Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keeping On Keeping On

Home again, with some lines from a book I read on my 2005 pilgrimage across southern England and Wales running through my mind. These are from Ellis Peters, Ellis Peters' Shropshire (Guernsey: Sutton Publishing Co., 1999):

"Have you ever noticed how, if you set out on a definite quest, at the next meeting or parting of ways there are three to choose from, and either no signpost at all, or one that fails to mention the place you are seeking?" (107).

Indeed. Part of learning to live life as daily pilgrimage is learning that the way on which we think we're setting out may often not be the path down which spirit ultimately nudges us. And perhaps one of the hallmarks of the path spirit chooses is always that the signposts are either non-existent or impossible to decipher. The point is simply to keep walking . . . .

And as soon as we got home this afternoon and walked through the door, in quick succession, four phone calls, all promising interesting new avenues for us to walk down, as if taking a short trip--a diversionary one--shakes up what has seemed stuck in one's life, so that new and interesting possibilities emerge.

And the dialogue continues, on the
National Catholic Reporter "Intrinsic Disorder" thread ( to which I keep linking some of these blog postings. This is a posting I have just placed there in response to another poster's statement, '[L]ooking back over my post, I realize I should make it clear that I know that it is a vocal minority among homosexuals that pushes the agenda and events that I and others find so offensive":

"H.T, I've fought with myself not to reply to your posting. I have the impression that the conversation on this thread has reached a kind of dead end, and the more I keep trying to plead for the churches to understand the truly evil place in which they have put gay believers, the more I confirm the analysis you're offering here: 'vocal minority' 'push[ing] the agenda.'

This is part of the catch 22 that social structures create for minority groups, when they assign to a denigrated group a tightly confining box as the only acceptable social location for the group. The box is so designed that, as the walls close in ever tighter and the more those inside shout about the injustice of being straitjacketed, the more they confirm the stereotype used by social structures to justify entrapping and tormenting them in the first place!

I'd like to probe the point you make about the church's responsibility to turn away from the altar any public sinner, including (your words) 'a heterosexual couple who got married outside the church after years of secretly living together.'

Perhaps this is a pastoral responsibility of the church. If so, I would submit that the church is doing a lamentably bad job of exercising its pastoral responsibility. Do you know of any parish throughout this country or anywhere, for that matter, where heterosexual couples living together 'in sin' are routinely turned away from the altar?

Or other public sinners? Those who profit from bleeding the poor of their resources? Those who charge extortionate interest rates? Those who engage in shady business deals, known to the public at large? Those who promote war? Those who engage in racism? Married couples practicing birth control? Divorced Catholics who have remarried or may be living together with someone of the opposite sex without benefit of sacramental marriage?

Perhaps I'm agenda-driven, but I hear only of gay people being turned away from the altar as public sinners.

Doesn't the extraordinary interest the church takes in the pastoral care of its gay members seem just a tiny bit misplaced to you--as if some other agenda is going on here, rather than pastoral concern?

I'd like to propose, once again, that the real agenda is exclusion, pure and simple. It's a question of drawing insider-outsider lines, of creating an insider group whose purity is bolstered and demonstrated by scapegoating an outsider group and then expelling it in rituals of public humiliation.

When I read your final comment a day or so ago, I was at first rather angry. The anger has now turned into grief. Your statement about agenda-driven vocal minorities that 'I and others find so offensive' really does grieve me.

It's a line-drawing statement, a we-vs.-them statement. It's a statement that implicitly puts everyone who is gay and speaks out honestly about this on one side of a line, and everyone inside the church (really inside, as in scrupulously observing every possible jot and tittle of the law) on the other side of the line.

This viewpoint turns the church into what I believe the church is not meant to be: a gathering of rabid purists for whom drawing lines of exclusion is a driving force and an overwhelming preoccupation. And it's rather ironic that those who follow this line of thinking (e.g., restorationist Catholics of the JPII generation) don't seem to recognize that they themselves are a vocal minority pushing an agenda as hard as they can. There are many Catholic viewpoints, and in some of the Catholic countries in which the hierarchy is now fighting hard against gay rights, the large majority of Catholics support gay rights--because they value Catholic teaching on social justice and inclusion.

Enough said. I feel as if I have really not made much of an inroad in challenging this thinking by pursuing this thread, when someone with your acuity of mind keeps framing the issues this way. I respect your right to hold your opinion, and I admire you for defending it. But I find it, in the final analysis, hurtful to many of us who stand on the outside looking in--and hurtful in a particularly cruel way, since it seems so unreflectively assured of the divine stamp of approval and so unthinkingly certain of its rightness even when it is causing pain to others."

I've begun to feel rather hopeless about the project of addressing the church, as an out, honest, gay person on a pilgrimage that I know to be graced--and the grace is evident to me precisely because I have claimed all the gifts that have come to my life through my sexual orientation and my relationship. The person I am addressing in the NCR posting strikes me as intelligent and caring.

It baffles me that churchgoers--including (and perhaps most of all) the "best" churchgoers--just don't seem to get it. They just don't seem to understand the injustice in which they are implicated when they create such cruel and self-defeating social locations for despised minorities, when they don't seek actively to abolish or open up those denigrating social places, rather than confirming them with scripture and tradition.

I can completely understand why a huge number of gay people with church backgrounds have simply given up on the churches, avoid the churches like the plague. Who needs to go through life (changing metaphors wildly here, but it seems right to do so, given the point I want to make) constantly opening his/her veins to let a group that claims divine sanction drip poison daily into one's veins? And in the name of God? And within the sanctuary itself, right in the worshiping community?

And as these interminable one-sided "discussions" with the churches continue, gay people are assaulted all over the world, still. One of the latest horrifying stories is the shooting of a fifteen-year old boy in a California school yesterday, with strong suggestions that he was shot because of his perceived sexual orientation. He has now been declared brain-dead.

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