Monday, November 7, 2011

Tom Fox: After Avila Debacle, Shifting the Catholic Discussion to Focus on Gifts of Gay Persons

I appreciate National Catholic Reporter editor Tom Fox for publishing his recent statement about how Catholics might begin reframing their understanding of their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay, following the Daniel Avila debacle.  Fox writes,

Let me suggest another way to look at our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, without trying to add even further burden on their weary shoulders. It is to say that they are special human beings and that they bring special gifts to the human family, gifts we need for material and spiritual fulfillment and, perhaps, even for the preservation of the human family itself. While recognizing the obvious shortfall of lumping large groups of people into a single category, I feel I need to point out the obvious, and that is our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have so much to teach us, so much to give us in so many ways. I'd start with characteristic sensitivity, insight, compassion and joy. The list could go on.
Until we recognize that all of us -- no exceptions -- are gifts and that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are among some of the most special of these gifts, offering us so much that enlarges our spiritual visions, so much that speaks of God's love for us, then we are missing the proverbial boat.
For many of us, the linkage of gay and lesbian to "objective disorder" has been an offensive insult from the outset, the product of another time and an outdated theology. For many that time has passed; for others it is passing; for a few, it still needs to pass. Let's pray the day comes quickly when stragglers, including some of our church's shepherds, catch up with the flock.
That day couldn't soon enough for the sake of the precious mission of our church.

As John McNeill has so powerfully argued, gay and lesbian human beings as gifts: to the human community, to the church.  On the one side, a growing meme linking gay and lesbian human beings to the demonic.  On the other side, an emphasis on sensitivity, insight, compassion, and joy that seems entirely consonant with the Catholic tradition at its best--an inclusive and redemptive tradition not adequately represented (in the least) by the term "objectively disordered."

This is where American Catholicism finds itself today.  And I think Michael O'Loughlin may well be right when he notes that it's the loud few who all too often gain the public's attention, with their language of demonization of gays. I suspect that a silent majority of American Catholics are not merely embarrassed, but angry at the reduction of their Catholic tradition of loving inclusion and redemptive outreach to the language of demonization of gays.

Still, the loud few are out there, and they're richly represented in the public square and in online discussions of "the homosexuals," to use one of the favorite "othering" phrases that many Catholics and members of the religious right love to use when speaking of their brothers and sisters who are gay. Thereby suggesting that we who are made gay by God are not an intrinsic part of the church or of the human community, that we inhabit a different ontological universe than that occupied by "normal" people . . . .  Though most gay and lesbian folks have long since asked that we be designated as gay and lesbian, not as  "the homosexuals," the religious right, along with a vocal minority of Catholics, is determined to use that clinical "othering" designation which suggests that the nature of those who are gay or lesbian is entirely determined by their (luridly imagined) sexual activity, and is entirely reduced to sexuality.

If you doubt this conclusion, just have a look at the reader responses to Fox's article, or to the O'Loughlin posting to which I link above--or to any of the constant discussions of gay and lesbian human beings going on in recent years at various Catholic blog sites, in which "the homosexuals" are placed under a microscope, diced up, classified, and dismissed--with no input at all from the fellow human beings being treated in this outrageous way.  Google, if you will, the terms "Cordileone," "gays" (or "homosexuals"), and "devil," and see how many hits pop up leading you to discussions at Catholic blog sites in the recent past, linking gay human beings to the devil.

(I'm inserting Bishop Cordileone's name into that sentence for two reasons. First, as I reported several days ago, the media have stated that he himself has made public rhetorical links between gay human beings and the diabolical.  And in trying to verify my memory that this was the case as I blogged about this matter several days ago, I did the Google search I recommend above, and found how frequently gays are linked to the devil on various Catholic blog sites in recent years--and often in association with discussions about Cordileone, who heads the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference's Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, from which Avila has just resigned.   And so the second reason Cordileone's name is in that string of Google terms is that I'm telling you what I discovered when I did such a search myself--and how many hits I find leading me to Catholic blog sites full of demonizing language about those who are gay.)

Demonizing: that's quite precisely what we're doing when we link a minority group--vulnerable minorities susceptible to historic discrimination are almost always singled out in this way--to the devil.  And when we suggest that the very nature of the members of that minority group derives from the devil or from diabolical influence, as Mr. Avila recently did and as numerous fundamentalist Protestants in the United States have long done.

And as my initial posting about the Avila affair (to which the second link in this posting points) noted, demonization of a vulnerable minority is always, throughout history, a precursor to enacting social violence against the minority designated as demonic.  The rhetorical violence of demonization leads to the real violence of social oppression, discrimination, exclusion from participation in social structures, and, often, outright physical brutality and violent assault.

Before the Nazis moved against the Jewish population of Germany (and then of every nation they occupied in the 1930s), they demonized Jews.  They did so by publishing ugly propaganda suggesting that the Jewish people were a dirty, infectious agent sapping the vitality of the German people.  School children in Nazi Germany were treated to lectures and given textbooks depicting Jewish people in toxic, outrageously stereotypical ways which suggested that Jews were subhuman.  And from this rhetorical demonization of the Jewish people to violent assaults on them and their eventual extermination was just one small step.

One of the primary lessons we learned (or should have learned) from the Nazi period is the danger of standing by in silence as vulnerable minority groups are demonized by a loud few, and made susceptible to violence.  I am glad that Tom Fox and many others are now speaking out, after what Mr. Avila said as an advisor to the U.S. Catholic bishops!

It's time for the silent majority of American Catholics to begin speaking out. It's high time.  Before more damage is done.  And before the Catholic brand begins to be determined entirely in the mind of the public as a heterosexist and homophobic (not to mention misogynistic) brand implying that the Catholic church functions--and should function--as a country club for entitled heterosexual males, in which women and gay persons are second-class citizens.

The graphic is a sign of a protestor following the announcement in June that the Catholic archdiocese of Boston was canceling a Mass sponsored by a Boston parish to support the gay community during Gay Pride month.

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