Monday, December 8, 2008

Love That Moves the Sun: Hearing the Gospel in a Gay-Bashing Church

As the day goes on, I’m thinking about the Advent meditation with which I began the day. I’m thinking of Advent in light of discussions I’ve been reading on various blogs about gay marriage and how to fit gay human beings into church and society.

As I’ve noted before, these discussions often daunt me. Even as many sectors of society move towards a sense of greater justice for gay and lesbian persons, churches—in key respects—seem stuck. Stuck resisting change that points to justice. Stuck demonizing and scapegoating their gay brothers and sisters. Stuck in their need to bolster up their own sense of purity and righteousness by slamming their doors in the face of gay people.

I’ve been following a wider and wider circle of religious blogs lately, as I try to keep my ear to the ground for information about where the churches are going with these questions. Among those I’ve added to my daily reading list are the blogs at the websites of two leading American Catholic journals, America and Commonweal.

Both of these journals have long had moderate-to-left-leaning reputations. Both have distinguished histories of promoting theological dialogue among American Catholics and building a cadre of intellectuals in American Catholicism—a church long noted for its anti-intellectualism. I have a personal link to America that gives me a soft spot for this publication: one of my college teachers and later my friend, C.J. McNaspy, SJ, was an associate editor of that journal for a number of years.

On the 6th, Jim Martin, SJ, of America posted a link to a cover story on gay marriage in the current Newsweek. I haven’t yet read the Newsweek article. I have, however, read Jim Martin’s comments on it, and the comments of those blogging at the site.

On the whole, these comments damp down my spirits. The hope with which I began this day tends to wane when I read the angry, smug, judgmental remarks, one after another, that constitute “Catholic” commentary these days on gay people, gay lives, gay welcome in the churches.

The themes of these comments are predictable. I’ve read the same hateful stuff over and over on blog after blog—on Catholic blog after Catholic blog. I’ve read it until I am sick of it. It centers on the posters’ certainty that there is only one possible moral position in Catholicism about these issues—their position. Which just happens to be “the” Catholic position, “the” “Truth.”

Some of these bloggers are voices I have come to know well, because they show up on multiple Catholic blogs, whenever the issue of gay people and their place in church and world comes up. These are evidently self-appointed watchdogs intent on making sure that we all know that the church most definitely does not welcome, endorse, or bless gay people.

These are, in short, professional gay bashers. Gay bashers happy to use religion and the name of God to inflict injury. One of these professional bashers has a consistent line, every time she logs onto a blog that seems to be urging even the slightest bit of welcome of gay human beings.

She begins by stating that gay life and gay people are all about lust. Not love. They define themselves by their lust, after all: they call themselves homosexual, making their sexual lives the most essential thing about them.

Reason (or the truth, though she professes to own the Truth) doesn’t have any impact on this professional gay basher. Since some of her comments have been directed to me on various blogs, I’ve told her that we prefer to call ourselves gay, not homosexual. I’ve noted that the scientific term “homosexual” was imposed on us by late-19th century researchers who first became aware that a proportion of the human population, throughout history and across cultures, has an innate predisposition for erotic attraction towards members of the same sex.

I’ve told this blogger that gay human beings reject the term “homosexual” precisely because it’s a clinical psychological term that seems to reduce our humanity to sexual attraction. I’ve suggested that it might be respectful for her to listen to gay people ourselves, as we define ourselves, not to impose terms on us designed to marginalize and stigmatize us.

None of this has any effect. This woman is certain she owns “the” “Truth.” She is intent on telling us the truth—her truth, her truth that she equates with the magisterial truth. She even calls her truth the Gospel. She glories in the magisterium insofar as what it says is a handy weapon to bash a few more gay folks with.

I wonder what moves such people. I can’t sense love in what they are doing. I’m afraid that, as one of those who is the object of the bullying and bashing, I sense much more hate than love in this menacing, line-drawing rhetoric. There’s a ravenous need in these religiously motivated professional gay bashers to put us gay folks in our places—in our despised, unwelcome places. There’s a tremendous need to let us know we are not welcome and do not belong.

What perplexes me is the large room the church gives such professional gay bashers, while it denies gay human beings any place at all—self-respecting, honest gay human beings who celebrate our nature as a gift of God and refuse to apologize for who we are. The church has, in its official face, become to a large extent quite simply a community of those who hate rather than those who love.

The majority of American Catholics do not, I know, stand where these folks do. They do not stand with the institutional church in its magisterial hatred any more than they stand with the institutional church when it proclaims that any married Catholic practicing artificial contraception is a mortal sinner.

But that majority does not have the ability or perhaps the will to change what the church does at its magisterial level. And it is at that level that those who hate appear to be given preference over those who love.

In such a church, it is exceedingly difficult to know what to make of Dante’s ringing affirmation that love is the energy that moves the sun and other stars. In such a church, it is increasingly difficult to hear the gospel at all.