Stories I have heard over the last couple of weeks:
- a student who came out to his father in high school and was kicked out of his house the next morning
- a woman who was fired for a same sex relationship, who received death threats from Catholics after going public, and for whom it took years before she didn’t wake up angry at the Church
These stories are all over the Church. If you go where gay people are, these are the stories you hear. If you haven’t personally heard one of these stories, then you should consider what this means about your construction of ecclesiality, and what can be done about this. If people don’t do anything, then this is the status quo. If you stand by silently while this happens, then history (and God and I) will remember you as one who acquiesces. I won’t stand for it, and you shouldn’t either.
You don’t have to be a bulldog. But you should do something. Hear a story, share a story, talk to your pastor, encourage education, wear a button, say a prayer, and seek ways to concretely love and support (especially financially and professionally) those who have been hurt by those acting in the name of the Church.
If you work for or with the Church, ask yourself: “How would my job change if I was openly gay? Would I have gotten hired if I were?” If you think the answer is yes, ask yourself, “Why aren’t there any openly gay people in this office?” If your instinct is to give an answer that somehow blames gay people, consider why.
When you hear the above stories, is your first inclination to say something about Church teaching, about the “homosexual agenda,” about sin? Why is your first inclination not to embrace someone who has been hurt, leaving aside those other questions for possibly another time? Why is your first inclination not to, verbally and existentially, acknowledge another’s pain? Do you feel capable of doing this? Why jump to victim blaming? Why change the subject?
Do you feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, acknowledging the pain of a gay person without qualifications? Do you use Church teaching as a sort of crutch to create distance, or to affirm your own position? How much of this response is about yourself, rather than the other?
Who knows how many lives could have been saved if the pro-life movement had learned years before that compassion, rather than judgment, gives hope for a child’s life? I’m so thankful for the many positive lessons I picked up from the best of the pro-life movement. Let’s take a look in the shift that the pro-life movement has had in ministry and outreach, and how it can be applied in this area as well. Take notice. The Church’s relationship to LGBTQ persons is a crisis area, and often a life issue. If you took your gut response to the above stories and transferred it to a face-to-face interaction with a woman in a crisis pregnancy, what would that look like? Compassion or judgment? Condemnation or care? The conveyance of openness or the declaration of boundaries?
Additional thoughts the next day:
Yesterday, I briefly shared some stories. One about a kid kicked out of his home in high school after coming out as gay, and another about a woman who went public about her firing from a Catholic organization due to her same-sex relationship, and who received death threats from Catholics.
By and large, people received these stories and thoughtfully considered my accompanying “ecclesial examination of conscience.” This was the majority reaction, and it gives me hope.
A vocal minority, however, responded differently. Again, I think that we should recognize that this voice is both (1) a minority and (2) vocal. We in the LGBTQ community should acknowledge that we do receive a lot of support, and most people want to hear our stories. On the other hand, Christians must recognize that the minority is vocal because they feel empowered and justified in being so, and we should consider and address this.
The vocal minority presents three responses to the above stories:
- “This wouldn’t happen if the LGBTQ community weren’t so aggressive about forcing people to choose between their faiths and a wholesale approval and advocacy for everyone doing whatever they want sexually. That community created this situation.”
- “We should show compassion, but it is not compassionate to accept a sinful lifestyle.”
- “What the LGBTQ community really wants is an acceptance of sin.”
Aside from noting the victim-blaming, what we should first notice about the above responses is the quick turn away from the specific persons I brought forward, and a move towards abstraction and politicization. I’ve often made the mistake of responding directly to these objections, without realizing that they are distractions, and attempts to change the subject, rather than considerations of the issue at hand.
I think the issue becomes clearer if we change the topic to that of an unplanned pregnancy. Say I began this post by bringing up the story of a teenage girl who was kicked out of her house after becoming pregnant. Consider just hearing that story. Would it be appropriate to respond with any of the following:
- “This wouldn’t happen if her community weren’t so aggressive about its sexual agenda. That community created this situation.”
- “We should show compassion, but it is not compassionate to accept a sinful lifestyle.”
- “What her community really wants is an acceptance of sin.”
These responses, I hope, would horrify us. And I hope that changing the analogy demonstrates that, to a certain extent, the above responses are not even worth responding to. They demonstrate an unwillingness–whether conscious or unconscious–to see the person as a person. As for the rest of us, we must continue fighting for compassion.
When I first started sidewalk counseling in 2008, a man would occasionally come out in front of Planned Parenthood dressed as the grim reaper. I think that one day he’ll have to answer for the women too afraid to come to the compassionate sidewalk counselors offering alternatives. The grim reaper man saw his demonstration as “speaking the truth.” But “the truth” which does not welcome the suffering with compassion, and which goes out dressed as the grim reaper, brings death and will have to answer for death. It’s not the truth at all. The truth will set you free. If it does not set you free, it is not the truth.
While the grim reaper and I may have both stood in front of the fence at that Planned Parenthood, we were not on the same side. One was there to proclaim death, the other to promote life. If he actually cared to listen to what those women needed, then he would know that this approach just pushed them further away from life. But he wouldn’t listen, and I couldn’t make him. And it doesn’t help the woman in front of me to get sidetracked by the grim reaper’s complaints that he doesn’t like the fact I’m not using the word “murder.”
I’m not here to tell her what she’s doing wrong. I’m here to witness to life. I’m here to listen. I’m here to help.
*More* Additional Thoughts…
1. If you have been the grim reaper in the past, you don’t have to be now. But recognize that grim reapering for an extended period of time creates dispositional habits and establishes gut reactions. Try to be humble and patient with yourself and others as you learn openness. It’ll be uncomfortable, but it’ll be worth it. You can witness to life in new ways and find joy in this.
2. I also think that if Catholics want to minister to people who have been drug through the mud, we’re going to have to be willing to get some dirt in our homes. We can’t bring into our lives those who have been hurt by the Church and expect immediate buy-in to all of her teachings. We have a responsibility to aid the suffering, no matter where they stand doctrinally. And we should remember that the Christian life is a process.
Perhaps an example would help. When Abby Johnson drove from her Planned Parenthood office to the Coalition for Life, she told them that she had become convinced abortion was wrong. They welcomed her but she said, “But I still believe in birth control. We’ve got to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies. That’s critical to reducing the number of pregnancies!” They said that was fine and welcomed her anyways. They helped her find a job, got her a free lawyer when her old employer sued her, and stood by her in her transition. No strings attached, no perfect cohesion with Catholic teaching. Just letting her be where she was and walking alongside her. She did eventually change her other views, but that wasn’t their main concern. Their main concern was walking with a woman in need.
3. My original post included a third story, about “a student who came out to her parents in high school and was pressured to undergo conversion therapy.” After following up further with that student, I’ve decided to take that out of the original post, and she felt it was not an accurate representation of her story. My apologies to the student. While it is a story I have heard from many others, I have chosen to not include those stories, as I wanted to only include stories I had heard personally in a two-week span of time.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. His most recent essay, “A Catholic Perspective on Homoerotic Desire,” was published in the Winter 2019 edition of Logos Journal. He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.