Thursday, February 7, 2008

Soul Making a Path through Shouting

Again, I'm borrowing here a posting from an ongoing discussion at the web cafe of National Catholic Reporter, where the thread "The Intrinsic Disorder Question Revisited (Again)" at gathers a group of us to talk about the churches and their response to the gay community.

The posting below follows through as well on my previous two Bilgrimage postings tracking what now seems a trend in Europe: the deliberate adoption of U.S.-style gay bashing as a political wedge tool, in nations where gay rights have far more legal protection than in the U.S. Something is going on here, and it needs to be monitored. As this kind of gay bashing begins to lose traction in the U.S., it's being deliberately provoked by "Christian" groups in gay-friendly countries in Europe.

Why, I wonder. And where is the funding coming from?

My posting to the NCR thread today follows:

"Dear Butterfly, I appreciate your response very much. I sometimes think that, by blogging about these issues, I'm committing the unpardonable sin of being humorless. I bore even myself, repeating the same mantra over and over!

So I tell myself to stop blogging, do something I enjoy doing (my rose bed really needs to be tidied for spring; haven't been to an art museum in aeons), and let the issues resolve themselves.

But then I read the news, and I feel I have no choice except to keep speaking out, tedious though I may be even to myself. The morning's news brings reports of assaults on the house of a gay couple in Northern Ireland, with death threats against the couple. One of the men is disabled. At the same time, a group calling itself Christian Congress for Traditional Values has put up huge signs in London claiming that the aim of gays is destruction of the "traditional family." The signs show a beaming young couple (white) with two children--as if the middle-class nuclear family is the end-all and be-all of the gospels and of what Jesus proclaimed. (The signs have been judged by the courts to be hate speech, by the way, and are to be taken down.)

Put the two stories together, and you have the nexus from which my concern to keep on shouting flows. When the church speaks hatefully about a stigmatized minority, when its teaching demeans and assaults that minority, when it lies about that minority, it becomes a vehicle for violence. And that's something the church ought never to be.

There is a link--and a very clear one--between what churches say about and do to LGBT people, and social violence against LGBT people. Creating linguistic structures of violence (e.g., calling gays intrinsically disordered) lays the foundations for overt expressions of violence, especially when the one fabricating the linguistic structures claims to speak in the name of God.

Fortunately, even as it seems there's a worldwide attempt to adopt American-style gay-bashing for political ends and to ratchet up the anti-gay agenda even in countries where this has not been a major issue, some ministers are now courageously speaking out. An interfaith group of ministers in Sydney calling themselves 100Revs has just issued a statement apologizing to the LGBT community for what the church persists in doing to us. The statement is on the group's website at An excerpt:

'As ministers of various churches and denominations we recognise that the churches we belong to, and the church in general, have not been places of welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people. Indeed the church has often been profoundly unloving toward the GLBT community. For these things we apologise, whatever the distinctive of our Christian position on human sexuality – to which we remain committed. We are deeply sorry and ask for the forgiveness of the GLBT community. We long that the church would be a place of welcome for all people and commit ourselves to pursuing this goal.'

It's noteworthy that this statement comes from Sydney, where Anglican bishop Peter Jensen has just announced he will not attend this year's Lambeth Conference as a protest against acceptance of openly gay ministers, and where Cardinal Pell, a close friend of Pope Benedict, has been less than supportive (to say the least) of gay/lesbian Catholics. Sydney has also seen a spike in violence against gays this year, with reports that the police have been very slow to investigate the problem or offer assistance to the gay community in combating the violence.

As I think about all these stories, I suppose what constantly puzzles me is the inability of some Christians to see that this affects all of us. We have to take a stand. Where people are being assaulted--simply because of who they are--we cannot stand by in silence. Not once we see. We cannot shrug our shoulders and pass by.

Seeing, hearing, understanding implicates us. And, of course, that's an uncomfortable place to be, and we would like to do all we can to distance ourselves from the voice that persists in telling us to keep our eyes and ears open.

I understand that tendency myself. Some of the most brutal experiences I have had in recent years, as a gay man, have been at the hands of two African-American women. I wish I could respond to those experiences by washing my hands of African Americans and of women. I wish I could simply conclude that I have been misled in seeing people of color and women as oppressed. I would like very much to shrug my shoulders and dig up my rose bed, visit the local art museum.

I can't do that, unfortunately. I have to distinguish between two individuals who, for whatever reason, seem not to have learned from their own considerable oppression that others can suffer, too, and a whole group of people--people of color and women--with whom I still must stand in solidarity. I have to do that because I cannot stop seeing the oppression of black people or of women, or hearing the voices that call out for my solidarity.

What puzzles me in the church is the ability of so many of us just to walk past and do nothing, to shut the church door and drown out that voice of the outsider that makes us uncomfortable as we are at our prayers.

Thank you, Butterfly, for prodding me (even if that wasn't your intent) to keep on flapping my wings...."

I'd like to give credit for my title to poet Cyrus Cassells, whose book Soul Make a Path Through Shouting should be on the list of any gay person interested in the interplay of spirituality and social activism.

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