Monday, July 29, 2013

Pope Francis on Not Judging and Marginalizing Gays: My Reflections

As I type this posting, the lead headline at Huffington Post U.S. reads, "Breakthrough: Pope OK with Gays." The headline links to an article by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush with the title "Pope Francis on Gays: Who Am I to Judge Them?" Raushenbush reports (along with many other sources today) that Francis told journalists on his flight back to Rome from Brazil that he has no right to judge gay human beings, and those who are gay shouldn't be marginalized--though he also upholds magisterial teaching about the immorality of homosexual acts.

I am, of course, thinking today about what the pope has just said. I'm following the discussion at National Catholic Reporter in which American Catholics of various ilks comment on John Allen's article today entitled, "Pope on Homosexuals: 'Who Am I to Judge?'" What are my thoughts about Francis's comments, you ask? Though I'm one tiny, insignificant fish in a great sea, and what I have to say isn't ultimately all that important--and I talk too much most days, anyway . . . .  

For what it's worth, though, since a reader here or there may wonder what I'm thinking about what the pope has just said: I was struck this morning when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates's comments on what makes people stupid, via Fred Clark's Slacktivist blog. Ta-Nehisi Coates is talking about the Republican party, but this morning, I'm listening to the discussion of Francis's comment about gays with one ear, and Coates's comments about GOP stupidity with the other ear, and the two seem to me somehow connected.

Coates says that "the great strength of diversity is it forces you into a room with people who have experiences very different from your own," and then he adds,

If you are not around people who will look at you like you are crazy when you make stupid claims about other people’s experiences, then you tend to keep saying stupid things about other people’s experiences. It is not enough to pay a political price, or even to be shamed into silence. You have to come to believe — in your heart — that sincerity itself is not the same as accurate information. It is not enough for you to not be "the party of stupid" or to "stop saying stupid things" you must show some active commitment toward being less stupid.

Not listening to the varying experiences of those different from ourselves conduces to stolidity in ourselves. Tagging others as the other, and then excluding their voices from conversations that we pretend represent normalcy and the way things are solely because those conversations include us and not those we've tagged as the other: this assures that our definitions of normalcy and how things are will be jejune, unrealistic, devoid of any real significance.

They'll become echo chambers of a stupidity that is all about hearing only our own voice over and over again, and claiming that the voice we're hearing just happens, mirabile dictu, to be God's voice! A God made in our own image . . . . 

And so here's how I'm processing what Pope Francis has said and, more importantly, what I see many fellow Catholics saying in blog discussions today like the one following John Allen's article about how "homosexuals" may count after all: on the one hand, it's certainly refreshing to hear a pope say that we should not marginalize those who are gay, and to hear him ask, "Who am I to judge?" But on the other hand, I'm critically aware that for many Catholics, including many LGBT Catholics, the conversation about these matters has now moved light-years beyond the question of whether "homosexuals" (to echo Mr. Allen again) should be included, welcomed, and treated with respect. And so I wonder how we can have a meaningful and honest conversation about these matters, if we pick up this conversation at the point of the pope's comments and don't acknowledge what many Catholics have been saying and thinking about these matters for a long time now.

And there's also this: for many of us, the actual experience of dealing with fellow Catholics and Catholic leaders who have been intent--quite precisely--for decades now on judging and marginalizing us solely because we're gay results in a kind of deafness that makes us unable to hear Francis's liberating, gospel-centered words with much hope or joy at all. Because we're now so beaten up from our encounter with our church, its leaders, and many of our fellow Catholics, we're inured to hopelessness.

Scars stand between us and our ability to receive a loving embrace from the community that has created those scars across our human lives. Scars cover our ears and make us unable to hear a liberating, hopeful, and joyful message from the community that has created those scars.

There's a level of--well, I'll call it reality--that is simply not reached by the pope's comments. There's, first of all, the reality of what Francis didn't talk about and what the pastoral leaders of my church keep refusing to talk about: that those "homosexuals" who are so different from "us" happen to be right there aplenty in the priesthood, in diocesan chancery offices, on episcopal thrones, in the Vatican. So that there's more than a little dissimulation--and isn't dissimulation ultimately dangerous for a church that wants to root its proclamation of the gospel in reality?--in the pretense that "we" stand here and "the homosexuals" stand over there.

Homosexuals are us.

There's also the seeming inability of pastoral leaders of the Catholic church and many other churches to face their guilt and the guilt of most churches in inflicting very serious damage on those of us who are "homosexuals" for a long time now. The scars many of us bear due to our encounters with Catholic institutions aren't just psychic scars and soul wounds that come from the experience of being judged, marginalized, and then thrown away.

Those kinds of scars strike deep, of course. They make a person wonder very seriously whether his or her life is even worth living. And most of us who are Catholic and gay bear such wounds.

But some of us who are gay and Catholic also bear scars of having been fired unjustly from jobs in Catholic institutions, having been lied to and lied about by Catholic leaders, having our lives turned upside down, our daily bread taken from our tables, our access to healthcare removed from us--and solely because we're gay and Catholic institutions are permitted to discriminate freely against gay and lesbian employees because they are gay! I've reported in the last year alone on a slew of Catholics denied jobs in Catholic institutions or fired from their jobs solely because they are gay and/or openly support the human rights of gay folks.

Dealing with the real-life dimensions of making LGBT Catholics welcome and included will mean dealing with the real-life injustices often dealt out to those same Catholics by Catholic institutions, Catholic leaders, and Catholic communities. It will mean trying to rectify those injustices and to atone for them. If, that is, we want our comments about not judging and not marginalizing to have any real meaning in the real world . . . . 

And so back to Ta-Nehisi Coates's comments about what makes people stupid: the conversation about LGBT human beings in the Catholic church has, up to now, been almost totally one-sided, insofar as that conversation is pursued at an official level, through the remarks of church leaders. It's not, in fact, a conversation at all. It's a "conversation" in which those of us who are gay and lesbian have no voice at all, and are talked about and talked (down) to, while our own human voices are not heard by those doing the talking.

As I keep reporting here, even in their liberal incarnations, the Catholic media, who powerfully shape the definition of what it means to be Catholic in the American public square, are complicit in this talking about and talking (down) to. They have done far too little to make room for the real-life voices of LGBT human beings. The voices that dominate the Catholic media, even in their liberal incarnations,  the voices that most decisively represent the "normal," are still overweeningly the voices of privileged heterosexual males who talk about and (down) to "the homosexuals," as if "the homosexuals" are a human category apart from themselves.

Nor do those same very privileged heterosexual males, or many of the heterosexual leaders of Catholic institutions, ever seem willing to confront their own unmerited privilege that they enjoy solely because they happen to be heterosexual, or the way in which they have long participated in making those who are gay the other within Catholic circles--by marginalizing and judging us. When the leaders of powerful Catholic institutions that determine what's considered normative begin to include openly gay voices, when they ask gay and lesbian Catholics to give our testimony in official conversations that count for something in the real world, and when they begin to be willing to listen respectfully to what we have to say, even when our testimony calls on these  leaders to confront their own unmerited privilege and the way in which they have inflicted pain on fellow Catholics they have long treated as the other, I may begin to hear the words of Francis about what John Allen calls "homosexuals" with ears open to hope and joy.*

*Please see this subsequent posting commenting on John Allen's use of the word "homosexuals" in the headline for his NCR report.

The photo is one Steve took of me recently as Univ. of Arkansas Medical School worked on a poster for a book-signing event their library is hosting for my new book in September. Since I often post photos of the person on whose commentary I focus on any given day, but have seldom put my own photo on the blog, I thought I'd share it today.

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