Thursday, March 14, 2013

Theologians Responding to Pope Francis: Defending the Excluded Demands Consistency re: Defining the Excluded

From the Facebook feed of my friend and theologian-colleague Michael Iafrate: 

Still learning about "the new guy," but my initial impression is hopeful but realistic. There are many signs of hope, signs that point to the potential for very important kinds of ecclesiological changes such as a more humble and more collegial kind of church. We must insist, though, that a pope who desires to be close to the poor and excluded must open his eyes to the realities of the exclusion of women and of gay and lesbian people in the church and in the world. At this point in time, if Leonardo Boff can find reasons to hope, so can I.

As Fred Clark likes to say at his wonderful Slacktivist site, "Smart people saying smart things."

I think that, in referring to liberation theologian Leonardo Boff's response to Francis's election, Michael is citing something Emily Schmall and Larry Rohter report today in the New York Times, which Jayden Cameron mentions in a comment in the thread following my first posting today:

"I am encouraged by this choice, viewing it as a pledge for a church of simplicity and of ecological ideals," said Leonardo Boff, a founder of liberation theology. What is more, Mr. Boff said, Cardinal Bergoglio comes from the developing world, "outside the walls of Rome."

And I'm encouraged, in turn, by the insistence of some of my fellow Catholics--notably, many younger ones including Michael Iafrate--that one cannot credibly work to defend the human rights of the economically underprivileged without also working to defend the human rights of gay and lesbian persons. Already, a rhetoric is growing up among many of those who welcome the new papacy as a sign of a turn towards greater solidarity of the Catholic church with the poor which implicitly (and, at times, overtly) plays the rights of the economically disempowered against the rights of gay and lesbian persons.

And in what sense would such a move on the part of this papacy be a significant departure from what Benedict said and stood for, I wonder? I don't see it as discontinuous with his stances in the least.

It's time for Christians to stop treating their LGBT brothers and sisters as if our human rights are non-existent, because our humanity is somehow tainted and diminished--is less than that of heterosexual human beings. It's time to stop this game if only because it seriously undercuts the important claim of many Christians that we need to focus serious attention on the human rights of the poor at this point in history.

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