Thursday, November 4, 2010

The See-Saw Act of the American Catholic Center: Back to the Term "Homosexual," and Vs. the "Political Agenda" of Gays

Questions that haunt me as I deal with the destructive game-playing of the Catholic center, in its approach to its gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, game-playing in which the actual voices of those who are gay and lesbian are ruled out, while the center deliberates on our place in church and world.  Relying--astonishingly--on the voices of those who aren't gay to make these decisions:

Would a well-respected centrist Catholic publication like the National Catholic Reporter ever dream of holding up as a model for the future of the church a monastic movement that refuses to admit people of color to full membership?  Or a movement that informs interracial couples that they need to go elsewhere--to a more inclusive church than we Catholics happen to want to create--to have their  interracial marriage consecrated?*

I find it impossible to imagine that publications like NCR would even begin to dream of publishing an article that would continue treating the question of full inclusion of people of color or full acceptance of interracial marriage as valid topics for debate--though both of these topics were once debated by our culture and also by the Christian churches.  As a church, we have long since moved to a consensus that regards it as beyond the pale--morally reprehensible--to debate the full humanity and full inclusion of people of color in church and world.  Articles entertaining the idea that the humanity or full inclusion of people of color are debatable issues would simply be ruled out automatically if they were presented to the editors of any bona fide Catholic journal I know of, because Catholics no longer debate the humanity or inclusion of people of color.

It would be unCatholic to entertain such questions.

And so what is different, when it comes to gay and lesbian human beings?  Why is our full humanity and full inclusion still a matter of debate in the center, where we're told there's a need to have "balance" that permits every viewpoint to be heard--including ones that would automatically be beyond the pale if the topic were full inclusion and full acceptance of the humanity of people of color?  What is different about the humanity of those who are gay and lesbian, that makes this humanity susceptible to debate in Catholic circles?

And why do we suddenly have to take care to avoid legitimating a political "agenda" when gay and lesbian human beings give witness in their own voices about their place in church and world?  Note the comment in the discussion of the NCR article to which I have just pointed readers' attention, about the LGBT "agenda."

Would any bona fide Catholic publication nowadays permit posters to characterize comments made by people of color in discussions about where to fit people of color into the scheme of things as manifestations of a political "agenda"?  Would we dream of dismissing the insights of people of color as a political agenda, when the discussion is where people of color belong in church and society?

This is, quite precisely, what the center continues to do in American Catholicism, when gay and lesbian human beings are under the microscope.  Insofar as we who are gay and lesbian enter the discussion and speak in our own voices, we are liable to be dismissed as activists promoting a political agenda--not as brothers and sisters in Christ giving voice to troubling, necessary witness about our marginalization in the church, about the injustice we experience precisely because we are treated as political activists who do not belong in the heart of the church.  

And not as brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow human beings sharing the same human condition of those who are heterosexual.  Ironically, it is precisely when we give voice to our own humanity, in our own words, that we become the alien Other, the threat to authentic Catholicity--the activist whose "agenda" is not Catholic, but political.

And so we have the constant see-saw, the back-and-forth, the dishonest balancing act of the center, in which publications like NCR publish essays by openly gay or lesbian Catholics, in which one can finally hear gay and lesbian voices speaking freely about the gay and lesbian experience in the church, followed immediately by "balancing" articles holding up as models for the future movements that overtly exclude openly gay and lesbian couples from membership.  And we are told that if openly gay and lesbian Catholics respond critically--in their own, authentic voices--to such proposals, they are pursuing a political agenda.

Who makes these decisions to "balance" the coverage of gay and lesbian issues in publications like NCR or America?  Where are the pressures coming from?  Why aren't the behind-the-scenes machinations that bring us the "balancing" articles, and the censorship of gay "political activists" at these journals' blog sites, opened to public scrutiny?  Why is there no transparency regarding the editorial decisions that lead to these balancing acts?

And is it not astonishing that those engaged in these balancing acts appear oblivious to the way in which they call their integrity into question when they behave in such a fashion, taking away with one hand what they have just given with the other?  And oblivious to how they demonstrate to the world that they are not really committed to the principles of justice and inclusion that they claim they're defending when they speak against the marginalization of brother and sister Catholics who happen to be gay?

It's not just NCR, by the way.  America has just published, on its "In All Things" blog, a piece by a noted Catholic psychologist on the topic of homosexuality in Catholic schools, which quite deliberately uses the term "homosexuality" because, as its author, William Van Ornum explains, he and the editors of America decided that the term "gay" belongs to a "p-c" worldview, to a political movement, and using it to discuss the experience of gay--excuse me, homosexual--young people or young people whose sexual orientation is still in flux would skew the discussion.  In a political direction.

In a political direction antithetical to real Catholicism.  Where the place of gay and lesbian--excuse me, homosexual--human beings is decided by non-gay or lesbian human beings.  Who are the real Catholics to whom these decisions belong.  And the real authorities whose voices must count in these discussions.

Even though they are not gay or lesbian.  Excuse me, even though they aren't homosexual.

But they are heterosexual.  And therefore they're Catholic.  In way that one is not Catholic--automatically so--if one is gay or lesbian homosexual.  And they are therefore not political, since only homosexuals are political.  And they are therefore qualified to speak, because they are heterosexual.

Embarrassing, isn't it?  Embarrassing for these centrist Catholic journals, with their pretensions to be fair and balanced and academically respectable.  And to be concerned about building an authentically Catholic--authentically inclusive--church in the U.S.

It is, of course, impossible to imagine these journals treating their brothers and sisters of color this way--mounting discussions of how to fit people of color fit into the scheme of things, in which only the voices of white people count, because we end up with a biased "agenda" when people of color are allowed to speak for themselves.

It's impossible to imagine these journals expecting to retain any scraps of credibility, as they apply terminology to the political "agenda" of people of color that obliterates the terminology employed by people of color themselves--terminology for which they have fought and struggled to define themselves, in the face of demeaning terminology imposed from the outside by people who do not share or understand their experience of life, but still wish to define that experience.  It's impossible even to begin to imagine a journal like America trying to mount an argument for a return to the term "Negro" in its discussions of African-American Catholics, since the terms "black" and "African American" represent an invalid political movement that skews Catholic discussions of race.

And yet America and its specialists freely admit that they impose on their discussions of the place of gay Catholics in church and world the clinical term "homosexuality," which has long since been rejected by most gay and lesbian persons because it reduces the experience of gay and lesbian people to a sexual level, and it arises out of the linguistic world of psychological specialists who do not speak for or share the gay experience.  A term that is rejected nowadays by the style sheets employed of any academic journal of note,  when we're talking about the experience of gay and lesbian people today and not describing historical debates about that experience.  Rejected by these journals of note precisely for the reasons I have just enumerated: the term "homosexual" is a clinical term imposed on gay and lesbian people and gay and lesbian experience by psychological researchers at the end of the 19th century, which does not arise from the experience of gay and lesbian people.  And which reduces gay and lesbian human beings to the sexual.

It is for precisely this reason that the religious and political right use the term "homosexual" repeatedly in their attacks on gay and lesbian human beings.

Embarrassing.  And radically unjust, when these same journals also freely censor the voices of the very persons about whose inclusion they claim to be concerned--while relying on experts who do not speak out of the gay experience to define the meaning of that experience for the Catholic world.  Radically unjust and radically harmful to the real agenda that American Catholicism ought to be about: building a truly just, truly inclusive, truly loving community of believers.

Note to Catholic center: Jesus didn't get crucified because he and his message were balanced.

*It's important to note that Shane Claiborne, on whom this NCR article focuses, is not Catholic--as I thought at the time I posted this piece.  For a correction of that mistake, see my p.s. at this subsequent Bilgrimage posting.

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