Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fr. Bryan Massingale to Pax Christi: "Human Rights Must Be Protected and Defended Without Compromise . . . . This Is the Gospel"

With great gratitude to Bilgrimage reader Janet Hanson for bringing this lecture to my attention, I'd like to post today my transcript of some observations that Fr. Bryan Massingale of Marquette University has just made to those gathered for the 2013 conference of Pax Christi USA, a leading Catholic peace and justice organization. The link I've just embedded points to a page listing all conference reports. If you scroll down to day three and click on the keynote address by Fr. Massingale, a page with an audio file of his keynote address will open up.

Fr. Massingale frames his recommendations about how Pax Christi members should relate to the challenge of defending LGBT rights by suggesting that many Christian peace and justice organizations are aging and in danger of falling behind demographic curves that are radically altering the landscape of Christian churches and the culture as a whole today. Historically, a large percentage of the members of these organizations have been largely white, economically comfortable, and heterosexually identified.

Meanwhile, the nation as a whole is becoming increasingly brown and increasingly diverse, and young Americans, including ones that belong to churches, want something more . . . real . . . from their churches and organizations that profess to uphold the highest ideals of the churches. Fr. Massingale's recommendations about Pax Christi and LGBT rights begin around the 45.36 point.

Here's my transcript of what he says at this point in his lecture:

If Pax Christi USA is to remain relevant on the frontier as a Catholic movement of peacemaking with justice, it must intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Now, this is a neuralgic and sensitive issue, I know. And there was a part of me when I wrote this . . . this is actually the last thing I wrote, and I struggled with the wisdom of even bringing it up. But, because I know Pax Christi cherishes its relationship with the bishops of the church . . . . You've a bishop-resident, you always have, that's wonderful. You seek to be in deep ecclesial communion. So do I. That's why I've been wearing this uniform for 30 years. And the church's bishops aren't known for their collective and public stances of welcome for LGBT Catholics.  
But I put this here for two reasons. The first: for the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue. And research has shown--namely the Barna group, they're an evangelical group primarily in 2009, they serve a young people, they had a different definition of young people than the ones we heard yesterday, they went from 18 to 30, they didn't go up quite to 39. And when they asked young people between 18 and 30 to describe the church, the four adjectives they used were intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical, and homophobic. When they limited the group to just those who went to church every week, you know, the "good Catholics," they found that the same four adjectives were used by the majority. So much so, that young people between 18 and 30 even shy away from identifying themselves as Christian. Because Christian has come to mean intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic.  
(At this point, someone in the audience asks, "Was this study talking about the Catholic church?" (Massingale's reply): It was talking about all Christians. But also, I need to point out to you, that for young people the litmus test of the credibility of religious institutions is their stances on LGBT rights. Young Catholics, in the main--there are some who are exceptions, but in the main--will not join an organization that is perceived as being anti-gay. It just won't happen. That's the argument from self-interest. 
But there's a deeper argument, the justice-human rights argument. Around the world, people are humiliated, tortured, raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed for who they are and how they love. The most notorious case is going on in Uganda with the so-called Kill the Gays bill, where they're publicly outing people who are gay and lesbian, inviting retribution and torture. In South Africa, women who identify as lesbian are subjected to a practice called corrective rape, where they are gang-raped by men in order to change them from their sinful tendencies.  
But we don't need to go overseas to see that. It's not just over there. It's also going on here, as in the month of May in New York City, as there were over 5 to 6 gay murderous hate crimes that took place in the city. And yet, these hate crimes, these brutal murders, were met by a deafening, appalling silence from Catholic leaders. As Franz Jäggerstätter said, whom we invoked to walk with us into the future this morning, if the church stays silent in the face of what is happening what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?  
I want to say this, whatever (and I know when I bring this up that I might lose some of you in this audience) but I want to say this, and I say it clearly: whatever disagreements one may have with someone's conduct, their fundamental human rights are inalienable and God-given. And, and these human rights must be protected and defended without compromise or ambiguity. This is not political correctness. This is the gospel.   
To quote the head of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, Cardinal--I think his name is Cardinal Gantin--he said, "You can protect someone's rights without approving of their behavior." Now I know that this is going to take some discussion and growth, it will not be easy, and I know that there may be some who may have deep disagreements, but I felt that in all honesty, I could not not say this, especially as we gather in this year when we remember the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, D.C., and remember a man named Bayard Rustin.  
Bayard Rustin, a gay man of color, one of [the] foremost peace activists of the 20th century: he was the one who taught Martin Luther King the ways of nonviolent resistance that he learned from Gandhi. He was the man who planned the landmark march on Washington 50 years ago. This gay man of color's memory and challenge has to both haunt and inspire this organization as it strives to be an anti-racist, multicultural Catholic peace and justice movement.  
And, yes, I say all of this knowing full well, if you go down this road, you will catch some hell. I know. I mean, there are dioceses I can't speak in, because I've just said what I've said right now. King also caught hell when he stood by Rustin to lead, to organize the march. But you know, catching hell is part of the process of seeking peace with justice. You're going to catch some hell sometimes. And if you're going to catch some hell, you might as well catch it for doing something you believe in. 
So despite the risks, I believe that if Pax Christi USA wants to be relevant and on the frontiers, it's going to have to answer the challenge of explicit LGBT inclusion.

Why, some cherished readers of Bilgrimage keep asking me, do you maintain any connection at all to a church capable of such prejudice, of doing such harm to LGBT human beings around the world? Part of the answer to that question is, Bryan Massingale is a part of that church, too. He has a voice. He uses his voice to speak out and say flatly that it's appalling that the leaders of our church remained deafeningly silent about the spate of hate crimes against gay men in New York last month. He uses his voice to speak courageously about the conspicuous lack of welcome exhibited by the Catholic bishops towards gay people.

Would it be better that voices like this be silenced altogether in the Catholic church, and that I withdraw my support for them because they represent a community inflicting pain on me as a gay person? Would it be better that no one remember that Franz Jäggerstätter gave his life as a Catholic during the Nazi period, when he refused to serve the Nazis despite concerted efforts of his bishop and parish priest to force him to violate his conscience?

Cardinal Dolan and the bishops he leads no more own the gospel than Trent Franks or Sarah Palin own the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or Declaration of Independence. Every human organization is a very mixed bag, morally speaking, a community of contesting discourses. 

Though I'm far on the margins of the Catholic church where its leaders and some fellow Catholics have shoved me, I keep contesting those folks' spurious claims to  own the entire mixed bag and the gospels themselves, just as I contest the claim of Trent Franks and Sarah Palin to own my nation's foundational documents. Because it's my church, too, just as it's my country, too. And I'm stubborn and I mean to make a difference.

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