wrong to proceed as though revelation were contained in it alone. If theology has to do with the Living God, then it must pay attention to the ways in which God continuously manifests his power and presence in the world. Catholics have always regarded tradition as a second source of witness to God’s work—in liturgy and Creed, to be sure, but above all also in the living testimony of the saints. For where holiness speaks, the church must pay attention.

“. . . . Regarding subjects like sex and gender, theologians risk seeming deaf to the voice of the living God if they do not listen carefully to what God might be up to in the sexual experience of actual humans and in the study of sexuality and gender offered by philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and—for goodness sake!—biology.”

Unlike traditional theologians who have clear definitions of gender and gendered bodies, Johnson believes that “bodily expression is always ambiguous, always difficult to decipher. If we believe, however, that God lives and continues to touch us, then we must learn something of the grammar and syntax of real bodies.”  This awareness is especially true because human beings reveal  “a variety of ways in which “male” and “female” can be individually embodied and expressed.”  He proceeds into an informative discussion of people who are intersex, meaning that they may have been born with ambiguous genitalia or other hormonal or secondary sex characteristics that can not easily be classified as male or female.

Most important to the Catholic discussion of transgender issues, Johnson asserts that gender is not a moral or religious classification, but a biological and social one.  As such, he says it is a relative, not an absolute, good, “not constitutive of humans but is rather an accidental (if extremely important) dimension of being human.”   He continues:

” . . . [T]he desire to change one’s gender is not itself a moral issue. It is not in itself a disordered drive, or a form of rebellion against the creator. It could be, to be sure, but it need not be; like the discovery of one’s sexual attraction to persons of the same gender, it may in fact be a recognition of oneself that is deeply respectful of the Creator.”

Similarly, he notes that gender change is not a religious issue per se, but can be considered such only on the basis of an individual’s motivation for change:

“. . . [I]f I make gender change an absolute good (I cannot be myself in this body) rather than a relative one (what counts is serving God and others in any body), I may in fact reveal a disordered desire, a form of idolatrous impulse. The moral or religious issue is not our gender, in other words, but what we make of it.”

And while it is sad that Johnson has to highlight the following idea, the tenor of the current political debate on transgender issues does make it necessary to do so:

“Openness to gender change does not equal openness to sexual vice.”

Johnson concludes with a hope for a process of Christian discernment about transgender identity, noting that what is needed is “face-to-face conversation; rather than the glare of publicity, intimate and honest exchange.”  And the Chuch can and should be the place where such a discernment takes place, as well as being, Johnson’s words, “the place where openness to change is a corollary of belief in the new creation and its endless inventiveness, even as it remains the place where the goal of change is greater than the discovery of the autonomous self.”

The discussion on transgender identity in the Catholic Church is just beginning.  Both Cloutier’s and Johnson’s articles are important reading for those who want to look at this issue through theological lenses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 5, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

 

 

 

The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 1

Last month, one of Commonweal magazine’s cover features was a pair of articles from two theologians on the topic “The Church and Transgender Identity:  Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” The theologians were David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

In today’s post, Bondings 2.0 will present Cloutier’s argument, and tomorrow we will present Johnson’s perspective.

If we think of the pairing of these two articles as representing a pro and con position, Cloutier’s essay would have to be put into the con column.  I’m not sure that this is a totally fair assessment, though, for while Cloutier clearly questions a lot of transgender discourse, another dimension that comes through his essay is some sensitivity to people who identify as transgender.  He seems interested in finding a way that understands and respects them, even though it is obvious that he does not approve of what he sees as underlying assumptions of a lot of transgender equality rationales.

His introductory summary of the national transgender debate shows that he recognizes excesses on both sides of the discussion:

“One side views accepting an individual’s chosen identity as paramount and resistance not as simply erroneous, but downright offensive. Moreover, there is a (correct) recognition of the real struggle and suffering experienced by trans people. Yet the other side views the plain reality of male and female biology as so obvious (and often as a matter of religious truth) that it can envision no possibility of acceptance. What has increasingly resulted from this opposition are not reasoned arguments, but acts of coercion—whether in the Obama administration’s well-publicized anti-discrimination directives compelling schools and hospitals to accommodate “an individual’s internal sense of gender,” or in such backlash responses as North Carolina’s infamous ‘bathroom bill.’ “

Cloutier recognizes that the debate has revealed that “important things are at stake,” and so he sets out to examine two questions:  “What does a claim to transgender identity mean?” and “How does the debate over transgender identity and rights impact the common good?”

David Cloutier

To answer the first question, Cloutier examines some of the varying definitions of gender identity currently being used.  Unfortunately, he tends to focus on some of the extremes of this discussion, such as:

“. . . Facebook now offers fifty-six gender options. We seem to be rushing to embrace an ethic that dismisses the need to posit a real self, in favor of exploring the possibilities as they come.”

While some people may believe everything that is on Facebook, I don’t think many serious-minded people use that social media platform as the standard of legitimate evidence.

Cloutier is suspicious of transgender people’s personal testimonies that the body does not reflect “who I really am.”  He evaluates this kind of thinking negatively:

“. . . [W]e are essentially saying identity is a matter of free expression of an internal sense, and therefore what we are supposed to respect is the individual’s choice of the expression of identity feelings, regardless of his or her embodiment. . . . Both liberal and conservative Catholics have spent decades trying to rehabilitate the goodness of embodiment from problematic spiritualizations that understood our sexual bodies in particular as suspect sites of corruption requiring rigid regimes of mastery. We are committed to an ultimately sacramental worldview where the body and soul are a unity. From this perspective, an immaterial sense that one’s body is the ‘wrong’ one seems like a pretty big problem.”

Here’s one spot that I think that Cloutier is wrong.  From the many transgender people that I have encountered, I have not met many (maybe any) who said, in a totally serious way, that their bodies were wrong.  More accurately, they say that their bodies do not express their gender.  For those who seek some sort of biological modification, I have often understood that their decision to do so was because they appreciate and reverence their bodies and want them to be made whole, not because they saw them as wrong.

Cloutier’s line of thinking misleads him to inaccurately describe the goal of many transgender advocates:

“What I suspect is that the subjective sense of one’s own gender and sexual identity has become so important in our society that we are willing to sacrifice the body to it. In other words, the sense of gender identity being invoked here is construed as sacred. And the particular sense of the sacred has to do with a kind of radical self-determination. To stretch the metaphor, advocates of alternative gender paradigms are making a kind of ‘religious freedom’ argument for having their sacred sense of identity accepted.”

This characterization of gender identity as sacred seems to me to be in the mind of Cloutier, not in the minds of transgender advocates.  While many transgender people do acknowledge the spiritual dimension of their identity journeys, I don’t see them arguing in the public sphere for their equality on religious grounds.

In answering his second question, concerning transgender equality and the public good, Cloutier reveals a fear which was expressed many times during the struggle for lesbian and gay equality: What about the children?

In one spot, he states:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

And in another spot, he opines:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

I don’t believe that he intends simply to scare people. I think Cloutier is genuinely afraid that children will be easily influenced by encountering transgender people and issues. At one point, he writes:

“. . . [I]f we grant the persuasiveness of the ‘gender possibility’ argument in explaining the trans phenomenon, then it seems necessary to acknowledge that affirming and accommodating the transgender identity of one child will affect other children, in much the same way that gender stereotypes about alpha males and compliant females affect them.”

But his fear is unwarranted and the result of a faulty assumption. What’s wrong with this type of thinking is that Cloutier assumes that the idea of changing one’s gender identity is something contagious, attractive to others.  This kind of thinking seems to imagine gender identity as something easily manipulated.  It is the same kind of argument used in the discussion of gay and lesbian sexual orientation: the thinking ran that if a person, particularly a young person, became aware of gay and lesbian people or identities, then they would quickly abandon their heterosexual orientations to become gay and lesbian.  It was a ludicrous argument then, as it is now in the case of transgender people.

Cloutier concludes by advising caution (but not opposition) in discussing transgender topics in society:

“Given the conceptual difficulties involved in discerning the gender implications of ‘who I really am,’ plus the longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology, and the significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters, at the very least we would seem to need a yellow light, not a green one.”

I will only remark here on the phrase about “significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters.”  As the influence or contagion model of gender identity mentioned above in regard to children, this kind of thinking presumes that decisions about gender identity are matters of whim.  They are not.  For many people, they are the result of long, often painful, but sometimes joyful, discernments involving spirituality, personality, and relationships.

The remark about human folly and self-deception show a weakness evident throughout Cloutier’s essay:  he shows no evidence that he has seriously considered any transgender person’s testimony seriously, other than, perhaps, the wildly sensational story of Caitlyn Jenner.

As for Cloutier’s remark about the “longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology,”   I will make no comment.  I will it to Luke Timothy Johnson to answer that assertion as he does a much better and more erudite job than I could ever hope to do.   Tune into tomorrow’s post for a summary and evaluation of his Commonweal essay, which is the pro side of the Catholic transgender identity discussion.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 4, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance Is Highlight of the Closing Day

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, ended on St. Patrick’s Day, with plenary talks by Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who each received richly-deserved standing ovations from the assembled participants.

The largest ovation, however, was reserved for the appearance of Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had recently been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.

Ms. Johnson thanked the participants for the outpouring of support that she received from them and from Catholics all over the country.
She told how throughout the ordeal she felt the love of her mother leading and guiding her.  She told how faith in knowing of God’s love for her and her family kept her strong when the going got rough in recent weeks–including times when she received hate-filled and threatening messages from detractors who were purportedly “defending” the church. Bondings 2.0will provide excerpts from the text of her talk and photos of the event when they become available to us.

After her remarks, Ms. Johnson was joined on the Symposium stage by her partner, and both received a blessing from the assembled participants.  The text of the blessing follows:

“For you, Barbara, your partner, and your family, we, the People of God, the Church, raise our hands in blessing.

“We believe our Life-Giver and Love-Maker God is present; may every breath we take, flow into our world full of peace, hope, compassion and courage. Amen.

“We believe that Jesus’ love can heal all our hearts and all our losses. May we be open to the gifts of new life that the Resurrected Christ wants to share with us.  Amen.

“We believe all are welcomed and invited in this space and around this table of sharing; may we all become the Church inclusive, where the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. Amen.

“Go now, in the name of Jesus, Our Christ, who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going, just promising transformation and relationship with the Triune God along the way. Amen.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story, “Denying Communion: A priest and a lesbian set off a Catholic culture clash.”  The article focuses more on Fr. Guarnizo, the priest who denied Ms. Johnson communion, than it does on Ms. Johnson herself.  Most interesting is a quote from Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, a scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University:

“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow. . . .These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!

Barbara Johnson

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, will have the distinct honor of a visit from Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman denied communion at her mother’s funeral, whose story made national headlines.

Ms. Johnson will visit the Symposium with her partner on Saturday, March 17, 2012, to address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences.  Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.

“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”

The Seventh National Symposium takes place March 15-17, 2012, at the Renaissance Baltimore Innerharbor Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Other major speakers are: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia; Richard Rodriguez, Pulitzer-nominated writer and commentator; Catholic theologians Patricia Beattie Jung and Luke Timothy Johnson.  For more information and to register, please click here.

You can refresh yourself on the details of Ms. Johnson’s story by reading Bondings 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here.  Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines.  Just this week, Allen Rose, president of Dignity/Washington, published an essay in DC’s Metro Weekly, a gay news magazine, which touched on this case to call on the Archdiocese of Washington to provide better pastoral care for LGBT people:

Allen Rose

“I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests.”

In calling for dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the archdiocesan administration, Rose suggests a variety of important and urgent topics that could be readily discussed:

“The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.

“These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.”

New Ways Ministry has long-supported the idea of dialogue between church officials and LGBT Catholics, and we think that Rose’s proposal at this crucial time can turn a painful event into a turning point for good.  In addition to LGBT Catholics, we think this dialogue should also include parents of LGBT people and pastoral professionals involved in this ministry.  The time for such a dialogue is way overdue, and the story of Ms. Johnson’s painful experience has illustrated to the world the harmful results that delaying such a dialogue is causing.  We repeat what we and so many others have said about Ms. Johnson’s case: “Never again.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 1

The headline on the front cover of Commonweal magazine’s current issue reads “Sex, Marriage, and the Church.”  The tremendous decline in marriages (both civil and sacramental) in our society, as well as the obvious fact that most Catholics do not accept the hierarchy’s teachings about sex and marriage, offer the occasion for such an examination.

The editors invited nine scholars and writers to respond to observations posed by the church historian Eamon Duffy (in Unfinished Journey: The Church 40 Years after Vatican II, Essays for John Wilkins), from which the following is a  germane excerpt:

” It is not merely Catholic marriages, for example, which are in decline, but, it would seem, the institution of marriage itself. The moral pattern imposed by the church (slowly and with enormous difficulty) on European sexual behavior and family structure from the early Middle Ages onwards seems now to be collapsing. Later than most of the rest of the churches of the West, the Catholic Church is increasingly confronted with the need to evolve a modus vivendi with these apparently inexorable social trends, which can be lived by ordinary people with integrity. Marriage is above everything else a social institution, and if the church is not to decline into being a sect for the saintly, ordinary Catholic couples cannot realistically be expected to live lives untouched by the social and sexual expectations and mores of the culture as a whole. The tragically large and growing number of Catholics in irregular unions is both an indicator of the way in which the values of society shape the lives and perceptions of Christians and also, in pastoral terms, a ticking time bomb, which by one means or another is going to have to be defused if it is not to decimate the Catholic community and, more importantly, deprive thousands of people of the sacramental support and light they need.”

In balanced journalistic fashion, the responders cover a wide range of approaches and positions on this matter.  I will try to excerpt and comment on some of the more salient points, but, in this case more than in most others, I encourage the interested reader to read the entire discussion for one’s self.  In this first posting, I will summarize and comment on the responses with which I tend to agree; in a second posting on another day, I will do the same for the points with which I disagree.

To my thinking, the most reasonable response comes from Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor of theology at Emory University.   Johnson (who, incidentally, will be a plenary speaker at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium) takes the approach that to solve the marriage crisis, it is imperative that church leaders speak with the people who are affected (positively and negatively) by the current teaching.  He describes the current crisis of marriage and sexuality as

“. . .a case where attending to the actual experience of those participating in such ‘irregular unions,’ available through the stories they are eager to share, can help the church perceive in such stories the work of God or its denial, as a means of guiding its own faithful response.”

In listening to the faithful, Johnson posits that the following situation may occur:

“The church might . . . be called to examine how some aspects of the ‘institution of marriage’ as presently structured do not so much nurture the people as reinforce custom, and to respond creatively to the work of God as displayed in the lives of those touched by grace. In this case, change is the expression of obedient faith by the church.”

Johnson notes that there is very imperative reason for attempting this dialogue, which has to do with issues that are greater than sexuality and marriage:

“The one thing the church cannot afford to do is to refuse to pay attention to what is actually happening in people’s lives. What is at stake, after all, is not the preservation of Catholic (or European) institutions, or the survival of the community, or even the fullest possible participation in the sacraments. What is at stake is obedience to the living God, without which the church does not have much reason to exist.”

Leslie Woodcock Tentler follows a line similar to Johnson.  Taking a pragmatic assessment of her local parish, she observes:

“The relatively full pews contain some obviously gay couples, as well as couples whom I know to be in second marriages. The typical family appears to have only two children. As for the many young singles in attendance, I seriously doubt that all are living lives of perfect chastity. . . . [M]ost of us have apparently decided that the essence of the Christian message has to do with something other than sex.”

Although Tentler doesn’t frame it as a catechetical problem, she acknowledges that the current crisis is due in part to the fact that preachers and teachers are unwilling to promote the official teaching on sex and marriage–sometimes because they disagree with it and also because:

“The gulf between what the church teaches and how most Catholics actually live dictates silence on sex as a pastorally prudent strategy. At a time in history when Catholics are in desperate need of guidance on sex and marriage, the teaching church has nothing to offer beyond the occasional iteration of ill-understood prohibitions.”

Tina Beattie, who teaches theology at Roehampton University, London, UK, illuminates a painfully poignant contradiction in  the hierarchy’s approach to humanity when it comes to marriage:

“The church acknowledges that sin and failure are woven into the human condition, yet a ruthless idealism prevails when marriages break down. The denial of the sacraments to the divorced and remarried means that many Catholics are excluded from their Eucharistic communities just when they are most vulnerable. This also affects children, who risk being alienated from the church indirectly through the exclusion of their parents. “

Beattie offers an interesting alternative that is worth pondering:

“Maybe we need to rediscover a model of extended family life, one in which divorce, rather than death, weaves people into several families in the course of a lifetime. After all, throughout Christian history early death has meant that most people have been serially monogamous, and the longevity of marriages today presents a new challenge. Step-parents and half-siblings are by no means a new historical phenomenon.”

On the topic of lesbian/gay relationships, Beattie provides a good, succinct summary of  the contemporary theological approach to this issue:

“But what about those in same-sex relationships? I think the church has fetishized genitality at the expense of a deeper and richer understanding of the possibilities of sexual love. Church teaching now acknowledges that the unitive dimension of sexuality is valid even when a marriage is infertile, but this defeats any appeal to natural law to defend the church’s opposition to gay relationships. The criterion of goodness in any sexual relationship is surely not reducible to every genital act (which is a major flaw in Humanae vitae). Rather, we need to ask how these acts are expressive of wider relationships of fidelity, commitment, and respect, which remain open to the “child” in the form of the vulnerable outsider.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Patricia Hampl, author, recognizes that there is a larger, more important context to the discussion of marriage and sexuality than first meets the eye.  The larger context is how the church deal with new realities and with people who seem “foreign” to them:

“The challenge we face now is not simply whether the church can change to fit the historic moment where same-sex marriage is already the law of the land in certain states. We need to decide if we are committed to the apostolic mission of inclusion, the rugged path Paul walked (and did he walk!) in cultures alien to his earliest assumptions and training. He kept walking, kept connecting house church to house church. He forged our tradition by this very insistence on sacramental inclusion.”

Commonweal’s editor, Paul Baumann, closes this discussion with a reflection on his mother’s travails with pregnancy, health, and the hierarchy’s condemnation of artificial contraception.   At the end of this deeply personal reflection, Baumann offers a hope for the future, which is an appropriate note on which to conclude:

“Catholicism has altered seemingly irreformable teachings on more than a few occasions over the centuries (baptizing the uncircumcised, the perfidy of the Jews, slavery, usury, separation of church and state) yet somehow found a way forward with its identity, focus, and integrity intact; and I hope now that it will muster the will to find its way out of this particular dead end.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Deadline Approaches for Discounted Symposium Registration

December 31, 2011, is the last day to register for New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium to receive a discount on registration fees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up with a more than 15% savings for From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, which will bring together hundreds of Catholics who are eager to move forward the discussion of LGBT issues in their church.

And Symposium registrations make EXCELLENT last-minute Christmas gifts!  Surprise a friend or family member and bring them along with you to this event which has transformed hearts, minds, and communities!

The Symposium features internationally-known keynote speakers:  Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Richard Rodriguez, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.   Complementing this line-up are focus sessions which cover some of the most important topics in Catholic LGBT conversations.

For more information on the Symposium, and to register today, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry