Friday, August 23, 2013

Beyond Respectful Tolerance to Celebratory Acceptance

Some interesting news items from Australia – well, interesting from my perspective. Perhaps yours, too!

First, the wonderful Wendy Matthews, whose music I've shared previously at The Wild Reed, has just released a new album, The Welcome Fire, about which I'll say more in a future 'music night' post!

In political news, Australia seems set to make a "turn to the right" in the upcoming national elections. If this indeed happens then the current opposition leader, the anti-marriage equality Tony Abbott, will become prime minister. Abbot, who has been called a "socially conservative Catholic," is the leader of the Australian Liberal Party (the country's conservative party), which is poised to topple the ruling Labor Party.

Finally, in Catholic Church news, a prominent Australian priest and legal scholar is urging Catholic leaders to drop the "unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder" when discussing gay and lesbian people and issues.

Hey, that's two good news items out of three!

I'm going to focus today on the second good news item, that being the call by Frank Brennan, SJ (right) for Catholic leaders to dispense with the language of "intrinsic and objective disorder" when talking about homosexuality.

In reporting on this development on New Ways Ministry's excellent blogsite, Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo notes:

The language of “disorder” is philosophical language. It is not intended to mean medical or psychological disorder, but that is how the overwhelming majority of people hear it. Because of that misunderstanding, it should definitely and immediately be stricken from church discourse. It is a term that was applied to discussions of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. As pope, he used it as the basis for his discussions of any issue related to gay and lesbian people.

Pope Francis has already indicated that he will be moving the discussion of homosexuality away from the “disorder” language. Let’s hope that his papacy will banish this term from Catholic discussions.

So what language could be used instead? Here's what Fr. Brennan suggests:

Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord’s purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

I appreciate Brennan's "starting point," that we're all children of God, but I have to say I find it wearisome that in so many discussions on homosexuality, and often early on in these discussions, there's a reminder that we're all unworthy, that we're all sinners; that Jesus welcomed the "lost sheep," etc. Such an approach does nothing to challenge the notion that the sexual expression of one's homosexuality is at all times and in every situation a sin (a notion currently expressed in official church teaching). In fact, it could be read to support not only this notion but also the idea that homosexuality in and of itself is a sin (something that not even official church teaching supports).

Also, I get it that as humans we're all still very much on a journey to healing and wholeness, and that while we're on this journey we often mess-up or "miss the mark" (to use a metaphor for sin from the Desert Fathers). I get that, I really do. And I think most people get it. I think what's needed more than a reminder of our weaknesses and sinfulness is a lifting up – an honoring and celebrating – of all those gay lives, relationships, and families that are making progress and inspiring others on the journey, that are getting it right and living lives of compassion and integrity.

Offensive and erroneous

I applaud Fr. Brennan's call for respect in discussions about homosexuality, a call that advocates the dropping of the language of disorder. I understand it's a step – a first step, no doubt, for many in the hierarchy. However, many Catholics are well beyond asking the bishops to "play nice." Such Catholics are painfully aware that the whole basis for the bishops' understanding of homosexuality – indeed, sexuality in general – is so glaringly dysfunctional, and dangerous to the well-being of both individual lives and relationships that it's not enough to "banish" certain terminology. We also have to acknowledge that such terminology is both offensive and erroneous. We must not only demand and expect the dropping of such language but very forthrightly challenge the thinking behind it. Similarly, we cannot simply demand alternative language, but an authentic, truthful understanding of gay and lesbian lives, relationships, and families. Such an understanding will readily provide – does already provide – the corresponding authentic and truthful language that so many of us long to hear articulated from those who claim to be our leaders in matters of faith and morals.

I understand, of course, that many people can only do so much, given where they're at. And for folks like Frank Brennan who are within the church's clerical caste, well, they're undoubtedly under great pressure to "toe the party line." In addition, there are many perks and privileges to being in good standing within this system. Few priests are willing to jeopardize these. In short, I must constantly remind myself not to be harsh when it comes to those within this terribly oppressive and dysfunctional system; those who don't go as far as I would like them to. To his credit, Brennan does hint at going further, i.e., saying that the language of "intrinsic and objective disorder" is not only disrespectful but also erroneous. He writes, for instance, that:

Many people, including many Catholics and many homosexuals, find this language unhelpful and upsetting; they even contest its truthfulness.

Again, though, how sad that so many priests, even "celebrity priests" such as James Martin, SJ, who are well-known for their liberality of thought, can't just come out and say for themselves, "You know, this way that the Vatican has of talking about homosexuality and gay people's lives and relationships goes beyond being disrespectful, it's actually erroneous."

And of course, the logical (and more positive) pronouncement that would follow this would be: "We need to honor and support our LGBT brothers and sisters. We need to recognize and celebrate the reality that their lives, relationships and families can and do embody God's transforming love."

There are some notable examples of individual bishops and priests forthrightly challenging the Vatican's understanding of homosexuality and/or it's political involvement in issues such as same-sex civil marriage. Five that come to mind are Geoffrey Robinson, Thomas Gumbleton, Jose Raul Vera Lopez, Joseph O'Leary and Michael Tegeder. However, I think it's fair to say that it's up to the laity, those outside the clerical system, to unabashedly make these types of statements and thus take the next steps in our church's journey beyond respectful tolerance to celebratory acceptance of LGBT people.

Journeying from tolerance to acceptance

We take such steps in our daily "coming out" as LGBT individuals , as allies, as parents of LGBT sons and daughters, and as Catholics who honor and celebrate LGBT people's lives and relationships. We take such steps through the sharing of our thoughts and ideas on forums and blogs like this one and Bondings 2.0, Enlightened Catholicism, Bilgrimage, The Open Tabernacle, Queering the Church, Gay Mystics, The Progressive Catholic Voice, and many others. And, of course, hopefully all of you reading this are, in one way or anther, involved with proactive groups working for church reform. I'm very fortunate to be actively involved in a number of such groups: the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. I'm grateful too for the many lay Catholic theologians who, in informed and respectful ways, are forthrightly challenging Vatican "truth-claims" on a range of issues relating to gender and sexuality. Such theologians include: Mary Hunt, Daniel Maguire, Joan Timmerman, Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Tina Beattie, William Hunt, John McNeill, William Lindsey, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, James Alison, and Robert McClory.

Of course, there will probably always be some who, for whatever reason, will never choose to accept LGBT people and/or relationships. I acknowledge this sad reality. Perhaps from these folks, who, I believe it's true to say, are rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller minority in both the church and society, respectful tolerance is the most we can and should expect. I've come to realize that in most cases I'm not called to expend my time and energy in trying to move these people to a level of acceptance. I have to admit that once I've ascertained that someone believes that homosexuality is a choice or that it's an addiction like alcoholism, and/or that someone has made an idol out of the church's current teaching on sexuality by declaring that it can never change, then I usually opt to be on my way. I pray for them, to be sure. I pray that they may in time awaken to God's loving presence beyond their very limited way of thinking and seeing, that they may allow this presence to break through and expand their world. At this time I find that that's the most that I can do for these folks. To be honest, I'd much rather expend my time and energy engaging and planning and writing and celebrating with and for those who are open to the journey, to the onward call to seek and praise God in, as I like to say, unexpected faces and places!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The "Gay Civil Unions" Approach of Some Within the Catholic Hierarchy: Too Little, Too Late
From Australia, "Possibly the Most Beautiful Ad for Marriage Equality"
Lanae Erickson on Taking a Lesson from Down Under
The "Ratzinger Letter" of 1986 as "Theological Pornography"
John McNeill's Message to the US Bishops: "Enough!"
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunction Church
Daniel Helminiak on the Vatican's Natural Law Mistake
Our Catholic "Stonewall Moment"
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
Listen Up, Papa!
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth

1 comment:

Laura Hetchler Kuntz said...

Yes, it would be a small step forward for this ridiculous and very hurtful language to be dropped.