Saturday, November 3, 2018

National Catholic Reporter Addresses Wave of Catholic Hate Against Queer Community: My Response — Listening Means Listening

For my starting point today, as I direct you to two statements at National Catholic Reporter yesterday decrying the wave of homophobic hate raging through sectors of the U.S. Catholic church now, I want to talk about the media and listening. To be specific: I want to talk about the mainstream media (including the Catholic mainstream media) and listening — or not — to members of marginalized minority communities.

Three days ago, I highlighted a recent article by Joel Mathis entitled "Journalists of color were right about Trump. Why didn't we listen?" As I stated, Mathis argues that journalists of color were absolutely correct in 2016 about who Donald Trump is and what he would bring to the nation — but "we" refused to listen to them. "We" did not listen, he thinks, because American journalism is by default a white profession with a white gaze. Even when the mainstream media engage token members of various minority communities, the business of journalism remains heavily dominated by straight white men from the top down, and it's no accident that it primarily reflects their dominant gaze.

Then I went on to observe that these conclusions obtain, too, and perhaps a fortiori, for the Catholic news media. It has long been and remains dominated by the gaze of straight white men, who think nothing of speaking on behalf of and down to members of the queer community, especially as church teachings radically affecting our lives are parsed. I concluded this section of my Wednesday posting insisting that it would make a world of difference if listening really meant listening when Catholics respond to church documents like the recent synod report. It would make a world of difference if, as mainstream Catholic journalists tout this report and its emphasis on listening, members of the Catholic journalistic community would at long last open doors to allow queer people to talk to the Catholic community in our own voices, and if heterosexual Catholic journalists stopped talking about and down to us and pretending that heterosexuality is the default setting for Catholicism.

Now I'd like to add to Joel Mathis' testimony the following testimony from Tayari Jones in his recent essay, "There's Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground." Once again: I'm laying a foundation to discuss the two articles that appeared in National Catholic Reporter yesterday decrying the rising anti-gay hatred being expressed in some sectors of the U.S. Catholic church.

Jones writes,

The middle is a point equidistant from two poles. That's it. There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there. Buried in this is a false equivalency of ideas, what you might call the "good people on both sides" phenomenon. When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? Rather than chattel slavery, perhaps we could agree on a nice program of indentured servitude? Instead of subjecting Japanese-American citizens to indefinite detention during WW II, what if we had agreed to give them actual sentences and perhaps provided a receipt for them to reclaim their things when they were released? What is halfway between moral and immoral? 
When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? 
The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Certainly, they reason, this current moment is somehow a complicated misunderstanding. Perhaps there is some way to look at this–a view from the middle–that would allow us to communicate and realize that our national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably, and with a bow…. 
For the people directly affected, the culture war is a real war too. They know there is no safety in the in-between. The romance of the middle can exist when one's empathy is aligned with the people expressing opinions on policy or culture rather than with those who will be affected by these policies or cultural norms. Buried in this argument, whether we realize it or not, is the fact that these policies change people's lives.

Joel Mathis' article asks right in its title, Why didn't we listen? Why didn't we listen to them? He states flatly that the U.S. needs more minority journalists, and then adds: "And we fellow Americans need to do a better job of listening to them."

We need to listen to them. We have turned out not to be well-informed or even right in many our judgments about the world around us. Listening is of supreme importance if we expect to get this nation and our world back on track: all of these are ideas that might well have been lifted from the recent synod report which is being touted by mainstream (and that's to say, dominantly heterosexual) Catholic journalists right now, aren't they?

Tayari Jones might well have taken his text from the same book from which Joel Mathis takes his. What is the following about, if not about our obligation to listen to them when their lives are affected in the most radical way possible by the "culture war" in which we continue to insist that there are good people on both sides, and we need to find common ground?:

For the people directly affected, the culture war is a real war too. They know there is no safety in the in-between. The romance of the middle can exist when one's empathy is aligned with the people expressing opinions on policy or culture rather than with those who will be affected by these policies or cultural norms.

And: "Buried in this argument, whether we realize it or not, is the fact that these policies change people's lives."  --

All that I say above is prelude to my pointing you to the two NCR articles I mentioned at the opening of this posting — Heidi Schlumpf's "Animosity, attacks against LGBT Catholics create 'toxic atmosphere'" and Maureen K. Day's "Standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ community is a pro-life issue." Both note surging hostility to queer human beings within the U.S. Catholic community at present, hostility that Father James Martin sums up in a tweet yesterday recommending Schlumpf's article, which is at the top of this posting.

Schlumpf's article actually eschews the word "hate" as a description of what's going on in American Catholicism right now, though it speaks once of hate crimes. By contrast, it speaks twice about the need for "civility" and "civil discourse," terms that strike many of us who are actually the object of culture-war hate as weak tea prescriptions for what's being done to some of us in American society right now.

We who are the actual objects of the hate know that it is hate, that we are the objects of lethal hate, and that there can be no mythic middle ground in which hate of a vulnerable targeted minority group is halfway moral, and "there are good people on both sides." Because we know all of this in our bones, by living the lives we are forced to live in a culture (and church) in which overt hate is directed at us, we are impatient with the both-sides-have-good-points approach that has long dominated the thinking of the Catholic media as they deal with the LGBTQ community.

We are also impatient with the way in which the Catholic media turn predictably to the same anointed, predictable go-to spokespersons for all of us in the Catholic (and former Catholic) LGBTQ community. And we're impatient about the way in which those predictable go-to spokespersons who are represented as speaking for all of us frequently whitewash what is happening in our church, with their claims that things are not after all so very bad for most LGBTQ Catholics, and that there are many oases of peace and acceptance for queer people in the U.S. Catholic church.

Many of us know better than that. But we aren't asked for our opinions when these issues are being discussed, either by the mainstream Catholic media or by its anointed "official" LGBTQ arm in Catholic groups ministering to LGBTQ people.

I appreciate Heidi Schlumpf and Maureen Day for speaking out. I've read Schlumpf's work in NCR before, and know that she is a straight ally of queer Catholics, and I honor that. At the same time, I have some critical observations about the way in which these very important matters are still being pursued in U.S. Catholic journalism. To wit:

1. The continued choice of mainstream Catholic journalism to select straight Catholic journalists to talk about the challenges the LGBTQ community faces reinforces the noxioius suggestion that the Catholic church is by default heterosexual, and non-heterosexual people are the problem to be accommodated by "us" who represent the norm.

2. The "we-the-norm" vs. "them-the-problem" framing for these discussions is a big part of the problem that feeds the disdain or outright hatred many Catholics feel free to aim at their queer brothers and sisters. The toxic hate faced by queer people in connection to the Catholic church begins in we-they, us-them othering. 

3. It is long since past time for the Catholic journalistic community to start working actively to bring the voices of openly LGBTQ people into the "offiical" Catholic conversation maintained (and guarded) by the gatekeepers of the Catholic journalistic community.

4. It is also long since past time that the Catholic journalistic community stop playing the game of reducing "the" LGBTQ Catholic voice to the select voices of a few anointed spokespersons on whom Catholic journalists always predictably rely when they need to illustrate their dominant heterosexual analysis of LGBTQ issues with a few token voices providing "the" Catholic perspective on queer issues.

5. It is all the more important to include many more Catholic queer voices in these conversations because a significant percentage of LGBTQ Catholics do not live in Boston, New York, or other major urban centers from which the assertion that the U.S. Catholic church is more or less welcoming to queer people always emanates — because there happen to be a few oases for openly LGBTQ Catholics in major urban centers.

6. The experiences of an elite segment of a group do not reflect or sum up the experiences of all other members of that group.

7. The LGBTQ advocacy Catholic groups that control the queer Catholic conversation are themselves very much part of the problem. They do not reach out beyond their tight cultural boundaries to listen to and engage other queer Catholics and former Catholics who are not inside those boundaries. When Catholics and former Catholics outside those boundaries attempt to offer testimony from their own non-elite cultural experiences, they are frequently branded by these elite conversation-controllers as purveyors of uncharitable garbage: they are not listened to.

8. Listening means listening. It means being prepared to hear what you do not expect or want to hear. It means being willing to cultivate relationships with people beyond your parochial boundaries who may have significant things to tell you — if you are willing to listen.

9. All of this is inherent in the concept of listening as articulated in the recent synod report. It is mendacious to tout that report's emphasis on listening and then turn around and refuse to develop your own listening process — in the case of Catholic journalism and Catholic groups ministering to LGBTQ people, your own broad and inclusive listening process.

10. Some of us have sought to warn the rest of you for a long time now about the hate brewing out there, and how it was hurting people — and how it had the potential to become much stronger and hurt many more people. In many cases, we knew what was happening, what was coming down the pike, because we do not live in the protected enclaves in which you live.

You would not listen. 

And now here we are. Due to your refusal to listen. 

Please don't natter on now following the synod report about how wonderful listening is — while you carry on with business as usual. That's what got us to the point at which we now find ourselves, after all.

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