Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New York Victory and Unfinished Business: Catholic Church Still Anything but a Welcoming Place (3)

In the past several days, I’ve used the recent decision of the New York legislature to permit same-sex marriage as a springboard for discussion of how or whether the Catholic church welcomes (or doesn’t welcome) its LGBT members.  And how or whether its leaders and those who stand with them promote anti-gay discrimination in American society and other societies.

I hesitate to write more about this topic.  To some extent, it’s a dead-end discussion, when one side insists that it possesses truth in a unilateral, exclusive way and the other side, ipso facto (and because its spokespersons are intrinsically disordered) can’t possibly possess truth.  And therefore its spokespersons have no insights or experience worth listening to.

It’s the kind of going-nowhere discussion I remember having frequently as a young man coming of age in a tradition-bound society undergoing rapid change, as it had to confront deeply seated racial prejudices.  The discussion with fellow Catholics today about the possibility of discarding long-held  animosities towards LGBT persons is akin to discussions I remember from my youth with those who could not see or would not admit that the time had come for us people of faith in the South to discard our tradition-rooted racism.  

Reason does not do much to reach the places from which prejudice springs.  Those who insist that their prejudices, their tradition, their exclusive ownership of the truth are non-negotiable usually simply have to be left behind by history's journey along its moral arc, insofar as they refuse to engage compelling arguments for why their claim to own the truth should be viewed with profound suspicion, why their traditions are defective, and why their prejudice harms others, as well as themselves.

Moving forward along the moral arc of history is perhaps the better choice today for many people of faith who want to critique and discard the traditional warrants that feed faith-based prejudice against a targeted minority—a saner choice than trying to reason with those whose prejudice reason can’t reach.  Even as they spin ever more elaborate, refined, rhetorically resplendent pseudo-rational arguments to justify their prejudice and the discrimination based on it . . . . .

As I say, my recent preoccupation with the question of how or whether gay folks are welcome in the Catholic community—and how to carry on discussion about that—may well be one of these going-nowhere discussions.  And it may well have begun to bore readers of this blog.

Even so, I find it hard to relinquish this conversation for a number of reasons.  First, there’s the fact that what the Catholic community thinks about and does to LGBT persons still remains profoundly significant not merely in the U.S., but around the world.  In the recent events in New York, though revisionist analysis is already seeking to disguise the role played by Archbishop Timothy Dolan and his delegate Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in attempts to keep a legislative vote on marriage equality at bay, the influence of the Catholic bishops was profound, and their efforts to sway legislators in closed-door meetings are a matter of public record.

There’s also this: as I’ve noted sporadically through recent postings, as the marriage equality vote neared and then occurred in New York, I was involved for a number of days in discussions about this matter at the blog of the Catholic publication Commonweal.  When I saw that these discussions were designed to go nowhere, I bowed out of them.  

When I did so, I left unfinished business there that I have chosen to pursue on this blog—where I can speak in a dialogic space I have crafted with others, in which my voice and the voices of other openly gay persons of faith are not stigmatized from the outset, as they are at the Commonweal blog site (and at blog sites of many other Catholic groups).   To explain that point, I have to explain—and I’ll try to do so as succinctly as possible—what led to my decision to bow out of the Commonweal discussion and shift it to my own blog site.  Where I can be who I am without having to justify my existence to those who claim to love and welcome, but whose fundamental approach to who I am and what I have to say is precisely the opposite of loving and welcoming.  Who are not, that is to say, really honest about what they intend, vis-a-vis their brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be made gay by God.

Here are the salient tidbits: the discussion I opted out of was a discussion about how Catholics might avoid losing the marriage equality battle in New York (and, implicitly, everywhere else) “ugly.”  It was about how Catholics might avoid giving a signal to society at large that they have resolutely chosen the wrong side in an historic battle about human rights, a signal that they intend to be, at any price, defiantly ugly about that choice, as history (and its moral arc) prove them wrong.  

And so it was also explicitly about how the Catholic church might craft a more welcoming approach to LGBT human beings at this point in history.  How it might repair its badly besmirched image as a community of faith that is all about affirming universal human rights and all about embodying God’s all-embracing love in the world.  How it might engage in some image management that makes it at least appear loving and welcoming for those who are gay.

Some bloggers made fine contributions to this discussion, offering valuable suggestions about how the church might work on the project I’ve just described.  One blogger, however, who spent some months at this site here in the recent past and then left the site, leapt into the discussion with a peroration about bathhouses and HIV and decadent gay men, and then moved on to a declaration that he/she supports the teaching of the church that all homosexual acts are gravely depraved.  She/he added to that declaration the statement that she/he had never met a gay man whom she/he considered an admirable human being.  (The emphasis on gay “man” here was deliberate--a point I'll address in a moment.)

This sister or brother in Christ then went on to offer invidious comparisons between “good” lesbians who keep their mouths shut and go to church and pray, and “bad” gay men who are decadent and selfish and who dominate the gay rights movement with their money, trying to buy social acceptance. As I’ve noted previously on this blog, these invidious comparisons are part and parcel of the rationale often offered by centrist Catholics who otherwise buy into human rights movements for their refusal to support the gay movement.  The claim is that the gay human rights movement is about men who disdain women, who have no regard for children, who are wealthy, white, and selfish and only purport to experience imaginary discrimination.  In other words, in centrist Catholic discourse--and the blogger pushing these invidious comparisons knows this well--the gay male vs. lesbian distinction is used as a wedge to diminish Catholic concern for the rights of gay folks, and to divide the gay movement into “good” and “bad” gays.

I took exception to this blogger’s analysis, noting that it hardly seemed to further what I had understood to be the intent of the discussion in the first place—to figure out how the church might avoid losing the historic battle against gay rights “ugly,” and how the church might create a welcoming space for LGBT persons.  Since the blogger making all these assertions had lurked at this site for months in the recent past, I naturally also took some of her/his comments—notably the one about never having met an admirable gay man—as rather personal statements, statements directed to me.

I didn’t say this in the context of the Commonweal discussion, since I did not want to personalize the discussion in that way, though the person making these comments finally responded to my objections by saying we had once been friends (!), and that she/he had only been joking when she made her/his ugly remarks (!).

(For the record: I don’t know this blogger and have never met him or her.  I am not even certain that the blogger is, as he/she has stated on this and other blog sites, a female.  Or that the person using this username is a single person and not a composite of several people blogging under the username.  We aren’t friends and have never been friends—and couldn’t possibly be friends when we haven’t even met.  And when there’s no mutuality even in our online communication, since who I am is open to the public on this and other blogs.  I use my own name and make the details of my life story freely known as I blog.)

I took exception to the remark about this brother or sister in Christ never having met a gay man she/he finds admirable for these reasons: certainly anyone is entitled to his/her judgments about a whole group of human beings, and it’s entirely possible this person has never had the good fortune, as I have, to have met some spectacular, entirely admirable gay or lesbian human beings.  But why should her/his personal tastes about a whole set of people be freely aired, without any objections from other contributors, in a discussion whose ostensible purpose is to assist the Catholic community not to lose ugly in its interaction with LGBT persons?!

Would a group of Catholic bloggers discussing that particular topic sit by in silence if, say, the topic were how the church might be more welcoming to African Americans and a fellow Catholic stated baldly that she considered what African Americans are wont to do gravely depraved and she/he has never met an admirable African American?  Would they sit by in silence and tolerate such outrageously--well, ugly--discourse if its object were anyone other than gay men?  Or would they, as several bloggers were quick to do in this discussion, immediately jump in to defend the blogger who blurted out her/his very personal statements of prejudice against a targeted minority?

The upshot of my protest against the declaration of this blogger: it became apparent to me that I had suddenly become the bad guy, the intruder, in the discussion, and my centrist Catholic brothers and sisters in the conversation are—not surprisingly; I have long known this—much closer to the rabidly anti-gay beliefs and sentiments of the religious and political far right than to the sentiments of their many fellow Catholics who think that LGBT people ought to be welcomed, given rights everyone else enjoys, and loved as children of God.

It became apparent to me, in other words, that the conversation of LGBT issues at the Commonweal site continues to go nowhere (a topic about which I've written in the past and may write again soon, with abundant new documentation), and that I’m wasting my time and subjecting myself to further scorn by offering my insights in these pseudo-welcoming discussions.  And so, when a contributor to the Commonweal blog discussions whose contributions I respect (and I’ve said this on this blog), but with whom I frequently don’t agree, since I don’t share his conservative starting points, invited me once again to explain why I “feel” the church makes me and other gay folks unwelcome, I told the group that I appreciated the invitation, but wouldn’t pursue the conversation any further.

Only a day or so before this blogger issued that invitation, in a previous thread he and I had exchanged thoughts about how the Catholic church sometimes treats openly gay people or couples, or those who support openly gay people, at the communion rail, in contrast to how it treats other “public sinners.”  That exchange was prompted by the same blogger who declared, in the discussion I’ve outlined above, that homosexual acts are gravely depraved: in the previous thread, she/he had defended the right of the Catholic church to ban civilly married gay couples from communion, since they are “public dissidents” from Catholic doctrine.

When the blogger who asked me to explain why I “feel” that the Catholic church makes LGBT people unwelcome had previously asked me why I feel that the Catholic church treats gay public sinners in a totally different way from how it treats all other public sinners at the communion rail, I replied to his question with what I considered substantial evidence that no other group of public sinners is treated with quite the same scorn at the communion rail as are LGBT public sinners.

To the best of my recollection, the person who had asked me to respond to this question then dropped the discussion, leaving me with the impression that he thought that my reply, with its evidence that I considered substantial, was unconvincing and beneath notice.  Or that I had offered spurious evidence to back up my point.  Or that my voice really doesn’t deserve to be heard, since I’m just another gay sinner engaging in special pleading for a place I don’t truly deserve among the holy people of God.

And so I respectfully declined this blogger’s invitation, when, in yet another blog thread discussing the same topic all over again, he invited me all over again to trot out my reasons for “feeling” that the Catholic church makes LGBT people unwelcome.  Why would I accept such an invitation, I asked myself, when my previous carefully-considered answer to the very same question, addressing a quite specific practice in which the Catholic church makes some people pre-eminently unwelcome--by barring them from communion--seemed to go nowhere?  It seemed to fall on deaf ears.  

It seems those asking these questions have predetermined that the Catholic church is not, in fact, frequently an unwelcoming place for those who are gay or lesbian, and no amount of evidence to the contrary is going to change their minds.  And those offering this evidence are only exposing themselves to further scorn, ridicule, and exclusion from the community--the very dynamics about which they’re being asked to describe their “feelings” all over again--right within the context of a discussion which reiterates that Catholics really, really want to understand, listen, love, include, and avoid losing ugly!

My bowing out of the Commonweal discussion without having answered this blogger’s questions about why I “feel” unwelcome doesn’t preclude my answering his question here, on my own blog, in my own dialogic space, which isn’t rigged from the outset to place gay and lesbian people of faith in a second-class category of human beings whose voices shouldn’t really count in true Catholic discussions.  And so, if you’re not yet bored to tears by this discussion, look for a follow-up posting in which I respond to that question: “William Lindsey – it you’re still reading these comments (and of course other folks can chip in to their hearts’ content) – you’ve written a number of times here about how unwelcoming the church makes you feel as a homosexual man. What would you have the church do differently?”

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