Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Continuing the Pilgrimage: Bilgrimage in the Weeks Ahead

Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,

I’m writing to let you know that Bilgrimage will be undergoing a slight (and temporary) change in coming days. In the several other lives I lead outside blogland, I have a number of responsibilities coming up, which will be taking me away from the blog for a short period of time.

Bilgrimage will continue during that hiatus, though. One of the reasons I asked for your assistance a week ago was that I knew the hiatus in my ability to blog routinely was coming up, and I wanted to know whether the blog is reaching a particular audience who benefit from what I do on it most days.

I appreciated the response to the questionnaire, which was encouraging. Several readers kindly sent very positive feedback by email. It is encouraging to hear that people struggling to value their God-given sexual orientation in faith communities that often inflict harm find strength in the story told on this blog, and that people looking for resources for a spirituality of engagement that resists some dominant trends in the churches find empowerment here.

I’ve decided, as a result, to keep the blog running even when I will not have time to focus on it daily, by posting pre-written material on it. I’ll follow this path for the several weeks that I am away from my desk.

I’ve spent some days now transcribing material from things I’ve written in the past, which haven’t appeared on this blog (or anywhere else, for that matter). What I’ve selected focuses, for the most part, on a key period of my journey, in which I dealt with questions about coming out as a gay man while teaching theology in church-related schools.

As these journal selections will demonstrate, that process was a laborious and difficult one. When I went into the field of theology (or, more precisely, as I saw it, when I was called by God into that vocation), I knew, of course, that there would be a price to pay, in terms of my identity as a gay man. I knew that what I saw as my personal life and not the business of anyone else in a professional setting, unless I chose to disclose that life to someone else, could easily be made problematic by anyone with authority in my church and its institutions who wanted to marginalize me for any reason whatsoever.

I chose to trust in that distinction between the private and the public, and in the ethical integrity of those in leadership in Catholic institutions to respect that distinction. As the material I'll be posting shows, that choice turned out to be an impossible choice, since many of the institution's leaders do make a point of focusing on these "private" matters today, and anyone living in the closet and working in Catholic institutions is susceptible to attack for that reason.

It's far better to be open, honest, and let the chips fall where they may--as I was coming to recognize in the period of these journal entries.

But the path I chose at the start of my career as a theologian (private life, public professional persona) was the only one I saw open to anyone who is gay and working in Catholic institutions at the time. Perhaps things have changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s, which is the period captured in these journal reflections. I’m not sure they have, frankly, in most places.

I believe that gay and lesbian persons working in Catholic institutions still encounter the kind of quandaries that the upcoming series of postings will discuss, as I dealt with them almost two decades ago. And for that reason, I hope the postings will be helpful to anyone else walking the same path today.

I also help they will help LGBT people in general, who are trying to cope with questions about how to claim our God-given identities and to celebrate those identities within faith communities that assault us and deny our full humanity. I know there are many such folks out there, and that they include vulnerable younger people. I know this because some of them have emailed me to thank me for providing a voice for their experience as people of faith, trying to come out as gay, while maintaining positive ties to faith communities. Because they value their spiritual lives and the life of faith . . . .

Finally, I hope the postings that will be appearing on the blog in the coming days may help anyone who is seeking to understand, these days, what it means to be gay in the U.S. at the turn of the 21st century. Churches seldom make a place for our testimony, unfortunately. Faith communities talk about us and to us (down to us), but not with us.

The dialogue, such as it exists, is always unequal. Our voices—our real voices—are always excluded. At best, churches normally permit some sympathetic straight ally within a church community to speak on our behalf.

In the process, churches lose precious gifts that are right at their doorsteps, if they would only open the door and let the stranger in. And listen to her. And treat him as if his humanity counts in the same way anyone else’s humanity counts—precious humanity that comes from the same hand of God that makes every other human being in the world.

And the churches’ handling of issues of inclusion has become, unfortunately, paradigmatic for society’s handling of these issues, in this nation with the soul of a church. Certainly there are strong currents within society at large (and also within many communities of faith) that are pushing and pushing hard for full inclusion of LGBT people in American society, and full recognition of the humanity (and human rights) of LGBT people.

But as we’re seeing with the current administration’s timidity (and the timidity of a Democrat-dominated Congress) to deal with gay issues, to see gay faces, to hear gay voices, to include gay contributions, the response of communities of faith to our presence continues to dominate the political life of the nation, in a way that harms LGBT people.

It is always easier to regard someone else as less human than you are when you refuse to see his face. It is always easier to safeguard your belief that you are a morally admirable human being when you talk about and talk down to someone else, while refusing to hear his real voice. Or to sit at the table with her and break bread with her.

This is among the reasons that I personally argue, and will continue to argue, that anyone interested in gay rights—including those of us who are gay—cannot ignore communities of faith and what they do to us. Faith-based groups frame the response of our political leaders, and thus the response of the culture at large, to LGBT persons at a very fundamental level. And, unfortunately, at a fundamentally negative level . . . .

The churches will one day have to repent of what they continue to do to gay people today, just as painfully as they are now trying to repent of their role in slavery, the Holocaust, millennia of oppression of women, anti-Semitic violence, the Crusades, the upholding of segregation, and the burning of witches.

Meanwhile, I offer this series of postings (which touch on other moral issues of concern to me in the same period, as well, because my approach to gay rights insists on the need for solidarity with all unjustly marginalized Others) with hope. I hope the postings will help someone. And I hope they will be of interest.

As always, I welcome feedback in the comments section, even though I may not always have time for several weeks to reply or acknowledge your contributions. I value your responses and I take them seriously.

The graphic is a picture of a portion of the pilgrimage path for Santiago de Compostela in Conques, southwestern France.