Monday, October 31, 2016

Father James Martin's "Two-Way Bridge" Presentation: Some Questions I'd Like to Ask

I was not able to listen to Father James Martin's bridge-building address yesterday, as he received New Ways Ministry's Bridge Building award. I did tune into Twitter as Fr. Martin was delivering his address, and caught a stream of tweets from New Ways Ministry with soundbytes about what Fr. Martin was saying. I was not able to remain on Twitter long enough to get a sense of the contours of the full presentation, and I have not yet read it.

Please take all of the preceding into account as I share with you a series of questions I jotted down in the few minutes in which I was able to follow tweets from New Ways about what Fr. Martin said. The following questions are in no way a careful, measured response to the entire presentation, which — I repeat — I have not yet read.

I have just read Michael Boyle's response to the presentation at his Sound of Sheer Silence blog, and am taken, in particular, with the following section of Michael's response (not because it happens to mention me, but because it mirrors my own response, based on the limited stream of tweets I followed yesterday). Michael writes,

Martin is saying that the dialogue [between the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBTQ community] that he is describing is going to take a long time, and will probably yield few fruits in the immediate term, so he is asking for folks to hold on through that current status quo (which Martin recognizes as unacceptable) to allow the Church to catch up.  
Reading that paragraph, I was hit with the famous quote by the economist John Maynard Keynes--"in the long run, we are all dead."  The ask Martin makes is for people living in the here and now to stick with an institution that is (by Martin's own admission) not behaving right toward them, in the hope that at some undefined future date it will stop doing these things to similarly situated people.  I think in particular of someone like my comrade-in-blogging Bill Lindsey, who lost his entire livelihood as a Catholic theologian, and now lives with his husband in their forced retirement.  He is unlikely to see any of the changes Martin pushes for, even under Martin's, frankly, optimistic assessment of the state-of-play of the Catholic Church on LGBT questions.  Why should he continue to push that rock up the hill any more?  Shouldn't he be able to live his life in the here and now, without having to sacrifice it to the promise of some possible better future for someone else?

Yes. And here are some questions I sketched as I followed tweets encapsulating Fr. Martin's address yesterday — in particular, the section of it in which he calls on the LGBTQ community to understand, forgive, love, and build bridges to the Catholic hierarchy:

1. Should Franz Jäggerstätter have "understood" his bishop's counsel to him to put on a Nazi uniform and do his duty as an Austrian Catholic in Hitler's army?

If I recall Gordon Zahn's biography of Jäggerstätter, In Solitary Witness, correctly (it has been many moons since I have read it), Jäggerstätter's bishop actually visited him in prison as Jäggerstätter persisted in his Catholic conscientious objection, and lectured him on Catholic "truth" about patriotism: the bishop told Jäggerstätter that the church demands that people do their duty by their country when their country calls on them to serve in its military.

Is the call to "understand" where bishops are coming from sometimes a smokescreen for refusing to recognize that bishops can be flatly wrong in their moral teaching and moral witness? What are the limits of the "understanding" LGBTQ Catholics are called to demonstrate in the case of the Catholic hierarchy?

As one woman after another has written during this U.S. election cycle, isn't it interesting that we're asked repeatedly to "understand" men who knock women about in many different ways — and not simply to repudiate their knocking women about? The call to "understand" clearly can and clearly does function as a veil drawn around ideas and behaviors that are simply morally repugnant, morally unacceptable. It can be an impediment to good moral action and clear moral judgment.

It's the repugnance of those targeted by morally repugnant ideas and behavior that demands understanding and attention, it seems to me — not those propagating such ideas. As long as the Catholic community chooses to remain stuck at the point of false equivalency, of "both-sides-have-points" in its analysis of how the hierarchy has long dealt with LGBTQ people, we won't get far down the road towards better moral ideas and better moral behavior.

2. What were former slaves communicating to us when they told us, in one slave narrative after another collected by the WPA, that their slaveholders constantly sent white preachers to them to preach docility — meekness, obedience, forgiveness, "understanding" of the slaveholder?

That message was not communicated to slaveholders as the essence of Christianity. It was repeatedly communicated to slaves, who understood, many of them report in the WPA slave narratives, that it was a deformed understanding of the Christian gospels designed to mask the immorality and cruelty of the system of slavery — to wrap it up in nice-sounding "Christian" terms designed to make slaves docile.

There are strong suggestions that when slaves were free to gather among themselves (often, in hidden places where they talked about the gospel without white supervision), their take on their slave owners and the white preachers sent to teach them docility was more than a little salty. They laughed. They mocked. They told stories designed to skewer the pretensions and expose the foibles of their slaveholders.

Left to their own devices, slaves were, these suggestions indicate, anything but meekly submissive in the face of draconian oppression. They used mockery and laughter as a way to whittle their oppressors down to size, to put their silliness and stupidity into perspective — just as, I'd propose, many LGBTQ people do when they mock the fripperies and furbelows of silk-and-lace clad bishops hurling down invective against LGBTQ people and calling on the church to present a more "masculine" face to the world as it combats the evil of homosexuality.

Such biting, sarcastic humor is a way of defusing the effects of oppression, and those who attack this kind of humor are placing themselves on the side of the oppressor — and don't deserve a hearing.

3. As I have persistently asked here, does anyone know of any initiatives within the U.S. Catholic church to place the LGBTQ community in fruitful dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy?

What kind of bridge-building are the members of the hierarchy actually doing, when all is said and done, when they create no safe spaces within the U.S. Catholic church for this kind of dialogue — which must begin with hearing the stories, the witness, of LGBTQ people whose humanity has been radically distorted in Catholic teaching, and who need, by first-person narratives, to sketch their real humanity to those twisting it in official Catholic teaching?

This is a basic prerequisite of bridge-building between the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBTQ community. And the onus of such bridge-building is on the side of the hierarchy, who alone have the tools — the institutional power — to make such dialogue happen.

4. In the absence of any such bridge-building effort, and as LGBTQ people are singled out for unjust firing in Catholic institutions, what do nice words about building bridges and "understanding" really mean, when all is said and done?

And I'll end simply by stating that question as loudly and clearly as I can.

(Many thanks to Rolando for providing a link to video coverage of Fr. Martin's address at the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.)

The photo of a bridge to nowhere is by Wikimedia user DerHessi, and is a photo of the Soda-Brücke in Castrop-Rauxel-Frohlinde. DerHessi has uploaded it to Wikimedia Commons for sharing.

No comments: