In an article at Eureka Street entitled "Show Some Respect When Talking with Homosexuals," Australian Jesuit Fr. Frank Brennan urges dropping "the unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder" when we discuss the rights of LGBTI human beings and their families. Brennan grounds his proposal theologically as follows:
Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord's purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, 'Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.'
At his Wild Reed blog site, Michael Bayly responds:
I applaud Fr. Brennan's call for respect in discussions about homosexuality, a call that advocates the dropping of the language of disorder. I understand it's a step – a first step, no doubt, for many in the hierarchy. However, many Catholics are well beyond asking the bishops to "play nice." Such Catholics are painfully aware that the whole basis for the bishops' understanding of homosexuality – indeed, sexuality in general – is so glaringly erroneous, dysfunctional, and dangerous to the well-being of both individual lives and relationships that it's not enough to "banish" certain terminology. We also have to acknowledge that such terminology is both offensive and erroneous. We must not only demand and expect the dropping of such language but very forthrightly challenge the thinking behind it. Similarly, we cannot simply demand alternative language, but an authentic, truthful understanding of gay and lesbian lives, relationships, and families. Such an understanding will readily provide – does already provide – the corresponding authentic and truthful language that so many of us long to hear articulated from those who claim to be our leaders in matters of faith and morals.
When I read discussions of the place of gay people in church and society at Catholic blog sites these days (and that's ultimately what these discussions are really all about: where or whether to fit gay folks into the scheme of things), I'm increasingly struck by the recognition that two very different churches are functioning under the Catholic rubric right now vis-a-vis this issue. One vision of church has decided to stake everything on keeping the gays out--demeaning, dehumanizing, slandering, kicking, punishing.
Anything to demonstrate unwelcome of this particular targeted minority group, with the presupposition that such demonstrations of disdain are in keeping with the divine will and that they preserve the purity of the Catholic brand . . . . That they manifest and consolidate the purity of Catholicism in some unique way in the 21st century: Catholicism defined as, in its very essence, hostile to those who are gay, as a demonstration that Catholicism is pure . . . .
The other vision of church I encounter at Catholic blog sites right now seems to take a theological point of departure similar to Fr. Brennan's, with its recurrent insistence on the phrase, "We are all," and with its recognition that faith is a journey that we all undertake together, relying on the gifts and talents of the entire community to provide the insights we need as we walk along the path to Jerusalem.
I don't see these two understandings of church as reconcilable, frankly. And when I follow the thread that has developed at Commonweal in the past two days to respond to Joseph Bottum's essay about same-sex marriage, about which I wrote yesterday, something else strikes me: this is the grievous stupidity of many Catholic arguments for excluding and demeaning those who are gay.
An institution that gives such stupidity a central role to play in setting the institution's direction would seem to me to be seriously unwise. Better, it seems to me, for the Catholic church to start learning to celebrate the precious gifts that so many LGBTI Catholics bring to the church, as Michael Bayly proposes. There's a wealth of wisdom and insight among gay Catholics, which a church that has become mired in stupidity of late would do well to draw upon for a change.
If it wants something other than stupidity for its future, that is to say. Because stupid is very much what you get when you shut out the voices of people with powerful insights and wisdom to share, solely because your club doesn't intend to open its doors to folks with accents different from your own.