Monday, December 28, 2015

National Catholic Reporter Editorializes: "How Will We As a Church Live with Our Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Brothers and Sisters?"

National Catholic Reporter names Catholic couple Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon of Louisville, lead plaintiffs in the Obergefell case, persons of the year. NCR writes, 

Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers. Their livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church. In 2015, at least 10 church employees in the United States lost their jobs because of sexual orientation. In nearly all cases, these were long-standing employees who were deeply respected by their school and parish commu­nities. In most cases, their orientation and even their partners were known by the community. They expe­rienced no difficulties until they entered civil mar­riages. 
NCR is already on record advocating for church personnel policies that ensure that employees can en­ter into legal, civil marriages without fear of losing their jobs. 
Today, we address a more fundamental issue: How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters? We are past the time of "love the sinner" platitudes. . . . 
The answers the church is giving now are con­fused, uneven and often cruel. Greg and Michael -- and countless gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics -- deserve better.

Amen. We who are church members and LGBT, who have sought both to live our faith in a public, committed way and to acknowledge with gratitude who God made us to be, deserve better. We who have roots in the Catholic church have, very many of us, been actively hurt by the Catholic community, and the assault continues right up to the present, as news broke this Christmas season of the firing of yet another gay and married employee of a Catholic church last month — Jeffrey Higgins, who was a cantor at Mother Seton Catholic church in Germantown, Maryland.

As Bob Shine notes for Bondings 2.0 today, at least 60 Catholic employees have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since New Ways Ministry began tracking the numbers in 2008. Bob Shine puts the number of Catholic workers who lost jobs in these disputes in the past year at fourteen. And he suggests that unless policies are set into place by Catholic institutions protecting the rights of employees, including LGBT ones, these firings will continue. Institutions like the Catholic college Belmont Abbey in North Carolina (and here and here) have been busy, after all, in 2015, petitioning the federal government for "right-to-discriminate" exemptions permitting them to continue receiving federal funding while flouting federal non-discrimination guidelines having to do with LGBT people.

As if she's writing in direct response to NCR's editorial question — "How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters?" — Rabbi Mychal Copeland writes for Religion Dispatches last week,

LGBTQI people do not stand outside of religious structures; both on campus and off, we are filling the pews, creating theology and liturgy, providing pastoral care, and leading religious organizations and congregations at a rate unparalleled in history. That narrative does not receive the publicity it deserves.  . . .  
Even among our most affirming traditions, there is still work to be done. True transformation will take place when we go beyond "welcoming" those who reside on the fringes of our institutions, when we are ready to be profoundly influenced by everyone’s presence. As Marvin M. Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith write about the Presbyterian Church: 
"Non-heterosexual and transgender persons reside in every faith community, so the change agenda is not how to include 'outsiders' and bring them inside, but rather how to create the communal conditions of hospitality, safety, and respect so that people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities alike can acknowledge and share what they have come to know, often at great risk, about resisting injustice, enhancing human dignity, and revitalizing community."

"How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters?" We must go beyond "including" and "welcoming" to recognizing the presence of these brothers and sisters who are already among us, and who have been contributing and continue to contribute in manifold life-giving ways to our faith communities and secular communities. 

The Catholic church is, unfortunately, very, very far from such a recognition. It still very commonly actively punishes ministers, priests, religious, employees who make their presence as LGBTI people in the Catholic community publicly known. It still — at the very top levels of the church, including with Pope Francis — continues to speak about mercy, human rights, and the negative effects of marginalization as if LGBTI people do not exist and are not included in anything the church says about these matters.

As if the church can credibly talk about mercy while behaving with active cruelty towards a targeted segment of the human community . . . !

And so, for many of us with Catholic roots, it's simply too late to wait for that "beyond welcome" stance to develop within the Catholic church. We've been waiting many years for the prior step — the welcome step — to develop, and have not found the Catholic community willing to make room for us. You cannot be more decisive about not making room for someone than taking away his livelihood, his place at the table of daily bread, as you point to Catholic teaching about sexual ethics that is applied selectively to LGBT people as your basis for doing this, while you totally ignore the shortcomings of heterosexual employees of Catholic institutions who also violate the church's teaching about sexual morality. 

For many of us like my husband Steve and me, end-of-life questions now begin to preoccupy our attention, and we realize that we simply cannot wait any longer for a welcome or a beyond-welcome stance to develop in our Catholic community. Not while we increasingly need the love and support of a Christian community as our own families withhold love and support from us, while they practice a cruelty that they know full well has the support of the pastoral leaders of the church, and which marks them as faithful, committed Catholics . . . .

A lot of us are simply too worn out from the effects of that cruelty, which is often heaped onto our backs by the very family members to whom we've given much over many years, and who then repay our kindness by scorning and abusing us — we're too worn out from the effects of that cruelty to wait any longer. The job of waiting for an inclusion or welcome that may or may not ever happen in churches like the Catholic church now has to pass on, many of us who are approaching the end of our lives are concluding, to the generations to come after us.

The doors we had hoped to see open in our Catholic church, the apologies for the abominable injustice and cruelty practiced toward us: those doors have not opened and those apologies have not been forthcoming. Nor are they about to open or to come, in my estimation in these days when 2015 creeps to its end and 2016 is about to arrive.

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