Monday, November 6, 2017

Why Do Many of Us Feel "Impotent Helplessness" in Face of Cultural Violence? A Reflection (Implicating the Churches)

In both of the postings I've made this morning in response to the Texas mass shooting yesterday (God, how glibly that ugly phrase begins to flow from our mouths now, week after endless week), I've spoken about the feeling of helplessness many of us bring to this situation. To be specific, in my first posting this morning, I wrote very specifically about my own feeling of helplessness, my own feeling that my voice simply does not count: I stated, 

I think, like me, a lot of us are tempted to feel helpless, as if our voices do not count, as if we are not important enough people for anyone to want to listen to us.

Then in my next posting, I quoted verbatim Senator Chris Murphy's eloquent response to yesterday's atrocity, in which he speaks of "the paralysis you feel right now – the impotent helplessness that washes over you as news of another mass slaughter scrolls across the television screen." As Sen. Murphy notes, that feeling of helplessness is inculcated: groups like the NRA work to make us feel helpless in the face of the gun violence that is endemic in American culture.

But in my case — and, I suspect, the case of many others like me — there's another root to the feeling of helplessness and the feeling that my voice does not count. In my case, that sense of not counting has been inculcated by the church community to which I committed myself from young adolescence, the Roman Catholic church.

It's the Catholic community that has taught me very decisively that my voice does not count. And it's not merely the reactionary wing of the Catholic church that has strongly and clearly sent me that signal. That signal was sent to me very decisively when I approached the liberal Catholic journal National Catholic Reporter in the early 1990s with my story of having had my career as a theologian shattered by the Catholic school, Belmont Abbey College — an experience that taught me (and was designed to teach me) that I was utterly helpless in the face of ruthless institutional power, and that nothing I might say could change that reality.

As I've shared here, NCR refused to listen to me or to follow through on my story. Its top editor who communicated with me when I contacted that Catholic paper told me that my story was too common to matter. Translate: you don't matter. You don't count. No, we will not assist you and others like you to make these stories heard.

The message that NCR communicated to me replicated the very message given to me by the reactionary institution that shattered my career, then went on to be one of the first Catholic colleges to file suit against the Affordable Care Act, though it had previously provided contraceptive coverage in its own health insurance plan; then went on to request a "right-to-discriminate" excemption from the federal government permitting it to receive Title IX funds while discriminating against LGBT members of its campus community, etc.

In other words, that my story had substance and merit, and that NCR and other Catholic journals needed to cover it and to look carefully at the institution that shattered the careers of two gay theologians in the early 1990s has been richly verified by the behavior of the very institution that did this to Steve and me: there was and is a story there, and it's clearly a story that revolves around abuse of queer employees of a Catholic institution.

Fast forward to 2017, when one of the leaders of a "liberal" Catholic group working for the full including of queer people in the Catholic church characterizes my work (and, clearly, me) as "uncharitable garbage." As I have said in a previous posting, though I acknowledge and am grateful for the subsequent apology I received after this was done to me by a leader of this group, I still think that a conversation needs to be had about the way in which "liberal" Catholic groups and journals far too easily marginalize a certain kind of critical voice — place it beyond the pale and tag it as uncharitable and unCatholic.

My point in sharing these reflections: many U.S. religious communities have a very serious problem, when it comes to letting some voices that these communities have marginalized as too critical or too angry or too whatever be heard and count. And this is a big part of the problem that American culture now faces: too many of those voices have very deliberately been driven out of the churches, beyond the pale of churches, and — I cannot help concluding this, though it may sound self-serving; but I consider myself to be one among many others placed in this position — the churches and their much-needed moral witness are made much weaker as a result.

At the very moment in history in which a strong moral voice within Christian churches is imperatively needed to speak to cultural fragmentation that is creating serious problems for the world in which we live, and especially for the least among us . . . . A strong moral voice that, in the Catholic context, may reside not merely in priests and religious and the approved and anointed members of the community who happen to live in the right places, know the right people, speak with the right accents, attended the rights schools . . . . 

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