Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Two More Queer Catholics Fired, "Progressive" Evangelicals "Discern" Whether Queer Folks Should Be Treated Equally, CBF Discriminates Against Queer Employees: What's This All About?

"In early December 2017, a representative from the Archdiocese of Edmonton called me in for an investigation."

And we can stop Mark's painful testimony right there, at the opening line, can't we? Because we already see where this story of the firing of yet another LGBTQ employee of a Catholic institution — he was pastoral associate of a parish in Alberta, Canada — is going.

Are you aware of stories in which heterosexual employees of Catholic institutions are being "called in" like this, for "an investigation" into their sexual lives and intimate relationships? 

That never happens.

There's the story in a nutshell: one rule of thumb is applied to queer Catholics working in Catholic institutions; another is applied to straight ones. These stories of gross injustice have become so routine in the Catholic church that we're almost tempted to shrug our shoulders when we read another such story — like the recent story of the firing of Jocelyn Morffi, a first-grade teacher at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic school in Miami, when she married her partner Natasha Haas.

Catholic institutions frequently employ straight people living together without marriage (I know this, because I myself have worked in Catholic institutions) and divorced people who have remarried or have entered new relationships without marrying. The vast majority of heterosexually married employees of Catholic institutions are using contraceptives — and these heterosexual employees are never treated as Guevarra and Morffi and a host of other employees of Catholic institutions have been treated and continue to be treated.

Guevarra's story contains further disgusting details about what his Catholic diocesan "investigator" charged him with — e.g., he started a prayer group in the Edmonton diocese without asking permission of the archbishop. When he asked to speak to the archbishop personally, the archbishop refused to meet with him.

Can you imagine a heterosexual employee of a Catholic institution being "investigated" and fired for starting a prayer group? It is, of course, the fact that Guevarra is unapologetically gay and was accused of being in a partnered gay relationship that he was fired.

As I said two days ago, it's very important that we put stories like this in a broader context. What has happened to Mark Guevarra and Jocelyn Morffi is part of a broader movement within the Christian churches at present, and if we focus on specific cases or one Christian denomination, we miss the bigger picture of what's happening — and, above all, why it's happening.

For instance, the new hiring policy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship replaces a previous policy that outlawed  "the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual." But under the new policy, which is purportedly more LGBTQ-inclusive, "leadership positions in ministry" and missionary roles will still be restricted to those "who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and man."

This is a two-tiered system that is, on the face of it, grossly unjust to queer employees of CBF institutions. It treats straight human beings differently from queer ones. It accords privileges (and power and blessing) to those God has made heterosexual while denying these privileges and power and blessing to those God has made LGBTQ.

Do you see any fundamental difference between this CBF approach to these matters and the approach driving how Catholic institutions repeatedly deal with these matters?

After Shane Claiborne, who is a heterosexual white male, announced recently that he is organizing a "revival" of "progressive evangelicals" in Lynchburg, people who have been monitoring how evangelical churches deal with queer human beings noted that Claiborne has not affirmed same-sex marriage, but continues to say that he is engaged in "discernment" about this issue. The question put to Claiborne and his "revival" movement — and it's a fair one to put: can one really be a "progressive evangelical" and treat queer brothers and sisters as second-class brothers and sisters, people who can be denied the rights others have when they're employed by Christian institutions, rights Claiborne himself enjoys as a straight man?

Shane Claiborne refuses to address these issues unambiguously or straight-forwardly. He continues to  "discern." Here's an interesting exchange between him and Rachel Held Evans on Twitter recently about where he stands: Evans states,

And Claiborne responds,

For many of us who are LGBTQ, to say that one is "pretty close to where Pope Francis is right now" is not a reassuring statement, a recommendation, a statement about being a "progressive" Christian. It's, instead, an affirmation of strategic, evasive ambiguity pointing to other affirmations of strategic, evasive ambiguity as its role model.

It's an affirmation of "Who am I to judge?" even as queer employes of Catholic institutions are still being fired right and left, and while LGBTQ people are still officially defined by the Catholic church as "instrinsically disordered."

It is, in short, an evasive smokescreen designed to put lipstick on something that is exceedingly ugly to try to make it appear pretty. Mark Guevarra is "investigated" and fired; Jocelyn Morfii is fired for marrying her partner; but heterosexual employees of Catholic institutions are never treated this way. Queer Baptists are welcome to work for the CBF as long as they accept that they cannot occupy the high-powered and responsible positions reserved for heterosexual employees of CBF institutions.

All of this is what Shane Claiborne's "discernment" process and his "I'm 'pretty close to where Pope Francis is right now'" elision of ugly realities are crafted to cover with pretty lipstick. Those ugly realities are real-life ugly effects that are making the real lives of real queer human beings miserable

Here are some signposts that put us on a path to understanding why this is being done by some Christian churches today: here's a passage from Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that I have shared with you previously. I like it for several reasons: first, it puts this angry backlash that's all about preserving the unmerited power and privilege of heterosexual males into a global context — this is more than a Christian phenomenon; second, it points to the religious basis energizing the backlash at a global level; third (and this is something MacCulloch says in other places), his insight as an historian of Christianity into these dynamics depends in part on the fact that he is openly and unapologetically gay himself. He writes:

The statement I'd like to highlight:

Throughout the world at the present day, the most easily heard tone in religion (not just Christianity) is of a generally angry conservatism. Why? I would hazard that the anger centres on a profound shift in gender roles which have traditionally been given a religious significance and validated by religious traditions. It embodies the hurt of heterosexual men at cultural shifts which have generally threatened to marginalize them and deprive them of dignity, hegemony or even much usefulness not merely heterosexual men already in positions of leadership, but those who in traditional cultural systems would expect to inherit leadership.

Second, there's this commentary by Rev. William J. Barber II from the recent anniversary of the national Women's March, commentary Rev. Barber delivered in Las Vegas on 21 January. I shared this video with you recently.

The statement I'd like to highlight: 

We must know that down through history, those who have promoted sexism and violence against women have more often than not also stood on the side of racism and homophobia and religious tyranny and fascism and greed and systemic poverty. Truth is, to be anti-woman is to be against democracy. It is to be anti-justice. It is to be against our deepest moral and religious values.

Third, there's bell hooks' observation from All About Love: New Visions, which I've also shared with you in the past, and which you can read in the graphic at the head of this posting. The statement I'd like to highlight:  

Patriarchal masculinity requires of boys and men not only that they see themselves as more powerful and superior to women but that they do whatever it takes to maintain their controlling position. This is one of the reasons men, more so than women, use lying as a means of gaining power in relationships. A commonly accepted assumption in a patriarchal culture is that love can be present in a situation where one group or individual dominates another. Many people believe men can dominate women and children yet still be loving. 

This, in a nutshell, is what is driving the extreme ugliness many religious groups are demonstrating today towards queer people, as even "progressive" adherents of those groups — notably white heterosexual male ones — continue to "discern" whether that ugliness is consonant with their preaching about social and economic justice, human rights, and peacemaking. It's not, at root and at the most fundamental level possible, about a handful of murky biblical texts that mandate a hard line about homosexuality, a topic (and word) absolutely unknown to the biblical writers.

1. It's about defending heterosexual male entitlement, heterosexual male power and privilege.

2. It's about using theological warrants and carefully selected biblical texts to image God implicitly as a (white) heterosexual male whose image heterosexual males reflect more perfectly than anyone else in the world does.

3. It's about the refusal of many powerful heterosexual males to acknowledge that their power and privilege — their domination of others — are unmerited.

4. It's about how the media and social institutions shield that refusal, focusing on the "problem" queer folks present to religious groups because of the supposed (and bogus) theological warrants that problematize queer lives — instead of focusing on the serious problem that unacknowledged, unexamined heterosexual male power and privilege propped up by supposed (and bogus) theological warrants presents to the world.

5. It's, in short, about idolatry: it's about the idolization of heterosexual males.

6. It's about idolization of a conspicuously bloody idol that is demanding blood sacrifice today in many religious and social institutions, as the lives of queer human beings are made dispensable and treated as worthless, while "God" is cited as the reason for this blood-letting.

7. It's about the refusal (aided and abetted by the media) of those citing "God" as their warrant for demanding such sacrifce to the bloody idol of heterosexual male power and privilege to recognize that God is beyond gender, that religious traditions including Judaism and Christianity, have abundant images of God as the Divine Mother. That all human beings are made in the divine image, and none of us are "intrinsically disordered" . . . .

8. So that the claim of heterosexual males to image God more perfectly than anyone else in the world is a theologically erroneous claim, a bogus one, one that distorts biblical testimony and longstanding religious tradition.

9. It's about this, as Fred Clark points out today in an essay entitled "Progressive Evangelicals and Required Stances on 'Issues'": 

A lot of evangelicals of my generation want to run away from this "[LGBT] issue," but younger evangelicals are running toward it because, again, it’s not just an 'issue' to them. It's people. It’s about their friends — people to whom they want to be good friends."
10. That's what all of this is about, and we'd do well to remember it and stop permitting religious groups (and the media) to pretend that queer lives are the problem — and, quite specifically, the theological problem — in these stories. While the real problem is the claim of heterosexual males to unmerited power and privilege, and the refusal of that sector of the human race, in many instances, even to reflect about how unmerited its power and privilege are, and what harm this claim, unreflectively received by too many men, does to very many of us, straight males included . . . .

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