I’ve always thought that a sure sign that your message is actually getting out to folks is when people have a go at you for whatever it is you’re saying. Even a negative response, I’ve always maintained, is better than none.
Not that what follows can be really called a “response”. It’s a reaction, and like all reactionary endeavors it is uninformed and lacking in substance.
On the website of the ultra-conservative Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer, I recently discovered that I’ve been identified and denounced as a “militant secularist”.
Indeed, according to the The Wanderer (which, incidentally, I’ve always thought was a very cool name, though an odd one for a group that sees itself as the guardians of orthodoxy) I’m not only a “militant secularist” but also a “self-described specialist on the spirituality of coming out” – all of which is news to me.
Anyway, here’s that part of the article that highlights my “secularist” ministry work in the Twin Cities:
He Wants To Marry A Man
[. . .] And then there is the ongoing defiance of [Archbishop] Flynn and his directives at St. Joan of Arc’s Parish, which continues to promote the gay agenda, as exemplified by the Sunday, January 15 “homily” given by Michael Bayly marking Martin Luther King Day.
In October 2004, Archbishop Flynn sent two of his auxiliary bishops to St. Joan of Arc to inform the pastor, Fr. George Wertin, to pull information about the parish’s participation in the Twin Cities’ gay pride parade from its web site, and to stop the practice of lay preaching. Wertin subsequently resigned from the parish [actually, I think he simply retired], but Bayly, the director of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, and a self-described specialist on the “spirituality of coming out,” continues to preach at the parish [“continues”? I’ve only spoken there once].
In his homily, Bayly denounced Church teaching on homosexuality, Archbishop Flynn’s support for the state’s proposed marriage amendment, and endorsed the adoption of children by gay couples.
“I hope one day to marry the man I love,” Bayly told the congregation, “and I have a dream of holding our marriage ceremony within the tidal zone of a beach, in that place ‘somewhere in between’ the land and the sea.
“Of course as you’re well aware, such a legal arrangement is currently impossible in Minnesota where neither sacramental nor civil marriages are recognized. And if our archbishop and others in the archdiocese have their way, not only would civil marriage be banned, but all legal equivalents, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions.
“I lament the recent actions taken by the archdiocese in support of the so-called Minnesota Marriage Amendment, an amendment that would enact such a sweeping ban on all types of same-gender unions. Such actions are a clear sign that the institutional Church has closed itself off from the Spirit of God present and active in the lives and relationships of gay and lesbian people.
“The actions of the archdiocese derive from a place of extremism, and we know this because there’s no acknowledgment of the need for dialogue on this issue, let alone the attempt to engage in such dialogue.
“When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, our Church hierarchy seems to be operating from that extreme position of religious imperialism: We have the answers, we have always had the answers, there can be no change, your experiences in the matter don’t count, you need to be quiet, you need to obey.
“It doesn’t sound like the voice and message of Jesus, does it?
“The total disregard of the findings of science is another way that we can tell that the recent actions of the archdiocese come from a place of extremism. The archdiocese justifies its active support of the ‘marriage amendment’ by stating that same-gender marriage would be harmful for children as children do best in two-parent families in which the ‘complementarity of the sexes’ is present. Yet to date, no relevant or credible evidence to support such a contention has been presented by the archdiocese. There are studies available that address this issue, yet none of their findings support the statements of the archdiocese.
“One example: In a 2002 article in Pediatrics [vol. 109, n. 2, February 2002, pp. 341-344], the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is reported that ‘a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.’
“Clearly, there’s a tension within our Church when it comes to talking about issues of human sexuality. And I think this is because we often have two different models of revelation in conflict whenever we engage in such talk.”
Wow! I think it’s great that The Wanderer quoted so much of my homily.
I also think it’s telling that no attempt was made whatsoever to refute anything I said. Not one iota!
Is it a case of “silence equals consent”? Probably not. But it is clear evidence that facts and reason are the enemies of reactionary ideology. It’s also evidence that ultra-conservatives seem only able to react, and rarely willing or able to meaningfully engage or respond to the valid questions and insights raised by myself and others within the Church.
And why are they so opposed to dialogue and engagement? Well, by definition, reactionaries are against change to the political, social, and/or religious status quo. And how does any change of this type take place? Often it’s through dialogue and engagement with those who have different opinions, experiences, and insights from our own.
Yet why is it that, for some, reaction is the only answer to prospects of growth and change? Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister, reflects on this question in her book Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir, and suggests that it belies “the kind of spirituality that gets out of touch with reality and so calls itself spiritual because of it”.
“We create a false dilemma”, says Chittister, “and call it holiness: the sacred versus the secular; God versus the world; spirituality versus worldliness. We look for Jesus in the temple, but never with the crowds.”
And why is this a problem? Because, says Chittister, we’re called to recognize that “life itself is of God, that the natural is sacred, and that an inward life and immersion in life are of a piece [. . .] To seek God means to find God around us. [. . .] To awaken, to grow, we must be fully engaged in the process of living, [and] it is the choices we make every day in our lives, either to grow or to stagnate, that determine the depth of our soul”.
I find it fascinating that when reading something like the previously quoted excerpt from The Wanderer, it’s as if no one outside the reactionary world exists as a subject with whom which engagement would be considered an option. Those of us with different experiences and perspectives, and who are open to God's presence in the world and thus the ongoing development of our faith tradition, are simply regarded as objects, and terms like “secularist” and “homosexual activist” are often code words employed to denote this objectification.
I also find it intriguing that the mere reiteration of, for instance, my words as one of these “secularists”, is often all that is needed to validate the ultra-conservative/reactionary perspective. Pesky details like my and others’ experience of God in our lives and relationships, or the findings of science, are simply ignored or discounted. And again, this stems from a fear of being invited, encouraged, or challenged to change.
I feel genuinely sorry for young people, growing into awareness that they are gay, who are members of families dominated by people who allow themselves to be defined by a reactionary ideology. And, believe it or not, I also feel sorry for these reactionary folks themselves, as there doesn’t seem to be much love or joy in their lives.
Which is more than I can say about their feelings for me. Take for instance the following comment left on the message board of haloscan.com.
“[W]e are also counting our ‘blessings’ that the instigator of [. . .] blasphemy in this area, Michael Bayly of CPCSM, is in Australia. He’s probably instigating the same garbage there. In my dark moments, I imagine him taking a flight out of Sydney and ending up on the Lost island, but I suppose that’s not very Christian of me.”
No argument from me on that one.
To read my January 15, 2006 homily, “Somewhere In Between”, in its entirety, click here.