Friday, March 15, 2013

A Church That Listens with the Ears of Its Heart: Whose Gay Sons and Daughters?

Yesterday, I fantasized about the possibility that a new pope might choose to listen with the ears of his heart to the experience of his brother and sister Catholics and fellow human beings who happen to be gay. I linked to an excellent editorial that the Jesuit magazine America wrote about the listening church and the new pope even before we all learned that the new pope would be a Jesuit.

I'm thinking this morning about my fantasy about a listening pope in a listening church as I read the story of what has happened with Republican senator Rob Portman of Ohio. As a Republican legislator, Portman has opposed marriage equality on religious grounds. And then this happened:

"I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about," Portman said. "It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. And during my career in the House and also last couple years here in the Senate, you know, I've taken a position against gay marriage, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition. And had a very personal experience, which is my son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay and that it was not a choice and that, you know he, that's just part of who he is, and he'd been that way ever since he could remember."

Listening with the ears of your heart: isn't it remarkable how the ears of the heart perk up when it's our own sons and daughters and not those of some other parents who are affected by the laws we pass to deny rights to someone's sons and daughters? That's the kind of listening with the ears of their heart I'd like to invite the leaders of my church to take up.

To the pastoral leaders of my church, I'd like to say: we whom you make susceptible to violence, we whose humanity you diminish, we who are subjected to discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare solely because we're gay: we're someone's sons and someone's daughters. If you chose to begin thinking of us as Jesus challenges us to think of everyone--as members of your own family--perhaps things would change for the better for many of us now.

And to the many Catholics and non-Catholics who see the new pope as a sign of hope for a listening church, I'd like to issue a challenge: if you permit the leaders of the church, or powerful voices in the media and other mainstream institutions, or your own wish to have a really transformative pope, to convince you that what Francis has said and done vis-a-vis his gay brothers and sisters really doesn't count as he serves the poor, then you've seriously betrayed those of us who happen to be someone's gay sons and daughters. There's going to be strong pressure now to treat gay and lesbian human beings as if we don't count, as the leaders of the Catholic church try to refurbish the church's image in the area of its connection to the poor.

There's going to be a lot of covert and open talk about how gay and lesbian human beings aren't "really" marginalized like the "real" poor. If you care about everyone's gay sons and daughters, I hope you'll push back hard against this rhetoric even as you defend the new pope as a sign of hope for the church in his humble style and concern for the poor. Otherwise, you may end up defending what's indefensible.

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