Thursday, March 08, 2007

Equality Riders Experience the “Great Dissonance at the Intersection of Catholic Beliefs”

The 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride left Minneapolis yesterday for a two month-long journey – one which will see fifty young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults traveling across the nation, visiting and seeking dialogue with administrators and students at Christian colleges that discriminate against LGBT students.

“More than 200 schools have policies that outright ban homosexual behavior, advocacy, or practice,” says Equality Ride co-director Haven Herrin. “Each ultimately leads to marginalizing and silencing of LGBT people.”

Drawing inspiration from the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights era, the Equality Ride used a single bus and visited 19 colleges last year. Equality Ride co-directors Jake Reitan and Haven Herrin also made the cover of the national LGBT magazine, The Advocate.

This year, the group has charted two buses – one heading east, the other west – and will call in on 32 colleges before returning to Minneapolis at the end of April.

In the March 2 issue of Lavender, “Minnesota’s GLBT magazine,” Equality Ride co-director Haven Herrin shared her thoughts on her upcoming visit to Notre Dame, the “renowned bastion of Catholicism.”

She notes that this particular school is “more nuanced than most,” and that “the university is not so bold as to put an anti-gay policy on the books.” Yet Haven argues that Notre Dame does not have to, owing to the fact that the Catholic Church is explicit in its teaching that the sexual orientation of LGBT persons is “ordered to an intrinsic moral evil.”

Following are excerpts from Haven’s commentary – one in which she not only discusses the situation at Notre Dame, but a number of other “confusing disconnects birthed by the interplay of Catholic Church doctrine and issues of state.”


With its symbolic weight, Notre Dame is necessarily part of a much larger conversation regarding faith and homosexuality.

Notre Dame is in a tough spot. It has no LGBT anti-discrimination policy; refuses to recognize a gay straight alliance (GSA), even while it sanctions Jewish and Muslim student groups; wears the crown, courtesy of The Princeton Review, for being the least gay-friendly school in the nation; and shares in the gravitas of the Catholic Church’s leadership in social justice on some issues.

Yet Notre Dame puts forth a Spirit of Inclusion statement that includes lines like: “We prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures. . . . We value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community.”

It is a politically and intellectually difficult line to walk: Go on record, but not too loudly; welcome difference, but do not accept too wholeheartedly.

I ache for this Cirque du Soleil of Catholic theology – so much twisted reasoning.

Now, try and reconcile this: Notre Dame refuses to allow Equality Ride on campus, but its sister school – Catholic St. Mary’s that sits directly across the street – invited us for dialogue.

What role does prominence play? One naturally wonders why some schools embrace the riders, and some schools slam their doors.

All this occurs on the same field as other confusing disconnects birthed by the interplay of Catholic Church doctrine and issues of state.

In December, a Polish lawmaker proposed a bill that would have made Jesus Christ the honorary King of Poland. But the Roman Catholic Church killed the issue, telling the state to stay out of religious affairs – this is a country that is 95 percent Catholic.

In July 2005, Spain, 94 percent Catholic, legalized same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of Spaniards approved of the law, but Catholic authorities spoke out against it.

Mexico City, the largest city within a 95 percent Catholic Mexico, enacted its own civil union bill in November. It passed handily in the city assembly. Even though the Catholic Church had spoken strongly against similar measures in the past, it was mum on this vote.

Already this year in Italy, a civil union measure was backed by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and approved by his Cabinet. It now makes its way through the lower house. Pope Benedict XVI calls the bill “subversive.” But prominent Catholic leaders are telling the Vatican to stay out of politics. And 80 percent of Italians support the legislation, in a country where 97 percent of the population is Catholic.

The stakes of this conversation are high. The Pope and other religious leaders – including those of the Anglican Communion, the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), and the Southern Baptists – have set up the “homosexual question” as the litmus test of true faith for our time. High tension reveals rifts in principle and action.

How are Catholics, among others, holding it together? Right now, great dissonance is at the intersection of Catholic beliefs among the population, Catholic policies from the top, and aggregate actions, as citizens wade through the democratic process of reconciling law, religion, and social justice.

The Equality Ride is embroiled in a microcosm of the larger conundrum that arises when three things collide:

1) The recognition of the essential humanity and suffering of a minority group.

2) The resistance to change within the arc of progress from oppression to inclusion.

3) The inexorable and dynamic forward march of faith and application of grace, despite having a figurehead that would not permit personal revelation.

Change frightens fundamentalists. But if they looked closely with a conceptual eye, they could see the stuff that matters – the eternal truths, the universal values – is not going anywhere.

Until we earnestly begin practicing the underlying principles and get beyond literalism, we will remain mired in these tortured acrobatics.

Haven Herrin
March 2-15, 2007

To learn more about and/or support the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride, click here.

Above: Soulforce Equality Ride founder and co-director Jake Reitan, pictured with his parents Randi and Phil – both of whom are dedicated activists for LGBT rights.

Above: Pictured with Soulforce co-directors Jacob Reitan (left) and Haven Herrin (center) are Rev. Donald Samuels, Minneapolis City Council Member and ordained Baptist minister; Brian Mogren, organizer of last year’s send-off for the Equality Riders; and Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Both of the above images were taken by David McCaffrey, co-founder and vice-president of CPCSM, at last year’s send-off event for the Soulforce Equality Ride.

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