Friday, May 18, 2007

Naming and Confronting Bigotry

big-ot-ry - noun, stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

Jim Baron has written an insightful editorial, entitled “Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage Display Bigotry,” in the May 13 edition of the Pawtucket Times. The impetus for this editorial was Baron’s witnessing of a recent Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on same-sex marriage.

Following is an excerpt from Baron’s editorial:

Bigotry is an ugly word, but we are not going to get anywhere trying to look the other way when ugliness is staring us in the face.

Anti-gay prejudice is the only reason that the law will not allow same-sex marriage. The opponents, for many of whom religion is either a reason or an excuse, don’t want to get gay cooties all over “their” sacred institution. What else does a so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which essentially defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman – defend marriage against?

That position is childish. Not child-like, with its implication of innocence, wonder and acceptance, but childish, as in selfish, petty and small-minded.

In many ways, including its connection to religion, the gay marriage issue is like the abortion debate – there is no room for compromise. No middle ground. Just about everybody’s mind is made up, and those opinions are polarized. Unless you are the guy who stands up and says, “how about civil unions?” In which case you get the hairy eyeball from BOTH sides.

Gays resent civil union because it is half-a-civil-rights-loaf. It still makes them “other” and “less than,” even though to a smaller degree. And it will not effectively confer many of the rights and privileges of marriage, particularly on the federal level, that they are looking for and deserve. The opponents, on the other hand, don’t want it “because...because...well, because they’re a bunch of queers. That’s why, dammit.”

I don’t want to imply that religion equates with anti-gay bigotry. To the contrary, there were several clergymen, some wearing clerical garb, testifying in favor of the same-sex marriage bill. One provided a list of approximately 100 clergy from churches all over the state endorsing the bill.

As several of the witnesses – including one of the clergymen – noted, much of the opposition is generated by the Roman Catholic Church. Although to be fair, in previous years I remember preachers from fundamentalist Baptist congregations speaking against it as well.

. . . Many people, including some of the opponents of gay marriage, do not begrudge same-sex couples togetherness, or even basic rights as making medical decisions, being considered next-of-kin, and sharing health care, Social Security and other benefits. It is just the word marriage – and all the traditional and religious baggage that accompanies it – that sticks in their craw.

They probably don’t recognize that as bigotry, but that is what it is. And as soon as we get past that, we’re going to wonder what all the arguing was about.

To read Jim Baron’s editorial in its entirety, click here.

Closer to Home

Throughout 2005-2006 there was a concerted effort here in Minnesota to pass a constitutional amendment banning “gay marriage and all legal equivalents.” Thankfully it
failed, but as with the current situation in Rhode Island (as reported by Jim Baron above), this bigoted effort in Minnesota was also actively endorsed and encouraged by powerful representatives of the Catholic Church.

For instance, in the fall of 2005, Archbishop Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, sent out a letter to all priests within the archdiocese, encouraging them to not only support the proposed “marriage amendment,” but to attend the “Pastors Summit” – an event planned and hosted by fundamentalist Christians opposed to gay marriage. Adversity certainly can make for strange bedfellows!

Many Catholics were dismayed by this development. One group, Catholic Rainbow Parents, wrote and sent its own letter to the priests of the archdiocese.

Following is the text of this letter, one that serves as a powerful testimony of faith and an insightful historical document in the ongoing struggle for GLBT equality.

We are Catholic parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) children writing to you to express our concern and deep disappointment with Archbishop Flynn’s decision to actively endorse the Pastors’ Summit scheduled to take place November 10 at Grace Church, Eden Prairie. This summit aims to help pastors mobilize their congregations in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban all forms of legally recognized unions of same-gender couples.

The goals of this summit thus reach far beyond the parameters of sacramental marriage. They seek to deprive an entire class of human beings their equal rights to civil marriage. We think it’s important to clarify that the Church itself distinguishes between sacramental marriage (or matrimony) and civil marriage. The Church, for instance, never uses the term “Holy Marriage,” but rather “Holy Matrimony,” and when the Church does talk about the “sanctity of marriage,” it is referring to the religious or sacramental aspect of matrimony, not the civil aspect of marriage.

Furthermore, the proposed marriage amendment endorsed by the summit is not really about protecting sacramental marriage – which owing to the separation of church and state, needs no protection; it is about discriminating against families. If passed, it would deny same-gender couples and their families the 1138 protections afforded to families headed by mixed-gender couples. If passed, this amendment would mark the first time in history that the Minnesota Constitution would be amended to enshrine discrimination, rather than extend rights to people.

Does the Church lobby against civil marriage for divorced couples? Of course not. Neither should the Church lobby against civil unions for same-gender couples.

Try to imagine our frustration and anger as we watch our Catholic pastoral leaders support efforts that have been well-funded and orchestrated by Christian fundamentalists to stereotype our children and deny their rights. The instigators behind this anti-gay movement base their views on GLBT people and their relationships on outdated, misleading, and incorrect pseudo-scientific findings. Such findings have been widely debunked by the vast majority of well-respected associations of social scientists and medical health professionals.

Further, we ask you as well trained pastoral professionals, to consider the backgrounds and credentials of the primary sponsors of this upcoming summit. With the exception of our archbishop and a few priests whom you all know, the endorsers of this event are primarily leaders of fundamentalist evangelical churches that do not represent mainline religious congregations. Would you spend even one minute listening to these fundamentalist preachers teach you about scriptural interpretation or about the need to be “born again” to achieve salvation? Should we as Catholics now look to them for spiritual guidance regarding other issues?

The first group among the signers of this event’s invitation is the Minnesota Family Council, which for 20 years was known as the fundamentalist-driven Berean League. Back then, with more overt hostility and anti-Christian slogans, their volunteers worked as feverishly as they are now working under their more politically palatable facade to lobby the Minnesota Legislature to vote against all human rights for GLBT persons in the state. Finally, in 1993, with support from the bishops of the state of Minnesota, the legislature amended the Human Rights Act to protect all people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As Catholic parents, we can no longer stand by and watch as our Church leaders feign ecumenical interests while openly working to disparage our children and to deny their rights in the name of God and Jesus – the same Jesus who demanded that we love God and each other as God loves us.

Some of you have already decided not to participate in this summit and for this we applaud your conviction. To the rest, we ask that you refuse to go or if you feel you must be there, to please break the conspiracy of silence that endorses discrimination in the name of religion.

Enclosed is a copy of our group’s Declaration about our children, which almost 100 parents from across the US and the world have endorsed and which we have recently sent to the Vatican and to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Who knows what role the Catholic Rainbow Parents’ letter played, but very few Catholic priests ended up actually attending the Pastors Summit. A few even joined with Catholic Rainbow Parents, CPCSM, Dignity/Twin Cities, SoulForce, and others to protest outside the summit and to rally for equal civil marriage rights.

Above: Michael Bayly (executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities) and Randi Reitan (of SoulForce Minnesota) at the November 10, 2005 rally to support equal civil marriage rights for all Minnesotans.

Image 1:
Image 2: MSNBC
Image 3: H&F
Image 4: Center for AIDS Prevention Studies
Image 5: Beyond Church Street
Image 6: Catholic Church vs. Gays
Image 7: David McCaffrey

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Real Gay Agenda
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
OutFront Minnesota’s 2007 Lobby Day
The Bishop’s “Guidelines”: A Parent’s Response
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
Good News from Minnesota
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
The Bible and Homosexuality
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
Gay Adoption: A Catholic Lawyer’s Perspective
Making Sure All Families Matter
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex


Anonymous said...

Hear Bill Moyer interview a gay Christian this morning on PBS, right after PBS. They talked about the bigotry expressed in the gay community towards gay christians. What I feel I am discoverying is that not only are groups like courage totally unaccepted, not only is there no manifestation of a conservative gay sexual ethic, but there is a ton of bigotry towards people who even express Christian faith within the gay experience. To this some folks seem to respond to me, 'B, we don't necessarily need a group to express that, we can hold that view as individuals...' and more than ever I am thinking a group is needed. Gay Christians are so busy asserting themselves to straights they're not really asserting themselves to gays, and then on top of that they aren't really taking care of one another in a christian sense by advocating safe christian ethics with respect to monogamy, et cetera.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful response.

I guess the first thing I’d question is the notion of a “conservative gay sexual ethic.” Perhaps you’ve explained this elsewhere, but how are you understanding and defining “conservative”?

For me, and I'm sure for many others, “conservative” is such a loaded term. Why not simply call for an “authentically human sexual ethic” or a “Christian sexual ethic” applicable to all – gay, straight, or anywhere in between?

I believe Catholic theologian and ethicist Margaret Farley has outlined and articulated just such an ethic in her latest book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006). Farley spoke at the recent New Ways Ministry Sixth National Symposium of Catholicism and Homosexuality in March of this year, here in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend her presentation, but a friend bought the CD recording of it. I hope to listen to this recording and post my thoughts and reflections on it soon.

As for groups like Courage, I have no problem with folks feeling that they’re called to live a celibate life and supporting one another in doing so. What I object too and consider disrespectful and arrogant, is when they project this way of living onto every other gay person. Sometimes it feels as if they need to do this in order to justify their decision and struggle to be celibate.

I resonate with the words of Catholic Rainbow Parent Darlene White, who in an article posted previously on the Wild Reed, said: “We have serious concerns when Courage and the hierarchical Church insist that all gay and lesbian people are called to lifelong celibacy as a result of their God-given sexual orientation. This reflects an extremely limited and ultimately unhealthy understanding of human sexuality and of God’s presence and call in the lives of gay and lesbian people.”

And what about Dignity – the nation’s largest GLBT Catholic organization? Does not it articulate some form of sexual ethic? Do you consider such an ethic “conservative” and thus (presumably) responsible, respectful, and loving? For the vast majority of people, do not these qualities in a relationship between two people – gay or straight – presume and include monogamy? And won't there always be some for whom monogamy is simply not possible? Yet does this mean that an ethical sexual life is totally out of the question for them?

Finally, have you read this post – and in particular, Questions 11-22? I think there are some important insights and perspectives on this whole issue shared by those who contributed to Thomas Stevenson’s book, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men.



Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

All Dignity says is that some people choose lifelong monogamy or celibacy as an ideal to strive for, and that they should be tolerated. It is not much of an ethic formulated in a catholic tradition. If you can, momentarily, filter out the discriminatory bits of Article 6 as I have begun to do you see a much more elegant document that I think gay Christians have a right to live under...

Here is DignityUSA's statement on sexual ethics:

My problem with it is that it fails to confront Nihilism which is a big part of what catholicism is all about, and it also fails to take any underlying direction from the Magisterium with regard to the wisdom of ages reflected in article 6 of the catechism, the expression of which currently contains elements that might be wrong and discriminatory. But while that expression is flawed, IMHO, what I am looking for is a corrected expression of the same underlying transmission of wisdom from our ancient ancestors that is adapted to the gay christian perspective.

Here's a good quote from Dignity:

"the Task Force determined to take a decisively non-authoritarian, non-hierarchical approach to dealing with the subject of sexual ethics."

OK, that's great but it is Nihilistic and uncatholic in that there is no attempt or acceptance of the responsibility to form an authoritative ethic. It is anti-authority, it does not take a truth position. It is a statement of experiences, not a distillation of ancient wisdom or the deposit of the faith. It does not succeed in challenging Article 6 as a statement of faith.

So that is why I look at Courage and Dignity and I see two extremes. I do not think it is fair to criticize Courage *so* stringently because I think that Dignity lacks the courage to confront anti-catholic, even anti-christian opposition in the gay community. Don't misunderstand, I can see being upset by a condemnation of monogamy from Courage in their affirmation of only celibacy. I get that. What I don't necessarily approve of is going after them in the absence of a conservative religious ethic that would condemn promiscuity and affirm monogamy as the ideal.

Dignity says:

"We can tolerate diversity. Nevertheless, we must explore together and learn from one another about issues of justice and morality. That includes
such areas of serious ethical concern as pornography, prostitution, sex with minors, multiple partners, anonymous sex, bondage and discipline,
and how to have sex safely. We cannot shy away from controversy if we are genuinely trying to see Christ in the sacramental reality of our lives"

(That sounds good). But then you have the cop-out:

"... Other couples have remained
faithful to one another while allowing for some sexual expression outside their relationship, and some attempt completely open relationships.
Others of us are sexually active as singles, either because we choose to be single, or because we have not yet found a companion. Some of us
abstain from sexual activity for a variety of reasons."

In other words, this is not an ethic. It is a statement affirming victimhood, that then continues on to make no prohibitions. All prohibitions are viewed as stemming from a heteronormative enemy. Therefore Nihilism reigns and only Courage has the courage to stand against it and affirm any belief at all. I sense a real fear in the gay community, not of heteros or the church, but fear of being ostracized for being an actual conservative gay monogamous christian, and affirming that to be the ideal to strive for, to affirm that promiscuity, serial monogamy, casual sex, and the like are against Christian ideals for both gays and straights.

The conservatives are catching on to this and are countering gay advocacy by claiming that gay monogamy is a myth. Without a conservative group it is much more difficult to argue otherwise, no?

Sheesh. It all reminds me of the folks I knew in college that went to pink & lavendar meetings to try to hook up. Pick up your staff and chase the wolves away from the sheep! Formulate a healthy ethic of dating that would culminate in lifelong monogamy and the rational ruling of the passions within the individual! Don't be afraid to condemn sin for what it is, just because we have all committed sin does not mean we can't strive to do better, nor should we tolerate those who condemn our ethics or condemn our striving.

episcopalifem said...

Interesting discussion Michael and Winnipeg.

Winnipeg notes: OK, that's great but it is Nihilistic and uncatholic in that there is no attempt or acceptance of the responsibility to form an authoritative ethic. It is anti-authority, it does not take a truth position. It is a statement of experiences, not a distillation of ancient wisdom or the deposit of the faith. It does not succeed in challenging Article 6 as a statement of faith.

I sense a real fear in the gay community, not of heteros or the church, but fear of being ostracized for being an actual conservative gay monogamous christian, and affirming that to be the ideal to strive for, to affirm that promiscuity, serial monogamy, casual sex, and the like are against Christian ideals for both gays and straights.

What strikes me between the eyes at the moment regarding these two statements, is the notion that the range of behavior among homosexuals would be any different than between heterosexuals - that is, in current society, many people who describe themselves as Christians don't have a problem with the behaviors Winnipeg describes, such as open relationships, or sexual activity outside of marriage while dating. Sex outside of marriage while dating is common practice today - at least in North America and Europe.

From what I have gleaned from listening to some of the GLBT conversation, amongst those looking for a meaningful place as a Christian, it is such an uphill battle. The church outwardly shuns those who live truthfully, allowing them no mechanism to have their relationships sanctified and recognized - so many GLBT have given up on the Christian church in a who needs it attitude. The church is doing NOTHING to encourage anything but denial or sexaual frustration to those who are sexually "other". The conservative ethic that is being taught is impossible for most folks to live up to. We are sexual beings, God created us to seek solace and comfort and intimacy in one another in a physical way.

Secondly, many GLTB Christians are criticized for trying to fit into a place which so actively shuns thems - especially among other GLTB people - people who have been burned, hurt, outraged by the arrogance of many Christian churches.

There is no traditional or scriptural teaching that applies to GLTB people. Until the church is willing to recognize that there is a serious and egregious error in the scriptures with regards to GLTB peoples, they won't make any headway in effectively getting them back into the fold. Those scriptures, in my opinion, are the product of man, and his tribal functioning and ancient ideologies and customs. We moved along since then. The chruch needs to contend with this.

I am in agreement with Winnipeg: a teaching about monogamy is screaming to be heard, but the church needs to admit that they have no doctrine in place to deal with this. They need to allow the Holy Spirit to direct them in how to create a NEW one. In my experience, this is not something the RCC is willing to do. It would mean admitting there was a mistake made, and if that was a mistake, what else is a mistake? Love of doctrine and fear of the potential unraveling of doctrine leaves the RCC sitting like a stick in pull of the tide.

I fervently believe that it is God's will that his church grow and become more. Encouraging all people to live morally, with love and respect for one another, was Christ's call to us: Love one another.

He didn't make any qualifications on that, and neither do I.
(sorry, overly long! This amd $2 will get you a cup of coffee!)