Friday, June 14, 2013

Pew Study: 8 in 10 LGBT Americans See Catholic Church as Unfriendly (Or, When Good News Becomes Bad News)

Centrist and center-right Catholic journalists like Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter are already trying to spin Pope Francis's "gay lobby" remark as something that only tangentially concerns real-life gay folks. And as something that surely can't mean that Catholic officials and their orthodox followers ever use real-life gay human beings as dehumanized objects in cynical political games.

But as the "Daily Show" clip at the head of the posting illustrates, Catholics defending the church's current magisterial stance about gay folks have an uphill climb, if they expect to convince many people living in the real world today that the Catholic church is, indeed, an institution benign or kind to those who are LGBT. (The Catholic bit begins about 4.07, but I highly recommend the whole clip.) As a Pew Research survey whose results were published yesterday indicates, eight out of ten LGBT Americans characterize the Catholic church as unfriendly to those who are gay. Eight out of ten LGBT Americans rank the Catholic church with Muslims and Mormons as conspicuously unwelcoming to those who are gay.

As I noted recently, I've been revisiting the question of how my Catholic church deals with me as a gay person and with other LGBT human beings at a fundamental level. I've become increasingly convinced that what's at stake in how the churches deal with those who are gay--how they choose either to welcome LGBT human beings with open affirmation, or to slam their doors in the faces of those who are gay--drives to the level of the most fundamental questions possible about the credibility of churches as they proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in the contemporary world.

I'm convinced that churches cannot credibly claim to be about a message of good news for everyone or for anyone at all if they continue to single out targeted groups within the human community (today, notably, LGBT human beings and women) for bad news that is directed only at these targeted segments of the human community. Here are some situational-existential reasons I'm revisiting these questions right now:

∙ Follow the discussion at most Catholic blog sites of the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to accept openly gay Scouts, and you'll hear bad news aplenty, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing: bad news specifically crafted for and about those who happen to have been made gay by God. 
∙ These specifically Catholic comments about fellow human beings and fellow Catholics who have been created gay include ongoing allegations that gay men molest children, that gay priests are responsible for the sexual abuse crisis in Catholicism, and that the only moral way to deal with those who are gay is to stigmatize and drive them back into the closet. 
∙ These specifically Catholic comments about fellow human beings and fellow Catholics who are gay include ongoing allegations that gay people represent the moral decay of Western culture in an incomparable way today, and should be excluded from civil society and religious groups in order to protect these groups from the moral infection that gay human beings represent in their very humanity. 
∙ As these open, unabashed conversations targeting and dehumanizing gay human beings play out at many Catholic blog sites, the intellectual leaders of the American Catholic center continue to hold their own closed, elitist conversations about what it means to be gay in American Catholicism today, and about how "we" who are Catholic should deal with "them" who are gay--but who are not included in "our" conversations about "them." Who are not invited in and made welcome to speak in their own gay Catholic voices in these controlling, defining conversations of the American Catholic center.  
∙ As an example, look at how conservative Catholic deacon Jim Pauwels, a key and influential contributor to Commonweal conversations, uses the pronoun "we" in his contributions to the discussion of Catholics and the Boy Scouts at a thread recently started at this site by Eduardo Peñalver. "We" = Catholics, who are, by definition, heterosexual. "They" = the gays. 
∙ As you read Deacon Jim's comments, keep in mind that he invited me several years ago, in an effusive public gesture of "welcome" and "inclusion" at the Commonweal site, to email him and carry on a conversation with him about why I think gay folks are not particularly welcome in his Catholic church. And then he completely ignored my email to him in response to that invitation, but never announced to the Commonweal dialogue community that he had done so. And he has never since that time reached out to me either to apologize, to tell me that he and others miss my contribution to Commonweal discussions (after I stopped posting at that site as a result of my repeated experiences of being made unwelcome), or to inform me that his and others' Catholic speculations ("we" define "you") about the gays are missing something very important when they exclude the voices of openly gay Catholics. 
∙ Keep in mind, too, that I'm saying all this on the heels of one story after another about how the real-life Catholic church in the U.S. actually treats real-life LGBT Catholics including Carla Hale, Nicholas Coppola, and, well, you can revisit the list I wrote in April (the same month in which Pew conducted the research about LGBT folks and the churches that it published yesterday), to which now has to be added the story of the firing of Christa Dias by two Catholic schools in the Cincinnati archdiocese after she had a child by artificial insemination.*
∙ Keep in mind, too, that I'm saying all this after having learned from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, that I and others like me are little boys with dirty hands who are "welcome" at the Catholic table if we agree to be singled out as egregiously dirty folks whose hands require washing before we approach the table of the washed. 
∙ Keep in mind that I'm saying all this, as well, after several years in which the Catholic bishops, the Knights of Columbus, and the heavily Catholic-oriented group National Organization for Marriage have spent millions of dollars to target, demean, and stigmatize gay human beings, to snatch rights from us and block attempts to accord rights to us. 
∙ Keep in mind, finally, that I'm saying all this as people like Jim Pauwels, who claim to speak on behalf of the "benign" and "kind" Catholic church that welcomes gay folks, don't lift a finger to challenge the vituperation of the bishops or their orthodox followers who continue to lie about gay priests as the cause of the abuse crisis long after the John Jay Study commissioned by the U.S. bishops found no correlation between sexual orientation and pedophilia in the priesthood, and after it has been found that the Boy Scouts have shielded many men abusing minors even while they have excluded gay Scout leaders with the insinuation that permitting gay Scout leaders would open the door to abuse of minors in the Boy Scouts!
 ∙ And now the toxic rhetoric about gay human beings as an insidious threat infecting the church from inside, responsible for the abuse crisis, etc., is on full display all over again in the reaction of many orthodox Catholics to Pope Francis's "gay lobby" remark. And as it pours forth on Catholic blog sites, none of the centrist Catholics who want to spin the Catholic church as gay-friendly do anything to challenge it or to distance themselves from it. While the vast majority of bishops give every impression of approving of such rhetoric as orthospeak . . . . 

And Michael Sean Winters and Jim Pauwels want to convince me that the Catholic church is on my side and welcomes me?! Winters and Pauwels expect that argument to be convincing to the eight out of ten LGBT Americans who know otherwise--because we can read the news? 

I know otherwise--I know that Winters and Pauwels are engaged in rather shameless image-management and spin-control--for all the reasons I've outlined above. I know otherwise from my own experience as a gay Catholic. When my partner of 41 years recently had surgery, and when we both faced all over again questions about what might happen if he had the same seriously life-threatening reaction to full-body anesthesia he had the last time he had surgery, we both also had to face the fact that there was absolutely no possibility of turning to our local Catholic community and its pastors for support.

In our heavily evangelical local culture, in which it's considered almost mandatory to have a visit from one's pastor as one enters the hospital for serious surgery and to have visits from members of one's church, there was no one there for Steve and me as a gay Catholic couple when Steve underwent surgery. I know of no Catholic parishes anywhere in my area that welcome, affirm, and include openly gay couples. 

We who are openly gay, in committed relationships, and Catholic have to follow our own spiritual paths, and to do so entirely on our own in many parts of the U.S. We experience outright hostility if we make our identities known in many parishes. We are not welcome in many of our parishes, unless we choose to closet ourselves and pretend that we are not in committed gay relationships.

All that I have just said leads me to the following conclusion: the time has come for communities of faith to start thinking very differently about homosexuality and the challenge it poses to faith communities today. It is time to start thinking about the challenge that the existence of LGBT human beings poses to the churches at a fundamental level. The question of how the churches choose to deal with the fact that God makes some members of the human community gay is not a question about moral realignment or tinkering with theological systems to find ways to justify treating gay folks a little better. It's a question about what the gospel itself means at the most fundamental level possible. John Shelby Spong has already told us this in a powerful 2009 statement (see also here, here, and here). 

Spong’s manifesto and his refusal to keep playing the game of negotiating the meaning of this or that  biblical text with anti-gay Christians is, at one level, a declaration that the discussion about how the churches choose to deal today with the reality of homosexuality is about fundamentals and not about incidentals. It’s about the most fundamental questions of all for Christian communities: about what the good news means at a fundamental level, about who Jesus was, about what he proclaimed, about what he stood for at a fundamental level, and about the right of the Christian community to continue claiming that it stands in continuity with Jesus and the good news.

Quite simply, the good news of the gospel is good news and not bad news. The gospel is not, as one reader of this blog has recently suggested, about turning the notion of good news upside down and making God's welcoming embrace of all of us sinners into a reward for our righteousness. It is not about making some members of the Christian community examples of unrighteousness or filthiness in order to bolster the sense that the rest of us are the righteous and the clean. 

It's about good news that is good news for everyone and not merely for designated victors, rulers, and definers. This is the most fundamental message at all of the Christian scriptures, and it is what the foundational documents of the Christian scriptures, want to convey in inventing for themselves an entirely new genre, a new literary term, to describe what they're about: they're proclaiming εὐαγγέλιον, gōd-spell. They're offering news that the gospel writers thought of as incomparably good news for everyone: the good news that God welcomes each and every one of us into the divine embrace with open arms, and that, in turning from our self-centeredness through the process of metanoia, a word that means to turn around and change direction, we free ourselves to enter that embrace and, in turn, draw others into it, since it has been freely offered to us.

At various points in the history of the Christian churches, the churches have found themselves so side-tracked by questions about various peripheral issues, that they lose sight of what the gospel message is all about at its most fundamental level possible. At these moments, the churches have undergone historic realignments in order to recover what is most central of all in their creeds and theological formulations--the good news of the gospel message to proclaim which the churches have been called into existence.

One such moment of historic realignment was the period of christological controversies in the early church, which was, at the most fundamental level possible, a discussion about soteriology, about how Christians experience and appropriate the salvation offered through Christ. Another such moment of historic realignment was the period of the Reformation, in which the churches once again underwent a a long and anguished dialogue-struggle about the theology of redemption.

In my view, the Christian churches stand today at a similar historic moment of realignment in which, once again, the question before the churches is how to understand and embody the gospel message at a point in history in which questions about the status of women and of LGBT persons in the human community raise absolutely unavoidable foundational questions about what the churches mean as they preach the gospel today. As the Pew Research survey I cite at the start of this too-lengthy posting suggests, for many LGBT people (and, I'd propose, for many others who increasingly love and affirm us), my Catholic church is quite seriously impeding its claim to represent the good news of the gospel in the human community by the bad-news way in which it continues to choose, at an official level, to deal with members of the human community who happen to be gay (and with women). 

How is the Catholic message bad news for those who are gay and for women? There’s no real need, I think, for me to cover this ground again. I've covered it extensively in one posting after another here for several years now. To summarize my argument in these postings:

∙ Defining some human beings as disordered in their very nature is damaging in the extreme to these human beings. The definition of gay human beings as intrinsically disordered violates the fundamental thrust of the good news of scripture, that God makes the world good and finds what God makes good.
∙ The current Catholic magisterial approach dooms LGBT persons to furtive, self-despising, guilt-ridden lives to the extent to which they want to remain in the good graces of the Catholic church. The arbitrary imposition by fiat of unchosen lifelong celibacy on an entire segment of the human community as a precondition for remaining in the good graces of the Catholic church is outrageous and cruel. The refusal of the Catholic magisterium to permit those made gay by God to affirm their humanity in all its fullness, and to express it in loving relationships, is unloving and unjust in the extreme.   The Catholic church undercuts its claim to preach good news to everyone or anyone at all when its leaders continue to treat a targeted segment of the community in this bad-news way. 
∙ You can't say you're all about defining or defending Catholicity, when you treat LGBT people as if they are not there in the Catholic room, as if they have no voices, as if they don't deserve the basic respect of being included and listened to even as you define their humanity! You just can't. Not if you expect to be taken seriously in your claims about what Catholicity means. 
∙ And in the case of those God chooses to make female and not male: defining members of the human community according to how they are structured biologically—according to their ownership or lack of a penis--and then making decisions about who may rule and who must submit, who may enjoy power and who must expected to be excluded from power, on the basis of these biological accidentals, is blatantly wrong. Turning the gospel message into a message about biology perverts a message meant to be good news for all and changes it into a message of bad news for a targeted segment of the human community. 
∙ "You need to listen to mothers," Anne Gray, the mother of a gay son, told Bishop Thomas Paprocki several weeks ago when Paprocki sought unsuccessfully to convince a Catholic group in Arizona that the message the Catholic church bears for gay folks is good news and not bad news. "What do you want for your daughter or your gay child?" Anne Gray is implicitly asking her fellow Catholics who have daughters or gay children. Do you want their chances at happiness, their lives and futures, to be premised on their sexual orientation or their sex organs?

Equating the good news of the gospel with possession of a penis or a heterosexual sexual orientation (or a light skin, for that matter)  is good news only for a select group of human beings, who happen to have held the reins of power in faith communities and society for a long time, and to have used their power to craft a god made in their own image who is maleficent towards and disdainful of women and gays.

How is this good news for anyone, including heterosexual males?

*I want to issue a note of special thanks to ClevelandGirl for sending me a series of very welcome articles about the Christa Dias story.

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