Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering a Brother's Death, Looking at Churches' Response to LGBT People

Dear Folks,

Continuing to feel raw these days, in part, due to what is happening in Japan, and  the strange way in which my dream life involved me in that disaster with a dream full of foreboding some days before the events there.  Not a bad thing to feel raw for Lent, I suppose, since feeling the tender new skin with which we approach each day exposed and wondering how to fit things together opens us to God, I have to believe.

Today is a day of remembrance for me, too.  As in past years, I'll post a link this year to an essay I wrote on this blog some years ago, remembering my brother Simpson's death on 14 March 1991.  I pray for rest for my brother.

And because of the raw feelings, I find it exceptionally painful to read Valerie Schultz's posting yesterday at America's "In All Things" blog, about her struggle as she deals with being both a practicing Catholic and a practicing mother of a lesbian daughter.  Schultz writes about her active involvement in her community's PFLAG group, a group much needed, since the community has the reputation of being a place in which gay teens are bullied, and, apparently in one case, a teen has chosen to deal with the bullying by committing suicide.

And all of this has an exceptionally personal meaning for me as I read, since last evening, Steve and I took one of my family members to our local PFLAG group, and in doing so, we saw all over again and at close hand, how imperative groups like PFLAG are in areas like ours, where the churches not only often fail to provide any healing space for families struggling with these issues, but even take an active role in inflicting more pain.

As I've noted in several recent postings, my family is walking through a difficult patch lately, and this has to do with a family member's struggle to deal with gay-identity issues.  I can't really say more until I'm confident that those more closely involved want that kind of exposure.

And because the pain of this emergence process is intense for several of my family members closest to the situation, Steve and I have been trying to offer support in various ways, and thought of PFLAG as a resource for one family member who is especially distraught now.  We have gone to PFLAG meetings here in the past and know the group is among the best places in our area to find the kind of understanding, healing people our family member needs.

And so, this morning I read Valerie Schultz's essay after having just sat through an evening in which people shared exceedingly painful stories within a group of loving, supportive people, many of them dealing with their own struggles: stories about a child coming out as gay in a local middle-school and being subjected to bullying; about a spouse and parent who made the painful decision to come out to a spouse and children several years ago; about a daughter who came out as a lesbian and then died tragically, and about her mother's choice at that point to be a mother to other young people through PFLAG.

And a recurring theme all evening long: this is the South.  The churches are a big part of the problem: 

When I left Los Angeles and came here, my father, who was raised in Houston, told me he was very frightened for me.  He grew up in the South and he knows how mean people can be.

Some day, I'll tell you what happened when I told my grandmother I was a lesbian.  For now, let me just say that the scene involved a bible, fire, and a grapefruit.

The recurring motif of last night's meeting: we cannot find in most of our church communities what we find here.  Love.  Acceptance.  Healing.  A chance to be who we are and to celebrate who God has made us to be.

And all of this makes me read Valerie Schultz's reflections with a strong sense of pain at the struggle in her own soul--the struggle to affirm a beloved daughter while remaining connected to a church many of whose members tell her that this affirmation is an abdication of her responsibility as a Catholic parent.  And that toxic viewpoint--tell your daughter she's a sinner! put Truth ahead of love!--is predictably reflected in several of the comments following Schultz's posting.

I'm thinking, too, of a bright, mercy-filled young African-American lesbian at last night's PFLAG meeting, who got up from her seat when she saw the mother whose gay child is being bullied begin to cry, got tissues for her, put her arms around the mother: I'm thinking of this young woman this morning as I read Alvin McEwen's blog posting today about how the battle within the African-American community and African-American churches tears the souls of black gays and lesbians in half.

McEwen is writing about the role the black church (and the Catholic church, through local bishops and the National Organization of Marriage) played in Maryland recently in blocking marriage equality.  As I noted several days ago, Maggie Gallagher of NOM was already crowing, even some days before the bill for marriage equality died, about how successful her well-financed Catholic group has been at driving an ugly wedge between some African-American people of faith and their LGBT brothers and sisters.

McEwen notes that the most destructive effects of all when black churches turn their backs on those who are gay and lesbian occur in the lives of African-American gays and lesbians--who experience a ripping apart of their souls as their own community repudiates them in the name of God.

And that's, of course, precisely, what Valerie Schultz is also describing as a Catholic mother.  And so as I read, I ask all over again, What, in the name of God, do followers of Jesus imagine they're doing these days, spreading so much pain around over these issues?

And calling that a good a holy thing to do.

P.S. If anyone needs information about PFLAG, there's a link to the organization's website in the list of sites I recommend on this blog.

P.P.S. When I read a Catholic writing to a sister Catholic--in this case, to Valerie Schultz--the following at the America posting to which I link above, I'm baffled all over again that America can censor postings of Catholics pushing back against this mean-spirited nonsense, and still let the venomous nonsense stand in these threads: "The Church's a mental disorder needing treatment, not political/ideological agenda driven praise."  

Please keep in mind my primary point in highlighting this statement: this is a fellow Catholic telling a mother that her church requires her to view her daughter's God-given nature as "a mental disorder needing treatment."

How we get from Micah's (and Jesus's) call to view our primary religious obligation as doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God--how we get from Micah and all the prophets and Jesus to such astonishing meanness, I have yet to understand.  Astonishing meanness in the name of God! 

And perhaps I'm mistaken, but I also thought America had a policy requiring posters at these blog threads to sign their full names.  Why doesn't this John do so? 

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