Last night in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Honolulu, a small group gathered to say to our LGBT brothers and sisters that we believe that Christ does not discriminate. There is apparently no room in any of Hawaii’s Catholic churches for this Solidarity Sunday service. But happily, there is room in our hearts. Decades ago Pope John 23rd with Vatican II reminded us that the Church is more than Divine Mystery: it is the people of God, in communion with all humanity.
More than ever, we need to affirm that communion. We are called to see, to speak, to listen, to taste and to touch. Our senses, used wisely, tell us in a multitude of ways that we are indeed more alike than we are different.
But because of the whims of chance or the realities of circumstance we are vastly different in our capacity to address our many hungers: for food and drink, for shelter and clothing, for compassion and care.
The call of faith is the call to respond to those whose needs are greater than our own; whose capacity to help themselves is less than our own.
The Concerns of the Church Hierarchy
The US Conference of Bishops has just announced the formation of an “Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.” Noted on their list of concerns: the fact that health care coverage might include contraception and faith-based agencies fighting H.I.V. might have to distribute condoms.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan: “Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider.”
Is it too much to hope that the bishops might visit one of those public squares? Perhaps even join demonstrators peacefully protesting Wall Street excess? It would be a more prophetic act than fighting a President who champions the middle-class and has done more for gay rights than any of his predecessors.
While the bishops offer guidance on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” a recent poll reports that US Catholics are quietly following their own conscience, led by the light of their own faith.
Even amongst the 16% of US Catholics who say they are aware of the document that is supposed to guide their conscience, three quarters say it “had no influence” on how they voted or thought about issues. Just 4% of US Catholics say the document greatly influenced them—or would have, had they known about it.
These polls tell this simple truth: the bishops do not speak for the majority of Catholics. The idea that God might separate out LGBT Catholics and deny them full communion is absurd.
Most Catholics do not have time or tolerance for the discrimination that persists in the Church’s hierarchy against both women and LGBT Catholics.
Being Catholic is a call to be prophetic. We have to do more than just silently bear witness to the radical call of the Gospel to love without reservation. We are called to speak aloud what the communities we live in may not want to hear; to speak especially when we know we are causing discomfort.
Because it is that discomfort that eventually leads even the most the most out-of-touch power structures, to eventually “tear up and knock down, destroy and change, build and plant.” (Jeremiah 1)
We also have reason to celebrate the many fortunate families, who meet the act of coming out of one of their own with love and compassion, not despair and distance. They do so convinced that the Christ we know through the Gospels would have nothing to do with a Church that excludes.
Here is how two lesbian friends, one a self-described “fallen away Catholic,” the other who belongs to a welcoming Christian church describe where they stand:
One said: “I am Catholic in the tradition of Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Pope John 23rd. The church began excluding me as a woman and finished it off when I became a lesbian. I do not feel that the patriarchal structure has anything to offer me but I do admire many of the folks who are still in the church. The fierce commitment to justice is something I really do admire.”
My other friend cited the wonderful way the Church reaches out through Catholic Charities or through prophets like Mother Teresa to serve those society does not “see.” She reminded me that “Jesus spoke to the Fringe.” He would surely have been in the public square with the demonstrators.
She spoke eloquently of her need, our need to forgive:
“I forgive those who oppress me and have oppressed me….my parents, my larger extended family, my public school, my society, myself. . . .I have to forgive everyone who hurts me because if I then turn around and use this hurt to hurt others, I have lost the point of my humanity. Forgive does not mean forget. It does not make it all OK. All it does is remove decay from my soul and give my oppressor over to God to fix and to love.”
She asked: “Is God in the box, in the confines of the walls of a particular church or is God out of the box, in the world and in the air and in the very places we find scary?”
Here in Hawaii, we are blessed with the spirit of aloha that is consistent with our faith practices. Our host culture is an example to the world of what it means to share the breath of life.
Perhaps we can look to the day that LGBT Catholics celebrate Solidarity Sunday in a Catholic church. Not because God is only to be found within the confines of a particular church but to signal that the Catholic church in Hawaii is reclaiming its prophetic voice.
Maybe there is hope that the Catholic Church will one day extend a hand to LGBT people. If it does happen it will be because of people like Dawn Webster who keep agitating from within. You probably are the only hope for change.