Thursday, September 23, 2010

The DADT Vote in Light of Catholic Centrist Conversations: A Personal Response

I'm sure any regular readers I may have will have noticed I didn't blog yesterday.  I am, I'll admit it, taken aback by the fate of the DADT repeal in the Senate.

Since two of my own state's Democratic senators are among those who voted with the Republicans to block the attempt to end DADT two days ago, I feel the vote at an even more existential level than I might otherwise have done.  And my silence yesterday was the result.

This vote intersects, in my heart and head, with that theme about which I've been going on--the ongoing decision of many members of my Catholic community of faith to treat gay and lesbian persons as non-persons.  I use the term "non-person" deliberately.

It's one that comes from the field of liberation theology, which argues that socio-economic and political forces often treat some groups of human beings as if they are not persons who deserve the respect that all human persons deserve, but as things.  As objects to be used in socio-economic and political games.

Liberation theologians note that all the groups whom the center of society marginalizes are, in the view of the center, non-persons.  Those on the margins lack faces for those on the center.  They are not even visible, because they have been shoved to the margins deliberately, in an attempt to make their human faces invisible.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Of course, liberation theologians conclude that this persistent behavior of the center towards those on the margins is deeply immoral.  It is never moral to treat any other human being as a depersonalized object.  It is never moral to play political games with other human beings as if their human lives are simply bargaining chips in games designed to consolidate the power of the game-players.

It is never moral to treat other human beings as if they don't have human faces.  As if they are not there.

As if the conversation of the center can go on interrupted, can claim validity when it talks about ideals like inclusion, justice, and democracy, while whole swathes of human beings are invisible.  As if their exclusion simply does not matter, while the center goes on talking about itself as inclusive, just, and democratic.

What the Senate (and, implicitly, this Democratic administration that keeps playing malicious games with the real human lives of LGBT citizens) chose to do two days ago echoes even more strongly in my soul precisely because of the conversation now going on in many communities of faith--including my Catholic one--about how and where to place those of us who are gay and lesbian.

In the past week, there have been revelations (about which I blogged here) that the Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus is among the major funders of the National Organization for Marriage.  Whose sole raison d’ĂȘtre is to attack gay and lesbian citizens of America.  Repeatedly.  In the grossest and most hurtful ways possible--seeking to roll backs rights from LGBT citizens.  Running ads designed to depict gay and lesbian persons as threats to children.

At the same time, Catholic bishops in both Iowa and Minnesota have stepped up their attacks on their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, by announcing costly new initiatives to elicit Catholic support for political action to block same-sex marriage.  As Michael Bayly notes at his Wild Reed blog (and here), it's scandalous in the extreme to see Catholic bishops playing these expensive hateful games with the lives of their gay brothers and sisters when churches and Catholic schools are being closed due to lack of funds.

As I've noted on this blog before, Steve and I follow Catholic news in Minnesota, because that's his home state.  He was raised in a solidly German Catholic community in Minnesota.  His family for generations has contributed priests, nuns, and brothers to the religious communities of that state.  He takes these initiatives in Minnesota personally, and finds them hurtful at a personal level--especially when they undergird the baleful behavior some of his siblings continue to dish out towards him and me, as a gay couple.  In the name of the church.

For me, perhaps the most significant question that keeps bubbling up after the DADT vote and in the midst of the Catholic discussions on which I keep reporting here--including the use of gay Catholics as non-persons in the reporting on the recent papal visit to Britain in mainstream Catholic journals--is this: what to do about the center?  What to do about the claims of those in the center who keep insisting on their right to talk about bringing everyone the table, left, right, and middle, when these ugly political games continue to be played out with the lives of gay and lesbian persons?  By churches themselves . . . .

Here's where I'm ending up: I have become resolutely committed to challenging, at each juncture that I hear the rhetoric, any and all rhetoric of Catholic centrists about laying a table for all, when those same centrists are not standing up to their own Catholic faith communities that keep savaging gay and lesbian persons.  And treating us as non-persons.

Here's what I'm saying to the centrists: you don't own the religious rhetoric you keep spouting.  Not anymore.  You can't claim to be all about setting a centrist table for all, when your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters aren't there.  Because we've been shoved from the table by the faith community in which you're ensconced.

While you have done nothing to help us fight the marginalization.  And you are doing nothing to assure that we be brought back to the table.

These aren't difficult questions, really, for centrists to deal with.  They've been on the table a long time now.  Joe Holland and Peter Henriot wrote their book Social Analysis way back in the early 1980s.  It provides a clear, easily followed methodology for parishes and other faith communities to use tools of social analysis as they engage in pastoral ministry.

Holland and Henriot note that no faith community today can adequately engage in pastoral activity while dispensing from social analysis.  A parish, a church, needs to do careful social analysis--e.g., polling--in order to determine who is at the table, and who's not there.

And if it finds a trend to demonstrate that an entire group of people is no longer at the table, it needs to find out why that group is no longer there.  What events in the life of the parish or the church as a whole have caused the exodus of a whole set of folks?

Any church or faith community that claims to be concerned about pastoral outreach to the marginalized (and no Christian [or Jewish, or Islamic, or Buddhist, etc.] community of faith can claim anything else) needs to do social analysis to find out who's not at the table, and why they're not at the table.  Centrists who claim to be setting a big table for all need to do that social analysis.

If any community of faith does such social analysis today, it will find--if it is not explicitly a gay-inclusive and gay-affirming community--that one of the groups that is almost certainly invisible, that has been made non-persons by the attitudes and practices of the community, that is simply not at the table, are gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Any Catholic parish outside the rare parishes in large urban centers that explicitly invite gays and lesbians to the table will immediately find this conspicuous absence at its table.

And so it is incumbent on those at the center, who remain with the institution that is persistently, cruelly attacking the humanity of gay and lesbian persons and driving us from the table, to do two things, if centrists expect their rhetoric to have any meaning at all.  First, those at the center need to reach out to those who are not at the table, as the center spreads its big table and claims it's bringing everyone together.

Do some social analysis.  Find out who is not there.  Find out why we're not there.  And do something about our absence, if you want your claims of pastoral concern to be unchallenged and meaningful.

And second, take a stand.  You can no longer have the luxury of claiming you stand apart from, above, aloof from two warring sides. That you have a superior vantage point.

Because unless you challenge those who are savaging some of your brothers and sisters, while you claim to be occupying a neutral center where the big table stands, what you are really doing and really saying is that the behavior of those doing the savaging is normative and right for your institution.

H/t to Joe Sudbay at Americablog Gay for the editorial cartoon I've used as a graphic.

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