Saturday, March 26, 2016

As Easter Nears, I'm Pondering Kaya Oakes's Question, "Is the Catholic Church in America Getting Worse for LGBTQ People and Women?" (My Answer: Yes)

I've replied to Kaya Oakes's tweet (and Facebook posting) above. Here's my reply: Yes.
It's Holy Saturday. As we did last year, Steve and I will be attending a Holy Saturday seder supper this evening at the African-American Baptist church pastored by our friend Wendell Griffen (with the support and constant assistance of his wife Patricia, also our good friend). Tomorrow, we'll celebrate Easter with Episcopalian friends.

To put the point simply, we're going to these celebrations because we've been invited by friends to attend them, just as we've been invited to attend the forthcoming workshop organized by this same African-American Baptist church on embracing and affirming LGBTQ diversity and inclusivity within the black church and have accepted that invitation gladly.

To put the point simply, the Catholic church in which Steve was raised and has deep roots, and which I chose as a young teen, does not issue invitations to us to come to its liturgical celebrations, to participate in its communal life, to attend its totally non-existent workshops on embracing and affirming LGBTQ diversity and inclusivity.

And so why in God's holy name would we choose that church for such Holy Week celebrations as we will engage in, rather than the churches that do invite us and do welcome us? Especially when, as happens with so many other LGBTQ people we know, both of our families have made a point of communicating to us that they do not respect us, want to include us, or love us . . . .

Why, I wonder, would we replicate that dysfunctional pattern of exclusion and, let's be honest, of hate within our families of origin, when we choose a church family, and when we're celebrating events whose message is resurrection, new life, the transformation of oppression into liberation?

Instead of issuing invitations to us as LGBTQ people who are unfortunately not valued by our own families — but who can find a place of welcome, safety, and love within a Christian community — here's the message the Catholic church in the U.S. seems eager to give us this Holy Week (Happy Easter, LGBT Catholics!):

1. From Lewiston, Montana, news breaks that a parish priest who had formerly denied communion to a same-sex couple that has long attended the church he pastors has now disrupted a funeral — he disrupted a funeral! — because people who stood in solidarity with that same-sex couple were among the mourners at the funeral. 
2. From Evansville, Indiana, comes news that a Catholic pastor has shut down a ministry to welcome and affirm LGBT people in his parish, which has been going on for twelve years. The new pastor arrived this January.

As this ugly message rolls forth to those of us who are LGBTQ or who love and support people who are LGBTQ, I then turn to "liberal" Catholic blog sites like Commonweal, where there have been recent discussions of how the Catholic church needs to move beyond pushing LGBTQ people to its margins, and I encounter, in the comboxes responding to such proposals, a bunch of toxic gibberish about disordered LGBTQ people and oh, by the way, please remember that when I tell you you are intrinsically disordered, I speak lots of Love and Mercy and Salvation and the blessing of The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity.

A toxic — and let's face it, a hateful message — because it uses the pretend-holy drivel to inform LGBTQ human beings that we are intrinsically disordered in our very natures, unlike the "non-disordered" saints issuing these pronouncements, a message reinforced by the usual male-entitled and eminently heterosexual Catholic bully men who frequent this and other "liberal" Catholic blog sites and who then hop into the discussion to slap away at anyone who dares to disagree with the hateful toxic sludge mucked about in the name of The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity . . . .

While the "liberal" Catholics who haunt this discussion space, and who claim they want their church to stop shoving LGBTQ people to the margins, greet the bullying with more or less absolute silence . . . . Just as they did several years ago when some of these very same male-entitled and eminently heterosexual Catholic bully men taunted me in that very same "liberal" Catholic Commonweal discussion space with smears about my gender, knowing that I am a male, but a gay one, pretending that I was female and addressing me as female, even though my username was right there for those engaging in this adolescent bullying behavior to see: William Lindsey . . . .

Taunts issued, I certainly do understand, in the name of Love and Mercy and Salvation and The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity . . . .

I'd be a fool to consider the Catholic community represented both by the ugly homophobic Catholic bully men and by the Catholic "liberals" who refuse to step up to the plate and shut such bullying down as any kind of a welcoming space. Wouldn't I?

And that's just one of the "liberal" and ostensibly "welcoming" options for LGBTQ Catholics seeking affirmation online, but encountering gross bullying and insults as their "liberal" and "affirming" fellow Catholics sit by in total silence. In recent days, a regular at the National Catholic Reporter site, Purgatrix Ineptiae, who loves to hound and insult gay men, in particular, chose to post sly, insulting comments about "men" who are really like women — read: she was writing about gay men — and the whole "liberal" blogging community who hang out at NCR sat by in complete silence as she issued that insult.* 

And the NCR moderators allowed her to use NCR's comboxes to slap away at gay men, issuing taunts about the defective masculinity and despicable femininity of gay men that she has long issued at Catholic blog sites under a number of usernames, so it's not really hard, is it, to figure out what she intends to communicate with those quotation marks around the word "men" when she's talking about feminized men she despises — the kind who go to operas and art museums, she helpfully adds.

Happy Easter, LGBTQ folks! You're clearly as welcome as the flowers of springtime in such discussion spaces, in the church of Love and Mercy and Salvation and The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity for which folks like Ms. Ineptiae and the bullying macho men at Commonweal shill. Aren't you? 

If you don't understand how welcome you are, then perhaps that only proves what we've long sought to tell you, out of the abundance of our loving and merciful hearts: it proves how disordered you really are.

And as all this Holy Week messaging is going on within the Catholic world (and, I want to underscore, the stories from Montana and Indiana are stories that broke just this week; there are many similar ones to which I could point from weeks prior to Holy Week), the state of North Carolina rams through its legislature in a special called session (cost to taxpayers: $42,000) the most far-reaching and cruel anti-gay legislation yet to appear in any state legislature. And the Republican governor of North Carolina, Mr. McCrory, signs the bill into law immediately.

This on the heels of an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill in Georgia which gives "faith-based" groups the "right" to deny services and goods to LGBT people. This several weeks after the Kentucky senate approved a bill that creates two different marriage license forms for straight and gay couples — a separate-but-equal arrangement whose sole purpose is to tag and demean those who are "gay-married."

LGBTQ folks, as you're informed you are unwanted second-class citizens in places like Georgia and North Carolina, don't look to the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in these states to speak out on your behalf. Several years ago, before the North Carolina legislature was taken over by tea party Republicans, as it considered a bill to protect young people bullied in North Carolina schools due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation, the Catholic bishops of North Carolina spoke out against that bill. Though one of those two gentlemen had a brother who, as I was told by impeccable sources when I lived in North Carolina in the 1990s, committed suicide after having told people several days before he took his life that his Catholic family had rejected him and made his life intolerable because he was gay . . . . 

Given the fact that the sole Catholic college in the state of North Carolina, Belmont Abbey College, has applied for and received a "right-to-discriminate" exemption permitting it to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws prohibiting anti-transgender discrimination while it receives federal funding, I would not think that the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in that state would oppose North Carolina's draconian new anti-LGBTQ legislation, would you? Especially when it deliberately targets transgender human beings . . . . . And when the diocese of Charlotte has just announced plans to open a seminary in collaboration with that same Catholic college, Belmont Abbey College.

I wouldn't imagine that this seminary would be training candidates for the priesthood to welcome and affirm LGBTQ people, would you? How could it do so, when it's housed on a campus that has applied for a "right-to-discriminate" exemption from federal laws prohibiting such discrimination?

So there you have it. For LGBTQ Catholics with ears to hear, there are some loud and clear messages to be heard this Holy Week. But for those of you inclined to log in here with glee to remind me that, well, what did you ever expect from that incarnation of evil, that whore of Bablyon, the Roman Catholic church, please let me point out that the states in which the hottest, heaviest, meanest anti-LGBTQ legislative initiatives are to be found are states dominated by white evangelicals. They're states dominated by the same kind of racist white evangelicals who are jubilant about the success of Donald Trump's campaign.

States in which Catholics form a majority trend, in fact, against the hot, heavy, mean anti-LGBTQ legislation. Lay Catholics, as opposed to the leaders of the Catholic institution, tend to oppose discrimination against LGBTQ people.

And this complicates the anti-Catholic whore of Babylon narrative some of you readers have been so eager to peddle to me — a far too easy narrative that allows those peddling it to pretend that we holy and upright enlightened folks have no fault or sin in ourselves, and that all the faults and sins in the world can be pinned to a single institution, to those unenlightened people over there who do not see clearly as we do.

Too easy. Too self-exonerating. Too morally lazy. Far too dogmatic, in a way strikingly like — a reverse image in a mirror — everything the people seeking to peddle this cheap-grace notion to me claim to despise about the dogmatic Catholic institution they're opposing. 

I'm not criticizing the Catholic church (or any other religious institution) here because I hate these institutions and want to be stuck in dysfunctional anger and belligerence as my response to them. I do not want to collude with hatred. I'm criticizing these institutions because they break my heart, as a gay person living in the United States right now. I'm criticizing them because I want them to be what they profess to be — salvific for me and others.

I'm criticizing the Catholic church because it's attacking not merely LGBTQ people but also women, especially poor women living on the margins of American society, in the Zubik case, while it professes to be about redemption (and love and mercy and justice). I find it heart-breaking that this attack on poor women living on the margins of American society is being spearheaded by religious women, who ought to know better, and who ought to have learned something about the damage that entitled heterosexist and misogynistic Catholic bully men do to women, from their experience of being Catholic religious women. 

I do not find much hope, much alternative imagination, in the movements of militant atheism which want to substitute one set of rigid dogmas for another, who want to set up what is essentially a counter-"religion" of an anti-religious sort in response to the religious institutions whose walls they wish to knock down. I very much agree with the critique from which such an initiative proceeds: I find that much religious practice in the U.S. has become, to a great extent, dysfunctional, non-salvific, a fiercely regressive force captive to the interests of the affluent classes rather than a liberating one in much of the nation (though not everywhere and not in all social groups).

But I do not find the salvation for which I'm looking personally, as a wounded gay human being without the love and support of a family, in what the militantly anti-religious movements some people want to peddle to me as salvific are offering in response to the religious institutions they rightly critique.  In very many ways, what I hear militantly anti-religious people offereng me as a gay man seeking safety and salvation in a cruel social order is, in so many ways, a mirror image of the cruelty and dogmatism I'm turning my back on in religion. The movement of militant atheism in American culture is every bit as oppressively male-entitled, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, and class-oriented as many churches today are . . . .

If you have thought that the purpose of this blog is to give people space to mount cheap, morally lazy and self-aggrandizing attacks on the Catholic church as the whore of Babylon or on religion, I apologize to you that I have not made myself clear about why I've set this blog up. As its statement of purpose has said from the outset, I'm here because I'm on pilgrimage towards a more humane world for everyone, and I will gladly slog along with others, religious, non-religious, anti-religious, who want to share in that pilgrimage and move towards that goal.

I'm not interested in the weapons and the warfare and the hateful belligerence, which get none of us anywhere good at all if our goal is to build a more humane world for everyone. I need something more and better than weapons and warfare and hateful belligerence for my own life, this Easter time.

You folks offering me enlightenment and salvation of an alternative sort: do you really imagine, from what I've said on this blog for years now, that I don't fully understand that the Catholic church is a deeply corrupt institution, corrupt from the top down (an essential point), doing all kinds of harm to hapless human beings — and especially to women and LGBTQ human beings — because the corruption is deeply rooted in a clerical system that is all-male and misogynistic and homophobic? Do you imagine you need to convince me — who have experienced the effects of that corruption in tragic ways in my own life — that this is the case? Who have experienced the effects of that corruption, too, from the white evangelical traditions that dominate in my part of the country, which have had an equally destructive effect on my life as a gay Christian?

It frankly breaks my heart to have to answer yes to Kaya Oakes's valuable question — a question I am very grateful to her for asking. I appreciate Kaya for her longstanding advocacy for LGBTQ people and for a Catholic church that will actually be redemptive for such human beings, and this is why I've featured Kaya's work here repeatedly, as you'll discover if you click her name in the labels below — and I would not want her to think my answer is flippant or disrespectful of her as someone who has labored beside people like me seeking welcoming community and liberation within the Catholic tradition.

A good Easter to those of you who celebrate this holiday. A good springtime weekend to everyone.

*NCR comments are turned off for Easter weekend as I'm composing this, so I cannot provide a link, since I cannot find that particular comment. I am summarizing her comment from memory.

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