What would the arguments look like if real people were part of the evidence?, Maryknoll Father William Grimm asks, as he looks at the typical responses of many Catholics to gay people and same-sex marriage.
This is the question I keep asking over and over again on this blog — most recently, as I look at conversations now developing about trans people in Catholic circles (see here and here). As I've noted, as the cultural pendulum swings beyond the LGB part of the LGBT configuration now that marriage equality is the law of the land in the U.S. and other places, the T part of the configuration is beginning to occupy center stage in our cultural conversations, and many Catholics are already beginning to respond to trans people in the same unfortunate, dysfunctional way in which they've responded to gay people in the past.
What would the arguments look like if real people were part of the evidence?, as Catholics talk about gay people and trans people:
1. Gay and trans people would be treated from the outset of such arguments as fully human in the same way that Catholics discussing these people as exotic others are human.
2. Conversations with (not about) gay and trans people would not be framed by precautionary provisos that we Catholics love those gay and trans folks, though we don't necessarily love all their actions and choices.
3. Conversations with (not about) gay and trans folks would be framed from the outset with the recognition that reducing a category of human beings to the actions they do and the choices they make is dehumanizing, something "we Catholics" would resist if it were done to us.
4. Conversations with (not about) gay and trans folks would be framed from the outset with the recognition that it's dishonest and self-serving for "us Catholics" to claim that we love gay and trans folks, while we seek to separate those folks from the actions and choices that are part of what makes them human in their own distinctive way.
5. Catholic conversations about gay and trans folks would begin with the recognition that "we Catholics" have no right at all to issue decrees and proclamations about "them" when we have not even invited "them" into "our" conversations defining "their" identity.
6. Catholic conversations about gay and trans folks would begin by recognizing that talking with those we regard as other than ourselves precedes talking about them. It does so as an indispensable precondition for any kind of fruitful dialogue that aims at making moral judgments about "them."
7. Catholic conversations about gay and trans folks would begin with invitations to "them" to come inside our Catholic circle, to experience welcome inside the Catholic circle, to be affirmed as human, as equal to "us Catholics" in every respect because "we" share a common humanity with "them."
8. Catholic conversations with and about gay and trans folks would begin with listening grounded in this respect for and affirmation of our shared humanity.
9. Catholic conversations with gay and trans folks would start with "us" shutting our mouths for a change and choosing to let "them" talk for a change. They'd start with "us" recognizing that we don't have a corner on the truth, that we don't occupy some lofty perch that permits us to sling down our judgments onto the bent backs of others whose humanity we don't even see as we issue our apodictic pronouncements about them.
10. Catholic conversations with and about gay and trans folks would never lose sight of the fact that, in discussing gay and trans people, we're discussing real human lives — not abstractions, not stick figures whose humanity is eclipsed by "our" belief systems and our certainty of having the truth.
Catholic conversation about LGBT people of this sort, which has hardly ever taken place, insofar as I know, in American Catholic intellectual, institutional, or journalistic circles, would issue in the recognition that "we" can hardly claim a high and mighty moral perch when "we" have been guilty of excluding, silencing, and contributing to the demeaning of "them." That "we" have not ever defended "them" as they have been excluded, silenced, and demeaned by our own Catholic institutions, while "we," who claim the right to define "them" in othering moral terms, have experienced comfort and privilege in those institutions — comfort and privilege reflected in our belief that "we" are the ones who should be defining "them" . . . .
Will the U.S. Catholic church ever get around to hosting these sorts of conversations with (and then about) LGBT people? Not anytime soon, in my estimation. It can hardly venture to understake such a project when it's firing "them" right and left, can it? Not in any credible way . . . .
(I'm grateful to Dennis Coday in his "Morning Briefing" column at National Catholic Reporter today for the link to Father Grimm's article.)