Monday, December 25, 2017

The Message of the Church to LGBTQ Catholics: Merry Christmas — Oh, and There's (Still) No Room in the Inn for the Likes of You

One of the definitive messages of the Christmas story — perhaps more definitive for many of us who are LGBTQ and Christian — is the message of no room: there was no room anywhere for Joseph and Mary as they came to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth.

Tweet after tweet and essay following on essay in the past few days repeat, in various cadences and formulations, the simple, elegant summary of the Christmas message that Rev. William J. Barber II tweeted out yesterday (the tweet is above), 

Until we do right by immigrants & refugees, we forfeit the right to claim we know what Christmas is about.

We who are LGBTQ and Christian have been displaced. 

We have been displaced by our churches. We have been made refugees by our own Christian communities.

When your jobs and ministry positions are taken away in the twinkling of an eye, because of who God made you to be and whom you love, when you are expelled from the Christian institutions in which you previously found a place, a livelihood, community — you become a refugee. You do not know where to turn to find the things you have lost — a sense of belonging, a sense that your life counts, a sense that someone somewhere cares.

When no one within the Christian institutions that have treated you this way reaches out to you as you wander searching for a home, when no one within those institutions seeks to build a bridge to you in the darkness in which their institution has made you wander, the message that you do not have a place and are not wanted is redoubled in the starkest way possible.

The message transmitted to you — loudly and clearly — is that the church that has sent you wandering in darkness is their church. And what on earth ever made you imagine it was your church, too?

That message becomes unimaginably cruel when the people uttering it also speak of building bridges to folks like you, and of the failure of their church to reach out to people like you. It becomes breathtakingly inhumane when the very people offering this message to the world tweet statements, as Father James Martin did this Christmas morning, about what a wonderful, gifted pastor and gentle person was the very same man who chose to send you wandering in the wildnerness. Who made you a refugee to whom it has been bluntly communicated that this is not your church — but his church . . . .

Father Martin is tweeting about the former bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina, William Curlin, who has just died. I wish no ill to Bishop Curlin; I wish for him the same peace and mercy I wish for myself at the end of my life.

But it remains undeniably true — I have written at length here about this, and does Father Martin think I have simply fabricated this story? — that Bishop Curlin was at the very center of the shattering of my career as a Catholic theologian and that of my husband Steve. And that, when I begged repeatedly that Bishop Curlin would meet with me to talk about what was being done to us by the diocese of Charlotte and Belmont Abbey College, he refused repeatedly to meet with me.

He never met with me. Not once. He never saw my face. He refused to meet with me.

And since this is how a gifted pastor and gentle faithful disciple of Jesus behaves according to Father Martin — who says that he wishes to build bridges to LGBTQ Catholics whom the church has turned into refugees and non-persons — the message to me is clear: I have simply never really understood what the Christian message is about. What Jesus is about. What being pastoral is about. What being a disciple of Jesus is about.

Bishop Curlin understood this, according to Father Martin. And Father Martin understands it.

They understand what's hidden from the likes of me because it's their church. Not mine. It's not a church for the likes of me. 

Something must be so terribly wrong with me that I cannot begin to see through all these twists and turns and understand that they, when they chose to make my life a living hell by taking my vocation from me and then refusing even to meet me face to face, were behaving like gentle, good, Christian pastors and faithful disciples of Jesus.

When this is the soul-twisting message offered to people by the Christian church, the only thing left for those of us receiving the message to do is, it seems to me, to affirm that there is not and never has been room for us in the church. That the project of building bridges, wonderful as it is (I gave a little financial gift in the pre-Christmas season to support this project at New Ways Ministry), does not envisage a certain kind of LGBTQ person — the exceptionally twisted kind who somehow deserved to be sent wandering in the darkness, since they never quite got what Christian discipleship is all about. 

I understand from my own experience — at least a bit — what survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse have been made to feel over and over again by the Catholic church, as they have seen their tormentor or the bishop who protected their tormentor die and then be accorded a lavish funeral by the church, while church officials who claim that they have finally gotten the cruelty of the abuse situation heap praises on their tormentor. The message given to abuse survivors when this happens — and it happens repeatedly within the Catholic church — is that they have no right to feel assaulted, revictimized, as if salt is being poured into their wounds, and they have no right to speak out about the pain, since any word they utter when someone has died will be used against them, because no one is to speak ill of the dead. 

The message is, we cannot avoid conlcuding, that something in these abuse survivors must have solicited their abuse, and they are no more worthy of respect and inclusion now than they were when they were first assaulted by a church official. 

The church belongs to some folks.

It does not belong to other folks.

And to those of us who fit that latter category, the bit of the gospel to which we should, it appears, cling this Christmas day as the only bit that will ever be offered to us is, "There is no room in the inn for you."

Later: A friend on Facebook responds as follows when I post a link there to the posting above:

"There are those who try to tell us that the Church accepts everyone. These people are either blind (willfully or not), liars or fools."

And my response to his statement:

"And it hurts so much more — the repudiation and exclusion — when the person engaging in it and defending it is someone of the ilk of James Martin, who writes about building bridges!

The message to folks like me is that we are just not the right sort of LGBTQ Catholics, and we must somehow have earned what has been done to us."

Please see the following two postings that continue the discussion which this posting begins — here and here.

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