Monday, March 19, 2012

Diana Butler Bass: Feminist and LGBT Movements as Test of Religious Hospitality

At Religion Dispatches, noted scholar of American religion Diana Butler Bass tells Candace Chellew-Hodge that American religious groups are on the cusp of a new spiritual awakening.  But as with other progressive breakthroughs in American history, the nearer dawn approaches, the darker things appear.  In the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century, the rise of many progressive movements went hand in hand with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

And so we now see significant attacks, for instance, on the feminist and LGBT movements, many of these attacks spearheaded by people of faith acting in collusion with right-wing political movements intent on resisting all progressive social and economic changes.  But as Bass notes, even as this backlash occurs, some communities of faith--often at a local level--work to create spaces of healing, hospitality, and inclusion that proclaim the gospel message of God's redemptive love of all human beings to the culture at large.

And so, in Bass's thinking, the feminist movement and LGBT people become a test case for the church, a test case demonstrating the extent to which a particular faith community is being gripped by the spiritual awakening that is beginning to dawn in a number of American religious communities now:

In a very real sense, what the feminist movement and the LGBT movement have become for religious communities is a test of hospitality. Are you really open to accepting and welcoming everyone? Is the personhood of the gay couple as welcome as the personhood of the straight couple? That becomes a test of the awakening. It’s not simply what’s your political position about the rights of these people, but are these people really people? And are they people with their full wisdom, their full experience, their full sense of who they are? Are they really, truly welcomed into the deepest realms of making community? 

Is the personhood of the gay couple as welcome as the personhood of the straight couple?  And are they people with their full wisdom, their full experience, their full sense of who they are?  Are they really, truly welcomed into the deepest realms of making community?:

In my view, these are critically important questions.  The ability of Christian communities to proclaim the gospel message of God's redemptive love for all effectively to the culture at large depends on how communities choose to answer these questions.

This is why I consider the national conversation that has developed in American Catholicism in the wake of Father Guarnizo's choice to deny communion to Barbara Johnson at her mother's funeral an imperative conversation for the American Catholic church to have--one that we foreclose at our peril, when we permit defenders of Guarnizo to frame it as a "he-said, she-said" dispute in which there is no truth to be found in either of the conflicting accounts of what happened at the funeral.

It is also why I continue pushing back against the claims of powerful Catholic centrists who refuse to stand in solidarity with their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (and with women seeking full personhood and full human rights).  This is why I contest the claim of Catholic centrists who refuse such solidarity to be objective, dispassionate, measured, above the fray--when their "objectivity" is really all about taking the side of power, of the bishops and their powerful, wealthy right-wing handlers, who intend to keep using the Catholic church as a bastion of "traditional" values that include hostility to LGBT persons and opposition to women's rights.

If the eucharistic table is not set for all, it is not worthy of its name.  And if the table of daily bread, the bread of workers' rights and healthcare for all and economic justice, within Christian communities does not mirror and in its own way proclaim the radical hospitality of the eucharistic table, then the claims the eucharistic table makes about itself are also undermined.

By its practice of justice and inclusion--by its practice of radical hospitality in all of its structures, in its practices of hiring and firing, through hospitality which affirms the full personhood of all--a church is making a significant proclamation about its core values and core rituals.  When the central ritual of a Christian community is setting a table and proclaiming that the One who lays the table invites everyone to table, the institutional life of the community must mirror the proclamation it makes about the table set for all, or it nullifies everything that it proclaims about its table of hospitality.

And people who believe in the eucharistic table and what it signifies will then begin to distance themselves from the community whose own live is out of harmony with its eucharistic proclamation, precisely because they cherish the eucharistic table.  And its radical hospitality and its welcome of all.

The graphic is from a posting of Pastor Lisa Schubert at the website of Hillside United Methodist Church, Princeton, Indiana.

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