Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Churches and Gays: Stephen Fry on Ex-Gay Therapy, Becca Morn on Exporting of Anti-Gay Hatred, Rowan Williams on Appalling Anti-Gay Violence of Many Christians

It's worth watching Stephen Fry's stylish, humane look at ex-gay therapy* for his observation (at about the 8.24 mark) that Joseph Nicolosi could well pass for a gay man, a metrosexual. The look on Nicolosi's face as Fry delivers the observation is priceless.

For those of us interested in religious matters: isn't it tragic that once Daniel Gonzalez realizes he's been duped by the ex-gay con artist Nicolosi and finally accepts himself as a gay man, he thinks he has to repudiate the church? Because, as he knows full well, his church has repudiated him as a self-affirming gay man . . . .

But here's some evidence hot off the press to suggest that Gonzalez is not deluded in his judgment that his church community does not want him as a self-affirming gay man:

1. As Jay Morris reports at The New Civil Rights Movement, churches in San Antonio, Texas, are hard at work to overturn a new city ordinance preventing discrimination in hiring, firing, housing, etc. Churches in the U.S. continue to fight for the "right" of Christians to discriminate against those who are gay, and against laws that prevent such discrimination.

2. At Americablog, Becca Morn has just finished her tripartite series on the hard work the American religious right continues to do to export anti-gay hate around the world--now, notably, to Russia. Part two of the series examines the Regnerus report--how it was bought and paid for to be used as a tool in the battle against gay rights in the U.S., and is now being used as a tool by anti-gay activists in Russia. Part three zeroes in on the key players in the movement to export organized American-style homophobic hatred overseas. These include Robert P. George, Allen Carlson, Maggie Gallagher, W. Bradford Wilcox, James Wright, Mark Regnerus, Loren Marks, and Brian Brown.

It bears mentioning: George, Gallagher, Wilcox, Regnerus, and Brown are all Catholic. They're all closely associated with the National Organization for Marriage, which is virtually a political arm of the U.S. Catholic bishops. The top funders whose identities NOM jealously guards and persistently fights in court to keep secret: many of those closely watching NOM think they probably include powerful, wealthy Catholic groups like Opus Dei.

It would be too easy, and altogether dishonest, to speak of the anti-gay movement in the U.S. as a creation of the evangelical religious right, from which Catholics remain aloof. Though polls show a solid majority of U.S. lay Catholics supporting marriage equality and gay rights in general, very influential Catholics in the U.S., including those just enumerated, work actively to strip gay folks of rights and to demonize those who are gay.

We who are Catholic need to own that fact. And if we're committed to human rights, we need to do something about it.

3. As the previous Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has just told students of Cambridge University,** 

I think the church has to put its hands up and say our attitude towards gay people has at times been appallingly violent. Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning, and that really doesn’t help. We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well. I think that there is a very strong, again theological, case for thinking again about our attitudes towards homosexuality: but I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation, and I think there is a debate we haven’t quite had about that. But in a sense that’s water under the bridge, the decision has been taken, things move on. Looking back over my time as Archbishop I think that’s what most people will remember about the last ten years: 'oh, he was that bloke who was so bogged down in issues about sexuality'.

We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well: this is the God's honest truth. As I hear Rowan Williams's unambiguous testimony (and wouldn't it have been prophetic if he had made such testimony while he was Archbishop of Canterbury?), I think of the pilgrimage that Steve and I made with friends in the summer of 2006 to ancient Christian shrines across southern England and Wales. We began our pilgrimage at Walsingham and ended it at St. David's.

At each holy place that we visited, the prayer I prayed over and over again was this: "May the church repent of its savagery towards gay people." At Walsingham, at both the Anglican and Catholic shrines, I dropped that prayer into the box collecting pilgrims' prayers to be read out loud at public prayer services later. At St. David's, I tucked the prayer into the shrine of St. Non out on the coast near her holy well, and left a copy of it in St. David's cathedral.

I understand Daniel Gonzalez's sense that accepting and affirming himself as a gay man places him in a position in which he will be repudiated and not supported by his Christian family of faith. This has been, sadly, the experience of countless gay Christians of all theological and confessional backgrounds in recent decades. 

And though I welcome the frank testimony of Rowan Williams about how evil the hostility of many Christians towards those who are gay has been and remains, I wonder--from where I stand as an aging gay man who has not been able even to work at his vocation, to find a job as a Catholic theologian, to have a secure livelihood and healthcare coverage--what Rowan Williams's words might mean, in the final analysis, for people such as me. And all the other gay folks who have been run off by the churches.

At sites like Commonweal, I read discussions among my fellow Catholics who remain cozy in the bosom of my church, and I wonder where the consciences of these cozy Catholics are to be found, as they cozy up to an institution that has made so many people unwelcome solely because they happen to have been fashioned gay. I wonder  how it's possible to live with such ease in the bosom of a church that has excluded so many of these cozy Catholics' fellow Catholics from the Catholic conversation, solely because of who God has made them to be.

I wonder how one can defend and work for justice in church and society and completely ignore the pain--the pain rooted in experiences of profound injustice--inflicted on one Catholic after another who has lost jobs in Catholic institutions solely because she or he is gay and refuses to pretend. I wonder, in short, what it means--in terms of actions in the real world, which make our words more than self-congratulatory rhetorical flourishes, after all--to say that we have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well.

I wonder. One can't eat nice words as one's daily bread and stay alive.

* I'm grateful to Jim Burroway for featuring this video at Box Turtle Bulletin.

** I'm grateful to Pink News for the link to this article.

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