Saturday, January 7, 2012

Breaking News: Cardinal George Issues Apology

Important breaking news: late last evening, the Chicago Tribune reported that Cardinal George has apologized for his hurtful Christmastime remarks comparing his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to the Ku Klux Klan.  Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear indicates that Cardinal George made the following statement in an interview with the paper's reporters: 

I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused.  Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it's part of our lives. So I'm sorry for the hurt. 
When I was talking, I was speaking out of fear that I have for the church's liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate, for which I'm sorry.  I didn't realize the impact of what I was saying. . . . Sometimes fear is a bad motivation.

Heidi Schlumpf has published a notice of George's apology at the National Catholic Reporter site, and last night I received an email statement from Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, the organization that mounted an online petition campaign asking George to resign after his unfortunate remarks, and which published a full-page ad about this in last Sunday's Tribune.  I don't yet see Besen's statement at the TWO site.  The email copy notes,  "It is gratifying to see the Cardinal take personal responsibility for the hurt he has caused and we hope this incident leads to improving relations with the LGBT community."

My thoughts:

1. I'm, of course, grateful that a Christian pastor can recognize that her/his ill-considered words can cause pain to others, and that a pastor can muster the grace to apologize.  It's to George's credit that he's taken this step.  In an American cultural context in which over-heated homophobic rhetoric bubbles all through our religious and political lives, issuing in acts of discrimination and overt violence against those who are gay (and, in the view of a majority of Americans, contributing to the serious problem of suicide of gay or gender-questioning youth), it's extremely important that Christian pastors stop inflicting pain and start binding up wounds.

Stop right now.  Start binding wounds right now.

2. It's interesting that George mentions that he has gay and lesbian family members, "so it's part of our lives."  In response to NCR's recent editorial lamenting George's remarks, I responded to an anonymous reader who said (s)he had no idea who the gay community is, and then spoke of gay and lesbian folks as "these people" who are "hateful, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed" and prone to bullying.  I noted that "these people" are someone's sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, and that "these people" may well be represented in the family of Anonymous.  

And I added, "We are not 'these people.' We are PEOPLE.  Period.  We're people who are also brothers and sisters in Christ, who have names and faces. And who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

The single most important factor contributing to the growing recognition of people in many parts of the world that gay and lesbian human beings deserve human rights is that gay and lesbian human beings now have faces as never before.  As more and more of us have come out in recent decades, more and more people find that they have gay family members, co-workers, friends, and so forth.

It grows increasingly difficult for anyone to speak of gay persons as menacing, faceless objects in the world in which we now find ourselves.  To the extent that people of faith seek to continue rhetoric that depersonalizes and demonizes those who are gay (as Cardinal George did as recently as a few weeks ago), they face a very serious challenge, because more and more of their own religious adherents will push back against the attempt to dehumanize their own family members, friends, and co-workers.

3. And that leads to my final point: we've now reached a cultural turning-point on these issues, which has everything to do with giving faces to dehumanized others (and according human rights to those whose human faces we finally see clearly).  This turning point does not have to do with moral decay, as Mr. Santorum and many members of the Catholic hierarchy are prone to argue.  It has to do with a process that is precisely opposite to moral decay--since a key moral goal of bona fide communities of faith is to put faces on those made faceless by oppression and to fight for the rights of the oppressed.

Increasingly, church leaders will not only be fighting a losing battle, but will be placing themselves on the side of immorality--they will lose the moral center of public discourse--if they continue to collude with those seeking to demonize, dehumanize, and deny human rights to gay and lesbian persons.  If church leaders want to hear what the Spirit is saying to them through events like the recent debacle involving Cardinal George's remarks, I daresay the message of the Spirit might be formulated something like this:

Stop inflicting pain now.  Stop right now.  And start binding up wounds.  Start the healing process right now.

The graphic is a very early Christian depiction of Christ as the Good Shepherd, from the Roman catacombs.

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