Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Poor-Rowan Williams Meme and Catholic Centrists: Unearned Superiority

I have to get something off my chest. I’m irritated, frankly, by the poor-Rowan Williams meme developing in centrist Catholic circles, in the wake of the decision of the Episcopal Church USA to accept openly gay persons as ministry candidates.

I blogged about this recently. As I noted, while the Anglican communion struggles with questions about how the church ought to respond to the expectation of gay persons to be treated as fully human, many Catholics are looking on with a smug sense of superiority. Many of us believe that we hold higher standards, and have set ourselves apart more successfully from a culture headed to hell in a handbasket.

And so the poor-Rowan meme, with its sad laments about the poignant struggles of a thoughtful and intelligent man confronted with an impossible conundrum: how to hold a church together when some of its members want to split over the question of whether gay human beings are human in the same way that other human beings are human.

Please. A conundrum? A poignant struggle? A problem that thoughtful people can’t resolve?

What’s so perplexing about the question of whether churches ought to accept every human being as fully human? And to treat every human being with the same dignity and respect, as a result of that fundamental theological affirmation?

We Catholics haven’t earned the right, frankly, to stand aside from this battle with such smug superiority. The price we’ve paid in order to call ourselves united and superior is horrific.

It’s the price of admitting, tacitly or otherwise, that we regard gay humanity as less than ordinary humanity. It's the price of ongoing repression of gay and lesbian Catholics, of firing anyone working in Catholic institutions who comes out of the closet, of denying health care and a living income to gay people working in our institutions when they ask for the simple right to be who they are, proudly.

In centrist Catholic circles, it’s the price of remaining totally silent about the legitimate claims of our gay Catholic brothers and sisters to a place at the table.

It’s the price of continuing—smugly and with a totally unfounded sense of our superiority—to natter about inclusion and tolerance and human rights, when we simply ignore those on the outside looking in if they’re gay. We don’t invite them to the table. We don’t give them a voice—not even in our conversations about tolerance and inclusion. Not even in our rare conversations about them!

It's the price of talking about communion as our central value, when our own actions belie our claim to value communion. It's the price of refusing to talk about the slow bleeding out of American Catholicism, as one in three American adults who were raised Catholic have left the church, and as one in ten American adults is a former Catholic.

We don’t want, we centrist Catholics who are so concerned about communion, to talk about why that’s happening. Or to hear the voices of those who’ve left. Including our many gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who have walked away, while we’ve remained totally silent about what is done to them in the communion we claim to value so much.

While we keep talking about human rights and justice. And tolerance and inclusion. And communion.

We’re not so far apart, ultimately, we Catholics of the center in the U.S., from those of our Catholic brothers and sisters on the far right who taunt anyone who disagrees with them—on a daily basis—and urge them to leave the Catholic church and join the Episcopalians. That liberal bugbear group which, the mainstream media has succeeded in convincing us, is headed to hell in a handbasket.

Because it has chosen to treat gay human beings with mere human decency. While we claim to be the superior ones.