Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bishop Gene Robinson to Matt Shepard: "Welcome Home"; Catholic Youth Synod to LGBTQ People: "You Will Not Be Named in Our Heterosexual Church" — Questions for Synod Participants and Voters

In his sermon at the interment of Matt Shepard, Bishop Gene Robinson says the following (these excerpts are from about 1:13:48 and 1:19:32 in the video above):

The bigger picture here is what we human beings tend to do, which is to label someone different from ourselves as other, which is code for not really human. And then you can do to them anything that you like. People of color know that. The LGBTQ community knows that. Every marginalized person and group in this country knows that. And we are seeing way too much of that at the moment.


This will be the part where I cry. So I have three things I want to say to Matt:  
"Gently rest in this place." 
"You are safe now."  
"Oh, yeah, and Matt, welcome home. Amen." 

As I watch the video and listen to these moving words, I'm struck by the faces of the congregation as the camera pans across them when Gene Robinson tells Matt Shepard he is at home in this church. He is welcome. He is safe.

People are openly weeping, sobbing. I see faces of people I'm inclined to conclude are those of LGBTQ people. I see faces of people I'd conclude are straight allies or straight Christians who do not want to participate in the ugly attacks on queer human beings by many Christians today. 

These listeners are obviously very deeply moved at the thought that a Christian church has offered a home, a welcome, a safe place to Matt Shepard. I would be inclined to conclude that, like me, many of the folks with tears on their faces as they hear these words are people who have long sought welcome, a home, a safe place within their own religious communities — and have not found it.

These are people hungry for welcome, a safe place, a home within the Christian community. They hunger to hear such words from Christian officials.

Gene Robinson's statements about welcome, home, a safe place, link to his preceding statements about what happens when we human beings treat some members of the human community as other, as different from outselves in a stigmatizing way. As he points out, when we do that, we send a message that those othered human beings are not really human in the same way we are human.

There's we and there's they, us and them. We represent the norm, they do not. The church is our safe place and home. It's not their safe place and home. The very pronouns we use to talk about them — calling ourselves "we" and speaking of "them" as distinct from "us": the very pronouns contain the judgment of cold-hearted othering inside them.

Gene Robinson's words connect, we can also conclude, to much that is happening in our world right now in addition to the interment of Matt Shepard. They connect to the mass murder of people gathered yesterday in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. They connect to the group of Democratic leaders to whom lethal explosive devices were mailed in the very same week in which the synagogue atrocity occurred, and in which Matt Shepard was interred and Bishop Robinson spoke those words.

They connect, too, to the eminently cruel, hateful initiative of the Trump administration in this very same time frame to erase transgender people. Transgender people now have no name in Trump world. They do not exist. Their name is being taken away from them; they are being made invisible.

Invisible people have no rights. They can, as Gene Robinson says, be treated any way we choose to treat them. 

Christian people, lots of them, are cheering Mr. Trump and his cronies on as he mounts these eminently cruel attacks on transgender human beings. Rev. Franklin Graham, a strong voice for the 8 in 10 white evangelicals who elected Mr. Trump, issued a series of statements this week praising the Trump administration for its cruelty.

Queer human beings do not have a home, a safe place, and are are not welcome in our Christian churches: that's the message of this segment of Christianity, which includes a plethora of white American Catholics. It's our church. And our church is by definition heterosexual.

Bishop Robinson's words also connect to what the youth synod in Rome chose to do two days after Bishop Robinson preached the sermon from which I've given you excerpts above. Christopher Lamb reports, "Final synod doc: Church most focus on listening to, welcoming the young":

It [the final synod document] goes on: “The Church is called to be relational, focussing on listening, welcoming, dialogue.” …

On gay Catholics, the final text avoids using the phrase “LGBT” which had been present in the synod’s working document, and the first time such a reference had been used in official Vatican material. ...

On the other hand, the synod text talks about the need to "accompany" gay Catholics, and "to recognise the desire to belong and contribute to the life of the community” and “discern” how this can take place.

Two days after Bishop Robinson stood before the congregation gathered at Washington's national cathedral to welcome Matt Robinson home, the synod voters chose to refuse even to speak the name of LGBTQ people. They had already chosen, of course, to make LGBTQ people totally invisible at the synod. Openly queer people were not invited to the synod. They were not given a voice at the synod. They had no vote at the synod.

The synod was our church — a heterosexual church, it goes without saying — defining them as the unwelcome outsider, the problem to be taken care of. The synod solves this problem by calling for the church to "listen" to and "welcome" and "accompany" these people who are not even there in the room, because they were excluded a priori from the synod's discussions and deliberations, and from its voting process.

And the final report of the synod chooses to deny even a name to these people "we" are called to listen to, welcome, and accompany.

I have some questions about all of this — questions for the synod voters and participants:

1. Synod participants and voters: You say that the church should "accompany" LGBTQ folks — and you say this at the very same time that you refuse to name the very folks you want to "accompany."

How is it possible to "accompany" people whose name you refuse even to speak? How do you "accompany" people who are not even there, because you chose not to invite them to your synod, and do not choose to speak their name? 

2. Synod participants and voters: Though openly queer Catholics were not even present at your synod — by your choice — you conclude that the church should "welcome," "listen to," and "accompany" these human beings you have chosen from the outset to treat as the unwelcome other.

How is it possible to listen to and accompany the nameless not-there? 

3. Synod participants and voters: By pretending that you want to "welcome," "listen to," and "accompany" people you have defined totally out of your conversation, out of your church — out of your heterosexual church — are you not trying to buy very cheap grace for yourselves and your church?

It's the very essence of cheap grace to want to pat oneself on the back and tell oneself how loving one is in "welcoming" and "accompanying" the strange other — when one takes none of the steps even to acknowledge that the other is there, is part of oneself and one's community.

4. Synod voters and participants: As you formulated your final report, were you listening to what Bishop Gene Robinson said two days prior to your report as he welcomed Matt Shepard home to his church? Did you see video coverage of this historic event showing members of the congregation in tears as they heard Bishop Robinson's welcome-home words to Matt Shepard? 

5. Synod voters and participants: Were you listening to the signs of the times when you chose a very different path regarding the LGBTQ community than the path chosen by Bishop Robinson and his church? His path speaks the name of LGBTQ people and welcomes and includes them, informing them that is their church. Your path communicates that you cannot call them, those queer people, by their name in your church, that they cannot have a voice in discussions in your church.

6. Synod voters and participants: Given a choce between the real welcome offered to them as queer members of the body of Christ, the real home offered to them by some churches other than your heterosexist Catholic club, why would queer folks ever choose the artificial "welcome" and "accompaniment" of the Catholic church you choose to define as heterosexual and as homosexual-excluding?

7. Synod voters and participants: As you claim you want to "listen" to all the people of God, are you listening to the reasons that many younger Catholics are stating for their decision to walk away from your church? Have you heard those younger Catholics, who are walking away in record numbers, tell you that  they can no longer accept the cruel unwelcome your heterosexually defined Catholic church provides to the LGBTQ community?

8. Synod voters and participants: Do you think your cruel choice to make queer Catholics invisible in your synod and its final report provides any kind of authentic or credible countercultural witness to a world in which hateful people want now to erase all sorts of stigmatized others?

9. Synod voters and participants: In what way, precisely, is your choice to make queer Catholics invisible in your final report a countercultural witness that provides a graced alternative to queer people when the U.S. presidency is working actively now to erase transgender people? 

10. Bridge-building LGBTQ Catholics: Why do you continue to put up with these meager crumbs from a Catholic table designed to exclude you, while you mirror in your own organizations the cruel structures of exclusion used to inform LGBTQ Catholics that they are unwelcome in the Catholic church — while you exclude the voices of many of your fellow LGBTQ Catholics (and former Catholics) whom you choose to stigmatize as "uncharitable garbage"? Do you not think that this is part of the problem — that you are part of the problem — when you treat many LGBTQ Catholics (and former Catholics) as if they have nothing to offer to your tightly defined and exclusive Catholic conversation? Have you read Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth and learned how oppressive authority figures always choose anointed members of a marginalized community to cooperate with them, to receive a few crumbs from the oppressor's table, and help them in the process of beating down all other members of an oppressed community?

Just asking, from the nowhere place to which I've been consigned by these structures — and by the "bridge-building" Catholic groups who have never chosen to reach out to me or to others like me, in that nowhere place….

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