Monday, October 20, 2014

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage — "Liberal" Catholic Commentators: Maybe the Word "Welcome" Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

In repeated postings here, I've made no secret about the fact that I've long since come to the conclusion that many educated "liberal" Catholics, Catholics with strong ties to the academy and the media, are a serious part of the problem as the leaders of my Catholic church continue to find it impossible to say the word "welcome" to those who are gay. Many of the discussions of the synod deliberations I've followed in the past week or so at "liberal" Catholic blog sites have done little to dispel that conclusion.

For instance, in a number of discussion threads, I've found it troubling to see how quick some "liberal" Catholic commentators have been to validate the concerns of right-wing synod participants who want to problematize the word "welcome." Welcome is perhaps not all its cracked up to be, some of these "liberal" commentators have maintained. It's an ambiguous term, after all, one that assumes my superiority and your inferiority.

Maybe we need other terms than "welcome" to talk about including and affirming those who are gay . . . . . In fact, maybe the alternative phrase proposed by synod participants who do not want to welcome gay folks — the phrase "provide for" — is not so bad after all. We want to "provide for you."

Because we can't find it in our heart to say, "We welcome you."

Note what's happening with this "liberal" move: it accepts and endorses, it finds value in, a strategy of synod participants who are explicitly anti-welcoming, insofar as gay folks are concerned. And, at the same time, it totally dispenses with any attempt to solicit the response of those most critically affected by the shift from "We welcome you" to "We provide for you."

It acts as if the gay human beings who are being treated as objects in this discussion — "these people" — just are not in the room. As if their testimony counts for nothing. As if what they might happen to feel about being told they're not really welcome but are provided for shouldn't matter in this discussion.

This strategy also totally dispenses with any effort on the part of these comfortably situated "liberal" Catholics who enjoy complete entrée in the church to ask how their own power and privilege might insulate them from understanding the viewpoints of those who have been roughly shoved to the margins by the leaders of their Catholic church. These "liberal" Catholics who are so quick to dispense with the word "welcome" and to find it problematic haven't ever, after all, had to deal with the kind of messages of unwelcome being handed out by the leaders of the Catholic church to those who are gay.

They haven't seen their own jobs or ministries threatened in the way that gay employees of Catholic institutions find themselves threatened. As they go to a Catholic parish to worship with their spouse, they have never had to wonder whether they and their spouse will be welcome in that parish, or whether they'll be given signals that they do not belong and are not wanted because of who they happen to be.

When Fred Clark recommended my Bilgrimage blog this past January at his Slacktivist site, he noted that I seem to be someone who lives at the intersection of several peripheries. I find Fred's analysis insightful. Frequently, when I read the mind-boggling discussions at "liberal" Catholic blog sites that pass for informed, thoughtful analysis of various issues — in particular, of issues that run right through my own human life — I feel absolutely disconnected from my own Catholic community, in what is supposed to be its brightest and best incarnation. I feel completley repulsed by the small-minded (and, ultimately, ill-educated) parochialism of many of the best and brightest in the American Catholic conversation. I feel peripheral beyond belief, as I try to follow the stiflingly parochial intramural conversations of the movers and shakers of my Catholic community in the U.S.

The ability of so many "liberal" Catholics to bend over backwards and find value in the rhetoric of those of the far right of the cultural and religious spectrum — people who are always predictably hostile to those who are gay — continues to appall me. It appalls me, in particular, because these same "liberal" Catholics simultaneously find it so easy to ignore the testimony, the real lives, of those who are affected in seriously harmful ways by the ideologues of the far right who continue to find an echo chamber in the "liberal" Catholic academy and media.

Just as they find it very easy to ignore their own unmerited power and privilege, their own comfort and insulation, as they pass judgment on fellow Catholics who happen to be gay, and who are not invited into their conversations. More to the point: on fellow Catholics who are not welcome in their conversations . . . .

The term "welcome" has long been a deeply resonant term in American Christianity, and it's disconcerting to find that there can be educated American Catholics, including ones with strong backgrounds in liturgy, who seem tone-deaf to this deeply resonant term, as well as to the rich contributions of non-Catholic churches to discussions of these issues.* It's disconcerting to find educated "liberal" Catholics who are movers and shakers of the American church who would be willing to ditch the word "welcome" for cumbersome (and very condescending) circumlocutions like "provide for," when gay people and their lives are at stake. The willingness of some "liberal" Catholic academics and journalists to take this tack, to bless evasive strategies of the Catholic right that so clearly originate in disdain for gay folks, while those academics continue to treat the testimony of real-life gay Catholics as peripheral to their discussions: all of this indicates, as far as I'm concerned, how far the American Catholic church still has to go in becoming a really welcoming place for those who are gay.

Next in this vein: "liberal" Catholic academics who want us to imagine that heterosexual Catholics who contracept are treated with greater disdain by the leaders of the Catholic church than are gay Catholics, and that Catholic leaders may lift the ban on gay unions but continue the ban on contraception. Though heterosexual Catholics who use contraceptives are not, in fact, being fired right and left by Catholic institutions these days . . . .

* Indeed, "welcome" is a resonant term throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition, from the story of Abraham entertaining angels (or God?) in Genesis, to the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, where the failure of the comfortable to welcome Mary and Joseph and their babe is contrasted with the open welcome of shepherds and traveling wayfarers, to the ancient Benedictine monastic tradition, which lifts up the obligation to welcome every guest as Christ. The obligation to welcome the stranger has long been taken with utmost seriousness by many Christian traditions, including Celtic Christianity, as a central, inviolable obligation of the Christian moral life. 

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